When I heard that Peter Reinhart, who is to bread baking what Alice Waters is to community gardens, was coming out with a gluten-free baking book, I happily skipped to my laptop and clicked the ‘pre-order’ button with anticipation (us nutrition people geek out about alternative cookbooks). Now, I’m not sensitive to gluten myself, but as a friend of a few gluten-free gals and as a dietitian to quite a few more, I knew this book would be a fun one to try. Reinhart co-authored the book with Denene Wallace, who helps him tackle more than just deleting wheat flour; she tackles the sugar issue as well. The book is titled ‘The Joy of Gluten-Free Sugar-Free Baking: 80 Low-Carb Recipes that Offer Solutions for Celiac Disease, Diabetes, and Weight Loss’. Whew. A bit ambitious? I’d say so. These recipes promise, when using their sugar substitutes, to give no glycemic rise. This means that there is not only no gluten and no sugar, but also no carbohydrate. Carbohydrates, whether they are whole or refined, will always cause a rise in blood sugar. A smooth small rise in blood sugar following a meal is healthy and normal for most people – but if you have diabetes or other blood sugar issues, this blood sugar rise can be quite large, and can cause health problems.
So the question is, how do you make a baked good, which uses flour, without any carbohydrate at all? Even gluten-free flours are made from starchy grains – sorghum, rice, and so on. To accomplish this, Reinhart and Wallace decide to use nut and seed flours which contain little to no carbohydrate. They also replace the sugar with stevia or Splenda, making the recipes carb-free. Even as a dietitian, I don’t meet someone every day who happens to have both diabetes and celiac or gluten sensitivity, but I don’t doubt there are many that fit this description. The best quality of this book is that you can tailor the recipes to your own particular needs. If you aren’t worried about the sugar, you can use unrefined cane sugar or your sweetener of choice to give you the flavor you prefer.
Using nut and seed flours such as pecan, flax and sesame will always yield a denser product, there is no getting around this fact. If you are used to light and fluffy baked goods, then your palate will need some adjustment! However, if you’re like me, you might actually desire the heartiness and depth of flavor that comes with using these flours. The book teaches you how to grind your own flour, which is much more affordable (and likely fresher) than buying it in the store.
To review a cookbook, you must review the final product… so I decided to tackle one of the more complicated recipes and chose the Chocolate Cream Pie. The piecrust was made using coconut and almond flour with cocoa powder and stevia. I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners like Splenda, so stevia will always be my choice for a natural alternative to sugar. The authors recommend Stevia in the Raw which is a brand specially formulated for baking that you can use one-for-one in place of sugar. I was surprised at how clean and non-bitter this stevia product performed in this pie. The filling was a mix of eggs, milk, almond flour, melted dark chocolate chips (I used the real sugar kind), stevia, and gelatin. After heating and then chilling the mixture, then whipping it fluffy with my mixer, it looked like a yummy chocolate mousse.
The final product came out nicely, and I garnished it with a bit of coconut flake. Now, how did it taste? Pretty amazing for being low-carb and gluten-free. However, I would have liked to have a richer chocolate flavor, maybe next time I’ll also add cocoa powder in addition to the chocolate chips. The crust had a nice cocoa flavor and rich crumb, coming from the coconut flour. Next time, I think I’ll use half sugar and half stevia, because there really is no replacement for the genuine sweetness and caramel flavors that come from raw cane sugar.
I wanted to test one more recipe, one that you would think would be impossible using nut flour. I decided on the Ginger Pecan Sweet Potato Biscuits. Now, biscuits should be hearty, but also a bit flaky. I was skeptical that using nut flours could result in something that would say ‘biscuit’ instead of ‘hockey puck’. The recipe called for pecan and almond flours, a small amount of sweet potato, stevia and a tablespoon of maple syrup. These did have some carbohydrate from the sweet potato, and I used real maple syrup instead of the artificial stuff. But the amounts were small, so they could still be considered very low-carb. I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and lightness – yes, lightness! of these little biscuits. The flavors were rich and hearty, and I didn’t taste that hallmark stevia bitter aftertaste one bit. As someone who is used to heartier baked goods, I had no problem at all with the result. But I would say it is still a stretch to call these biscuits, as the sweetness and texture were definitely in the realm of a cookie – and a tasty one at that.
However, if you’re a traditionalist who expects something that is almost identical to the gluten and carbohydrate-rich versions of these foods, then you may want to try another baking book. As a dietitian, I will definitely begin recommending this book to my more motivated diabetes patients, and also to those with celiac who would like to try a lower-carb lifestyle. The recipes are easy to follow, with gorgeous photos, and the authors’ attention to detail is fantastic. Their introduction section discussing diabetes and weight issues, as well as the instructions on procuring and making your own flours was very helpful. Even a baking beginner could pick up this book and have no problem with making even the more advanced recipes.
I can’t wait to try the Toasting Bread made with pecan and almond flour, and the Cocoa-Nut Brownies too. Happy Baking!
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