Sunday, January 21, 2018
Cooking

Cookbook review: Discover alternative flours and grains with Alanna Taylor-Tobin's ‘Alternative Baker'

The term "gluten-free" implies that something is missing, but spending some time in the kitchen working with alternative flours showed me that adding naturally gluten-free flours and grains to the pantry only makes cooking and eating a richer experience.

Bakers need to know how to wield those flours — like teff, oat, rice and millet — as instinctively as all-purpose flour. In Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert With Gluten-Free Grains and Flours, author Alanna Taylor-Tobin shows us how to use these ingredients in order to introduce new flavors and textures to familiar recipes. It's a worthy kitchen exercise to try as the holiday season approaches.

Taylor-Tobin is a classically trained pastry chef living in San Francisco. She has a deep knowledge of the structure required of cakes, cookies and the like, and she has masterfully applied this knowledge to alternative flours. As a food blogger, photographer and food stylist, her work has been featured in the New York Times and Food and Wine and on Food52.com.

Eating gluten-free foods has never been a goal of mine, but Taylor-Tobin assuredly says flavor is paramount in her recipes. Alternative flours add nutrition to baked goods as well as another layer of flavor, texture and color, creating a "sensory experience," she writes.

Mesquite is earthy and potently fragrant even before taking it out of the container. Teff offers a hint of malted milk. Buckwheat flour is an otherworldly shade of gray, and its flavor evokes toasted hazelnuts, cocoa and cinnamon. Chestnut flour has a rich quality, while millet and sorghum are nutty.

Reading and baking through the recipes in this book, it's clear that flavor is indeed king in Taylor-Tobin's kitchen. Detailed recipes, the promise in the alluring photos and the intriguing ingredients help to pull a reader in.

In a recipe for teff oatmeal cookies, walnuts are toasted and a generous dose of fresh nutmeg is grated into the mix of flours. Currants are soaked in whiskey and emerge boozy and plump; after baking, the amplified raisins are a delight in the chunky cookie, leaving a whiff of whiskey lingering on the tongue. Taking a cue from the flavor-forward attitude of the book, I browned the butter instead of just melting it, adding another layer of rich flavor to the irresistible cookie.

The book is organized by categories like cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and fruit desserts, but there is also a guide on where to begin, depending on one's familiarity with gluten-free flours. Using alternative flours isn't difficult, but they do require some thoughtfulness. Some may be easier to find than others, and one cup of flour varies in weight depending on the flour. (Measurements are provided in the book by both volume and weight.)

Newbies would do well to begin with almond or oat flour; those more adventurous and willing to invest in new flours can look to mesquite and chestnut. In the back of the book, the author goes into detail on specific flours and where to find them. Many of the recipes offer variations or friendly tips for substitutions or certain tasks. Don't own a kitchen torch? Figs can be caramelized under a broiler. Step-by-step photos for mixing, rolling and crimping pie dough take up two pages. With Taylor-Tobin as a helpful and friendly guide, recipes like Millet Skillet Cornbread With Cherries and Honey and Salty Caramel Banana Cream Tart With Mesquite Crust await.

In the book, Taylor-Tobin writes, "it is with this new palette of flavors, textures and histories that we make new of what was once old." This seems an accurate description of baking with alternative flours and grains. Whether I eat a gluten-free diet or not isn't really the point; it's about getting to know new-to-me ingredients in my kitchen and expanding my palate.

Contact Ileana Morales Valentine at [email protected]

Comments
Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

By Ellie KriegerI recoil at the repentant food chatter that crops up this time of year, dominated by words such as "cleanse" and "detox," which, from what I can tell, are just modern code for "extreme diet." But part of cultivating a healthy, balanc...
Published: 01/17/18
We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

I sat at my desk eating chunked pineapple straight out of the can, reading about how much fruit and vegetables we should all be eating every day: 1 1/2 to two cups of fruit, 2 1/2 to three cups of vegetables, at a minimum, per the United States Depar...
Published: 01/17/18
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. We’re talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more — the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Will you be drinking mushroom coffee in 2018? Here are some predicted food trends

Will you be drinking mushroom coffee in 2018? Here are some predicted food trends

By Drew JacksonBleeding veggie burgers, edible flowers and tree-based sparkling waters could be the most popular foods of the year.Whole Foods, the organics pioneer and Jeff Bezos-backed supermarket, peered into its crystal milk jug and unveiled what...
Updated one month ago
Tampa’s JoAnne Tucker takes a win in Pillsbury Bake-Off

Tampa’s JoAnne Tucker takes a win in Pillsbury Bake-Off

The Pillsbury Bake-Off is serious business and big bucks. Since 1949, the country’s most competitive home cooks put their thinking caps on: How can I use one of the designated Pillsbury products in a new, original — and here’s the tricky part — outra...
Published: 01/09/18
For something different, embrace the country-style pork rib

For something different, embrace the country-style pork rib

When it comes to pork, most home cooks know the chop, the tenderloin, the loin roast, even the Boston butt. But because I am a sucker for the underdog and the oddball, I have a new favorite cut of pork: the country-style rib.Why oddball? First, it su...
Updated one month ago
From the food editor: Turkey meatloaf and potatoes cook together in this one-pan recipe

From the food editor: Turkey meatloaf and potatoes cook together in this one-pan recipe

January brings a weird dichotomy. I’m often exhausted from December, a month packed with lots of travel and merriment and comfort food. But I also feel energized for the new year, fresh planner in hand and lots of lofty goals ready to be set.It’s the...
Updated one month ago
Dependable lentils are the star in this Thai Red Curry With Lentils and Tofu recipe

Dependable lentils are the star in this Thai Red Curry With Lentils and Tofu recipe

I take lentils for granted. I’ve had bursts of creativity using them, but for the most part they sit in my pantry while I reach for bigger, more tempting members of the legume family week in and week out. Until one day, I’m out of cans of chickpeas, ...
Updated one month ago
‘Fit Foodie’ Mareya Ibrahim talks health, fitness trends for 2018

‘Fit Foodie’ Mareya Ibrahim talks health, fitness trends for 2018

She didn’t have time to shower, fresh from the gym and tucking into an egg white omelet crowded with veggies in the dining room of the Hollander Hotel in St. Petersburg. But still, Mareya Ibrahim, known as "the Fit Foodie," was a vivacious dynamo, gi...
Published: 01/08/18
Updated: 01/19/18