Baked to Perfection by Katarina Cermelj

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.

Baked to Perfection by Katarina Cermelj

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.

Shortbread Fingers

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.

Rosemary Crackers

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.

Tahini Cookies

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).

Roasted Butternut Squash + Cheddar Flaky Pastries

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.

Burger Buns

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

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 The Perfect Pizza

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. 

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13 Comments to "Baked to Perfection by Katarina Cermelj"

  1. Eroulla Demetriou

    An excellent review. It is so good that I am thinking of trying the recipes in there now! I have had this book since it was published. I agree totally that the nerdy explanations are magnificent and are really priceless. I was happy to have bought the book just for this reason. What has put me off trying the recipes was their practically constant use of xanthum, which I try to avoid as much as possible. The tahini cookies have been on my to-do list though, as they do not contain xanthum at all…as well as a (very) few other recipes. This review has helped to spur me on to get cracking with them as it is always good to know that you have a recipe book with infallible recipes, even if now and again you have to take out that packet of xanthum! Thanks for encouraging me to get cooking!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s a great review isn’t it?
    I have never used xantham gum, though I’ve come across it in recipes now and again. Is there a reason you try to avoid using it? Just curious if there’s issues I’m not aware of? Thanks for commenting!

    Reply
    NickyB

    I think I mentioned in my review of HTMAGF that it can cause some people to react in the same way as they do to gluten. It’s been tracked back to “tummy trouble” 😬 A lot of health-focused cooks and fodmappers tend to avoid gums as they have little nutritional value and potential digestive impacts.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Ah thank you so much, I’d forgotten. The nutritional value makes sense though when you’re cooking for treats of much-missed favourites, I imagine that aspect isn’t so important. Tiny troubles never pleasant though!

    Reply
  2. Roz White

    What a wonderful review – this book sounds fabulous. Tbh, you had me at the shortbread 😏 on my “to buy” list xx

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yeah I’m tempted to try the recipe and I don’t follow a GF diet! Great one to have up one’s sleeve to take into work etc. or when GF friends visiting!

    Reply
  3. Steve Bramley

    Great review, but then I am biased. Being the coeliac in the house I was really looking forward to trying some of the recipes from this book when Nicky first received it to review. I pawed my way through the pages uttering ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘definitely’, ‘must check I have enough of that flour’ as I worked my way through each chapter. The pitta breads have become a favourite and I can vouch for their reheating well after being frozen then defrosted. The pizza’s is now a firm favourite and the base works superbly. I am also a huge fan of Katarina’s tortilla recipe that she recently posted on her blog – so easy to make, super soft and extremely tasty. Finally, I especially loved the nerdy technical elements of the book. Already a well used book.

    Reply
  4. Rita Prentice

    Yes, Nicky another great review with the added bonus that I would love to try making so many of recipes you mention (or have made yourself) especially with Katarina’s helpful and precise instructions.

    Reply

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