Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Dinner at Dishoom & One Mind Blowing Dessert

Last week I met my sister for dinner at Dishoom near Kings Cross. Dishoom is a modern representation of the old traditional Iranian cafes of Bombay. A very unique and flavoursome style of Indian food, unlike any of the so-called ‘traditional’ Indian dishes we commonly think of in the UK. They now have a few branches in London, with the Kings Cross one being located in a large old warehouse which gives it a great atmosphere and impact the minute you walk through the door. High ceilings, exposed brick, hanging lights and multi floored dining areas.

The King Cross branch don’t take bookings and as we discovered, it’s incredibly popular. My advice if you want to eat before 8pm is to get there early. We arrived at around 6:15pm on a Tuesday evening and were 4th in the queue to even be let through the door! There was a server with a clipboard taking names and giving you an EET (Estimated Eating Time) and when we got to the front we were told there was 1hr 20min wait for a table – you what?!

As we dithered over whether to stay (we were both very hungry had had been up since the small hours) we were served a complimentary glass of hot sweet house chai tea and told we were welcome to wait in the bar where we could get drinks and nibbles. We had both heard such glowing reviews of the restaurant that we decided to stay (fyi it’s worth the wait!)

The bar area is downstairs/underground and poorly lit. Rather than seeming dingy, this gave it an exciting, hushed yet relaxing feel. I drank a couple of sweet spicy chai teas which was the perfect pick-me-up I needed after a long day, and my sister C had a delicious watermelon cocktail. We shared one of the two bar snacks on offer, described as crunchy banana chips and dips. These were amazing and so addictive. We wanted to save ourselves for the meal but couldn’t stop eating them. The banana chips were thin and crunchy and lightly spiced with chilli. They were accompanied by a fresh onion salsa, a wedge of lime and then 3 little dips. A spiced tomato chutney, some sort of sweet & sour tamarind combo and a yummy fresh mint chutney. We couldn’t decided which was our favourite, each was so different and tasty.

In the end our table was ready after only an hour wait, so not too bad and the drinks and spicy banana chips had kept us more than satisfied. Dishoom are also very well know for their impressive choice of gluten free options. I should think nearly half the menu was gluten free, and naturally gluten free rather than having to be specially adapted which was fantastic.

We had a hard choice choosing what to try from the menu, everything sounded delicious and so authentic. You could have everything from Pau Bhaji - traditional warm buttery bread rolls stuffed with mashed curried vegetables, Prawn Koliwada – prawns in tamarind and date chutney, Black Lentil Daal – a house specialty and even Nalli Nihari with Bheja – a spicy lamb dish complete with lambs brains (yes really!)

As C is so lovely she agreed that we choose two mains that were gluten free so we could both have a taste of each, and then some sides. I went for the house black daal which is one of their signature dishes. It’s simmered for over 24 hours to allow the spices and flavours to fully develop and blend, now that’s dedication! The black lentils give it a dark mysterious colour and the flavour was rich, spicy and surprisingly smoky. It had a complex multi layered range of aromatic flavours that was unique. Cardamom, cinnamon, something smoky and then a bit of aniseed tang combined with the thick earthy lentils. The best daal I’ve ever had and so soothing and comforting. I’d love to have a bowl of this waiting for me after a tiring day at work. I also had a bowl of green veg which again was deliciously flavoured with chilli and fresh lime, I’m going to try adding this combo on my veg at home.

We also had the Mahi Tikka which was fish in a lightly spiced yoghurt marinade before being cooked in a tandoor. This had quite a delicate subtle flavour which didn’t overpower the fish. However, the flavours here too were multi layered and unique, not hot and spicy, but more fragrant and aromatic. There were some spices in our dishes I’ve never tasted before and couldn’t identify. It really made for a delicious and special meal. As the fish is not a saucy dish we had some raita on the side (a colossal amount) and C also enjoyed a paper thin freshly cooked roti.

We were quite full at this point but couldn’t resist the chance to sample some of the desserts. These too were very impressive with everything apart the intriguing sounding pineapple black pepper crumble being gluten free!

C chose mango Kulfi on a stick. This was the richest, creamiest, freshest sort of ice cream you can imagine, presented in a pointy spire for good measure (apparently this shape is traditional. Much more exciting than the UK’s boring cheap choc-ice blocks). You could tell it was made with real mango, it was very fresh and fruity. The perfect tongue soother and sweet treat after a meal. C happily devoured the lot.

I decided to be daring and go for the most unusual and intriguing sounding desert I have ever heard of, Kala Khatta Gola Ice. Frozen ice flakes steeped in kokum fruit syrup, with chilli, lime, white and black salt and fresh blueberries. The waiter actually tried to dissuade me from having it – well maybe not dissuade, but warn me. He said a lot of people don’t like it and that it’s very unique. I said it sounded so interesting I had to try it. He looked a little dubious and said they wouldn’t mind if I didn’t like it. As he walked away my sister and I exchanged looks, what had I let myself in for?!

It arrived looking like a harmless tall glass of ruby purple coloured ice chips topped with blueberries. I took my first spoonful and….my mind exploded. Apparently my face was a picture of shock, confusion, excitement and then delight. It was so bizarre, so unexpected, such an amazingly mind blowing assault on my taste buds and senses that I almost felt dizzy. The first sensation is of cold ice, then an intense sweetness and fruitiness from the syrup before suddenly whooshing in with a strong whack of fiery chilli, causing my tongue to tingle and burn while still being cold. Then as you swallow your mouth is flooded with a strong, almost unpleasantly, salty taste which then rushes back to sweet fruitiness and a lingering spice. I am not joking when I say I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. After getting over the shock I started to laugh and sat there grinning. WOW!

I went back for another spoonful and it was just as multi layered and confusing yet delightful as the first. Cold, sweet, spicy, heat, fruity, salty, sweet, throat burning fire yet freezing cold tongue and a great rush of emotions. The waiter came over to see what I thought and I told him it was incredible. He seemed amazed I actually like it. I was grinning like an idiot and said
‘I want one every day.’
He laughed and said ‘you’re a little crazy, no’
I said ‘oh yes’
To which he replied ‘well at least your self aware’….and walked away.
I’m not sure what to make of that comment, but I’ve decided to take it as a compliment. I enjoy being unique and different and if it means I get to experience things such as this dessert then so much the better. I only managed half the glass, my senses just couldn’t cope after that. I was giddy all the way home. If you try just one dish – try this one. I don’t care if you don’t like it – you just have to experience it!! It is truly a memory that will stay with me for years.

Fantastic food and a fabulous evening. I can’t recommend Dishoom highly enough. The breakfasts are also meant to be legendary – I foresee another visit on the horizon!

Note: I visited the restaurant by my own accord and choosing after hearing good reports about them and their range of gluten free options. We paid for our meal in full. No one invited us to come, we turned up out of the blue like any other customer, and I decided to review it based on my own fantastic experience. All opinions expressed here are my own. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Coeliac Awareness Week & Dinner at Pho

Today is the start of Coeliac Awareness week. Every year it makes me stop and think about my own diagnosis. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was life changing, both for the better and worse. However, every year I like to think it’s getting a little bit better. Along with wider knowledge and awareness of coeliac disease, means more people are being diagnosed, increasing the demand for gluten free food in shops, restaurants, supermarkets and even airlines. This means more gluten free companies, a greater variety of food and a better quality, both inn terms of taste and nutrition. There are now some gluten free products on the market that you genuinely wouldn’t know where gluten free. Others I feel still have some way to go and others are still distant longing memories….but I’m sure they will be available one day J

I recently learnt that Caroline Quentin, of Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek fame, has herself been diagnosed coeliac. I read an interview she gave and I think its one of the best, most genuine and informative stories I’ve read. If you yourself suspect you may be coeliac or have a problem with gluten, it’s imperative to go to the Dr for tests FIRST. Under no circumstances stop eating gluten, you need to have been eating it in order to get an accurate result and your symptoms could do down to something different, so don’t self diagnose.

