OTHER INGREDIENTS - Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin

Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours - Alanna Taylor-Tobin (2016)


I generally try to use organic, seasonal and locally grown ingredients whenever possible—they taste better, are healthier for our bodies and benefit our communities and the planet as a whole. Besides, if you’re going to go to the trouble of shopping for groceries, making a recipe and cleaning up, you might as well stack the deck in your favor and start with the most flavorful ingredients possible. And, to quote an old hair commercial: You’re worth it. Here’s a little bit about the ingredients that went into developing these recipes; starting with similar products when possible will help you achieve the best results.


Produce tastes best when it’s grown close by, picked when ripe and eaten soon thereafter. Farmers’ markets, CSAs, co-ops and health food stores tend to provide the best produce. When picking out fruit for recipes, use your nose as well as your eyes; you can often tell a ripe pear or tasty peach by its scent, even when the fruit feels hard when you give it a gentle squeeze. Ask for samples and recommendations when you can. As a bonus, fruit at the peak of its season usually costs less than flavorless, out-of-season fruit grown halfway across the world.

Fruits and vegetables can vary in size a lot, so I recommend using the weight or volume measurements that I’ve included whenever possible for the best results in recipes. If you don’t have a scale at home, you can weigh produce when you shop and then you won’t have to guess.

What’s in season when will vary regionally as well as year to year depending on weather patterns. Here are some general guidelines for when the produce used in this book are in season in California and similar regions.


Rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, apricots, early peaches, blueberries


Peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries, blackberries (and berry hybrids such as tayberries and loganberries), marionberries, olallieberries, corn, zucchini, first crop of figs


Figs, huckleberries, pears, apples, quinces, cranberries, pomegranates, persimmons, winter squash, sweet potatoes


Lemons, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, blood oranges, kumquats, foods that keep such as nuts, dried fruit


Nasty stuff like pesticides tend to gather in the fat portion of dairy, which is why I feel that it’s particularly important to use organic dairy. Also, I like cows, and I prefer to use dairy made from mama cows who are treated kindly, which is more likely to occur in smaller dairies. Additionally, dairy from cows that have grazed on grass tends to be more flavorful and higher in nutrients, and dairy that is fresh and hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized tastes sweeter and cleaner.

I don’t have much experience with dairy substitutes, but much information can be found online if you need to make trades in these recipes. Look for ingredients that have similar consistencies and fat and water contents for the best results. For example, coconut oil contains nearly 100 percent fat to butter’s 80 to 85 percent and will usually not make a good 1:1 substitute. To develop a coconut oil-based tart crust, I had to add water and tweak the other ingredients to make it work. I hope you’ll feel free to play around based on your own dietary needs and preferences (and share your results with me at BojonGourmet.com and AlternativeBaker.com!). Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to get it right.


Whole-milk ricotta cheese tastes like heaven, and is nothing like cheap, part-skim supermarket ricotta. Spring for the good stuff for these recipes. I use Bellwether Farm’s basket-dipped ricotta when I make the ricotta biscuits and shortcakes in this book (and much of it also goes directly into my mouth).

The farmer cheese used in blintzes should have the texture of a firm ricotta with more bite and is sometimes labeled fromage blanc (which is used in the Fromage Blanc Tartlets with Honeyed Kumquats—the two are interchangeable.

I’m a fan of artisan, crumbly cream cheese for eating, which is free from gums and stabilizers and has a goat cheese-like texture. But when it comes to cheesecakes and cream cheese frostings, the silky-smooth foil-wrapped sort is your best bet. I don’t recommend using whipped cream cheese, as it may give you different results.

Goat cheese in this book is usually the fresh, crumbly variety, sometimes called chèvre. It makes tasty cheesecake bites studded with berries. This will work in the fig bites as well, but a funky, aged goat cheese will taste extra complex and delicious there.

Mascarpone is a creamy Italian cheese sold in tubs, with a consistency similar to sour cream but with a sweet flavor. I have yet to find an adequate substitute for this delicious stuff that’s classically used in tiramisù and features in this book whipped with cream and spread into a couple of cakes.

I use two kinds of yogurt in baking: plain whole-milk yogurt and plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt, which is strained of some liquid and has a thicker texture and higher fat content. Both make delicious accompaniments to crisps, cobblers and breakfast treats when you want something creamy but less sweet.

Different types of cream contain different levels of fat; all recipes in this book were tested with organic heavy whipping cream (also called heavy cream) with a fat content of about 40 percent, but regular whipping cream, with a fat content of about 35 percent, will work, too. Just don’t go for something labeled simply “cream,” which could have a fat content as low as 18 percent and could give different results in recipes, particularly whipped cream and ice cream. For the record, “double cream” in the UK has an even higher fat content of 48 percent.

Butter in this book is always European-style unsalted butter, which contains 85 percent butterfat. Regular butters in the United States have a fat content closer to 80 percent, with a higher water content. Pie and tart doughs, scones, biscuits, butter-based cakes and cookies will all taste richer and more flavorful when made with excellent butter: their textures tend to be more tender and flaky and they won’t burn as easily. I’ve found European-style butter to be superior particularly when browning butter. All recipes in this book were developed with Straus brand butter; other brands with a similar fat content are Plugrá, Kerrygold and Organic Valley European-Style Butter. That said, most of these recipes should work fine with regular butter in a pinch. Ghee is butter that has been clarified and cooked until it takes on a warm, toasty flavor. With a high smoke point, it’s your friend for frying blintzes.

Crème fraîche and sour cream are usually interchangeable in recipes. Crème fraîche has a milder flavor and softer texture, and is easy to make at home with just cream and buttermilk (or a spoonful of Crème Fraîche.

Buttermilk as we know it today is different from old-school buttermilk, which was literally the liquid left over after churning butter. Buttermilk in Northern California is all low-fat, cultured and fairly thick in texture, like watered-down yogurt. When measuring buttermilk, it’s important to give it a good shake first, as the solids tend to settle to the bottom of the container. Shaking the buttermilk also aerates it a bit. If you don’t have access to buttermilk, plain, unsweetened kefir, which is a sort of liquid, yogurtlike substance, usually makes a good substitute. You can also water down plain, whole-milk yogurt. Another common buttermilk substitution is to mix a tablespoon (15 ml) of lemon juice into a scant cup (230 ml) of milk, stir and let sit until thickened, 5 minutes. Do note that the watered-down yogurt and thickened milk won’t be aerated the way shaken buttermilk or kefir are, so you’ll want to use a little less than is called for.

Eggs in my recipes are always “large” (2 ounces [57 g] by weight in the shell). “Pastured” eggs are currently the gold standard of eggs (second only to eggs from your or a neighbor’s own chickens). These chickens are allowed to run around outside, beaks intact, pecking at bugs and eating lots of yummy things. These eggs have firm whites and bright orange yolks, and vastly more nutrients than conventional eggs (two to three times more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, four to six times as much vitamin D and seven times more beta-carotene). They even have less cholesterol (by one-third) and saturated fat (by one-fourth) than conventional eggs. Organic, free-range eggs are the next grade down. These chickens are allowed some access to the outdoors and their feed is free of pesticides. All recipes in this book were tested with either pastured or organic eggs. Egg whites from both types will whip up better for use in chiffon cakes, and the yolks will add more color and flavor to custards and ice creams. I tend to stay away from commercial eggs because the way the chickens are treated makes me sad, as do their pale yolks and watery whites.


Sweeteners are part of the panoply of flavors we bakers get to play with. At home and on my blog I revel in all of them: unrefined muscovado sugar, buckwheat honey, coconut nectar, bourbon smoked sugar … To make the recipes in this book more accessible, I stuck with only a handful of easier-to-find sweeteners.

Organic granulated cane sugar is my go-to sweetener. Wholesome Sweeteners and Florida Crystals are two commonly found brands. This sugar has crystals that are slightly larger and more irregular than conventional granulated sugar and an off-white color with a hint of caramel flavor and tiny amounts of trace minerals. (This sugar is also vegan, whereas conventional granulated cane sugar gets a final whitening process involving animal bones—creepy.) Its mild flavor allows other ingredients to star, and its delicate texture melts into baked goods. If you substitute regular granulated sugar, be sure to substitute by weight or take down the sugar by 1 tablespoon for every ½ cup called for; a cup of organic granulated cane sugar weighs 7 ounces (200 g) whereas the same amount of regular granulated sugar weighs 8 ounces (225 g).

Organic light and dark brown sugars are also slightly different from their conventional counterparts. All kinds of brown sugars have been refined to the point of being granulated, then mixed with varying amounts of molasses to add back its rich, earthy taste and some trace minerals. If you compare organic and conventional brown sugars side by side, you’ll see that the organic sugar (even light brown) is many shades darker than even conventional dark brown sugar. The sugar crystals are coarser, and the sugar is moister. For this reason, I specify organic in recipes. Substituting conventional brown sugar will result in slightly sweeter, drier baked goods with less depth of flavor. If that’s all you’ve got, your best bet is to substitute by weight, or reduce the brown sugar by 1 tablespoon for every ½ cup called for. That said, organic light and dark brown sugars can be used interchangeably; I’ve specified where I have a flavor preference, though. Whatever you use, be sure to pack the sugar into the cup for the correct measure; when you turn the packed cup out into the mixing bowl, it should crack apart just a bit, signifying a properly packed cup.

