Growing up, Jeanne Sauvage did what any child would do -- she got into the refrigerator and the kitchen cupboards. Soon, she was assembling more than just cheese and crackers. She was whipping up cookies, cakes and breads and nurturing a delicious lifetime hobby.
But 12 years ago, she discovered the source of what she called her "funny tummy." Sauvage was gluten-intolerant, and the diagnosis brought her weekly baking projects to a screeching halt. Temporarily, anyway.
Slowly but surely, Sauvage developed her own gluten-free flour mix, resumed her favorite pastime and began turning out tender, jam-filled rugelach and crunchy cheddar-cheese straws -- and writing about her discoveries on her blog, Art of Gluten-Free Baking.
Now you can follow in her wheat-free floured footsteps, thanks to her new cookbook, "Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats" (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 168 pages). With recipes for everything from spritz cookies to bûche de Noël, Sauvage's book shatters the assumption that if you can't eat wheat, you can't eat well during the holidays.
We caught up with Sauvage recently to find out how she went from baking gluten-full to mastering gluten-free.
Q When you learned you were gluten intolerant, did you think you would have to give up your favorite hobby altogether?
A It was so confusing at the beginning. I was relieved because now I knew why I was having a problem. But as time went on, I realized that baking was not an option, and that was really hard. It's a hobby -- not something I did professionally -- but it's almost like breathing. If I can't bake, I don't feel settled. After several months, I came out of my gloom, and I decided I was going to figure it out.
Q What did you make first? And was it any good?
A It was probably a cookie, because those are easy. I remember using white rice flour, but no xanthan gum. It was very crumbly and gritty, because white rice flour alone is a little bit gritty. That was before I figured out that you needed a flour mix.
Q What sparked the holiday cookbook?
A Chronicle Books liked the series on Thanksgiving and holiday recipes I had on my blog. Sharing food is so central to the holidays, and so many foods we love are baked. I wanted to help people enjoy the season, and I wanted them to be included. And holiday baking is fun. It's the time to go bananas in the kitchen.
Q You mimic wheat flour by combining four flours and xanthan gum. How long did it take you to perfect the combination?
A I worked on it for several years. I started with a mix I found in a book that included cornstarch and potato starch. Then I started baking for people -- and that's how I figured it out. I had a friend who was allergic to corn, so I removed the cornstarch. Then I baked for my friend's daughter, who was allergic to foods from the nightshade (potato) family, so I removed the potato starch. I tried arrowroot starch but found it could be bitter sometimes.
With some of the mixes, the end result tasted OK, but the batter was disgusting, so eating a bit of cookie dough was out. It was trial and error.
Q You've shared the recipe for that flour mixture. Can bakers substitute it for wheat flour in all their favorite recipes?
A I think for the most part, you can swap in my gluten-free flour mix, especially for cookies. Yeasted recipes are their own bird, though, because of the leaveners. You can't just swap in gluten-free flour, because gluten-free needs more yeast and more liquid.
Q Your instructions are very precise. What's behind some of the tips, like letting the cookie sheet cool completely before spooning a new batch?
A That's a universal baking tip. If you put dough on a hot sheet you are precooking it, so the consistency and cooking times might be off. I wanted this book to be as user friendly as possible. Gluten-free baking is held to a much higher standard than regular baking, because the assumption is it's going to be gross. I knew that if people had problems using the book, they would blame it on the fact that it's gluten free. I wanted this book to be a good representation of how delicious and fun gluten free can be.