And now for something completely different
I’ve now moved to London after starting my new job, meaning the 4 hour daily commute is no more – yay! I’m now living in a lovely house with 6 new flat mates. I feel quite settled in the area already but sharing with so many people means I haven’t been able to being all my ‘stuff.’ I’ve also had no time to do any baking yet (not to mention lack of tins etc), it may take a few weeks, but rest assured I will be baking again soon!

To celebrate my move to London I went out with a friend for dinner. We chose a restaurant called Pho as it was close to work and we both love Vietnamese, oriental flavours. This turned out to be a fantastic choice and upon arrival I was told that apart from the steamed buns (fair enough), I could have any other dish on the menu – most of it naturally gluten free. Wow, what choice and I was impressed they knew exactly what I meant when I said ‘gluten free’

The restaurant was quite compact, but we got a nice table for two and enjoyed carrot, apple and ginger juice while perusing the menu. I liked the vast selection of chilli dressings and sauces on the table for you to spice up your dinner if you liked.

I decided on two smaller dishes to make my main. Summer rolls to start, which are just like spring rolls, only made with a sticky, chewy rice wrapper rather than a crisp wheaty one. I’ve heard lots about them but had never tried them until now. They are stuffed with veg, rice noodles, mint and your choice of extra veg or prawns. There was a choice of chilli sauce or spiced peanut sauce, I was dithering over the choice and the waitress kindly bought me both. My favourite by far was the peanut one. Nutty, creamy and with a gentle kick. Delicious.

The Summer Rolls were great. Very fresh and packed with crunchy crisp veg and I loved the chewy rice wrapper. A little hard to eat with chopsticks, but fun.

For the main I had a green mango salad with citrus dressing and peanuts. Again another dish I’d never had before. You don’t eat it and think ‘mango’ its green mango meaning it’s crunchy and shredded in strips. It adds just a subtle fruity note, but more salad than fruit. The dressing was amazing. At first it was very zingy and citrusy, then as I ate more I got little hits of chilli coming through. I love that. It doesn’t look that special on the plate, but there were hidden layers.

My dining partner went for a big bowl of Chicken Pho – an iconic dish which is described as: “Pho [ pronounced fuh] is the Vietnamese national dish; an aromatic, nutritious and delicious rice noodle soup served with a side plate of fresh herbs and chilli to add as you please. The addition of these herbs and table condiments is an essential part of eating phở and adds another dimension to the dish - our chilli paste for a kick, fish sauce for extra saltiness, garlic vinegar for sourness.”
She loved it and it was such a huge portion she couldn’t quite finish it.

We were both very impressed. The whole meal came to £12 each and they do takeaways too if you don’t have time to sit and want to grab something on the go. They have a few locations in London and I’d be happy to visit one again. It’s so nice to get something so fresh and tasty as a quick option. Plus, extra bonus points for most of it being gluten friendly – hurrah!

London Hints & Tips Please!
As I’m new to London I’d love any hints of tips of nice (affordable) places to eat that offer some good gluten free options. Restaurants, food markets, little cafes, hidden gems, places for cake or lunch on the run etc. I’m open to anything including raw, vegan, veggie, sushi (hold the meat through please). All advice welcome. The areas I visit most are Kings Cross, Farringdon, Kentish Town, Camden

Thanks J

Monday, 4 May 2015

Gluten Free Fair Trade Marmalade Steamed Sponge with Fresh Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise (custard)

Steamed sponge puddings are my ideal dessert when the nights are chilly and drizzly or when I am simply in need of something comforting. Is there anything more nostalgic and comforting than a steaming hot sponge topped with sweet sticky jam and lashing of custard? It’s the food equivalent of a hug.

Raspberry jam or golden syrup are the classic childhood steamed sponges, but I’ve given mine a more modern twist by using Seville orange marmalade in place of the jam, while the sponge contains dark mucovado sugar, ginger and a little extra marmalade. This gives the sponge a deeper, almost burnt caramel flavour with just a hint of warming ginger which goes brilliantly with the bittersweet marmalade and prevents it being too sweet. Dousing it with a creamy fresh vanilla bean speckled crème anglaise (custard) really elevates this pud to a level almost deemed sophisticated, but you can of course serve it with the instant Birds custard (just like my mum used to) if you want full on nostalgia.

Grab yourself a spoon and a slice of steaming hot, lightly spiced sponge with its glossy sticky marmalade topping; pour over pools of creamy fragrant vanilla infused custard, snuggle into your favourite chair and enjoy!

I made this gluten free steamed marmalade sponge with crème anglaise (or custard!) for the recipe inspiration section of Wayfair. They challenged me to create a recipe using some of their amazing selection of cookery and bakery equipment to celebrate World Fair Trade Day on 9th May. There are now lots of fair-trade products available in the shops and this one makes use of fair-trade sugar and a jar of fair-trade marmalade, just look out for the Fair Trade symbol on packs. This symbol means the farmers are paid a fair price for their products

Next week is also the start of Coeliac Awareness week (11th – 17th May) another event close to my heart, so it’s a fitting recipe all round.

If marmalade is not your thing, you can replace this with the jam of your choice, or even lemon curd, golden syrup, mincemeat or chunks of fresh fruit. Get creative with the spices and flavours too by adding cinnamon, cocoa powder, chocolate chips or lemon zest to make it your own.

You can see the full recipe here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

No Bake Lemon & Blueberry Ricotta Cheesecake Shots

I’m still here! I can’t believe I haven’t posted for over 3 weeks. I don’t know where the days have gone. The reason for my absence is I’ve started a great new job in London! Getting to grips with the new job and commuting back and forth has sort of taken over my life lately, but I love it. Incidentally if anyone knows of a friend with a spare room to rent in London please email – I’m desperate to move closer. At the moment I’m spending up to 4 hours a day just commuting, which is no fun. I’ve not yet had time to explore London and all its fabulous foodie places but I’m sure a few will start to appear in the next few months.

Anyway, back to something tasty and more food related. These little lemon and blueberry creamy ricotta desserts are the result of buying a little punnet of blueberries in the reduced section and needing to do something with them. They were a little on the squishy side and so turning them into a compote seemed the best solution. I love the deep dark purple colour and found this really intensified the blueberry flavour too.

I liked the idea of using the blueberry compote on top of cheesecake, only problem was, at the time my house was a cheesecake free zone and I didn’t have time to bake one. Instead I combined a tub of ricotta with some cream cheese and a bit of lemon. Spooned this into glasses and topped it with the compote to make a very light and fresh tasting cheesecake-style shot.

You could also add a biscuit base of the glasses first if you like, but I chose instead to serve it with some little biscuits for dunking and scooping. I made these by cutting out circles from some leftover pastry I had from baking this meringue pie recently. What was essentially a dessert of leftovers turned out to be very tasty treat.

The ricotta made the ‘cheesecake’ part lighter and more softly set than if I’d used all cream cheese. This made it more spoonable and scoopable and resulted in a nice light dessert. Sometimes cheesecake can be a bit rich after a big meal but these were perfect.

I always like the combination of blueberry and lemon together, it’s so fresh and summery. I purposely made these not that sweet too, allowing the fruity blueberries and the zing from the lemon to shine through.

No Bake Lemon & Blueberry Ricotta Cheesecake Shots

Blueberry Compote
150g blueberries
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp cornflour

Lemon Ricotta Base
250g ricotta cheese
150g cream cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
2-3 tbsp icing sugar

To Serve
Gluten free biscuits or pastry rounds

Start by making the blueberry compote. Zest the lemon and set it aside to use in the cheesecake base later.
Place the blueberries, lemon juice, water and honey into a small pan. Heat gently until the blueberries have started to soften, pop and release all their juices. Simmer for a few minutes until the fruit is broken down.
Mix the cornflour in a small bowl with a few drops of water until dissolved. Stir half of this into the blueberry mixture and simmer for 30 seconds. If it still seems a little runny, add a little more of the cornflour mix. It will thicken on cooling so you want it to stay softly set, it should be slightly thickened but not jam-like.
Set aside to cool.

To make the ricotta layer. Using a spatula, beat together the ricotta and cream cheese until well combined (the ricotta will mean it won’t go completely smooth). Add the lemon zest and icing sugar and beat to combine. Add some of the lemon juice, mix well and taste. Add more lemon or sugar depending on your preference. Don’t add too much lemon juice or it may go too sloppy.
Divide the mixture between 6 small pretty glasses. Place in the fridge to firm up for at least an hour before spooning over the blueberry compote. If you have time, chill again for another hour.
These can be made the day before. Serve with tiny spoons and little biscuits for scooping.
Makes 6 small glasses

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Intense Flourless Chocolate Cognac Truffle Cake with Miniature Easter Mini Eggs

Easter is only a few days away and I had a hankering for something chocolaty. Usually when you say ‘chocolate’ and ‘Easter’ to someone in the same sentence they will think of milky supermarket Easter eggs in their shiny coloured foil. While these are undoubtedly pretty, they don’t really hit the chocolate treat mark for me. Even as a child when I was given Easter eggs my mum would discovered them still sitting on my bedroom floor at Christmas. So much so that my relatives stopped bothering to buy them for me or else I simply handed them out to my siblings. If I want a chocolate treat these days it often involves a dark, cocoa rich chocolate with my preference being around 70-85%. (Although I'd never say no to anything Hotel Chocolat have to offer, hint hint family!). 

I went on the hunt – an Easter hunt if you will, for a rich chocolate dessert and decided on a flourless chocolate cake. I’ve had many a flourless chocolate cake over the years, some better than others. Quite a few incorporate ground almonds in place of the flour, which while keeping the cake moist, can sometimes give a slightly grainy texture which is not always desired. This recipe ticks all the right boxes, it’s nut free, grain free and gluten free. I tweaked the quantities a bit and added a little splash of cognac for a boozy hit, as like coffee, I find a drop of alcohol seems to enhance the richness of chocolate. The result is one amazing dessert.

‘Cake’ is really the wrong word for this dessert. Torte is probably more like it, or dense layer of fudgy chocolaty truffley deliciousness, but that’s a little OTT. However, this is one super rich, intense chocolate dessert!

The texture is similar to the inside of a giant truffle. It’s dense, silky smooth and very intense. The cognac really enhances the richness of the chocolate, giving it a luxurious flavour which isn’t obviously alcoholic.

There is a serious quantity of chocolate involved, which is melted with a simple sugar syrup rather than cream for a cleaner more concentrated chocolate flavour. The ingredients are incorporated with the minimum of stirring as unlike other flourless chocolate cakes I’ve seen, the idea here is not to incorporate any air, so no whisking of egg whites are involved. Instead the cake is gently stirred together and baked in a water bath which results in a softly set, dense chocolate ganache.

A light dusting of cocoa, a blob of lightly whipped cream and a few speckled miniature mini eggs are all that’s required to finish this Easter inspired dessert. I’m not normally a fan of plain whipped cream, but here it adds a nice lightness and contrast against the richness of the chocolate.

You only need small slices for a serious chocolate hit. The edges are slightly fudgy while the centre stays gloriously smooth and truffle-like. A fork glides through it like a hot knife through butter and each bite melts into an indulgently chocolaty pool in the mouth. It may be a little too intense for children, but who says adults can’t enjoy a chocolate treat at Easter too?! This is going to be my go-to chocolate dessert from now on.

Intense Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake / Torte

320g dark chocolate (mix of 60-80% cocoa)
100g butter
200g caster sugar
100ml water
½ tsp salt
5 eggs
45ml cognac or alcohol of choice