If you want even more oomph in your sugar, trade out the brown sugars in any recipe for light or dark muscovado sugar (sometimes marketed as natural dark brown molasses sugar, Barbados sugar or unrefined cane sugar). Unlike brown sugar, these sugars haven’t had the molasses removed in the first place, and they have a richer flavor and are usually less refined (though there is no standard process for making muscovado sugar). Dark muscovado is a deep, chocolate brown in color and has the highest molasses content of the brown sugars. Light muscovado is closer in color to light brown sugar and can stand in for it in any recipe. India Tree and Billingtons are two commonly available brands

Powdered sugar (AKA confectioners’ sugar, or in the UK, icing sugar) is a combination of pulverized granulated sugar mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping. Recipes in this book were tested using organic powdered sugar from Wholesome Sweeteners, which comes from the slightly less refined organic granulated cane sugar (above) and has an off-white hue when moistened. It’s an essential ingredient in frostings and glazes, where it dissolves easily and adds starch at the same time. Sifting powdered sugar over a cake or pastry can give it a pretty, sweet finish.

For finishing baked goods, I often add a sprinkle of coarse sugar (either demerara or turbinado, AKA Sugar in the Raw). These sugars have large, crunchy crystals that are semi-refined and retain a bit of caramel flavor. They make scones and muffin tops look pretty. But if you don’t have any on hand, organic granulated cane sugar works just fine.

Maple is perhaps my favorite sweetener. A nutritionist friend considers it the healthiest of the lot, insisting that it thwarts blood-sugar spikes and contains healthy trace minerals. I like its rich flavor (particularly in grade B syrup, which is darker and extra-delicious) that pairs well with other warm flavors, particularly summer and fall fruits, earthy grains and flours, chocolate, nuts and spirits. Maple syrup is about as sweet as sugar by volume, but it contains much more liquid. For this reason, substituting maple syrup for sugar in recipes is not advised without some research, trial and error. If you want to trade sugar out for maple in a recipe, maple sugar is a better bet. It isn’t cheap, but it has had the liquid removed and will give much better results, so think of the extra cost as money saved on potentially failed recipe tests. Maple sugar has a condensed maple flavor and if it weren’t so darn expensive, I’d use it instead of organic granulated cane sugar in many recipes. It can sometimes be substituted 1:1 by volume in recipes, though some experimentation will still be required.

Honey, the sticky, golden nectar produced by bees, is about 33 percent sweeter than sugar by volume. It has intoxicating floral notes reminiscent of ripe apricots and citrus and, depending on what sort of flowers the bees have access to, can contain flavors ranging from buckwheat to orange blossom to lavender. Honey’s complexity makes it excellent for finishing sweet dishes, the way freshly ground pepper lends flavor to a savory dish, and it adds a beautiful gloss and sheen to tarts, trifles and cakes. Its wild flavors are best preserved in raw honey added as a finish, but I occasionally bake it into cornbread or upside-down cakes, or stir it into candied kumquats, to give them a little more oomph and natural sweetness. Buying honey in bulk from your local co-op can be the least expensive option, and eating very local honey is said to help prevent seasonal allergies.

I use corn syrup (an organic variety from Wholesome Sweeteners) in only one application, and that is when making caramel. This invert sugar helps prevent the crystallization that can especially plague caramel made from coarser organic granulated cane sugar. Honey has a similar effect and can be used interchangeably there.


Salt may be the smallest volumetric ingredient used in any given recipe, but it has a big effect on the outcome. Most sweets made without salt taste flat, regardless of other flavors. Fine sea salt is my salt of choice for baking; it is pure white with crystals similar in size to organic granulated cane sugar, and I get it in bulk at my co-op. Kosher salt has larger, less regular crystals; if you substitute this, you’ll want to add a little extra than is called for. Conversely, table salt has finer crystals, and you’ll want to use a little less of this. I don’t recommend using iodized table salt, as it can have a harsh flavor. Unrefined salts such as pink salt can have intense oceanic flavor and I also don’t recommend them for baking.

For finishing both sweet and savory dishes, I love Maldon salt for its crunchy, pyramidal crystals and clean flavor. A sprinkle is the perfect addition to salty caramel or to chocolate cookies. Maldon is made in Essex, England, but Jacobsen Salt Co., in Portland, Oregon, makes a similarly shaped flake salt.

