Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book

I made out like a gluten-free bandit this Christmas. In addition to my tortilla equipment, I received two gluten-free vegan cookbooks. Pulled in by the engaging layout and cozy full-page photos, I dove first into the Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book.

The Flying Apron Bakery in Seattle is entirely gluten-free, mostly vegan (some baked goods contain honey), and mostly soy-free. The recipes emphasize whole, organic grains, sweeteners, and oils. This is not a budget cookbook—the chocolate cake, for instance, calls for 2 cups of maple syrup—but if you're health-conscious, gluten-free, and vegan, you deserve a treat once in a while.

Figuring they were a good starting point for comparison, I began with Flying Apron's Chocolate Chip Cookies, made with 2 parts brown rice flour and one part chickpea flour. "Chickpea flour in cookies?" I thought. "Won't that make them chocolate chip samosas?" No guar or xanthan gum, either, so when I finished mixing the runny, beany dough, I feared I'd have a flat, savory mess.

To my surprise, they baked up light, fluffy, and sweet. This isn't my favorite chocolate chip cookie—I prefer them dense and gooey, and these are more like muffin tops—but based on this recipe, I had high hopes for the rest of the book.

Next I tried the Corn Berry Muffins, made with corn flour, corn meal, and brown rice flour. The batter was extremely thin: the recipe calls for more than a cup of water in addition to a half cup of oil. After baking, the muffins were soggy, greasy, and crumbly. Even after extra time in the oven, the bottoms never cooked through. I ate the fruit off the tops of a few muffins and threw the rest away. I can't help but wonder if this recipe would work with less water and oil.

The ultimate test for a gluten-free cookbook is yeasted bread. I started with the Flying Apron Bakery House Bread, their standard toast and sandwich loaf. Unlike traditional yeasted breads, Flying Apron's require no kneading. Instead, the freshly-mixed dough is immediately placed in a warmed oven, so the bread bakes as the yeast release gases.

When my finished loaf was a brick, I suspected my yeast was too old, but wasting expensive gluten-free flour and maple syrup for any reason makes me cranky.

I still needed something to dip in my soup, so I tried the Quinoa Bread, which is leavened with baking soda instead of yeast. The wet dough was like muffin batter; there was no possibility of kneading or shaping. I globbed it onto my pizza stone and baked it for the proscribed time, and when I removed the loaf from the oven...


...brick #2.

What gives? The breads pictured in the cookbook look so airy and normal. Obviously Flying Apron's bakers have success using these recipes—if they served the kind of bread I wound up with, they'd have no customers. So what's the difference?

Are there errors in the recipes? Were the recipes tested by amateurs in home kitchens, or only in a commercial bakery? Is gluten-free baking so finicky that differences between brands of chickpea flour or measuring technique can spoil a whole cookbook?

After my baking disappointments, I moved on to the Flying Apron's selection of simple, portable main dishes, soups, and salads. First I tried the Dinosaur Kale, Artichoke, and Garbanzo Bean Salad. With tomatoes and a salty lemon vinaigrette, this salad is colorful and tangy, and so simple you won't need to look at the recipe after you've made it once. Kale holds up well in dressing; this salad was still firm and crunchy three days out.

On a kale kick, I went next to the Asian Kale, with ginger, sesame, and pumpkin seeds.

Fresh, crunchy, mild, and wonderfully easy. With some cashews or a side of broiled tofu, it makes a healthy and delicious lunch. Why are no bakery-cafes in central Maine serving this much kale?

I wanted to make the Chinese Green Beans and serve them for dinner with broiled tofu and rice, but the green beans at the grocery store were looking sad (it is January, after all) so I substituted sugar snap peas, with which I am having a minor love affair. Shallots, fried gently in sesame oil, soaked up the maple-sweetened ginger vinaigrette. With a touch of Sriracha, this dish was a perfect balance of hot, sweet, rich, and fresh. The leftovers were welcome in my lunchbox.

Finally, I made Flying Apron's Lentil Dahl, which confused me by being made of split peas, not lentils. It came together in under an hour (most of it inactive) and made six large servings. Toasting cumin seeds and other seasonings produced a rich, warming flavor. Tomatoes and diced sweet potato gave each spoonful texture and variety. This soup is perfect for a busy weeknight or a snowy weekend.

