Sunday, 29 November 2015

Superfast Thermapen (Mk 4) Digital Thermometer - Review

                                                          photo courtesy of ETI Ltd

How excited am I to be able to review the SuperFast Thermapen (Mk 4) Digital Thermometer? 'Kid in a sweet shop' doesn't come close!

Cooking thermometers are one of my biggest irritations in life..... I must have tried half a dozen in the last couple of years and none of them have come anywhere near to making the grade in my kitchen. They have either been too flimsy and broken after a handful of uses, so cumbersome that they need removing from the pan to stir the contents (often at the crucial temperature point), too specific so that they can't be used across a multitude of ingredients, or simply plain inaccurate.


Interestingly, I have been reluctant in the past to spend too much on my thermometer purchases, possibly because my experiences of using them have been so frustrated (and yes I have wasted a lot of money as a result - a seriously false economy).

Originally designed for use in professional kitchens, but then made available for home use, the upgraded British-made Thermapen 4 comes in at £60-00. Expensive yes, but don't let that deter you..... It seems that when it comes to food thermometers, you really do get what you pay for......


Having given this little gadget a good run in the kitchen in the last couple of weeks, with everything from testing the Sunday roast and re-heated sausage rolls through to making jam (posting soon), bread, macaron and marshmallow (also to be posted soon), I can report that I am truly impressed. Whilst I never had the joy of owning a Thermapen previously, this latest model is clearly designed not only for accuracy, but also to incorporate lots of clever features which make it incredibly user-friendly.


Sleek and beautiful in design, the Thermapen has no buttons for starters. It simply turns itself on when you open it. No fiddling around to get power, set temperatures or alarms...... it is ready to use in an instant and is fast and amazingly accurate to 0.7 F/0.4 C in two to three seconds..... whatever you are using it for. It even comes with its own certificate of calibration, having been hand-calibrated before leaving the factory.

Need to put it down while you attend to something else? Thermapen 4 will go into auto-sleep mode to save battery life...... but even when sleeping, it remains alert. Built with a clever motion sensor, as soon as you pick it back up, Thermapen 4 wakes and is ready for action. No waiting or resetting....

                                                                photo courtesy of ETI Ltd

Another really helpful feature is Thermapen's auto-rotating 360° display. No matter which way up, down or back-to-front you turn it, the display is still orientated the right way to read it..... brilliant!

And if the sun goes down or the lights switch off and you are left in the dark, Thermapen 4 still won't let you down..... This smart little device is fitted with an intelligent backlight, which automatically turns itself on in low light, when you most need it. They really have thought of everything....... So if you are planning a sunset barbie, worry not.... your steaks and sausages will still be done to perfection. The backlight is fab for checking your meat or bakes in the oven too (without having to take them out unnecessarily).



All this makes it really REALLY easy to use. It has been such fun trying to find as many ways to test it as possible. And it looks good too....... With a choice of ten funky colours and a smooth, tactile, ergonomic design, the Thermapen is worth every penny.

Oh..... and it's waterproof too, which means that cleaning it is a dream and if I am stupid enough to leave it out in the rain (and yes, I have been known to be that stupid), then it will still be good.

                                                                             photo courtesy of ETI Ltd

Does it restore my faith and take away my frustration? It certainly does! It feels strong and built for the long-haul.... It's hyper-sensitive thermocouple tip is so tiny and quick to respond that even if removed from the pan to stir, it will be back on track to give me an accurate reading in a flash..... And I can use it to test anything (and in the last week...... probably have).

This is without a doubt the best cooking thermometer I have ever used...... Available from Thermapen UK. With Christmas on its way, this is one gadget you will definitely want to find in your stocking!

I was sent a Superfast Thermapen 4 Digital Thermometer to review. I was not paid to write this post and was not expected or required to write a positive review. As always, all views expressed are my own.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins - gluten free


Who loves Banana Muffins?

Although they are essentially a sweet treat, they can be made more wholesome with slight tweaks of ingredients (less refined sugars and a careful choice of flours), or more decadent with the addition of nuts, caramel or chocolate. Either way, you can eat them happily knowing that you are putting at least a little goodness into your body (well.... they contain fruit after all), as well as being fantastic for using up those bananas which would otherwise be heading for the bin. What's not to love?!

