Some days, it seems, nothing makes me feel more grounded than baking.
It seems funny to me now: when I was first diagnosed with celiac, almost a decade ago (a decade? I’ve been writing here for nearly a decade), my first reaction was to give away all my baking books. Covered in white flour and pages dog-eared and stained with vanilla extract, those baking books had been my balm for years.
Now I have several shelves of baking books at our studio. Most of them have gluten-free flour on them. That collection keeps growing.
Until I met Danny, my life was always more of the head than the hands. Raised by two teachers, an inveterate bookworm, in love with ideas and the creative life, I used my body when I remembered. My hands worked in the evenings. I wrote comments on student papers. And then I stood up to bake. I mixed butter and sugar together until they were a creamy yellow, plopped in eggs, and added a cloud of fine white flour. Those moments gave me a solace, a space away from a day in my head. It took me until I was nearly 40 to realize that white flour was making me sick. So when I realized I had to give up gluten, I thought I was giving up baking.
Now I have a gluten-free flour blend company. So, you know, life surprises me sometimes.
Life never stops surprising me.
There are nearly 8000 boxes of the Gluten-Free Girl All-Purpose Flour in a storage facility on Vashon. They’re here. They’re real. It’s surreal and lovely and unbelievable.
Within a couple of weeks, we’ll have them for sale on this site.
(Desmond was only three weeks old when Jack came to see us. And somehow time has tumbled on itself these last few months, fumbling like fingers and thumbs on pliable dough. I’ve been meaning to tell you about this afternoon for months now.)
Jack is one of the kindest men I’ve met in this food world. He was a little weary from a whirlwind book tour for America’s Test Kitchen’s new cookbook, The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook, but he arrived with presents for Desmond and enormous thoughtful energy for baking. I have to admit it — I’m a huge America’s Test Kitchen fan. The folks who run that place are geeks. (Around here, geek is a compliment.) I love the meticulous way the editors there lay out the kind of food they are trying to create, the narrative explanations of every permutation they tried, and the recipes that result. It’s not always my kind of food, but it’s my kind of mind at work. (I wish that I were as meticulously organized as those narratives imply, but I also remind myself that they have a whole team of people working on this! Our test kitchen is me, Danny, and Desmond, who mostly offers cuteness to the equation.) So having Jack Bishop here with us, when we were wildly excited and sleep deprived both? It was a dream.
(Thank you, Jack, as well as Beth. You’re both delightful.)
The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook is in true America’s Test Kitchen form. They tell us what they were trying to achieve and then show us how they achieved it. There’s no question that the recipes in this book are meant for people who are trying to replicate white flour baked goods and more typical American recipes. That’s the largest audience, after all. If you want whole-grain breads or grain-free baking, this might not be the book for you. Those who need to avoid dairy or other foods have expressed annoyance that there is so much dairy in the book. But this book is, as Jack expressed to me, an attempt to create the best gluten-free book possible. It’s not an allergen-free book. And it’s a book intended for an audience who may not be able to find gluten-free ingredients in their grocery stores easily. Jack and I talked, as we made biscuit dough, about how much we love sweet rice flour. It’s starchy enough to bind ingredients together in a baked good, a little like gluten. I always use it in baked goods that work well with all-purpose flour. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen love it too, but they worried about its availability for the widest array of people, so they left it out of their flour mix.
This is a thoughtful, helpful book. After nine years of cooking and baking gluten-free, and especially after doing this for a living, I found much in the book to be a confirmation of what I have taught myself through trial and error. But I still learned from it — I love their trick about how to par-bake pizza dough to make sure we steam out the wetness before making the final pizza — and I still keep it at the studio as a reference. We honestly recommend The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook to anyone who needs to be gluten-free.
When I was diagnosed with celiac in 2005, the phrase gluten-free didn’t appear on restaurant menus and grocery shelves. Once, I had to explain to a confused server in a restaurant that no, I wasn’t trying to avoid eating glue. I need to avoid any trace of gluten to keep myself healthy. Times have changed. It’s grown easier, in so many ways. Having one of the most respected sources on creating great food create a good cookbook about gluten-free baking? It’s a boon.
Thank you, Jack Bishop, and the team at America’s Test Kitchen.
I’m in the middle of strawberry swooning season. It happens every year. We wait all year long, patiently, and then not so patiently, for real strawberries to appear at the farmstands here. From the fall…