Saturday, 13 October 2018

Autumn Windfall Pear & Walnut Brownies (gluten free)

Recently I've had a bit of a love affair with Brownies.... These Pear and Walnut Brownies are a perfect Autumn addition to my collection.  Simple to make and dappled with succulent, fresh fruit and crunchy, earthy walnuts, they welcome the abundance of the harvest and hint of the cooler, winter days to come.

I am lucky enough to live in Kent, the 'Garden of England'.... the south-eastern most corner of the UK, famed for its fruit growing, cabbage fields and cobnuts... its hops and vineyards...  oysters and Dover Sole.... and its more recent addition of 'Thanet Earth'... a complex of temperature and light controlled glass houses which enable the production of fresh fruit and veg year round.

Pears and walnuts are two of my favourite local ingredients (although Kentish walnuts appear slightly later in the year). When the end of summer beckons, boxes piled high with ripe picked pears and windfalls start appearing outside the gates of houses, sharing abundance in the community with hand-scribbled envelopes which read 'help yourself'. It seems every third house has a pear tree in the garden.... or an apple..... a plum.... a cobnut... a damson.... the harvest share is a delight.

With the incredibly hot 2018 summer we have 'endured' in this part of the world, I am sad to say that the harvest has definitely suffered, although I was still lucky enough to be offered a bag full of pears from a friend with too many to manage herself. In addition to inspiring a rather delicious pear and raspberry crumble, the gift inspired these Pear and Walnut Brownies, which I have to say, were absolutely delicious.

Brownies can often be over-sweet and are a popular chocolate and sugar fix, but I prefer to make mine seeking depth rather than sweetness in the ingredients I use. The soft, wet texture and fruitiness of the fresh pear helps to cut through the sugar as does the craggy, almost bitter, earthiness of the walnut. The brownies also have a more caramel-intense sweetness that comes from using a less-refined mixture of golden caster and brown sugars.

I have a number of Brownie recipes on Gluten Free Alchemist, with an array of brownie-textures. Personally, I love them all.... soft and fluffy..... drier and slightly crumbly.... dense and more gooey. These particular brownies err on the side of gooey, but not so much that they clag in your teeth. Whatever the texture however, they can often be tricky to cut. Whilst they should always be cooled completely in the tin, before turning out, I also find that placing them in the fridge for an hour to firm up allows for a more even, clean cut... after which you can bring them back to room temperature for the best texture and flavour experience.

In celebration of Autumn, I am sharing these amazing Pear and Walnut Brownies with :

Love Cake with Ness at Jibber Jabber
Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice
Cook Blog Share with Everyday Healthy Recipes


Baking Crumbs with Only Crumbs Remain and Jo's Kitchen Larder
Fiesta Friday with Angie, Spades, Spatulas & Spoons and The Pantry Portfolio
What's for Dinner with The Lazy Gastronome

More Fresh Pear Inspiration on Gluten Free Alchemist
Pear & Chocolate Cake
Mocha-Pear Upside Down Cake
Winter Ginger & Pear Trifle
Brown-Sugared Pear & Ginger Preserve
Heavenly Chocolate, Walnut & Pear Torte
Sweet Autumn Dessert Yorkshires with Vanilla Sauteed Pear & Walnuts and Blackberry Coulis
Raw Green Smoothie

More Brownie Inspiration on Gluten Free Alchemist
Beetroot Brownies
Chocolate-Banana-Coconut Brownies
Gooey Brownies
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cup Brownies
Minty Chocolate Brownies
Chocolate-Cherry-Pecan Brownies
Toblerone Brownie

Pear & Walnut Brownies (makes 1 x 8 inch (20 cm) square tin - 16 brownies)


300g good quality dark chocolate - cubed
150g unsalted butter
100g plain GF flour blend (I used GFA blend A from this post)
50g ground almonds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon GF baking powder
3 large eggs
60 ml milk
70g golden caster sugar
70g soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
140g fresh pear cubes (no peel or pips) - approx 1 medium-large pear
65g walnuts - rough chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4 and base-line a nonstick 8 inch/20cm square baking tin with baking paper.
  2. In a medium glass, heatproof bowl, melt together the chocolate and butter either in a microwave (medium setting, 30 second bursts, stirring between each until smooth) or over a simmering pan of water. Set aside.
  3. Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, salt and baking powder until well blended and all lumps are broken down (I weigh into an airtight container and shake vigorously). Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, sugars and vanilla extract (preferably with a whisk) to blend completely.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and chocolate mixture to the bowl and fold through thoroughly until well blended and even in colour. 
  6. Fold through the cubed pear and chopped nuts.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin and smooth the top.
  8. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until firm, but so that a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few crumbs attached. 
  9. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the tin.
  10. When cold, chill in the fridge for an hour (to make it easier to cut) before slicing into squares. 
  11. Decorate (or not) as you wish.
  12. Store at room temperature and eat within 2 days (or in the fridge it will last longer, but bring to room temperature before eating for best squidginess). 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated

Monday, 1 October 2018

A Coeliac-Friendly Pilates Retreat at the Beautiful Domaine du Pignoulet in Gascony, France

Sit down and grab a cuppa. A couple of weeks ago I spent an amazing weekend on a French Pilates retreat at Domaine du Pignoulet, with the loveliest group of bloggers you're ever likely to meet, being nurtured with delicious gluten free food and calm.... LOTS of CALM.

