Saturday, 29 November 2014

Mincemeat-Frangipane Tart with Orange Pastry- gluten free

As Christmas draws closer (less than 4 weeks to go......) I seem to be getting busier and busier, especially trying to juggle my daughter's diary. I can't believe how many Christmas commitments one child can have...... everything from music concerts and drama productions, to present shopping, fairs, parties and pantomime viewing. Trying to fit in her social life around work, domestic life and my own need to prepare for Christmas is all getting a bit stressful this year.

The final straw this week was putting my back out when baking a cake...... Not exactly a strenuous task, but I think my body was saying 'slow down' in a very physical way. Even the cake was a disaster and ended up in the bin!

I was going to write a blog post that day, but needless to say I was in a foul mood and quite a lot of pain, so the thought of sitting at a computer and having to think creatively went right to the bottom of my priority list. I dosed myself up on pain killers and by mid-afternoon felt completely whammed.

Today I feel a bit better. I have been to the osteopath and have had some acupuncture, but my energy levels still feel low and my motivation to do much other than rest in front of the TV is limited. If you can bear with me, I wanted to share this recipe with plenty of time for Christmas planning as it is one of those perfectly delicious ways to use Christmas mincemeat without resorting to the predictable mince pies.

Usually I make crumble tarts at Christmas..... I love the texture of the crisp pastry against the tippled, fruity mincemeat all topped with sweet crunchy crumble....... But this year, I have discovered the most amazing alternative in the form of a mincemeat frangipane tart.

Ok...... it is still mince pie of a sort, but with a wonderful extra Christmassy twist. Although you can use shop-bought mincemeat (make sure you go for the best and fruitiest you can find or afford), I made mine with a delicious (and very alcoholic) home made Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados that I concocted a few weeks back. The flavours and colours in this particular mincemeat are totally amazing.... deep, rich and full of the expectations and aromas of Christmas. Best of all (in my mind anyway), there is no suet and a definite weighting away from anything to do with mixed peel or currants.

My frangipane tart has the mincemeat encased in an additionally seasonal crisp orange pastry and topped with a wonderfully almondy frangipane sponge, both of which compliment the mincemeat to perfection. This tart shouts Santa, Christmas crooners, brightly lit pine trees, colourful presents, entertaining the octogenarian relatives and of course...... a full and happy belly.

The citrus hint in the shortcrust case marries beautifully with the sweet yet tangy alcohol-laced mincemeat. The soft, nutty sponge sits in complimentary harmony with the density of the fruit and snap of the pastry.

Smother with custard or cream or eat warm with a contrasting scoop of vanilla ice cream for a decadent, festive pud. Alternatively, slice into perfect portions or make into small individual tarts to accompany the party spread.

The photos are a bit of a disappointment. The light and weather at this time of the year are such a struggle to work with that they really don't do this bake justice. Still...... hopefully you get enough of a feel........

Seriously, if you want mince pies this Christmas, but are tired of the usual plain pastry offerings, give this delightful little tart a go....... Why be predictable when you can offer something this good?

I am offering my tart to the following challenges :

Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.

Cook Blog Share with Lucy from Supergolden Bakes.

Bake of the Week with Casa Costello.

And lastly, Cooking with Herbs with Karen at Lavender & Lovage, who has a very seasonal theme of sugar & spice. I have already sent the mincemeat, over...... now for a great way to use it!

Mincemeat-Frangipane Tart 


Orange Pastry
130g brown rice flour
60g cornflour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
40g ground almonds
110g unsalted butter - cold & cubed
60g golden caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
1 large egg - room temperature
1 tablespoon orange juice

jar of good quality mincemeat (shop bought or home made). I made my own extra fruity mincemeat with pistachio and calvados from this recipe.

110g unsalted butter - room temperature
110g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs - room temperature
110g ground almonds
45g plain gluten free flour mix (I used blend A from this post)

Pastry - Method - by hand

  1. Weigh and mix the flours, xanthan gum and salt into a large bowl and stir together. 
  2. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your finger tips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the almonds, sugar and the orange zest.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the orange juice and pour into the dry ingredients.
  5. Stir all the ingredients together using a table knife until they begin to clump together.
  6. Dust your hands with corn flour and bring the dough together, pressing into a ball.
  7. Knead very briefly, to make sure the ingredients are fully amalgamated. 
  8. Use the dough as from number 5 below............

by food processor

  1. Weigh the flours, almonds, xanthan gum, salt, sugar and orange zest into the food processor bowl and briefly pulse to mix together and remove any lumps.
  2. Add the butter and pulse again until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the orange juice and then pour into the food processor with the crumb mixture.
  4. Turn the food processor on and mix until the ingredients form a smooth dough. This will not require any further kneading.
  5. Roll the pastry out straight away (do not chill in the fridge), using corn or rice flour on the work surface and rolling pin to prevent sticking.
  6. With the support of the rolling pin, carefully lay rolled pieces of pastry over your chosen tart tin(s), and ease into the base with your fingers, gently moulding to the sides of the tin. Trim the edges with a sharp knife. 
  7. If there are any holes or cracks in the rolled pastry cases, use the trimmed remains to repair, - roll and trim the remaining scraps to size and using cold water on your finger tip, dampen both the area around the hole/crack and the downside of the 'patch' and gently press together, smoothing the edges with a finger dipped in water to seal.
  8. Place the prepared pastry bases in the fridge for half an hour to chill prior to baking.
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6. 
  10. 'Scrunch' and then flatten small pieces of baking paper ready to line the inside of each tart case and then base fill each with a few baking beans.
  11. When the oven has reached temperature, blind bake the pastry with the baking beans for 10 minutes. Remove the beans, turn the oven down to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4 and bake for a further 8 to 10 minutes until pale golden brown. Keep an eye to ensure the case doesn't over-brown. 
  12. When the pastry is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Filling and Frangipane
  1. Spoon a good layer of mincemeat into the pie case and spread evenly.
  2. To make the Frangipane : Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
  4. Separately mix together the ground almonds and flour and then gradually add to the wet mixture, beating in with a wooden or silicone spoon / spatula until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Spoon the frangipane mixture into the cooked tart bases on top of the mincemeat and spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes (dependent on the size of the pie) until the frangipane is set and golden in colour.
  7. Serve warm or cold as it is or with cream or ice cream.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Banoffee Cake - gluten free

