I first borrowed the ebook version of Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays by Jeanne Sauvage, better known as gluten-free baker extraordinaire at Art of Gluten-Free Baking, last year from my library. When I bought the hardcover last month, I was even more blown away by it; I was amazed by the recipes, and also by Jeanne’s depth of knowledge and expertise.
As implied by the title, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays is a cookbook for the winter holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there are some recipes that are versatile for any time of year like the Dinner Rolls and Super Soft Bread. In a similar vein to Sweet Cravings, another gluten-free baking book, the recipes are built on a foundation of classic techniques and use simple, natural ingredients that are easily recognizable and staple items, so that it feels as if one was reading a traditional, wheat-filled baking cookbook. Best of all, they’ve all been meticulously made to not only taste just like their wheat counterparts but even have the same or similar texture and mouthfeel.
I’ve gotten to know Jeanne online, through her blog and conversations on Twitter. I’ve made her recipes on her blog, and now from her cookbook, and they’re all winners! For Christmas, I made her recipe for Pepparkakor (Swedish gingerbread) many times, which everyone loved, and I’ve also made her gluten-free pie crust with success, which has made me want to master pie making (and that I’ve started to do). As I read the introduction in her cookbook, I became more and more duly impressed with her aforementioned expertise. I expressed this on Twitter and was delighted when she said yes to an interview.
I ask Jeanne about the research that went into writing her cookbook, recipe testing, the merits of learning and utilizing classic baking techniques, and the progress of her second cookbook (with a projected release date of Autumn 2015). This interview was conducted over email.
(Interview after the jump!)
ZOE (Z’S CUP OF TEA)
The first thing I was impressed with, even before the recipes, was the wealth of information you included in your cookbook. I love reading about the science of baking and learning how it works as much as I enjoy the process, so the ratios of starches, gums, and proteins was particularly interesting. Did you do a lot of research as you learned to bake gluten-free, was it by trial and error, or a combination of both?
At first it was mainly trial and error and intuition. I was an avid baker before I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2000, so I started with what I knew about wheat baking and went from there. After about three years, I discovered the work of Bette Hagman (The Gluten-Free Gourmet), Carol Fenster, and Beth Hillson (who founded The Gluten-Free Pantry). I poured over and baked from their recipes for a few years and learned a lot from them. Then after a few years, I began to branch out and start to do research into wheat baking chemistry and science. My thought is that I would take what we know about gluten baking and then “reverse engineer” this information for gluten-free baking.
Some of the recipes you include are popular favourites from your blog and are available for free. How did you achieve a balance of including recipes from your blog and new ones?
My first book came about after an editor from Chronicle Books (Amy Treadwell) contacted me after seeing a series of holiday recipes that I had running on my site. So, some of those recipes, plus a few others, made their way into the book (in a more refined form). But, most of the recipes were original to the book. My goal (and my publisher’s goal) was to make the book mostly new recipes. It will be the same for the next book. There’s no use in having a book that is just a rehash of recipes you can already find on my blog.
The transition from food blog to cookbook is a fine line to tread and rehashed recipes is one point that often gets criticized or is complained about in Amazon reviews. By including those recipes from your blog, but more refined, along with new ones, you managed to do that balance perfectly! (Readers interested to learn more about Jeanne’s cookbook deal can read her interviews at The Green Apron here and part two here.)
In November of last year, you were invited to talk at Google. You wrote about it, and posted the video of your wonderful talk on your blog, recently. (Read Jeanne’s post and watch the video here.) One of the topics in your talk was about was going back to basics and using classic baking techniques, such as creaming butter and sugar together. In many ways, your cookbook – especially with the baking tips section – reads a lot like a traditional baking book. Was that your intention?
Yes! I really wanted to share the information that I had learned from all of my studies. I’ve found that my readers are helped by knowing how and why things work (as am I!). Also, I have found more and more on my blog that people are coming to gluten-free baking with no baking experience at all. So, I try to give them the basics so they are more empowered to have success in their baking.
With a knowledge of classic techniques and an understanding of how gluten works, do you think that these two things, together, improve our efforts in trying to mimic the results of gluten and lead us to better understand how gluten-free baking works?
You mention Julia Child as one of your baking goddesses in the headnote for your Steamed Plum Pudding recipe and Nancy Baggett – another baker and cookbook author you admire – wrote the foreword. Who are some of the bakers and/or cookbook authors who have influenced or inspired you?
Oh, there are so many. My other baking goddesses/gods are: Dorie Greenspan, Alice Medrich, Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), Sheila Lukins (Silver Palate), Edna Lewis, Peter Reinhart, Dan Lepard, Rose Levy-Birnbaum, Shirley O. Corriher, Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar). I like all of these people for two primary reasons: their recipes are inspiring and their approach to baking is open and exploratory. I learn so much from their research and insights. And all of them are sticklers for accuracy: they all test the heck out their recipes and therefore you can rely on them. I try to emulate this—and meticulously test the my recipes and get outside bakers to test them, too.
You recently announced that you’re writing a second cookbook and that it will be more general baking. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and the process so far?
The working title for my next book is: Gluten-Free Wishlist: Sweet and Savory Treats You Miss the Most. I am just thrilled about this book. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for quite some time. It will be a combination of baking foundations and pantry essentials (with things like homemade evaporated milk and homemade powdered sugar), and chapters on types of baked items: cookies and bars, pastry, breads, fried treats, pasta and dumplings. I will also have chapters on how baking works and how to find the appropriate ingredients and equipment.
Currently I am working on the bread chapter. Bread is the most challenging thing to do gluten-free, so I wanted to get that chapter down before I went on to the other chapters. Right now I think I’ve finally cracked the code on English Muffins (I’ve been working on them for about 2 weeks!).
Recipe development is really a roller coaster for me. There are days when everything works really well and I’m pleased and other days when nothing works and I’m down in the dumps about it. But, one thing I learned from my first book is that the recipes that are the hardest to develop often turn out to be the best ones. So, I try to approach the days of failure as stepping stones to excellence. Also, my husband and daughter love to taste test the things that work—so they’re happy that I’m writing a new book!
Thank you so much, Jeanne!
Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold!