Aran Goyoaga, cookbook author and recipe developer
On her path to gluten free baking, how she develops recipes, and gluten free’s role in the broader cookbook landscape.
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Aran Goyoaga is a Seattle-based cookbook author and recipe developer that focuses on gluten free recipes. She’s originally from Basque Country and grew up around a bakery, so she uses her culinary knowledge to develop gluten free recipes that stand on their own.
I don’t bake gluten free products, but my brother does, and he’s been a fan of Aran’s cookbooks since I gifted he and his wife Cannelle et Vanille in 2019. “The thing about her bread is that it’s the best we’ve had. For anyone that’s gluten free, it’s a unicorn recipe,” he told me. I spoke with Aran about her path to gluten free baking, how she develops recipes, and gluten free’s role in the broader cookbook landscape.
Brianna Plaza: Can you tell me about your background and how you came to cooking and writing?
Aran Goyoaga: I'm originally from the Basque Country in northern Spain. My maternal grandparents had a pastry shop, and I grew up across the street from them. My whole childhood and into young adulthood was orbiting around this pastry shop. My mom worked front of the house. My aunts and uncles worked back of the house. My grandparents had eight children and they all contributed in some way.
I grew up baking in a pastry shop all my life, but I didn't go to culinary school at first. I never thought it was a thing that I should be doing. My family always pushed me to study something that they thought was a little bit more viable. Baking was considered very blue collar, very hard work. So it wasn't something that they aspired for me to do.
I went to university, studied business, and when I graduated I had an American boyfriend. I came to the U.S. to be with him. I worked for a big corporation for about three years, and then realized that was not what I wanted to do. Once I had moved to the U.S., I kept baking and talking to my family back in Spain about baking, and that became our connection.
Eventually, we were living in Denver and an opportunity presented for my husband to move to Florida for his job. We moved and I enrolled in culinary school and I did a pastry program for two years. As I was going to school, I started working in restaurants at night, and then as soon as I graduated, I ended up working at the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach for three years until I had my son. I stopped working in professional kitchens because it was a little incompatible with family life, especially back then, and especially in a corporate setting.
I was not gluten free at the time, but I started developing weird symptoms and I got sick. By that time I had a daughter, I learned I had gluten intolerance. As soon as I was diagnosed with that, I began to focus on nourishment.
I started developing gluten free recipes and I wrote a book proposal. Then in 2012, my first book, Small Plates and Sweet Treats, was published. I kept blogging and writing cookbooks, and teaching cooking, cookbook writing, and photography classes. Then 2017, I started working on what became Cannelle et Vanille, my cookbook that came out in 2019. Then in 2021, Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple came out, which is kind of like the baking extension to Cannelle et Vanille.
Brianna Plaza: So gluten free wasn't the original part of the plan. How do you learn how to bake gluten free?
Aran Goyoaga: I think a professional baking background was an advantage because I understood the science behind baking, and I had experimented with alternative flours. When I say alternative, I mean gluten free flours, because we used a lot of buckwheat, millet, and amaranth flour. We used all those flours in combination with wheat flour. When you're dealing with something that's a tender product, like a cookie or a cake especially, it's not that hard to take what you know and apply it to gluten free. Bread baking — sourdough and yeast based breads — that’s a whole ‘nother beast. I mean, I had some base understanding, but it really did require a lot of experimenting. So I do think that having a baking background was very helpful because I understood what was happening in the formulations. If I saw something that was crumbling, I kind of knew what I would need. So that made it easier for me, I think.
Brianna Plaza: With much of gluten free baking being a little more scientific than regular baking, what does your recipe development process look like?
Aran Goyoaga: Currently, I'm working on a bread book that goes into sourdough baking. I have a few base recipes that I've had for years and so I start adapting them slowly. I make slow changes and it's just a progression. It's the same process as you would with wheat baking. You start with something that you understand and you master, and then you say, "What if I want to introduce a little bit more whole grain flour instead of as much starch?" Then I start experimenting, then it might need a little bit more moisture because whole grain flours absorb more water. It's kind of just playing around of some bases. That's the thing with baking. I feel like with baking recipes, nobody starts their day writing a recipe that doesn't come from a base. We've all learned from other people.
I was actually developing a molasses cookie recently, and I was doing research of all kinds of molasses cookies, and they all have similar ratios of butter, sugar, and flour, and so then you start adding your little spin. Do you want a little bit more spread or less spread? Do you want a little bit more chew or more crispiness? So then understanding, okay, well if I add more sugar, this is what's going to happen, or if I reduce baking soda, this is what's going to happen. Really just playing around.