Cinnamon comes in several different varieties. Ceylon (Cinnamomumverum) is considered “true” cinnamon and has a subtler, floral flavor. I usually prefer using regular “cassia” cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii), the type most widely sold in the United States, in baking, however, as it has that classic cinnamon flavor that carries through better in baked goods such as apple pie and cinnamon swirl biscuits.

I use several different forms of ginger in this book: fresh ginger root, ground/powdered ginger and candied or crystallized ginger, which are chunks of ginger that have been blanched and preserved in sugar.

If you’ve ever tried freshly grated nutmeg, you’ll know how different it tastes from the pre-ground stuff. Fresh nutmeg has a peppery, floral, spicy flavor; these nuances get lost in pre-ground nutmeg. So buy whole nutmegs and grate them with a microplane-type grater for best results. To measure, grate it onto a small piece of paper, then use the paper to slide the nutmeg into a measuring spoon and pack lightly.

Other spices gracing these pages are cardamom, cloves and allspice. When stored airtight in (preferably) glass jars, these hold their flavors well pre-ground; just make sure they’re no older than 6 months.

Vanilla beans make appearances in many of my recipes. Don’t buy the über-pricey beans in the supermarket; order them in bulk online (see Sources). I rinse and dry used beans and stick them in a mason jar covered with alcohol to make my own vanilla extract and get the most bang for my buck. Vanilla extract can be substituted at about 1 teaspoon per vanilla bean. And it goes without saying, but only use real vanilla extract, not the fake stuff. I haven’t worked with vanilla paste or ground vanilla yet, but they are other options for getting your vanilla on in recipes.


Baking soda (called bicarbonate of soda in the UK) and baking powder (currently marketed as double-acting) are the two leavening agents used throughout this book. My teacher in pastry school explained that soda promotes spreading (such as in drop cookies) while powder provides lift (in things like scones and biscuits). Baking soda reacts with acidic ingredients (such as cultured dairy, citrus and even sugar) to produce carbon dioxide, which aerates batters and doughs. It is used in smaller quantities than baking powder and can leave an aftertaste if not properly neutralized by acidity in recipes. It also increases browning in cakes and muffins. In gluten-free baking, I’ve found that baking soda can improve the texture in cakes due, I think, to changing the pH. In short, don’t leave out the soda when it’s called for, as even a small amount can have a big effect on baked goods. Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and sometimes cornstarch, and it reacts not only with acidity but also with heat to create lift (hence the “double-acting” bit). Some recipes call for one or the other, while others need both, so take care to use the right leavening for the job. Do be sure to source gluten-free, aluminum-free baking powder, and see that your leaveners are not more than 3 months old; their lifting powers could be compromised and result in dense, gummy baked goods.

Cream of tartar is another, lesser-used leavener. In this book, it is used as an acid in the whipped egg whites for chiffon cake, which helps create a stable mixture that makes the cake light and pillowy.


Chocolate comes from the fruit of the theobroma cacao tree (theobroma meaning “food of the gods”). The seeds undergo a lengthy process to become what we know as chocolate, as well as cocoa powder and cacao nibs, all used extensively in this book. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Cacao nibs are the least processed form of chocolate: the cacao bean is simply roasted, slipped from its husk and broken into small pieces. They taste a little like coffee beans, earthy and bitter (except more chocolaty, of course). They work beautifully wherever you want a little crunch, such as the no-bake oat bars or atop little chocolate cakes dolloped with berries and crème fraîche.

Cocoa powder comes in two forms: natural and Dutch-processed. The latter has been processed with an alkalizing ingredient to neutralize the natural acidity of the cocoa. I prefer the flavor of the Dutch variety, which has a darker color and mellower flavor (think Oreos). Regular and Dutch cocoa powders react differently to leavening in recipes; sometimes they are interchangeable, but other times not. So to be safe, go for Dutch-processed in these recipes. Most European brands are processed with alkali. If you’re not sure, look for alkali in the ingredients list. Valrhona, Guittard, Frontier and Equal Exchange are four readily available brands in the United States.

When using chocolate, I always go for bars (or baking drops) over chips. Chips have higher amounts of lecithin that keep them from melting in cookies, but I don’t even like these in cookies! Chopping up a bar leaves you with irregular pieces and some chocolate dust that disperses better throughout the cookie. Plus, bar chocolate is generally higher quality than chips. Percentage matters when chocolate is melted into a batter, such as in brownies or double chocolate cookies, so take care to use the right chocolate for the job, detailed below. But when chopped and stirred in, such as in blondies or chocolate chip cookies, use any percentage you like.

