“The How Can It Be Gluten-Free?” Cookbook (Amazon Vine review)

I’m fairly new to gluten-free (GF) cooking and baking, although I’ve checked out several GF cookbooks from the library the last couple of years. I recently entered the world of GF baking with Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish-American Kitchen, which served as an excellent primer for why GF flours and doughs react differently than their gluten-containing counterparts. I also learned how to create my own GF all-purpose mix using the recommended Authentic Foods Superfine White Rice Flour – 3lb and Authentic Foods Gluten Free Brown Rice Flour Superfine — 3 lbs; I was surprised to see that Authentic Foods was not one of the reviewed/featured flour brands in the America’s Test Kitchen book as they have received many excellent reviews from GF bakers. Naturally, I jumped at the chance of reviewing the “How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook” as I am a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and was looking for ideas for more gluten-free vegetarian dishes (The Gluten-Free Vegetarian Kitchen: Delicious and Nutritious Wheat-Free, Gluten-Free Dishes is also a great book).

The book starts off with brief overviews of the science of gluten, strategies for replacing wheat flour, a handy baking troubleshooting guide, choosing (or making) a GF all-purpose blend, a taste test of commercial GF flour blends, ATK’s recipe for their all-purpose blend (unlike “Nosh on This,” ATK uses the addition of nonfat milk powder to aid in browning, along with potato and tapioca starch), how to measure GF flours (they recommend weighing rather than volume), the use of binders, substitutions, and the gluten-free pantry, including reviews of commercial GF sandwich bread (seven of the eight received “recommended with reservations” or “not recommended”) and gluten-free pastas; not surprisingly, the corn spaghetti and pasta scored the lowest. I liked their tip that rice noodles should NOT be cooked according to package instructions as they will fall apart; instead, it is recommended to soak them under very hot tap water for 20-45 minutes depending on the type of noodle. And be careful when purchasing soba, as not all soba is 100% buckwheat but may contain a mix of flours (I use Eden Foods – Buckwheat Soba Pasta – 8 oz.). I also appreciated the in-depth guide (with photos) on the various types of whole grains, including rice as well as buckwheat, oat groats, millet and quinoa. Several methods are given for cooking grains: the pasta method, absorption method, and pilaf method. A chart explains which cooking methods are suited to which grains.

Beginning with breakfast, you’ll find fluffy GF pancakes, waffles, crepes, quick breads, muffins, and coffee cake. I loved their quick method for steel-cut oats; because of the long cooking time, I never make them on weekdays, but here you boil the water, add the oats and let sit overnight. The next morning, you add additional liquid (milk, water, or juice depending on the variation) and reheat for 5-6 minutes. I tried several of the grain salads, including the wild rice pilaf with pecans and cranberries and the oat berry pilaf with walnuts and gorgonzola. I really enjoyed the blend of flavors and textures, especially the oat berry pilaf. I want to try the quinoa patties with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes at a later date as those also look promising.

Huge bonus points for including a chapter on making fresh GF pasta; this is the first GF cookbook I’ve seen that actually walks you through the steps, run the dough through your pasta machine and cut/shape your dough. I wasn’t as impressed with the small variety of pasta sauces to go with commercial GF pasta (ATK’s top pick was Jovial Brand) and would recommend Italian Classics (Best Recipe) instead. I loved the Asian-inspired noodle dishes like soba noodles with roasted eggplant and spicy basil noodles with crispy tofu.

The breads chapter makes the curious omission of not mentioning that gluten-free bread pans do exist; King Arthur Flour sells one made by USA Pan that is essentially a USA Pans 9 x 4 x 4 Inch Pullman, Aluminized Steel with Americoat minus lid. Gluten-free loaves need more support while baking, so a tall, narrow pan is better suited to this than a traditional loaf pan. Instead, ATK recommends the fussy process of making a foil collar similar to a souffle. I was pleased to see more international influences in the form of Soca (chickpea crepes from Southern France), arepas, pupusas, and pao de queijo.

The desserts chapters deserve special mention for their inclusion of elegant tarts (Nutella, Lemon, Rustic Walnut), gratins, pavlovas, and cakes. At the very back is a conversions and equivalencies chart and a weight-to-volume equivalencies for GF flours.

Overall, “How Can It Be Gluten-Free” sticks to ATK’s standard format of lavishly illustrated product reviews, an ample description of why a given recipe works (and the food science behind it), and several variations for most dishes. I did find that there were far fewer bakeware recommendations (like the curious omission of the gluten-free loaf pan, or their take on whether silicone bakeware would work well for GF muffins, etc.). Each baked good comes with a handy chart with substitution instructions for commercial GF blends by Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Blend and King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, which is very handy if that’s all you have on hand and time is short. There are plenty of variations (and international influences) to keep you happily experimenting for weeks (or months) to come. This is certainly a book I will find myself using on a regular basis, particularly for the many great meatless options, and a worthy addition to your gluten-free kitchen.

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