I have been letting those bananas get over-ripe again........ We seem to go through phases of eating loads of them and then suddenly find we don't...... but I still keep buying them........ I never learn......

Still..... not one to let much go to waste, I always either freeze them to use at a later date, or bake with them.

My favourite recipes for using them up are chocolate-banana-coconut brownies, Coco-Banana Freeze Bites, and chocolate-banana-coconut macaroon cookies. It used to be banana bread...... I seemed to be forever making the stuff, but I haven't had any in ages!

Recently though, I have had a bit of a hankering for delicious, moist, bananary sponge....... but with a bit of a twist. Banoffee! It is one of those all time favourite combinations....... toffee.... banana..... what's not to love? I have tried the banoffee combination as cupcakes (soft banana sponges, filled with sumptuous banana-caramel and topped with Mascarpone cream)........ boy, were they good! And more recently as a banoffee-coconut crunch trifle....... just divine!

This recipe for Banoffee Cake is far less decadent and perfectly down to earth....... but believe me, it is no come down. Based around a banana bread sponge, it is full of fruity banana, but also rich and caramelly with the addition of real dairy toffee which melts and mingles through the cake as it bakes.

Using ground almonds, golden syrup and buttermilk as well as the fruit, this sponge is fantastically moist and quite dense....... an ideal accompaniment to cold winter evenings with a mug of cocoa or just a plain old cup of tea...... It needs no dressing up or fancy icings....... the combination of flavours and sense of substance speak for themselves.

Don't misunderstand me......... By 'substance' and 'dense' I don't in any way mean 'heavy'. This is a bake that is comfortingly filling, but soft and melty enough to sink into and savour gently as the banoffee magic washes over your taste buds.

Bake them as individual mini loaves for a personal treat, or make as a tray bake to cut and share at work, with the neighbours or to freeze ready to pop in the lunchbox. I have even had a few sneaky slices for breakfast...... A bit naughty, but with the bananas and almonds, I can kid myself they are a reasonable alternative to cereal or toast!

I'm offering a slice or two to this week's Recipe of the Week with Emily over at A Mummy Too.

To the Biscuit Barrel with Laura over at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.... Laura's going to take a bit of a break from blogging to focus on her final year studies, so I guess this could be my last opportunity for a while to offer a bite sized treat to the challenge (which is one of my favourites). Good luck Laura! I have no doubt you'll do incredibly well... This month's BB theme is all about Comfort Food, so I think this cake is good to share!

The No Waste Food Challenge this month with Sliceoffme on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary. Another good use for those over-ripe bananas.....

And finally, Bake of the Week with Casa Costello.

Banoffee Cake


210g plain gluten free flour blend (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
200g soft light brown sugar
130g unsalted butter - room temperature
100g golden syrup
2 large eggs - room temperature
3 medium bananas - mashed
170 ml buttermilk
100g dairy toffee - chopped into small pieces
1 extra banana to decorate


  1. Base-line a 9 inch/23 cm square baking tin with baking paper (or use individual mini-loaf tins or cupcake cases).
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
  3. Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt, making sure any lumps are completely broken down. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until pale and creamy. 
  5. Add the golden syrup and continue to beat until thoroughly combined.
  6. Add and beat in the eggs one at a time.
  7. Fold in the mashed bananas.
  8. Fold in the buttermilk.
  9. Fold in the flour and chopped dairy toffee, until just combined (being careful not to over mix).
  10. Pour the batter into the tin and smooth the top.
  11. Slice the extra banana and use to decorate the top of the batter.
  12. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the top springs back to the touch. 
  13. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
  14. Cut into squares and serve.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pasta - Fresh, Home Made and Gluten Free...... Yes...... really!

I have wanted to make gluten free fresh pasta for ages. I have no idea why I have waited until now. Laziness? Possibly...... Worry that it is too difficult? Maybe.....

Either way, spurred on this month by a foodie challenge : Pasta Please (which I have never actually entered before), I decided it was time to give it a go.......

I haven't made pasta for years. Although we were given a pasta machine as a wedding present, our little girl followed shortly after and time became a premium, juggling child care with busy jobs and sleepless nights (which unfortunately, went on for years). A few birthdays on came the diagnosis of Coeliac Disease and our usual brands of fresh pasta were off the menu.

It really is time to tackle this........ With an Italian heritage on one side of the family, I was raised on pasta. I recall my grandmother's kitchen being draped with the stuff.... freshly made and drying on every available surface. Why shouldn't my daughter experience similar memories and develop the skills to make GF pasta herself?

Although I did a bit of research on other GF pasta recipes across the net (of which there seem to be relatively few), I have pretty much started from scratch (apart from a comparable flour to liquid/egg ratio (which seems to be relatively standard).