Well you could go one better...... Banana and chocolate are a perfect complimentary pairing. Let's face it, a Banana Split simply wouldn't be, without a (massive) dousing of chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of nuts on the top. So when I saw that the lovely Choclette over at Tin and Thyme had Gone Bananas for November with the We Should Cocoa challenge, it was a damn good excuse for a bake up!


Although struggling to fit much in recently, I was determined that this month, I was not going to miss out and with days to spare, I have just made the bananary We Should Cocoa deadline..... Phew!

These muffins go beyond 'banana'........ A variation on my very best banana bread recipe, I have added plenty of cocoa to the mix and then thrown in a very large handful of dark chocolate chunks for good measure. The result is a deep, rich chocolate sponge which is moist, fruity and slightly sticky with banana and shot through with extra bites of chocolate lavishness.

My daughter has not stopped munching since I made them (with or without toppings). She absolutely loves them..... I wondered whether she would, because although they do contain sugar and chocolate, they are not over-sweet. I thought she may find them a little 'dark', but no..... they have been rated more highly by her than most of the bakes I have made in recent months! Me and Mr GF (who also thought they were rather fabulous) haven't had much of a look-in....


There was one slight problem though...... the base muffins were not greatly photogenic.... Which isn't a problem if you just want to eat them. But if you want to showcase them in all their glory, you need them to look slightly more tempting.

No worries.... checking through the fridge, I found the last couple of spoonfuls from a jar of salted caramel sauce....... In the larder, a sprinkling of chopped peanuts from something else I recently made..... Problem solved! A quick whip of cream piped (rather haphazardly) on the top of each muffin, a warmed drizzle of caramel sauce and a scatter of nuts and my little 'models' were ready to share. Transformed from a bunch of shrinking violets into full-on drama queen chocolate-banofee muffins, these babies are made for the stage and will absolutely be making another appearance in my kitchen soon! Soft, over ripe bananas? Bring them on!


I am of course sharing these tantalising little bakes with Choclette and We Should Cocoa for November's Gone Bananas challenge.


I am also sharing with :


Treat Petite, this month with Kat, The Baking Explorer (and Cakeyboi). November's theme is Autumn Bakes...... with the cooler weather, a good dense sponge always hits the spot and this one tastes fantastic with warming custard as well as with cream.





Credit Crunch Munch with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, guest-hosting this month on behalf of Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All.






No Waste Food Challenge with It's Not Easy Being Greedy on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.










Free From Fridays with the Free From Farmhouse.











Gluten Free Fridays with Vegetarian Mamma.



Double Chocolate Banana Muffins (makes about 12 large muffins)

Ingredients

50g cocoa powder
100 ml boiling water
180g plain gluten free flour mix (I used blend A from this post)
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1½ teaspoons GF baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
100g unsalted butter (room temperature)
150g golden caster sugar
125g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium-sized bananas 
100g dark chocolate chunks
175 ml buttermilk

Toppings (optional)
double cream - whipped to soft peaks
caramel sauce - warmed to drizzle
chopped nuts of choice - to sprinkle

Method

  1. Prepare your cake or muffin tins, by base lining or lining with cake cases.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
  3. Put the cocoa powder in a small bowl and gradually add the boiling water, stirring until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
  4. Combine the flour, almonds, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and whisk briefly to make sure any lumps are completely broken down.
  5. Cream together the butter and sugars with an electric whisk until soft and fluffy.
  6. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs (one at a time), beating thoroughly between each addition.
  7. Add the cocoa paste and beat again to thoroughly combine. 
  8. Mash the bananas and fold into the batter.
  9. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
  10. Finally fold the buttermilk and flour mix into the batter alternately (about a third of each at a time), until just combined. 
  11. Fill your cake tins/liners to about two-thirds full with batter.
  12. Bake for about 20 minutes (large muffins) or 45 minutes if making a larger loaf, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  13. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.
  14. Decorate with whipped cream and toppings or serve with custard, although they taste great just as they are.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Mini Mouthful Jam Tarts with Pate Sucree - gluten free


You may recall that I attended a gluten free pastry course a while back at The Cookery School at Braxted Park with the lovely and very talented Adriana Rabinovich. It was a fantastic couple of days and I can't recommend the course enough if you can either get to Braxted Park or see one of Adriana's courses being run near you.


