Gluten-free baking star Kyra Bussanich shares her story and delicious recipes from her new cookbook.
By Diana Price
Photos by Leela Cyd
For those of us with a sweet tooth, it might be hard to top the sensory pleasure that comes from pushing open the door to a bakery and inhaling the warm, sweet, buttery smell of fresh pastries—and then perusing a glass case of beautiful, sugary treats. The only problem: choosing which confection to take home.
But for those diagnosed with celiac and other autoimmune diseases that make it impossible for the body to process gluten—the protein found wheat and other grains—knowing that the treats behind the glass are off-limits can result in a sense of isolation and sadness.
For Kyra Bussanich, who had grown up with a love of baking—and for savoring the results of her efforts—learning in her twenties that she would need to give up gluten to help control Crohn’s disease brought these feelings front and center. Despite the almost immediate physical benefit she experienced after cutting gluten from her diet, she felt a sense of loss when considering the emotional implications of a gluten-free lifestyle: “At first I was depressed to have to give up pasta, pizza, cake, and doughnuts. When you have a food allergy and can’t eat what everyone else is eating, it only highlights how excluded you are,” she says.
These feelings were especially intense for Kyra, who describes her lifelong love of baking in her recently published cookbook, Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle (Ten Speed Press, 2013). While most girls were focused on teenage heartthrobs, she says, she was clipping recipes; by her late teens, she was baking all of her family’s holiday pies; in college she used money intended for textbooks on her first KitchenAid mixer. With this devotion as a backdrop, the order to stay away from flour hit her hard.
Luckily, Kyra was not ready to settle for life on the other side of the bakery case. Though she initially felt resigned to avoiding the baked goods she had grown up loving so much, she could not shake her desire to spend her days creating delicious treats. After having put in time in an office job, Kyra recognized that she needed to follow her passion for baking—even if she could not enjoy the finished product. “It wasn’t so much that I wanted to own a bakery or even work in one,” Kyra says, “as it was the romantic idea of being able to make incredible pies and pastries for friends’ parties and the holidays, even if I couldn’t eat anything I was making.”
In 2008 Kyra took the plunge and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu’s pastry school, hoping to learn the classic skills of expert bakers, without any sort of gluten-free ambition. “I didn’t realize there was actually a market for delicious gluten-free pastries,” she says. “I mostly just wanted to play with sugar all day long and have some creative freedom while doing so.”
But as she learned more about techniques and ingredients, Kyra started experimenting at home, creating gluten-free recipes and learning through trial and error. As she did she learned a lot about the fun and the challenges of this type of baking. “It’s not so much taste that is a challenge as texture,” Kyra says. “I feel like I happen to have a knack with flavors and putting them together in unique or surprising ways, but getting the texture of a gluten-free pastry just right is the hard part. I really had to experiment with my ingredients, including some out-of-the-box ideas.”
Once she had developed a handful of winning recipes, she began sharing them with friends and family—and the rest is history. Within two years Kyra had developed a loyal following, turning out cakes, cupcakes, pies, and other favorites from her certified home kitchen. In 2010 she took the leap and auditioned to appear on the Food Network’s popular Cupcake Wars and made it to the final round—as the only competitor creating gluten-free cupcakes. She would compete in three follow-up shows and was a finalist each time.
In 2011 Kyra opened her own bakery, Kyra’s Bake Shop, in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and she has been baking up a gluten-free storm ever since. As she continues to share her love for baking and her delicious treats, Kyra recognizes that she is offering customers much more than a sweet confection. “The number one thing I always remind my staff of is that it’s not just a cupcake (or cinnamon roll or pie) that we’re selling,” she says. “Really, we’re in the market of bringing back family traditions and celebration and joy in a way that allows everyone to participate.”
Hearing how a simple trip to the bakery can be transformative for some customers who have felt the isolation that gluten-free living can bring is the greatest reward. “One woman who left me a voice message was in tears, so grateful because her five-year-old daughter, who had celiac disease, got to walk into the bakery with the rest of the family and pick out anything in the case for her treat—and feel normal! This is what keeps me going.”
Now, with Sweet Cravings, Kyra hopes to bring that same hope and satisfaction to gluten-free home bakers. “I really want to make high-level gluten-free baking approachable,” she says. To that end each recipe in the book includes an “Easy,” “Intermediate,” or “Advanced” notation. Kyra says that the idea is that “beginning bakers or those who are just learning to bake gluten-free can start off with the easy recipes, gain a good result (and confidence), and then when they feel comfortable move on to tackle some of the more complicated or touchy recipes.”
The result of Kyra’s efforts to create an accessible, inspiring guide is a collection of mouthwatering recipes that look nothing like what you might think of when “gluten-free” and “baked good” are in the same sentence. The delectable photographs by Leela Cyd bring Kyra’s inspired recipes to life, exuding all the must-have textures of the best the bakery has to offer in all their gooey, sugary, crumbly, creamy, moist perfection. The fact is, whether you are a gluten-free baker or not, you’ll want to head to kitchen and give these recipes a go.
Easy. Makes about 21 cookies.
I first met Brandy, aka Mrs. Alaska 2011, at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in Chicago. She was the emcee for a baking seminar I was teaching. As a nurse practitioner with celiac disease, she was excited and knowledgeable about gluten-free lifestyles. When I found out that she missed her hometown of Atlanta, I started thinking about desserts I could make to give her a taste of home. They like things hot in Atlanta, so I tweaked my coconut macaroon recipe by adding a little cayenne and the citrusy tang of lime zest for some of the sweet heat that she was missing in Anchorage. Be sure to bake these until they are dark golden brown on top. They will still be moist and chewy inside, but the longer baking time ensures a crunchy counterpoint. If you don’t want the spicy kick, leave out the cayenne.