The last couple of years have been incredibly tough for me. Multiple and unexpected bereavements, a close shave with a terror attack in Barcelona, set against an emotionally punishing day job which has been in turmoil and a demanding full-on home life have all taken their toll on my resilience and ability to manage and stay strong. So when I was asked if I would like to join a group of bloggers to spend a long weekend in the beautiful region of Gascony, France, enjoying Pilates classes, good food and like-minded company, it seemed the timing could not have been better. And I was right... My time at Domaine du Pignoulet was the most calm and relaxed I have been in many many years. I feel blessed.

Photograph courtesy of Le Coin de Mel

My experience was in no way unique however and life has clearly been tough for most of us in our group of ten 'retreaters'. With 25 young kids between us and a myriad of other life, loss, relationship, parenting and health issues being faced, we were not only stressed on arrival, but more than ready and open to sharing our vulnerability that the experience of complete relaxation and being looked after can trigger. The setting of Domaine du Pignoulet invites the opportunity to bond, share and regenerate and as we drove through the gates, we were welcomed with open arms.... and with complete acceptance by Susie and James.

Susie and James run Pignoulet... a couple of Brits who have taken the bold step of leaving behind the UK rat-race to pursue a more peaceful existence in the south of France. Having bought this wonderful character-filled ex-farmhouse in 2016 from James' parents (who had undertaken a significant amount of renovation), they now share its zen and beauty with the rest of us by way of opening it to paying guests..... offering anything from holiday rental (sleeping up to 14), to Bed & Breakfast, part or fully catered holidays and Pilates and Yoga retreats.

I am quite envious of their decisiveness in making the break from UK life-stress, but they both have such great ideas and creativity and are such wonderful people with huge hearts and bags of care, that this is clearly a great move for them. Pignoulet offers a little haven of peace and tranquility that is perfect for regenerating the mind, body and soul.

The house itself is beautifully restored and comfortable, maintaining much of its rustic charm.... old wooden staircases, ornate ironwork, antique furniture, huge French shutters, colourful trinkets and farmyard memorabilia all add to the interest and atmosphere. The gardens which surround it are equally delightful.... with a large pool enveloped by rural quiet (apart from local bees buzzing round the fig trees)... ideal for chilling with friends and family. The whole place is a photographers paradise, especially if you like quirky angles, natural charm and nature.

The Pilates...

If you have never considered Pilates, I would thoroughly recommend you give it some thought. Regardless of your age and level of fitness (I am heading upwards on the first and downwards on the second), it is a wonderful form of exercise that can be pitched for everyone. With a particular focus on improving your core strength, flexibility, balance and posture, you gently push your body to betterness with less risk of damage than other, more strenuous forms of exercise. But don't be fooled... its 'gentleness' in no way limits its effectiveness and you quickly feel the benefits. The emphasis on being constantly aware of your breathing and how your body moves, has the additional benefit of taking you to an incredibly liberating level of mind-body connection (whether you are a beginner or more experienced), automatically removing your attention from the disturbance of the white noise around you, to allow complete calm and tranquility.

At Domaine du Pignoulet, the Pilates Studio is idyllic. Set in an open, converted barn, surrounded by fresh air and sounds of the countryside, this backdrop provided a perfect ambience and setting for starting my journey on this most healing of activities.

Photo courtesy of Peachicks Bakery

I had not done Pilates before I attended this retreat (and neither had several of my fellow travellers), but Susie (who is a fully trained Pilates instructor, personal trainer, sports massage therapist and nordic walking instructor) was a wonderful teacher. Keeping a constant eye on how we were exercising and gently and patiently ensuring we were not only getting the best out of each session, but not pushing ourselves beyond where we were comfortable, the gains were measurable, even over the course of a weekend. Although my body had clearly been encouraged to push itself in new directions, my back (with which I have had a lengthy history of issues) and my many age-ached joints, muscles and tendons were starting to appreciate the new strength they were being offered.

Two weeks in and with a determination to continue practising, I am walking more upright, using my abdominal muscles more effectively and definitely slouching less... Since returning to the UK, I have started classes locally and have tempted both Mr and Miss GF to join me.... Family Pilates not only seems to offer a shared exercise option, but to be giving us some family time together as well...

The food...