2 tsp cocoa powder
150ml double cream whipped cream
Easter miniature mini eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an 8inch/20cm deep round springform tin with baking paper and wrap the base and sides in a sheet of foil.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a large bowl. Cube the butter, add to the chocolate and set aside.
Add the sugar, water and salt to a saucepan and heat on the hob until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has turned clear, stirring occasionally. Once clear, quickly bring to the boil and then remove from the heat.
Pour the hot sugar water over the chocolate-butter mixture and stir gently until everything is melted, smooth and glossy.
Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Stir the eggs together in a bowl so they are broken and combined, but do not whisk. You don’t want to incorporate any air. Stir the cognac or alcohol of choice into the eggs.
Pour the egg mix gradually into the melted chocolate mix while stirring together with a spatula. Again do not whisk, you want a smooth thick batter.
Pour the glossy fudgy chocolate mix into the prepared tin and gently shake the tin to smooth the top.
Place the tin into a deep baking tray, larger than the cake tin. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water into the baking tray so it comes halfway up the sides of the in. It’s easier to do this when the tray is placed on the oven shelf. Try not to splash any water onto the cake itself.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until just set. The outside should look slightly puffed and will have started to have come away from the sides of the tin. (The middle may still be slightly sunken, but this is fine. It will level out on cooling.)
Remove the cake from the water bath, take off the outer layer of foil and leave to cool for 1 hour in the tin. Transfer the cake, still in the tin, to the fridge and leave to chill for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
When ready to serve, heat a round bladed knife under hot water, wipe dry and run this around the inside edge of the tin before carefully releasing the springform tin. Lay a sheet of clingfilm loosely over the top of the cake (this stops it sticking to the board) and place a chopping board on top, and flip everything upside down. Remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper. Place a serving plate upside down on the cake and flip it over so it’s now right side up again. Carefully peel off the clingfilm.
Dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder.
Lightly whip the cream until soft peak stage. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe swirls of cream around the edge of the cake and top with Easter miniature mini eggs or flakes of chocolate.
Cut neat slices using a sharp knife heated in hot water and quickly dried. Store any leftovers in the fridge.
Makes 1 x 8inch truffle cake

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Raspberry Meringue Pie with Lime & Pistachio Pastry

Growing up my mums lemon meringue pie was one of my favourite Sunday treats. I’ve not eaten one for several years, so when I recently saw a recipe for raspberry meringue pie I had feelings of both nostalgia and excitement over childhood favourite with a new twist. I’d heard of lime or orange meringue pie, even a chocolate meringue pie, but never a raspberry meringue pie. It looked too delicious to pass up.

This pie is extra special as not only is it filled with a zingy raspberry curd, but it’s also spiked with lime for an extra fresh kick. The pastry contains lime, pistachios and brown sugar for a really unique and delicious meringue pie pastry twist. It smelt unimaginably amazing when it was baking.

Instead of raspberries, you could try using other fruits, blackcurrants, cherries or mixed forest fruits, but I think raspberries are the fruit of choice for a truly spectacular magenta coloured curd filling. The contrast of the vibrant raspberry against the puffy pale meringue topping is stunning. It gives much more of a wow factor than a lemon meringue pie.

This pie tastes delicious eaten when still warm from the oven, which is how we served it initially, but I wouldn’t recommend this if you are going for dainty elegant presentation. When hot, the curd is melted, oozy and gooey, meaning it pools out of the tart when cut. Not exactly photo worthy. However, leave it to cool, or even better, chill for a few hours in the fridge and you get a perfectly behaved and sliceable pie, with all the layers staying distinct. I think this gives a much better impression, see below.
Warm and oozy

Chilled and elegant

Leaving the pie to chill also allows the flavours to develop. The lime and raspberry mingle together well and the subtle nuttiness of the pistachio pastry is more noticeable. I also love the texture when it’s been chilled. The meringue maintains the crisp top sugary shell with airy mallowy meringue below which just dissolves on your tongue. By contrast the curd is thick, smooth and softly set and the base crisp and nicely crumbly. A wonderful mix of textures and flavours.

The raspberry filling is quite tangy, the freshness from the raspberry really being the star of the show. This is emphasised by the subtle zing of lime in the filling and pastry. This was delicious against the sweetness of the meringue top, and really kept the fresh raspberry flavour (despite using frozen berries!)

If you are looking for a real show stopper of a dessert I couldn’t recommend this pie enough. My sister and I made this for our mum for Mothers Day last weekend, and it was the perfect pretty-in-pink dessert. I love how you can use frozen berries in winter and fresh berries in summer. It would rival any summer pudding at a BBQ and would make a great non-chocolaty Easter dessert.

The recipe below makes enough filling and meringue for one deep 8inch tart, but you will have some pastry leftover – this tastes delicious cut into rounds and baked as mini biscuits to serve with a mousse or just to munch on. The pistachio and lime making them much more flavoursome than regular pastry. It’s quite time consuming to make, but definitely worth the effort.

Raspberry Meringue Pie with Lime & Pistachio Pastry
(Slightly altered from Gluten Free Alchemist blog)
Lime Pistachio Pastry 
40g pistachio nuts
80g rice flour
60g cornflour
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
Zest of 1 lime (save the juice for the filling)
50g light soft brown sugar
110g cold butter
1 egg
1 tbsp cold water

Have to hand a deep 8inch/20cm tart tin with a loose base and set to one side.
Grind the pistachio nuts so they resemble fine crumbs, then mix in a large bowl along with the flours, xanthan gum, salt, lime zest and sugar.
Chop the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour mix using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Lightly beat the egg with the water and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix with a flat butter knife until it begins to come together as a dough. It may look a little dry at first, but don’t add any more water just yet.
When large clumps begin to form, switch to your hands and bring the mixture together to form a dough, kneading gently. Add a few drops more water if it’s too crumbly.
Lay a large sheet of clingfilm over the work surface and place the pastry on top. Cover with another large sheet of clingfilm before rolling out the dough until 2-3mm thick. Lift up and reposition the top layer of clingfilm to help you as you roll.
Remove the top layer of clingfilm and lift the pastry up with the base layer of clingfilm still in place to support it. Flip the pastry into the tart tin and press into the edges before peeling away the clingfilm. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and place into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Wrap any leftover pastry in clingfilm and store in the fridge for use later (delicious baked as mini biscuits).
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C.
Dock the base of the pastry with a fork and line with baking paper or clingfilm and fill with baking beans. 
Blind bake the pastry for 10-12 minutes before removing the beans and baking for a further 5-10 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Switch off the oven.

Raspberry Filling
350g fresh or frozen raspberries
Juice of 1 lime
40g caster sugar
20g cornflour
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
25g butter

Thaw the raspberries if frozen, then puree with the lime juice in a liquidizer. Pour into a sieve set over a bowl and press with the back of a spoon to sieve out the seeds. (This takes a while). Discard the seeds. 
Combine the raspberry puree with the sugar in a saucepan.
Mix the cornflour with a little water in a small bowl to make a paste and then stir this into the raspberry mix.
Heat gently, stirring continually until the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to stir over a low heat for 1-3 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. 
Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, before cubing and whisking in the butter.
Spoon the filling into the pastry case and smooth the surface. Chill for at least 30 minutes to allow the filling to set.

Meringue Topping
2 egg whites                
100g caster sugar

When the raspberry curd is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C and place a flat baking tray in the oven to heat up.
In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly until the meringue forms stiff glossy peaks. 
Spoon mounds of meringue over the chilled raspberry tart filling making sure it reaches the edges of the pastry to seal it.
Carefully remove the hot baking tray from the oven and place the tart onto it. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes in the middle of the oven until the meringue surface is lightly golden and crisp, underneath should still be soft and mallowy. The curd will be melted and gooey when hot, so don’t use this as a baking indicator of doneness.
Allow to cool for 20 minutes before carefully removing from the tin.
Best served chilled for ease of slicing, although also tastes delicious warm – the filling will ooze out if eaten warm.
Makes 1 x 8inch tart

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Cauliflower Pizza Base

Cauliflower pizza bases have been making the rounds on blogs, and in the news a lot in the past few months. I’m a little late at joining the party as I only made and tasted my first cauliflower base pizza a couple of weekends ago, when I met up with my sister. We like to get together every few months, catch up with each others news and cook something for lunch. Cauliflower pizza is something we have both been longing to try for some time so pizza it was to be!

The base is made of blitzed, lightly cooked cauliflower that is bound together with ground almonds and eggs before being prebaked to form a ‘crust’ on which to spread your pizza toppings. Its gluten free, dairy free, paleo, flourless and grainless so would suit a wide variety of diets. It’s lower carb, is fibre packed and higher in protein than your traditional bready pizza base. So far so good.

