because gluten-free food doesn't have to be rubbish

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Named, apparently, for the tiny oblong tins these should be baked in, financiers, when made correctly, resemble gold ingots. Personally, I don’t find that thought all that appetising. Which is why mine resemble tiny little cupcakes with a blackberry smooshed into the top of each one. Much more appealing, and to my mind much more dainty. I just can’t reconcile the image of elegant Parisian ladies delicately nibbling big, heavy bars of gold with their afternoon coffee.

The wonderful thing about financiers is they are almost gluten free already, only requiring a couple of tablespoons of flour to accompany the ground almonds. Even better, they only use egg whites, not egg yolks, so when you are fed up of making meringues to use up all those leftover egg whites you have from making custards, ice creams and all sorts of rich cakes, make financiers instead.

Blackberry financiers
From Joy of Baking

100g butter
60g ground almonds
30g gluten-free flour blend
40g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg whites, lightly whisked
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
15 blackberries

1. Put the butter in a saucepan and allow to melt over a low heat. Once it has all melted turn the heat up to medium and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes, until the milk solids separate, fall to the bottom of the pan, and turn medium to dark brown. Set aside to cool a little.

2. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Butter a 12-hole bun tin with plenty of butter. In a large bowl stir together the ground almonds, gluten-free flour, icing sugar and salt. Gently fold in the lightly whisked egg whites and the vanilla extract. Very slowly whisk in the browned butter, then spoon the mixture into the bun tin, filling each hole almost to the top.

3. Bake the financiers for 4 minutes, then remove from the oven and working quickly press a blackberry into the top of each one, so it just breaks the surface. Return to the oven for 7 more minutes until golden brown on top.

4. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then lever out and serve on a dainty little plate. Pretend you’re Parisian and eat them with French accent.

Makes 12-15. Best eaten the day they’re made, though they last a couple of days in an airtight tin at room temperature.

Written by guffblog

4th September 2011 at 21:08

Hostess with the mostest

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Another cake, yip, I told you there were going to be a lot coming up. This one was chosen for its freezability. We all know that cakes and biscuits freeze surprisingly well, but bar cakes like this one actually benefit from freezing, as if you cut them while still frozen you get a lovely clean slice, rather than a rather mangled slice with crumbs and popped blueberries leaking everywhere. Make in advance, store in the freezer, pull out, slice and leave to defrost while you beautify yourself/your home. Then bask in everyone’s amazement.

Lemon blueberry bars
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

I had to increase this recipe by one-quarter to fit a 9-inch square pan rather than an 8-inch pan (64 versus 81, come on people, keep up), and the result was, well, it worked, but lets just say doing maths in your head as you’re bringing a recipe together is a very bad idea. Chances of missing one ingredient or reverting back to the original recipe for just one item are very large. Do your sums beforehand, before you have a kitchen disaster. The original recipe had coconut which I thought would muddy the waters a bit much, so I layered lemon zest over the base instead, and upped the number of blueberries, so there was a nice even layer over the base. When I added the lemon topping the blueberries floated slightly and it was easy to see where the gaps were and add a few more.

75g (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) butter
40g (scant 1/4 cup) sugar
190g (1 1/4 cups) gluten-free flour blend
Pinch of salt

Zest of 1 lemon
350g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
150g (v scant 1 cup) sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
2 eggs
Plus 1 egg yolk
75ml fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the gluten-free flour blend and the salt and using your fingertips press the mixture into the base of a 9×9-inch silicone (or parchment-lined) baking pan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until it smells nice and has the faintest golden tinge to it.

2. Meanwhile zest a lemon onto a plate. Wash and drain the blueberries. Then in a large bowl beat together the sugar, cornflour, baking powder, salt, eggs, egg yolk and lemon juice until smooth and homogenous.

3. Sprinkle the lemon zest onto the baked base and top with the blueberries. Spread them out so they’re in a single layer. Pour the lemony custard mix over the top and bake the whole lot in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden on top and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre might come out clean if you’re lucky, though it’s more likely to come out covered in blueberry juice. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, before moving to the freezer. Once frozen, turn out of the pan, wrap tightly in clingfilm and freeze until required.

To serve, cut into slightly smaller than 2-inch squares while still frozen, then bring up to room temperature (about an hour).

Written by guffblog

3rd August 2011 at 16:23

Posted in Cakes

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36 Hours

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It’s like 157 hours, only with less gore. Aged chocolate chip cookies. This is a very strange concept to me, and yet it’s been ambling round the food circuit/blogosphere for a few years now: aged cookie dough makes for much better cookies. The science behind this is, well, erm I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps that the vanilla extract has time to really infuse the dough. Or that the liquids have long enough to form real cohesive bonds with the gluten, or gluten substitute, making for a better texture. Or something else. I’m not really sure. What I do know is patience is a virtue. This is always true in baking – opening the oven door to check if your cake is done even when you know it isn’t is always going to be a bad idea. But here, the patience required is almost superhuman. Make chocolate chip cookie dough, littered with huge chunks of dark chocolate, and tiny crystals of sugar and salt and leave to sit in the fridge for 36 hours before baking. In that time, resist the urge to eat said cookie dough, which is one of a few items that tastes almost better in its raw form, wrong though you know it is.

If you do manage to successfully do this though you’ll be rewarded with fat, hefty cookies that are slightly crunchy on the outside from the sugar (sugar alert, I didn’t really cut back in this recipe as it would affect the texture too much, so they’re pretty sugar heavy) to a soft, chewy interior that in the very centre gives way to an almost cakelike crumb. These will lift you from the deepest of mid-afternoon slumps.

36-hour chocolate chip cookies
From New York Times

The chocolate in these cookies is key. I used three types of chocolate, maybe in part because I had underestimated how many chocolate chips I had and thus had to improvise slightly. I used 100g milk chocolate chips, 200g dark chocolate chips, and a 200g block of cooking chocolate, which I chopped into small chunks. The benefit of doing this is you end up with lots of little flakes of chocolate too, which melt in the batter and provide little flecks of chocolate, along with the big hearty solid chunks.

280g butter
275g light brown sugar
220g white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
575g gluten-free flour blend
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
500g chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

1. In a large bowl cream the butter and the brown and white sugars together for a few minutes until light and pale. One at a time beat in the eggs, then stir in the vanilla.

2. In a medium bowl stir the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together. Slowly stir these into the butter and sugar mixture until just combined. Add the chocolate chunks, stir for 30 seconds or until these are fairly evenly distributed throughout the mixture, then take the huge ball of dough, wrap it in clingfilm and transfer to the fridge to age for 24-36 hours. Try not to eat it in this time.

3. Up top 36 hours later (or even longer, though I think much more scientific tests than mine showed no discernible improvement in taste and texture after 36 hours), preheat the oven to 180 C. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper and scoop balls of the dough onto the baking sheets. The dough balls should be roughly the size of squash balls, and they should be flattened slightly before laying out an inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly golden, and leave to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, before transferring to cooling racks.

Makes 36 medium-large cookies (2-3-inches wide) that last well in an airtight container at room temperature, for about a week.

Written by guffblog

1st August 2011 at 13:46

Posted in Biscuits

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For those of you, like me, who have never heard of skordalia before here’s a little primer on it for you.

  1. It’s Greek.
  2. It’s sort of like mayonnaise, only really not.
  3. It contains gluten.

Most people on reading about skordalia for the first time would probably say “oh yum, must try that next time I’m in the Med”. My mind works slightly differently and thought “Hmm, sneaky gluten hider, I’m glad I know what it is so I can avoid it”. This only applies to avoiding it in the outside world though, it doesn’t mean I can’t make it myself.

Describing skordalia like mayonnaise is a bit like describing a chicken as like a carrot. Yes, they probably have some of the same constituent parts, carbon, for example, and yes they are both food but there the similarities end. Skordalia is made by blending ingredients together and slowly adding oil to bring it together into an emulsion, but it lacks egg, and instead is based on walnuts, garlic, herbs and soggy bread. The result, bizarrely enough, is considerably tastier than mayonnaise, and the perfect foil for some rather bland, cold chicken. If you’re looking for an exotic way to turn cooked chicken and lettuce into dinner, this could well be it, plus the name makes it sound really fancy. Even though it isn’t.

Chicken salad with skordalia
Adapted from Mark Bittman

1 slice gluten-free bread (I used genius but homemade would of course be great)
3 tablespoons milk
2 large handfuls walnuts
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1 large handful fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground paprika
4 tablespoons light olive oil
2 cooked chicken breasts, thighs or legs, shredded
Lettuce, pepper, cucumber or whatever else you fancy in your salad

1. Tear the bread into chunks and place in a bowl with the milk while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

2. Put the walnuts, garlic, parsley, paprika and a good pinch of flaky sea salt into a blender or processor and chop for about 30 seconds, or until it forms a fine crumbly powder. Add the bread pieces and milk, blend again, then add the olive oil, a little at a time, until you have a mixture that resembles thick mayonnaise.

3. Tip the skordalia into a bowl and mix into the chicken with a fork. Serve with lettuce, pepper or rocket, something salady.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

28th July 2011 at 19:34

Posted in Salad

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Have a heart

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Apparently in engineering you should always leave at least 2.5 times the diameter of the hole you are creating around the edges of the hole, to ensure structural stability. So said the boy as I held in my hands the wreck of what had been, mere moments earlier, a functioning square of chocolate brownie. Now it had a mangled hole in its centre and was broken in at least three places round the edges. Whoever decided on this particular rule was evidently not a baker. Or if they were, they had no eye for detail, since that would necessitate a 6-inch square brownie with a 1-inch heart in its centre. Who eats half-foot brownies?

This issue wasn’t helped by my cookie cutter being too short for the brownies which were essentially cubes, being as tall as they were wide. Whilst I could cut most of the way through them, the final few millimetres remained unscored, and thus I had to prod quite firmly to get the heart centres to come out. Cue more crumbled brownies, hastily stuffed into my mouth. A solution was finally thought of, which was to slice the brownies in half lengthwise to make them thinner, so the cutter could go all the way through them. A task which would have been moderately simple, if I hadn’t just chopped my brownie blocks into 16 squares each. An hour or so later, after much slicing, delicate fiddling, returning brownies to the freezer to cool down and mopping of sweaty brows, I had about 50 little brownie slices that looked quite cute, moderately edible and not too garishly pink either. Plus a lot of crumbs.

The morals of this story are clearly manifold, but the main takeaway should be these are quite fat brownies so make sure your cookie cutter is tall enough; failing that, slice the brownie blocks in half, before dividing into squares.

Dark and white chocolate brownies with a heart
From Smitten Kitchen

The white chocolate brownies weren’t as pink as I would have liked, though actually, unless these are for a special event and need to be pink, they are quite cute enough without the colouring. The white ones turned out a bit more cakey, making them easier to cut and handle without breaking; the dark chocolate ones were a little more fragile. I’d probably cook them for slightly less time in future (23-25 minutes instead of 25-30) in the hopes of making them a little more malleable.

Ingredients (white chocolate brownies)
85g white chocolate
113g butter
125g sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
105g (2/3 cup) gluten-free flour blend
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 drops red food colouring

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line an 8×8-inch baking tin with buttered foil.

2. In a large bowl in the microwave melt the butter and the white chocolate until 80% melted. Remove, and stir until completely melted.

3. Stir in the sugar. At this stage the mixture will look curdled, messy and generally like it’s going to turn into a big disaster. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and it should all come together into a beautiful glossy batter. Breathe again. Stir in the vanilla.

4. Mix together the gluten-free flour, salt and xanthan gum, then stir these into the batter. Add 2-3 drops of red food colouring, stir until the mixture is light pink, then scrape the batter into the lined pan. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until browned and slightly puffed up on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan, then remove from pan, peel away foil, wrap in greaseproof paper (don’t freeze them in the foil or you’ll never get the bloody stuff off) and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

5. To make the dark chocolate brownies follow the same instructions, using 85g dark (70% cocoa) chocolate instead, and not adding the food colouring, and reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

6. When both batches of brownies are cooked and frozen, remove them from the freezer and using a sharp knife cut each brownie block into 16 2-inch squares. Working quickly, but delicately, cut out 1-inch hearts from the centre of each brownie using a heart-shaped cutter. I found the white (pink) brownies were easier to cut; the dark chocolate ones are a little more crumbly. Carefully swap the heart centres and insert the pink hearts into the dark brownies, and vice versa. Wrap the brownies in clingfilm and foil and freeze until required, for up to a month. Defrost for an hour at room temperature before serving.

Makes 32.

Written by guffblog

26th July 2011 at 13:21

Posted in Cakes

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