Baking with Barbone
Author Elizabeth Barbone is a real baking guru. World’s Easiest Paleo Baking is her third cookbook following Easy Gluten-Free Baking and How to Cook Gluten-Free. From making breakfast pancakes and doughnuts to lunch-ready breads and tantalizing desserts (cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, and more), she’s mastered what seems to be everybody’s favorites–now preparing them without using grains, dairy, or refined sugars! Elizabeth is the founder of GlutenFreeBaking.com and an alumna of the Culinary Institute of America. She was nice enough to correspond with me and to answer some of the questions that I’ve been wanting to ask her—inquiries about herself, her baking, and her new book.
Have you always liked to bake? What is your own personal connection to the pastime and profession?
Yes! I’ve always loved to bake. My mom baked a lot. She’d make homemade pies by the dozen and give them to family and friends. So that’s where my love of baking started. In high school, I took a cake decorating class at a local shop. Most of the students were in their 30s! There I was at age 16 totally into baking. (Read: baking nerd from a young age!)
What are your favorite occasions for baking?
Hmm…as much as I love baking for holidays and birthdays, I REALLY love weekday baking. There’s just something wonderful about taking a few minutes to make a batch of simple cookies or cupcakes. I think “just because” baking is actually my favorite!
Focusing more on the book, for those of us who aren’t very familiar with the term “paleo,” what can you tell us about this specific diet or lifestyle?
There’s a lot of confusion about this diet! I know at first I was confused. I wondered if paleo folks only ate meat. Not true! Followers of the paleo diet eat lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy meats, and more.
In its broadest sense, the term “paleo diet” means a diet that focuses on nutrient dense foods and excludes grains and dairy. Each person who follows the diet finds what works for them. Some people don’t include any added sugar in their diets, some do. Some folks include grass-fed dairy, like butter; some don’t.
Reasons for following the diet are varied. Many people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, find they feel best when excluding all grains, not just ones that contain gluten. Others follow the Paleo diet to help with other medical ailments. And, further still, some people say they follow the diet because it makes them feel better.
What are the difficulties of transitioning from traditional or gluten-free baking to paleo baking? What are the benefits of making this change?
Traditional gluten-free baking includes grains. In a baking sense, grains behave very differently than nut flours. So the jump from gluten-free baking to grain-free baking was a BIG one. Grain-free baked goods are wonderfully tasty! They are also delightfully finicky. Coconut flour soaks up and holds on to liquids like crazy. Almond flour, since it’s a ground nut flour, brings a lot of fat with it. Too much fat in a recipe leads to a heavy baked good. Developing the recipes meant a balancing act among the flours, fats, and liquids. For me, it was great fun!
It seems as though, in recent years, people have gone from just cutting out gluten to cutting out all grains. Where do you think this trend is headed?
It’s such an interesting trend to me! I think one of the reasons that folks are moving in this direction is due to the fact that “gluten-free” foods often aren’t truly gluten-free. All too often, foods are contaminated during processing with wheat and other gluten grains. The recent Cheerios recall is a great example of this. Gluten-Free Watchdog is an entire site dedicated to testing foods carrying a gluten-free label to see if they’re really gluten-free. It’s scary how often test results show gluten is present.
Then there’s the tough issue of eating out. Many times gluten-free folks are exposed to gluten due to kitchen errors. More and more people with celiac disease are deciding to take the radical step of removing all grains from their diets to ensure that they are truly gluten-free. It’s a more restricted diet, of course. However, many report feeling much better after going grain-free and getting rid of those occurrences of accidental cross-contact.
For non-celiacs, I think it’s a matter of people taking a look at their health and diets. Many people are swapping empty calories, like those found in baked goods, for nutritionally dense foods, like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
Sadly, there seems to be this idea that if you are on a special diet you should not want to consume any treats or “fun” foods. That since you have allergies or food intolerances, you should happily “go without.” I’ve faced this for decades. People have told me, with a straight face and more than a little vitriol, that since I’m food allergic, I shouldn’t ever eat out or have cake for my birthday. I think that’s crazy! If you follow a grain-free diet, you might still want to bake your kid a cake for their birthday or make your wife pancakes on a Sunday. I don’t see it as an either/or situation. You can follow a grain-free diet and still enjoy baked goods that fit your dietary requirements. There’s no shame in that!
How do you approach creating new recipes?
All of my recipes start with a blank page. I research lots of other recipes, look at their baker’s ratio and go from there. I write down the bones of the recipe and test it. At first, it’s easy to see what needs tweaking. Is the recipe too wet? Too dry? Too eggy? Once I make those broad adjustments, I retest looking for smaller things, like flavor and sweetness.
What is your favorite part of the cookbook writing process?
Ah! It’s hard to say! Writing a cookbook involves many different parts. I think my favorite is beginning. I love the magic of new beginnings! Once I start thinking about each chapter, the book usually leads me. The book I had in my head usually ends up being very different than the finished book, in the best way! For World’s Easiest Paleo Baking, I didn’t think I’d include a savory chapter. Then I started to think about pasta, crackers, and bread. The book basically told me that it needed savory recipes!
What is the most interesting experience you’ve had in the “food world”?
Ha! You might laugh at this, but here goes. A few years ago, I was at Disney to give a talk at their Food and Wine Festival. There was a tiny pool bar at our hotel. TINY! But we heard the place made great burgers and fries. So my husband, who had joined me on this trip, decided to order lunch. I happened to be with him in line. The woman at the counter asked if I wanted anything. I declined because what could a TINY pool bar possibly have for me? She gently chided me for not ordering lunch, and I said something like, “I’d love to order but I have lots of food allergies.” Her face lit up. LIT UP. She said, “I can handle that!”
Get this; they had gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns! They made their fries in a dedicated fryer. (Gluten-free foods must be fried in a separate fryer from gluten-containing foods or cross-contact occurs.)
I ordered a burger and fries and ate lunch with my husband. It sounds like such a small thing! But when you live with food allergies, it’s really hard to find safe food. And getting a burger and fries from a TINY place is unthinkable. I still smile when I remember this moment!
I, myself, never venture into baking homemade doughnuts in fear that they are too complicated to make (doughnuts seem like this hard-to-master, delicacy-like food to me, for some reason), but your recipe for Old Fashion’ Cake Doughnuts looks simple and oh so delicious! I’m excited to try them out. What is your favorite recipe in the cookbook—which paleo dessert or treat are you most excited about?
Oh! How great! You need to make doughnuts! That recipe, like most in the book, is insanely easy to make. I’m excited for you!
Hmm…my favorite recipe? Gosh! That’s hard. This isn’t an exaggeration; I love all of them. I mean, baked goods without grains or dairy? I created the recipes and I’m still gobsmacked by them! I love all the cake recipes because I adore cake. And I’m totally smitten by the fresh pasta because on a cold night, there’s nothing better than a plate of fresh pasta!
Sounds delicious! Thank you, Elizabeth, for setting aside the time to answer my questions and to reflect on your work. We’re excited your book has hit the shelves!
Get your copy here.
Heather Linger is an intern working at Lake Isle Press who enjoys art, writing, food, and the outdoors. She studies Visual Arts at Antioch College.