Regular readers will recall that a while back I discovered a flour I had not used before (glutinous rice flour) which I had tried out when making GF Jaffa Cakes. Available in Thai shops and oriental grocers, one of the particular qualities that was notable when I used this flour was how malleable the dough became. This flour absolutely had to be incorporated into the pasta mix.

I also have discovered another new ingredient : modified tapioca (or cassava) starch which helps to mimic the qualities of the gluten missing from gluten free flours, but seems to be slightly more natural than xanthan gum. This had to be tested too, although in view of the need for pasta dough to be extremely pliable and stretchy, I decided to combine the two together. I figured this would lessen the need to use excessive amounts of xanthan gum, which can give a slight bitterness if used in larger quantities, but still allow me to have some control with an ingredient I know well.

Modified Tapioca/Cassava Starch can be found on the internet in the form of a product called Isabel's Baking Fix in the UK. In the States it is sold as a product called Expandex Modified Tapioca Starch.

And so to the pasta-making.......

The recipe here is my second attempt. Actually, the first (seen draped over the pasta drier) worked really well too, but I wanted to get it thinner, cut narrower, see whether it would still hold together with less xanthan gum and alter the flavour slightly (which meant changing the flour combinations).

I am so excited...... This is the first tagliatelle we have eaten in about 4 years! I love tagliatelle...... the way the sauce coats the thin ribboned strips, the way it chews, the versatility...... But trying to find gluten free tagliatelle has always been fruitless...... You can get dried corn and rice versions of spaghetti, penne, fusilli and lasagne, but I have never yet come across tagliatelle.

This pasta dough is amazing..... It looks like pasta...... acts like pasta....... rolls like pasta....... cooks like pasta........ and most importantly tastes like pasta......  It doesn't disintegrate when you cook it a minute too long. It kneads...... yes...... really! I haven't kneaded anything in years......... I was dancing round the kitchen at the opportunity to feel the dough pummelling in my palms....... My daughter was so enthralled by the process and the sensation of kneading, I almost had to wrestle the dough out of her hands to fulfil my own need to push, pound and manipulate my fingers in the squidgy dough.....

And how simple was it to make? Throw it in the food processor and apart from kneading and rolling, it was done! It does require lots of kneading to get it to roll smoothly, but I found that if you run it through the pasta machine a few times, kneading between each rolling, this develops the texture superbly. This is worth the time....... Everything I read about home-made gluten free pasta suggested not to roll it any lower than the third thinnest setting. On my first attempt, I followed this advice, but it was too thick for us. The second attempt I took down to the second level and it worked perfectly. I tried going to number 1 and this was paper thin and holding well, but I am not that confident with a pasta machine (yet!) and I struggled to handle it through the tagliatelle cutter. Well I say 'I'..... actually, my daughter was pretty much taking over the rolling process and at 9, seemed more competent than I was!

We have now tried this pasta with a whole range of sauces and they have all been great. The pasta shown here has been simply coated in mushrooms gently sautéed and mixed with pesto. Perfect!

I am so pleased to be sharing this pasta that I am going to send it off to a few challenges this month :

Pasta Please (my motivator for getting on with the task) with Cate's Cates on behalf of Tinned Tomatoes, who this month challenge us to make our own pasta.

Cook, Blog, Share, with Lucy at Supergolden Bakes.

Eat Your Greens with Shaheen at Allotment to Kitchen, on account of my pasta's beautifully flavoursome pesto sauce.

Alphabakes with Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes. November's letter is 'H', so I'm going with Homemade for this one.

Family Foodies with Lou at Eat Your Veg and Bangers & Mash, who this month go Veggie!

Gluten Free Fresh Pasta (serves 4)


90g brown rice flour
30g gram flour
20g sorghum flour
40g tapioca flour
30g glutinous rice flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons modified tapioca starch (I used Isabel's Baking Fix, but in America they have Expandex)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cold water
extra GF plain flour (rice, sorghum or blend) for kneading and rolling.


  1. In a food processor, weigh and mix together the flours, salt, modified tapioca starch and xanthan gum.
  2. Add the eggs, oil and water and mix together until a dough forms.
  3. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead by hand for about 5 minutes until really smooth.
  4. Cut the dough into 4 pieces and set the pasta maker to the highest flat-roller setting. Flatten each piece of dough with your fingertips and set aside three pieces under a damp cloth until ready to use.
  5. Run the first piece of dough through the machine and then re-knead by hand on a floured surface. You may want to do this a couple of times, or until the dough comes through smooth. Be patient. The rolling-kneading process helps the dough to become more 'glutinous' so that it starts to behave like normal pasta.
  6. When you are happy that your rolled dough is working like pasta should, gradually reduce the thickness settings until your pasta has been rolled to the 2nd narrowest setting. You may want to lightly flour the roller and/or pasta dough before you start to put through the machine, to help it to run smoothly. Place the rolled pasta on a floured sheet under a damp cloth until ready to cut into shapes (or cut straight away before moving onto the next piece of dough).
  7. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough and cut your pasta into your chosen shape or use the rolled dough to make ravioli, lasagne, etc.
  8. Set your cut pasta aside on a floured tray until ready to use. If not using that day, refrigerate or freeze.
  9. To cook your pasta, place in boiling salted water with a drizzle of olive oil and simmer for about 3 minutes until al dente. 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Making Macarons - a first attempt!

Macarons must be one of the ultimate naturally gluten free indulgences...... Rich with ground almonds, they come in a rainbow of colours and flavours, delectably sandwiched together around mouthwateringly creamy fillings. They should be crisp, with an eggshell-like outer coat, but perfectly moist and chewy on the inside, so that your teeth sink into them with a slight stickiness and they melt across your palate, mingling with a perfectly complemented, equally decadent filling.

