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Blackbird Bakery, Gluten-Free, by Karen Morgan

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Updated February 29, 2012

Blackbird Bakery, Gluten-Free, by Karen Morgan
Courtesy of Pricegrabber

My first thought on opening the package that contained the new cookbook Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free was, "Wow! That's a gorgeous cookbook!" The book is truly one of the nicest cookbooks I've seen in a while, with a beautiful hard cover and glossy color photographs of almost every recipe.

So, my first impressions were excellent. The good news is those impressions held up as I explored the cookbook and experimented with some of the recipes. In the rapidly-growing niche of gluten-free cookbooks, Karen Morgan's volume stands out as one with unique, interesting ideas that are presented with flair.

Self-Trained Pastry Chef Turned Gluten-Free Foodie

Like many of us who were diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity years ago, Morgan was a little stunned at the ... unappealing nature of the gluten-free products on the market at the time.

As she says in the introduction to Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free, "The available gluten-free products were so unsatisfactory, I took it upon myself to do something about it."

She spent seven years experimenting, lived and worked in France for a while and finally opened her online bakeshop, Blackbird Bakery. Online recipes eventually grew into her cookbook, which opens with the hope that "you will find that life without gluten can be just as good, if not better, than what came before."

Recipes Make Leap Beyond Basic Gluten-Free Baked Goods

In any gluten-free cookbook, you'd expect to find multiple recipes for basic baked goods — after all, it's no trick to make chocolate mousse gluten-free (given that it doesn't include gluten ingredients in the first place), but it can be difficult to make gluten-free angel food cake.

Morgan's Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free definitely contains plenty of baked goods and features some fairly basic recipes for popovers, buttermilk biscuits and pancakes. But while these are well thought-out and useful to have, it's her more interesting recipes that really caught my eye.

Her individual almond-raspberry cakes recipe, for example, uses homemade almond paste, almond extract, raspberry preserves and a little bit of sorghum and tapioca flours to create a delicious and highly decorative dessert that would suit a gourmet luncheon or a summer dinner. And her recipe for pistachio Bavarian cream charlotte is another creative and elegant offering that goes far beyond basic gluten-free cake.

Morgan Includes Gluten-Free Ingredient Tips with Recipes

Since some of the ingredients included in the recipes are a bit esoteric, Morgan includes some helpful tips on sourcing gluten-free ingredients, plus recipes to create those ingredients, where necessary.

For example, she notes in the almond-raspberry cakes recipe that store-bought almond paste is not gluten-free, and includes a separate recipe to make your own safe almond paste. In her brownies for lovers recipe, she recommends using Scharffen Berger chocolate, which is one of a handful of pure gluten-free chocolate options.

Morgan also includes some useful "notes on ingredients" in the cookbook's forward; for example, she explains what glutinous rice flour is used for and where to find it (Asian markets carry it), and notes that "Texas pecans" are much sweeter in flavor than pecans from other Southern states (Morgan lives in Austin, TX).

Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free Makes Great Addition to Gluten-Free Cookbooks

All in all, I love this cookbook — I think Morgan's recipes are unique, and the ones I've tried so far have not been too difficult to carry off (even if my end results just don't look quite as beautiful as the photographs in the book).

Would I recommend this gluten-free cookbook to just anyone? Perhaps not for someone who's looking for easy family recipes that can be thrown together quickly. It takes time (and a good food processor, too) to make ingredients like almond paste from scratch.

But all in all, if you've mastered the basics of gluten-free baking and you're looking for new (gluten-free) horizons, I can recommend Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free without hesitation — there's plenty here you'll like.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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