Baking the Christmas cake is something I look forward to every year. Its fun choosing the fruit combination, I always stick to the basics but try to have something a little different each time. The fruit is then soaked overnight in brandy before being baked into the dark spicy cake mix the following day. Whereupon more brandy is added and the baked cake is wrapped up tight and squirreled away to mature for a few weeks before being marzipaned and iced in the run up to Christmas. Having to wait before eating it fills me with excited anticipation, and I’m sure it makes it tastes better when I finally get to taste it on Christmas Day. There is just something so festive and traditional about its preparation and the aromas that waft through the house on baking that it can’t help but put me in a good mood.
I normally try to get the cake baked by mid November so it has lots of time to mature, but I have only just got round to it this year – where have the days gone?? The arrival of a light scattering of snow at the end of last week meant staying indoors with the Christmas cake mix was a far cosier prospect than venturing outside, so now we have Christmas cake!
This year the Christmas cake is, of course, going to be gluten free. However, this does not offer any problems as Christmas cake is basically lots of fruit stuck together with a bit of cake mix, rather than a cake containing fruit. Its got so much fruit that you don’t need to worry about it not rising or being fluffy enough as this is not that sort of cake. You could even replace the all the flour with ground almonds and still end up with a delicious cake.
For my cake I decided to use a combination of buckwheat flour and brown rice flour. I love the flavour of buckwheat and the brown rice has a nice fine texture, plus a bit of hidden fibre never hurt anyone. If you want to make a non GF cake then just add the same amount of plain flour in place of the rice and buckwheat flours. If you do want to make this cake gluten free then be sure to check your ingredients carefully. I’ve used fresh citrus zest in place of candied peel as I prefer it, but I did look at the back of the packet and was surprised to see that they’d added wheat flour to try and prevent the little peel pieces from sticking together. Why they bother when it’s covered in sticky syrup anyway I don’t know, but be sure to check!
I love the colours of this fruit mix. It’s so cheering to cut into a slice of the dark cake and see the glossy reds, browns and oranges of the dried fruits peeping out. After the fruits have been soaking in brandy they smell heavenly, all sweet, citrusy and alcoholic. However, nothing surpasses the aroma that wafts from the oven while the cake is baking, hot warm spices and sticky dark treacle – ahh bliss.
Feel free to adapt the fruit and soaking liquid below to suit your own preferences or whatever you have on hand. I added some dried apple this time but in the past I’ve used dried cranberries, figs and prunes. Experiment and have fun!
Click below to see my Christmas cakes from Christmases past (Look back through November and December from 2 years ago for a complete set-by-step guide to creating a Christmas cake.
I’ll do another post nearer Christmas and show you this years design!
Place the raisins and sultanas into a bowl. Chop the cherries into quarters and add to the bowl. Chop the apricots and dried apple into pieces the size of the sultanas and add to the bowl.
Add the zest of the lemon and orange.
Drizzle over the Brandy and stir to coat. Cover with cling film and leave for at least 24 hours in a cool place to allow the fruit to plump up and absorb the Brandy.
To make the cake
Lightly grease a 6.5inch/17cm deep round spring form tin. Grease the tin well and line the base greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 140C.
Make sure your butter is soft, then weigh all the cake ingredients, expect the pre soaked fruit into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well combined.
Add the pre soaked fruit, including any remaining juices and fold together using a spatula.
Spread the mix into the tin, creating a dip in the middle to allow for doming in the oven. Press down gently.
Bake in the oven for 2hours 10minutes until browned and quite firm to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tin for 1 hour before pricking the surface of the cake and drizzling over 20ml of Brandy. Cover the cake and leave to cool in the tin before unmolding. Leave the greaseproof paper on the base and wrap the cake tightly in clingfilm and leave to mature for at least two weeks. Feed again with another 15ml of Brandy one week later. A week before Christmas, trim the top of the cake into a level surface and brush with a little more brandy before adding a layer of marzipan and covering in fondant and decorating. Also tastes great un-iced if desired.
Makes 1 x 6.5inch/17cm cake
Looking at this quiche I expect you’re thinking – ‘mmm looks tasty but I think she overcooked the pastry, it looks a little dark.’ Well hold your horses – it’s not over baked, it started out that colour! You see this isn’t any ordinary pastry it’s a gluten free pastry, made from brown rice flour and brown teff flour – result – brown pastry!
I have generally been getting on quite well with gluten free baking – the sweet stuff anyway. It seems if you add enough raising agents, eggs, butter and sugar than pretty much everything tastes good. It’s the savoury side, namely bread and pastry that has been my downfall. I attempted a gluten free loaf a few weeks ago, I even used a pre mixed gluten free bread mix to ensure I got a decent loaf. Unfortunately things didn’t turn out that way. In its defence the crust was good, thick and crusty, but it was flat, misshapen and the inside was like gumming wallpaper paste. It stuck to the knife in horrible globs as I tried to slice it. The following day it had solidified into a dense dry lump, and you know what? I was so determined that it wasn’t going to be a failure that I still ate it – toasted and covered in jam or peanut butter. However, the experience made me nervous and I haven’t attempted one since.
Yesterday I woke up after having dreamed a really odd dream that I was having a picnic on the moon, but had forgotten to bring any food. However, it turned out the moon was made of quiche (who knew?) so I sat there with a fork eating it. I woke up craving quiche and newly determined that savoury baking wasn’t going to get the better of me.
I browsed a few sites to get some ideas and it seemed that a combination of different flours and starches was the way to go. I decided to try out a new flour that I have recently discovered but until then had not used – brown teff flour. I had to order it as I couldn’t find any shops that sold it. It arrived looking suitably space age in a shiny silver pouch, the sort of thing astronauts probably eat their meals out of. I combined this with some brown rice flour for bulk and tapioca starch as a sort of binder, as this one goes more gummy when wet.
I was surprised on opening the pouch that the brown teff flour had such a dark cocoa brown appearance. You may think being labelled as ‘brown’ this might have been pretty obvious, but brown rice flour is surprisingly light in colour. This is the reason behind my dark brown pastry – it’s not over baked, it’s whole grain!
I also added an egg and some xanthan gum which is a special powder that helps replace some of the action from gluten, making things a little more elastic so they don’t crumble so easily. Kneading the dough I was actually really impressed how much it resembled ‘real’ pastry. It was smooth and pliable and didn’t crack on rolling out. An additional bonus is that you can knead or reroll it as often as you like as there is no gluten in the dough to overwork, plus it doesn’t shrink on baking.
I filled the quiche with some roasted veggies and after a short bake in the oven I was able to tuck into a slice for lunch. Oh it was delicious. The pastry was light and crisp but didn’t crumble; nor was it tough or chewy. It had a slightly gritty texture from the rice flour, but I liked this, similar to a shortbread biscuit. The roasted veggies added a wonderful flavour and sweetness. So all in all a great success – yay!
Teff is a teeny tiny grain that is approximately 150 times smaller than a grain of wheat. It is actually the smallest grain in the world! However, for such a tiny grain is also highly nutritious, especially when left wholesome brown (white teff flour is also available). Teff contains 40% more calcium than milk, has twice as much iron as wheat and contains all 8 essential amino acids making it a complete protein. It’s also high in fiber, potassium and zinc. That’s one super grain. (click here for more info) To me, it has a wholesome toasted flavour similar to rye flour, although stronger. I can see it becoming one of my new favourite flours.
Pastry done, bread to go – oh err, wish me luck!
Roasted Vegetable Quiche with Gluten Free Pastry
Gluten Free Pastry
100g brown rice flour
60g brown teff flour
40g tapioca starch
1½ tsp xanthan gum
80g cold butter
2-3 tbsp cold water
Roasted Veg Filling
1 tsp dried thyme
1 small red onion
1 small brown onion
½ red pepper
½ yellow pepper
½ large courgette
3 springs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Method – Pastry
Weigh the flours, tapioca starch and xanthan gum into a bowl. Cut the cold butter into little cubes and rub it through the flour using the tips of your fingers, lifting them above the rim of the bowl and letting the flour fall back into it as you rub. Continue until all the butter has broken down and the mix contains some small clumps.
Lightly beat the egg, add to the flour mix and work in using a round bladed bread knife. Add two tablespoons of cold water and mix gently.
Tip the mix out onto a clean work surface (t may still look too dry at this stage) and switch to your hands and try to bring the mix together into a dough. If it still seems too dry add a little more water, a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to form a dough.
Knead the dough gently until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for 30 – 60 minutes.
Roasted Veg Filling
Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the onions and peppers into small-ish chunks, about 1inch/2.5cm. Slice the courgette into 1-2cm slices.
Place the veg onto a baking tray and drizzle over the oil. Tuck the springs of rosemary in-between the veg and place in the oven to roast for 50minutes (after 30minutes, give the veg a mix and return to the oven for the remaining 20minutes).
Once roasted, remove the from the oven and leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C and place a large baking tray in the oven to heat up.
Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll it out between two big sheets of clingfilm until 3-4mm thick (this does away with the need for flouring a work surface). Use to line a 6-7inch round tin or a long rectangular tart tin.
Arrange the roasted veg inside the tart.
In a bowl, beat the eggs, milk, dried thyme and some seasoning until well combined. Pour over the roasted veg and carefully transfer the quiche onto the preheated baking tray.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the egg mixture it set and the pastry crisp.
Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing from the tin and serving.
I was delighted when this cake won the vote to be Novembers cake. I adore cinnamon in any form and the idea of using it in a hot pudding cake sounded perfect for the cold chilly winter days we have been having. This pudding cake takes the form of a self saucing pudding. It’s a cinnamon spiced cake that has a thin caramel sauce poured all over the top of the batter before being baked in the oven. During the baking process, the sauce seeps down to the base of the pan and thickens up into a thick and gooey caramel with the cinnamon sponge on top – magic!
I was a little dubious that this would work as described as my caramel sauce was very thin and liquidly when I poured it over the cake batter, so much so that it completely drowned the cake mix. However, the cake worked its magic in the oven and the golden cinnamon sponge emerged from beneath and baked into a lovely golden cake, complete with a crisp crackly crust – delicious.
My cake batter took on a slightly golden colour due to the flour I used. I am still experimenting with different gluten free flours and for this cake I used predominantly gram flour (chickpea flour) and just a little maize and tapioca flour. Gram flour is used mostly in Indian cooking, either as a thickener or in the batter used to make onion bhajee’s. It has a soft chalky feel to it, similar to cornflour and quite a savoury taste. I wouldn’t recommend it for normal sweet cake batters, but as this cake was so sweet and had all the gooey caramel sauce I felt it could take it.
The finished cake looked and smelt wonderful but the problems started when it came to turn the cake out. The recipe suggested inverting the cake onto a plate so that the caramel sauce at the base became the top of the cake. When I attempted this my caramel sauce was so thick and gooey that it stuck the cake to the pan, causing it to brake and come away in chunks instead of turning out cleanly. Well, darn.
Personally I think it would have been far better to serve the cake straight from the pan and keep it as a pudding with the sauce underneath, but hay ho, I’ll know to do this next time.
Despite its rather poor appearance it tasted fabulous when still hot out the oven. The cake was soft and moist with the cinnamon flavour coming through nicely. I have said in the past that I am not a fan of caramel, but this caramel was divine! I suspect it was because it was made with brown sugar, rather than burnt white sugar which came it a far nicer subtle caramel overtone. When paired with the hot cinnamon cake it was gorgeous.
With my delicious yet broken cake I decided to do away with attempting to cut a neat and even little square, which was what I had intended to do, and instead dug straight in with my fork. It may not have been pretty but when you have hot spiced cake with gooey caramel sauce who’s going to complain? Even my fork knew what to do – Eat Me!
I found the cake tended to get a little dry when cold, but a short burst in the microwave softened the caramel and had it back to being a soft and moist cake once more. As its called ‘Pudding Cake’ then I feel serving it warm is as it is intended to be. I’d make this cake again, but I think its best eaten the day, if not the minute its baked and next time I’ll serve it straight from the pan rather than trying to turn it out!
Cinnamon Pudding Cake (gluten free) (Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman) For the Caramel Topping
200g light brown sugar
15g unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
For the Cake
240g plain flour (OR, 200g gram/chickpea flour & 50g maize/tapioca flour mix)
2 tsp GF baking powder
2½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
30g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar (I only used 100g)
225ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Method – Topping
Heat the oven to 180C. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Combine the brown sugar, water, butter and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, then set aside to cool.
Method – Cake
Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add a third of the flour mixture to the bowl. Add half of the milk and the vanilla. Add another third of the flour, followed by the remaining milk and the rest of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
Scrape the batter onto the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Pour the topping over the batter (the pan will be very full). Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and bake until set, 45 minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, invert it onto a large rimmed serving platter and serve warm.
Let any leftover cake cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day or in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Notes & Alterations
On recommendations of other bakers I stirred 3tbsp of the syrup through the cake batter before placing it in the tin and I baked the cake in a 9inch pan and reduced the baking time by 10 minutes. This helped keep it moist as some early bakers had commented the cake was dry when baked for the full amount.
I only left my cake in the pan for 5 minutes only before trying to turn it out, but the caramel had already began to set and my cake stuck and broke. I would recommended turning it out of the pan immediately after removing from the oven while the caramel is still hot and runny.
On Saturday it was my turn to host the friend’s dinner evening get together that my friends and I take it in turns to host every month. One of my friends informed me that at the moment she is avoiding eating potatoes, rice, raw dairy and anything citrus, this along with the meal having to be vegetarian and gluten free meant it was rather a challenge trying to figure out a meal we could all eat. There were only going to be three of us at the dinner, so I didn’t really want to start making multiple dishes.
After running through a few ideas I suddenly remembered a bean chilli I had made a few months back and amazingly it suited all our dietary requirements – hurrah! I decided to serve it corn tortilla chips which we used to scoop up and eat the chilli. This did away with the need for cutlery which made for a fun and informal dinner. The chilli also tastes good topped with a little sour cream, avocado and coriander, but I find it’s best to serve these separately and let the guests help themselves as not everyone likes these.
The chilli contained lots of veggies and three different varieties of beans simmered together in a spicy smoky chili and tomato sauce. It also contained a secret ingredient – a little cocoa powder! This may sound odd at first but the cocoa powder adds a wonderful depth and richness to the dish as well as a deep earthy brown colour, without adding any chocolate flavour. This is actually quite traditional in Spanish and Mexican cuisine and these types of dishes can often be referred to as Moles.
Moles (pronounced Mo-Lay) come in a variety of flavours depending on the ingredients used. It is rumoured that they were originally created by nuns as a way of using up leftovers and often consisted of chili’s, spices, stale bread, nuts and chocolate. Mole poblano is one of the most famous and is a dark red brown sauce containing chilis and chocolate which is often served over meat – although in my case lots of beans!
I’ve never had an authentic Mole, but my concoction was delicious and just what was called for on a dark cold winter evening. Rich, thick and spicy with the salty crunch for the corn tortilla chips it was very hearty and comforting. The chili and spices warming us up from the inside out. You can make it as spicy as you like but personally I enjoy it with a bit of a kick. As an added bonus the dish actually tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or even overnight to allow all the spices and flavours to mingle and develop. This means you can prepare it in advance and are free to enjoy the time with your guests without any manic last minute cooking required, which is always a bonus.
Spicy Mole 3 Bean Chilli
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
400g can kidney beans
400g can black eyed beans
400g can Auzaki beans
1 red chili
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot
2 large mushrooms
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 red pepper
½ small can (100g) sweetcorn
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground chillies
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp olive oil
Dollop of sour cream
Corn tortilla chips (check your brand as some also contain wheat flour)
Slice the onion, carrot, mushrooms and red pepper into a small dice. Finely chop the garlic and red chili (seeds and all if you like it hot).
In a large saucepan heat the oil and sweat the onion, garlic and carrot until beginning to soften but it still with some bite.
Add the red pepper, chilli, cumin, paprika, ground chilli and cayenne.
Drain the tins of beans and add to pan along with the sweetcorn. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato puree. Season a little pepper.
Bring the mix to a boil then reduce to a simmer and allow to bubble and reduce for 20-30 minutes.
Mix the cocoa powder with a little hot water to form a thin paste. Stir into the chilli.
Cook for 5 minutes more before serving. To Serve
Top with the sour cream, avocado and coriander if desired. Serve with corn tortilla chips and use them to scoop up and eat the chilli.
A few months ago Waitrose advertised a competition where their online members were asked to suggest a new summer inspired dessert for their Seriously Dessert range. The favourite few would then be put to a vote, with the winner’s dessert potentially being developed for sale in Waitrose next summer.
I thought it sounded like a bit of fun, so I entered, but expected that to be the last of it. I was amazed to receive an email recently telling me that my dessert entry was down to the final 10 and would now be put to the public vote!! How exciting!
This was my dessert entry: Seriously Fruity Chocolate Cherries & Berries Summer Puddings
"Two individual summer puddings, with sour cherries and summer berries layered with moist chocolate cake (instead of white bread) in an elegant tower shape, drizzled with blackcurrant crème de cassis liqueur."
It was really quite ridiculous how happy I felt after creating this batch of muesli. In the first few weeks of my new diet, the thing I missed the most, more so than bread, was my cereals, muesli and porridge*(see note at end). Breakfast has long been my favourite meal of the day and I loved porridge, bran flakes, granola, weetabix, mini shredded wheats, muesli and the occasional sugar laden novelty cereal so much than I often used to snack on it straight from the box. To suddenly have to ban them all from my cupboards was very hard and for a few weeks I mourned their absence and was at a loss of what to eat in their place. However, as I have fast been learning a gluten free diet is not so much about denying yourself certain foods, but finding suitable substitutions.
After a bit of internet searching I discovered a sort of wholesome/natural foods warehouse called (ironically) Daily Bread Co-Operative, which said they specialised in foods for special diets. It was a bit of a trek away but I was only too eager to make the trip if it meant browsing food isles could become enjoyable again.
It turned out to be a fantastic place filled with all sorts of fruits, nuts, seeds and grains, including some I had never seen before but were gluten free! Buckwheat puffs anyone? I returned home with two big bags full of suitable breakfast grains and immediately set about creating a muesli mix.
Here are the things I bought and used to make my muesli mix for anyone who’s interested. Buckwheat puffs – Look like tiny mottled popcorn puffs with a similar texture. They have a toasted nutty flavour Millet puffs – Tiny beads of popcorn like puffs. Sweet and mellow flavour Brown rice flakes – Very thin, crisp and brittle flakes. Slightly tacky and chewy when wet but add great crispness when mixed with other things Millet – Tiny balls of millet, crisp and crunchy Millet flakes – Similar to very finely ground oats. Quite powdery but add a nice creaminess when mixed with other things Linseeds/Flaxseeds – Don’t really add flavour but packed with essential fatty acids and omega 3 – must be crushed before eating to release their nutritious oils Dried apple rings – Soft, slightly chewy and sweet with a great apple flavour Dried apricots – Very sweet, sticky and incredibly fruity. Great flavour Raisins – We all know what raisins taste like!
Eating my first bowlful was such an enjoyable experience. It contained the varied combination of sweet, nutty, crisp, crunchy and chewy that I had been craving. Some of the grains were a little bitter on their own, but when eaten with yoghurt and a drizzle of honey it was delicious!
I decided to make just a small batch at first as this would allow me to create a new mix each week to keep things interesting. The amounts below may seem very small but the puffed grains are incredibly light meaning you get a lot of them for your weight. I might try baking some with honey and nuts next time to create more of a granola style mix. Hurrah for exciting cereal again - the worlds my buckwheat puff!
Gluten Free Muesli
30g buckwheat puffs
20g millet puffs
30g brown rice flakes
40g millet flakes
40g dried apple
30g dried apricots
50g ground linseed/flaxseed (keep separate and sprinkle over each serving before eating)
Weight out all the flakes, grains and puffs and toss together in an airtight container. Finely chop and dried apple and apricots until they are the same size as the raisins. Mix in all the fruit to the grains.
Grind the linseed in a small food processor until the seeds are cracked and broken (don’t overdo it or it will start to form a mushy paste). Store the crushed linseed in a separate container.
Serve with sliced fresh fruit, milk or yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. Sprinkle a teaspoonful of the crushed linseeds over your bowl of muesli before eating. (It falls to the bottom if mixed with everything else)
Makes enough for 4-6 servings
* Note about oats
Some people may wonder why I can’t have porridge on my gluten free diet. It is true that oats are gluten free but many oats are milled using the same machines as wheat, meaning there is a high risk they have been contaminated with gluten making them unsafe to eat. You can buy oats that are guaranteed to be milled away from gluten grains and these are often labelled as ‘pure oats.’ However, until my gut has fully recovered and I’m back to full health I have been advised to avoid all oat products as some coealics are unable to tolerate the protein in oats as well as gluten proteins so I have to avoid them for now too. (I hope I’m not one of these people and that I can eat oats in the future!)