Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Gooey Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies

Children LOVE Brownies! Adults find them hard to resist too............. Or is that just me and my lack of will-power?

The gooey, chocolaty, sticky yumminess, that sticks to the roof of your mouth so that you can lick it off with your tongue and savour its deliciousness. The softness as your teeth bite through the squidgy, sweet pillow of rich, dark decadence. Need I say more?

Recently, I have been craving brownies. Maybe it is my body reminding me of the health benefits of the dark chocolate that they contain (yeah right............. who am I kidding?). 

I do not recall that they particularly existed when I was a child, but were imported from the United States at some stage and (unsurprisingly) have stayed firmly on the UK nation's sweet list. I have loved them for the time that I have known them (although I cannot remember when it was that I tasted my first one).

Apparently they originated in the US at the end of the 19th Century and although they are always made with more or less the same ingredients (flour, butter, eggs, chocolate and sugar), they vary their texture from light, drier and 'cakey', to more dense, fudgy and moist, depending on the ratios of ingredients used. Personally, I prefer the really squidgy ones. They always exude 'naughtiness' when you eat them, as though you should be hiding behind the bike sheds devouring them secretly............

Strangely, until now, I have never actually tried making gluten free brownies. I think probably because they are one of the few sweet treats that are already widely on offer in gluten free form in the 'mainstream' - supermarkets, cafes, etc. But this week, I decided that I needed to give it a go, not least because my daughter has been asking (increasingly loudly and for a very long time) for chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.

Well.............. chocolate brownie ice cream calls for chocolate brownies. Not just any old brownies, but the type that are really rich and gooey so that they won't go hard when they are frozen and will be extra chewy when you find a chunk in amongst the icy, chocolate, melting cream.

They also need to be good enough to eat on their own and leave you feeling guilty for wanting more, but having another one anyway.

Rather than follow a particular recipe, I have made up my own to get the texture that I wanted to achieve. And boy............... these are really gooey.......... Soft-centred, oozy, deep chocolate heaven!

What was that I heard from the other room? 'Mum................. can I have a brownie for breakfast?'

Gooey Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies (makes 16 slices)


110g butter
110g good quality dark chocolate
70g plain gluten free flour mix (I used Mix A from this post)
85g caster sugar
85g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs


  1. Line a 20 cm/8 inch square loose-based baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180⁰ C / 350⁰ F / Gas 4.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large glass bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water or in the microwave on 30 second bursts (medium setting), stirring frequently until completely melted and fully blended.
  4. Weigh and mix the flour, sugars, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum in a separate medium bowl and set aside. Make sure the mix is well blended and that any lumps are completely broken down.
  5. Break the eggs into a small bowl, add the vanilla extract and beat with a fork to blend.
  6. Pour the egg mixture onto the chocolate mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until blended.
  7. Add the dry ingredients and continue to beat until the batter is smooth.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, spread to the edges and smooth the top evenly.
  9. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the top is crisp and the centre just 'gives' when gently pressed.
  10. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool for about 15 minutes before turning out and cutting into squares.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

One of the puddings my daughter best loves when we go out to restaurants is panna cotta, - a dessert which originates in Northern Italy and is as decadent as it is simple. She knows that it is gluten free and it always makes a delightful change to the usual and very predictable 'option' of ice cream (which as those of us who are gluten free know, is usually far from an 'option' as it is usually the only gluten free dessert available). There are a few restaurants we go to that my daughter knows serve panna cotta and thus, given a choice, she will specifically request dinner at one of these if we are going out. Ahhhhhh.......... the nostalgia of being 8 and thinking only of pudding!

Just before we returned from our recent holiday in Greece, we asked our daughter what she wanted her first meals to be when we returned home. Her first savoury choice was gluten free sausages, mash and onion gravy (which was duly provided and eaten the evening we got back) and her pudding choice was panna cotta, which I decided to make myself.

There are a number of recipes for panna cotta, all with a base of milk, cream, sugar and gelatine, although the ratios seem to vary from one to another. I decided to make a vanilla panna cotta, but combined my own ratios as I wanted a really creamy base which was not overly sweet, but nice and vanillary.

This is a wonderfully easy dessert to make and can be prepared well ahead of time as it needs to be chilled to set. But whilst it is simple, it is also rich, creamy, smooth and delicious. It can be eaten 'straight', or dressed up with a sauce or fruit. Because it is creamy and sweet, I prefer it with a slightly sharp fruit. Raspberries are a perfect partner. Their vibrant colour contrasts with the simplicity of the smooth pale panna cotta and instantly excites the taste buds.