The bottom line: although this is primarily a baking book, I had the most success with Flying Apron's non-baked savory lunch items. I had mixed results with pastries, and my expensive and inedible attempts at bread left me annoyed and disheartened.

Many recipes in this book call for expensive and hard-to-find ingredients, but if you're both vegan and gluten-free, it might be worth tracking down specific brands of fruit juice concentrate in your quest for a decent muffin. I'll continue to explore the soup and salad sections of the cookbook for lunch ideas and try other cookies and breakfast pastries, but I don't plan to give the breads another chance. The layout and photography in this book are beautiful, but definitely do a trial run of any baked goods you plan to serve to guests.

32 comments:

  1. Congrats for making it through a gluten free holiday. In a few months you will get the hang of it
    Even if I can eat as much gluten as I want I think a book like this will be useful to me as I try to cut excessive gluten out of my diet

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  2. I wonder if a difference in altitude caused the baking problems.

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  3. Hmmm. You know, people in Seattle have the same problems with the Flying Apron Bakery products as you had. And I'm talking about eating, not baking! Their stuff doesn't always have the best taste and texture. (I'm being nice, here.) My favorite is their chocolate chip cookie, which tastes pretty good. I've also had the pizza which wasn't bad, but was a far cry from "regular" pizza. The other dishes you made look and sound delicious but I haven't purchased them at the bakery. Everything there seems so expensive, but based on your review, probably reflects the high cost of ingredients.

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  4. Great review, Mary! Regarding the baked stuff, I read the same commentary about the Babycakes NYC cookbook: The stuff in the bakery sells out all the time, but the recipes don't hold up. (And, many recipes use spelt, so there goes the gf element.) Maybe, like with Babycakes, the Flying Apron uses different ingredients in the bakery than in the recipes? The dal and the kale salad look really good!

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  5. Thanks for the review! I haven't heard much about the book.

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  6. Thank you for the review! What a bummer those recipes dissapointed.

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  7. Hi Mary,
    I have developed gluten free vegan bread recipes to deal with my own food sensitivities. I've successfully combined old fashioned sourdough techniques with pure food whole grain gluten free ingredients. The results are tasty, highly digestible and nutritious with a long shelf life! They take a bit more planning and work than many recipes but the results are worth it. You can see my starter recipe and my first successful loaf bread on my blog: http://glutenfreesourdough.blogspot.com/2010/01/boosted-brown-rice-starter-gluten-free.html

    I also sell my complete recipe book, The Art of Gluten Free Sourdough Baking, in PDF format on my website, www.food-medicine.com.

    Good luck with your gluten free baking,
    sharon

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  8. This post made me so hungry! I want that Kale, and soup--YUM! Off to the kitchen right now.
    And--if anyone can master GF cooking, it has to be you.
    xo
    Eco Mama

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  9. well, it's a great post, MM... even if the book is a bit disappointing. Such a bummer. I was so excited to hear about this book, but I'll wait and see if I can score it at the used bookstore for $3 someday.
    xo

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  10. Hey there MM,

    I found your post after googling "baking flying apron bread," as I made my first loaf (house bread) last night, and it didn't rise. That said, it's tasty and has a great crust--it's just flat. I took mine out of the oven at the 1:50 mark, so maybe that prevented brickness. But I was really curious as to why, as you wondered, I couldn't get the nice tall happy bread in the picture.

    However, I've tried other recipes in the book so far and been really happy: The dark chocolate muffins are *DEE-LISH.* That too is a very liquidy batter. To be safe, I erred on the side of small muffins, but they baked up perfectly.

    I've also baked the ginger wheels: thumbs up.

    And don't rule out the bread dough entirely: Even if it's not a success for what we want (i.e., bread), the book has recipes for "pockets" that I'm eager to try. Those recipes use the bread dough.

    I've had a lot of success with Elana Amsterdam's Almond Flour cookbook.

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  11. I finally came to look for this review after asking on the PPK.

    Now I'm scared to buy expensive ingredients for the baked goods (I'll stick with Isa, I think; she's trusted in my kitchen with every recipe she's written), especially since I'm definitely not GF.

    However, the savory foods? Definitely will try for new dinners. I've got a big bunch of kale in my fridge that is calling my name.

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  12. Glad to get your thoughts on this book... I too was all set to review it, but so far, I absolutely hate everything I've made. I haven't tried any of the savories, which seem like safer bets, but so far I've wasted about 2 cups of maple syrup (literally; had to throw the things away) and am not really eager to give it another try.

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  13. Sadness, I got this book for Christmas and hoped it would be a good one!

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  14. VeganCraftastic and others,

    It IS a good one. Just to put in another view: I have had a GREAT experience with everything I've tried. I baked bread for years before I went g-f and found these g-f recipes actually easier and tastier than wheat breads. My bread rose beautifully. I'd say make sure your yeast is active. Not fair to blame the cookbook for that. The quinoa loaf is an easy yeast-free staple in our house.

    Josie

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  15. Josie:

    I'm glad you had great results baking with Flying Apron recipes. As I said in my review, I made the yeast-free quinoa loaf after my failed house bread because I wanted to be sure the recipe, and not my yeast, was the culprit. I can definitely blame the recipe, and not my yeast, for bad results with a yeast-free bread.

    I'm an experienced baker and I like to think I know what I'm doing. After baking mediocre cookies, oily muffins, and two loaves of inedible bread, I didn't feel I needed to sacrifice more of these expensive ingredients to my evaluation of the cookbook.

    If you have any tips to share that would help me (and others) bake successfully using these recipes, I'd love to hear them. If specific brands of flour or techniques beyond those described in the recipes are required, the author should have been more specific.

    Thank you for your comment. It sounds like people have had very mixed results with this book.

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  16. I just received this cookbook yesterday and have been craving bread for so long that tonight I decided to try the quinoa bread. I had the exact same problem as you... an ooey gooey mess. I'm so mad! And after reading your post I'm not sure if I want to attempt any of the other baking recipes. I also bought "The Allergen-Free Baker's handbook" so I'll see if that cookbook is any better.

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  17. I just tried the House Bread for the second time. I decided to let it rise for 30 minutes before baking it, because couldn't bare to have yet another brick. I also added 1.5 tablespoons of water to the dough (since I am in CO and the climate is drier). The only rise/rounded-ness that the loaf obtained was in that initial 30 minute rise outside of the over and this loaf did not taste like a brick! I also only baked if for 1 hr 45 min. Next time, I think I'll do a 30 minute rise and put it in a cold over, turn it on and cook at 300F for 2 hours.

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  18. Glad I found your review, I just tried the house bread myself. Yes, I also obtained "brick-age" and I know I have good yeast, but maybe it didn't get activated?? I made the carrot muffins last week and they turned out just fine, my whole family ate them. I think I cut out a bit of the oil and added an egg (we're not vegan) and a bit of xantham (I couldn't help it. Except it said it made 15 muffins and it made 24 standard size, 12 mini and 2 tiny loafs.

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  19. Hello Mary:

    I own Allergeena Gluten Free Baked Goods in South Portland, Maine allergeena@maine.rr.com
    Drop me a line some time or go to www.glutenfreemaine.com and check out the baker listing under Made in Maine. Take Care! Enjoy the weather!

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  20. I haven't read any of the other comments, but regarding the (house) bread: I have had success using a food processor to mix the wet and dry ingredients together and baking in a 2 inch deep, shallow metal pan. Any time I attempt to make it using only my hands and spoons to mix and shape, or used a bread pan, the bread has been gross.

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  21. I wish I'd seen your review BEFORE I bought the book. I was at the bookstore wanting to buy a new gf cookbook, I should have researched before I went.
    I too baked the house bread and made a gooey brick that tastes alright. Now I am not going to bake anything else from the book and if I had my receipt I'd take it back.
    As you said this is a baking book so how the salads turn out doesn't make it a win.

    Count me as disappointed.

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  22. Barb,

    The scone recipes are also decent. I posted about them in July. I think the dry ingredients need a little xanthan gum, but other than that, the scones are quite nice. I haven't tried everything in this book, and some people really like it, but there do seem to be a lot of duds. Good luck!

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  23. I too tried to bake the House bread, but baked a brick. I have made other GF breads with success. I was hoping to find a good bread that didn't call for potato starch, or the other starches. Thought I had found it. I am happy to have found your blog. Has Ms. Katzinger made any comment or maybe a recipe corrections?

    The lentil soup was good. I should have been suspect when the recipe called for yellow split peas, I used the red lentils.

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  24. I'm so happy I read this review! I'm not entirely gluten-free, but I like to bake that way sometimes, so I've been looking for a great vegan GF cookbook. I was just about to put this one in my Amazon cart when I thought I better search Google for some blogger reviews. Thank you for your thoughtful & honest feedback! I would be so bummed having recipes flop when using such expensive ingredients!

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  25. I'm so glad I read this blog post!

    We were in the middle of preparing the berry corn muffins recipe, ready to put the muffins in the tins, and noticed that the batter was *extremely* thin. Before putting them in the tins, we looked up some reviews to see if we were doing something wrong.

    This was the first review I read, and I'm glad I did! Instead of putting them in as-is, we decided to increase the dry ingredients by 50% (the corn meal, corn flour, etc.) Also added some Xanthan Gum to improve its consistency and texture.


    Result - perfect! These muffins were even better than the ones they had in the store. I really think there was some sort of typo in the recipe. If you look closely, you'll notice that at the top it says "makes 12 muffins", but at the bottom it mentions filling 8 tins...that's a 50% difference right there, and maybe that's the reason why increasing the dry ingredients by 50% did the trick?

    I hope this helps some others :-)

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  26. I'm wondering if anyone else had trouble with the Ginger Wheels - my dough was too sticky and not solid enough (i think) to press down on the dough balls and score with a fork. The recipe also says it would make 20 cookies - i have well over 3 dozen! Any ideas? I can't imagine an increase in dry ingredients would do it - theres already nearly 6 cups of flour!

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  27. My house bread turned out to be a brick as well, but the cardamom spice muffins were fabulous! I made a cream cheese and butter frosting (I'm not vegan, just G.F.) and they were so good, I think I ate 5 the first night. I think I may alter the recipe to make a great spice muffin. Cardamom is very expensive! I'm thinking my yeast may not have been activated, but it was new yeast.....didn't foam and didn't turn the maple syrup/oil mixture foggy.

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  28. Hello!
    I've been vegan and gluten free for 7 or so years now, very seldomly eating cakes. For better or worse, this book's got me into desserts again.
    I tried to make the bread dough into rolls. big mistake! :0
    All the sweet stuff has turned out brilliantly though. Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom. If only my flatmates would return the favour, and not eat all my biscuits when I'm away. Jokes on their wastelines I suppose.
    I'm living in New Zealand, where agave, maple syrup and many of the other ingredients are a bit on the expensive side. But brown sugar swaps out the other sweeteners marvelously.
    I've just made the mexican chocolate cake, but swapped out the bananas for beetroot.
    Delicioso!

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  29. Hi there! it was nice to see photos and hear your responses to the recipes from The Flying Apron cookbook. I only recently bought the book (Fall 2010) when our college daughter decided to go gluten-free and vegan, to see if she would feel better. I had good success with the Earl Grey Tea Cake both times I made it. It needed a bit more baking time than the recipe called for. Also, the 2nd time around I substituted 1 cup of maple syrup with 1/2 c honey, since I ran out of the maple syrup. This was a hit with my teacher colleagues at the lunch table, moist, fluffy and tasty.

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  30. i am an amateur in the kitchen but have had great success w this cookbook! the tahini dreams were the only recipe that came out looking nothing like the intended version (came out more like chewy peanut brittle) but people LOVED it. so that's cool...

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  31. Hi there, fellow mainer -- I came here after making the quinoa bread -- mine looked similiar to yours. I was curious if others had made it with more beautiful results. I noticed there was no photo in the book, which sort of made me curious. I still enjoyed eating the bread, so I think I might still post on my blog about it...but definitely not what I expected.

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  32. I bought this book. I tried numerous things and they all tasted horrible or didn't turn out. The only one I liked was the lentil dahl, and I substituted actual lentils for the peas (I was confused too). I ended up tossing the book and ripping out the page for the one recipe I actually did like.

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