Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking

By Kelli & Peter Bronski

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Andrea Savard

Kelli and Peter Bronski’s Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking ($18.95 USD, published by The Experiment) is an interesting hodgepodge of international dishes and every imaginable chicken recipe, alongside some classic gluten-free bread, pie crust and dessert recipes. Unfortunately I found the book wasn’t as well organized as I would have liked, and the recipes themselves lacked a bit of flow and focus. For example; there were dessert sections in the front and back of the book, with appetizers and entrees scattered throughout each chapter. Yet the most perplexing chapter of all was the one titled “Sides”, which basically contains four pages of recipes that delve into the mysteries of boiling rice. Although few of the recipes were imaginative or particularly “artisanal,” the book does contain useful instructions and the authors have an obvious interest in cooking a wide range of cuisine.

Before I even attempted any of the recipes, I was disappointed in the overall design and layout of the book. The cover photo of the Mediterranean Lasagna looks appetizing and is a decent picture, but it’s the only appealing photo in the book. The other images are all grouped in the middle eight pages, which is problematic for someone like me who prefers to see the photo right next to the corresponding recipe. The photographs are small, shot with poor lighting with little attention to placement, and are arranged on a blue background that makes all the food look like it should be on a diner menu and not in an “artisanal” cookbook.

Considering all the time and money that goes into the publication of cookbooks, I’m often amazed when one isn’t thoughtfully designed or well organized. Sometimes it feels that editors and publishers aren’t interested in making gluten-free look more sexy and appealing. People living gluten-free like pretty books too! I am always on the lookout for that ever elusive beautifully designed glossy paged gluten-free cookbook with gorgeous photos to match the quality go-to recipes. Even though I am cooking gluten-free food, I still want that visceral, all-consuming, celebratory book that reflects a love for making great food…even without gluten.

That being said (thanks for putting up with my rant), I am not the type of person to judge a book by its cover, questionable editing choices, amateur photos, or clunky design. So I went ahead and tried three recipes: Thin Crust Pizza Dough, Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf, and Prawn and Vegetable Tempura.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (crispy & chewy but only yields one crust)

THE TEST: As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I’m always on the look out for new, simple, and tasty dough with minimal ingredients. This recipe fit the bill. I used the artisan gluten-free flour mix from the front of the book, then added the requisite yeast, water, olive oil mixture along with honey, xanthum gum, dried basil and oregano. I let the dough rise for about 25 minutes and then shaped it onto a pizza pan.

I liked that this recipe was egg free and still had the mandatory chewiness of a crispy pizza crust. Unfortunately the recipe only yielded one crust; enough for a single medium-sized pizza. I also found that the dough didn’t roll out easily, and in the end I had to resort to pressing it into shape with my hands to keep the dough from pulling apart and sticking to the parchment paper.

THE RESULTS: Once I pre-baked the crust, it held up well to tomato sauce and lots of cheese and toppings. Although a good basic crust, this probably isn’t a recipe I will use again in the future. I will stick with my tried and true recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef.

Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

Rating: 4 out of 5 (light & moist, but an absurd amount of poppy seeds)

THE TEST: Something you should know about me is that I love anything made with lemons, and one of my favourite combinations happens to be lemon and poppy seeds. Because I had a few cups of the artisan gluten-free flour mix leftover from the pizza recipe and lots of lemons, I decided to give this recipe a try.

Once I added the lemon rind, poppy seeds, eggs, milk, sugar etc. I quickly mixed the recipe up and it was in the oven in less than 10 minutes. It is so helpful to have the pre-mixed flour ready for use. This recipe required minimum effort, and includes a great lemon glaze recipe that you smooth onto the cooled loaf, wrap in plastic overnight and let the glaze soak through the bread.

THE RESULTS: The lemon glaze gave the loaf a nice, zesty boost of citrus. In the future I would cut back the sugar required for the bread recipe by ¼ cup. In conjunction with the lemon glaze (sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice), the result was too sweet for my liking. Also, I would suggest cutting back the amount of poppy seeds from ¾ of a cup to ½ cup. That said the loaf did only last one day in our house so I would have to give this recipe a thumbs-up. It is definitely one I will use again.

Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura

Rating: 3 out of 5 (the batter tasted great & resembled real tempura, but the consistency wasn’t thick enough)

THE TEST: I usually don’t deep fry anything, not only because it isn’t the healthiest way to eat but because it seems sort of dangerous to heat up a pan full of oil to the flashpoint. It would be much safer (not to mention easier) to use a deep fryer, but since we don’t have one I decided to throw caution to the wind and tackle this tempura recipe via good ol’ fashioned stovetop frying.

(Interestingly enough, this recipe is found between recipes for Split Pea and Ham Soup and the Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps. Because that makes sense).

Tempura is something I miss the most when I eat at a Japanese restaurant. I enjoy sushi and the few Japanese dishes that tend to be gluten-free, but there is nothing better than a light, bubbly and crispy batter on vegetables. The nice thing about tempura is that any vegetable tastes great battered and deep fried, so I chopped up all of my favourites: yam, parsnip, zucchini, turnip, onion and asparagus.

The batter itself was easy to whip up using brown rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder, water and egg. If I made this again, I would use ¼ cup less water since the batter was too thin and didn’t stay on the vegetables as well as it did with the prawns. A consistency resembling pancake batter would be best.

The dipping sauce recipe was a tasty mix of wheat-free Tamari, Mirin, fish sauce, water and sugar. I found the Kikkoman Mirin sauce that I used lacked enough tang, so I added a teaspoon of rice vinegar into the mix.

THE RESULTS: This recipe is something I would attempt the next time I need a deep fry fix. I would even use the batter for fish and chips, or chicken or anything else I can think of to deep fry. The end results were tasty, and with a little tweaking I think this recipe could be a keeper.

I just might have to purchase a deep fryer…