Despite having an incredibly diverse group when it came to eating, with a wide range of allergies, intolerances and dietary preferences to cater for, Susie and James took feeding us in their stride. They embraced all and each of our needs not only safely, but in a way that made us feel like we were no trouble at all. As someone who frequently encounters rolled eyes and tuts, this was so refreshing. I allowed myself to embrace that rare feeling of trust around meal times.... that I didn't have to worry about accidental glutening. Susie and James had done their research well and yet were equally open to checking and learning about the micro-risks to be aware of when avoidance is a matter of health.

Safety approved, the food we ate was amazing. Fresh, local and seasonal produce whipped up into nutritious meals and energy-boosting snacks and served with genuine care and generosity that can only come when someone has put their heart into making it themselves.

With everything from freshly-grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, kitchen-blended museli, local honey, fresh juice and home-made energy balls at breakfast... to crisp, fresh and colourful salads, olives, cold meats, home-whizzed houmous and local cheeses for lunch... to perfectly planned and inclusive 3 course meals in the evening (including desserts of boozy figs from the garden and vegan aqua faba chocolate mousse), everything we ate was not only delicious, but healthy too. In the afternoons we were even treated to tea and gluten free cake... the piece de resistance, being a divine flourless orange cake.

Of course, no weekend of relaxation would be complete without a little tipple and we were pampered with delectable local wines and (my favourite) Kir Royale... a heavenly combination of champagne with an infusion of Creme de Cassis.

The local Area...

Although we stayed at Domaine du Pignoulet on a Pilates retreat, the house is also available to book as holiday accommodation, with or without catering. I last visited Gascony many many years ago, but this trip reminded me of its beauty and potential as a holiday destination in its own right. Sitting close to the Pyrenees, to centres such as Toulouse and Lourdes and to many pretty small towns and villages, it is an ideal location for hiking, cycling, swimming, running, horse riding, fishing or just sightseeing Gascony and its neighbouring regions and pottering in the local markets.

I am certainly considering it as an option for a future family break...

Although I was invited to attend Domaine du Pignoulet on a bloggers retreat, I honestly cannot shout loudly enough about the wonderfulness of the experience I had there. The attention to detail and comfort, homeliness and emotional acceptance, carefully facilitated pilates sessions, delicious home-cooked food and the opportunity to connect in such beautiful surroundings with a group of women that I can now firmly call friends, will be time that I will treasure forever. Our booking is already made for next year...

If you would like to experience a little piece of this Pilates paradise or spend some time in this most beautiful of French regions, visit the Domaine du Pignoulet website and contact Susie and James for more information. I seriously cannot recommend it enough.

For other reviews on the Pignoulet bloggers retreat :
Le Coin De Mel
Free From Fairy
Dairy Free Kids
Cook Veggielicious
Peachicks Bakery
Mummy Tries
Free From Farmhouse
Just Eilidh

Shared with :

Otis and Us


I was invited to attend a bloggers retreat at Domaine du Pignoulet. All views and opinions on the trip are absolutely my own and I have shared a completely honest account of my experience. Although costs of my accommodation were covered by the retreat, I paid for all flights and transfers myself.

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Cherry Bakewell Scones - gluten free

Who loves Cherry Bakewell? It is one of my favourite flavour combos... The happy marriage of sweetly-tart cherry with frangipane almond is just heaven. It is one of those pairings that invites culinary creativity and kitchen play time. These Cherry Bakewell Scones simply had to be made.

I admit that they were conjoured up earlier in the summer when the wonderful Kentish cherries were ripe on the trees and the weather was hot and sultry. The photos have been idling on my computer for months waiting to be edited, but then I got waylaid with school holidays, followed by a wonderful family cruise to Norway, the back to school chaos and then a perfectly relaxing stay in France with a wonderful group of bloggers at Pignoulet retreat. I make no apology... I have had a fabulous summer and feel blessed to have spent it with family and the most incredible friends. It has been exactly what I needed after a couple of years of endless stress and loss.

The cherries may have long-since finished, but these scones are still worth the effort. Frozen cherries are an ideal substitute for fresh... just make sure you defrost and drain them thoroughly before use (and save any of that gorgeous juice for smoothies).

The recipe has been adapted from the successful Hot Cross Scones that I hatched at Easter. Made with buttermilk, a little ground almond and wholegrain gluten free flours, they have a fantastic soft scone texture which stays fresh for days. Although (as with any scone) they are at their best when just made, the scones I make with buttermilk stay way fresher than any other gluten free scone I have eaten. If you keep them in the fridge to extend their life, just remember to bring them back to room temperature or warm them in the microwave to perk them up.

So what makes these scones worthy of the title 'Cherry Bakewell'? Well... apart from being packed with juicy fresh cherries, the dough is infused with plenty of almond extract... I like my Bakewell to be extra almondy! Slathered with clotted cream and cherry jam they make for a delicious variation on traditional afternoon tea... ideal with a heady, perfumed pot of Earl Gray.

