Archives for posts with tag: chocolate

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 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).

One thing I really love about the Great Gluten-Free Recipe Challenges, set so fiendishly by Caleigh over at GlutenFree[k], is that they really ARE challenging. The additional restrictions and essential ingredient, vegan as well as gluten-free and beetroot this time, make me think very hard and put me out of my comfort zone. This challenge has been no exception.

I’ve come round to beetroot only in the last few years when I’ve had it grated raw in salads. I’ve had a devil of a job tracking it down though. The only type I’ve been able to find in the supermarket is cooked beetroot, swathed in plastic and drenched in vinegar: yuk.

I’ve started using a High Street greengrocer to buy my veggies, rather than going to the supermarket: it’s cheaper and the produce is generally of much better quality. I’ve talked before of my pet peeve about tomatoes. The tomatoes that you can buy at this shop are beautifully red and flavoursome and you get almost twice as much for your money. I decided to pay them a visit and, sure enough, there were bundles of raw beetroot in all their purple glory.

Caught in the act: a sneaky photo taken by my husband through the kitchen window this morning!

This is my first foray into the world of silken tofu but it won’t be my last. I know that I can rely too much on milk, cream and eggs and this seems a perfect alternative when I want to make desserts and quiches. The filling is beautifully creamy and the beetroot not only adds an earthy, but not intrusive, undertone, but a gorgeous purple colour.

Gluten-free and vegan chocolate, beetroot and orange mousse cake

Serves 8-12

200g gluten-free, vegan biscuits (I used Sainsbury’s Free From Rich Tea biscuits)
50g dairy-free spread
200g peeled raw beetroot, cut into 1cm dice
350g silken tofu
3 tbsp caster sugar
zest 1 large orange
60ml dairy-free single cream (I used Alpro soya single cream)
4 level tbsp cocoa powder
170g gluten-free, vegan plain chocolate (I used Kinnerton), broken into squares

You will also need a 20cm diameter, loose-bottomed non-stick cake tin

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

Crush the biscuits to a coarse meal, either in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and give them a good bashing with a rolling pin. Put the dairy-free spread in a small saucepan and melt over a low flame. When the spread is completely liquid, add the crushed biscuits and stir until completely combined. Tip the mixture into the cake tin and press firmly into the base with your fingers. Put in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 160°C.

While the biscuit base is baking, place the diced beetroot in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and blend to a smooth purée.

In a large bowl, place the silken tofu, the caster sugar, the orange zest and the dairy-free single cream. Whisk for several minutes until smooth. Sift the cocoa powder over the mixture and stir in manually with the beaters (to avoid spraying cocoa powder all over the kitchen!) before whisking again until well-combined.

Place the chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water), and stir until melted. Stir the melted chocolate and beetroot purée into the silken tofu mixture. Pour the mixture onto the biscuit base, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. When cool, put in the refrigerator and chill for several hours before serving.

Serve chilled with dairy-free single cream.

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 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.

This dish really has no right to be called “bread and butter” pudding because there is neither bread nor butter in it. I had some of my chocolate and prune brownies left over (no reflection on how delicious they were – but there are only so many that a girl can eat, especially when she’s still trying to lose the ‘mummy tummy’ after 12 months!). But I really hate wasting food and I do it far too often as it is. So I was determined not to throw them away without at least experimenting with them first. But what to do with them? Then I thought, “I know – I’ll put them in a dish, make a vanilla egg custard to pour over them and bake them like a bread and butter pudding! What’s the worst that could happen?” So that’s what I did and I threw in some orange zest for good measure. It’s not the most elegant-looking of dishes but it was really yum.

Gluten-free chocolate brownie and orange “bread and butter” pudding

A really simple and comforting dish which is great for using up brownies which are surplus to requirements.

Serves 4

250g chocolate brownies
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 heaped tbsps half-fat crème fraîche
125ml milk
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest 1 orange

You will also need a 600ml capacity ovenproof dish.

Slice the brownies in half horizontally (so that each brownie becomes two thin brownies). Layer the pieces in the ovenproof dish so that they overlap each other slightly.

In a bowl or jug, whisk together the remaining ingredients until well-combined. Pour over the brownie pieces and leave to soak for half-an-hour, meanwhile preheating the oven to 180°C. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the custard is set around the edges and still wobbly in the centre. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serve warm with crème fraîche, single cream or ice cream.

Prunes. Yick. Well, that’s most people’s reactions to them. Including mine. So why have I got three or four tins of them in the cupboard…? And why am I cooking with them…? Well, they were bought about 18 months ago for purely ‘medicinal’ purposes when I was pregnant. I mashed them into rice pudding every evening after dinner and forced them down.  I don’t know what it is about them. I love plums, both raw and cooked. They’re sweet, warm and comforting and are the embodiment of an English garden in late summer. But when they’re turned into prunes, they metamorphose into a cloying and sickly morass of yuckiness.

So why do I have a bowl of them in the fridge…? My 12-month-old son has, over the past week, rejected his early morning milk feed and I’ve had a devil of a job getting enough fluids into him. Predictably enough, he started having trouble in the nappy department so desperate measures were called for. Luckily for me, Thomas eats nearly everything that’s put in front of him, including prunes mashed into custard. Crisis averted. But that left me with a bowl of prunes in the fridge. They’ve been lurking there for the past couple of days, glowering at me every time I open the fridge door, daring me to do something with them. It was at the back of my mind that, if I left them there another couple of days, I’d be justified in throwing them out. But then I thought, “How wasteful – there’s a recession on! I’ll see if I can disguise them in a brownie…” And voilà!
You can’t actually taste the prunes but they enhance the chocolate, giving an almost licorice-like flavour, cut the sugar needed by more than half and add a velvety softness. Great with a cup of cha.

Gluten-free chocolate and prune brownies

Makes 12 brownies
3 medium eggs
95g dark Muscovado sugar
pinch salt
2 tbsp gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
70g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
2 tsp vanilla essence
175g drained and pitted tinned prunes
You will also need a 24cm x 20cm x 4cm brownie tin
Preheat the oven to 150°C (mine’s fan-assisted – presumably conventional ovens would need to be about 160°C). Line the base and sides of the brownie tin with baking parchment. Lightly brush the parchment with oil.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl with a hand-held electric whisk for 5 minutes until tripled in volume.
Purée the prunes in a blender or food processor until smooth and add to the mixture. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the bowl. Add the ground almonds and vanilla essence and beat everything until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Cook in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes*. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Remove from the tin, peel off the parchment and cut into individual brownies.
*I took the brownies out after 25 minutes. I think, next time, I would see what they were doing after 20, just to see if I could get them a bit more squidgey.
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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