Monday, April 05, 2010

Book Review: The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook by Cybele Pascal

I am usually very reluctant to try gluten-free recipes for baked goods. In my experience, the results are often less than spectacular, lacking in both texture and flavor. But with The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, Cybele Pascal has made a believer out of me. In fact, I never knew gluten-free could taste this good!

I first saw Cybele on a recent Martha Stewart show. Cybele prepared her Classic Crumb Cake, which like all of the delicious recipes in this book, is also dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free. (You can view the entire segment and get the recipe here.) It has been decades since I've enjoyed a delicious crumb cake. Those little Hostess Coffee Crumb Cakes and their rival Drakes Coffee Cakes were staples at our house when I was growing up. I adored them, and Martha seemed to be impressed with Cybele's vegan, allergen-free version.

So what a treat to stumble upon a vegan recipe that might bring back so many fond memories! I know how to make a vegan cake taste moist and delicious, but I doubted that a gluten-free vegan cake could be as good. Cybele's secret to making her cakes, cookies, muffins, and pie crusts taste fabulous is her all-purpose gluten-free flour mix: a blend of super-fine brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch. Once I made a batch, I was all set to try the Classic Crumb Cake (and all of the other recipes) in her book.

While the cake was baking, the fragrance of cinnamon filled my kitchen with its heady aroma, and I was struck by how gorgeous the cake looked when it came out of oven.

And even more gorgeous was this individual piece served up on a plate!

You can really see how moist, light, and fluffy it is. This vegan gluten-free version tasted very much those beloved little coffee cakes of childhood, even though it was made entirely with cruelty-free, allergen-free ingredients. And apparently, I'm not the only one who thought it was delicious. These cakes quickly found many happy customers!

I couldn't wait to try all of the other recipes in this book, which is filled with stunning, mouth-watering photographs that inspired the baker in me. Since I'm a scone girl, I decided that next I'd try the recipe for Cherry Oat Scones.

At first I made them as directed, but I didn't think they were quite buttery enough. So now is a good time to take note of some of the other ingredient substitutions suggested. Since all of the recipes are soy-free, Cybele steers clear of soy milk, tofu, and butter substitutes like Earth Balance Buttery Spread, instead choosing soy-free ingredients like Living Harvest Hemp Milk, So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt, and Spectrum Organic Shortening. While the Spectrum shortening sufficed in most recipes, I do prefer my scones to taste a bit more buttery. So I asked Cybele why she didn't use the new Earth Balance Soy-free instead of shortening. She explained that it contains pea protein, which can be an allergen for many people with peanut allergies, and that it can also be hard to find. Since I am not allergic to soy, I decided to switch to using Earth Balance after trying her recipe for Cherry Oat Scones. I made the scones again, and they were far more buttery, as you might expect. But it's wonderful for people who are sensitive to pea protein or who can't find the soy-free Earth Balance, to know that they can still enjoy tasty flaky scones and just about any other kind of cake, cookie, bread, or muffin you can imagine.

Among the tempting goodies pictured on the cover of this book are enticing cupcakes, a sumptuous frosted red velvet layer cake, rich fudge brownies, and a selection of sugary cookies. Among them are Linzer Hearts, a twist on the Austrian Linzertorte. Linzer cookies are traditionally made with the same ingredients as a Linzertorte, which of course, includes butter and eggs. Two cookies are sandwiched together around a layer of preserves or jam and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. In the US, raspberry jam is most often used, and the center of the top cookie is cut-out to reveal the brightly colored fruity filling. Linzer cookies were another childhood favorite. (I knew them as "Linzer Tarts.")  As a little girl, I would squeal with delight any time I'd encounter those beautiful, big, round, raspberry-filled cookies with the scalloped edges at our neighborhood German bakery, Walken's. (Owned by actor Christopher Walken's family.) Cybele's allergen-free version is every bit as yummy and sensationally sweet, and the heart shape added an extra loving touch.

As an added bonus, you get all these cute bite-size heart-shaped cookies when you cut out the centers!

The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook is a godsend—not just for people with multiple food sensitivities, but for anyone who loves delicious baked treats. With allergen-free vegan recipes for Irish Soda Bread, Banana Cream Pie, Orange Chiffon Cake with Orange Rum Sauce, and dozens of others, I'll be baking my little heart out for weeks to come. If you or anyone you know has food sensitivities to dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, soy, nuts, or sesame, this book is sure to delight. And if you are lucky enough to already own it, please tell me what your favorite recipe is. I'm having a hard time deciding what to make next!


Helen said...

Everything looks so delicious! I am placing my amazon order for this book right now! Thank you so much for this review.

Annie said...

This is great!!! I can't wait to make the Crumb Cake! I'm gluten-intolerant and vegan, so this book sounds like a dream come true!

VeganMarr said...

Wow, that IS impressive that the recipes are moist & yummy. Those heart cookies are adorable (both of them!) Is there are recipe for blueberry crumb cake, that's my fave! Or maybe you can just add bluebs to the crumb cake recipe???

The Vegan said...

Wow those desserts look amazing. This book is quite a resource for anyone with allergies. Especially someone like me who is vegan and doesn't eat soy or gluten. In fact the desserts look so delicious that I would think anyone, whether they have allergies or not, would love those desserts. I don't bake but this book makes it tempting for me to start.
But meanwhile Gail, could you just wrap up some of that Crumb Cake and fed-ex it over to me please? :-)

Vegiegail said...

Yes, Marr, you could just add blueberries to the Classic Crumb Cake recipe! That sounds so good, I'm definitely going to make it like that next time. I'll have to send you and TheVegan some, when I do!

Anonymous said...

You sold the book with the Coffee Cake. I loved that you included photos and that you tried more than one recipe for the review. Thanks! My son has multiple food allergies. I'll definitely be checking checking this book out.

Millie said...

Beautiful bake goods. I will have to get this book for my daughter in law for her Birthday.

Anonymous said...

Gluten-free vegan scones and Linzer cookies? You just made my day!

Susan Ma said...

Haha! I'm a "scone girl," too! I'd love a decent gluten-free scone. This book is just for me!

Anonymous said...

Gail, thank you so much for this wonderful information! As someone who was very recently diagnosed with a dairy and gluten allergy, I'm finding peace in realizing that I can still eat the delicious things that I love. :D

Carina said...

That crumb cake looks like it would melt in your mouth! And it's really gluten free!?! I can't wait to try the recipe.

laurelvb said...

There's a Blueberry Boy Bait recipe either in this book or readily available on line. (I've got the book, it's just not in front of me). I'm pretty sure there's an online video of that Blueberry Boy Bait so you'd probably enjoy that.