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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.

When I eliminated gluten from my diet, I wasn’t expecting the rollercoaster of emotions that came with it. I’d been struggling for so long with feeling ill on a daily basis that, when I stopped eating it and I at last felt well again, I was on cloud nine. My head felt light and clear; my nose stopped dripping; the tennis elbow in my right arm all but vanished; the excruciating inflammation and tightness in my neck and shoulder muscles melted away; and the daily evening bloat was a thing of the past. I was so happy to feel well again that I really didn’t care that I couldn’t eat soft, fragrant, freshly-baked bread or buttery, flaky pastry and croissants.

Then, at around about the two-month mark, complacency kicked in. Feeling well was no longer a novelty but what I came to expect out of daily life. Which meant that not eating soft, fragrant, freshly-baked bread and buttery, flaky pastry and croissants became deprivation. I grieved. I grieved the loss of gluten from my life. I resented people around me eating food that I couldn’t. I felt that I’d been dealt a completely unfair hand. I didn’t stray though, thankfully. The memories of accidental glutening incidents were enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Not having eaten it for months, the effects when I unknowingly ate it were even worse than when I had been eating it on a daily basis: I would have to retire to the sofa, curled up in a foetal position, with severe flu-like symptoms, dosed with Voltarol and nursing a hot-water bottle.

I gradually came out of my grieving state. I decided that, rather than feel sorry for myself, I would count my blessings instead which is a very liberating experience. There are people who have much graver health issues than mine and people who eat far more restricted diets than me. I still crave breads and pastries but I’m much more sanguine about it. Kate Moss, to explain her self-control where food was concerned, once said: “Nothing tastes as good as thin.” I’ve adopted this, with a slight change, for my philosophy: “Nothing tastes as good as well”.

I experiment tirelessly to recreate the dishes that I can no longer eat. This particular recipe I’ve been tinkering with for months, experimenting with different flour blends, flour-to-starch ratios and rolling techniques. I’m finally happy to share it. I’m still burying my croissant attempts at the bottom of the garden, ahem!

Gluten-free puff pastry sausage rolls

Makes 4 large or 12 cocktail sausage rolls

100g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour (I used Dove’s Farm gluten-free plain flour)
30g cornflour
1 tsp xanthan gum
25g cold butter, cut into small cubes
a glass of water with a couple of ice cubes and a good squeeze of lemon juice
75g cold butter, sliced into 1-2mm slices and returned to the fridge
2 gluten-free sausages (I used The Black Farmer sausages)
lightly beaten egg or milk to glaze

Sift the flour, cornflour and xanthan gum into a bowl. Rub in the cubed butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Using a knife to start and then your hands, mix in enough ice cold water to form a ball of soft dough (it should be a few tablespoonfuls).

Tip the dough out on to a floured surface and, with a well-floured rolling pin*, roll it out until it is a couple of millimetres thick and about a 23cm by 28cm rectangle. Cut the rectangle into quarters. Lay a third of the sliced butter (25g) in a single layer on top of one of the rectangles. Cover with another rectangle. Repeat with the next 25g of butter. Cover and repeat. Cover with the final rectangle of dough.

Press down with your rolling pin on all four raw edges of pastry to seal them. Roll out until it is a couple of millimetres thick again (it should be a bit bigger than last time because of the added butter). Cut into quarters and stack on top of one another. Press down with your rolling pin on all four raw edges of pastry and roll out again until a couple of millimetres thick: you’re looking for a square or fat rectangle 30-odd centimetres each way but it doesn’t need to be exact. Trim off any raggedy edges.

Remove the skins from the sausages and gently roll them in a little flour until they are about 1cm in diameter and the length of your sheet of pastry. Place this about 5cm from the left-hand edge of the pastry and brush water along the right-hand side of the sausage all the way down. Carefully bring the pastry over from the left to the right and seal it by pressing your thumb along the length. Cut away from the rest of the sheet of pastry until you have one long sausage roll. Score diagonal lines down the length and then cut in half, if making large sausage rolls, or into six, if making cocktail sausage rolls. Repeat with the second length of sausage.

Place the sausage rolls on a baking (cookie) sheet lined with greaseproof baking paper and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Ten minutes before the end of the chilling time, preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted). Just before baking, brush each sausage roll with beaten egg or milk. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes** or until golden brown and crisp.

*You can roll out the pastry between two sheets of greaseproof paper or clingfilm if you like. I prefer to use a well-floured surface and rolling pin because I like to see and feel what I’m doing and it’s easier to tell if it’s getting too sticky. Also, the extra flour is incorporated into the pastry which must alter the flour/fat ratio somewhat – and it seems to work! If doing the latter, make sure you keep flouring to avoid sticking and use a palette knife to ease the pastry from the surface.

** Cocktail sausage rolls may take slightly less time to cook.

In my last post, I talked about the trials and tribulations of eating out when you’re on a gluten-free diet. At the weekend, when we’re out and about, we like stopping off in coffee shops for a decaffeinated cappuccino and a snack. In my pre-glutenfreebie days, I would join my husband in having a hot panino (I think that when the word panini was imported into English from the Italian it got transmogrified somewhere over the Appenines from the plural to the singular but I can’t bring myself to do that when all I can hear is the equivalent of “a sandwiches”. Call me pedantic…)

But I digress. I used to like having a panino but that avenue of gastronomic pleasure is now closed off to me. Whenever we go out now, we either go to Starbucks where I can have a sandwich made from Genius bread or to Costa Coffee where I can have a chocolate brownie. But neither is as satisfying as a piping-hot sandwich that is oozing with melting cheese of Vesuvian proportions. Gluten-free quesadillas are much easier to create at home than panini and they are big on the melted-cheese-satisfaction-factor. My gluten-free flatbread wrap recipe is perfect for them.

Gluten-free garlic and herb quesadillas with chorizo, artichokes and mozzarella

Makes 6

1 x garlic and herb flatbread wrap recipe
180g chorizo, sliced and quartered
8 tinned artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
420g grated mozzarella *
olive oil

Make up the garlic and herb flatbread recipe up to the point where the dough is divided into six balls. Divide each ball into two, so that you’ve got 12 smaller balls, and wrap each one loosely in microwaveable clingfilm.  Place them on a microwaveable plate and warm in the microwave on ‘high’ for 10 seconds. Leave somewhere warm for 20-30 minutes, by which time each ball should have puffed up slightly.

Meanwhile, mix the chorizo, artichoke hearts and mozzarella in a bowl and put to one side. When you’re ready to cook the quesadillas, unwrap one of the balls and place it on a floured surface. Flatten it out with the heel of your hand into a thick circle. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rough circle about 20cm in diameter. Put on a plate and repeat with the remaining balls (You can flatten out the clingfilm that was wrapping each ball of dough and put that in between the rolled-out wraps to prevent them from sticking to one another).

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan with a few drops of oil over a high heat. When the pan is hot, place one piece of the rolled-out dough in it (I find draping it over the rolling pin makes it easier) and toast one side only for a couple of minutes, or until the surface is browned and slightly blistered. Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the next piece of rolled-out dough, but this time both sides will be toasted. As soon as it has been turned over to toast the second side, sprinkle one-sixth of the chorizo, artichoke and mozzarella mixture over the wrap and place the wrap that you cooked first, raw side uppermost over the top. Press down with a fish slice or spatula. After a minute or so, carefully turn the quesadilla over to toast the final side. Remove to a board and cut into quarters with either a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough to create five more.

* Ready-grated mozzarella has often got an anti-caking agent added to it which is, sometimes, not gluten-free. I use Tesco’s own which is.

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