February 17, 2016
Registration is open for a few more days for my latest class: Gluten Free Mess to Masterpiece. I’m really excited that we’re going to be doing a deep dive in to gluten free flours, converting recipes, the special techniques that prevent GF baking disasters, and in-depth look at gluten free bread recipes, and how you can spot a bad one before baking it. This is the first time this class has been offered, and that means you can get a huge discount by participating in the “first class”. Click here for the dates and more details.
When I was a little girl my absolute favorite thing was to spend the night with my grandmother. I have many sweet memories of those nights – dressing up in her fancy clothes and dancing to Lawrence Welk, learning the catechism at bedtime, and lots of chocolate milkshakes with graham crackers. But the memories that I think of first when I think of my grandmother are memories of being with her in the kitchen. I can still clearly see the mounds of sausage and cheese that I squeezed together as she sifted flour over my hands while we made sausage balls; feel the spray of corn as we cut kernels from the cob every summer, and her hands over mine as she helped me learn to make the special “pocketbook” yeast rolls that we only had for Sunday lunch.
That is the ideal way to learn to cook – to stand in a kitchen with someone, many times, doing the work together. The learner soaks up knowledge like a sponge. As they mix the dough a question occurs to them and they can ask and receive an answer when it has the most meaning to them. Unexperienced hands struggle to shape a dough and the watchful eyes of the experienced baker see that and she comes over to show you an easier way.
Over the past 50 years this way of learning to cook has become more and more rare. When you add to that the fact that gluten free cooking and baking has only been around for a few decades, you find that we have a very real problem. Multiple generations have never cooked from scratch, yet we are in the midst of an epidemic of autoimmune diseases, some of which can only be treated through diet.
My culinary mission in life is to teach people to master gluten free (and multiple allergy) cooking and baking so that we can restart the tradition of passing cooking knowledge down from generation to generation. This must happen if we are to continue enjoying our food while we figure out what will allow our bodies to heal.
The problem is that there are relatively few people who have a depth of knowledge of gluten free baking that is required if we want to bake as well as our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. And honestly, we’re going to have to know more than they did, because multiple-allergy baking is much more complicated. The first step is to find a way for the knowledge of those few to be disseminated as widely and effectively as possible, so that the knowledge of cooking and baking can once again be passed down within families. The solution to this will be gluten free cooking classes.
For the remainder of this post I’m going to focus on learning to bake gluten free. Learning to cook gluten free foods is much easier than learning to bake gluten free because there are so many things that you can make that don’t use flour. With baking it’s a bit hard to escape the need for flour of some sort, and it is additionally complicated by the fact that most baking recipes also include ingredients to which many gluten free people are also sensitive.
What our are options for learning to bake gluten free? And how should we evaluate those options?
Let’s deal with the latter question first. As I’ve mentioned, learning to bake from an experienced family member would be the absolutely best situation. The reasons for that give us the three questions that we should ask about any gluten free cooking class we take.
This is the kind of class that most people think of when you mention a cooking class. You go to a location with a kitchen, at a set date and time, and the instructor prepares several recipes. Some of these classes are observation only; in others you get to participate in making the recipes, though it may just be a part of the recipe.
Coverage of Topic: Light; these classes usually cover 3 – 5 recipes, so the instruction is focused on how to prepare a recipe. At the end of the course, you will have seen the recipe prepared (and perhaps prepared it yourself) and picked up some tidbits of information from the instructor along the way.
Length of Class: 2 – 5 hours
Cost: $85 – $250 for one session
There are a few different kinds of online classes, and this is the sort that you’d sign up for on Craftsy or Udemy. You register and pay for the class, but there are no beginning and end dates, and there are generally not any assignments (or if there are, there is not accountability for assignments). You just work on it as you want, and when you’re done, you’re done.
Coverage of Topic: Again, these courses tend to try to cover a lot of recipes in one class, so they necessarily to not dig deeply into any one topic.
Length of Class: 1 – 2 hours of video content, broken into short segments.
Cost: $25 – $50 for one class
At first glance, this kind of cooking course seems very similar to the one described above. The major differences are that a course extends over longer period time and includes 4x – 12x the content. This classes tend to have a start and end date, which allows the teacher to provide a lot more coaching since the commitment is not open-ended. Each segment of the class will often have assignments for the student to complete, which facilitates and back and forth interaction between the student and the teacher.
This sort of class also may include a group-coaching component which creates community and allows the students to develop a relationship with the teacher *and* with the other students. And as it happens, the students end up learning a lot from each other. These classes may also incorporate live coaching sessions where students can work with the teacher “live” by video feed.
Coverage of Topic: Because these classes extend over a longer period of time, there is definitely the potential for going in-depth,but this will vary from course to course.
Length of Class: 2 – 12 modules spread over weeks or months; each module usually contains an hour or so of video content with another hour or so of student work.
Cost: $197 – $997 – it really depends on how long the course it and how much coaching/customization is provided
Ultimately, the class that you should take depends on your goals. Some classes are great at teaching you how to make a certain kind of recipe. If that’s what you need, choose a class that has that kind of focus and one that provides as much interaction with the teacher, and actual hands-own instruction as possible.
If you’re dealing with multiple-allergies, than a recipe-focused class (and by that I mean one that teaches you how to make a set of recipes, typically chosen by the teacher) is generally not going to be very helpful. Often the recipes chosen will include other common allergens. And even if they don’t, the shallow focus of the class does not give you the kind of information that you need in order to make substitutions on your own or to create your own customized recipes.
Other people want to feel confident in the kitchen again. Regardless of whether they have multiple allergies to deal with, they want to know that they can bake what they want and it will turn out well and taste as good or better as the recipe they used to make with wheat flour. They definitely want to be able to play with their recipes, convert recipes, and generally tweak to their heart’s content. Again, a deeper course that specifically focuses on the how and whys of gluten free baking is probably going to be the best choice -even if that means that you have to save up for the class. After all, you’re likely going to be baking gluten free for the rest of your life, and have children and grandchildren that need to be gluten free as well. It’s worth the investment to be able to satisfy that innate desire to feed your family excellent food and to be able to pass the knowledge of gluten free baking on to them yourself.
And don’t forget – once you’ve found a class that promises the kind of results that you want, you still need to ask: