The holiest days of the Jewish calendar year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are just around the corner. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins September 16, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins September 25. Though Yom Kippur is a time of fasting and reflection, Rosh Hashanah is a time to celebrate with a warm and wonderful holiday meal.
A great resource for the baked goods that go along with that Rosh Hashanah meal is Gluten Free Canteen's Book of Nosh, written by Lisa Stander-Horel and photographed by Tim Horel.
This book is not just written for those who cannot eat gluten, but for everyone who might join together at the holiday table. Stander-Horel answered some of my questions about the cookbook, and about cooking gluten-free for the holidays...or any day!
Genie Gratto: Was there a particular holiday experience that inspired you to write the book?
Lisa Stander-Horel: Growing up in a Jewish home, I was accustomed to watching my mother make special dishes and baked goods for all the holidays. I wanted to make sure we could carry on those traditions though we are a gluten-free household. Over the years we’ve developed gluten-free recipes for the Jewish holidays that are based on my mother’s recipes. That my mom never wrote down a recipe in her life made it all the more challenging. We began posting some of those recipes in our blog for Rosh Hashanah and then Passover, and the reception they received was heartwarming, which inspired us to write the book.
GG: I particularly appreciate that you tried to put together recipes that will satisfy not only those who cannot eat gluten, but those who are used to more traditional baked products. Why do you think that's such a critical element to good, gluten-free holiday cooking?
LSH: Tradition is a big part of the culture. It was important to me that those values were carried forward in the baked goods. It’s a way to honor those who gave us those values (and good challah). Or as my little brother, Rabbi Stander says, “traditional Jewish baking invites us to lovingly recall the daily lives and passions of our noshing ancestors.”
Because we developed these recipes using superfine flours from Authentic Foods (located in Los Angeles), they are virtually indistinguishable from their gluten counterparts. That means no more double-duty baking, which pretty much eliminates the risks of cross-contamination and extra kitchen work. Everyone is eating and enjoying the same traditional baked goods that just happen to be gluten–free.
In fact, we knew we had passed the tasty-for-everyone test when people not on gluten-free diets asked for the recipes after eating samples.
GG: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to developing gluten-free recipes?
LSH: There are three challenges that come to mind: getting the gluten-free flour to be cooperative in the recipe, getting as close as possible to the traditional baking ratio, and that the recipe can be reliably repeated.
Simply substituting one flour measure for anotherno matter how much some makers of AP GF flour mixes would like you to believe they can bewill not result in anything good. Gluten-free flours and starches do not have the same baking properties as wheat flours. In fact, gluten-free flours and starches are not created equally, so that even subbing one for another can make for a phenomenal baking wreck. I’ve been there! That makes it pretty challenging to develop standardized recipes.
But we’ve simplified the process by using superfine rice flours (from Authentic Foods in Los Angeles) and creating a mix that we use for every recipe in the Book of Nosh and on the blog. It’s simple. It works, and these particular superfine flours are almost indistinguishable in texture to AP wheat flour.
Also, traditional baking ratios change in gluten-free baking. Rice and other gluten-free flours or starch don’t absorb fats and liquids as does a wheat flour counterpart. In developing recipes, liquids, fats and eggs all need adjustment.
The third challenge is reliability. For a recipe to be published in the Canteen blog or in the Book of Nosh, it must be tested until we are certain the recipe can be successfully repeated if readers use the same ingredients and follow the directions. Making sure ingredients are accessible (we offer a resources section in the book) is important to a recipe’s success.
GG: If there's one recipe in the book you'd recommend to someone new to gluten-free baking, which one would it be and why?
LSH: The Quick Challah is easy to make and would impress everyone at your holiday tableor just because you wanted challah. It is just about fool-proof as long as you stick to the ingredients list and directions. Just the perfume from the yeasty bread baking in the oven will make you feel pretty happy.
I’d also add the Chocolate Cherry or Almond Mandelbrot recipe to that list. No fancy equipment is necessaryjust a bowl and a strong wooden spoon. The recipe is also quite flexible. No cherries? Use dates. No almonds? Use another nut. And Mandelbrot will taste great no matter how pretty or rustic they look.
I’d also like to mention that the book includes not only a section on gluten-free baking tips but a section for resources for locating ingredients.
GG: Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. What recipes from the book do you recommend to use to celebrate the New Year?
LSH: The Quick Challah (in the round) is the number one Rosh Hashanah recipe. The Turban Challah with raisins is close behind. Round challah is an important symbol for the New Year, representing the circle of life and the cycle of a new year. For those more ambitious bakers, there is a braided challah round.
I’d also recommend Honey Cake, or the Apple Upside Down Cake for Rosh Hashanah dessertboth traditional holiday recipes. We also like the fig or apple tarts, both also traditional, but less so than honey cake.
All these recipes are dairy-free, which gives you some freedom in making a kosher meal for Rosh Hashanah.
GG: If you had to describe your perfect holiday meal, what would it include?
LSH: I can go back in time and appreciate a family New Year when we were all together. Of course it is one of those things you don’t appreciate as much until years later when everyone is scattered around the world and others are no longer with us. But it would include not only the people you love (family and friends) but great traditional food.
We would begin with matzo ball soup and, since we have our own recipe for GF matzo in the book, we would use that as the base for matzo balls. We might have a carrot and sweet potato tzimmes (stew) drizzled with honey. A beautiful roast was always on our table, but these days, I might think about a roasted chicken drizzled with a honey pomegranate glaze. Great wine to toast the New Year and a variety of (kosher) desserts would top off the meal. A little honey cake, apple and fig tarts and maybe a little Mandelbrot to eat while sipping coffee. It’s a lot of food, but it is one of those meals that seem to last for hours.
GG: Why would people who aren’t gluten-free want to buy this book?
Chances are when someone hosts a holiday dinner or get-together, there will be someone in the group who will be eating gluten-free. About 1 in 133 people in the United States suffer from Celiac. That’s almost 3 million Americans. And about 18 million suffer from some sort of gluten insensitivity.
Celiac and gluten intolerance awareness is growing world-wide. Baking for people who suffer from celiac or gluten intolerance is only going to become more prevalent as awareness spreads.
The flour mix we use throughout the book leads with whole grain superfine brown rice flourit’s good for you. And surprisingly it imparts a neutral taste in baked goods. It’s good to know that even though you may be eating one too many slices of Honey Cake you’re at least consuming whole grains and fiberand none of it tastes like Styrofoam or wet sand.
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