It has been a long time since I posted on Gluten Free Alchemist, but I make no apology. 2018 did not start well. January was a long, long month and one in which I unexpectedly lost my mother to Pancreatic Cancer.
Although she had probably had this ugly disease for a long time, it was only a week and half from when she was diagnosed to her death. Needless to say, the blog has not been uppermost in my mind.
I have now lost both of my parents to cancer (my father when I was just 18) and thus last week's World Cancer Day on 4th February held a particular poignance for me. I worry that I may now become somewhat over-aware of every little pain and niggle.
Looking back over the last couple of years, my mother's Pancreatic Cancer must have lain 'undiscovered' for many many months, if not years..... With my new found google-induced wisdom on how it presents, I now realise that many of the symptoms were clear as day..... the doctors simply did not look in the right place at the right time or consider her symptoms with appropriate curiosity.
There is a good reason that Pancreatic Cancer is known as the 'Silent Killer'. It masquerades itself within symptoms which could be anything but..... Yet it kills with the precision of a carefully-targeted bullet and has a 5 year survival rate of only just over 3%.
At this time I do not wish to dwell on what it meant to (all too briefly) care for my mother in her final days, but would urge you to look up how this deadly disease manifests and stay armed with that knowledge just in case you ever need to know.
It was my mother who gave us our Italian heritage and also our love of food. Born to Italian parents, she introduced us early to foods that my friends had never heard of, let alone eaten. Visits to my 'Nana's' house would often mean dodging fresh-made spaghetti draped around the kitchen and I would relish our trips with Mum to the Italian delicatessen to pick up ravioli shells ready to fill with spinach and cheese, finely sliced salami, parma ham, olives and the annual boxed Panettone.
There was always cake or dessert in our house too. Endless cake! Mum loved to bake and never needed an excuse to feed us with the sweet stuff. A meal wasn't finished until we had devoured 'pudding'.
In memory of my Mum and in celebration of her life and Italian roots, I decided last weekend to make some Soft Italian Amaretti Cookies. These traditional cookies come either crunchy or soft, but always have an intense sweet almond hit. I love both, but decided on this occasion to opt for the soft chewy version which have an almost marzipan quality to them. They also somehow seemed more comforting in my grief.
They are incredibly simple to make and a batch can be created from end to end (and probably eaten) in 30 to 40 minutes flat. Flavour them with a good hit of Italian Amaretti liqueur (I use Disaronno) or for a slightly more intense taste and aroma, add a little almond extract. Either way, with their crisp shell and slightly gooey interior, you will find it difficult to leave them alone, so plan ahead and make a double batch.....
Although I made them in memory of my Mum, these cookies make the perfect gift, whether for Valentines, birthdays, Mother's Day or Christmas.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. It has been a while since I posted and I expect this to be my final post before the end of the year..... It's a good one though..... a Vegan No Churn Rich Chocolate Ice Cream made with my new favourite ingredient...... sweetened condensed coconut milk from the guys at Nature's Charm. Seriously..... I can't get enough of the stuff and have been experimenting all over the place with it (although no-churn ice cream seems to be my favourite vice at the moment....).
I'm a huge fan of no-churn ice creams and there is often a freshly-made tub of some flavour creation at GFHQ, which just about touches the freezer shelf for a few moments before being devoured. I have some amazing recipes which have been made over and over again..... My legendary Baileys no churn ice cream is a firm favourite, closely followed by a delicious Balsamic Roasted Strawberries and Cream ice cream.
The down side is that whilst I love each and every one of them, they are made with high volumes of cream and I seem to be developing an increasing sensitivity to dairy products (as well as being worried about the family risk of high cholesterol), which means I really need to start seeking alternatives.
You can imagine my excitement then, when I discovered tins of condensed coconut milk in our favourite local whole food shop. Actually excitement doesn't do my reaction justice..... I was seriously ecstatic..... I developed an almost possessive siege-like mentality (briefly!), looking around suspiciously to see whether anyone else might have spotted it and be moving in to snatch the tins from under my nose..... then I grabbed a large basket and bundled pretty much the whole shelf-load, before sidling up to the counter trying to look as normal as I could and quickly bagging the lot!....... I mean who was I kidding? I looked like some crazed loon with the oddest addiction on the planet. But you know what? Those cans have brought a smile to my face and lots of new-found creativity and I feel smug that I snaffled them before anyone else got their hands on them.....
This particular recipe for Chocolate Ice Cream was my first vegan no-churn success and boy does it taste amazing! I have now made it three times due to its popularity.
Although it freezes quite hard, if allowed to sit at room temperature for a short while before serving, it becomes gorgeously rich and creamy.
I did consider whether I could add anything to the mix that would keep the ice cream softer straight from the freezer (as it doesn't contain the higher level of fat that you would get from the use of dairy cream and dairy-based condensed milk, you have a higher level of liquid-ice (although it doesn't taste 'icy') and thus, it sets harder). I didn't want to add more sugar (which can help to protect the liquid from freezing solid) and I didn't want to add anything artificial for the purpose, so I stuck with a slight warming before eating process...... It works, so I'll stick with it for now!
The ice cream also uses raw cacao which gives it a deep, natural chocolate hit and at least a hint of an anti-oxidant boost! Totally delicious and very decadent.....
I am sharing my Vegan No Churn Rich Chocolate Ice Cream with :
You will need to chill your 3 tins of coconut milk overnight prior to making your ice cream. The straight coconut milk will separate whilst chilling and the cream within the can will harden during this process.
Before you begin, ensure that the bowl you are using to make the ice cream can fit into the freezer (temporarily).
When thoroughly chilled, being careful not to shake, open up the two cans of straight coconut milk and (depending on whether you have opened the can with the cream or liquid layer at the top) either tip off the coconut water into a glass and scoop out the coconut cream that is left into a bowl, or scoop the coconut cream off the top to a bowl and pour the leftover coconut water into a glass (save the coconut water to drink or put in a smoothie).
Whisk the coconut cream until light and airy. If it starts to become too loose, place the bowl in the fridge for half an hour to re-chill.