I am sharing my gluten free Cherry Bakewell Scones with the following linkies :

Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice
Cook Blog Share with A Strong Coffee
What's For Dinner with The Lazy Gastronome


Baking Crumbs with Jo's Kitchen Larder and Only Crumbs Remain
Got To Be Gluten Free with myself and Glutarama
Fiesta Friday #242 with Angela, The Not So Creative Cook and Apply To Face Blog

Other cherry and almond bakes and makes on Gluten Free Alchemist include :
Cherry-Frangipane Tart
Candied Cherries
Cherry-Chocolate Battenburg Cake with Cherry-Almond Marzipan
Cherry-Almond Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Cherry Bakewell Scones 


340g gluten free plain flour (I used my GFA Rice Free Blend with wholegrain flours)  
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
pinch fine sea salt
50g ground almonds
1 tablespoon GF baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
90g unsalted butter (cold & cubed)
40g caster sugar
1 large egg - beaten
1 pot (284 ml) buttermilk
2 teaspoons almond extract
175g pitted fresh cherries - chopped and drained (or use frozen - completely defrosted and thoroughly drained)

beaten egg mixed with a little milk to glaze
a little extra sugar to sprinkle


  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6. Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper and set aside. 
  2. Weigh and mix together the flour, xanthan gum, salt, almonds, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda until well-blended (I weigh mine into an airtight container and shake vigorously). Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Rub the cold butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. 
  4. Add the sugar and stir through.
  5. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg, buttermilk and almond extract. 
  6. Use a flat-bladed knife to mix the wet ingredients into the dry, until it clumps together and continue to mix, until it comes together as a very sticky dough. If it looks like the dough is too dry, then add a little milk.
  7. Add the chopped cherries and mix through until even. 
  8. Lay a large piece of baking paper on the work surface and sprinkle liberally with gluten free flour/tapioca flour. 
  9. Flour your hands well and gently bring the dough together. It should be quite wet.
  10. Tip the dough out onto the floured baking paper, sprinkle a little more flour on the top and lay a further piece of baking paper over. 
  11. Gently roll out the dough between the paper to a depth of about 4 cm.
  12. Use a round/fluted cookie cutter (I used one 3 inches/7 cm) to cut rounds from the dough and carefully transfer them to the lined baking sheets.
  13. Bring any remaining dough gently together (trying not to over-work) and repeat the rolling and cutting process, until all the dough has been used and transferred to the baking sheets.
  14. Brush the top of each scone with egg-wash, sprinkle with a little sugar and bake in the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until well-risen, firm and golden.
  15. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. 
  16. Eat warm or cold, with butter and/or jam and/or cream. 
  17. Store the scones in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days if necessary. 
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Revisiting End of Summer Roasted Fruit Flapjack for September's Got To Be Gluten Free (#G2BGF)

For those of you who follow Gluten Free Alchemist on Instagram, you will know that I have been away, cruising the Norwegian Fjords with my family. No sooner was I back, than the school term started for Miss GF and I was back to work. Consequently, I am considerably late in posting the linky for this September's Got To Be Gluten Free recipe share. Hopefully you won't be too hard on me.

The Fjords were totally stunning and the cruise outshone all expectations. I will post about our experiences soon, so impressed were we with the ability of the Sapphire Princess staff to meet our gluten free needs. Seriously.... they absolutely had safe gluten free eating sussed and what we wanted, we got! Keep an eye out for a blog post soon.

But for this month's Got To Be Gluten Free, I want to revisit an old favourite recipe of mine... End of Summer Roasted Fruit Flapjack. I first developed this recipe back in September 2013, when I was just 6 months into my blogging journey. Interestingly, it was also the first recipe that I ever shared with a blog link challenge.

Five years on, it is still an amazing recipe. Intensely fruity pieces of roasted berries and plums, dappled through a firmer oatie flapjack, sweetened with a blend of brown sugar, syrup and honey and laced with a hint of cinnamon, these flapjacks sing of warm days leaving us and the impending approach of cooler, misty mornings and falling leaves. You can find the recipe here.

Keeping to a seasonal fruit theme and to help start the party, I am also sharing a delicious Apple Tart recipe from my co-host Rebecca, who blogs over at Glutarama. Made with fresh apples and home-made creme patisserie, they look and sound absolutely divine.

Now all we need is for you, lovely readers, to come join us in sharing your own wonderful gluten free bakes and dishes. We would love to see what you have been cooking up.... whether a new dish or something from the archives. And remember... you don't have to be a gluten free blogger to join in. Anyone is welcome, just as long as your dish is free from gluten....

Grab the linky badge here and add to your post, it'll link to our linky main menu so no need to edit - life's too short!

An InLinkz Link-up

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated