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gluten-free and dairy-free white crusty bread

I can’t leave gluten-free bread alone. It sounds obvious to say, but I really just want to get it as close to the ‘real thing’ as I can. The brands you can buy have got a lot going for them: they’re light, they remain reasonably fresh and they’re hassle-free. What I don’t like about them, and some brands are more guilty of this than others, is that they tend to dissolve into a gluey mass in your mouth and get stuck in your molars. Oh, not to mention the fact that they’re almost £3 a loaf… I tend to alternate between buying loaves (the M&S loaf is my very favourite, followed by Sainsbury’s own brown multi-seeded and then, if there’s nothing else, Genius multi-seeded) and baking my own.

I can’t get along with the white loaves though. Not only do they have the aforementioned faults but they also have a sweet aftertaste which I find very cloying. Oh, and I suspect that a piece of cardboard would have more nutritional value. So, if I want white bread, I tend to bake my own. I was ecstatic when I discovered psyllium husk several months ago and I’ve been experimenting with it to work out the optimal amount: too much, and the bread can have a bit of a clammy texture. I’ve managed to cut down on the amount considerably, so much so that I’m going to rework some of my previous bread recipes on here to get them as best as they can be.

Something else I’ve noticed with homemade gluten-free bread, is that it takes much longer to toast than commercial brands and there’s always a loud sizzling noise emanating from the toaster. To reduce this, I’ve subbed dried egg white for the fresh one I usually use. I used Dr Oetker which is available in large Tesco stores. A big improvement, I think.

gluten-free and dairy-free white crusty bread 2

Gluten-free and dairy-free crusty white bread

Makes 1 small loaf

1 tsp psyllium husk
1 tbsp cold water
140g + 40g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
75g + 25g potato flour
12g tapioca flour
4g powdered egg white (half a sachet, equivalent of 1 egg white)
2 1/2 tsp caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 heaped tsp fast-action yeast
1/4 tsp Vitamin C
250ml cold water with 1 tsp of salt dissolved
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
Olive oil

You will also need an electric whisk and a 1-lb non-stick loaf tin.

Begin by placing the psyllium husk in a small bowl or mug with a tablespoon of cold water. Give it a stir and leave it to one side whilst you weigh out all the other ingredients.

Sift 140g of gluten-free plain flour, 75g of potato flour, the tapioca flour, powdered egg white, caster sugar, gluten-free baking powder, fast-action yeast and Vitamin C into a large mixing bowl.

Give the psyllium husk a good stir (it should have become jelly-like). Add this to the mixing bowl, along with the salted water. Whisk with an electric hand whisk for several minutes until the mixture is light and bubbly. Sprinkle the xanthan gum over the top and continue to whisk for another couple of minutes. The mixture will thicken up considerably (watch out that the mixture doesn’t crawl up the beaters and foul up the motor of your whisk).

Sift in the remaining 40g of gluten-free plain flour and 25g of potato flour. Fold in with a metal spoon until thoroughly combined. Pour into the loaf tin, smooth the top with a palette knife and cover with an oiled piece of clingfilm (plastic wrap). Leave in the fridge overnight.

Remove from the fridge about three hours before you wish to bake it. (It should have started to rise slightly). Leave to rise at room temperature then remove the clingfilm.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (I used my top oven which is a conventional oven, so adjust the temperature accordingly). Place a roasting tray at the bottom of the oven to heat up. Before putting the loaf in the oven, throw half a glass of water into the roasting tray to create steam. Bake the loaf for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200°C and continue to bake for another 30 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is domed and dark golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckle.

Leave to cool COMPLETELY before slicing (this can take a couple of hours).

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.

Last time, I talked about how going gluten-free was a real emotional rollercoaster which I hadn’t been expecting. It’s also been a massive learning experience, not only about protecting myself when I attempt to eat out of the safety of my own kitchen, but also about myself as a person.

