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Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours Paperback – September 13, 2016
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“Alanna has rescued gluten-free baking from the pasty, gritty clutches of white rice flour! Her recipes have a pastry chef ’s sensibility, but they overflow with the generosity and warmth of home baking. This book will make you run to the pantry to see what you can bake first, whether you happen to be gluten free or not.”
―Megan Scott and John Becker, bestselling authors of Joy of Cooking and JoyOfCooking.com
“Alanna is such a gifted baker, recipe writer and food photographer. For gluten-free eaters who love to bake, this cookbook is a must.”
―Dana Shultz, author of Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking and MinimalistBaker.com
“I want to eat everything in Alanna Taylor-Tobin’s beautiful book, Alternative Baker. And the best news? With these gorgeous gluten-free recipes created by a former pastry chef, I can! I’ll be baking these treats with delight.”
―Shauna James Ahern, author of Gluten-Free Girl Every Day and GlutenFreeGirl.com
“Like alternative baking pioneers Kim Boyce and Alice Medrich, Alanna Taylor-Tobin shows that treats baked with off-the-beaten-path flours aren’t just a boon for the gluten free, but taste richer, more distinctive and often just plain better, too.”
―Kristen Miglore, author of Food52 Genius Recipes and Creative Director of Food52.com
About the Author
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In a slight departure from what feels like normal, the discussion of each individual gluten-free flour, where to find it, what brand Alanna tested her recipes with, how to store it, how to use it, and it's nutritional impact is at the back of the book. The cookbook jumps quickly into recipes after a brief intro and a how-to-use-this-book list of the "easy", "intermediate", and "advanced" gluten-free flours and associated recipes.
Each recipe is accompanied by a photo of the finished product and a cute little header about where the recipe stems from. I've found several recipes that I'm extra excited to try because Alanna references them as being inspired by some of my favorite places in SF: Plow in Potrero Hill (Millet Skillet Cornbread with Cherries and Honey), Josey Baker Bread (Nut and Seed Loaf), and Tartine (Buckwheat Pear Galettes). Aside from an astonishing array of various gluten-free flours, Alanna's desserts rely on (delicious) ingredients like butter, creme fraiche or sour cream, cream, buttermilk, yogurt, maple syrup, and brown sugar. There are some (4) vegan recipes and one recipe I noticed labelled lactose-free. Many of these recipes could be adapted to specific dietary needs as necessary, but it may take a fair amount of trial and error for perfectly-created recipes like the pie and tart doughs.
The section on pies/tarts spans what feels like a third of the book, so if you aren't a huge fan of pies and/or making your own pie crust, that may not be an ideal proportion. However, I would strongly encourage everyone to give it a try. There's a very detailed two-page photo spread on making the perfect gluten-free pie crust, and the variety of pies is outstanding. I've already learned something new just from my quick read of Alternative Baker - maybe if I position my pies lower in the oven I'll have less trouble with soggy crusts. That seems like a "duh" idea now, but I'd never considered it.
These recipes range considerably in amount of time and energy required to prepare them. Plenty can be accomplished in under and hour, and some, like pies with fresh pie crust, will take more planning ahead. While I can do the math in my head, I do wish there was some indication at the top of each recipe for expected prep time.
In buying this cookbook, you are purchasing about 6 repeat recipes that are available on her blog (maybe more as time goes on). It's all upfront as celebratory posts gearing up or after release of this cookbook. In her blog posts she says they are from the book or slightly adapted from the cookbook. At first I thought I noticed even more and was a little disappointed, but spot-checking seems to indicate I was mistaken.
So far I've made only the blondies (with white chocolate, coconut flour (to avoid the weird texture of the flakes - hurray!), and cashews). They are fantastic, and any one, gluten-free or not, will love them. I'm looking forward to testing a lot of other recipes - I'm excited about at least 2/3 of the 140 recipes included in this cookbook.
I love the blog, but I think I love the book even more, if that’s possible. I want to make almost everything listed. Also, the book is beautifully printed, full of stunning photographs, and easy to read. There is a great index and the interior is organized into sensible sections.
One of the things that I love about Alanna’s recipes is that she lists both weights and volumes for all. At home, I only cook by weighing things, so it takes a ton of time for me to convert everyone else’s recipes into measurements that use weight. I don’t have to fuss with that when making the recipes in Alternative Baker. It’s such a thoughtful and precise book, and the writing style has made me chuckle a number of times. Love it! It will also be my new go-to gift to friends who enjoy baking.
UPDATE: I've now tried 8 of her recipes in the book and felt a need to update my review. Unfortunately, I've downgraded my rating to 1 star. The only 2 recipes in her book that work are the sponge for the roulade and the rhubarb compote. Everything else I made has suffered greatly either in terms of texture, flavor or both. The Chestnut roulade was soggy with an underwhelming Chestnut filling (couldn't taste the Chestnut at all, had to double it and still could barely taste it - the mascarpone dulls everything), the brownies were dry, the Persimmon Cake was dense, hard and ended up in the garbage can, the Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler biscuits were so bland and majorly lacking in flavor that I had to toss them and just eat the filling (which I also had to tweak, not enough thickener), and I could go on and on... but you get the idea. I think the problem here is that the recipes have not been thoroughly tested and tweaked enough to provide a foolproof result. Taste is everything and it's just NOT there. I have a LOT of experience baking but these recipes just don't measure up. I should not have to massively tweak a recipe in terms of flavor and texture to make it work. I was so excited by this book but it just fails in so many ways that I'm not making anything else from it to avoid wasting expensive ingredients that could be put to better use. The author should've stuck to perfecting simple but flavorful recipes instead of trying to be innovative for the sake of being different and compromising on flavor and texture.
Top international reviews
I appreciate that the flours have weight measurements and that there is no gluten-free mix. While I recognize some people like the ease of one single mix, I make so many different gluten-free recipes that I don't have enough space to store all these separate mixes on top of all the flours. There are some less common flours (and more expensive ones like chestnut), but the most of the more frequently used flours are fairly accessible, especially if you frequently do gluten-free baking (like millet, oat, sweet rice/glutinous rice flour, almond). One thing to note is that most of the recipes involve fruit. While this is yummy, it also increases the cost of some of the recipes depending upon where you leave and some of the fruits may be less accessible (or not accessible year round--although it's probably a good thing to be more in tune to what's in season). The author does provide some substitution recommendations though. There are a couple of dairy-free recipes and the odd vegan recipes. Currently, this cookbook and Flavour Flours by Alice Medrich are my favourite gluten-free baking cookbooks. I really appreciate how they try to incorporate various whole grains and embrace the properties of each of the flours instead of just trying to mimic wheat flour. I highly recommend this book!
Alanna's striving for perfection is evident in both instructions and results; the book has been thoroughly tested and it shows. I can't think of any valid reasons not to give this book a full 5 stars; sure, it's not an everyday cookbook as the effort required in some recipes is not compatible with fifteen minutes in the kitchen, and every recipe is (deliciously) most assuredly not diet-friendly. But I believe in quality of dessert over quantity and the book delivers that in spades. Recommended!