After our Paris holiday in the summer, I resolved to learn how to make them. I had bought a box of Laduree macarons when we were there, which were so pretty and so yummy that they have been playing on my mind ever since. They are ridiculously expensive to buy, which seems a good enough reason (apart from the sheer creativity of learning) to master the art of making them.

I had heard that they were also ridiculously difficult to make, but as luck would have it, I was fortunate enough to win a copy of Perfecting Patisserie by Dr Tim Kinnaird in July's Alpha Bakes challenge, which seemed the perfect starting point for my mission! I've had this recipe earmarked ever since. Interestingly, Tim describes macarons as 'the supermodels of the cake world. At their best, elegant and indefinable delights; at their worst, temperamental divas.' Sounds a bit like my daughter!!

Maybe it is beginners luck, but with Tim's step by step instructions, accompanying photos and explanations for the processes being undertaken, I actually found these macarons relatively easy to make....... maybe I should keep quiet about that....... I don't want to jinx my next attempt. Sure, they are slightly imperfect in the equality of their sizing (not having anticipated exactly how many sheets to baking paper I would need to draw circles on and deciding to go for the more random, unmarked piping technique about half way through), but for taste and texture, they are exactly as they should be....... amazingly good......... Perfectly crisp yet soft and chewy......... delicately but decidedly flavoured with raspberry....... prettily pink.......... rich with white chocolate ganache which mingles in happy partnership against the fruit.........  dangerously addictive.......

I am totally overjoyed with them! My husband says they are better than the ones he had from Laduree..... bless him.... I think memory can become quite deceptive as you get older.

Although there wasn't actually a raspberry macaron recipe in Tim's book, I used his basic macaron shell recipe and added some freeze dried raspberry to the mix. I know I've banged on about it many times before, but I have a total love for using freeze-dried fruit powders. The process of freeze-drying seems to lock in an amazing intensity of natural fruity flavour and because of their powdered form, they are amazingly versatile for use with so many cooking processes, be it making cakes, tray bakes, ice creams, icings, mousses or biscuits..... even adding to breads and some savoury dishes. It worked perfectly in these, ensuring that the flavour was achieved without adding any extra moisture.

The white chocolate ganache recipe was taken from Tim's filling for Jasmine Tea Macarons, but without the infusion of tea to the cream.

I confess that whilst I followed the instructions rigidly for making the batter, I did wing it slightly for the baking process. Although Tim advised against the need to leave the macarons to form a skin before baking (as this apparently can be inconsistent in result due to the varied temperature and humidity from one kitchen to another), by the time I had finished piping the whole batch of ingredients (I am not a confident piper) the skin had formed anyway. So I went with a more traditional method of baking them at a steady heat and just watched them very closely to ensure they didn't go 'over'.

I am so pleased that my first attempt at making them was a success. I tend to be one of those people who can be easily put off by failing at stage one......... I set myself very high standards and can be reluctant to set myself up for a second failure in a hurry. It never seems so bad if I mess up at a later try, because I know that I can do it and just put it down to a bad day.

One thing's for sure...... macarons are now going to be a regular feature in my kitchen, successful or not. I can see a whole paintbox of colourful almondy inventions ahead of me, flavoured with a whole array of aromatic additions.

I am sending a few (but only a few, as most of them have been greedily devoured) to a handful of foodie challenges this month :

First up : Recipe of the week with Emily at A Mummy Too.

Cook, Blog, Share with Lucy at Supergolden Bakes.

Treat Petite with Cakeyboi and The Baking Explorer, who's November theme is 'Thank You'. Macarons are the perfect thank you for any occasion.

And lastly, Bookmarked Recipes with Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, this month guest hosting for Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

Raspberry & White Chocolate Macaron (makes about 30 to 35 sandwiched macaron) - (slightly adapted from Dr Tim Kinnaird - 'Perfecting Patisserie' (2013))

Ingredients (Italian Meringue Method)

Macaron Shells
200g icing sugar
200g ground almonds
150g egg white (split into 2x 75g portions) (I used Two Chicks egg whites in a carton)
3 teaspoons freeze dried raspberry powder
a little red food dye (I used paste)
200g caster sugar
50 ml water

White Chocolate Ganache Filling
125 ml double cream
275g white chocolate 
60g unsalted butter - room temperature

freeze-dried raspberry powder for decoration (mixed with a little edible glitter)


  1. Macaron Shells : Prepare 3 to 4 baking sheets by lining with baking paper. The baking papers should have circles drawn on the underside about the size of a 2 pence piece and spaced about 2.5 cm/1 inch apart. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine the icing sugar, almonds and 75g egg white. Beat with an electric whisk until fully combined
  3. Add the raspberry powder and food dye and beat again.
  4. Preferably using a free-standing mixer, put the rest of the egg white (75g) into the bowl.
  5. In a very small saucepan, mix the caster sugar and water and heat very slowly. Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature accurately. You want the temperature to reach exactly 117 C/242 F. 
  6. Whilst the sugar is heating, gently whisk the egg whites in the mixer bowl until frothy and airy.
  7. When the sugar syrup has reached the required temperature, remove from the heat and add to the egg whites whilst continuing to whisk slowly. 
  8. Turn up the speed of the mixer a little (not to high speed) and continue to whisk until the mixture is stiff enough to form stiff peaks. You now have Italian meringue.
  9. Preheat the oven to 150 C / 300 F/Gas 2.
  10. Add the raspberry almond mix that you made earlier to the Italian meringue and beat slowly for about 30 seconds. 
  11. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again for about 30 seconds until combined. The consistency of the mix is important at this stage and should 'flow smoothly' when tipped from the spoon back into the bowl, yet 'spread back into a flat, even surface'.
  12. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a 1cm plain round nozzle.
  13. At right angles to the tray (upright), pipe small mounds of batter into the centre of the marked circles on the baking paper, until the batter almost fills the circle. Swirl the nozzle to separate, before moving on to the next circle. 
  14. Leave the piped batter circles to stand for 15 to 20 minutes until they have the appearance of a slight skin forming across the surface. 
  15. Bake for about 7 minutes and then swap the trays round and bake for a further 4-5 minutes. Watch very closely in case the edges begin to catch. The macaron are baked when the top is smooth and dry and they are firm to the touch. 
  16. Remove from the oven and as they begin to cool, very gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  17. White Chocolate Ganache Filling : Break the chocolate into small pieces in a heat proof bowl. 
  18. Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just beginning to start to simmer, then remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Leave to sit for 4 to 5 minutes and then stir until the chocolate has completely melted and the ganache mixture is smooth. If any lumps of chocolate remain, place the bowl over a saucepan with a small amount of simmering water and gently heat and stir until smooth.
  19. Add the butter to cooled ganache and beat with a whisk or hand blender until smooth. If the mixture is still quite runny, place in the fridge for about 10 minutes to cool completely and stiffen very slightly.
  20. Pair up the macaron shells in a row one top side up, one top side down.
  21. Transfer the ganache to a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm plain round nozzle.
  22. Pipe a blob of ganache into the centre of each of the flat-facing macaron shells and sandwich together with the second shell, gently squeezing together until the filling can be seen at the edge. 
  23. Sprinkle with a little freeze-dried raspberry powder on top for decoration.
  24. Store in the fridge, but bring back to room temperature to eat and enjoy at their best.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Chewy Chocolate, Cherry & Chilli Flapjack - two ways

It's ages since I made flapjack, but I always try to make sure we have a batch on the go in the freezer. It is great with school lunches and although it is loaded with sugar, it is also full of oaty fibre and you can pack it with other good stuff too, like fruit and nuts. It is so versatile and is incredibly quick to make.

Dark chocolate and cherry is one of my all time favourite flavour combinations, whether in cakes, cookies, mousses or meringues. The slight bitterness of the chocolate against the sweet, fruity cherry is timeless.  It also works pretty well in flapjack.......

I always think of flapjack as a sweet kids treat, but throw in some chilli and the flapjack gets elevated to a new level....... something altogether more grown up.

Using coconut palm sugar and honey in the mix as well, as replacement for some of the usual golden syrup and sugar helps to tone down the sweetness and if you replace some of the butter with coconut oil, you can kid yourself it is almost healthy...........

I have made a couple of batches of this flapjack...... On my first, I was way too impatient and added the chocolate chunks to the mix whilst it was still warm. Needless to say the chocolate melted and mingled into the whole flapjack, leaving me with a very dark bake. Not quite what I intended, but you know what? It was pretty damn good anyway.......

The dark chocolate (for this batch I used 70% cocoa) melted and infused with the rest of the ingredients alongside the cherry and chilli, to give a very deep, dark, rich slice. When you first take a bite, you don't notice much chilli heat...... it is subtle enough not to overpower and the chocolate and cherry are allowed to stake their claim as the stars of the show. But then....... slowly.......... the warmth of the chilli starts to sing quite unexpectedly...... not 'hot', but certainly making itself known as it washes across the palate with a warming glow. An amazingly pleasant sensation....... very comforting....... very soothing.......

The Hungarian Paprika which has also been thrown in, gives a slightly earthy quality to the flapjack..... it may not be to everyone's taste, but I recommend trying it....... you may be surprised.

Unfortunately, I stupidly 'decorated' the flapjack with white chocolate chunks before it went in the oven..... I thought to myself : 'they'll make it look more appealing'....... doh! Will I never learn? White chocolate chunk decoration on top of bake + oven heat = dirty looking unattractive blobs......

Now for the second batch......... If you wait until the base mix is cold before you stir in the chocolate chunks, you get an altogether different flapjack experience........ Probably more 'child-friendly' (which may in itself be a reason to ensure the chocolate is added when warm) and definitely more clarified in both the appearance and definition of the individual ingredients. I would absolutely stick with using dark chocolate....... The more observant of you might notice that some of my chunks in this batch are of the 'milk' variety on account of me not having enough dark left for a whole batch and being too lazy to go and get any more.  The milk chocolate makes the flapjack quite a lot sweeter which although not unpleasant, doesn't work quite as perfectly alongside the chilli.

This bake is definitely in the soft, chewy flapjack camp......... juicy, gooey, melty sticky yumciousness. If you prefer yours to be firm and more crisp, just throw in extra oats, ground almonds, and maybe even a bit of desiccated coconut.

I am sending some of my flapjack on a virtual trip through the cyber-world to join a few challenges this month which seemed right up its street.

We Should Cocoa, which for November is being hosted by Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen on behalf of Choclette from the ever-inspiring Chocolate Log Blog. Shaheen has designated this month chilli-chocolate month for the challenge....... Perfect!

Tea Time Treats with Janie at The Hedge Combers and Karen from Lavender & Lovage. November's theme is Bonfire Night....... Flapjack is traditional bonfire fare, but the addition of chilli makes it extra warming for those cold winter nights.

Alpha Bakes with Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes. This month's letter is 'H'.  Ok....... tenuous I know....... but this flapjack contains Hungarian Paprika, the queen of all paprikas. Specifically grown in Hungary, it is known for its stunningly vibrant red colour and its rich, distinctive flavour.

