Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Best Gluten Free Maple Shortbread (gluten free, refined sugar free, optional dairy free, optional vegan, egg free)


I've been wanting to achieve a really good gluten free shortbread biscuit for ages... One that holds its shape, melts in the mouth and tastes crisp yet creamy. I mean... who doesn't love a moreishly good shortbread? Clearly not just me, because shortbread biscuits have been around for a very long time... dating back to the mid 18th Century.

Sure there are plenty of commercially available gluten free shortbreads now available in the shops and you may wonder why I would want to waste time trying to make my own when I could just pop down the supermarket... The thing is.... whilst it's really convenient to grab a pack from the shelf without the hassle of weighing, mixing, rolling and baking the ingredients, I actually think that most gluten free shop-bought shortbreads aren't really that great. Considering how much they cost, I expect better.


Part of the problem is that the commercially available biscuits are heavily weighted towards the use of rice flour.... This leaves them gritty in texture and (this may just be me) clearing my throat for some time afterwards. They are also (in my humble opinion) decidedly too sweet. That makes seeing them on the supermarket shelves frustrating, because without fail, I get ridiculously excited when they appear in their 'special' seasonal boxes... magnetically tempting my gaze towards them.... only to remember that if I buy them, I am setting myself up for disappointment.


So I have decided that I will not waste my time or frustration on them anymore... Especially since a traditional shortbread recipe is made with a simple combination of butter, sugar and flour and providing you stick to a few basic rules, can be made with the minimum of skill.

The recipe I have created (and it has been through a number of tweaks and amendments to get it just right) aims to be a little healthier than your average gluten free shortbread. It uses a home-mixed GFA rice-free flour blend that you can find the instructions for here (and which I keep in a topped-up airtight container in my larder), so contains no rice flour whatsoever and replaces white sugar with maple syrup as a more natural sweetener. (If you can't be bothered to mix your own flour, these shortbreads would work well with Free From Fairy rice free plain flour blend - see side bar for link).


Maple syrup may be more expensive, but is entirely unrefined and apparently, is high in anti-oxidants, zinc, calcium and potassium (as well as being lower in calories than honey). Ok... it's still sugar, but it has such a divine and unique flavour, that using it makes these shortbreads extra special (healthier or not).

Although I made mine with butter (I grew up thinking that shortbread should have 'all butter' on the label), if you are vegan or dairy intolerant, make a simple switch and replace the butter with your favourite alternative soft dairy free spread. It's better to use vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract too, to ensure the dough maintains a firm consistency.


I did test the biscuit dough without using xanthan gum (as it can add a bit of a 'slimy' texture to biscuits), but whilst it held together and baked fine, the shelf life was slightly limited by greater crumbliness. Having said that, if you find that xanthan gum doesn't sit well with you, just leave it out or replace with a little ground psyllium husk for stability. Once baked though... these biscuits will stay fresh for well over a week, providing they have been kept in an air-tight container.

Like all good shortbread, this cookie dough is sturdy enough to allow for imprints and patterns. I rolled mine using my new toy... a beautifully crafted embossed rolling pin from Pastry Made. It took a few goes to ensure the right pressure for optimum markings, but I am absolutely in love with it.

If you like sugar sprinkled on your shortbread, go ahead... That seems to be the traditional way, although I decided to keep mine as simple as possible.


So how do you make a really good gluten free shortbread? There are a few basic rules that are helpful to get them perfect...

Rule #1
A shortbread is a tightly structured biscuit.... it doesn't need baking powder or bicarbonate of soda as this will cause it to be too light and will lose any markings you choose to add (whether by rolling pin or press) and will distort the shape. Don't use self-raising flour.

Rule #2
Equally, when you cream the butter/spread with the sugar/syrup, you are aiming to combine it rather than make it 'fluffy'. Don't over-mix.... if it is too light and fluffy, the final shortbread may be too crumbly.


Rule #3
Be patient. The nature of gluten free flours is that they need time to absorb moisture and to settle. When you add the flour to the mix, beat slowly and firmly, pressing it together little by little, so that it has time to blend well and stabilise. When it starts to come together, use a floured or gloved hand to bring together and knead gently until smooth.

Rule #4
Make sure your dough is firm and pliable, but not sticky and be certain to chill it in the fridge before you start rolling it. This will make it easier to work without it getting too warm. When ready to roll, cut into thirds and roll each, one at a time. It is fine to re-knead and re-roll, but make sure that you chill the unbaked biscuits again before cooking.
So there you have it...

