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Free from recipes are increasingly popping up in mainstream press, and if you haven’t discovered it already, todays Gluten Free Champion Susanna Booth, is waving the flag for free from cooking every week, in the Saturday Guardian.
In the series Recipes Without, nestled in the Cook supplement, Susanna inspires with utterly free from recipes ranging from bread pudding, GF crackers, all manner of meals and puddings and even GF waffle ice cream cones. Showing that cooking without can be way easier than you think, and with surefire determination to replicate the originals, I believe Susanna is a real GF Champion and I am delighted to share my interview with her here:
NGF: Tell us a little about yourself. Are you Gluten Free? If not why cook so?
Susanna: I am able to eat anything, but appreciate there are many people for whom that is not the case. I’ve been cooking free-from versions of my favourite recipes for years for friends and relatives, and it all stemmed from that. I try to make my recipes as similar to the conventional ones as possible.
NGF: Why do you do the Guardian Column?
Susanna: I am very much trying to a) improve the choice of recipes for people with free-from needs; b) raise awareness of these issues and c) provide somewhere where there is a solution to meal-time situations caused by dietary requirements, especially where there may be several at once.
NGF: How did the column come to be?
Susanna: The Guardian had just brought out the Cook supplement and I knew there wasn’t anything similar to my work in the other newspaper cookery sections. I approached them with an idea because I thought it offered something new. I deliberately try to make the recipes as accessible as possible and so they may also be nut-free, soya-free, celery-free or vegan as well. The eggs only creep in when I’ve been unable to work out how to omit them.
NGF: Your recipes are incredibly free from! How do you approach your recipe development with so many conventional ingredients to avoid?
Susanna: I challenge myself, to be honest. I have a BSc in Colour and Polymer Chemistry that helps me look at recipes in the sense of fat, protein, binder and so on. I start by thinking of recipes that have the potential to be converted. Once I’ve knocked out eg. the gluten and the dairy, I then see if I can go further and remove other allergens. It’s not always possible.
NGF: Which has been the hardest to crack? How do you persevere?
Susanna: Gluten-free and vegan chocolate fairy cakes that are indistinguishable from the standard version have been the most difficult – they took 17 attempts. Other than that, gluten-free and vegan ice cream cones were a bit of a nightmare. I had the idea because waffle cones are usually vegan anyway and so thought it would be relatively simple to remove the gluten as well. However, I had failed to think through the many specific qualities required by an ice-cream cone (especially as I assumed my audience would not have access to the special waffle irons usually used): it must start as a flat disc, it must then be able to be rolled into a cone, it must remain cone-shaped, it must stay hard with ice-cream in, it mustn’t crack… That took about 11 attempts and in the end it was an accidental over-addition of sugar that solved my problems.
NGF: Which food writers inspire you?
Susanna: I’m quite a traditionalist – my favourite cookery writers are Delia Smith, Katie Stewart and Gordon Ramsay (his A Chef for All Seasons has incredible recipes). Heston Blumenthal’s approach is also very inspiring, but many of his recipes are difficult to replicate at home. Other than that, I like culinary science books such as Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field and The Kitchen as Laboratory edited by Vega, Ubbink and Van der Linden.
NGF: Given your many experiments, do you have any tips for improving our cooking?
Susanna: Try to take an objective look at what it is you want to make and therefore what needs to be achieved. For instance, if you want to make a cake but have to omit the gluten-containing flour, what can be used instead? Think about what the flour actually does in the cake – it is basically a bulking agent and therefore relatively simple to replace with something else. This is not always the case of course – eg. in pastry the elasticity of gluten is important and that’s when adding something like xanthan gum becomes more essential.
NGF: Any gluten free finds you would like to share?
Susanna: I was very impressed by the cakes I had from Sweetcheeks bakery – they looked absolutely incredible and the taste and texture were excellent.
NGF: What does the future hold for you?
Susanna: That’s a good question! I take each day as it comes – there is still a lot to discover so I will continue to press on with my recipe conversions as it is hugely enjoyable when you get that ‘Eureka’ moment!
Many many thanks to Susanna for taking the time to answer these questions. All her recipes can be found on the Guardian Website and in the Guardian newspaper every Saturday.