A gluten-free cookbook for rubes like me wanting to create a perfect bake – could Baked to Perfection by Katarina Cermelj be The One? Please don’t be put off by Cermelj’s credentials as a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. If anything, lean into it. The beauty of Cermelj’s background is that she has, as she says “done all the experiments for you“. Gluten is a notoriously troublesome substance to replicate, creating a near miracle in terms of reproduceable chemical reactions that benefit all of those lovely baked goods we adore. As the main chapter headings indicate, Cakes, Cupcakes + Muffins, Brownies (yes, an entire chapter, you’re very welcome), Cookies + Bars, Pies, Tarts + Pastries, Bread, Breakfast + Teatime Treats – all of these typically rely on gluten for texture, structure and mouthfeel. This isn’t a book claiming to give you healthy, naturally gluten-free solutions, rather to allow you to recreate those indulgences we all deserve to have in our lives without feeling cheated.
Whilst I’d hesitate to call Baked to Perfection a manual, as it’s far more accessible than that word implies, there’s enough of the science behind the recipes in the book to allow you to understand how you can adapt them to your own tastes and still be successful. Impressively, each recipe has gone through between 10 and 40 variations in the quest for something that you, the gluten free baker, wants to see on your plate and put in your mouth. Cermelj’s nerdiness is expressed with humour and a more-than-kindly nod to those of us less blessed in the science-brain department. I approached the section on Gluten-Free Baking Basics in the Introduction (particularly on flours and gums) with a little trepidation only to find fool-proof clarity, giving me confidence that I understood why the author’s methods give good results (elasticity, fluffiness, airiness, crispness, lamination and moistness when you want them), rather than assuming magic or alchemy. She explains things like why she uses the creaming method she does or why you would avoid using your oven’s fan setting. It’s probably the most useful 16 pages a gluten-free cook can read.
Each chapter starts with an explanatory few pages in which Cermelj dons the white coat and tells you why the recipes within work, and how to problem-solve – perfect for those of us with a tendency to veer wildly away from a recipe once we feel confident (or simply because we forgot that we don’t have all the ingredients *cough*). The beauty of this is that it’s easy to know, when you understand what you’re doing, whether your variation will literally sink like a stone or not.
I regret to tell you that you will then be faced with uncontrollable drooling. The photos in this book are utterly glorious, luscious close-ups of unadorned plates of luxurious cakes, tarts, pastries and breads, each with that enviable texture right up in your face for you to lust after. Even the step-by-step pictures feel less like a how-to and more like a come-hither.
Recipes themselves are thorough and laid out with enviable precision (a truly ordered mind created this layout, it’s a thing of beauty). It feels like a real luxury to have the prep time, rise time, chill time, bake time and cook time all clearly shown so that you can plan a bake quickly. Measurements are exact. Multipart recipes are neatly and clearly subdivided and each step delineated. Alongside the recipe, Notes help you to know that your recipe is doing the right thing when you may have doubts, or help you to get a polished finish. There are Put A Twist On It ideas, to allow you to play with flavours if you’re a little wary of using your own judgement. And there’s an invaluable Storage note on each recipe so you know how to get the best longevity from your baking.
Having already successfully made a small pan chocolate-iced birthday cake from Cermelj’s excellent blog, The Loopy Whisk, I swerved the Cakes and the Cupcakes + Muffins chapters and headed straight to Cookies and Bars. Shortbread Biscuits first: that red tartan tin at Christmas has a real nostalgic draw and I wanted to see if I could recreate that slightly crumbly, richly buttery snap. These were indistinguishable from some of the best gluten-based shortbread biscuits I’ve eaten (even my Uncle Albert’s which are prize-winners in Northern Ireland, highest of praise). They were extra good somehow because of the addition of a tiny bit of salt which only heightened their sugary sweetness. The recipe was a doddle too, thanks to the clear instructions and the ubiquitous Notes keeping me on the right track.
From the same chapter, Rosemary Crackers were next, deliberately targeting something savoury this time. Shop-bought gluten-free crackers are generally sad little affairs, a bit dry and slightly cardboard-flavoured (not that I eat cardboard but you get the drift). This straightforward recipe was one I adapted slightly as the 1-2mm depth was a touch unwieldy to handle and had a tendency to crisp too much In the oven, so 3mm crackers it was. They’re rich, buttery, salty and fragrant, perfect for dipping or spreading on without collapsing. Lots of scope for flavour variations with these, allowing you to match them to a chosen topping.
I’ve made Cermelj’s Tahini Cookies multiple times now, and have (reluctantly) even given them to several friends, all of whom have been extremely appreciative. These crispy, chewy little wonders are the simplest things ever: mix, chill, cut, bake, cool. Heavenly. As an added perk they have a decent shelf-life (saving some of these so that I could test the longevity of the cookies was little short of a heroic sacrifice on my part).
From Pies, Tarts + Pastries, I loved the look of the Roasted Butternut Squash + Cheddar Flaky Pastries. Shop-bought gluten-free pastries are almost always tough and disappointing. I do wish I’d read the “Makes 12” part of the recipe, as the pastries were way smaller and fiddlier to produce than I’d anticipated. Next time I’d make 6 larger pastries. They tasted terrific though, the squash and onions contrasting with the savoury cheese and seeds, flaky-as-advertised pastry and hints of thyme and nutmeg. They also reheated (as recommended) astonishingly well in the microwave, normally the nemesis of crispy pastry.
From the Bread chapter, Burger Buns allowed me to check out a new gluten-free piece of nerdery: Cermelj provides baker’s notes showing the baker’s percentage of hydration, starch and binders, ratios of psyllium to xanthan and expected % weight loss. Whilst the recipe can be used without this information, it does allow a baking geek to play around with the recipe knowledgeably. This is another of this book’s real strong suits. It is a highly useable tool for the less experienced cook, but also a kicking off point for a more experienced practitioner to play around and have fun with useful guidance at their fingertips. The dough for these buns was highly malleable (unlike the sloppy batters that some books have you dealing with) and the finished buns had a slightly sweet, admirably bread-like flavour and an impressive tender, non-cakey texture that lasted happily into the next day. Even toasting on days 3-4 didn’t result in the toughness that often bedevils gluten-free buns.
Pitta Breads from the same chapter needed three different flours but that aside they were a piece of cake (piece of bread?) to make. An hour’s rising time is the only thing standing in the way of a swift pile of steaming puffy pittas that are as good as I’ve tasted. They’re nothing short of superb. I was impressed enough at the authenticity of these to experiment with chucking a few from my second batch into the freezer to see how they turn out after defrosting.
The Perfect Pizza was my final choice from the book. I’ve made pizzas before that have a more pastry-like base, and a two-ingredient pizza (with flour and yoghurt) that replicates the supermarket-pizza counter base. This one blew both out of the water. It had a crunchy, puffy, complex crust, a crisp, slightly doughy bottom, and a fantastic chew: it looked and tasted for all the world like “proper’ pizza. This recipe has had two outings and worked so well that I’m seriously considering saving up for an outdoor pizza oven for the back garden. Yep, that good.
I do still want to play around with the final Chapter, Around The World, specifically the eclairs and millefeuilles, and am happy that the book’s given me a lot of confidence that the recipes will work first time. There are detailed conversion tables tucked in before a reliable Index to top off a book that was, incredibly, written whilst the author was completing her PhD. How she’s achieved that is quite unfathomable.
In summary, there wasn’t a duff bake from this book. It’s hyper-informative for people who love that stuff but a great everyday cookbook for those that, like Cindi Lauper, just wanna have fun. It’s not a two/three-ingredient bung-it-all-in book for the non-cook, but then again, the end results get you much closer to their gluten-laden counterparts, which is what so many are craving.
Let me leave you with my list of guaranteed future bakes: Super-Moist Chocolate Cake; Courgette and Feta Muffins; Salted-Caramel-Stuffed Brownies; Lemon Bars; The Perfect Baguettes; Blackberry Pie; Apricot Danish Pastries. Mouth watering? Yeah, mine too.
Recipes from Baked to Perfection
We have permission from Bloomsbury Absolute to share some recipes with you from the book: [coming soon]
- Super-Moist Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake
- Gluten-Free Shortbread Biscuits
- Gluten-Free Tarte Tatin (with Flaky All-Butter Pastry)
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Baked to Perfection by Katarina Cermelj from publisher Bloomsbury Absolute. Recipe photography in this post by Nicky Bramley.