The founder of BabyCakes NYC covers everything from bagels to puff pastry in her latest cookbook.
Erin McKenna’s bakeries, formerly known as BabyCakes, have long been a mecca for both vegans and the gluten-sensitive, and her cookbooks are equally sacred texts. Considering that gluten, dairy, and egg allergies often arise in one difficult combination or another, one would think that eating bread and cake would be out of the question for people with these dietary restrictions. But McKenna proves it's not only possible, but also delicious.
Her newest book of recipes, “Bread & Butter,” takes a look at the most basic bread staples. Unlike her first two cookbooks, “Bread and Butter” is less focused on dessert and as a result is full of healthier, wholesome breads, from pumpernickel to pizza dough.
“Better health is something I’m always interested in, especially through food,” McKenna told me, but the healthier take on vegan and gluten-free baking came together less by design and more as a result of her experiments with savory baking.
The recipes found in “Bread & Butter” are also on sale at Erin McKenna’s three bakery locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Disney Springs in Orlando. “We have customers that only come in for the bagels.”
Gluten-free and vegan baking is often not for the faint of heart, so expect a list of ingredients that’s considerably longer than traditional ones. You will need xanthan gum for almost every bread recipe and sunflower lecithin for the butter, but McKenna has taken as much of the fussing out of the process of making bread as possible.
“One of my goals was to make these recipes for the clumsy baker,” said McKenna, “I myself am extremely clumsy. I wanted it to be something you could mix with a baby on your hip and have it come out perfectly.” There’s no kneading or punching down the dough. “This is basically like making cake batter.”
McKenna found that what works for baking something sweet doesn’t necessarily translate into baking bread, and each of the recipes was created through a long process of trial and error. But the end result is a success. I tried out the scallion pancakes, which were particularly quick, and the pizza dough. Both recipes were straightforward. It’s always good advice to read the whole way through a recipe before you start—I didn’t realize the pizza dough would require two hours to chill, and ended up eating pizza for lunch the next day instead of for dinner. The crust was satisfyingly crunchy, while the rest of the pie remained soft and just the right amount of chewy.
The beginning of the book covers many potential issues related to substitutions, which are generally not recommended for these types of recipes, and other questions related to ingredients that may be unfamiliar to gluten-free baking beginners. In addition to the butter recipe (which is soy-free too), the book also covers mayo, sandwich suggestions, and other savory dips.
McKenna’s best advice for novice bread bakers? “Weigh your ingredients as opposed to using cup measures.” The book does include measures by volume, but bread can be just finicky enough that weighing can make a difference. It’s a fool-proof way to make sure the end result will be just right.