4¾ cups (537 grams [g]) desiccated macaroon coconut (not sweetened flaked coconut)
2 cups (454 g) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons (10.5 g) coconut flour
1 tablespoon (10.5 g) freshly grated lime zest
¾ teaspoon (1.3 g) cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon (2.4 g) salt
1 cup (272 g) egg whites (from about 8 large eggs)
3 tablespoons (58 g) honey
1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the coconut, sugar, coconut flour, lime zest, cayenne, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg whites, honey, and vanilla. Make a well in the coconut mixture and pour the egg white mixture into the center of the well. Stir together until thoroughly mixed.
Drop golf ball–sized scoops of the coconut mixture close together onto the baking sheets. Bake until dark golden brown and set to the touch, 22 to 28 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then peel off the parchment and store the cookies in an airtight container. You can make the dough ahead of time and freeze unbaked on the baking sheet for up to 2 weeks; or after baking, freeze in an airtight container for a month (if they last that long).
Easy. Makes 18 bars.
Crispy Rice Layer
¼ cup (57 g) butter
10-ounce bag (283 g) jumbo marshmallows (I like Kraft® Jet-Puffed)
2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract
8 cups (283 g) gluten-free crispy rice cereal (such as Erewhon)
Peanut Butter Layer
2 cups (284 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup (269 g) creamy peanut butter
½ cup (113 g) butter
1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
2 cups (352 g) dark chocolate
¼ cup (57 g) butter
Spray an 8-by-11-inch baking pan with gluten-free cooking spray and set aside.
To make the crispy rice layer, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter browns, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the marshmallows and the vanilla and stir continuously until the marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat and stir in the cereal. Pour entire contents into the baking pan. Wet or grease your hands and pat down the cereal so that it is level and compact. Freeze for 15 minutes to cool and set.
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine all the ingredients for the peanut butter layer and blend on low speed. Remove the crispy rice layer from the freezer and spread the peanut butter filling evenly over it. Freeze until firm to the touch, 30 to 60 minutes.
In a microwave-safe bowl or over a double boiler, melt the chocolate and the butter and stir together until smooth. If using the microwave, heat at 30-second intervals, stirring well between intervals. Working quickly, spread the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter layer. If the peanut butter is cold, the chocolate will set quickly.
Freeze the pan again, 15 to 30 minutes, as it will be much easier to cut if the peanut butter layer is firm. Cut into bars and serve cold or at room temperature.
1. Get to know your flours! Play with them, figure out their properties and flavors, and determine which flours you like and tolerate well (and which you do not). You can impart some terrific flavors using gluten-free ingredients, like sorghum, teff, and millet flour.
2. Combine flours and starches. You will almost never see me make a cookie or cake or other pastry with just one type of flour; there is almost always a blend of different ingredients.
3. Don’t be intimidated! The biggest reason I wanted to write Sweet Cravings was to make gluten-free baking approachable. It need not be intimidating (especially since I did a lot of the hard work for you).
Easy. Makes about 8 servings.
When we were first on our own, my friend Kim and I often went back and forth to each other’s apartment for dinner. She would always make the most delicious apple crisp for dessert. This is a gluten-free variation of her recipe. Feel free to assemble the apple filling up to two days in advance and keep it chilled until you are ready to bake it. Don’t make the topping ahead of time, though, unless you plan to freeze the whole thing unbaked; the millet flour and butter combination start tasting faintly Parmesany if combined but left unfrozen for more than two hours.
6 large (906 g) tart apples (Pippin or Granny Smith)
? cup (76 g) sugar or ¼ cup (76 g) maple syrup
2 tablespoons (16 g) tapioca starch
1 tablespoon (7.8 g) ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon (1.1 g) Chinese five-spice powder
½ teaspoon (0.9 g) ground ginger
Generous pinch (3.6 g) salt
3 tablespoons (42 g) cold butter
½ cup (89 g) sweet white rice flour
½ cup (74 g) millet flour
½ cup (67 g) tapioca starch
1 cup packed (244 g) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon (2.6 g) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4.7 g) salt
½ teaspoon (1.1 g) Chinese five-spice powder
½ teaspoon (0.9 g) ground ginger
¾ cup (170 g) butter, room temperature
¾ cup (68 g) gluten-free oats
½ cup (51 g) chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°. Peel, core, and cut the apples into ¼-inch slices. Put the apple slices into a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over the top. Add the tapioca starch, cinnamon, five-spice, ginger, and salt and toss to evenly coat the apple slices. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, dot the top with pieces of the butter, and set aside.
To make the topping, combine the flours, tapioca starch, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, five-spice, and ginger in a mixing bowl. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix in the butter until it is uniformly incorporated into the flour mixture. Stir in the oats and pecans.
Crumble the oat topping evenly over the apples. Bake until the topping is golden brown and set and the apples are warm and bubbly, 55 to 60 minutes.
You can prepare everything ahead of time. Refrigerate the apple filling and keep the topping frozen until ready to assemble and bake. Don’t refrigerate the unbaked topping overnight, as the millet flour will interact with the butter and taste and smell cheesy when baked.
Reprinted with permission from Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle by Kyra Bussanich. © 2013 Ten Speed Press.