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gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

I’ve just spent a fascinating ten minutes having a metaphorical ramble through the online Oxford dictionary. I am a bit of a word nerd – I love language and etymology and I was musing on the words “cookie”, “biscuit” and “scone” and the differences between them. “Cookies” have been imported into the British lexicon from the American (originally from the Dutch, meaning “little cake”) but, to us, the word denotes a particular type of chewy biscuit containing chocolate chips. When I was growing up, “cookies” weren’t as prevalent as they are today. We ate “biscuits” – the biscuit barrel would contain an array of Mr McVitie’s finest digestives, rich teas, fig rolls, custard creams, bourbons and, the ones that always got left, half-broken and woebegone in the bottom, Garibaldis or “squashed fly” biscuits as they were commonly known (Yuk. They still make me shudder).

Anyway, my summary of my lesson courtesy of the Oxford dictionary is that: cookies are biscuits and biscuits are scones. Unless you’re Scottish – then they’re buns. Cookies, that is, not biscuits. Clear? Good!

I’ve been fiddling with this cookie recipe for quite a while. We’ve had to munch our way through quite a few clumps of melted chocolate chips surrounded by congealed puddles of over-cooked, crackly butter and sugar. Then I decided to add extra tapioca flour to the mix which is excellent if you want to add a chewy texture to your baking…and chewy is exactly what you want with a cookie. I used dark chocolate chips but you could use milk or white or any combination of the three.

I think the traditional American way to eat these would probably be accompanied by a glass of milk but that’s not something I’ve grown up with, so we eat ours with a nice cup of tea. How very British.

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies 2

Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Makes 12 large cookies

115g butter, softened
80g light brown soft sugar
80g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
30g tapioca flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
100g chocolate chips

You will also need 1-3 baking (cookie) sheets lined with baking parchment*.

Preheat the oven to 170°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the two sugars until light and creamy (I used an electric hand whisk). Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract. Sift in the plain flour, tapioca flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Beat to combine until you have a soft and sticky dough. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Using well-floured hands, take 50g portions of the mixture and form into patties, about 1cm deep and 6cm across. Place one in each of the four corners of the baking sheet. Continue until all of the dough is used up. Bake for 11 minutes or until golden and spread-out. Leave to cool on the baking parchment and remove with the aid of a palette knife. Don’t try to remove them until they are cooled or they will crumble.

* I only have two baking sheets, so I baked the cookies in two batches.

gluten-free turkey kiev bites

Comfort food isn’t just about stews, casseroles and mashed potato to me. It’s also about burgers, fishfingers and, dare I utter it?, chicken nuggets. (I know, I know…! What can I say? They speak to my inner child, so shoot me…!) All of these products, if you’re on a completely unrestricted diet, you can pick up ready made and reasonably cheaply whenever and wherever the whim takes you.

There is also an ever-burgeoning array of Free From products you can get your mitts on now and I’m sure if I’d got in the car and gone down to my local Sainsbury’s, I could have got myself something of that ilk without any hassle. The thing is, and I hate to say it because I’m grateful, really I am, that gluten-free options are more readily available now than they’ve ever been, is that much of it, unfortunately, is a load of ****. It’s jam-packed full of salt, fat and sugar – more so than ‘normal’ convenience food. If you don’t believe me, pop along to my fellow blogger Laura’s post where she lays it all out in tabular form.

A few years ago (before I realised that homemade gluten-free pastry didn’t inhabit the land of unicorns), I bought a ready-made beef pie (I’ll spare the brand its blushes). I was so excited. I got it home, slapped it in the oven and salivated whilst it heated through. I bit into it. Yuk. And I’m not talking about the pastry either. I’m talking about the beef. It was salty, grey, gristly, bland and gelatinous and, well, it just didn’t taste like beef. I’ve seen dog food that, quite frankly, looked more appetising.