I’ve learnt that my taste in food is not quite as catholic as I originally thought. I used to love nearly everything. I could enumerate on one hand what I didn’t like…peanut butter, tripe, parsnips… I love the foods that are commonly hated… anchovies, olives, capers, Marmite, pork scratchings… I love different cuisines from all over the world and I love new flavours. In my pre-glutenfreebie days, eating in a restaurant was problematic only in that I could never decide what to have because I could have happily chomped my way through the whole menu. (Of course nowadays, I feel blessed if I have two things to choose from… )

Since going gluten-free, I’ve explored alternative carbohydrate sources, such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats, chickpea flour… and, guess what? I hate them all (quinoa to a lesser extent, but still). I’ve made tabbouli with both quinoa and millet, a farinata with chickpea flour and a pilaf with buckwheat. I’d had high hopes for buckwheat as I love it when mixed with other flours in crêpes and blinis but I couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. Unusual for me.

My palate for carbohydrates seems to be fixed to those that I’ve grown up with: wheat, rice, potatoes and, to a lesser extent, corn. I can only think that this is because the carbohydrate part of the meal is the neutral foil to the rest of the meal which is where all the action, flavourwise, is. These carbohydrates clearly do have their own flavour but I am accustomed to them. The flavour of these new ones are strong to my palate and I find them intrusive and cloying. It never fails to amuse me that the packaging always proclaims their flavour to be ‘nutty’. I love nuts (apart from peanuts) but I’ve come to learn that this is used in much the same way that ‘like chicken’ is probably used to describe all manner of meats, such as rabbit, frog, snake, squirrel, alligator…, i.e. the closest thing but actually nothing like it (I may be generalising wildly here – my only authority is that rabbit tastes nothing like chicken to me…!)

So, that’s my rather lengthy analysis of why I don’t seem to like these new grains. Or maybe I am just picky after all…

Gluten-free breakfast blinis with smoked salmon, poached eggs and rocket (arugula)

Ideally, you need three large frying pans or sauté pans for this so that everything can be cooked at the same time. If you only have two, I would suggest making the blinis first and keeping them warm while the eggs are poaching. I wouldn’t suggest poaching the eggs first in case they overcook. I always use Delia’s method for poaching eggs. It’s completely foolproof and results in perfect poached eggs every time. It also allows you ten minutes to get on with other stuff instead of fussing over them, worrying that they’re overcooking, but it’s imperative you use a timer.

Serves 3

For the blinis:
70g buckwheat flour
70g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
½ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp caster sugar
215ml milk
5g butter
1 egg, separated
butter or butter substitute for shallow frying

To serve:
6 slices smoked salmon
6 eggs
a few handfuls rocket (arugula)

You will also need at least 2 large frying pans or 1 large frying pan and 1 large sauté pan and a timer.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. In a microwaveable jug, microwave the milk and butter for about 30 seconds or so, until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Put the egg yolk in the well and cover over with a little of the flour to protect it from the warm milk. Pour the milk and melted butter mixture in the well and, using a balloon whisk, draw the dry ingredients into the wet with circular motions, until you have a thick, smooth batter. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white with an electric hand whisk until it reaches the stiff peak stage.

Pour a kettleful of boiling water into a large sauté pan. When the water has just come back up to the boil, add the eggs, one at a time. Simmer the eggs for one minute exactly. As soon as the minute is up, turn the heat off and allow the eggs to sit in the hot water for exactly ten minutes. Drain each egg on a slotted spoon over a wad of kitchen roll before putting on a warm plate.

As soon as the eggs have started their ten-minute poach, carefully fold the whisked egg white into the blini batter. In a large frying pan, melt a few knobs of butter or butter substitute over a low heat. When the butter is foaming, add a third of the batter and shape with a spoon or palette knife into a pancake that is about 10cm in diameter and 2cm in depth. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds of the batter so that you have 3 blinis. Cook each blini for 3-4 minutes on both sides, until they are golden and crisp on the outside and they feel firm when gently pressed.

Remove from the pan and top with two slices of smoked salmon each, two poached eggs and garnish with the rocket (arugula).


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