Archives for category: dessert

gluten-free apple crumble

I don’t know where March has gone. I had lots of big ideas for recipes for this month and I haven’t managed to get any of them on the blog. I’m still tinkering with my bread recipe…and I think I probably always will be until it’s just like the glutenicious variety (!) I’ve been trying to reach the optimal level of psyllium husk so that there’s enough to get a good rise, but yet not so much that it has a clammy texture. I’m also playing around with a butter shortbread recipe and I think my remastered puff pastry sausage roll recipe is ready to be unveiled to the world very soon. But what with three birthdays (my own included), visiting family, a christening, looking after the house, trying to keep up with my toddler’s busy social life and experimenting with some recipes that I need to faff a bit more with, I haven’t managed to blog anything apart from my monthly recipe for LiveGlutenFree:

gluten-free chocolate fondants

Gluten-free chocolate fondants

So here is something I’ve been meaning to try for ages: an improved apple crumble recipe. I’m very partial to an apple crumble, especially if it’s served with lashings of hot custard, but I have been less than impressed with the bog- standard gluten-free variety that uses a like-for-like flour substitution. The finished product is always very powdery and tends to go a bit gluey in the mouth. One way of getting round this is to sub some of the flour/butter/sugar combo for crushed biscuits which I do when I’m making my delicious pear and ginger crumble.

Oats are often added to crumbles to give them a bit of ‘bite’ but, unfortunately, I’m unable to eat even gluten-free oats. Enter rice and buckwheat porridge flakes (available from Sainsbury’s). I think they’re really useful and that they have a not un-oaty flavour. They are, however, very hard and you can’t just substitute them for oats without softening them up first. I usually do this with hot apple juice. I made this last night for my family and it all disappeared. It’s not really the Easterlicious treat I was planning (improved hot cross buns) but it was yummy all the same.

gluten-free apple crumble 2

Serving suggestion: Gluten-free apple crumble with lashings of hot custard

Gluten-free apple crumble with rice and buckwheat flakes

Serves 4 generously

60ml apple juice
120g rice and buckwheat porridge flakes (I used Sainsbury’s)
120g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
2 x 60g butter
2 x 60g light brown soft sugar + 2 tsp
400g apples (I used eating, rather than cooking, apples)

You will also need an approximately 1.3l-capacity ovenproof dish.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted so adjust accordingly).

Heat the apple juice in the microwave on ‘high’ for 1 minute. Combine with the rice and buckwheat flakes in a small bowl. Stir and set aside.

Sift the gluten-free plain flour into a large bowl and rub in 60g of butter until you have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in 60g of light brown soft sugar.

In a small saucepan melt the remaining 60g of butter with the remaining 60g of light brown soft sugar over a low heat. When melted, pour over the rice and buckwheat mixture and stir to combine. Allow to cool slightly.

Peel, core and chop the apples into large chunks. Place in the base of the ovenproof dish and scatter 2 teaspoons of light brown soft sugar over them.

Combine the rice and buckwheat mixture with the flour and butter mixture and scatter over the top of the apples. Bake for 25 minutes or until the crumble topping is golden and the apples are tender. Serve with cream, ice cream, yoghurt or custard.

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Gluten-free coffee and walnut blondies

I had a yen for a coffee and walnut combo the other day. In a cake, it has to be my favourite one of all time. It is the doyenne, paper doily and all, of the village fête cake stall. (I hear Middle England gasping, affronted, as I wantonly overlook the Victoria sponge…) Now I’m going to say something extremely controversial and I’ll probably get shot down in flames, but I really can’t understand why people get so worked up about a Victoria sponge sandwich. It must be one of the most pedestrian cakes ever. It’s nice enough but nothing to write home about. (I appreciate that this is tantamount to treason. I’ve totally messed up my chances of being admitted into the hallowed ranks of the Women’s Institute now…)

I think also that my sudden craving for coffee and walnut has something to do with the fact that I took myself off coffee a couple of months ago. I’d read a few reports which suggested that in people with coeliac disease/gluten sensitivity, the body may confuse the proteins in coffee with gluten and cause a reaction. I decided to come off it and see if it made a difference. I didn’t seem to feel any better (or any worse, for that matter).

I was in a branch of Caffe Nero with my friends and our toddlers. I had intended to have a hot chocolate but, whilst they were happy to say that it had no gluten-containing ingredients, they were also quick to state that it had been produced in a factory blah blah blah. (Am I the only one who finds this REALLY frustrating?!??) Anyway, the queue was building behind me and I didn’t want to cause a fuss, so I ordered a decaffeinated cappuccino.

And boy, did I live to regret it! The tummy pains started about half an hour later and I felt ropey for the rest of the afternoon and evening. So, even though I didn’t appear to feel better when I came off it, going back on to it made me feel ill.

So, why am I baking with coffee? Because I’m not convinced that in my case it is cross-reaction. My symptoms weren’t my classic ‘glutened’ ones – I didn’t get a headache or any joint ache or any other flu-like symptoms. My tummy just didn’t feel right which, ironically, is not how I usually suffer. I’m not sure what it was, exactly. Perhaps the coffee’s acidity: it was rather strong and bitter.

Anyway, I’ve cooked with it and haven’t had a reaction. I would be really interested to know if anyone else suffers with coffee or avoids it altogether?

Gluten-free coffee and walnut blondies 2

Gluten-free coffee and walnut blondies

These are blondies in the American sense of the word, meaning that their main ingredient is brown sugar. In Britain, we tend to reserve the term for a brownie made out of white chocolate. This is, however, actually still technically a brownie. Even though it isn’t brown…

Makes 12 blondies

1 tbsp instant coffee
100g butter, melted
190g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
120g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
20g tapioca flour
1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped

You will also need an electric whisk and a 23cm x 20cm x 4cm non-stick rectangular cake tin lined with greased baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Dissolve the instant coffee in 1 tablespoon of boiling water and set aside to cool.

Whisk the butter and soft light brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until they are well combined. Add the coffee and the egg and continue to whisk to incorporate.

Sift the flours, baking powder, xanthan gum and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl. Mix well until you have a light brown, sticky batter. Fold in the chopped walnuts and pour into the cake tin. Smooth flat and bake for 20 minutes or until the surface is shiny and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.

Leave in the tin until completely cool before removing, peeling off the baking parchment and cutting into 12 portions.

gluten-free gruffalo chocolate birthday cake

My son turns two this week and his party was this afternoon. He had six of his little friends over to play and their mummies and daddies came too. We all had a wonderful time, chatting, eating and drinking while the little ones ran around us, playing and laughing.

I’ve been stressing over his cake for some time, wondering what I could do that would make his face light up. Over the last few weeks, he has become totally obsessed with The Gruffalo (or ‘Gluffalo’ as he says it!) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. I don’t know if those of you from across the pond are familiar with The Gruffalo, but if you aren’t and you have young children, then you should definitely check it out. We have to watch the DVD at least twice a day and read the book about four times.

Once I’d decided that The Gruffalo was the way to go, I had to work out exactly how I would achieve it. It seemed pretty straightforward but I was still a bit daunted and I was completely prepared for the morning dash to Marks and Spencer’s to pick up a Percy Pig cake or somesuch. Luckily it wasn’t needed and I was really pleased with the result.

The pictures don’t really show the cake in its entirety and I also put it on a white plate which doesn’t help but it was a rectangular cake, covered with white regal icing with a picture of the Gruffalo taking up nearly all of it.

The recipe is a bit vague when I get to the decorating bit as we were making it up as we went along and we did have some buttercream and dark chocolate left over at the end.

gluten-free gruffalo chocolate birthday cake 2

Gluten-free ‘Gruffalo’ chocolate birthday cake

For the cake:

250g gluten-free self-raising flour
250g soft light brown sugar
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
250g butter, softened
4 eggs
2 tbsp milk

You will also need an electric whisk, a 23cm x 20cm x 4cm non-stick rectangular cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment.

For the icing:

375g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
185g butter, softened
45g gluten-free milk chocolate drops
1-2 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Orange marmalade or apricot jam – several tablespoons
454g packet of ready-to-roll regal icing
the darkest gluten-free plain chocolate you can find (I used 84% cocoa solids) – about 50g
gluten-free white chocolate – about 25g
Orange chocolate beans (I used Dr Oetker)
Green and purple gluten-free Smarties (sugar-covered chocolate buttons)

You will also need a picture of the Gruffalo, measuring about 20cm in height, a piece of tracing/greaseproof paper, a pin, an electric whisk and an icing bag with a 1mm and a 5mm nozzle (or homemade greaseproof paper cones that can be snipped to size).

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 160°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Sift all the dry cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl and then add all the wet. Mix with an electric whisk until everything is combined and you have a sticky batter. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin, smooth flat with a palette knife and bake for 35-40 minutes until the cake is well-risen and the centre springs back when lightly pressed. If in doubt, stick a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean. If specks of raw batter stick to the skewer, put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10  minutes. Then, remove from the tin, carefully turn upside down and peel off the baking parchment and leave on a wire rack to cool upside down.

To ice the cake:

Trace your picture of the Gruffalo with a (non-toxic) pen or pencil onto a sheet of tracing or greaseproof paper and set aside.

Melt the milk chocolate drops in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and set aside to cool slightly.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until soft and creamy. Sift about a fifth of the icing sugar into the butter and cream it in with a fork. When the sugar is all absorbed, add the next fifth and so on. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract and mix in with a wooden spoon. Add enough milk to obtain a spreading consistency: it will need to be fairly loose or it won’t stick properly and will take a layer of crumbs off the cake.

Carefully slice the cake in half horizontally and sandwich the two halves together with the milk chocolate buttercream (setting aside about a teacupful).

Melt the apricot jam/marmalade in a small saucepan, sieve (if necessary), and brush over the top and sides of the cake. This will help the regal icing to stick.

Roll out and cover the cake with the regal icing according to the packet instructions (the finished icing will be somewhat thinner than the 5mm recommended on the packet).

Carefully place your Gruffalo tracing on the top of the cake and use the pin to prick around the outline.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and set aside to cool slightly. Add about a tablespoon to the reserved milk chocolate buttercream and beat to combine. Place the remaining dark chocolate in an icing bag with a 1mm nozzle (or homemade greaseproof cone with the end snipped off) and pipe around the outline. Take this opportunity to add two small dots to the orange chocolate beans for the Gruffalo’s eyes. When the dark chocolate has set, pipe the milk chocolate buttercream (using the larger nozzle) inside the outline. Carefully spread and smooth the buttercream up to the edges using a knife that has been dipped in hot water (this will help prevent the buttercream lifting off the regal icing). Use the point of the knife to texturise the buttercream to make it look like fur.

Place the orange chocolate beans on the Gruffalo’s face to create the eyes. Halve the purple Smarties with a sharp knife and use to create the purple prickles down the Gruffalo’s back. Cut the green Smartie in half and place on the end of the Gruffalo’s nose to create his poisonous wart.

Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool until of a mouldable consistency and use to form the Gruffalo’s tusks, horns, teeth and claws. We used the tracing as a guide to both form them and to place them on the cake.

gluten-free double-chocolate-chip gingerbread cake with brandy buttercream icing small

The final week of Caleigh’s Festive Free-From Challenge and what a challenge it has been! A big thanks to Caleigh for organising such a creative challenge and for posting the round-up on her blog. And the inspiration for the finale is “Christmas Future” or, festive food that fails to deliver, reinvented.

I’ve already mentioned that traditional Christmas fare in the form of nuts, dried fruit, suet, marzipan and slabs of rock-hard icing do little for me so you can imagine that Christmas cake is my worst nightmare. Thankfully I’m not alone in my family so we never have it in the house. Two years ago, I made instead a beautiful cider and apple cake from Harry Eastwood’s book Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, and last year we had a Christmas-spiced ricotta cheesecake. So, all things considered, this challenge was right up my street!

Gingerbread cake is very popular at this time of year but ginger is one of those spices that I either like in moderation or tempered with another flavour. I find that there is little food that is not improved by the addition of pastry and/or chocolate. For example, a sausage is delicious: but a sausage roll is sublime. Peanuts are the Devil’s food: but a Snickers is/was (are they gluten-free?) extremely palatable. So the addition of chocolate to a gingerbread cake recipe was a no-brainer for me. Not only have I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder but I’ve also added a shed-load of chocolate chips. These melt into the cake to form little gooey nuggets of chocolatey loveliness. The ginger is there as a subtle, warming undertone but if you like your ginger to be a little more pugnacious, either bump up the quantity of powdered ginger or add 50g of chopped stem ginger with the chocolate chips.

gluten-free double-chocolate-chip gingerbread cake with brandy buttercream icing 2 small

Gluten-free double-chocolate-chip gingerbread cake with brandy buttercream icing

I’ve used a brandy butter from the supermarket because I don’t keep a bottle of brandy in the house but feel free to sub your own homemade butter.

Makes 1 medium cake

115g butter
115g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp black treacle (molasses)
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 eggs
150ml milk
250g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
150g milk chocolate chips
1 tbsp ground ginger
200g brandy butter, softened
70g butter, softened
100g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
2 tsp milk

You will also need a 23-cm diameter springform cake tin, greased and lined with a circle of baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

In a small saucepan, place the butter, sugar, black treacle and golden syrup and warm gently over a low heat until the butter has melted. Give it a stir every now and again to thoroughly mix the ingredients and to stop it from catching. Remove from the heat.

In a separate small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and the milk. In a larger mixing bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and ginger. Beat in the egg mixture and the butter mixture until you have a rich, dark and sticky cake batter. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour into the prepared cake tin.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the centre of the cake is firm and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for five minutes in the tin when the edges of the cake should have begun to shrink away from the sides. Remove from the tin and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To make the buttercream icing, place the brandy butter and the butter in a mixing bowl. Beat until soft and creamy. Sift half the icing sugar into the mixture and beat to incorporate before sifting and beating in the second half. Add the milk and beat again until creamy. Smoothe the icing over the top and sides of the cake with a palette knife. Decorate, if so inclined.

gluten free pear and ginger crumble

I usually hate winter…and I hate autumn because of what it foreshadows. I live for the spring and the summer…or, in reality, I live for the springs and summers that I remember from my childhood: when the six-week summer holiday stretched endlessly and the sun seemed to shine every day in a cloudless cornflower blue sky.

But after what has been the most waterlogged and depressing British summer ever, I’ve resolved to take pleasure in both autumn and winter this year, and henceforward. Otherwise, I’m going to spend the rest of my life vacillating between states of wishing my life away and constant disappointment.

So, so far, I’ve enjoyed the farmers’ market starting up again in Cirencester last Saturday (and the gorgeous gluten-free sausages and brownies that we found there!), the fragrance of the damp leaves we went tramping through on our woodland walk on Monday, the sense of comfort emanating from the radiators now that we’ve switched the heating on…and the smells of baking, stewing and casseroling that have been wafting from the oven. We picked the last of the pears from the tree in our garden today – I hope I did them justice!

gluten free pear and ginger crumble

Gluten-free pear and ginger crumble

The ripeness of your uncooked pears will determine the texture of the finished dish. I prefer the cooked pears to be quite firm to the bite so I used fairly unripe ones. If you prefer a softer texture, use ripe pears and cut down on the sugar in the filling.

Serves 4-6

For the crumble:
100g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
50g butter, cubed
25g demerara sugar
100g gluten-free stem ginger biscuits (they’re available in both Sainsbury’s and Asda)

For the filling:
500g prepared pears (peeled, quartered, cored and cut into chunks)
1 tbsp soft light brown sugar

You will also need a 2-litre capacity ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

First, make the crumble topping. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Rub the chunks of butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the demerara sugar. Whizz the stem ginger biscuits in a food processor to a coarse crumb (or put them in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin). Stir into the flour, butter and sugar mixture.

Next, scatter the pear chunks in the bottom of the ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the soft brown sugar and cover with the crumble mixture. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

When we arrived in our new home in Cheltenham last December, the garden was hibernating: the trees were bare and the borders were straggly and uninteresting. I didn’t spend much time out there because it looked cold and muddy and our son, who had only just started to walk, was still spending more of his time on his hands and knees than on his feet.

Even though we had viewed the house over the summer, I couldn’t remember at all what it had been like. I’m the first to admit that I’m no gardener and what had been important to me was that a) it was big enough to kick a football around in and b) (after having lived in a house for eight years with a gloomy north-east facing garden) it faced south.

So it has been a complete joy since the start of the spring to watch our new garden slowly re-awakening because we really have had no idea what to expect: one morning I pulled the curtains in my son’s bedroom to find the tree at the bottom covered in a billowing snowy duvet of blossom; on other days, I’ve been greeted with slashes of orange, hot pink and pale blue or the delicate aroma wafting from the rose tree.

We were aware that we had inherited three fruit trees, neatly espaliered against the fence, but we didn’t know what they were, until I discovered miniature pears and apples shortly after the blossom dropped. I’ve been carefully monitoring them ever since.

This cake has been made from the first pears that I harvested from our tree yesterday. The variations are endless though: chopped stem ginger or crushed walnuts would be a delicious addition to the pears; I also made one a couple of weeks ago using a medium cooking apple and 150g blackberries. The recipe is based upon one that my mum copied down from Jimmy Young’s Radio 2 show about 30 years ago. Originally it was made with apples and oats but I unfortunately can’t even eat gluten-free oats these days. I have used a rice and buckwheat porridge mix instead that I found at Sainsbury’s. If you can eat gluten-free oats, feel free to make it with them instead: the original recipe didn’t use milk but I found that I had to add it to the rice and buckwheat otherwise it was too dry and made a very crumbly cake.

Gluten-free pear cake

A beautifully moist cake with a crunchy crust. Perfect for afternoon tea with a cuppa or for dessert with cream.

100g gluten-free self-raising flour
100g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
200g gluten-free rice and buckwheat porridge flakes
200g butter, cubed
200g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
200ml milk
2 medium firm pears, peeled, quartered, cored and cut into 5mm slices

You will also need a 24cm x 20cm x 4cm rectangular cake tin, lined with baking parchment

Preheat the oven to 180C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Sift the flours into a bowl and mix in the rice and buckwheat porridge flakes. Place the cubed butter and caster sugar in a solid-bottomed saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted. When it has reached a consistency and colour akin to lemon curd, take the pan off the heat. Quickly stir the flour and porridge into the butter and sugar mixture. When the flour is thoroughly combined, stir in the eggs and milk.

Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin and spread evenly over the base. Now place the pear slices in a single layer. Pour the remaining cake batter over the top and smooth the surface. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before taking out of the tin. To remove the baking parchment, place a dinner plate over the top of the cake, so that it is sandwiched between the cooling rack and the plate and carefully invert. Remove the cooling rack and peel off the baking parchment. Replace the cooling rack and carefully invert once more.

Eat cut into slabs, with cream, custard, ice cream or as nature intended.

It’s true to say, due to family illness and the lots of travel that that is involving at the moment, that I’ve somewhat lost my blogging mojo. Hence the distinct lack of recipes over the last month. My toddler has also chosen this moment to become, yes, you’ve guessed it, a TODDLER! I thought I had been blessed with an incredibly easy baby… he’s generally very even-tempered, smiley, doesn’t seem to mind being taken on car journeys and being lugged round the shops. He also, much to the envy of some of my friends, will nap for three to four hours in the afternoon and then go a full twelve hours at night. That’s not to say he’s a placid baby though: he’s full of energy and into absolutely everything. A complete joy.

Most of the time.

He is, however, turning into a bit of a fusspot at the dinner table. The range of foods he is prepared to eat seems to narrow on a daily basis; but luckily, the majority of them are relatively healthy…bananas, strawberries, satsumas, tomatoes, fromage frais, yoghurt, hummus, brown bread, cereal, milk, corned beef, salami, frankfurters and chorizo (?!?!?!)… as well as biscuits, chocolate and ice cream, which he can always find room for, funnily enough!

Anyway, enough about my son – this is a cooking blog, not a ‘mummy’ blog, after all…! The upshot of all of this is that, currently, creating, cooking and blogging has slipped down my list of priorities: I’m eating a lot of grilled meat and salad at the moment: easy to buy, easy to cook and easy to eat and…not really worthy of a blog post! I’ve still managed to contribute my monthly guest blog recipe at LiveGlutenFree, though, which I have also been somewhat neglectful in advertising:

Gluten-free orange-double-choc-chip refrigerator cookies

Gluten-free lime-frosted carrot cake muffins

Then I received an email, the day before yesterday, from Caleigh over at the lifestyle blog Domestic Sluttery asking for gluten-free contributions of a chocolate pudding nature for the blog’s newly-launched pudding club. So I switched on the oven, dusted off the mixing bowls and cracked open a packet of the brown stuff.

Once again, please forgive the main photos – not being prepared has meant that the camera battery wasn’t charged yet again. Enter dodgy, ever-so-slightly fuzzy, smartphone photography…

Gluten-free souffléed mocha pots

Salt is one of those ingredients which really brings out the flavour of chocolate. Coffee is another. I used decaffeinated espresso but feel free to substitute whatever you’ve got. I should imagine that 1-1.5 teaspoons of instant in two tablespoons of boiling water would be about right, but that’s just an educated guess. The cooking time is flexible, depending upon how squidgy or how souffléed you want them. At ten minutes, mine were slightly underdone and could have done with another couple of minutes. I would suggest 12-15 minutes. Don’t overfill the ramekins because as they rise, they have the tendency to overflow. If aesthetics are important to you, it is imperative to eat them immediately. My photo was taken about 5 minutes after it had come out of the oven and it was already starting to sink. A spoonful (or three) of single cream helps to cut through the richness (let’s face it, this isn’t diet food!)

Serves 4

butter, for greasing
4 medium eggs, separated
140g caster sugar
30g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g gluten-free dark chocolate (I used 74% cocoa solids), broken up into small pieces
2 tablespoons strong espresso
350ml milk

You will also need 4 200ml-capacity ramekins

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly) and place a baking (cookie) sheet on the top shelf. Liberally butter the insides of the ramekins.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar for several minutes until pale yellow, thick and creamy. Add the flour and baking powder and stir until well-combined.

Put the chocolate pieces and espresso in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water) until melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Heat the milk up in a small saucepan until just below boiling point. Take off the heat.

Add the coffee and chocolate mixture to the egg yolks, sugar and flour and stir until well-combined. Add the heated milk and stir until smooth. Return to the saucepan and put back on a low heat. Whisk until thickened (a couple of minutes). Take off the heat, return to the mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl until at the stiff peak stage. Using a metal spoon, stir one-third of the egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it. Fold in the remaining two-thirds in two lots, until no streaks of egg white can still be seen. Pour carefully into the ramekins, making sure not to spill any on the rim, otherwise they will not rise.

Place on the heated baking sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes according to how squidgy you want them (resist the temptation to peek by opening the door – if you haven’t got an oven light, do what I do and use a torch). Eat immediately with single cream slathered all over.

This Great Gluten-Free Recipe Challenge has certainly lived up to its name. I tend to cook with a lot of eggs. Mint, well, not so much. So you can imagine my ‘delight’ when I found out that, as well as being gluten-free, the recipe ALSO had to be egg-free AND showcase mint.

Hmmm. Not a propitious combination.

Luckily I can still eat eggs although I don’t take this for granted. Food sensitivities seem to have a lot in common with buses – there isn’t one for ages and then several all pitch up in one go. Over the last few months I seem to have developed a sensitivity for alcohol and/or sulphites but I’m not sure which, as most alcoholic beverages contain sulphites anyway to halt the fermentation process. Eggs could easily be next for me.

Not only do I love eggs for their own sake, when they’re scrambled, poached, boiled and fried but I also rely on them a lot to compensate for the lack of gluten in my baking. And mint is one of those tastes that I’m still in the process of acquiring: I do like it but it has to be quite subtle and also be combined with other flavours. So this challenge was going to be tough because every mint recipe I thought of (that I would like to eat) had eggs in it and in such a way too that I didn’t think egg substitute would work.

This recipe came about quite by chance. I was originally planning a microwaveable mint chocolate fondant dessert based upon an eggless sponge recipe. I made a batch and poured a portion into a coffee cup. ‘One minute should do it!’ I thought as I set the timer on the microwave with gay abandon and gazed expectantly through the glass door. Ping! Yuk. Didn’t work. Another portion. 40 seconds, set more hesitantly this time. I gazed doubtfully through the glass door. Ping! Ew! All I can say is, if you want to be cheffy and decorate a dessert plate with edible (mint-flavoured) soil, I’ve got just the recipe…

I still had about a third of the mixture left. I hate waste so I thought I’d put it in a pan and chuck it in the oven just to see what happened. When it came out, it didn’t look so good so I tossed it aside on the worktop and sat down to come up with another idea (which I did do and I will get around to posting it sometime soon). When I came back to it some hours later so that I could put it in the bin, I realised that it had started taking on the texture of a brownie. Still a little powdery but my mind started to tick over. More butter, more chocolate and added golden syrup…

Gluten-free and egg-free mint-triple-choc-chip brownies

Don’t be tempted to do anything with the brownies until they have had their requisite 3 or 4 hours in the fridge. Don’t try to cut them and definitely DO NOT taste them. They will be dry and they will crumble. They will also taste of overheated peppermint. Take it from someone who knows… They are worth the wait though. Once they’ve been chilled, they become dense, fudgy and chocolatey and the peppermint flavour is deliciously fresh and light.

Makes 16

85g butter, cubed
150g gluten-free plain chocolate, coarsely chopped (at least 74% cocoa solids)
200g sweetened condensed milk
1½ tsp peppermint extract
2 tbsp golden syrup
90ml water
80g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
30g Community Foods potato flour (potato starch)
30g cocoa powder
2 ½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
100g ground almonds
50g gluten-free white chocolate chips

You will also need a 24cm x 20cm x 4cm cake/brownie tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Put the butter in a microwaveable jug or bowl and microwave on ‘high’ for 40 seconds or until the butter has melted. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted.

Whisk the condensed milk, in a large bowl, with the peppermint essence, golden syrup and 60ml of the water for a minute or so with an electric whisk until well-combined.

Sift the flour, potato starch, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and xanthan gum into the chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet. The mixture needs to have the texture of chocolate mousse so, if it is on the dry side, add the remaining 30ml of water, a tablespoon at a time, and whisk until you have a uniform mixture. Fold in the ground almonds and white chocolate chips.

Pour the mixture into the tin and smoothe the surface with an oiled palette knife. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before putting the tin in the refrigerator and chilling for at least 3 to 4 hours. Cut in half lengthways and then in eighths widthways to create 16 brownie fingers. Store in the refrigerator.

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.

I’m not much of a one for buying gratuitous amounts of value-added food products. You’re obviously paying a premium for the time and hassle spent by someone else pimping the raw product into the finished article so that you don’t have to. Clearly there are things that I have neither the equipment, nor the skills, nor the patience nor, indeed, the desire to make for myself and I include in this category most dairy products (I wouldn’t know the first thing about making cheese!) and most beverages (our kitchen isn’t big enough for vats of fermenting beer).  If I feel that I can add the value myself, then I’d much rather because my time is free and the resulting product is often much better in terms of flavour, quality and nutrition. Most of our meals are made from scratch these days (luckily for me, most convenience foods are jam-packed full of gluten so I am forced to eat much more healthily) and I object to paying through the nose for things that I can easily do myself, such as shelled nuts, skinned and deboned fish, jointed chicken, washed salad…the list goes on.  It’s not all about money, though, for me – most of all, I love doing it, especially if there’s a challenge involved. I think I must have inherited this predilection from my father: as I write this, I remember one Christmas when, rather than going down to the supermarket to buy a bottle of Malibu, he spent the best part of Christmas Morning trying to create a homemade version using vodka, coconut milk and coffee filter papers!!!

So, I’ve just been raving about adding value myself to products and taking on a challenge, but now I’m going to post a recipe that uses a shortcut, that I’ve no doubt paid extra pennies for. I love banoffee pie but I haven’t eaten it in years. I obviously can’t eat it when I go out because the pastry case will be glutenasty and I haven’t eaten it at home because the idea of leaving a can of Fussell’s boiling on the stove for about four hours and the dread of it spitting its lava-like contents all over me, as I ineptly hack my way into it with a tin-opener, fill me with horror. The first time I tried an Alpro soya caramel dessert, the taste reminded me straightaway of banoffee pie and I immediately thought that using this would be the easiest way to make one without the faff outlined above. I tried it for the first time last night as a twist on the traditional pancake (lemon and sugar are so dull!). Yum! You could also easily make a traditional banoffee pie by just substituting the pancakes for a gluten-free shortcrust pastry case.

Gluten-free easy boozy banoffee pancakes

These pancakes are traditional British ‘Pancake Day’ pancakes – they’re thin and pliable and ideal for folding around and wrapping fillings, either sweet or savoury.

Serves 4

75g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
2 eggs
250ml milk
1tbsp vegetable oil
375ml Alpro soya caramel dessert (3 individual tubs)
30ml rum (optional)
4 medium-sized bananas
2 handfuls flaked almonds, toasted
whipped cream, to serve

You will also need a large (25cm), non-stick frying pan (skillet)

First, make the pancake batter. You can either do this in a food processor or by hand. If using a food processor, whiz the eggs, flour, milk and vegetable oil together until completely smooth. If doing by hand, place the flour in a medium-sized bowl. Using a whisk, break up any lumps in the flour. In a separate bowl or jug, lightly whisk the eggs, milk and oil together. Pour the liquids slowly into the centre of the flour, whisking as you do so, bringing the flour in gradually to the middle. This should ensure that there are no lumps. (You can leave the batter to rest for about an hour but if I’m pushed for time, I don’t usually bother and I never seem to notice much difference).

Lightly grease a large (25cm), non-stick frying pan with a little oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, pour about 100ml of the pancake batter into the pan (I use a soup ladle) and swirl and tilt the pan until the bottom is thinly covered. After about 1-2 minutes, loosen the edges of the pancake all around with a palette knife or fish slice and peek at the bottom. When the pancake is a nice golden brown, flip it over and cook the other side. The pancake is ready when you can see dark brown blisters on the underneath. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, separating each pancake with a sheet of baking parchment.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the caramel dessert with the rum and slice the bananas into 5mm rounds (if you want to be cheffy, you can do them on the slant!). Place each pancake on an individual serving plate. Spread a quarter of the caramel mixture over each pancake. Mentally divide the pancake into quarters and pile 1 banana’s worth of sliced banana on one of the quarters. Fold the pancake over to make a half-circle and then again to make a quarter-circle. Spoon over whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted, flaked almonds.

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