Book review: Revolutionary techniques, groundbreaking recipes
January 27, 2017
"The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook" Volumes 1 and 2
America's Test Kitchen
We’ve all heard the counter gluten-free argument, perhaps from friends, perhaps at a favorite restaurant. “If humans have been eating wheat for 10,000 years, why can’t you?”
As it turns out, according to anthropologists, wheat — the primary source of gluten in our diet — has only been available to approximately one third of Europeans for 6,000 years. And, looking at traditional recipes, you will see that it is so. If your genetic diversity is driven by that third of Europeans, your gut may well be in luck, but for the majority of us, some alternative to a wheat-heavy diet may be necessary.
Thankfully, the folks at America’s Test Kitchen are on it. Now in their 17th season on PBS — with hundreds of episodes featuring easy-to-make recipes developed with a scientific approach to cooking and weeknight meals in mind — America’s Test Kitchen is also one of the most prolific publishers of cookbooks today, publishing dozens of books and two bimonthly periodicals.
To date, they’ve published two volumes of gluten-free cookbooks, "The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook" Volumes 1 and 2. These books are a must-have for any home cook on the gluten-free diet and offer definitive proof that going gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t eat great bread, pasta and the best desserts.
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These cookbooks are not just a list of recipes to follow blindly, rather, they aim to teach you how to think about gluten-free cooking. About a tenth of each book is dedicated to an introduction intended to teach you about the science of gluten and why it’s so difficult to substitute. They also spend a healthy amount of time comparing commercially available gluten-free products and offering a compelling argument for why cooking from scratch is better than baking from the box.
Volume 1 lays the foundation for gluten-free baking, introducing America's Test Kitchen's own custom flour mix, the ATK All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, which has been shown in blind taste tests to outperform all commercially available gluten-free flours. It also includes fundamental recipes, such as bread, pasta, pie crust and a wealth of international recipes that are traditionally gluten free.
Volume 2 is where the test kitchen really hits its stride, adding a whole-grain flour mix and expanding with some truly challenging gluten-free recipes. These are difficult to re-create foods that longtime gluten-free dieters are sure to miss, including bagels, baguettes, focaccia and doughnuts.
Volume 2 also goes beyond the purely gluten-free diet, offering dairy-free and vegan alternatives to many recipes, a useful addition, considering dairy and eggs are both heavily relied upon in both traditional and gluten-free baking.
With an increasingly health conscious population and as wheat intolerance approaches truly epidemic levels in certain international markets, there’s a good chance you’ve tried or will be attempting gluten-free cooking the next time you have company.
Both volumes of "The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook" offer tested recipes which have been shown to satisfy the gluten-free and, at times, even fool the most stubborn wheat eaters.
These books are available at Bud Werner Memorial LIbrary and Off the Beaten Path.
Adrian Gurga is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.