When I was a vegetarian, I said I would never go vegan because I love butter and cheese too much. Classic irony – a few years ago my body decided that it doesn’t like dairy (beans, nuts, and coconut are also in the no go party). So I’ll still never be a vegan because I’m no longer a vegetarian, but I also can’t eat butter and cheese. Insert cry/laugh emoji here. Baking is very important to my mental health and it’s been tough figuring out how to bake without dairy. I spent decades perfecting my pie crust and buttercream games. I have been teaching myself how to bake dairy free through trial and error because I’ve had a hard time finding resources for dairy free baking that doesn’t replace dairy with soy (a bean product), nuts or coconut. When I saw The Flexible Baker available for request on NetGalley, I smashed the request button.
What’s good: I love the concept of The Flexible Baker. I am in favor of cookbooks that encourage experimentation and respect for other people’s food needs and choices. What it does well is indicate at the beginning of a recipe if it is vegan, nut/sesame-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and/or gluten-free. At the end of every recipe, Pratt provides some “Flexible” options. The options might be for a flavor swap, how to make something vegetarian or vegan, or -free. Not every recipe is adaptable to every food sensitivity.
What’s not as good: I wish that there had been a section at the beginning about how to work with some of the allergen free options. I am assuming that this cookbook is intended for people who are not experts in gluten free or dairy free baking. I am not an expert in gluten free or dairy free baking, but I have done it enough to know that swapping in a plant based dairy or gluten free options sometimes requires adjustments. I know nothing about substituting to replace eggs. I don’t know how to use chia seeds or aquafaba, and didn’t feel confident based on what is in this book.
Lately I’ve done more dairy free baking, and in my experience, plant based butter needs to be kept colder than dairy butter to make a good pastry. It has a lower melting point and the whole thing can go from flakey to solid very quickly. Using plant based butter impacts flavor. The whole wheat pastry crust I made with vegan butter was fine for texture, but tasted like nothing. I now add a little extra salt, a spice, or some nutritional yeast to give flavor. I’ve also found that pastry and cookies made with vegan butter go soft by the next day. They are best eaten the same day. I was a little disappointed to see that Pratt didn’t suggest replacing the butter and milk in the brioche and other enriched doughs. I’ve had fewer issues making enriched bread doughs vegan than pastry crusts.
US cookbook buyers should know that Pratt is British and uses British terminology. You can make caster sugar by running your regular granulated sugar through a blender or food processor for a minute to make it finer. I don’t know what availability is like in the UK, in my area vegan puff pastry is pretty widely available, but gluten free puff pastry is not. I wish Pratt had taken the time to include some recipes for vegan and gluten free puff pastry, since she uses those a lot as a substitute. But I don’t know that that is what other readers would want.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Quatro Publishing Group and NetGalley. My opinions are my own.