If you need additional reasons for letting this flapjack join the 'H' gang, all of its key flavour ingredients start with a 'ch' to which the 'h' is crucial. And of course...... the special wow factor here is that it contains Hot chilli.

Chocolate, Cherry & Chilli Flapjack (makes 1x 9 inch square tray bake)


150g unsalted butter
100g coconut oil
100g soft light brown sugar
75g coconut palm sugar
90g golden syrup
90g runny honey
450g GF porridge oats (if you prefer a firmer, more dry flapjack, just add more)
200g candied cherries - cut into pieces and drained (made from this recipe) - although glace cherries should work equally well
40g ground almonds (optional)
1 teaspoon paprika powder (optional)
½ teaspoon chilli powder (or more to taste) (optional)
130g dark chocolate chunks or chips


  1. Base line a 9 inch square baking tin with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 160 C/320 F/Gas 3.
  2. In a large non-stick saucepan, melt and mix the butter, coconut oil, sugars, syrup and honey over a low heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats, cherries, almonds (if using) and spices (if using) until evenly combined. If there is too much syrup from the cherries in the mix, it may seem a little too 'loose'. If this is the case, just throw in an extra handful of oats.
  4. Allow to cool and then stir in the chocolate chunks. The timing of adding the chocolate chunks will depend on how you want your final flapjack to be. If you want a darker flapjack with chocolate all the way through, add the chocolate whilst the mixture is still warm enough to melt it as you stir. If you would prefer a dotted chocolate chunk mix, wait for the mixture to go cold before stirring in the chocolate chunks. 
  5. Spoon the mixture into the baking tin and spread evenly. Gently compress the top with the back of a spoon.
  6. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and starting to firm up at the edges. 
  7. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool. Whilst still warm, mark out the slices with a sharp knife.
  8. When the flapjack has cooled, remove from the tin and cut into pieces.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio and Calvados

Fireworks are done and we are definitely on the home-run to Christmas. Must be time to move concertedly into seasonal cooking mode. Ye ha!!

Way back in October (which is even too early for me!), Laura over at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.... made a rather tasty looking Whisky Christmas Mincemeat. What I loved about it was that it was made without suet. Like Laura, I am not a big suet fan. However Laura was clever enough to spot a non-suet Mary Berry recipe and this inspired her to make her own version........ which in turn has inspired me to make mine!

Isn't the internet amazing? It creates waves of inspiration and ripples of adaptations of recipes from one site to another, each a little different from the last, so that creativity is allowed to flourish and the experience of eating becomes more varied and exciting each and every day.

Mincemeat is one of those preserves which sits on a wide love-hate spectrum, depending on what is in it and personal preference. But it is also incredibly forgiving....... allowing you to make it to your own specifications with all your best-loved ingredients.

This version (for me) is the nicest mincemeat I have ever had........ and yes..... it is stuffed full of all my favourite stuff..... made to be extra fruity, incredibly colourful, spiced to celebrate the flavours of Christmas and laced (heavily!) with alcohol to give a hefty, warming, seasonal glow.

Not being over-keen on an excessive weighting of traditional mincemeat fruit (sultanas, raisins and currants), I limited their amount (which included removing the currants altogether), instead going for a colourful, array of rich orange apricots, dark red morello glace cherries, Christmas red cranberries and tiny dried blueberries. The dried blueberries were an unexpected, but amazing addition. Spotting them on the shelf in the supermarket when I went to buy the other fruit, these tiny little dots of blueberry goodness from Crazy Jack are packed full of flavour and definitely add an extra dimension.

I wanted a nice Autumnal apple depth to the mix, so have used a goodly pile of dried apple cubes, a splash of apple juice and plenty of Calvados apple brandy. What an amazing little tipple that is! Hic........

On the nut front....... traditional flaked almonds are a must, but I also had some beautiful bright green Iranian Pistachios left over from the cookies that I made a few weeks ago. No brainer...... they had to go into the pot! They are just stunning.....

I've gone for a deep caramel sugar hit in here too...... dark brown molasses sugar combined with natural, raw coconut sugar, which add an elevated level of grownup sweetness to complement the mix........  All topped off and spiced up with warming winter cinnamon, ginger and orange.

All in all...... totally delicious! I am really really looking forward to mince pies this year......... and I have several other treats up my mincemeaty sleeve too!

I am sharing this Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados with a couple of blog challenges this week :

Cook Blog Share, with Lucy at Supergolden Bakes.

Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.

Cooking with Herbs with Karen at Lavender & Lovage - who for November and December is inviting recipes celebrating sugar & spice.

This one is definitely to be recommended.........

Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados (makes about 4 standard-sized jars)


60g dried apple cubes (I get mine from Healthy Supplies)
100 ml apple juice
200g sultanas
175g raisins
175g dried apricots - chopped
150g glace Morello cherries - chopped
150g dried cranberries
50g dried blueberries
40g flaked almonds
40g Iranian pistachios (or usual raw pistachios) - chopped
125g unsalted butter
100g dark brown natural Molasses sugar
100g coconut palm sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 orange - grated zest and juice
200 ml Calvados