We learnt a wide range of pastry techniques and recipes (you can see my Mini Sausage Pasties made with Adriana's flaky shortcrust pastry here), including a Pate Sucree (sweet French tart pastry). I had never made a Pate Sucree before, but it is a wonderfully rich, decadent sweetened and enriched shortcrust pastry which is perfect for sweet patisserie.

The method for making it is fun too.... Basically, you make a flour moat circle, dump your wet ingredients in the middle and use your fingers to 'peck' it all together until you have a beautiful, smooth, silky dough. Messy play? Absolutely!


On the course, we used the Pate Sucree to make Bakewell Tarts, which I loved, but I thought I would also try using it to make something altogether more simple... Jam Tarts. I wanted the pastry to shine (it is so deliciously melt in the mouth) and I still had a little of my Strawberry, Rhubarb and Pomegranate Jam that needed using, which I thought would complement it perfectly.

To get the balance of sweetness and textures just right, I decided against larger tarts and went for mini mouthful versions. Talk about moreish morsels..... they would go down so well as buffet treats with the upcoming Christmas festive season. Topped with a fresh raspberry which adds a hint of tartness against the syrupy jam, they look so pretty too!


I am sharing my Mini Mouthful Jam tarts with :


Alpha Bakes with The More Than Occasional Baker (and Caroline Makes). November's letter is M. Okay, I may be stretching it a bit, but I am hoping the fact that they are Mini Mouthful tarts will get them in!








Simply Eggcellent with Dom over at Belleau Kitchen. The theme for the month is Breads, Pastries and Eggy Puds. The richness of this lovely Pate Sucree comes from the use of 3 beautiful large yellow egg yolks (all free range of course).








The Pastry Challenge with United Cakedom and Jen's Food, this month celebrating Pies and Tarts.












Free From Fridays with Emma at the Free From Farmhouse.











Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.









Gluten Free Fridays with Vegetarian Mamma.













Jam Tarts with Pate Sucree (Pate Sucree recipe courtesy of Adriana Rabinovich)

Ingredients

Pate Sucree 
170g gluten free plain flour (I used blend A from this post)
pinch fine sea salt
85g butter - unsalted (softened)
3 large egg yolks
85g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

jam to fill - I used my amazing Strawberry, Rhubarb and Pomegranate Jam

fresh raspberries to top

Method 

  1. Pate Sucre : Whisk the flour and salt in a bowl and then tip onto a clean work surface.
  2. Push the flour outwards into a circle to make a large well in the centre, surrounded by flour.
  3. Place the softened butter in the middle, and then add the egg yolk, sugar and vanilla.
  4. Use your finger tips in a 'pecking' motion to mix the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla into a soft paste (it will look like scrambled eggs, as you go through this process).
  5. Pull the flour into the central wet mixture and gently work until it comes together into a dough.
  6. Do not 'knead' it, but pick up the ball of dough and drop gently onto the work surface several times until smooth. Be careful not to overwork.... It will be done when the surface feels smooth.
  7. Cut the dough ball in half and wrap in cling film. Chill for about 30 minutes in the fridge.
  8. When ready to roll, remove from the fridge and gently press down with the ball of your hand to warm slightly and soften if it is too hard.
  9. For mini tarts, you will need a mini tart tin and a pastry pusher or children's rolling pin. Take small walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll them into balls.
  10. Dip the end of your rolling pin in cornflour and then placing a ball of dough into the tart hole, gently push down on the ball and rock from side to side to carefully allow the dough to push itself up the sides of the tin.
  11. Repeat this process for all the balls (making sure the end of the rolling pin/pusher is well-floured to prevent sticking).
  12. Place in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
  13. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
  14. Remove the pastry cases from the fridge and place a small amount of jam in the base of each.
  15. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until the pastry edges are golden.
  16. Allow to cool and top each mini tart with a fresh raspberry.
  17. Pop in your mouth and enjoy!
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Pumpkin Soup


Still eating pumpkin? Make soup!

Actually, this is not my recipe, but was found on the Jamie Oliver website by my hubby, who helpfully made it last weekend when I was too busy to bother! After the Halloween celebrations, we still had a mountain of pumpkin flesh from the large carved pumpkin lantern that we made and a couple of beautiful, tasty mini munchkin pumpkins, that I bought because they were just too cute to leave in the shop.


