Triple Cookbook Review: The Baking Edition

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Lots of catching up to do with cookbook reviews, so let’s get started with a few baking books that have piled up over the last year or two.

Ani’s Raw Food Desserts
by Ani Phyo
Da Capo/Lifelong, 2009

I’ve been a fan of Ani Phyo since her first book, Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen hit the shelves in 2007. This book focuses solely on desserts, all raw and free of wheat, gluten, dairy, and processed sugar.

There’s a nice variety of desserts here, from frozen items like Pineapple Icebox Cakes and Key Lime Kream Bars to cakes, cookies, fudge, crisps and cobblers, and sun-baked treats like scones and biscuits. As with Ani’s first book, the recipes are relatively easy to make and don’t usually require ingredients that are too off-the-wall or hard to find. Certainly her recipes are easier with something like a Vitamix on hand, but most don’t require extensive dehydrating or preparation. Ani continues to be one of the most accessible raw chefs.

I had good luck with the Coconut Ice Kream recipe, made with just five ingredients: cashews, filtered water, agave, shredded coconut, and coconut oil. It’s surprisingly easy and offers up a strong coconut flavor and smooth texture.

Also very simple and quick are Sliced Apples with Rosemary. With only three ingredients (apples, lemon, and rosemary), this an amazing little dessert that perfectly combines sweet, sour, and savory. Love it, love it.

While I haven’t had a chance to try out any of the cakes yet, I hope to make the cheesecakes soon along with some filled chocolate truffles on the side.

The book is small and well-designed (it’s basically the same layout as Isa’s cookie and cupcake books) with beautiful food photography. Definitely worth having on hand if you’re experimenting with raw foods and want to delve into the sweet side of things.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
Da Capo/Lifelong, 2009

I’m definitely late to the game reviewing this one, given that pretty much everyone that reads this blog probably has a copy, but here we go anyway. Viva la catching up!

Cookies. It’s a book with lots and lots of cookies. Kind of like the cupcake book, except with cookies.

The basic chocolate chip cookie recipe is quite good, of course, as are the Chocolate Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies (known around our house as the Compromise Cookie since I’m all about the chocolate and my wife’s into oatmeal cookies). The whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are a slightly healthier version of the old classic, making use of the love-it-or-hate-it white whole wheat flour. The recipe also works well just combining half all-purpose and half whole-wheat flour. The Orange Agave Chocolate Chip cookies, however, were disappointing. With the combination of orange and chocolate, I was expecting the world.

And in the “not-a-cookie, but good anyway” category, the Deluxe Cocoa Brownies are moist and super awesome.

Reading back this review, I realize that I’ve pretty much only made chocolate chip cookie variations. Not sure what’s up with that, but there are certainly a handful of other cookies I’m dying to try out at some point, including the Lazy Samoas, Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows, and Peanut Apple Pretzel Drops.

The book’s got great photography, the familiar Da Capo “square vegan baking book” layout mentioned in the last review, and all of the wonderful added text from Isa and Terry you’d expect. The recipes are not heavily reliant on Earth Balance, so if you avoid EB, it’s not an issue. Another thumbs up for America’s favorite cooking duo.

Flying Apron’s Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book
by Jennifer Katzinger
Sasquatch Books, 2009

While no one in my family has any level of gluten intolerance (that we know of, at least!), I still try to keep up on gluten-free cooking and baking. With so many more people finding out that they’re intolerant or allergic, it’s helpful to have some knowledge of different flours and baking techniques so you can accommodate everyone at a dinner party or make sure all the little ones in your son or daughter’s class can join in when it comes time for birthday cupcakes.

Jennifer Katzinger runs the Flying Apron bakery in Seattle and this cookbook offers up some straight-up gluten-free goodness for anyone ready to dive headfirst into gluten-free baking. The recipes in this book are VEFH (seriously, what’s up with the vegan books that still have honey as an ingredient? Can we just list agave instead or, at the very least, use the term “liquid sweetener”?) and all the recipes are appropriate for those with Celiac Disease (meaning low-gluten flours like spelt are not used). In addition, all recipes are soy-free.

Before going any further, let me be honest: I’ve made only two recipes from this book. While there are a lot of really, really tempting recipes, in many cases, one of two things held me back. For one, lots of the recipes called for a stand mixer, which I don’t have. I realize that it can be done by hand, but sometimes I just don’t feel like putting in the effort.

The biggest issue, though, is that these recipes can get quite expensive to make. For instance, to make one 10-inch square Earl Grey Tea Cake, you need three cups of maple syrup. Given what maple syrup costs, that’s easily $10 in just sweetener for just one cake. Yikes.

Some bakers may also be turned off by the use of palm oil in many recipes, given the issues that exist.

Obviously some of the flours are going to be tricky to find, too, but that’s not a criticism I’m willing to level on a gluten-free cookbook. If you’re going to get into gluten-free baking, you’ll get used to hunting down brown rice flour, hazelnut flour, and quinoa flour.

So, with all that said, let’s get to the food.

The first recipe I tried was the basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, which uses brown rice flour and garbanzo bean flour (which tends to lend a nice “egginess” to foods). While recipes with brown rice flour can tend to be a bit gritty, these cookies were quite tasty and didn’t suffer from an overly gritty texture.

For Thanksgiving last year, I made the pumpkin pie, which makes use, interestingly, of apricot puree. There’s definitely an apricot-y flavor to the pie, so it’s not traditional in that sense, but it is quite good. The texture wasn’t firm enough for my liking, but overall, I enjoyed it.

Given my lengthy commentary, you might think I wouldn’t recommend this book, but the fact is that I’ve recommended it and lent it out several times to friends with Celiac or with gluten-intolerant children. Even with its faults, it’s still quite a resource for those that still want the sweetness in their life but may not live near a Babycakes or Flying Apron.