  1. Sterilise your jars whilst you make the mincemeat as follows : Wash your jam jars in warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Place on a baking tray and into a cold oven. Turn the oven on and set to 150 C/300 F/Gas 2. Once the oven has come to temperature, leave for a further 15 to 20 minutes (or until you have finished making the mincemeat if longer). 
  2. In a bowl, mix the dried apple cubes with the apple juice and leave to soak whilst you weigh the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Put all of the other ingredients (except the Calvados) in a large saucepan and lastly add the soaked apple. 
  4. Stir all the ingredients together over a low heat until the butter has melted and the sugars have dissolved. 
  5. Gently cook the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently and then turn off the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Stir the alcohol into the mincemeat whilst still hot (but not boiling).
  7. Remove the jars from the oven and pack the mincemeat into them, sealing the jars immediately with the lids. 
  8. Leave to cool and store in a dark cool place for at least a month to mature fully.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pumpkin, Sultana & Chocolate Chip Cake (gluten free) with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Halloween's over for another year...... there are way too many sweets in the house and the pumpkin shell has hit the composter. But did you know that the UK wastes 18,000 tons of food (specifically pumpkin) as a result of binning the flesh left over from carving jack o'lanterns. An article in the Ecologist equates this to the 'same weight as 1,500 double decker buses', which 'if made into pumpkin pie could make 360 million portions'. That is a staggering figure and frankly, as a nation, we should be collectively shamed by it.

I am pleased to say that such appalling waste will not be tolerated in our house. We hate food waste. Pumpkins are bought from the local green-grocer...... felt for weight to ensure they are full of flesh....... and sourced for food and not specifically labelled as a designated 'carving' fruit.......... The shell that is carved is considered a by-product! Lengthy a process as it may be, when it comes to pumpkin, we carve with care and scrape and slice as much as we can from the pumpkin shell to use in the kitchen.

Historically, we have used it to make soups, to roast and to make the ubiquitous North American offering of pumpkin pie. But this year, some has gone into making a totally amazing Pumpkin, Sultana & Chocolate Chip Cake. Wow! is all I can say.....

This cake is so tasty....... It is dense and slightly chewy, but moist. Rich in colour and spiced Autumn flavours, it is also packed full of chocolate chips and sultanas. There is absolutely no hint when you bite into it, that it contains any obvious pumpkin at all. I gave it to my daughter and she wolfed it down. I still haven't told her what is in it as I know this will sadly cloud her perception of deliciousness (kids can be so fickle!). It is a cake full of good stuff........ just consider the chocolate and icing as a naughty side-order and if you want to pass on either or both, the sponge really won't suffer for it. Throw in some nuts instead!

Saturated with the aromas and exoticness of a good, warming Autumn bake....... cinnamon, ginger and citrus....... can you think of a better way to use up the orange flesh of that Halloween squash? And the timing couldn't be better either, to accompany the celebrations of Guy Fawkes this week. A perfect sweet offering to munch beside the bonfire, whilst watching sparkles and colours lighting up the night sky.

The cream cheese frosting slathered across the top is infused with sweet vanilla and adds extra decadence as well as a contrast of texture. It is smooth and luscious, giving a rich, velvety feel to the whole experience of eating it.

I am sending a few slices of this early November delight to a handful of challenges this month :

Random Recipes over at Belleau Kitchen. The lovely Dom has for November, challenged us to randomly select a recipe from all those magazines and clippings that litter the kitchen shelves (yes Dom..... I certainly have them!). 

I will be honest...... I specifically wanted to use up the pumpkin, so I picked up my most recent wodge of freebies and mags and skimmed through until I found the first recipe with 'pumpkin' in the header. My start point for this recipe came from Coeliac UK's 'Crossed Grain' magazine which is a fab resource for those with Coeliac disease and gluten intolerence, from health advice, through to campaigns, research, recipes and rights.

I have taken their recipe for Pumpkin Cake and only massacred it a little. I did truly try to stick closely to it, but because I use my own home-blended gluten free flour, I had to adapt away from commercial GF blends, to include baking powder and xanthan gum. I didn't have any mixed spice, so I substituted with my favourites.... cinnamon and ginger (not far from the original then...). I pureed the pumpkin rather than grating it as I wanted a smooth, less grainy bake. And I changed the sugar, used less sultanas, threw in some chocolate chips and also some vanilla for good measure!

Shop Local with Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary - The pumpkin was bought from our local, very traditional greengrocer and was sourced from a local farm.

The Biscuit Barrel with Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.... who is this month celebrating Winter Warmers. Packed with warming spices, this cake is a fantastically satisfying, comforting bake.

Tea Time Treats with Janie over at The Hedge Combers and Karen from Lavender & Lovage. November's treats celebrate Bonfire Night, making this an ideal share.

For the same reason, Love Cake with Ness over at Jibber Jabber..... November's theme being 'In With a Bang'.

Extra Veg jointly hosted by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy. The pumpkin secretly hidden within this cake makes it almost virtuous!

Cook, Blog, Share with Lucy at Supergolden Bakes.

Simple & in Season with Katie at Feeding Boys and a Firefighter on behalf of Ren Behan.

Pumpkin, Sultana & Chocolate Chip Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting


300g plain gluten free flour mix (I used blend A from this post)
2½ teaspoons GF baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda 
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
large pinch of fine sea salt
300g light soft brown sugar
100g sultanas
150g milk chocolate chips
finely grated zest 1 orange
200g unsalted butter - melted
4 large eggs 
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
450g fresh pumpkin flesh - pureed (or use tinned)

Vanilla Cream-Cheese Frosting
180g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
50g unsalted butter - room temperature 
approx 280g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Base line a 25 x 25cm baking tin (7cm deep) with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, xanthan gum, cinnamon, ginger, salt and sugar, making sure any lumps are completely broken down.
  3. Add and stir in the sultanas, chocolate chips and orange zest. Set aside
  4. In a heat proof bowl, gently melt the butter.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until light and airy. 
  6. Add the butter, and whisk again until thoroughly combined.
  7. Add the orange juice and vanilla extract and beat again. 
  8. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to mix thoroughly.
  9. Fold in the pumpkin puree.
  10. Pour the batter into the cake tin and smooth the top.
  11. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the cake springs back to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  12. Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  13. Cream-cheese frosting : Beat together the cream cheese and butter and then add the vanilla extract and icing sugar a little at a time until the icing has begun to thicken. Place in the fridge until the cake is completely cold and then spread over the top of the cake. 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Christmas Spiced Star Biscuits - gluten free

Ok...... I know Christmas is still a way off, but November always signals the need to at least start thinking about the big event, and in particular the annual present-choosing saga. With each passing year, I seem to find it harder and harder to get my head around what to buy for who. It seems that these days we live in a society where people buy what they want, when they want it.  Money seems more easy come - easy go...... which means less stuff 'on the list' when we ask 'what do you want for Christmas?'.