Add the chilled condensed coconut milk, vanilla extract and powdered cacao and fold through until fully combined.
Place the bowl in the freezer for one to two hours (depending on how cold your freezer is) to harden slightly and then remove and whisk again to add air.
Pour the ice cream batter into an airtight container and freeze until firm.
When you are ready to eat, the ice cream may be quite hard (particularly if your freezer is set very cold). Remove from the freezer for a short while before serving to allow to soften slightly.
I have wanted to make these Blinis for ages and having been gifted a Baking Stone for Christmas, I had the perfect excuse to get creative...... So today I present to you.... 'The Full English'... Breakfast Blini. Doesn't that look tempting?
Soft, light gluten free blinis made with oat flour, topped with a spoonful of moist scrambled egg, a succulent, lightly fried chestnut mushroom and finally a salty bacon-wrapped crisp-roasted, meaty cocktail sausage...... A mouthful of traditional English breakfast deliciousness..... perfect for entertaining friends after a sociable night before.....
Well I say it's a full English...... the connoisseurs amongst you will notice a distinct absence of tomato. There is of course nothing to stop you from adding a slice into the stack, but as these are bite-sized morsels, designed to be hand-held, I didn't want to risk embarrassing the guests with drippy, squirty tomato mess.
As is probably the case for most foodies, a Christmas kitchen gadget or two was inevitable and this year, I was the grateful recipient of both a Waffle Maker (recipe coming soon) and a Baking Stone.
Although you can use a large flat-bottomed frying pan to make blinis, it can be quite fiddly getting a spatula flat under them to flip or to remove from the pan. The baking stone (which is effectively a heavy, flat, coated, cast-iron plate) is absolutely perfect for the task. It gets hot..... really hot..... and retains an even heat throughout the cooking process and well beyond. I am loving using it and thinking maybe crumpets are next on my list.....
The blini recipe I have used here is a slight adaptation of a Naomi Devlin recipe. I attended a gluten free pastry course with Naomi back in May last year down at River Cottage and was truly impressed with her knowledge, so her recipe for buckwheat blinis seemed a good place to start. They were good, but Miss GF was less keen on the slightly bitter kick that comes from the buckwheat seed. For the recipe I have posted here, I neutralised the flavour slightly by revamping the flour blend, without damping the nutritional content, adding a good ratio of creamy oat flour...... In fact, using oat flour made these blinis perfect breakfast fodder...... an ideal complementary base for the 'Full English' flavours on top.
Although they are at their best when freshly made, the blinis can be made ahead of time and (just like shop-bought versions) can be easily 'refreshed' by a few seconds in the microwave.
So next time you have guests staying over, why not treat them to something a little different for breakfast?
I am sharing my 'Full English' Breakfast Blinis with :
140 ml full fat milk (or use semi-skimmed with a dash of cream)
3g Easy Bake Yeast (I used Allinson's)
pinch fine sea salt
The 'Full English' bit.... (for 16 blinis)
approx 16 raw cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon (I used ready wrapped mini pigs in blankets)
approx 16 chestnut (or other closed cup) mushrooms
3 large/4 medium eggs
a dash of milk
a knob of butter
salt and pepper seasoning to taste
Blinis - In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, egg yolks, yoghurt, milk, yeast and salt until well blended. Set aside in a warm place to prove for a couple of hours (or prove in the fridge overnight (remembering to bring back to room temperature before continuing)).
When the batter has grown in volume by about half, whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff and then lightly fold into the batter mixture until combined.
Use either a large, flat-bottomed frying pan, or a baking stone. Heat over a medium to low setting, until the base is hot and then (using a thick wad of kitchen paper to prevent burning fingers), rub the surface with a dot of butter.
Drop spoonfuls (approx tablespoon) of batter onto the surface, leaving a good gap between them (I worked in batches of 5 to 6) and cook until the base is golden, the surface is getting a slight skin and the edges are firming slightly (about 50 to 60 seconds). Flip over with a spatula and cook the other side until golden and just set (they should be soft, but not squidgy).
Remove the blinis and wrap in a clean tea towel to keep moist and warm until all are cooked.
Whilst you are cooking your Blinis, cook the sausages wrapped in bacon in the oven using the packet instructions (usually about 20 minutes at approx 200 C).
Remove the stalks and gently fry the mushrooms in a little olive oil until golden. Set aside in the oven in a heat-proof dish (covered with foil) until ready to eat.
To make the scrambled egg, beat the egg lightly in a bowl with a dash of milk and seasoned to taste and add a small knob of butter. Pour into a small saucepan and gently heat, stirring frequently until the mixture has cooked and scrambled.
Putting it all together : Layer a blini with a teaspoon of scrambled egg, topped with a fried mushroom and finally a sausage wrapped in bacon. Serve and enjoy.
With winter well and truly upon us and Christmas heading our way faster than I was ready for, it is time to add a little festive spirit with some Boozy Baileys Real Hot Chocolate, topped with these super-cute Christmas marshmallows.
Nothing speaks to me of winter more than cold, crisp, wrapped-up walks along the coast, blasted by brisk, icy, sea winds which chill fingers and noses and bring the welcome opportunity to clutch a hot mug of chocolate in gloved hands to thaw on the radiated heat. It's all part of the deal..... The excuse for hot chocolate comes from the need to warm up..... which means getting chilled a little first! It tastes better that way....
There are of course, two things better than hot chocolate..... Hot chocolate with marshmallows and better still, hot chocolate with Baileys and marshmallows. A perfect winter treat, don't you think? Of course, the marshmallows are always optional,...... although once you have tried hot chocolate with Baileys, you may find this to be less of a discretion.....
If you have never made your own real hot chocolate, then it is time to make amends..... Made with real cacao (I use block cacao or drops) and milk, it packs a deep chocolate punch which is full of antioxidants..... Perfect for helping to fight those winter bugs.
Because you add your own sugar, it also tastes more natural and less sweet. You even get to choose whether you add bog standard caster sugar or opt for the caramel notes exploited from using either brown or coconut sugar.
Admittedly, it's slightly more effort to make than the commercial powdered stuff you find in a jar, but it is so worth it. Besides..... a little decadence and pampering once in a while is important to our mental health...... right? And since cacao is also know for its serotonin-boosting properties, you can reassure yourself that this treat is true happiness in a cup.
I am sharing my Boozy Baileys Real Hot Chocolate as part of the seasonal #FreeFromChristmas offerings brought to you by our amazing group of Free From bloggers. For those of you who have never come across us, we post themed free from recipes each month and between us, we cover all the top allergies and intolerances and more. So whether you are celebrating a free from Christmas yourself, or catering for someone else who is, make sure you check out the blog list below...... we are sure between us to provide recipes and inspiration for every intolerant eventuality.
Actually, this post is pretty timely.... I notice that Rebecca (who blogs over at Glutarama) has just posted her all home-made Dairy Free Baileys Liqueur Recipe..... So if you are dairy-intolerant and can't drink the 'traditional' stuff, make your own and be sure to drop a little into your hot chocolate.
I realised of course, after I had taken the photos for this post, that I had neglected to pose the Baileys bottle in the pics..... I think I was too eager to drink, but rest assured, this favourite of tipples is mingling within and boy, does it taste incredible..... That warming, alcohol-tinged, creamy, whiskey backdrop is unmistakable.
As for the snowmen? Well, it would be impertinent not to give a nod to the up-coming celebrations... Besides, they are so cute, I couldn't resist popping a couple in the cup to cheer things along.
I am sharing my Boozy Baileys Real Hot Chocolate with Festive Christmas Marshmallows with :
Boozy Baileys Real Hot Chocolate with Festive Christmas Marshmallows Ingredients
Hot Chocolate : per cup
200 ml milk (or dairy free alternative)
20g cacao drops/block (chopped)
approx 2 teaspoons (or to taste) coconut sugar/light brown sugar/golden caster sugar
a shot of Baileys/Baileys dairy free liqueur (optional)
giant or large marshmallows - cut in half widthways
dark chocolate/dairy free chocolate drops
a couple of orange candy melts (or if dairy free, use orange writing icing)
chocolate or black/brown writing icing
Prepare your Festive Marshmallows first : Cut large marshmallows in half widthways and place them (cut side down) on a piece of baking paper.
Use a tiny dab of writing icing to glue chocolate drop eyes to the mallow tops.
Using a sharp knife, cut the candy melts into triangular segments for the carrot noses and stick in place using a dab of writing icing (or if using writing icing for the noses, draw triangles on to the mallows).
Draw mouth lines using writing icing.
Put aside to set.
Hot Chocolate : In a small saucepan, melt the cacao over a very low heat, stirring continuously.
Add the milk a little at a time over the heat, stirring into the cacao. As the milk heats, the mixture will blend, but don't worry if it seems a little grainy at this stage.
Add the sugar to taste and stir to dissolve.
If the mixture is still grainy, use a whisk or blender to fully combine, before pouring into your favourite mug.
Add a tot of Baileys and stir before topping with marshmallow snowmen.
Can you believe it's December already? That can only mean one thing..... we're on the home-straight to Christmas! To celebrate, I've teamed up with Titan Travel for their Christmas-inspired Blogmas campaign, to bring you my Trio of Home-Made Christmas Marzipan Chocolates inspired by the Christmas markets of Lübeck in Germany.
I don't know about you, but a visit to a Christmas market in December is an essential part of the festive build-up and whilst there are now some amazing venues in towns and cities across the UK, a trip further afield to one of Europe's famous Christmas Markets is simply magical. Check out Titan's trip pages...
Whether you head for the baroque beauty of Vienna, the 'thousand spires' of Prague, or the traditional seasonal markets spread across Germany, Belgium and France, your senses are sure to be treated to a kaleidoscope of sights, smells, tastes and sounds, that will leave you buzzing with Yuletide excitement.
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Bruhns
From the colourful crafts and brightly decorated sweets, biscuits and ginger breads...... to the twinkly December lights adorning trees and stalls..... wintery jingle of bells or slightly off-key music from the carousel..... and comforting flavours and aromas of exotic spices, mulled wine and warming street food, there is something for everyone.....
Photo Courtesy of Barn Images
Many of the markets are set in ancient towns, with cobblestone streets and stunningly beautiful architecture and whether you are a visitor or a local, they become a gravitational meeting point to enjoy the company of friends and family, with a steaming glass of mulled Gluhwein or cream-topped hot chocolate, alongside a cone of roasted chestnuts, sugared almonds or a famous Bratwurst sausage in a roll. The Christmas spirit is infective.....
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Bruhns
My favourite Christmas market is possibly one of the most famous, situated in the Hanseatic city of Lubeck, in Northern Germany. The town itself is a UNESCO heritage site and is steeped with medieval history. Behind the impressive twin-towered Holsten Gate (built in 1464 as part of the old walled defences) hides the beautiful, unique and dramatic pedestrianised medieval town. It is worth a visit at any time of year, but it is at Christmas when it truly shines, as the market fills the time-worn streets and squares with seasonal excitement and anticipation (it rightly deserves it's title as the Christmas Capital of Northern Germany).
Photo Courtesy of Barn Images
Overlooked by Lubeck's town hall, the Christmas Market is open from the last week in November through to the end of December and is the perfect place to stock up on Christmas presents. But what makes it especially famous are its Marzipans...... which have to be among the best you will find anywhere in the world. Seriously..... if you think you are not a lover of almond-paste, think again. The marzipan you find in Lubeck is a converter..... and once you have tasted it, you may never look back.
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Bruhns
It is my husband's most favourite treat.... The first present he ever gave me was a huge box of the stuff. I was rather bemused I admit, but as I carefully unfurled the shiny wrappers encasing the chocolate-enrobed variously-infused marzipan centres and absorbed the aromas and flavours within, I was hooked.
Although Lubeck has a number of marzipan producers, its most well-known (and in our humble family opinion, the best) is that made by Niederegger. A family company that has been handed down (with its marzipan-making secrets) through the generations since 1806, they have a long history which has over time, supplied tsars and royalty. Which means it is also good enough for the rest of us!