I love the oh so smooth, creamy texture of sweet vanilla panna cotta on my tongue, off-set by the knobbly, squidgy sharpness of firm, fresh raspberry, all mingled with a juicy fresh raspberry coulis. My taste buds feel both tingly and calmed at the same time. I always try to make the experience last as long as possible by taking very small spoonfuls, each with a corner of raspberry, slither of panna cotta and dribble of coulis................ I close my eyes and savour every small mouthful, luxuriating in each before they melt away. But alas, although one portion should be enough, I am always disappointed when it ends................. Can I have another please?

Vanilla Panna Cotta (makes 6 servings)


10g gelatine leaves
200ml whole milk
400ml double cream
120g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod (slit) or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste


  1. Get ready 6 silicone moulds or individual non-stick cake tins (without removable bases) and place them in the freezer to chill whilst you prepare the panna cotta mix.
  2. Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes (as per packet instructions) ensuring each leaf has enough room for the water to circulate around it.
  3. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and heat on a medium heat until the milk is just below simmering point (do not allow to boil), and then remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Drain the gelatine, squeeze out the excess water and add to the hot milk. Stir to dissolve and combine completely.
  5. Pour the cream into a larger saucepan and add the sugar and vanilla.
  6. Bring to the boil over a low to medium heat, stirring constantly, then immediately remove from the heat (do not allow to continue to boil). If using a vanilla pod, remove from the mix at this stage.
  7. Stir the milk-gelatine mixture into the cream until fully combined.
  8. Remove the moulds from the freezer and pour the panna cotta mix into them ensuring an even distribution of the liquid.
  9. Allow to cool as quickly as possible (you can speed the cooling process by placing the moulds in a container with ice around the base of the moulds) before chilling in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours to completely set.
  10. When set, turn the panna cotta portions out onto serving plates (you may need to carefully run a fine edged knife around the inside edge of the mould to loosen) and serve with fresh raspberries, raspberry coulis and a sprinkling of fresh pomegranate seeds.

Raspberry Coulis


300g fresh or frozen raspberries
3½ tablespoons icing sugar

To serve :
a handful fresh raspberries
1 ripe pomegranate (seeds removed) - optional


  1. Put the raspberries and icing sugar in a blender and pulse until you have a smooth puree.
  2. Sieve the puree into a small bowl to remove the seeds and chill in the fridge until ready to use.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Swordfish Cooked with Lime, Pistachio & Coriander


Sorry I have not posted for a while. I have been on holiday in Crete for a week or so and have not had the usual access to my computer or the desire to cook. Holidays are for lazing around, leaving the usual day to day world behind and absorbing new worlds, -  cultures, landscapes, colours, people, flavours and aromas.............. 

Greece has always been one of my favourite destinations. The heady scent of the wild mountain herbs, windy warmth, clear blue seas where the fish swim around your legs and the slower pace of life is a recipe for recharging the batteries and renewing the senses. The perfect atmosphere to reflect on life and to reassess priorities.

It is always great to spend time with family, but relaxing in the warmth of the Mediterranean and particularly slowing down the pace, enables greater patience and a better perspective on what is important in life. The Greeks really value their children and families and somehow always keep them central, which is a great leveller.

Travelling gluten free is still relatively new to us and we are still establishing our confidence. Research told me that Greece does not have supermarkets stocked with special gluten free products and is one of the destinations in Europe with a very limited understanding of Coeliac Disease and the needs of its sufferers. Making sure I was fully prepared, I packed a suitcase full of gluten free long-life rolls, crackers, pasta and biscuits 'just in case'. I armed myself with a Greek gluten free restaurant card (which explains in Greek what Coeliac means and the requirements of food preparation) and off we went. As it happens, we brought back the pasta, some of the rolls and crackers and stuffed our faces with the biscuits on the aeroplane just to get rid of them on the return journey................... The Greek restaurant card helped enormously (you can get them in many languages from the Celiac Travel website), and we lived on fish, grilled meats, vegetables, stews and salads. Most of the restaurants were genuinely interested and concerned to make sure they understood our dietary requirements and those that did not inspire confidence, did not get our business. And so we survived........................ all well. Job done!

Having had lots of fish in Crete (my daughter particularly enjoyed swordfish), I returned with a nostalgic hankering to continue eating it. Some years ago I developed a recipe for cooking cubed swordfish with lime juice, pistachio and fresh coriander. Because it takes on the juices of the lime and balsamic vinegar and is wet cooked rather than grilled, it retains a moist tenderness that is easily lost from dry cooking methods. The fish melts in the mouth and has all the flavours of the Mediterranean with a hint of Asia thrown in. It is both healthy and nutritious and makes for a delicious light lunch when served on salad or a more substantial supper served with new potatoes and roasted peppers (or any other veg you fancy). The complimentary flavours of coriander and tarragon shine against the mild, meaty fish and the rich, nutty crunch of the Pistachio adds a different texture dimension which makes the dish both unusual and interesting. The lime adds a little sharpness which helps to draw out the flavour of the fish and alongside a hint of Soy (the gluten free type that you find in the supermarket 'free from' section) brings in a delicious Asian after-glow.

Swordfish Cooked with Lime, Pistachio & Coriander

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 swordfish steaks - skinned and cut into cubes
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon gluten free soy sauce
1 lime - juiced
75g unsalted pistachio nuts (shelled weight) - chopped
1 to 2 handfuls of fresh chopped coriander
1 tablespoon of fresh chopped tarragon (or a sprinkle of dried)
salt and pepper to season


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet/frying pan on a high heat.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the swordfish, stir to coat with oil, and cook to seal the outside of the fish.
  3. Turn the temperature down to a medium heat. Add the balsamic vinegar, stir and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. The balsamic vinegar will 'froth' slightly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Part-way through cooking, add the soy sauce, stir and then continue to cook until the liquid is beginning to reduce slightly.
  5. Add the chopped pistachio nuts and about three quarters of the lime juice and stir thoroughly into the fish. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a couple more minutes.
  6. Finally, add the herbs, stir into the mix and then remove from the heat.
  7. Transfer the mixture to a serving dish, sprinkle with the remaining lime juice and garnish with more fresh herbs as desired (I forgot to do that when I made mine!)
  8. Serve warm with salad or new potatoes and vegetables.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Pandebonos (South American Cheese Bread) - UK style

I recently discovered Pandebonos - an amazing South American cheese bread which goes by many alternative names and which is entirely gluten free - made using cassava / tapioca flour, cornmeal and cheese. It's good. REALLY good...  Cheesy, slightly chewy, soft, moist and delicious. It needs no butter or spread (although is happy to have the indulgence), is wonderful warm or cold, and ripped open and stuffed with salami, ham, coleslaw, houmous, tomatoes or even spinach, makes a wonderful snack or light lunch.

And (just in case you missed it the first time), Pandebonos is entirely (and naturally) gluten free!

Apparently, the Colombians/South Americans eat it freshly made for breakfast with real hot chocolate. Sounds like my sort of breakfast...

The first time I had Pandebonos, I knew I just HAD to learn how to make it. So I went on a lengthy internet search to find a good, straight forward, authentic recipe. The problem was finding one which suited UK ingredients. Once I started looking into it, I found it virtually impossible to source the 'required' South American cheeses and extremely difficult (and quite expensive) to obtain Masarepa, the South American cornmeal which appeared to be essential to the qualities of the dough. Apart from the authentic, local recipes, most of the adaptations come from the US which evidently has access to ingredients simply not available over here.

The most frequently suggested alternative cheese is Greek Feta, which I tried on its own in the bread mix, but found it a little too sour for my taste-buds. And although I tried using Masa Harina in place of Masarepa (as suggested in some recipes), this seemed to result in a solid roll which would be better suited to warfare.

And so... I have been on a lengthy quest to create a cheese bread, as close to Pandebonos as possible, but which is made using easy to source ingredients from UK supermarkets and still tastes fantastic.

You would not believe how many batches and variants I have subjected my family to, in order to get to this recipe. It has honestly been an obsession. Fortunately, even when the trials have gone hideously wrong (mostly flat and squidgy), they still taste deliciously cheesy and are very edible, otherwise I would have been forced to abandon my quest weeks ago. You have no idea how excited I am to be able to reach a recipe that I am willing (even happy) to share.

I 'toned down' the sharpness of the Feta with some Mozzarella cheese (the drier grated variety) and although originally, I tried (as a substitute to the Masarepa) a small amount of pre-cooked polenta alongside the tapioca flour, I have found that this is not necessary and the bread is amazing with just the use of tapioca starch flour.

Some recipes for Pandebonos contain no raising agent and some contain baking powder. I tried to avoid using anything and to rely on heat to push them upwards. However, after this proved very unreliable and after one too many completely flat results I resorted to using a little baking powder assistance, and the results became more consistent. Getting the ratios of wet to dry ingredients right also seems to be critical to a bread-like result, although if the dough is very slightly over sticky (or over worked) the resulting rolls are still delicious, but have a more spongy quality, which for some may be preferable. 

