You would think that after the holiday season–which included baking 50 snowman-shaped sugar cookies for the second grade classes at my son’s school (that’s 3 batches) and a batch for my own family–I would be all baked out. I admit, it did take me a little while to recover from my Christmas bakeapalooza and now we’ve got Valentine’s Day class parties to think about. However, a few weeks ago I felt like making bread. Not the sandwich bread I make every week in my bread maker but a nice, sweet quick bread. I pulled out a Christmas gift, Erin McKenna’s Babycakes, to look for inspiration.
Here’s the thing about Babycakes, which features recipes used in McKenna’s hugely popular New York City bakery: all of the recipes are vegan and mostly gluten- and (refined) sugar-free. I say ‘mostly’ because that’s what the book’s subtitle says. But really, if you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy you will want to read the recipes carefully because some of them do call for spelt flour. Anyway, because the recipes are vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free (and kosher) they call for ingredients like Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking flour, coconut oil, dairy-free milks and agave nectar. Most people don’t happen to have these sitting around in their kitchens and they can be hard to come by (though they are becoming more mainstream–I’ve seen them at Target!). However, once you have McKenna’s favored ingredients on hand you can use them for almost any recipe in the book.
Back in October, when I had this book from the library, McKenna’s pumpkin spice muffins were my first attempt at baking the Babycakes way and I can’t say it was my most successful baking attempt. It had nothing to do with the recipe itself and everything to do with the user: I had gotten it into my head that I wanted pumpkin bread, and nothing else would do. The thing never cooked through, even after leaving it in the oven well over the cook time. This time I knew better and the only modification I made to the recipe for banana chocolate chip bread was to use non-fat cow’s milk in place of rice milk. All told, I could have baked it a little longer because the very middle was a little undercooked but the top was nicely browned and the toothpick I inserted came out clean. Maybe I have been eating gluten-free for too long, but I wouldn’t have known the bread doesn’t contain gluten. My kids ate it up and asked me to put slices in their lunch boxes for their snack today.
The recipes in Babycakes appeal to the whole family and offer peace of mind to families who are concerned about food intolerances and/or healthy ingredients. In the section on tools and ingredients McKenna explains why she uses things like evaporated cane juice, agave nectar and coconut oil in place of more common ingredients.
My family’s main concern is gluten-free recipes but I appreciate this book’s focus on vegan and sugar-free ingredients as well. I have been known to bake for my sons’ class parties and there are other kids who have dairy and/or sugar intolerances. I like that, in many cases, one recipe can meet all three dietary needs. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I plan to make a batch of McKenna’s agave-sweetened brownie gems to take to my son’s class party. My only criticism of the book is that there is no way to tell, without reading the entire ingredient list, which needs each recipe targets. A simple key at the top of each indicating whether it meets vegan, gluten-free and/or sugar free standards would be helpful for at-a-glance browsing.
Babycakes is published by Clarkson Potter, the same group that publishes Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, and like Garten’s books it is printed on thick, glossy paper and features stunning full color photography. These are among my favorite cookbooks in my collection because they are well-designed and fun to look at (and they look good on my bookshelf). Good cookbook design makes the recipes look all the more appetizing. In an age where home cooks are turning to the Internet for recipes (I’ll admit, I’ve got the Epicurious app on my iPad and I use it all the time) it’s nice that publishers are still producing gorgeous cookbooks that appeal to all the senses.
Get this book: if you are gluten- or dairy-intolerant, vegan, or want to cut back on refined sugar but still enjoy baked goods from time to time.