So what to do? Edible and home-made presents seem to become more popular the older you get and are always well-received. They show thought, care and love, not least because someone has spent precious time and effort making them with you in mind.

Chutneys, jams, sweets and of course, biscuits make for great home-cooked presents, because they tend to have a reasonable shelf-life and can be wrapped and presented with all sorts of creativity.

I love to dress up edible presents with pretty cups, plates, plant pots, glasses, etc which will have good use after the Christmas celebrations. Christmas decorations - baubles, tree decorations, candles and the like add colour and festive spirit to the seasonal presentation.

With that in mind, I have started to plan for and test possible Christmas present fare....... These biscuits are a perfect gift. I have made them gluten free (of course), but I am sure that with a couple of minor tweaks and substitutions, they can be made with usual plain wheat flour.

The flavours in these biscuits sing Christmas....... plenty of sweetly warming spiced cinnamon and ginger....... a hint of exotic nutmeg........ all carefully balanced with a mingling of tangy orange and contrasting nutty pecan.

The aromas in the kitchen as they bake are a clear indication that it is time to embrace the steady movement towards the annual celebration........ Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and orange are so intwined with culinary Christmas expectations, that their olfactory significance is unmistakable.

This bake is soft, but still quite crisp. It melts creamily in the mouth with a comforting soothingness that is perfect for cold winter days and hot fireside nights. Coupled with the slight crunch from the nuts, they are the perfect adjunct to soft mousse or ice cream.......... ideally matched with a steaming cup of coffee, chocolate or tea....... and hand-dippingly addictive eaten just as they are, straight from the biscuit barrel.

The orange-infused white chocolate drizzled across the top adds an extra touch of decadence, which marries amazingly well with the alluringly-spiced biscuit, and draws out and highlights the orangeiness hidden within the main bake.

Add a touch of edible glitter to make these biscuits really special and full of festive sparkle!

On the presentation-front, I found some delightful little Christmas snow-flake mugs in Sainsbury's. Being more traditionally 'teacup' shaped, have an extra-wide rim, making them ideal for filling with and displaying the biscuits. I also found some very cute little yarn elves in Tiger, which were too adorable not to pop in alongside.

I am sharing these amazing biscuits with a few challenges this month :

The Biscuit Barrel with Laura over at I'd Much Rather Bake Than...., the theme for November being Winter Warmers. The amalgamation of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and orange in each bite envelops the palate with a gently tingling winter hug. The perfect winter warmer...... Christmas or not.

Treat Petite, this month being hosted by Stuart at Cakeyboi (with Kat at The Baking Explorer), who invite us to share a foodie 'Thankyou'. These tasty, pretty stars make a perfect gift, however you dress them up.

Recipe of the Week with Emily at A Mummy Too.

Cook, Blog, Share with Lucy at Supergolden Bakes.

And Bake of the Week with Casa Costello.

Christmas Spiced Star Cookies (makes approx 30 to 35 medium star biscuits)


180g unsalted butter - room temperature
140g soft brown sugar  
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange extract
finely grated zest 1 orange
210g gluten free plain flour mix
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (Note : slightly reduced amount following updated testing (18.11.17))
½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
good fine grate of fresh nutmeg
30g pecans - finely chopped

White Orange-Chocolate drizzle
100g good quality white chocolate
¼ teaspoon orange extract
edible glitter to decorate


  1. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg, vanilla and orange extracts and orange zest and beat to thoroughly incorporate.
  3. In a separate bowl, weigh and mix together the flour, xanthan gum, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and chopped pecans.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir thoroughly with a wooden/silicone spoon or spatula until you have a thick, even paste.
  5. Divide the mixture in half and wrap each in cling-film. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow the dough to firm up.
  6. When ready to roll, pre-heat the oven to 190 C/375 F/Gas 5. Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with baking paper.
  7. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out each half in turn on a sheet of baking paper sprinkled with cornflour to prevent sticking, using a rolling pin (dusted with cornflour) to a thickness of about ¼ inch.
  8. Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the baking sheets with a small space between each (the dough should not spread much when baked). Bring together any remaining dough, re-roll and cut until all the dough has been used.
  9. Chill the dough shapes before baking in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  10. Bake for 6 to 12 minutes (dependent on the size of the cookies) until the edges are very slightly brown and set. You may have to bake in several batches dependent on how many cookies you have made.
  11. Leave the hot cookies for about 10 minutes on the baking tray to firm up, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  12. When the cookies are cold, make the chocolate drizzle by melting the white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl either over a saucepan of simmering water or in the microwave (set to medium on 20 to 30 second bursts) stirring frequently until smooth and liquid.
  13. Stir in the orange extract until completely combined and then quickly drizzle over the cookies.
  14. Sprinkle with edible glitter (if using) and leave to set completely.
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated