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​Q&A with Becky Excell, author of How to Bake Anything Gluten-Free

Posted by Lucy H on 8th Oct 2021

​Q&A with Becky Excell, author of How to Bake Anything Gluten-Free

How to bake anything gluten free coverFirstly, we have someone at A Great Read who is GF and really appreciates what you’ve done. He’s so happy he can eat scones again! And, as for having a whole chapter on GF doughnuts, he's on cloud 9!

What was the inspiration for this book?

My second book was undoubtedly inspired by a handful of 100% gluten-free bakeries I came across on my travels to Barcelona, Rome, Florence and Paris. They stocked a mind-boggling selection of freshly baked loaves, baguettes, fresh desserts, all manner of pastries, cakes and sweet treats. I was like a kid in a candy shop, or more accurately, a gluten-free person in a gluten-free bakery!

If I had to sum up how being in those bakeries felt for me, I’d simply say that I just felt ‘normal’ again - something which I clearly took for granted when I could still eat gluten. I so desperately wanted all my followers to experience that joy of feeling normal that I felt when I walked into those bakeries. And, as I couldn’t exactly fly them all over there with me, I decided to write a book that recreated that feeling in their kitchen at home instead.

On a less inspirational note, it was also inspired by walking past the window at Greggs one too many times where, even after a decade, I still can’t eat anything apart from a gluten-free brownie wrapped in plastic!

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

In my mind, the typical reader of my books is exactly like… me! I didn’t choose to be gluten-free (the gluten-free life chose me, unfortunately), so abstaining from all my favourite foods, including all the nostalgic bakes that evoked so many happy childhood memories, was quite upsetting.

And having spent many hours chatting to my followers over many years, I immediately realised that we were all in the same boat. So I wrote both of my books for them… and myself I guess! That’s why I’ve always focussed on reuniting readers with the foods they truly miss eating.

However, I would not only love everyone in that boat to read my books, but also their friends and family too. I hope they also soon discover that baking your gluten-free friend or family member something special is actually incredibly easy and will most definitely be very appreciated by the recipient!

Do you have a favourite genre or author? What books or authors would you say were significant influences on you?

Rather predictably, I am obsessed with cookbooks and always have been. I’ve dreamt of having my own recipe book since I was a teenager, but in all honesty, I never thought it would actually happen… let alone having two of them! I’ve always loved how every recipe book is an author’s own personal stamp on food and how their personality magically comes through in their recipes somehow.

More specifically, it’s undoubtedly the Delia and Nigella cookbooks that inspire the way I cook and bake. I’ve always adored their, accessible, everyday, down-to-earth recipes that suit any occasion and though my focus is always on gluten-free first and foremost, I always endeavour to ensure that my recipes fit the above criteria too.

There are so many more gluten-free ingredients available nowadays. Is there anything you’d love to be able to find more easily?

You’re very correct there - compared to when I first had to start a gluten-free diet 12 years ago, supermarkets free from aisles are now a mecca for gluten-free products. And it’s that constant improvement in product selection that has allowed me to create recipes that are just as easy and accessible as ‘regular’ recipes.

For example, xanthan gum is a key ingredient in gluten-free baking; fortunately, it’s now readily available down free from aisles across almost every supermarket in 2021. The same goes for gluten-free flour blends which remove the need for bakers to concoct their own from starches and flours that are difficult to obtain.

However, one thing supermarkets still really need to stock is blonde psyllium husk powder. It’s integral in baking gluten-free bread that actually tastes like real bread, but currently you can only buy it online. You’ll often see it listed as an ingredient in all the loaves of gluten-free bread in the supermarket, so I hope it’s only a matter of time before we see it on shelves soon. Until then, you can easily source it online.

What’s your favourite recipe from the new book?

I always struggle to pick just one, so I usually end up saying something that reveals just how indecisive I am such as: ‘I love them all equally’. But today I’ll pick a recipe I’m really proud of, which has to be my jam and custard finger doughnuts.

I mean, not only do they actually look identical to the real deal, but they genuinely taste like it too. I know I’ve done something right when my gluten-eating boyfriend will happily eat them! Finger doughnuts are yet another thing that I literally hadn’t eaten in 12 years prior to writing this book, so I hope everyone’s reunion with them will be just as good as mine was.

Which is your preferred social media platform and why?

As much as this feels like choosing my favourite child, I’ll have to say Facebook right now - more specially, my Facebook group. For me, it’s one of the only places where two-way communication can occur naturally between myself and my followers, as opposed to me just posting something and everyone reacting to it.

It feels so much more like an open conversation between a group of friends. Not only can I post something and get everyone’s reaction, but other group members can also do the same and I can react to their bakes too. Plus, as I can’t reply to every single message I get unfortunately, there’s always a kind person in the group who can point people in the right direction out of sheer kindness. Honestly, it’s just such a lovely place to be online!

Virtual socialising in lockdown has been invaluable. Once we’re allowed to meet up in person again, who would be on your fantasy dinner party list and why?

Well first of all, I’ll have to be boring and say mine and Mark’s family as dinner parties have been (not surprisingly) scarce over the last 18 months or so. It would just be nice to get everyone around the same table again!

But if I could invite literally anyone, it would definitely be Nigella, though I would be understandably terrified to cook for someone as awesome as that! I’d of course have to invite Hugh Jackman and Novak Djokovic, both of whom are gluten-free. I’d also add in Elton John (hopefully he brings a piano!) and Mary Berry because why wouldn’t you want Mary Berry over for tea?

It would be a bit of a random crowd, wouldn’t it?

And of course, what would you feed them?

For starters, I’d raid the starters and sides chapter of my first book ‘How To Make Anything Gluten-free’. There would be prawn toast, sticky spare ribs, veggie spring rolls - the whole lot!

For the main course, I’d go with my boyfriend’s Bang Bang stir-fry noodles and Korean-style chicken from the first book too. They're both recipes I’ve eaten every week since the book came out in February this year and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

For dessert, it would have to be my guest’s choice of peach and raspberry cobbler, black forest gateau and no-bake strawberry cheesecake. I’d do what my Mum does at Christmas and bake all three, then let the guests choose… or let them sample all three!

The COVID-19 situation has affected us all in different ways. How did you manage during the lockdowns?

Rather predictably, it was cooking and baking that got me through lockdown, serving as a very welcome distraction from what was going on in the world (as I’m sure it handily did for most).

Both of my books are ‘lockdown babies’! However it definitely was a struggle at times to get hold of ingredients. I couldn’t find any yeast or gluten free flour for a while which was quite stressful! Luckily I managed ok in the end!

You’ve been incredibly open about your health, or your 'BRCA2 journey’. How has being so open to your followers helped you?

I’ve never really felt like I had a huge amount of people that I felt I could talk to in my personal life, so having my followers has been a constant lifeline for me. Honestly, I’m not sure I could cope without them anymore!

First of all, they just make me feel so much less alone, even when it’s just myself, Mark and my dog, Peggy, 99% of the time. Just knowing there’s so many people out there wishing me well makes coping with the big decisions I have yet to make so much easier - it helps me so much more than they could ever realise.

Plus, as I’m lucky enough to have a big bunch of people following me, quite a few people got in touch who are also BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive (or have a family member who is) and were able to support me even more. So I just wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ multiplied by a million to all the people who have been so kind during this new journey I find myself on. There is a long way to go but I am grateful that I know about it now so I can take control of the situation and reduce my risk.

Many more bakers are working with gluten-free recipes on TV. Would you consider taking part in any cookery shows, and would you prefer to be a competitor or a judge?

I would love to! I always jump at the chance to show the world that, not only is gluten-free food no harder to make, but it also doesn’t have to taste any different to ‘regular’ food. I’ve somehow found myself very dedicated to banishing those myths surrounding gluten-free food.

I think I’d prefer to be a judge in all competitive scenarios as time limits and pressure are not something that positively affects my baking or cooking in any way whatsoever!

Do you have a book topic you’d love to write about next? Or a style of cookery you’d love to develop?

As I mentioned, I dreamed about having a cookbook for years and I knew exactly what it would and wouldn’t be down to the finest detail. Obviously, I wasn’t ambitious enough to dream about having more than one cookbook because… who would be crazy enough to do that?!

But even after two books, I still feel like I’m not done! For example, as I have followers from all across the world, I often get requests to make very localised, traditional dishes and bakes specific to their countries. As I’ve never even seen or tried them before myself, I’d love to travel to those countries to see how they’re traditionally made, then create my own gluten-free version at home.

So in that sense, I’d love to write a book that centres around travelling to different countries and recreating those dishes or bakes that gluten-free people would otherwise never get to try. Again, I just want to reunite people with the foods they miss eating!

How important is baking in your daily life? Is it something you do every day?

For me, baking was just something I did for special occasions - making birthday cakes or maybe an apple crumble whenever family came over for dinner. But out of nowhere, baking has become such a big part of my life.

First of all, it’s somehow become part of my job! It’s something which I never could have imagined, especially when considering that I have no formal training beyond food tech at secondary school. Baking also became a way for me to personally build a more positive relationship with food after my eating disorder.

So now, I do find myself baking almost daily, mostly creating recipes requested by my followers as well as continuing to recreate products in the supermarket that I wish I could eat. Baking is so much more than the end result, so remember to enjoy the process too; and you never know where it might take you!

What would your perfect day look like, and what’s the first place you want to visit after lockdown?

I am a self-professed boring person, so my ideal day would probably be doing all the random things I dream of doing when I’m answering endless emails. I love Brighton, so my ideal day would probably start by waking up there, walking along the beach with Mark and Peggy, then stopping for a hot chocolate and some gluten-free cake at my favourite cafe. We’d go do some shopping and then eat some gluten-free fish and chips back at our apartment - remember: I warned you I was boring!

Brighton will probably be one of the first places I visit when we venture out and about again, but I really want to go back to Rome too. It was one of the best places to be gluten-free I’ve ever been to, with so much choice and so many 100% gluten-free restaurants. Hopefully this can all be a reality soon!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m not reading anything at the moment – although we are watching The Handmaids Tale and I now have a huge desire to read lots of Margaret Atwood books! And of course I need to find out what all the fuss is about with Richard Osman’s novels, so they are high up on my to-read list!

What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved Roald Dahl books growing up, Matilda is probably my favourite of them all and yes I do have a gluten free Bruce Bogtrotter style cake recipe on my blog in it’s honour! I was a proper book worm growing up and don’t read so much these days - I really need to get back into it. I used to love escaping reality and just reading for hours and hours.

And finally, have you any plans for a third book? If so, would you like to launch it here in Westbury?!

I can’t reveal anything yet, but one of my followers has suggested that a future book should be entitled ‘How To Steak Anything Gluten-free’ which I can only assume is a comprehensive guide to cooking meat!

But due to COVID restrictions at the time, I have never had an actual, in-person book launch for either of my books, so I’ll definitely take any chance to actually have one in the future - thank you!

Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.

Thank you so much!

You can order a copy of How To Bake Anything Gluten-Free HERE