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...
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.