Brianna Plaza: When you think about developing recipes, do you tend to lean more towards developing gluten free alternatives to popular gluten things? Or do you try and be innovative?
Aran Goyoaga: I find that I'm not so much about hacks, if that's what you want to call it. I mean, of course there are master doughs, like a brioche, and then you can turn a brioche dough into many different things. I have a recipe in my book and I'll have a new one in my new book, and so it's something that I'm always evolving. In that sense, you could say it’s an adaptation or a conversion of a recipe, but if you look at the actual recipe, it's nothing like how you would make a wheat brioche. It likely won't have the same exact texture because you don't have the elasticity that you have with gluten, but it is an enriched dough, so it does have eggs and butter (or another fat). But should I call it brioche? That's a valid question. It really is about expectations, but I do think the name communicates something to the reader.
So I think there's a balance of a few things. Maybe I’m missing a flavor profile or a texture that I'm wanting. I am inspired by that. But my recipes work and that they're really good on their own. I would never put out a croissant recipe that doesn't have a lamination (folding butter into dough to create layers). I recently saw a TikTok video of palmiers. It was almond flour mixed with yogurt, and then it was shaped into a palmier shape. In that case, you really cannot call that a palmier because there's no lamination. There's not even an attempt to be a palmier. But if I am making a gluten free puff pastry, perhaps it's not going to be as flaky as a gluten one, but it will use the same techniques.
Brianna Plaza: Do you think that gluten free cooking can ever be a one-to-one taste and texture replacement?
Aran Goyoaga: So texture wise, there's so many recipes that I make that people don't even realize that they're gluten free. When you're dealing with cakes, for example, you probably wouldn't even notice. When you're dealing with most breads, you're not going to have the same crumb. Shelf life in gluten free baking is a little bit shorter. For croissants, it's probably not going to be as airy, but there are a lot of things in my books that are really good.
I hate to be having to compare. I feel like it's the one thing that's maybe been a little thorn in my side, or a little block for me. I feel like I'm constantly fighting this idea that gluten free baking is a fad. Literally, people are super sensitive to gluten and it causes inflammation in people's bodies. So it's not just like, oh, I'm trying to lose weight. It is something that people have to do. So these recipes that I'm making, I'm making them so people don't feel deprived and that they can make bread at home. They don't have to buy this stuff that’s like cardboard and has cellulose and all these things to extend the shelf life. You can make really good bread at home that's gluten free.
Brianna Plaza: You've been nominated for a few James Beard Awards, but they're in more specific categories like lifestyle, special diets, etc. Do you think that gluten free cooking can ever find a place among general cooking books?
Aran Goyoaga: That's an excellent question because I struggle with this all the time. With my first book in 2012 and even with Cannelle et Vanille, I didn't really want to make gluten free a big deal. I just really wanted the book to stand on its own, and for everybody to find it. But then I realized it's okay to say that it's gluten free, and so the people that really want it can find it. I'm always kind of vacillating between these two worlds of what I'm doing is for everybody, but I do want people that need to be gluten free to find me.
So I don't know. I think this is the challenge for me with my next book. It’s a gluten free bread book, but I want it to stand next to all the other bread books that people revere. I want to convince people that are a little hesitant about gluten free bread that it's good and that it's based on solid science. I hope people will give it a chance, that it's not just something that's a fad or a dietary thing, that it’s for anybody.
Brianna Plaza: You are from the Basque Region, but you live in Seattle. Where do you take inspiration from?
Aran Goyoaga: I mean, I think we all are constantly inspired by where we live, by the people we interact with, the things we watch, the podcasts we listen to, conversations. I mean, Basque cooking is very simple. It's kind of like how Japanese cooking is so paired down. You could also say that for Southern European cooking, that it's very of-the-season and very ingredient-driven and it's not heavily spiced. So it's just really highlighting the ingredients. So I think that's very much in everything that I do. Really minimalistic — or I try for it to be — and then I build on flavors. That's definitely the backbone of my education in the food world.
I haven't traveled as much since the pandemic, but any travel I have done in the past has inspired me. But I feel like that stuff seeps in slowly. I went to India and it's not like all of a sudden I'm adding all these spices in my cooking. I have to live something to really express it, if that makes sense. So at my core, I'm very Basque in that simplicity way. I'm inspired when I go to the farmer's market and I see something new. Recently, I found this new kind of cucumber that was sort of between a cucumber and a squash, and he was telling me all about it, and about these herbs that had pods that you could pickle. But it’s just really interesting things like that that I love discovering.