Why? I asked myself. Beef is beef. Beef is naturally gluten-free. It should taste the same as beef in a ‘normal’ pie.  Did the beef taste disgusting because the cost of manufacturing the gluten-free bit of the pie made decent meat prohibitively expensive? Or was it the producer’s reasoning that our poor, deprived tastebuds have become so desensitised from eating cardboard bread that we would be grateful for anything, however meagre, that was tossed in our direction?  Both thoughts made me feel angry and not a little sad and I vowed that I would make most of my own food from scratch from that time forward.

In other news, I can’t believe that the month goes by so quickly. The other day, my most recent blog post and recipe for LiveGlutenFree went live. Here’s a sneaky peek at my gluten-free chocolate, orange and cardamom melting moments. I’m really into cardamom at the moment and I’ve started grinding it into my peppermint tea, along with cinnamon, chocolate and dried orange peel – sounds bizarre, but it really works! Melting moments are self-explanatory really – biscuits that melt as soon as you put them in your mouth. They’re usually piped with a star nozzle and sandwiched with buttercream but that’s a bit retro-and-not-in-a-good-way for me, so I used a plain cutter and drizzled them with chocolate flavoured with orange. If you like what you see, do click on the link to have a look at the recipe.

Gluten-free chocolate, orange and cardamom melting moments

Anyway, without further ado, here are the stars of the show: mouth-sized morsels of turkey with a garlicky, herby centre, encased in crispy gluten-free breadcrumbs. Serve with boiled potatoes and a green salad or, as I much more sophisticatedly did, with sautéd potatoes and haricots blancs in a tomato sauce chips and beans.

gluten-free turkey kiev bites

Gluten-free oven-baked turkey Kiev bites

Serves 4 (makes 20 turkey Kiev bites)

For the garlic parsley butter:
50g butter, cubed
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp flatleaf parsley, chopped

For the breadcrumbs:
150g gluten-free white bread
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp salt

500g lean minced (ground) turkey
gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

You will also need a food processor, a sheet of greaseproof paper about 30cm x 30cm and a baking (cookie) sheet, lined with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.

First of all, make the garlic parsley butter. Place the cubed butter, crushed garlic and coarsely chopped flatleaf parsley into the food processor and whizz on high speed until everything is well-incorporated and the mixture is soft and flecked with pale green.

Now, you need to form the butter into a log shape about 1cm in diameter and 20cm in length. This is a lot easier to do than to describe, so apologies if it’s a bit long-winded. It’s a *bit* like rolling sushi, if you’ve ever done that before. Lay the piece of greaseproof paper on the work surface and spoon the garlic parsley butter in a blob about halfway along, and 5cm from, the bottom edge. (Now, I’m right-handed, so if you’re left-handed, you might want to do the next bit the other way around). Holding the bottom edge of the greaseproof paper against the work surface with your left hand, bring the top edge of the greaseproof paper over the butter so that it snugly encloses it. Keeping your left hand in place to keep the bottom layer of paper secure, use the blade of your right hand to gently push and nudge against the top layer of paper at the base of the enclosed butter. As you push, the butter travels up the greaseproof paper and it should form itself into a log: the more you push, the thinner it should get.

When the log is the right size, trim off the excess paper at the bottom and twist the ends to secure the butter. Place in the freezer until ready to assemble the Kiev bites.

* Now, make the breadcrumbs. Tear the slices of gluten-free bread into pieces and place in the food processor. Blitz until you have made coarse crumbs. Heat a frying pan over a medium to high heat until the pan is smoking and add the tablespoon of olive oil. Tip the breadcrumbs into the frying pan and fry for several minutes. These burn very easily, so make sure you keep stirring and breaking up any clumps of crumbs caused by the oil. The breadcrumbs are ready to come out when they have turned a golden-brown colour and sound crisp against the bottom of the frying pan. Tip the crumbs back into the food processor and add the garlic, lemon pepper and salt. Blitz again until fine. Tip out into a shallow bowl and set aside.

Now, tip the minced (ground) turkey into a mixing bowl and gently massage with your hands to create a more homogeneous mixture. Form into 20 balls of 25g each. Using your index finger, make an indentation in each (making sure you don’t poke through to the other side).

Preheat the oven to 180°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Remove the butter log from the freezer and cut into 20 equal slices. Push a slice into the indentation in the ball of turkey meat. Pinch the meat closed and then roll the ball between the palms of your hands so that the meat completely seals the slice of butter. Repeat with the other balls of mince.

This next bit might sound a bit pernickety, but it’s the only way if you don’t want to end up with goujons for fingers… Basically, the rule is: one hand for dry, the other hand for wet. Place a shallow bowl with the beaten egg to your left, the plate/tray of turkey balls in the middle and a plate with a few tablespoons of gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour and the shallow bowl of breadcrumbs to your right.

Using your right hand, coat a turkey ball in flour then drop gently in the bowl of egg. Using your left hand, make sure the ball is evenly coated with egg before dropping it gently into the bowl of breadcrumbs. Using your right hand, scoop and pat the breadcrumbs gently over the ball before placing it on a baking (cookie) sheet lined with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the Kiev bites are golden-brown and cooked through.

* This is how I now make all my breadcrumbs. If I make a larger batch than I need, I put the excess into a sealed container in the refrigerator and keep them there up to a week. If they’ve been in contact with raw meat, like in this recipe, I only use them when I’m going to cook with them (rather than using to sprinkle on fishy pasta dishes).

I love cookbooks. I have a small library that I’ve collected over the years. Some are Christmas presents and books that I’ve bought from new, including tomes by the likes of Delia Smith (High Priestess of the Temple of Yum), the ubiquitous Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater (my very favourite cookery writer – I can’t wax sufficiently lyrical about his food), Antoinette Savill and Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney (both really good gluten-free cookbooks). These are books I love going to on a regular basis as they’re jam-packed full of reliably delicious nosh.

But it’s the second-hand books that have come my way that I find the most intriguing. There are books that have been rescued from charity shops, such as Yugoslav Cookbook (obviously dating from pre-1992), written by Olga Novak-Markovič, head chef to President Tito (it was the chapter entitled “Fish, crustacea, shellfish and frogs” that made me fork out £1.50 for it!), those that I have inherited legitimately and those that started off as a fostering arrangement but ended up as a de facto adoption (ahem!). Some of these books date from the 1950s and 1960s and these are the ones that I love reading in bed at night before I go to sleep: Cookery in Colour, edited by Marguerite Patten, donated by my mum, Good Housekeeping’s World Cookery and The Daily Telegraph’s Favourite Recipes, both of which belonged to my husband’s father. I love the measurements given in imperial rather than metric, the Technicolor photographs and the quaintly clipped formal English of the instructions that crackles across the decades, evoking an era of the stiff upper lip and “Make Do and Mend”.

It is this last book that has given me the inspiration for today’s post. It contains a recipe for Prince Charles’s christening cake (!) and others submitted by Daily Telegraph readers, along with their photographs. I have yet to try the “delicious, nutty flavoured Fruit Scone [which] has enhanced Mrs. J. E. Donald’s reputation as a hostess”(!) but, as I was flicking through, the vanilla custard biscuits, originally made with a mix of ‘cooking fat’ and ‘margarine’ caught my eye. I’ve updated them somewhat by using decadent (!) butter, orange extract and a dark chocolate coating and have cooked them for longer at a lower temperature. They’re beautifully short and melt in the mouth.

Gluten-free chocolate-dipped orange custard biscuits (cookies)

The orange flavour in these biscuits is quite subtle so feel free to add more orange extract if you want a more citrussy flavour.

Makes 12-15 biscuits

115g unsalted butter, softened
85g caster sugar
1 tsp orange extract
170g gluten-free self-raising flour
2 heaped tbsp custard powder
100g gluten-free plain chocolate (I used Tesco’s own Continental 74% Plain Chocolate, but this does contain soya)

You will also need a solid baking sheet and a 5-6cm biscuit (cookie) cutter

Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan-assisted). In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar with a fork. Add the orange extract and stir to combine. Sift the flour and the custard powder into the mixture and mix together. At first it will seem like the mixture will never come together because it’s too dry but it will gradually form a lump with lots of dry loose bits in the bottom. Use your hands to knead it until a satiny smooth ball of dough is formed. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface until about 8mm thick. Cut out rounds about 6cm in diameter (I use a Moroccan tea-glass because I haven’t got a biscuit cutter) and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden-brown.*

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes on the tray – if you try to remove them immediately, they will crumble. Remove carefully to a cooling rack (I use flat tongs) and allow to cool completely. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, ensuring that the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Dip each biscuit into the melted chocolate so that half is covered and place carefully on a sheet of baking parchment. When you have covered all of the biscuits, put them in the refrigerator to set. These biscuits should keep for 4 or 5 days in an airtight tin.

*If your oven is anything like mine, it doesn’t bake evenly and I always seem to get one side of the biscuits really brown. I rotate the biscuits through 90° every five minutes and this seems to ensure an even bake.

I love all food that comes from around the Mediterranean: paella, cassoulet, dolmades, hummus, tagines… The list goes on. But I have to say that my true passion is for all things Italian. I fell in love with the country as a small child. There was something so romantic about the language, the art, the architecture and the food. I have absolutely no idea where this came from. When I was growing up, my family tended to holiday, in the early years, in northern France and later, further south in the Quercy region. I remember one holiday in the Algarve in Portugal, another in the south of Spain and another in Malta. But we never went to Italy. It can’t have been as popular as a package holiday destination back then. My passion for it was so strong that I started to teach myself Italian when I was about 18 and took it as an extra subject in my first year at university. By the end of the year, I had dropped the French component of my degree (I really struggled to get to grips with Racine and Molière) and taken up Italian in its place. I had committed myself to spending the third year of my degree somewhere, as yet undecided, in a country where I had never been and where I was still, really, only able to speak a smattering of the language. A real leap of faith.
But my year in Florence was to be the best of my (unmarried) life and I have to say that the food was not an insignificant part of this. One of the saddest things I felt, when I realised that I was gluten intolerant, was that I would no longer be able to enjoy Italy in the same way that I had before. It’s the home of pizza, pasta and focaccia, right? It is, but it also happens to be a country where everyone is routinely tested for coeliac disease. Hence the supermarkets have a wide array of gluten-free goodies, processed food doesn’t seem to be automatically stuffed with wheat and barley to make it cheaper and go further and when you explain in a shop or restaurant that you can’t eat gluten, you’re not immediately greeted by a raised eyebrow and a sneer which clearly says “You’re not another one of those faddy eaters, are you?!?”.
I used to love dipping biscotti into frothing cappuccini but needless to say, I haven’t had any in nearly two years. I thought it was about time. And now that we’re in December and on the home stretch towards Christmas, chocolate, orange and hazelnuts seemed the perfect festive touch.
Gluten-free chocolate, orange and hazelnut biscotti
These biscotti aren’t massively heavy on the sugar (my philosophy is the less sickly something is, the more of it you can eat!), but if you’re a bit of a sweet-tooth, you might want to add a little more.
125g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
25g cornflour (cornstarch)
25g cocoa powder
115g caster sugar
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
½tsp xanthan gum
160g hazelnuts (shelled weight), roughly chopped
zest 1 orange
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
In a bowl, sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum. Stir in the hazelnuts and orange zest. Make a well in the centre and fold in the egg and vanilla essence to make a sticky batter.
Spoon onto one of the baking sheets to make two rectangular logs, about 25cm long by 5cm wide (normal raw biscotti mixture is like a sticky dough which you can roll into the log-shapes but this is more like a cake batter). Make sure you leave space in between them to allow for spreading. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool. The loaves are easy to remove from the baking parchment with a palette knife and place on a wire cooling rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C (275°F). Cut each loaf into thin slices (about 5mm wide), using a sharp bread knife. Spread the biscuits out over both the baking trays (I use fresh baking parchment on the tray I’ve already used) and bake for a further 20 minutes, turning them halfway through. Remove from the oven and place on wire cooling racks.
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