A while back, whilst it was still warm and summer was in full flight, my daughter had her birthday. She turned 9. How time flies……. It seems only yesterday that I carefully placed her in her car seat for her first journey home. Nine years on, she is a sparky, bright, energetic, thriving ball of energy, despite living with Coeliac.
For anyone who has a child diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, this is what you hope for. CD knocks it out of you……….. sucks away all your energy and halts your body’s ability to develop, repair and grow. Looking back at her early developmental charts, it is all now clear. She had been on a massively upward growth line, somewhere in the 90th centile sector until she was weaned and moved onto cereals……. then the line plummeted right down to around the 10th centile…… where it stayed! The fact that no-one questioned what was going on then, amazes me…….. but otherwise she seemed relatively average in the grand scheme of baby profiles…… a bit fractious, sickly and with constant pooey nappies, but when it’s your first child, you assume that’s normal (especially if the health professionals aren’t telling you otherwise).
Her formal diagnosis aged 6 was a complete surprise, yet also a relief. It had never even crossed my mind that she might have anything ‘wrong’ with her, even though my father was Coeliac. Knowing this early was all thanks to a very astute GP and a health service which is set up for speedy diagnosis and aftercare. Although small and prone to more ‘bugs’ than some other children, she did not present as ‘ill’, so we were very very lucky that Coeliac was picked up before it did too much damage. I know of children and adults that have suffered years of physical and emotional distress as a result of undiagnosed Coeliac before reaching the road to recovery.
But the thing with Coeliac, is that recovery is fundamentally a matter of diet…… complete avoidance of gluten…. for life! Once that is known, everything else slots into place. Sure we live in a gluten-laden world, but once you have got your head around doing things differently, it really isn’t so bad.
I have no idea whether I have Coeliac myself. We embarked on gluten-avoidance as a family and when I did have the test, the likelihood of there being any real trace of the offending anti-body was pretty unlikely (a couple of glutenous pizzas in the week before was never going to lead to a conclusive blood result!). What I do know, is that on the couple of occasions I have risked eating any gluten since, I have ended up with serious stomach cramps and bloating (something I just put up with previously), which would suggest at least a significant sensitivity…… Best avoided I guess!
But back to the all important birthday…….. Every birthday needs a cake……. but when the birthday girl cannot eat gluten, you can pretty much forget nipping out to the supermarket for something beyond basic. And that’s where having a gluten free baking, blogging mother with a refusal to accept anything inferior comes in handy.
This year, the request was for blueberry cake with caramel icing. Bit of a shocker that! What? No chocolate?
Knowing some of the faddy kids coming to the party, but wanting to meet the request head-on, I decided that big lumps of blueberry in the cake (lovely as we think they are) may not go down too well. Nine year olds are not always the most sophisticated bunch and feeding them fruit and veg can be a bit hit and miss…… even in cake. If there’s one thing you want to get right at a party it’s the cake, especially as it is usually the most looked-forward to offering of the party table.
For this cake, the blueberries are therefore pureed and syrupped before adding to the cake batter…… a bit of a risk, but this means that they are effectively ‘hidden’ even though their flavour still permeates. The down-side, as I found out, was that the beautiful purply-blue batter that went into the oven, came out more of a browny drab colour with a hint of blue round the edges. Oh well…… bring on the icing….. that always covers a multitude of sins!
The icing too turned out to be a bit of a random process……. To get the caramel flavour, I thought I would take the easy route and make frosting with Carnation caramel. Lazy maybe, but actually it was a good choice……. It adds a wonderful caramel depth with an amazing sheen, which for a celebration cake looks quite special. Spread, piped and finished off with chocolate balls and sprinkles, I was pretty pleased. The cake was well-received by a very discerning audience of nine year old party guests and the rest disappeared to friends, family and neighbours……
Blueberry Cake with Caramel Icing (make 1 x 9 inch layer cake or 1 x 8 inch layer cake and 6 cupcakes)
50g golden caster sugar
1 tablespoon water
(to make 200 ml blueberry puree)
325g plain gluten free flour blend (I used blend A from this post)
1½ teaspoons GF baking powder
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
150 ml milk
150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
400g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- To make the blueberry puree – place the blueberries, 50g sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, squashing the blueberries against the side of the pan as they soften to release the juice. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat to cool.
- When cool, puree the blueberries in a blender and push through a sieve to remove the fibre.
- Measure 200 ml into a jug and set aside.
- To make the sponge – pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4 and base line your cake tins with baking paper.
- Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt, making sure any lumps are completely broken down.
- In a separate jug, mix the milk with the vinegar, sir and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
- Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light, pale and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla extract and the eggs (one at a time) and beat until completely combined and airy.
- Add the blueberry puree, milk mix and dry ingredients about a third at a time (alternating wet with dry) and fold through until smooth and even (be careful not to over-mix).
- Spoon the batter into the cake tins and smooth the tops.
- Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes until the top springs back to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and turn onto a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
Caramel Frosting (to completely cover the cake – use smaller quantities for less frosting decoration)
150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
approx 450g icing sugar (allow for more to get desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
approx 250g Carnation Caramel (or equivalent caramel sauce)
chocolate-caramel balls/alternative decorations and sprinkles to decorate.
- Beat the butter until soft and fluffy.
- Gradually add the icing sugar, vanilla extract and caramel sauce a little at a time until you have frosting of the desired flavour and consistency to either pipe or spread.
- Decorate the cake with frosting by either spreading or piping and add sweets and sprinkles as you wish.