I would like to start by saying that this is an intense cookbook. Before author Jeanne Sauvage gets into her 60 recipes for traditional festive treats, she gets technical. In fact, this book reminds me more of an encyclopedia of baking than a cookbook. Jeanne begins with an in-depth look at baking ingredients, explaining the roles of flour, eggs, fats, oils, leaveners, and sugar. If you’re new to baking and want to learn more about the chemistry behind your cookies, this is a great overview.
Then, Sauvage dives into gluten-free baking. She provides alternatives for wheat flour and for each of the main baking ingredients in case readers are sensitive to more than just gluten. This wasn’t easy work. Sauvage spent 11 years experimenting in the kitchen after she was diagnosed with gluten-intolerance in 2000. She was adamant about not settling for the compromised quality often found in gluten-free goods. After years of experimentation and study, Sauvage came up with “Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour,” which is made up of four different types of gluten-free flour and xantham gum.
You might be wondering why you can’t use just one gluten-free flour in your baking. According to Sauvage, you need multiple gluten-free flours to mimic an all-purpose wheat flour. Fortunately, Sauvage provides the recipe for her specialty flour mix. Unfortunately, almost every recipe calls for this flour mix. Brown rice flour is now widely available, but it might be hard for some readers to find sweet rice flour and tapioca flour. Not to mention, cost prohibitive.
Next, Sauvage explains every kitchen ingredient you could possibly imagine needing for baking from pie pans to rolling pins to specialty equipment like cannoli tubes. Only then, after readers are fully prepped, does she start dishing out the holiday baking recipes. These are no ordinary recipes. Half of them, I’ve never heard of before. Sure, Sauvage includes the more well-known holiday treats like pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies, but also included are the lesser known Speculaas and Pfeffernuesse – I don’t even know how to say that one! Each recipe starts with an explanatory text, but, for the lesser known baked goods, Sauvage also provides stories of origin. According to the book, Pfeffernuesse means pepper nuts in German. These treats, which are really cookies but called pepper nuts because of their spiciness, are especially popular during the Christmas season.
Some of the recipes are adapted from fellow bakers. Others come from the author's life experience. One of my favorite stories in the cookbook tells how Sauvage took a cooking class in middle school with her cranky teacher Mrs. Baker (I wish I could ask if that’s her real name!). Despite her cranky demeanor, Sauvage adored Mrs. Baker. One week, Mrs. Baker taught the class how to make rosettes. Years later, Sauvage adapted those rosettes so they are now gluten-free and included them in her cookbook.
Similar to the rest of the book, the recipe instructions are very in-depth. If you’re not an experienced baker, the recipes may look intimidating. However, as Nancy Baggett states in the foreword, while formulating these recipes was challenging for Sauvage, they are very specific and straightforward and require no special baking expertise to make.
This is not a cookbook for the faint of heart. But, if you are gluten intolerant and dreading the holiday season because you think you can’t get your yearly pie fix, this book will definitely bring a smile to your face. If you’re like me, and you’re not gluten intolerant, but like to cook gluten-free every once in a while and want to learn more about baking, this book provides a great education.