In the last couple of weeks I have been eating soup most days.... whilst the weather is still pretty mild for the time of year, the dampness heralds Autumn in all its colourful glory and with it, the family diet has shifted into 'almost winter' mode.

Soups are such a comforting food and they do a fantastic job of filling your heart with warmth as much as your belly. This particular soup is no exception, and with a good hit of chilli, it leaves you glowing from the inside out.


Mr GF only changed the recipe fractionally (by adding a drop of marmite for good measure), but I instructed him to leave a little spicy roasted pumpkin aside to top the soup at the end and also to roast some pumpkin seeds for sprinkling. Both added texture and interest to the final dish..... the roasted pumpkin chunks (which Mr GF thought would be too hot) were in my humble opinion, one of the best bits of the bowl and alongside the crispy crunchy pumpkin seeds, made an already deliciously tasty, healthy soup way beyond ordinary.


We also used our own chilli powder made from chillies grown in the greenhouse, which we had carefully dried before grinding to a fine powder. Fresh and spicy, I smiled with each mouthful, knowing that we had nurtured them through to such perfection!

Although we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK, this would be a perfect offering at any festive table. And for those of you still celebrating the remnants of Guy Fawkes with fireworks that have had to wait for the rain to clear, a bowl by the bonfire will make sure you feel snuggled and pampered all  evening.


This recipe is a keeper...... simple but wonderful!


Tea Time Treats with Janie at The Hedgecombers and Lavender & Lovage. This month's theme is a perfectly seasonal Soups, Broths & Stocks.








Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching For Spice. We got a good couple of meals out of this recipe.









Credit Crunch Munch with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary on behalf of Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All.




No Croutons Required with Lisa's Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes.












The No Waste Food Challenge with It's Not easy Being Greedy on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.










Extra Veg with Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy.











#FoodYearLinkup with Charlotte's Lively Kitchen. This dish would be great for Guy Fawkes (or for celebrating Thanksgiving across the pond).








And finally : Free From Fridays with Emma at the Free From Farmhouse.











Roasted Pumpkin Soup (from a recipe on jamieoliver.com)

Ingredients

1½ kilo culinary pumpkin
olive oil 
1 teaspoon dried chilli powder (or grind dried chillies)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
1 stick celery
1 litre vegetable stock
2 teaspoons Marmite
a sprinkle of salt
black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
  2. Prepare the pumpkin by cutting in half and scraping out the seeds (save for roasting). Cut into wedges and put into a roasting tin/baking tray. (If your pumpkin is scraped from inside, just pile it onto a baking tray and turn occasionally whilst cooking)
  3. Remove the stringy bits from the seeds and place the seeds into a colander or sieve and rinse thoroughly with water until clean. Place them on kitchen towel to dry off.
  4. In a small dish, toss the pumpkin seeds in a little olive oil and spread them on a separate baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt. Set aside.
  5. Grind the chillies with the coriander seeds and a pinch of salt until you have a fine powder.
  6. Drizzle the pumpkin with a little olive oil and sprinkle over the freshly ground spices, with a good grind of black pepper.
  7. Roast the pumpkin for about an hour until it is soft and slightly caramelised at the edges.
  8. At the same time, roast the pumpkin seeds for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Whilst the pumpkin is roasting, chop the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.
  10. In a large saucepan, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil over a medium heat, add the chopped vegetables and sauté for about 15 minutes until softened, but not browned. Set aside until ready to add the pumpkin.
  11. When the pumpkin is cooked, remove the flesh from the skin and add most to the saucepan with the hot vegetable stock. Reserve a little pumpkin to top the soup when ready to serve.
  12. Use a stick blender (or liquidiser) to blend the mixture until smooth. Check the consistency and add a little water if too thick.
  13. Heat the soup through thoroughly before serving topped with the remaining roasted pumpkin and roasted pumpkin seeds.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Pumpkin Toffee-Apple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - gluten free


Left over pumpkin? Make cake!
This one combines all the flavours of the season and is perfect as a bonfire night treat too.......

I have no doubt there are many houses this week with pumpkin going to waste. An estimated 18,000 tons of pumpkin flesh is binned every year in the UK (source : The Independent). What a tragedy!


Although I don't go a bundle on the whole Halloween Trick or Treat stuff, I do love a nice bright orange Jack-O-Lantern all lit up on the big night. But I don't do waste..... Period! Which means we are always really careful to scrape out as much pumpkin as possible before we carve and light. That way, we not only have a beautiful Halloween offering to the ghouls and ghosts, but we get to eat lots of delicious pumpkin goodies too.....

Why would anyone want to waste this stuff? Pumpkin flesh is amazingly delicious and is rich in antioxidants and vitamins (with particularly high levels of vitamin A, C and E). It is really low in calories and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but it is a fantastic source of fibre. It is incredibly versatile too.... Use it in anything from savoury soups, curries or simply roasted with a little oil and seasoning, or take it to a sweeter level by mashing and mixing into cakes, pancakes or spiced pumpkin pie.


I particularly love when it is added to cakes and muffins. It has an ability to add a virtuous moistness, depth and richness to the sponge, whilst remaining relatively inert in flavour. This particular Pumpkin Toffee-Apple Cake showcases its offerings well.... Soft and slightly dense, it is satisfying and full of the flavours of Autumn........ mixed with little bites of apple, a good measure of cinnamon and balanced with the caramel sweetness of coconut palm and brown sugar as well as a handful of fudge chunks. Toffee-apple yumciousness!


If you don't have any fresh pumpkin to hand, panic not..... you can use tinned pumpkin puree. If your tin falls below the weight stated in the ingredients, just top it up with a little apple puree. I have always struggled to find apple puree on generic supermarket shelves, but if you don't have time to make it yourself from fresh apples, just grab a quick jar from the baby food aisle..... apple puree at its simplest and easiest!

Actually, despite the fudge, this sponge is not over-sweet, at all. This is a good thing, because it makes it the perfect base for a luxurious cream cheese frosting, shot through with an extra hit of velvety caramel. I adore cream cheese frosting..... it always tastes extra decadent and naughty. As this cake is full of so much good stuff though, you needn't shoulder any burden of guilt.... The pumpkin and apple more than make up for that!


The recipe below makes enough mixture for a sizable deep 25 cm (10 inch) square cake. I made two separate smaller sponges however (one round and one long) as I wanted to take some into work as well as have a separate cake at home. I am happy to say that it went down extremely well with all who ate it, so I am equally happy to share it with you as well as the following challenges :


Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.









Gluten Free Fridays with Vegetarian Mamma.











Free From Fridays with Emma over at the Free From Farmhouse













The #FoodYearLinkup with Charlotte's Lively Kitchen - Celebrating Guy Fawkes Night.








Credit Crunch Munch - this month with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary on behalf of Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All.




Cook Blog Share with Hijacked By Twins.









The No Waste Food Challenge with It's Not Easy Being Greedy (guest hosting this month for Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary).













Pumpkin Toffee-Apple Cake (makes equivalent one 25 x 25 cm/10 x 10 inch tray bake)

Ingredients

300g plain GF flour mix (I used blend A from this post)
2½ teaspoons GF baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
150g soft light brown sugar
150g coconut palm sugar
40g freeze dried apple cubes (I get mine from Healthy Supplies)
150g vanilla fudge or soft dairy toffee (cut into tiny cubes)
200g unsalted butter - melted
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons apple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
450g pureed pumpkin (or 1 x 420g pumpkin puree tin + 30g apple puree)

Cream Cheese Frosting (with a hint of caramel)
180g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
75g unsalted butter - softened
150g caramel sauce (I used a bought jar version)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
approx 350g icing sugar

Grated chocolate and sprinkles to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
  2. Base line a 25 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.
  3. In a large bowl, weigh and whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, xanthan gum, cinnamon, salt, and sugars, making sure any lumps are completely broken down.
  4. Add and stir in the apple cubes and small pieces of fudge/toffee.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until light and airy.
  6. Add the melted butter and whisk again to combine.
  7. Add and beat in the apple juice and vanilla.
  8. Add the liquid egg mixture to the dry ingredients and then also add the pumpkin puree. Fold through until just combined and wet through (be careful not to over-mix).
  9. Pour into the baking tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean and the top springs back.
  10. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. Meanwhile make the Cream Cheese Frosting. Beat together the cream cheese, softened butter, caramel sauce and vanilla paste until smooth.
  12. Gradually add the icing sugar a little at a time, beating between each addition until the frosting is smooth and thickened.
  13. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 
  14. When the cake is cold, generously spread the frosting over it and sprinkle with grated chocolate and decoration as you choose.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-15 unless otherwise indicated