I confess............... it has not been an easy journey. But fortunately, very few ingredients have been wasted, as all disasters have been good enough to be happily eaten.

The process for making these cheese rolls is really simple. You can blitz all the ingredients in a food processor to form a wet dough, or I have found that using a potato masher and/or squidging with my hands works equally well. Good luck and enjoy shamelessly!

Pandebonos (UK Style)


160g Mozzarella cheese (the drier grated pizza variety)
160g Feta cheese
190g tapioca flour
¼ teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs

Amendment : At 5 below - The most effective and consistent way to blend the ingredients is either with your hands (best wearing food gloves) or mashing with a potato masher until really smooth. It works (in my view_ better than using a food processor, because it allows full control for judging the dough consistency, so that it becomes really smooth, but not over liquified.


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas 7.
  2. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  3. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork until well blended.
  4. Weigh all the ingredients into either a large bowl (if you are mixing by hand/potato masher) or a food processor and add the beaten egg.
  5. Mash, food process or squish with hands all the ingredients together until you have a well blended, smooth, sticky dough-paste (you may need to work quite hard to break down the feta, but it is worth doing the job properly).
  6. Rub a little oil onto your hands and hand-roll the dough into about 15 balls. Place these on the baking trays with space between them.
  7. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6 (don't open the door).
  8. Cook for a further 10 minutes until the rolls are risen and golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly on the trays.
  10. Best eaten fresh and warm. Rolls can be 'refreshed' in the microwave on high for a few seconds only if necessary to re-warm. Freeze fresh on the day of making and warm them in the microwave.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Happy Birthday Gorgeous Girl.......

I have been insanely busy this week with all the stuff of life that takes you away from the kitchen and into a more mundane world. So I have had little time for cooking very creatively. Except that is, for birthday cake........

My gluten free girl has turned 8 and that calls for a celebration!

I have always made her birthday cakes, but since being gluten free there is really no alternative but home made, if you want something that will be unique and memorable to the party. We seem to have months of lead-up to birthdays in our house with our daughter pawing through cake books trying to find the ultimate cake decorations to request. Is it something that all children do? I don't know, but I always dread that she will want something I do not have the skills to produce and am usually ready to suggest and persuade a simple alternative that I can fit around a full time job.

Fortunately, this year she asked simply for a 'cake iced with blue butter icing'. Thank goodness for that! Her birthday has coincided with my starting a new job and the thought of having to stay awake half the night to complete some icing 'masterpiece' was more than I could entertain.

I have to admit that none of the recipe is new - I have posted all aspects before. And because of that I wasn't going to post the cake at all........ But my daughter has insisted that she wants her cake 'on the blog' and as the blog is essentially a catalogue of recipes that she can hold for her future, I was not in a position to refuse.

The cake decoration was not actually planned in any way (other than to have blue butter icing), but as I mixed up the butter and icing sugar, I decided it needed a bit more to it. It was meant to have 8 swirly dots on the top as candle points (yes, I really am that uncreative), but I got a bit 'dot-happy' and carried on adding swirls and spots until the cake was covered.

Actually, I am really quite pleased with it...................... A sort of abstract rose cake!

Fortunately my daughter was thrilled too and it got lots of positive comments from her friends and their parents, so I guess sometimes 'random' works..............

And..................... it tasted delicious. Moist, slightly fudgy chocolate sponge slathered with vanilla butter icing. Always a winner for a birthday................

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Vanilla Butter Icing and Rosy Swirls

Chocolate Cake

Make one batch of chocolate cake mix to bake two 8 inch / 20 cm round chocolate sponges as from this post.

Once baked, allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Vanilla Butter Icing (Frosting)

Make one and a half times the quantity of vanilla butter icing using the ingredients and method from this post.

Remove about a third of the uncoloured icing into a separate small bowl.
Use blue food colouring to colour the larger amount of icing for the main cake covering.
Use a dot of red food colouring to colour the smaller amount of icing pink, ready to pipe into 'rosy' swirls and layer the cake.

Putting it together                

  1. Place the bottom layer of the sponge on a serving plate or cake base and spread a thick layer of pink icing evenly across the top.
  2. Place the second sponge on top to form a sandwich cake.
  3. Using a flat-sided knife or icing spreader, cover the whole cake with a layer of blue icing and smooth it with the side of the spreader until you are happy with its appearance.
  4. Mark random circles lightly in the icing where you want your swirls to be placed. I used a very small cookie cutter and gently pressed into the surface of the icing to make a template.
  5. Put the remaining pink icing in a piping bag or piping syringe with a round nozzle (size 2 to 3). Starting at the outer edge of each marked circle, pipe a spiral, working your way in to the centre.
  6. When the spirals are complete, add some random dots to the cake between the spirals and finish with a sprinkle of edible glitter.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated

Friday, 2 August 2013

Black Forest Trifle

I am still enjoying the cherry season and am working my way through lots of tasty ways to use them.

Last weekend, I found a spare chocolate cake sponge lurking in the freezer, which saw me and begged me to use it. I had to oblige, so I decided it must be time to make another trifle................... And another opportunity to combine cherry with chocolate, in the form of a Black Forest trifle.

The better known Black Forest gateau is a cake which has its origins in Germany and combines layers of chocolate cake, cream and cherries, often with a traditional liquor soaked in. For as long as I can remember however, it has been a bit of a party cake in the UK. Very popular in the 1970's (which makes me feel really old), I remember with nostalgia its being produced for celebrations, party buffets and special meals. If my memory serves me right, it was also one of the first popular frozen cakes that you could buy from the supermarket at the time when large freezers first started finding their way into people's homes and families looked to convenience as a way of life.

Perhaps because (at the age of about 10) Black Forest gateau always seemed such a grown up cake, its combination of chocolate sponge laced with alcohol, cream and cherry sauce has since had an enduring fondness for me.  In tribute, last weekend I decided to try and make a trifle version.

I have to admit it was a rather lazy effort.................. Having found the frozen left over chocolate cake (which had originally been made from the recipe in this post), the trifle was thrown together in double-quick time.

I did make a fresh chunky cherry sauce to spoon over the sponge, which I had also soaked with an alcoholic drizzle of Amaretto (almond) liquor. I love the combination of cherry and almond as much as I love cherry and chocolate, so for me, this trifle really is a double delight. I whipped up a rich Mascarpone custard using good quality bought vanilla custard and Mascarpone and used this to layer the sponge, finally topping with some freshly whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate shavings and a dusting of freeze-dried cherry powder.

For my daughter I made a separate trifle minus the alcohol and (at her request) drizzled some chocolate ice cream sauce over the sponge to replace the Amaretto.

Really quick...... Really simple....... and REALLY lush! Sweet, creamy, chocolaty, fruity, boozy, delicious spoonfuls of yumminess, that softly melt into your taste buds and leave a chewy cherry surprise. Turns out this is one of those desserts which makes you want to softly moan as you eat each mouthful. Feel free to do so............... but only on your own or with good friends, or you might feel a bit daft!

You know what? I think this trifle is even better than those cakes I remember from my childhood...............

Black Forest Trifle


1 plain chocolate cake of your choice. I used a single 8 inch / 20 cm round cake layer from the recipe in this post, and it worked perfectly.

Approximately 5 tablespoons of Amaretto liquor (I used Disaronno), or another liquor of your choice (optional). Or a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

250g tub Mascarpone
500g good quality vanilla custard

300ml double cream

Chunky Cherry Sauce            

320g fresh cherries - washed, pitted and cut in half
150 ml water
3 teaspoons corn flour
125g caster sugar

chocolate shavings or sprinkles of your choice to decorate


  1. To make the cherry sauce, mix the corn flour, sugar and water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the prepared cherries and stir.
  3. Bring the mixture to the boil on a medium heat, stirring continuously.
  4. Continue to stir and simmer for about 2 minutes until the sauce thickens and becomes clear.
  5. Remove from the heat, set aside and leave to cool completely.
  6. Cut the chocolate cake into small rectangular blocks and set aside.
  7. Whisk the custard and Mascarpone together in a large bowl until well combined and thick in consistency. Set aside.
  8. Whisk the double cream in a medium sized bowl until it reaches a soft dropping consistency but holds its shape. Set aside.
  9. When the cherry sauce has cooled completely, place a layer of cake pieces in the bottom of your chosen serving bowl(s).
  10. Drizzle with liquor or chocolate sauce and spoon some of the cherry sauce over the top (reserving more for further layering).
  11. Spoon a thick layer of the custard mix on top of the cherry sauce and spread evenly to the edge of the bowl.
  12. Arrange another layer of cake pieces on top of the custard and drizzle more liquor/chocolate sauce and cherry sauce on top of this.
  13. Top with the whipped cream, ensuring the cake is fully covered and the cream is spread to the edge of the bowl.
  14. Decorate with chocolate shavings or sprinkles of your choice and enjoy!

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013 unless otherwise indicated