If you can't find enough marzipan to sample on the market stalls, you will find, located behind Lubeck's Town Hall, the Niederegger Cafe..... Actually, forget 'if you can't find enough....'.... visit the cafe anyway...... It is a bit of an institution locally.
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Bruhns
From traditional 'plain' almond-paste through to alternative nut marzipans and mixtures tinted with extracts and liqueurs, eating Niederegger marzipan is a trip for the taste buds..... and if you are lucky enough to head to the Christmas markets of Lubeck, your nostalgic memory will be set. Marzipan will forever be associated with the buzz of cold winter days, the hustle and bustle of the sensual Christmas markets and the anticipation of the celebrations to come.....
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Bruhns
Inspired by our love for Christmas and for Lubeck marzipan (but sadly without a trip to Germany arranged this year), I have created my own Christmas marzipans. The marzipan itself can be made in minutes.... and has to be the simplest recipe on the planet...... which is a good thing, because tempering the chocolate and dipping these show-stopping wonders is fiddly and time-consuming.
Don't let that put you off..... Not only will you be proud that you have managed to make your own chocolates, but you will be rewarded with some incredible marzipan sweets that would fit quite happily alongside the local stalls in the Christmas markets and (if you can bear to let any of them go), will make jaw-dropping presents for the people you love.
This trio of marzipans showcases not only a traditional almond marzipan paste, but pays homage to the wonderful flavours of Lubeck with an orange-infused marzipan and a pistachio marzipan. I confess, I had hoped that there would be a fourth flavour and made a stunning Chocolate-Hazelnut-Fratello paste, but when I dipped them, they got stuck to the cooling rack and by the time I had prized them off, I was unhappy with the look of them and didn't have time to make any more..... Oh well.... a post for another time....
It was a lesson learnt though..... don't fully coat the marzipan in one hit..... if you want a neater finish, you will need to coat in two stages.... dip the top and brush the base is probably the easiest option.
The marzipan paste however is literally a throw-in-the-bowl and mix recipe, yet the marzipan tastes divine. In the past, I have used the almond-flavoured recipe to cover Christmas cakes, make Battenberg, in Fondant Fancies, and in Hot Cross Buns. It's tried, tested and adored.
The Pistachio version follows an identical process, but uses ground, raw pistachio nuts resulting in a rich, creamy pistachio flavour, with a deep natural green hue, that oozes temptation and tastes incredible.
And finally..... the Orange Marzipan has an almond base, shot through with natural orange extract to give an aromatic, seasonal twist. The slight orange tint is from a dot of food colour that I added, but is totally optional.
You may even choose to give your marzipans a boozy hit..... replace the orange extract with a shot of Cointreau orange liqueur and compensate the moisture with extra added ground almonds to ensure the paste maintains shape...... The choices are endless... I have my taste buds set on everything from marzipans made with walnuts and macadamias to infusions of vodka and limoncello!
Looks like it could be a nut-filled Christmas.....
Better still though..... you still have time to get yourself to the European Christmas markets to experience all they have to offer..... and if you can't make the trip this year, be sure to put it on your 'must do' list for next year. And make sure you check out Titan Travel's '12 Days of Blogmas' for more Christmas market inspired ideas from amazing bloggers who know.....
Sharing these gorgeous treats as widely as possible with :
A Trio of Home-Made Marzipan Chocolates :Almond Marzipan (makes 15 to 18 marzipan sweets)Ingredients
115g ground almonds
115g icing sugar - sifted
27g egg white (I used pasteurised)
½ teaspoon almond extract
Orange Marzipan (makes 15 to 18 marzipan sweets)
115g ground almonds
115g icing sugar - sifted
27g egg white (I used pasteurised)
½ teaspoon orange extract tiny dot of orange food colouring paste (optional) (if you want to make your marzipan boozy, substitute the orange extract for 2 teaspoons Cointreau and add more ground almonds (10g at a time up to about 40g as needed) to compensate for the additional liquid
Pistachio Marzipan (makes 15 to 18 marzipan sweets)Ingredients
120g shelled, raw, ground pistachios (you can grind in a blender/grinder on pulse until fine, but be careful not to go too far or you will end up with pistachio butter)
120g icing sugar - sifted
27g egg white (I used pasteurised)
½ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
In a large bowl, mix together all nuts and dry ingredients, making sure there are no lumps.
Lightly beat and add the egg white and any flavourings or liqueurs and colour and using the back of a wooden or silicone spoon, mix together thoroughly until all the ingredients are evenly combined and you have a very thick firm paste, which you can bring together. If it feels loose, add a little extra ground nut.
Roll the mixture into a ball and wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge until ready to use.
When you are ready to make your chocolates, gently knead the marzipan to warm slightly (this will prevent cracking when you roll it).
Place the marzipan on a large piece of baking paper, flatten slightly with the palm of your hand and gently roll to your desired thickness using a rolling pin.
Cut the marzipan into shapes using your chosen cutters and set aside on baking paper (on a baking tray). Place back in the fridge to firm up, until ready to coat with chocolate.
Tempered Dark Chocolate
It is important to temper your chocolate if you want an even, clear chocolate coat. Chocolate which is used 'out of temper' will 'bloom' and have a mottled, dull, uneven appearance.
You will need at least 300g good quality dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa). There is likely to be some chocolate left at the end, but you need enough to get a good depth for dipping the marzipan. Save the left over chocolate (or eat it warm).... it can be used again.
You will also need a heat-proof glass bowl to melt the chocolate (I use one which is deeper and less wide to give good depth for dipping) and a good cooking thermometer to get an accurate temperature measurement. This is critical when you temper chocolate. I use a Thermapen digital thermometer.
You can melt your chocolate either :
a) using a bain marie : setting your bowl above a pan of barely simmering water. You will only need a couple of centimetres depth of water and need to be very careful not to get any water from the pan or steam in the bowl as a tiny drop can cause the chocolate to seize.
b) In a microwave, at medium and set for no more than 30 second bursts, stirring between each. You need to keep a very close eye on the temperature and reduce the number of seconds at which you heat the chocolate when you get close to temperature. (This is my preferred method).
c) In a small saucepan directly over a very low heat, stirring continuously and ensuring you remove the pan from the heat immediately the temperature is reached and transfer the melted chocolate to a bowl to prevent further heating.
