Saturday, February 6, 2010
Cookbook Review: The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook
When I heard that Cybele Pascal had a second cookbook coming out, I was very excited. I have previously mentioned her first cookbook, The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook, as it contains several recipes that we regularly prepare at our house. The one downfall of the first book for me was that the baking recipes contain spelt, which we cannot have as it is a form of wheat. So I awaited the new book's arrival with a bit of caution as to not raise my hopes too high. When I opened the cover for the first time I was holding my breath in anticipation.... and... NO spelt to be seen! And Oh, what lovely photographs of things I can bake!
The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook starts with a very useful dry and perishable goods pantry list. It outlines the various flours, sugars, shortening, chocolate, and other baking ingredients that are found in today's allergen-free kitchen. Cybele gives information on companies that make some of these products, as well as useful tips on why these ingredients are used and how best to use them. This is followed by a section on how to replace various allergens so you can learn what to substitute in your favourite baking recipes.
For the most part, the recipes in this book use a flour mixture consisting of brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour. It is recommended that you mix up a big batch of this flour to store in your fridge or freezer so you have it on hand when needed in a recipe. This makes it so much easier to bake -- you don't need a multitude of flours each time you want to make something.
In our family there is a one-month period where we celebrate three birthdays. This book arrived just in time for the festivities! My Mum borrowed the book and made Chocolate Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting for my birthday. She loved the book and decided to also try making Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting. Both were a success!
Next was Little Man's birthday -- and his first ever cake! I made the Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting -- twice, as we celebrated on his birthday and then again a few days later. I found this recipe very easy to make. The icing recipe creates a lot of icing, so I needed to make it only once for the two sets of cupcakes. It keeps well in the fridge. The cupcakes stay good in the fridge for several days, but they also freeze very well. This has become a staple baked good in our house. In just over a month, my Mum and I have made these FOUR times! When you have gone such a long time without cake I think there is a grace period where you can eat as much as you like to catch up a bit. :)
For my Mum's birthday, I made Carrot Ginger Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting. This is soooo good. We couldn't taste the ginger, so we would add a bit more next time (and yes, there will definitely be a next time). This cake was ok the day it was made, but it became outstanding the next day after it was refrigerated. The icing is good enough to eat on its own!
I also tried the Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe. The results on this one were somewhat mixed, but it was through no fault of the recipe. In my area we are unable to purchase dairy-free, soy-free shortening. So in my baking recipes I substitute 3/4 cup refrigerated coconut oil for 1 cup of shortening. This worked fabulously on all three types on cakes and their icing. But I didn't measure very well with the cookies (I added too much), and I didn't refrigerate the coconut oil as long as I usually would. The flavour was divine -- but the cookies ended up flat and lacy. Next time I will try this recipe with 2/3 cup coconut oil and I bet they will turn out perfect.
There is much more to the book than cake and cookies; there are pies, cobblers, muffins, biscuits, and breads too. Everything looks delicious. There are lovely photos of baked goods that inspire you to try everything shown. I am tempted to start at the beginning and cook my way through the book, but then I would have to wait a couple months before having a vanilla cupcake again -- and that is not going to happen!
This book is so much more than just a cookbook to me. This book represents a way of experiencing "normal" foods in spite of all the allergies. It's a guide to creating a birthday cake that doesn't have to have the label "allergy-free cake", because it is so yummy that the non-allergic crowd can enjoy it too. It is a confidence booster in that you don't need to alter the recipes and hope they work out. It is the first book I pick up when I want to bake.
I received a review copy of this book, but was in no way influenced to write a positive review. I would have written everything the same if I had obtained my copy from the bookstore. This is truly a breakthrough book for those of us living with allergies and I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Cybele's web site gives the recipe for the flour mix, a red velvet cake with icing, and blueberry boy bait. Give one of these a try and you will likely see yourself needing her book. And remember, if you haven't eaten cake in awhile you have my permission to go a little crazy when you start baking from this book.