I am so excited about the launch of Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free, the magnificent new cookbook from gluten free vegan baking wizard, Ricki Heller.
Finally! A book that contains healthy versions of classic favorites that actually taste better than than beloved (albeit unhealthy) counterparts. real I have tried many of the recipes in this book, and I discovered (as many of Ricki’s recipe testers) that you would never know this stuff was gluten free, vegan (dairy-free and egg-free) and free from refined sugars. These recipes feel indulgent. So full of flavor! Forget the dry, crumbly, tasteless, or bitter sugar-free and gluten free stuff you may have sampled in other books. These recipes are sensational.
They contain some nutrition as well – Ricki seizes every opportunity to add vegetables (like sweet potato, beets, carrots, avocado) to her treats wherever possible. The recipes are touted as allergy-friendly, as whilst Ricki does use nuts in her recipes, she offers comprehensive substitutions, so nobody misses out on the fun. But, there are many recipes that are nut-free, as well as corn-free and soy-free.
And there’s plenty to choose from! 100 mouth-watering recipes (with gorgeous photos by Celine Saki) such as: Frosted Vanilla Cupcakes, Pumpkin Loaf, Orange Oat Muffins, Sunshine Breakfast Loaf, Fluffy Fruited Pancakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chocolate Pecan Pie, Cinnamon Crumb Cake, Chocolate-Flecked Pumpkin Seed Cookies, Lemon-Poppy Seed Squares, Almond Cookies. Ultra Fudgy Brownies, Butterscotch Blondies, Ricki’s Mother’s Cheesecake, the innovative brilliant Chocolate Buttercream Frosting which she graciously shared here last years (do not miss making that) and these super easy Coconut Macaroons, which are to die for.
Ricki says of these, “One of the most requested cookies when I had my bakery, Bake It Healthy, these sweet treats combine both ground almonds and coconut for an ultra-chewy base. Tahini is a terrific source of calcium. (If you’re not a fan, don’t worry; the flavor isn’t prominent here)”. I say, OMG yum! When I received a very early PDF advance of the book when I was asked to blurb it (what an honor) I squealed with delight at how gorgeous the book was, and how informative it was.
Ricki is the master at baking with low glycemic sweeteners (coconut sugar, coconut nectar being her favorites) and nobody incorporates stevia into recipes with the skill of this healthy sweet treat maven! She also uses wonderful GF flour blends using millet flour, garbanazo bean flour, fava bean flour, potato starch, almond flour, and more. And she shares all of her top secrets with readers.
I interviewed Ricki last week, and asked her to share some of top tips for using stevia (and other low GI sweeteners in gluten free vegan recipes, so you can get some insight into what is offered in the book. Here’s what she said:
The Blender Girl: Where do you source inspiration for your recipes?
Ricki Heller: I have been baking since I was 6. So, the majority of my recipes are things I have grown up eating, treats I have enjoyed at restaurants, and recipes I have adapted from my childhood. My Mother’s Cheesecake (a popular recipe in the book) is a great example of this. My mother used to make it for my father all the time. I wanted to recreate that cake, so, I created something similar. The Chocolate Buttercream Frosting is example of where I was missing a decadent frosting and I decided to create something allergy-friendly that tasted like the real thing. Another example is when I was playing around with the combination of toffee and coffee. I used Dandy Blend, and it occurred to me as I was making it, that pecans would be great in it. And it became like a Blondie, really chewy and gooey. During the early stages of the anti-candida diet, I couldn’t eat scones and biscuits, so I created the Grain-Free Coconut Flour Biscuit. I enjoy playing around and making discoveries.
TBG: What has been your most triumphant surprise while experimenting?
RH: Definitely the Buttercream Frosting! It is free from the top 8 allergens, does not contain sugar, and functions like a regular frosting. You can pipe with it, and decorate birthday cakes with it.
TBG: What are your favorite sweeteners?
RH: When I was on a regular whole foods diet and owned my bakery I was using sweeteners like sucanat. unrefined cane sugar, maple sugar, agave, and dates. Once I was diagnosed with candida, I couldn’t use most of those, so I started experimenting with low glycemic sweeteners like coconut sugar and coconut nectar. I love coconut sugar because you can measure in a similar way to cane sugar, and coconut nectar is like a delicious cross between rice syrup and agave. Then, there’ stevia, which is the lowest GI sweetener. You can’t get lower than 0! LOL!
TBG: What is your secret for working with stevia so successfully?
RH: There is a really fine line with stevia. I like to use it on my oatmeal or in smoothies. You only need a few drops. I use the Nu Naturals brand almost exclusively. But, stevia can vary, and quantities can be 5 drops with one brand and 8 drops with another. I supply ranges with all of my recipes. Because it’s so concentrated it’s easy to over sweeten with stevia. I always add in 1/16 teaspoon to 1/8 teaspoon increments. For most cakes, I typically only use about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of the pure powdered stevia, and never use more than ½ teaspoon, and combine it with coconut sugar most of the time. Less really is more with stevia. Typically what I’ve learnt is that the powder is twice as strong as the alcohol-free liquid. So, ½ teaspoon of the alcohol-free liquid would be ¼ of powder. I do use agave in about 4 or 5 recipes, where I was going or a delicate flavor or color. But, I know agave is very controversial, so the first chapter of the book talks about substitutions.
TBG: What are your top tips for gluten free, vegan baking?
RH: Only change ONE thing at a time. Don’t try to adapt all parts of a recipe at once because you won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Gain confidence by making other people’s recipes from cookbooks and blogs. Results also vary with different gluten free flour mixes. For example, I find that Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose flour tastes very beany. But, it is the most widely available in many places. King Arthur has a nice blend. I also have a good blend that I like on my blog.
TBG: What were the most popular recipes amongst your testers?
RH: The Cinnamon Buns, Sunshine Breakfast Loaf, Chai Cheesecake, and Butter Tarts.
TBG: What is your personal favourite recipe that you created for the book?
RH: Definitely the Butter Cream Frosting because I haven’t seen anything else like it, and it behaves so much like regular frosting. The Sweet Potato Brownies are also really chocolatey and fudgy, but sweet without a lot of sweeteners. This is a fool-proof recipe to serve to skeptics.
TBG: What was the recipe that surprised (and therefore delighted) testers the most?
RH: The Carob Refrigerator Cookies. There were not a lot of carob fans in the group. People were pleasantly surprised by the lovely texture and delicious flavour. And the Peanut-Free Peanut Butter Cookies They are made with sunflower seed butter, and everybody thought they contained peanut butter.
TBG: What was the recipe that was the most challenging to perfect?
RH: The Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. It is a big cake, and I wanted it to be really light. In order for it to hold together it was a little heavier. I had a few goes to get the tender crumb, and to get the whole thing dense enough so that it wouldn’t crumble. The Coconut Whipped Cream in my first book, Sweet Freedom also took some time.
TBG: What is your biggest “taste replica” discovery?
RH: Lucuma powder to achieve a caramel or butterscotch flavor.
Adding lucuma to coconut sugar creates a very authentic caramel ice cream.
TBG: What are your baking “Go To” fruits and vegetables?
RH: I can’t use bananas and dates. I love pear as it adds a mild flavor and sweetness, and a lot of fibre. I also love using beets and sweet potato.
TBG: What are your favorite spices?
RH: I LOVE cinnamon and cardamom. I always offer a substitution, and often cinnamon works. I also enjoy ginger, but it depends on the recipe. I really love Chinese Five Spice Powder. It’s typically used in savory dishes. But adds a fragrant subtle flavor to baked goods. It is made up of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and some other things, and is amazing.
TBG: What is your “Mount Everest” recipe that you would like to conquer?
RH: A raw marshmallow, and a really good meringue.
TBG: What is your dream for this book?
RH: When I had my catering company, I would get delighted messages from clients saying things like, “My daughter could share her own birthday cake! It was amazing.” I hope that this book gives that kind of freedom to people suffering from food allergies and candida, so that they can safely indulge in their favorite treats. AND know that they can serve it to other people and everybody is going to enjoy it and not even know that it is gluten free and vegan, because it tastes just as good as anything else.
There you have it. Advice from the master!
This book is a triumph! Do not miss getting a copy. I have been making my way through it like Julie and Julia, and once you sample a few recipes, I feel confident, you will be too. Not to be missed!
Grab your copy of Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free
Recipe published here with permission from Sellers Publishing, 2013
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Photo by Celine Saki