Dark milk chocolate with around 40 percent cacao mass tastes nothing like the cheap candy bars we all ate as kids. Milk can smooth rough edges and bring out the fruity notes in the chocolate. I love Recchiuti and Scharffen Berger, and more and more artisanal brands are coming out with dark milk chocolates, too. Try this in the chestnut chocolate chip cookies.

Semisweet chocolate usually has a lower cacao mass than bittersweet, (roughly 35 to 60 percent), though there are no real standards. I usually skip this in favor of bittersweet.

Bittersweet chocolate is the darkest of the chocolates, with a cacao mass usually between 60 and 75 percent. (There are higher percentage chocolates out there, too, but those usually make better eating than they do baking.) Recipes in this book that call for bittersweet chocolate were tested with either Tcho’s 66 percent or Guittard’s 72 percent bittersweet chocolate. Other excellent brands for baking are Scharffen Berger, Alter Eco, Valrhona and Callebaut, among countless others.

White chocolate has a bad rap due to the cheap stuffbeing made without any cacao butter at all. But there are some delicious white chocolates out there, my favorite being Green & Black’s Organic. It isn’t toothachingly sweet and is studded with specks of vanilla seeds for big flavor. When baked into blondies, it enhances their butterscotch flavor.


These tend to be highly perishable and their oils can go rancid at room temperature. Buy them from stores with high turnover (such as the bulk bins at well-attended co-ops and grocers) and keep as many as you can fit in the refrigerator, particularly pistachios, cashews, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hemp seeds and chia seeds, which are the most volatile. Toasting nuts can go from raw to burnt quickly, so keep an eye on them and set a timer if you’re forgetful (like me!). Sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds make up the pumpkin cranberry loaf and are also delicious toasted and sprinkled over salads or yogurt.

Almonds are used here not only as a flour (discussed more in “Alternative Grains and Flours”), but in other forms, too. Unblanched sliced almonds add texture and a pretty topping to oat bars and buckles, and sweet almond paste (marzipan’s less-sweet cousin) makes a wildly flavorful crisp topping.

Chia seeds are no longer just for chia pets. They are related to flaxseeds and have similar properties with a milder flavor. Black and white chia seeds both work well in recipes and are interchangeable; I tend to buy the white seeds because they make a lighter-colored pie pastry. They’re featured in the pumpkin loaf, helping to bind the ingredients together, and when ground they take the place of xanthan gum in flaky pie dough while adding their own nutty flavor. If you have extra seeds lying around that you don’t know how to use, try throwing a tablespoon (10 g) of them into your smoothie or stirring them into oatmeal.

NOTE: To grind chia seeds, place about ¼ cup (40 g) of seeds in a clean spice grinder or coffee grinder. Grind the seeds until they’re the consistency of a fine meal, being careful not to take them so far that they become pasty. Dump the seeds into a jar and store, refrigerated airtight, for up to 1-2 months.

Coconut is used here not only as a flour (as discussed in the “Alternative Grains and Flours” section) but also as an oil and a milk. Coconut oil is solid at cool room temperature, but if it’s too hot in your kitchen, store it in the refrigerator to keep it firm. Always buy raw, extra-virgin coconut oil. I always use canned, full-fat coconut milk unless otherwise specified. This can be chilled, the cream scraped from the top and whipped into a dairy-free whipped cream (see here) to top any dessert or fill roulade cakes.


Sunflower oil and olive oil can make fabulously moist and flavorful cakes. Sunflower has a neutral flavor, while olive oil will add a complex edge. Always use extra-virgin olive oil. Store both at room temperature in a cool, dark place.


Wine and spirits make frequent appearances in my recipes, which, in addition to giving the chef a little treat while she bakes, can build layers of flavor into baked goods. There is some confusion as to which spirits are GF because even distilled spirits made from rye or barley should have the gluten removed during the distillation process, which takes out all the solids. Sometimes this process gets botched, however, or caramel color is added, which can contain trace amounts of gluten. This is only an issue if you or your guests have celiac or an extreme sensitivity to gluten, however. (For instance, my sister, who gets hives from gluten, can—and does—drink all the whiskey she wants.) I’ve noted which spirits you should source GF versions of and made note of brands that are certified GF, such as St-Germain elderflower liqueur, The Kraken black rum and Queen Jennie Whiskey, which is made entirely from sorghum. Lillet Blanc and white wine, also used in recipes here, are GF as well.