After cooking the cauliflower and squeezing out the excess water we were left with a mix that almost resembled a dough. We combined this with the other ingredients to create a thick paste which is then baked. It turned a lovely golden brown colour and smelt really good when baking. Slightly nutty, no sodden cauliflower aroma. You make a little rim around the edge to hold in your toppings and give it that risen crust appearance, which is a nice touch.

After adding our toppings - mushrooms, artichoke hearts, courgette, peppers, olives and a sprinkle of chilli for us - it had a final bake before we tucked in.

We had a slight issue with getting it off the baking parchment, it had stuck in some places and being a softer, not so sturdy veg base rather than a chewy bread dough it was hard to get it off without tearing it. Note to self, next time use a silicone baking sheet, nothing ever seems to stick to them!

Once plated we took our first bites. It was interesting…good interesting but different. It had the flavour of pizza, but without the right texture. The crust was more of a base than an actual crisp crust. It was softer and lighter, slightly coarse in texture and reminded me strongly of a thick oat pancake in texture. It carried the flavours of the pizza toppings well, but you didn’t get that same crunch or chew as you experience from a bread dough base. It was also quite fragile, definitely a knife and fork job, you couldn’t pick it up with your fingers.

I know it sounds like we didn’t enjoy it, but we did! The flavour was delicious and we both agreed if you wanted a change from regular pizza or had a diet that normally prohibited pizza then this would be a great alternative. The base was slightly sweet and nutty, and we didn’t detect any overcooked sodden-sock taste or aroma to the cauliflower, it was very neutral. Nor did it taste overly of almonds or taste like a dessert, something we were a little worried about as it was so almond packed.

It was definitely like eating pizza baked onto a large pancake. Only the very exposed edges had stayed crisp, the rest having softened under the moisture from the sauce and toppings. That aside, we loved it and both agreed that we felt energised all afternoon without that usual bloat or drowsiness that often follows a pizza fest.

I want to make it again but try and tweak the base recipe to make it more of a crispy crust. To me that’s part of what makes pizza so great. We used a recipe from BBC Good Food, but I’ve seen others that don’t use the ground almonds and just use cauliflower and egg for the base. I think they may work better at forming a lighter, crisper, less pancake-like crust. Experimentation ahead!

Have you tried cauliflower pizza? What did you think?

Cauliflower Pizza Base
(Recipe from BBC Good Food)
1 head cauliflower (about 750g)
100g ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp dried oregano
Salt & pepper
Oil for greasing

Tomato Sauce
2 tsp oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 x 220g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
½ tsp dried oregano
Small bunch basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Toppings of choice
1 x ball mozzarella
Courgette, mushrooms, olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, chilli etc

Preheat oven to 200C. Line two baking trays with silicone sheets or baking parchment that is greased with oil.
Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim the stalk end. Cut into chunks and blitz in a food processor until finely chopped, like rice. (You may need to do this in two batches).
Tip the cauliflower in a bowl, cover with cling film and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes until softened. Tip onto a clean tea towel and leave to cool a little. Once cool enough to handle, scrunch up the tea towel, twist and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. It should feel dry and almost look like dough. Then transfer it into a clean bowl.
Stir in the ground almonds, egg, oregano and seasoning. Mound half the cauliflower mix into the centre of each tray, then cover with a layer of cling film and use the flat of your hand to smooth the mixture out into an 8-9inch round. Pat the edges in to make it a little thicker and create a ‘crust’.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and starting to crisp a little at the edges.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat a little oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until softened. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano and a few leaves of basil. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 8-10 minutes until thick. Season to taste.
Once the cauliflower base is cooked, set aside to cool a little. Turn the oven up to 240C.
Prepare your toppings of choice. Spread the tomato sauce over the bases leaving a rim around the edge. Arrange your toppings of choice over the top and finish with some blobs of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 15-25 minutes, depending on how thick you’ve made your bases and how much topping you have piled on!
Once cooked, leave to stand for 3 minutes before using a fish slice or palette knife to remove the pizzas from the tray. Scatter over some more basil leaves before serving.
Makes 2 x 8-9 inch pizzas, or one massive one.