Great Gluten-Free Baking

Great Gluten-Free BakingGreat Gluten-Free Baking: Over 80 Delicious Cakes and Bakes, by Louise Blair

(Hachette Livre, $39.99)

Reviewed by Maree Dunlop 

I’m not afraid to admit it -- biting into a lot of the gluten-free biscuits I’ve tried is like having a dirt patty implode in your mouth. They’re dry, somewhat tasteless and when you dunk them in your tea, they revert back to mud and take up residence in the bottom of your cup.

Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is found in foods such as bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, pasta and, more surprisingly, tomato sauce, mustard and flavoured potato chips. Apart from a select few "health-conscious" individuals, most people do not choose to become gluten-free.

Coeliac disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lining of the small bowel and is caused by intolerance to gluten. It affects around one in one hundred people but tends to run in families, increasing the risk in those families to one in ten.

In my family, the numbers are four-and-a-half in twenty; two aunts and two cousins with confirmed coeliac disease and my mother-in-law has gluten intolerance. When they visit, I tend to break out the pre-packaged dirt cakes, pop them alongside the toffee pops and let them watch my boys scoff down the gluten-laden edible biscuits, turning their wee noses up at the gluten-free stuff.

I have wanted to incorporate something a bit yummier for them and have scoured several websites for inspiration. The majority of gluten-free recipes are for main meals. Cakes, biscuits and baking treats have been hard to find and often listed ingredients that were too pricey and only available in specialty stores. It was therefore very exciting to see a baking book with all of the promise of muffins, cupcakes and brownies and endorsed by Coeliac UK appear in my letterbox for review.

The pictures are as glossy and inviting as you’d expect them to be and although written in the UK the ingredients listed are largely available in New Zealand. Louise Blair has a proven track record with special interest health-related cook books, having written a number of books for diabetics.

The recipes were incredibly easy to follow; most being broken into three easy steps. Tiramisu cupcakes have been a favourite; taking less than ten minutes to prepare, fifteen minutes to cook and around five minutes to be eaten by the gluten-free and gluten-loaded crowd alike. The hazelnut meringue stack was a divine dessert. Three layers of crunchy, chewy pavlova meringue dispersed with raspberries and whipped cream. Banoffee bites would be at home in any flash Auckland café. Topped with a crunchy dried banana chip, the mini banana and toffee mouthfuls were moist and perfect with a morning cup of tea.

Sections on savoury items offered a bit of relief from the deluge of muffins and cakes. The potato and thyme griddle scones were the perfect accompaniment to a creamy pumpkin soup that I convinced the husband to cook.

I think that this recipe book will be successful -- people dwelling in gluten-free foodland will jump at the chance to partake in baking goodies devoid of dirt implosions. However, the true measure of success for me is the eleven-year-old pre-teen picky food monster in my house requesting a repeat batch of messy marshmallow krispies. Imagine that -- a member of my family choosing gluten-free! Well done, Louise Blair.

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