When I got the message from Caleigh over at Gluten Free[k], inviting me to take part in the Great Gluten-Free Recipe Challenge that she was hosting, I was really excited. Firstly, it’s great to feel part of a community that not only understands this part of my life because it’s part of theirs too but that also celebrates it and says, “You know what? I’m not going to accept this restriction on my diet lying down. Gluten-free food can be just as delicious and I’m going to show you. So there!” One of the reasons that I started blogging was that I didn’t know anyone else who ate the same diet as me, who suffered the same frustration in restaurants (WHY does the hollandaise have gluten in it?) and who suffered the same rudeness and ignorance from waiting staff. This is just one of my experiences: My husband and I went out to breakfast in a (not inexpensive) restaurant in Bristol. When I asked to not have the sausage and black pudding on my meal, it arrived without bacon as well. On questioning it, I was challenged with a surly “What’s the difference between bacon and sausages?!” Not the reaction I was expecting. “Um, cereal…” I said. Extra bacon was begrudgingly slapped down on a side plate next to me five minutes later. We never went back there.

Secondly  I love a challenge. The rules were laid down. Not only did we have a deadline – to publish our recipe on Monday 12th March – but we were also given an ingredient that had to feature prominently – orange – and the recipe had not only to be gluten-free (naturally!) but also dairy-free and almond-, hazelnut- and chestnut-free. I’m a firm believer that rules, rather than being restrictive, lead to even greater creativity. In my previous incarnation as an English teacher, I would dread setting my students a free creative writing task. Inevitably, I’d end up marking 30+ rambling, incoherent and grammatically-suspect pastiches of whatever they had been reading, watching, gaming the night before… “Enough already!” I said, “We need some rules!” Some of the most creative and beautiful pieces of work I’ve read, especially by lower-ability pupils, are in the style of the haiku – Japanese 17-syllable (no more, no less) poems – that distil a single thought into its pure essence, necessitating a purge of most articles (definite and indefinite), prepositions and pronouns. A valuable teaching tool which frees the child to focus on the simple beauty of creating metaphor.

So I had my rules. What to make? I had a choice: to make something which was naturally gluten-, dairy- and nut-free or, to make something which ordinarily would be jam-packed with them all and see how I could get around it. I chose the latter path (I like making things difficult for myself): gluten-free, I’m of course used to – dairy-free is another story. It would necessitate a journey of discovery into the world of vegan chocolate and soya substitutes. These days, rather than feel resentful at the food I can no longer eat in restaurants and cafés, if I see something that I really want, I go home and create it myself. This recipe is one such. Just before we moved to our new home in Cheltenham in December, my husband, our son and I needed to vacate our house while the prospective buyer measured up for her new kitchen. We found ourselves wandering aimlessly around Cabot Circus (the new shopping mall in the centre of Bristol) and decided to warm ourselves up with a brew at Costa Coffee. Sitting behind the glass counter, brazenly flirting with me, was an orange curd and chocolate ganache tart. I knew I’d have to have it sooner or later. So here it is. My culinary haiku which celebrates the symbiotic beauty that occurs when chocolate meets orange. Whether or not you eat it in seventeen bites is entirely up to you.

Gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate and blood orange curd tarts

This is a decadent and rich tart, perfect for sharing. You could, however, make smaller individual tartlets. I didn’t have any, but I think they would look beautiful garnished with physalis.

Makes 4 largish tarts, serves 8

For the pastry:
240g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
65g Trex (or other vegan shortening), cut into cubes
½ medium egg, lightly beaten
cold water

For the orange curd:
1 blood orange
juice ½ lemon
4 eggs, lightly beaten
37g dairy-free spread (such as Pure soya spread)
150g caster sugar

For the chocolate ganache:
200g vegan and gluten-free plain chocolate, roughly chopped
250ml soya single cream (such as Alpro)
20g dairy-free spread

You will also need 4 13cm x 3cm loose-bottomed fluted tart tins*.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted; 365°F). In a food processor, blitz together the flour, xanthan gum and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and pulse to combine until the mixture resembles damp sand. Add enough cold water to bring the mixture together to a slightly tacky dough.

Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together as a ball with your hands. Slightly flatten and cut into four portions. Form each portion into a ball and flatten into a disc about 5mm thick. I tend to do this with the heel of my hand, perhaps finishing it off with the rolling pin. Carefully lift the disc into the tartlet tin and press it in firmly. Remove the surplus pastry from around the rim, either with a knife or your thumb. Mend any tears in the base with surplus pastry and then prick it with a fork. Line the cases with baking parchment* and baking beans.

Place the cases on a baking sheet and bake them blind in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, return to the oven and bake until the pastry is cooked which should take about another 15 minutes (my pastry didn’t go golden but I’m assuming that this is because there is no butter). Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the blood orange curd, wash the fruit and, using a potato peeler, pare the skin away from both the orange and the lemon in strips, making sure to leave the bitter white pith behind. Juice both the orange and the half lemon, making sure to remove any pips and pith. In a heatproof bowl, mix the juices and the rest of the ingredients, including the reserved orange and lemon peel. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not in contact with the water, and whisk continuously until the soya spread has melted and the mixture has thickened to the consistency of double (heavy) cream. This should take about 20 minutes**. Strain the orange curd through a sieve into a jug to remove the strips of peel and distribute equally amongst the four pastry cases, smoothing with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set.

To make the chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Put the soya cream and soya spread into a microwaveable jug or bowl and microwave on ‘high’ until the cream is bubbling and the soya spread has melted (this should take between a minute and a minute-and-a-half). Pour the hot cream mixture onto the chopped chocolate and stir with a spatula until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a dark, glossy brown. Distribute equally amongst the four tarts, smoothing the surface with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set before cutting in half and serving.

* I use Heston Blumenthal’s trick which is to scrunch the parchment up several times and smooth it out before putting it in the tins.

**If the orange curd hasn’t set after 20 minutes, take the bowl of the heat, strain it through a sieve to remove the strips of peel and put it into a small saucepan over a very low heat. Mix 1 tsp of cornflour (cornstarch) with 1 tsp of water and add to the curd. Stir continuously until the curd has thickened up.

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