I am sharing my free from Maple Shortbread with the following :


Baking Crumbs with Apply to Face Blog and Jo's Kitchen Larder
Cook Blog Share with Everyday Healthy Recipes
Fiesta Friday with Angie


Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice



Maple Shortbread  (makes about 25 to 30 biscuits)

Ingredients

240g butter (softened)/ soft dairy free spread
140g maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
300g plain gluten free flour mix (I used my rice free home-mixed blend that you can find here)
pinch fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum (unless your flour mix already contains it)

decorate with melted chocolate and nuts if you wish
sprinkle with caster sugar (optional)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter/spread until smooth.
  2. Add the maple syrup and vanilla paste and beat to combine. Be careful not to over-mix.
  3. Mix the flour, salt and xanthan gum together and then add to the wet mix. Beat with a firm silicone/wooden spoon (see Rule #3 above) until it comes together into an even dough. 
  4. With floured hands, knead gently to complete the blending process and bring together into a ball. If the mix is too sticky, sprinkle a little more flour onto the dough and knead in until you have a good consistency. If you have used a flour which absorbs more liquid and has made the dough dry/crumbly, add a little more maple syrup.
  5. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  6. Prepare 2 to 3 baking trays by lining with baking paper.
  7. When ready to roll, lay a large sheet of baking paper down and sprinkle with flour. Cut about a third of the dough, place it on the floured baking paper, sprinkle the top with a fine layer of flour to prevent sticking and roll to a thickness of about ½ to 1½ cm (as you prefer).
  8. Carefully cut your shortbread dough into shapes using a cookie cutter and place on the prepared baking trays. Chill for half an hour before baking. 
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
  10. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the shortbreads are golden at the edges (they may need a couple of minutes extra for thick shortbread). Rotate the trays half way through to ensure an even bake. 
  11. Once baked, either remove from the oven and allow to cool (they should firm up as they do so) or if you have made thicker shortbreads, you may choose to leave them in the oven (turned off) to cool as the oven cools (this ensures they dry into a really crisp biscuit). If you are sprinkling with sugar for a traditional finish, do so before they cool.
  12. If you choose to decorate (although they are perfect without decoration), make sure they are completely cool before dipping in melted chocolate and adding sprinkles. 
  13. Store in an airtight container. 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-19 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Gluten Free? Don't go to Bakewell for Bakewell Tart.... You can make your own at home!


The pretty little town of Bakewell in Derbyshire is the birth place of and synonymous with the Bakewell Tart.... A crisp, short, pastry case filled with a generous layer of raspberry or strawberry jam and topped to the brim with soft, moist, luscious almond frangipane. It seems however, that their ability to bake gluten free pastry is fundamentally flawed!

During a recent stay with relatives nearby, we did our best to pay homage to the humble Bakewell Tart and on a visit to the town, went on a google-supported search for a gluten free version of this tasty treasure. Ecstatic to find that the Bakewell Pudding Parlour had what we were looking for, we snapped up a gluten free Bakewell Tart and took it home with anticipation.... for tea.


When the time for the much awaited dessert came, it was Miss GF who took up the honours to slice and share..... As she worked her way from small'ish knife to heavier and sharper options, we realised we had been duped! This was neither a cuttable or edible tart, but (I think) merely a frisbee, masquerading as a tempting and delicious treat. In all honesty, it was the worst gluten free pastry I have ever eaten and I was grateful we had not been pulled over by the police for being in possession of an offensive weapon. I mean seriously.... check this out :

https://www.instagram.com/p/Br8ZM9IhUL4/



Now I know that I bake gluten free all the time, but pastry is really not rocket science and I am truly dumbfounded that a professional bakery could make such a hash of it and further, that they would deem it worthy to be sold in their well-renowned premises. It was stupidly expensive too! Frankly, we are worth more...


Returning home after the break, I remained disappointed that we had not got to enjoy this craved pie and immediately sought to rectify the matter by making my own. I scoured the internet for traditional recipes and then tweaked and played with the ingredients to make it our own. Well..... why chase after something you actually can't have?


I have several suitable pastry recipes on Gluten Free Alchemist which would have sufficed, but as this was now elevated to a special tart, I decided to develop a new gluten free short crust, especially suited to the flavours it would contain, but also embracing nutritious alternatives to rice-based flour blends and still bakable to crisp, dry perfection. So with this post, I introduce to you my Sweet Rice-Free, Gluten Free Almond Pastry. It handles incredibly well and not only has an amazing texture (no 'grittiness' here), but also a flavour that is mild and smooth and ensures that the filling remains the star of the show.

Whilst I could have made my own jam, I decided to use a shop-bought top-of-the-range version... A fruit-weighted raspberry conserve that I lavishly layered across the blind-baked pastry base.


