On the Bookshelf

The Wheat-Free Cook: Gluten-Free Recipes for Everyone

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Wheat-Free Cook

Gluten-Free Recipes for Everyone

By Jacqueline Mallorca

Morrow, 2007, 212 pages

About 100 recipes

Wheat and gluten intolerances show up at the nicest dinner parties these days. Skip the breadbasket, pass the grilled fish, end with a cheese and fruit plate.

If only it were that simple. Was the first-course soup made with a chicken broth that contains hydrolized wheat protein? Does the dessert contain maltodextrin, which would be okay, or malt flavoring, which might cause a problem?

Those are some of the headaches for hosts and guests that prompted Jacqueline Mallorca's latest cookbook. The San Francisco food writer's main motivation was her own need to eat -- and, especially, to bake -- gluten-free. It took her more than a decade to research products and develop suitable recipes, including a rice-flour baguette and fresh pasta."

Since I've always worked in the food world, anything I made [for this book] had to pass muster," she said by phone last week. Easy baking from scratch was key, Mallorca said, because she's not a "boxed-mix cook."

Her cookbook is about empowerment instead of limitations. Mallorca became adept at combining what she calls the "funny flours" (soy, quinoa, brown rice, for example) to produce the proper structure and texture for baked goods, stuffing and coatings. She also has paired alternative grains with game hens and halibut, creating dishes from a variety of cuisines.

Mallorca's detective work uncovered a few surprises that wheat- and gluten-intolerant palates will want to avoid, such as the cornstarch that may contain modified wheat starch, and the malt flavoring (made from barley, which contains gluten) used in many brands of cornflakes. The book provides a short but helpful gluten-free shopping guide, a resource list and informative odes to the likes of chestnuts and teff seeds and flour.

Even if you've never read any of Mallorca's 11 cookbooks, you might be unwittingly familiar with her prose. In 1971, she created Williams-Sonoma's first mail-order catalogue. She still writes many of the product descriptions in the company's catalogues.

Perhaps this will ring a bell; it was penned, she says, in a dotty flight of fancy about prosciutto di San Daniele: "the noblest end to which a pig's hind leg may aspire."

Some of the reinvented recipes in "The Wheat-Free Cook" are more successful than others. Cornmeal and Cheese Shortbread has an enviably tender crumb, while Rice Flour English Muffins are more pancake-like in texture than their wheat-laden counterparts. The recipes seem like good candidates for nutritional analysis, but that option was not discussed in the book's editing, Mallorca said last week.

Cooks already on their annual hunt for elegant Passover desserts can find inspiration among Mallorca's ground-nut-flour entries. And the author has called for egg substitutes in some recipes, for the benefit of her friends with cholesterol concerns.

The true merit of "The Wheat-Free Cook" lies in its accessibility and broad appeal: One can learn how to be a more accommodating cook and how to put xanthan gum to good use. Now that's something for everyone.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company