Find the method that you feel most comfortable with.
Method (temperatures for dark chocolate only)
Finely chop your dark chocolate and place about a third in a separate bowl and set aside. Place the remaining two-thirds in a small heat-proof glass bowl (or saucepan if that is the method you are using), ready to melt.
Cautiously melt your chocolate by your chosen method until it reaches a temperature of 48-50 C/118-122 F, stirring continuously with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and then immediately remove from the heat.
You now need to cool the chocolate which can take several minutes. To do this you need to 'seed' the melted chocolate with unmelted chocolate a little at a time, stirring well between each addition to ensure the chocolate is completely melted. Monitor the temperature very closely as it drops. When it reaches 32 C/89.6 F, it is ready to use.
You will now need to work quickly, as the chocolate will only be 'in temper' between 31 C (87.8 F) and 32 C (89.6 F).
Using a cocktail stick carefully poked into the side of the marzipan sweet to hold it, dip into the melted chocolate (top down), leaving the base of the marzipan uncovered. This is a fiddly process, but it will get easier with practice.
Place the dipped sweet non-chocolate side down on a sheet of baking paper and carefully remove the cocktail stick immediately by twisting (without touching the chocolate with your fingers).
Continue to repeat the process for your batch of marzipan sweets, but be sure to check your temperature frequently. If it drops below 31 C (87.8 F) you will need to stop and very gently reheat back to the required temper temperature (do not allow the temperature to rise above 33 C/92 F, or you will need to start the whole heating-cooling process again, but ensure the temperature is back at 32 C (89.6 F) before continuing to dip the marzipan).
Continue until all your chocolates are coated, but if you run out of melted chocolate (or the depth drops too low) remember to start the whole heating-cooling process again.
Leave the chocolate to set at room temperature.
When set, turn the chocolates over to reveal the marzipan underside.
Repeat steps 2 to 4 to temper a little more chocolate (use the remaining chocolate in the bowl and some additional chopped chocolate if necessary) and carefully brush chocolate onto the base of each sweet to cover the marzipan completely. Leave to set at room temperature.
Once cool, decorate as you wish : I used a tiny dab or brush of melted chocolate to stick on pieces of pistachio or secure dipped roasted ground almond and for the orange marzipan, some edible glitter brushed onto the surface.
This post is written in Partnership with Titan Travel as part of their '12 Days of Blogmas' Campaign. All images my own except where stated as courtesy of Samantha Bruhns and Barn Images
Book yourself into Nutel-anon now... This stuff is addictive!
With the news last week that Ferrero has changed the recipe of Nutella without telling us (NoOoOoOo...), I decided it was time to try making my own version of this famous Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread. The reported 'fine tuning' of this favourite has resulted in Nutella apparently having a higher sugar and fat content and fewer hazelnuts. Outrageous!
Definitely time for a radical response..... Home-Made, More Nut, Less Sugar (healthier than Nutella then!) Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread.
Living in Kent, known also as the 'Garden of England', we are really lucky to have cobnuts (or 'filberts') which are a traditional, but local variety of hazelnut..... and they are perfectly in season right now. A couple of years ago, we bought a cobnut tree for the garden and although it has a way to go before we start to get a good harvest, it is so cool to see a few nuts beginning to appear each year. It is always a bit of a race to get to them before the squirrels, but when we do, the excitement of eating them is way off the scale.
Sadly, I didn't have enough home-grown cobnuts to make this spread, but there have been plenty in the farm shops and local greengrocers, so it seems a shame not to use them.
Whatever your hazelnut source (and supermarket ready-blanched packs are just fine), the Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread is amazingly easy to make, providing you have a high quality, robust blender. Make sure you roast your hazelnuts first for a more intensely nutty flavour.
Then blend to a smooth paste with a little oil, before adding and blending in the other ingredients (the addition of the cocoa adds an extra depth to the flavour notes).... finishing with the melted chocolate. Done!
The Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread will be liquid from the heat of the blending process and the melted chocolate, but once it has cooled to room temperature, it will firm to a spreadable consistency. Pour into jars whilst still warm and store at room temperature.
But be warned..... it is difficult to leave alone..... This stuff is seriously delicious. You may just find yourself spoon in hand, hiding in a dark corner, as you uncontrollably scoop mouthful after mouthful until the jar is clean.....
Hold that thought...... it is far more civilised spread on toast or served with gluten free bread sticks!
I am sharing my Easy Home-Made More Nut, Less Sugar (healthier than Nutella then!) Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread with :
Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (Makes 2 small jars)Ingredients
160g raw blanched (or ready roasted and de-skinned) hazelnuts
2½ tablespoons walnut oil (or hazelnut/other nut or another mild-flavoured oil) 2 tablespoons icing sugar 2 tablespoons cocoa powder 1 teaspoon vanilla extract pinch fine sea salt 180g plain chocolate - chopped 100 g milk chocolate - chopped
First you need to roast your raw blanched hazelnuts : preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6. Spread the raw hazelnuts on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 10 minutes until golden, giving the nuts a shake on the tray a couple of times during roasting to prevent burning.
Place the nuts in a heavy duty blender with the oil and blend until you have a very smooth liquid (this will take a few minutes). Make sure you blend in bursts and scrape down the sides to catch all the nut pieces.
Add the icing sugar, cocoa, vanilla and salt and blend again.
Place the chopped chocolate into a glass heat-proof bowl and use either a microwave (on 30 second bursts at medium setting stirring between each) or set over a pan of barely simmering water (stirring frequently), to melt the chocolate.
Pour the liquid chocolate into the blender with the other ingredients and blend again until you have a smooth, even mixture.
Pour into jars. The spread will be hot and runny from the blending process, but will firm up as it cools.
Every food blog needs a Victoria Sandwich Cake doesn't it? It is the sponge which (in my humble opinion) says you are either an OK baker or a good baker. Forget fancy Battenberg, Angel Cake, Coffee & Walnut Cake, or Jamaican Ginger....., a Victoria Sandwich may look simple (it is easy to ask what could possibly go wrong with a plain vanilla sponge, sandwiched with jam), but getting the right crumb, texture, density and flavour can be something of a technical challenge.
Because it is so well known and such an iconic bake, there is nowhere to hide if you get it wrong..... this also however, makes it an ideal base to test and hone baking skills. It is no surprise that it is one of the significant large cakes that school kids get to make..... and for good reason. The principles of ratio, of creaming soft butter with sugar, of beating in eggs and managing potential curdle and of sifting flour and carefully folding to ensure a lightness worthy of the great queen herself, are all skills which once mastered, will serve any baker for life.
As a child, I remember making endless Victoria Sandwich Cakes.... and yes, my first was in the school domestic science kitchen. They rarely went wrong and they were always greeted with happy enthusiasm by those who ate them.....
These days, things are not so predictable. When you are gluten free, many baking rules go out of the window the day you stop eating wheat flour..... With its instantly recognisable and quintessential familiarity, it somehow seemed important to get this bake right. The Victoria Sandwich Cake recipe I share here comes at the end of a line of attempts to get the perfect crumb.
In testing, I made number of cakes where I straight subbed my gluten free flour blends on equal weight ratios of fat to sugar to flour as in a standard Victoria Sponge recipe, but found the bakes to be quite fickle. Sometimes they would work well and other times the result was heavy and stodgy. Although most of the GF VS recipes across cyberspace do use the standard ratios, I was not happy with something so unpredictable..... so I have slightly lowered the fat content, slightly increased the flour content and added extra liquid to compensate for the moisture-sucking properties of gluten free flour.
Boy.... the result is amazing..... Light, sweetly-balanced, vanilla-infused, moist but not dense and risen to perfection...... no humps and spirit-level even.
Sandwiched with a thick, sweet layer of fruity raspberry jam (I left out additional buttercream, as I think a good Victoria sponge needs nothing more), this cake is fit for any tea-time table and is a perfect offering for bake sales, charity coffee mornings and sharing with friends.... just because you can. It is also easy to make dairy free if you need to.
On the technical bake front...... As with any Victoria Sponge, it is essential that your butter is softened, your eggs are at room temperature and your flour is sifted before mixing. If you beat your eggs together before you add them (very slowly) to the creamed fat and sugar, you will also lessen the chance of curdling.....
I am so pleased with this recipe..... I hope you love it too. I am sharing with :
Victoria Sandwich Cake (makes 1 x 8 inch (20 cm) sandwich cake)Ingredients (You will be able to substitute for an alternative plain gluten free flour blend at 260g - although results of texture may vary. An alternative ready-mixed rice-free blend can be purchased from the Free From Fairy - link in side bar)
260g plain GF flour blend (I used my rice-free blend that you can find instructions for here)
pinch fine sea salt
1½ teaspoons GF baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
240g softened butter/dairy free alternative
250g caster sugar (works best with bog-standard white)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs - must be at room temperature
120 ml dairy free or cows milk
approx 280 to 300g good quality raspberry/strawberry jam
icing sugar to dust
Base line two 8 inch (20 cm) loose-bottomed, round cake tins with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
Weigh and mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and set aside (I mix mine in a large airtight container and shake well).
In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to cream the butter with the caster sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs together until well blended and then very gradually add them to the butter mix a little at a time and beat thoroughly, making sure each addition is well-blended before adding the next and adding a tablespoon of flour mix to the bowl if the mixture looks like it may curdle.
Sift about a third of the flour into the mixing bowl with about a third of the milk and fold in using a large spoon or spatula.
Repeat with the rest of the flour and milk about a third at a time. Once all is mixed, you should have a batter with a soft dropping consistency.
Split the cake batter between the two tins evenly and level the tops with the back of a spoon/spatula.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown, a skewer inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back to the touch.
Remove from the oven and turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
When cold, place one sponge on a serving plate (golden side down) and generously but evenly spread jam across the surface.
Place the second sponge on top of the first (golden side up).
Dust the top with a light sifting of icing sugar and serve.
Looking for something a bit different for your Halloween Party? Get the kids scared with this Halloween Rocky Road. It may look innocent, but inside its inviting, colourful, exterior lurks a dark secret. This is no ordinary Rocky Road..... It is a Halloween Trick or Treat ROULETTE Rocky Road and its secret is set to freak out anyone who dares to eat a slice.
The recipe makes 16 tempting squares of delicious chocolate-M&M-Marshmallow loveliness, but when you gamble on your greediness, you may just get a shock! Inside two of these unoffending blocks is hidden a vicious, chilli-chocolate surprise..... For the (un)lucky person who gets one, they are in for a hot, spicy scare.
Set it on the party table with a big sign saying 'dare to eat a slice?' and watch your guests as they tentatively, anxiously nibble or feel the unexpected burn. This Rocky Road is perfect for an older kid or adult party, but even I would be reluctant to give it to littlies. On the other hand, it could be easily adapted to replace the chilli with something more child-friendly.... maybe a jelly sweet or something with an oogly texture.
Even better.... this recipe is a simple, no bake, throw together job which is so quick to make, you can be sure it will be ready for your party at short notice. Good job really..... I seem to have come to the idea with only a couple of days to spare and have posted it almost too late....
So without any further waffle, I will share with you, my lovely readers and wish you a Happy Halloween...... Enjoy the treats, but remember..... the tricks are lurking in the most unexpected places!
Looking for more allergy and intolerance-friendly Halloween Inspiration? You can find a full list of bloggers involved in this months #FreeFromHalloween Party here.
Halloween Trick or Treat Roulette Rocky RoadIngredients
150g butter - cut into cubes
200g dark chocolate - chopped
50g golden syrup
20g cocoa powder
200g gluten free rich tea biscuits (I used Schar) 80g M&Ms (+ a few extra for decoration) 50g mini GF marshmallows (placed in the freezer for a couple of hours) ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
chilli trick (for two tricks) 1 cube of dark chocolate 3+ large pinches of chilli powder (depending on how vicious you want you 'trick' to be)
Decoration 80g white chocolate orange food colouring paste
Prepare an 8 inch square cake tin by completely lining with cling film (so that it hangs over the sides) and on top of this, base-line with non-stick baking paper.
Prepare your chilli tricks first, by placing a chunk of chocolate into a very small, microwavable bowl and heating in the microwave at 30 second bursts (medium setting), stirring between each until melted. Add the chilli powder and stir through thoroughly. Scoop out the chocolate and divide into two blobs on a piece of baking paper. Place in the fridge to set.
Rocky Road - Place the butter, dark chocolate, golden syrup and cocoa powder into a large, microwaveable/heatproof bowl.
Microwave on medium heat at 30 second bursts stirring between each, to melt all the ingredients until completely blended and smooth (if you don't have a microwave, you can heat in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring frequently).
Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
Whilst cooling, prepare your biscuits, by either breaking with your hands or bashing (in a clean food bag and using a rolling pin) into smallish pieces. Alternatively, you can cut into thin sticks with a sharp knife. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the chocolate mixture, biscuit pieces, M&Ms, mini marshmallows and vanilla extract.
Tip the mixture into the cake tin and push to the sides, so that it is evenly spread. It will look quite lumpy on the surface.
Mentally divide the square into a grid 4 x 4 and using a teaspoon, carefully scoop up a little mixture from one of the grid pieces and place one of the chilli tricks into the mixture, replacing the scoop on top to hide the trick. Repeat to hide the second trick in another section.
Place in the fridge for a couple of hours until fully set.
Remove the Rocky Road from the tin and peel off the clingfilm and baking paper. Place on a clean cutting board.
Melt your white chocolate in a small microwavable (I use glass) bowl, on medium heat at 30 second bursts, stirring between each until melted and smooth (or place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring frequently).
Add a little food colouring paste to the chocolate and mix thoroughly, then drizzle over the Rocky Road.
Whilst the chocolate decoration is still unset, top with a few extra M&Ms and mini marshmallows.
It doesn't matter what time of year it is, there is always a birthday or celebration to be part of and what better way to celebrate than cake. This Mocha Cake is pretty straight forward to make and tastes amazing...... Rich, fudgy chocolate cake with a hint of coffee bitterness, smothered in sweet, creamy mocha butter-icing and decorated with simple piping and mocha beans.
Sounds good? you bet!
Recently I have lost my blogging mojo, partly fuelled by the tyranny that is social media follow up, but also just the challenge of trying to fit in baking, photography, editing and writing it all up alongside a full-time job.
I actually made this cake to celebrate Miss GF's birthday back in the summer..... She seems to have become quite obsessed with coffee recently.... hot, cold, iced, in cake, icing, biscuits, ice cream..... anything goes. Unsurprisingly therefore, the cake didn't last long, although we did share a few slices with friends..... there were no complaints!
With Christmas coming, this would be a great cake to add to the party table. It is grown up enough to excite the adults, but all the kids we tested it on, wolfed it down too (with no hyper-effects as far as we could tell....).
But why wait until Christmas? If you haven't got any other celebrations coming up, treat yourselves anyway and enjoy a slice with a cup of tea and a good book for Sunday Elevenses. It will bring a decadent smile to your face and make you feel happy inside.
170g gluten free plain flour (I used the GFA rice-free blend from this post)
1½ teaspoons GF baking powder 1 teaspoon xanthan gum ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 400g golden caster sugar 25g cocoa powder 75 ml milk/dairy free alternative ½ tablespoon lemon juice 3 large eggs - beaten
Mocha Butter Icing 200g good quality dark chocolate - chopped 240g unsalted butter - softened 1 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder (mixed to a smooth paste with 1 teaspoon boiling water) 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 180g icing sugar 1 to 2 tablespoons milk/dairy-free alternative
Decoration 17 chocolate Mocha Beans 8 dark chocolate cigarillos a dusting of finely grated chocolate
Sponge : Base-line 2 x 8 inch (20 cm) round deep loose-bottomed non-stick cake tins with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
Mix the coffee powder with the water in a small saucepan and add the chocolate and butter. Heat, stirring frequently, over a medium heat until just melted. Set aside.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and cocoa powder in a large bowl (or shake vigorously in a sealed airtight container), making sure the mixture is well blended and all lumps are completely broken down. Set aside.
Heat the milk either in a microwave or in a small saucepan over a low heat until almost simmering and then take off the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir until the milk thickens and looks curdled.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until well blended and light.
Add the milk mixture to the eggs and beat again.
Pour the milk-egg mixture and the chocolate mix into the bowl of flour and stir with a large spoon or spatula until you have a well blended and smooth batter.
Pour the mixture into the two tins and bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes, before loosening the sides with a spatula and turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Butter Icing : Place the chocolate in a small glass bowl and melt in the microwave on medium setting, 30 second bursts, stirring well between each until smooth (or in a heatproof bowl set above a saucepan of lightly simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth).
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with a little icing sugar and the vanilla extract until smooth. Gradually add the rest of the icing sugar, the coffee, the melted chocolate and enough milk to ensure a thick, creamy, spreading consistency, beating between each addition. (if it seems a little too loose, keep beating until thick and/or add a little extra icing sugar).
Putting the cake together : When the sponges are cold, place one on a decorating board and spread the buttercream in a thick, even layer across it, before placing the second sponge on top.
Using a spatula, spread a further layer of buttercream across the top and sides (making sure you leave some icing to pipe decorations) and smooth to the look that you want.
Arrange the cigarillos across the top in an even 'spoke' pattern and using a wide, star-tipped nozzle and piping bag, pipe flower decorations on the sides and top of the cake.
Finally add the Mocha Beans and a light, fine grating of dark chocolate.
Chill in the fridge for about 40 minutes (to firm up the icing), before transferring to a serving plate. The cake can be stored at ambient temperature.
'Tis the season of all things spooky...... and scary...... and well, maybe cute? This Ghostly Gathering on Halloween Pumpkin Mini Rolls is hardly going to send you running. If anything, I want to scoop them up and take them home to look after.... With their googly, bog-eyed faces, I think they ooze character and almost seem too friendly to eat.
On the other hand..... I've tasted them and I tell you.... no amount of cuteness is going to keep these babies from being devoured! Moist, cinnamon and ginger-spiced pumpkin sponge, rolled around rich, decadent cream cheese frosting...... they can masquerade as adorably as they like, there's no way they can save themselves....
I will be honest, I am not big on some of the traditions of Halloween. The idea that we send our kids out knocking on the doors of strangers, begging for sweets doesn't sit well with me. It's not that I am over-protective.... far from it..... but whilst I still keep some treats handy just in case the doorbell should ring, it remains an uncomfortable concept.
There is also the argument that Halloween is an ancient Pagan and therefore non-Christian festival. Now I am not actually religious either, but for those who shun this annual 'Pagan' ritual, look a little closer.... Its roots are both Pagan and Christian and over the centuries, it has become inseparably intwined with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day on the 1st November (which has apparently been around since the 7th Century) and All Souls Day on the 2nd. Reading around the subject, the Encyclopaedia of Religion suggests that historically, the Christian church introduced additional 'connected' festivals on or close to Pagan dates, to try and divert the attention away from, as well as absorb Pagan customs.
All Saints Day was introduced to commemorate the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church (with All Hallows evening becoming 'Halloween') and later, a second celebration (All Souls Day) was added on November 2nd to commemorate all souls who have died.
The idea that we celebrate our dead is (for me) a really positive thing. We tend to be quite tight-lipped in the UK around our emotions and particularly loss and I am all for a bit of a remembrance party. From parties, picnics, vigils and decorating graves at cemeteries to symbolic dancing, prayer and elaborate face painting, the rituals of All Saints and All Souls day around the world still connect the present with the past..... departed loved ones celebrated for all that they gave and shared with us.
As for the modern US-UK symbolism of Halloween?...... Maybe it's because I am a child of the 70's, but I love the browns, oranges and slightly lairy colours that are around at this time of year, and making food which is fun, cute and tasty is always 'up there' on my priority list.
Which brings us back to these charmingly delicious Halloween Pumpkin Mini Rolls. They honestly aren't that difficult to make and would be perfect sat on any table of Halloween party treats.
Halloween Pumpkin Mini Rolls (makes 8 mini rolls + 8 mini cakes) or 1 large (10 inch/25 cm x 15 inch/38 cm) swiss roll)Ingredients
Sponge 40g fine brown rice flour
30g sorghum flour
30g tapioca starch flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum 1 teaspoon GF baking powder ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt ½ teaspoon vanilla powder 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground ginger ¼ teaspoon all spice powder 3 large eggs - room temperature 200g golden caster sugar 150g pumpkin puree (canned) icing sugar to dust
Cream Cheese Filling/Frosting (quantities are enough to include the frosting 'ghosts'..... make approx two-third quantity if only making filled roll(s)) 200g unsalted butter - softened 150g icing sugar - sifted 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract a little milk to loosen (as necessary) 300g cream cheese (Mascarpone/Philadelphia or equivalent) edible sweet eyes for decoration
Sponge : Pre-heat the oven to 190 C/375 F/Gas 5 and (for mini rolls) line the base and sides of a swiss roll tin (13 inch/33 cm x 9 inch/23 cm) with baking paper (use paper slightly larger than the tin size and make a short cut diagonally from each corner to allow neat folding to fit the tin). Also get ready a non stick mini-cake tin - either use a silicone mould or line the base of the holes on a metal tin with small rounds of baking paper). If you are making one large pumpkin roll, prepare a 10 inch/25 cm x 15 inch/38 cm tin.
Weigh, mix together and sift the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, vanilla powder and spices and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and the mixture leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted (takes about 5 minutes at high speed).
Add and whisk in the pumpkin puree.
Add the dry ingredients and fold through quickly and lightly until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the top springs back when gently pressed. Keep a close eye, so as not to over-bake.
Remove from the oven and quickly prepare a large sheet of baking paper, liberally sprinkled with sifted icing sugar.
Whilst the cake is still hot, carefully flip it out upside-down onto the prepared baking paper. Peel off the baking paper that has protected the cake whilst cooking and carefully score a line with a knife at each short end (about 2 cm from the edge) and a further line to mark the half way point. (Remove the small cakes from their tins and set aside on a wire rack to cool).
Very carefully, but quickly (the cake needs to still be warm) fold each end of baking paper over the sponge and roll from each end as tightly as possible, folding the baking paper into the roll, so that it forms a layer between the sponge as it rolls. The two rolled ends should meet in the centre at the third score line. Turn the roll over to secure and set aside to cool completely. This process will help to give the sponge a 'memory' and help prevent excessive later cracking.
Filling : Whilst the cake is cooling, make the filling. In a large bowl, beat together the butter with the sifted icing sugar, vanilla and a dash of milk to loosen, until smooth and fluffy.
Add the cream cheese last of all and gently beat through until smooth and evenly combined. If the mixture feels too stiff, add a dash more milk, but be careful not to over-beat (or the mix may curdle).
When the sponge is cold, carefully unroll the swiss roll sponge and spread a good, even layer of cream cheese filling across the whole surface (remember you will need plenty left over to pipe ghosts if you are making them). Re-roll from each end and cut the sponges to separate them down the centre score line. Wrap each sponge in baking paper to secure and place in the fridge for an hour to firm up before cutting.
When ready to cut into mini rolls, remove from the fridge, trim the ends off each cake and carefully cut into quarters with a sharp knife.
Using a piping bag fitted with a wide, open round tip and containing the remaining cream cheese filling, carefully pipe ghosts on the top of each mini roll and each mini cake and press eyes into the frosting.
Refrigerate until ready to eat. (If you are intending to make significantly ahead of time, be aware that the black colour in the eyes may 'bleed', so place the eyes on the ghosts just before serving).