My Frangipane was a triumph. Baked to a very slight wobble, it remained soft and sumptuously moist, shot through with the heady scent and rich flavour of almond, hintingly offset by a citrus tang. If I'm honest, I am not sure the Bakewell Bakewell Tarts we saw (with or without gluten) could have come close. This was home-baked perfection... and we enjoyed every bite, whether on its own, with custard, or with cream.

The moral of this story? Don't go to Bakewell for Bakewell Tart. You can make your own at home and without a doubt, it will not only be better, but will leave you with a happy head and heart.


I am sharing my gluten free Bakewell Tart with :

 

Cook Blog Share with Everyday Healthy Recipes
Bake of the Week with Casa Costello and Mummy Mishaps
Baking Crumbs with Jo's Kitchen Larder and Apply to Face Blog  


 

Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching For Spice
Got To Be Gluten Free with Glutarama
Fiesta Friday #258 with Angie and Life Diet Health


What's for Dinner? #183 with The Lazy Gastronome









Bakewell Tart (make one 10 inch or one 8 inch + two 4 inch tarts)

Ingredients

Sweet rice-free GF almond pastry
130g GF rice-free flour blend (mix as in this post)
50g corn flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
pinch fine sea salt
40g ground almonds
110g unsalted butter - cold cubed
60g golden caster sugar
1 large egg
1½ tablespoons very cold water

Fillings
1 jar good quality raspberry jam

Frangipane
150g unsalted butter - softened
150g golden caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1½ teaspoons almond extract
3 large eggs - at room temperature
150g ground almonds
45g GF rice-free flour blend (mix as in this post)
pinch fine sea salt
finely grated zest 1 lemon

Decoration
2 tablespoons raw flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust

Method

  1. Pastry : In a large bowl, mix together the flours, xanthan gum, salt and ground almonds.
  2. Rub the butter cubes into the dry mix using finger tips until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  3. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and cold water.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the egg-water mix.
  6. Use a flat-bladed knife to blend the ingredients until they bind into a slightly sticky dough. Using flour dusted hands, knead briefly to ensure an even texture.
  7. Do not chill. 
  8. Roll out (between 2 sheets of liberally flour-dusted clingfilm) to a size large enough to line the base and sides of the pie tin (if making more than one tart, split the pastry dough and roll each piece separately).
  9. Remove the top sheet of clingfilm and flip the pastry over into the tin, gently easing into the base and up the sides until it fits snuggly. Try and remove the clingfilm, but if the pastry has stuck to the base, just pop the whole thing into the fridge for about half an hour and the clingfilm should then come away easily. (Repeat the process for any additional tart cases).
  10. Trim the top edge of the pastry and place in the fridge to firm up for about half an hour.
  11. Pre-heat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6.
  12. Line your raw pastry cases with baking paper and baking beans and blind-bake by cooking for 10 minutes, before turning the oven down to 180 C/ 350 F/Gas 4, removing the baking beans and paper and baking for a further 5 to 10 minutes, until the pastry is golden and dry.
  13. Remove the pastry case from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. 
  14. Once cool, smooth a generous layer of jam evenly across the base of the pastry case.
  15. Frangipane filling : Preheat the oven to 190 C/375 F/Gas 5.
  16. In a large bowl, use a whisk to cream together the butter, caster sugar, vanilla and almond extracts until light.
  17. Blend the eggs together in a small bowl with a fork and then add a little at a time, beating through with a whisk to fully combine with the butter mix.
  18. Separately mix together the ground almonds, flour, salt and lemon zest and add to the batter mix, folding through with a wooden/silicone spoon to blend.
  19. Fill each tart base (on top of the jam) with frangipane batter and smooth the top. Sprinkle with flaked almonds to decorate.
  20. Bake for 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the size of the tart) until the frangipane is set and golden.
  21. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and dusting with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold. Delicious 'neat' or with custard.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-19 unless otherwise indicated

Monday, 3 December 2018

Decadent Roasted Banana & Chocolate Celebration Cake (gluten free)


Looking for something decadent? A gluten free show-stopper that will be sure to turn heads? A cake fit for birthdays, Easter, Christmas and all special reasons in between? Then this Roasted Banana & Chocolate Celebration Cake may just be the one you need.


I made this three-layered stunner back in October for Mr GF's birthday, but the photos have been sitting on my computer ever since, awaiting editing. It just seems that time gets more and more squeezed and the blog is taking more and more of a back seat as other priorities jostle for position.


To be honest, I'm not sure it's just time... I seem to be falling out of love with the whole blog thing as blog world morphs into an increasingly competitive arena, where advertising and self-promotion take centre stage. I am not a person who naturally puts myself 'out there' and I have no desire to video and share my very mundane life on social media. When I started the blog, it was because I needed a place to record my gluten free recipes and bakes and I loved that it also meant I could share my growing wisdom with others. That hasn't changed, but blogging has and I question daily whether I have anything left to offer to a medium that is increasingly saturated. Right now, I am debating the best way to move forward.


But back to the cake... given that I had made it, I didn't want my tiny bit of creativity to go to waste.

Stacked with three layers of moist, fruity, banana sponge, this cake is sandwiched and covered with rich chocolate butter cream and decorated with dark, decadent chocolate ganache, dripped and hung with home-piped chocolate hearts and made extra special with pretty piping, broken cigarillos and chopped, crunchy banana chips. Need I say more?


Well actually, yes. The bananas have also been roasted in their skins for an extra intense banana hit. If you have never tried this, give it a try..... you will wonder why you have never done it before.

It isn't a quick cake to pull together (although the banana sponge is perfect 'naked' or just layered with a slather of buttercream), but if you want or need to make a showstopper that will drop jaws, it's definitely worth the effort.


It's not particularly tricky either. I honestly don't rate myself as much of a cake decorator and have little other than low-grade skill, but I reckon that patience, a couple of basic tools, a willingness to experiment and a bit of ganache and piping can pimp up pretty much anything.

I'm also a sucker for banana cake and thought it would make a nice change from the usual birthday flavours. It seemed to go down well, so I guess it wasn't a bad choice...


I am sharing my Decadent Roasted Banana & Chocolate Celebration Cake with :



Cook Blog Share with Recipes Made Easy
Love Cake with Jibber Jabber
Baking Crumbs with Apply To Face Blog & Jo's Kitchen Larder




Bake of the Week with Casa Costello and Mummy Mishaps
Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice
Fiesta Friday #253 with Angie, Spades Spatulas & Spoons and MilkandBun


What's For Dinner? with The Lazy Gastronome



Roasted Banana & Chocolate Celebration Cake (makes one 8 or 9 inch (20 to 23 cm), three-layer cake)

Ingredients

Roasted Banana Sponge
315g gluten free plain flour (I used GFA blend A from this post)
150g ground almonds
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
2¼ teaspoons GF baking powder
1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
150g unsalted butter - softened
225g golden caster sugar
185 g soft, light brown sugar
3 large eggs - room temperature - lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 medium-large bananas (unpeeled) - roasted (see below)
260 ml buttermilk

Chocolate Heart Decorations
125g good quality dark chocolate - chopped

Chocolate Butter Icing
175g good quality dark chocolate - cut into small pieces
280g unsalted butter - room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar (sifted)

Chocolate Ganache
200g good quality dark chocolate - chopped
150g/ml double cream

Decoration
a few broken chocolate cigarillos
chopped dried banana chips

Method

Sponge
  1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4. Base line your non-stick cake tins with baking paper.
  2. First roast your bananas in their skins (on a baking sheet lined with baking paper) until the skins are turning black (about 20 minutes). Leave to cool in the skins.
  3. Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, making sure any lumps are broken down. (I weigh mine into an airtight container and shake vigorously). Set aside.
  4. Cream the butter and sugars together in a large bowl using an electric whisk until light and fluffy.
  5. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork and then add a little at a time to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. 
  6. Add and beat in the vanilla extract.
  7. Remove the banana flesh from inside the blackened skins and mash with a fork before folding gently into the wet mixture.
  8. Using a large spoon or spatula, gently fold in the buttermilk alternately with the flour mix about a third at a time, until the ingredients are just combined. Be careful not to over-mix. 
  9. Divide the batter evenly between cake tins and smooth the tops with the back of a spoon.
  10. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the top springs back to the touch.
  11. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 to 10 minutes, before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely.
Chocolate Heart Decorations
(You will need a pointed sweet/sugar thermometer and either a fine-tipped decoration bottle or Decomat kit (mine is by Lekue)
  1. Line a couple of trays with non stick baking paper and set aside.
  2. Chop all the chocolate and weigh 80g into a glass, microwaveable/heatproof bowl. 
  3. Using either the microwave (at 30 second bursts, lessening as the chocolate temperature increases) or placing the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt and heat the 80g chocolate to 40 C/104 F, stirring frequently.
  4. Remove from the heat immediately and add the rest of the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth.
  5. Pour the chocolate into the decorating bottle and working quickly, pipe small hearts and spots onto the baking paper. 
  6. Leave to set at room temperature.
Chocolate Butter Icing
  1. Place the chocolate in a glass, heatproof bowl and melt either in the microwave (medium setting at 30 second bursts, stirring between each) or over a saucepan of gently simmering water, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter, vanilla extract and icing sugar using an electric whisk until smooth. 
  3. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and continue to beat until thick and creamy.   
Chocolate Ganache (make the ganache only when you are ready to decorate the cake)
  1. Place the chopped chocolate into a medium heat-proof bowl and set aside.
  2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and gently heat until almost simmering.
  3. Remove from the heat immediately and pour onto the chocolate.
  4. Allow to sit for 3 to 4 minutes and then gently stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is smooth.
  5. Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature, stirring intermittently until it reaches drip consistency.

Putting it all together

  1. Chill the sponges in the fridge for a couple of hours to give stability when decorating.
  2. Layer the sponges with chocolate butter icing.
  3. With the help of a palette knife and cake scraper, completely coat the cake with a layer of butter icing, using the palette knife to coat and the scraper to smooth into a thin, even layer.
  4. Chill the coated cake in the fridge to cool and stabilise the butter icing before the next stage.
  5. When the ganache has reached 'drip' consistency, pour into a decorating bottle (or alternatively use a spoon) and carefully create a 'rim' of ganache around the outside edge of the cake, encouraging small drips down the sides. If the drips 'run' too fast, leave the ganache to thicken a little more.
  6. Once the drips are complete, move to the centre of the cake and gradually squeeze ganache in a continuous swirl (or drip and spread with the spoon) until the top of the cake is covered. 
  7. Take your chocolate hearts and stick to the base of the ganache drips so that they look like they are hanging. (If they do not stick easily, put a small spot of ganache on the back of each before fixing).
  8. Stick the chocolate dots randomly onto the buttercream sides.
  9. To finish the cake off, use the remaining butter cream and ganache (I whipped the remaining ganache to make it lighter) and pipe onto the top of the cake as you wish. 
  10. Use broken chocolate cigarillos of different lengths and stick into the surface of the cake between the piping.
  11. Sprinkle with chopped banana chips.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Hazelnut-Cacao Energy Balls - A Pre-Pilates Booster (no bake, vegan, free from gluten, dairy & refined sugar)


It feels like a while since I posted a recipe, but these Hazelnut-Cacao Energy Balls, which are free from gluten, dairy, refined sugar and are also no bake and vegan, have recently become a bit of a Sunday morning energy boost for me and it seemed like a good plan to share them. Why Sunday morning? Because since I attended an amazing Pilates retreat back in September at Pignoulet in Gascony, I have managed to join a Pilates class locally and actually keep it up!


Although I know they don't look that appetising, these energy balls are packed full of slow-release energy goodness and taste amazingly good. Adapted from a Deliciously Ella recipe, they have become inextricably associated with Pilates in my head, because I first had an almond version when at Pignoulet. Offered as a pre-session energy boost first thing in the morning, they felt especially healthy and nutritious.

It's funny how foods become linked with activities and very specific memories. I have other very fixed associations with Reggae Potatoes and the Peak District, Fish Bolognese and the Seychelles, Homity Pies and University, home-made pasta and visiting my Nana, and Vegetable Lasagne and sunbeds (it's a long story)...


Perhaps it's that eating these energy balls brings back idyllic memories of the sun rising over the beautiful Pignoulet farmhouse, and feeling its warmth touch my skin as I ready to start the day with Pilates in the barn, but when I eat one, I feel just that little bit happier.

The particular adaptations that I have made to the original recipe are to substitute almonds for hazelnuts (although almonds are very yummy too) and to alter the ingredient ratios very slightly as the balls were prone to 'melt' in the warmth due to the liquid nature of the coconut oil. Regardless, they are still better stored in the fridge, both for sturdiness and longevity.


I am sharing my version of Hazelnut-Cacao Energy Balls with :



Cook Blog Share - This week with Recipes Made Easy
Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice
Fiesta Friday #249 with Angie, Goats & Greens and Apply To Face Blog


Hazelnut-Cacao Energy Balls (slightly adapted from a recipe by Deliciously Ella) - makes 12 to 14 balls

Ingredients 

200g dates (de-stoned weight)
100g hazelnuts (de-skinned and lightly toasted)
12g coconut oil
45g almond butter 
pinch fine sea salt
2 tablespoons cacao powder

Method

  1. Weigh all ingredients into a blender (making sure your dates are de-stoned and the hazelnuts are lightly toasted).
  2. Pulse together until well blended.
  3. Place in the fridge to cool, before rolling into 12 to 14 balls with your hands. 
  4. Store in the fridge until ready to eat. 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated