Malty gluten free sourdough (my new favourite)

Coeliac Awareness Week runs from 9th-15th May this year. Although awareness of my own coeliac disease is pretty much a year round thing for me, it is wonderful that information will be extra visible this week and ideas for delicious gluten free food celebrated around the web.

It is tempting to post something sweet and chocolatey here - cakes get the most hits on any website, especially if they claim to be refined sugar free or good for you. There is definitely a place in everyone's life for a little cake, gluten free or not! However, this week is about living with coeliac disease and eating the sort of everyday food that sustains, nourishes and heals, as well as delighting our tastebuds. The holy grail of which is bread, no? How to make a loaf that rises, holds together when you slice it, has flavour and depth, a satisfying crumb and thin crust? How to make this mythical loaf without recourse to gums and stabilisers, starch, strange fats and added sugar? Since the gluten free bread available to buy in supermarkets is both full of rubbish and unpleasant to eat, the only solution is to make your own.

I love a deeply flavoured loaf and brown teff is the perfect flour for something with hints of malt loaf - without the sweetness - and a touch of Weetabix on the finish. It would probably be my desert island flour if I had to choose one. When fermented, teff has a particularly sour quality that is perfectly balanced by the sweet nutty flavour of chestnut flour. Because I use both sweet rice flour and chia seed, the loaf has a very slightly chewy crumb with a great structure that is wonderful toasted straight from the freezer, or as bakers perk spread thickly with butter as soon as the loaf has cooled and settled. All of the flours are available from Shipton Mill

In my book River Cottage Gluten Free, I give instructions on how to make a gluten free sourdough starter and in this post you will find troubleshooting tips for making and managing your new pet. If you want to make the loaf without a sourdough starter, just follow instructions for making it with yogurt instead of starter. I find that adding a little extra yeast does help get a little more rise in the loaf, but if you would like to make it as a pure sourdough, just leave it out and allow the loaf to rise for longer - up to 5 hours depending on how vigorous your starter is.

Before you start baking, you will need to activate your starter. It will need several hours to properly wake up if it has been in the fridge so to make sure it is nice and vigorous, you can feed it the night before you plan to bake and then feed it again as soon as you wake up. I generally keep about 700ml of starter, so I feed it with 300g flour and 400g water each feed and discard any excess that isn't used, leaving 700ml to go back in the fridge when I have finished baking. You can use the excess, or 'discard' for making pancakes, crumpets etc or throw it away.

Malty sourdough with pumpkin & chia seeds

150g chestnut flour

100g brown teff flour

50g sweet rice flour

50g buckwheat flour

200g active gluten free sourdough starter (or 90g live yogurt + 110g brown teff flour)

1 tsp (4g) quick dried yeast (or 12g fresh yeast)

100g potato starch

7g fine sea salt10g chia seeds (or golden linseed)

1 tsp blackstrap molasses (optional)

2 - 2 1/2 tsp ground psyllium husk

40g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

butter/lard/coconut oil to grease tins & sesame or sunflower seeds to coat

a 2 lb loaf tin - approx dimensions 25cm x 11cm x 8 cm (I use Vogue brand)

  • First make the sponge. In a mixing bowl beat together the chestnut flour, brown teff flour, sweet rice flour, buckwheat flour, sourdough starter (or yogurt + flour) and 400g tepid unchlorinated water until smooth. Cover and leave at room temperature for 4-6 hours or overnight for a more sour loaf. 
  • When the sponge has fermented, make the dough. Sprinkle dried yeast into the sponge mix and beat well, or mash fresh yeast in a little of the wet mix until completely smooth and add back to the bowl. Leave for 5 minutes to start to work and then add the rest of the ingredients except psyllium husk and pumpkin seeds. Beat well with a spoon or your hands, squidging any lumps of potato starch through your fingers, until completely smooth.
  • Add pumpkin seeds and 2 tsp of ground psyllium husk to the dough and beat well with the spoon, leave for a couple of minutes to thicken a little, while you prepare the tin.
  • Line a 1 lb (454g) loaf tin with baking parchment or butter the inside and coat with sesame or sunflower seeds. Check if the dough is a dropping consistency - it should just leave the spoon, not pour off and shouldn't be stiff like a traditional bread dough. If it needs to be stiffer, add another 1/2 -1 tsp ground psyllium husk. Scrape the bread dough in, smooth to level it, sprinkle with sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and put in a warm place for about an hour, until it has risen by about a third and the top has little cracks appearing. Don't let it come over the top of your tin as it will flow down the sides!
  • 15-20 minutes before the rise time is up, heat the oven to 240ºC top and bottom heat - not the fan setting. Put a baking tray in the bottom of the oven and boil the kettle.
  • Very gently ease the loaf tin into the oven – if you tap or bang it at this stage it will collapse, as there is no gluten in the mixture to hold the bubbles in. Straight away, pour a mug of boiling water into the tray in the bottom of the oven - watch you don't burn your face with the steam! Bake for 20 minutes and then turn the oven down to 180ºC and switch to fan setting for another 40 minutes. Take the baking tray out of the bottom of the oven if it still has any water in it.
  • After the loaf has been in the oven for 40 minutes, put some tin foil over the top to stop it burning – the crust will be fairly dark on this loaf anyway, so don’t be alarmed.
  • After  an hour in total, take the loaf out of the oven – it should have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little and sound hollow-ish when tapped on top. Leave in the tin for a few minutes, then lift out the loaf and bounce your fingers on the side to see if it seems firmish. If not, just put it back in the oven without the tin at 160ºC for another 10-15 minutes to continue cooking.
  • Cool on a rack and do not cut until completely cold. Slice and freeze anything that won’t be eaten within 24 hours.

Orange & Rose Geranium Brownies - gluten free!

My stepmother used to bake the most amazing flapjacks and sunflower seed cookies when I was small, parcelling up a few with a handwritten letter and posting them to my sister and I. Like Proust's madeleine - the sight of a sunflower seed cookie takes me straight back to the wonder of receiving treats in the post.

When someone I love has a birthday, I get busy making a tray of brownies to parcel up with their present and imagine that same look of delight as they unwrap the chocolatey scented package and tuck into a gooey slice. If I can't be there with them on the day, it's the next best thing!

For my lovely sister Amelias birthday, I used the Mocha Muscovado Brownie recipe in my book and gave it a twist by swapping the coffee notes for orange and rose and scattering over some Montezuma's orange and geranium chocolate. I also used coconut sugar throughout for a deeply caramel tone with a little less sweetness than cane sugar. They were pretty darned incredible (she said modestly!), orange and chocolate are old friends, but the exotic fragrance of geranium and rosewater takes you away from Terry's chocolate orange territory and drops you somewhere in the Middle East. If you're thinking that these brownies have anything Turkish delight about them however, I can reassure you that they are hedonistically chocolatey, without a hint of soapiness.

Amelia asked me the next day whether I had put anything extra into the brownies. As a respectable upstanding person, I assured her that there was nothing but good clean chocolate in them and wondered why on earth she would ask me that. Apparently, she had shared them with her colleagues, who felt inexplicably giddy for the rest of the afternoon! I wondered if it could have been the nourishing teff flour, heady geranium and rose combination, or sprinkle of sea buckthorn berries that had made them giddy, but couldn't really pin it down to anything. I guess it was just a little magic alchemy, that you'll have to try for yourself.

Orange & Rose Geranium Brownies

Using the Mocha Muscovado Brownie recipe in River Cottage Gluten Free (or find it here, in the Telegraph article featuring the book) simply make the following substitutions:
  • Swap muscovado sugar for coconut sugar
  • Swap 70% chocolate for 50-60% cocoa content plain chocolate
  • Swap 4 tsp of strong coffee or coffee liqueur for 2 tsp of vanilla extract and 2 tsp of Iranian rosewater and add the zest of an orange to the batter too.
  • Swap coffee flavoured chocolate for Montezuma's orange & geranium chocolate
  • Optional - after drizzling the cooled brownies with melted chocolate, I also sprinkled some dehydrated sea buckthorn berries over the top from Arctic Power Berries - although you could candy some orange peel and sprinkle this over the top instead.
  • I used Shipton Mill brown teff flour.

Pancakes for your valentine

Chocolates, roses and jewellery may flood the shops in advance of valentine's day and card shops groan with pink endorsements of love, but I find it all a little prefabricated for my tastes. Whilst it is a wonderful thing to celebrate love in all its forms, surely I can't be the only one who finds the whole thing a little unsettlingly commercial? This is not a contest in wallet size, but a chance to put yourself out a little and show that you care by doing something a little more thoughtful or time-consuming than you would in the everyday bustle.

My favourite way to let someone know I love them is to get up a little early, put a cast iron pan on the heat and make them some pancakes for breakfast. I will have soaked the pancake mix the night before and maybe cooked up some tender pink stalks of rhubarb or roasted a few pears. I'll make sure there is some good organic butter, maybe a little paté and a bowl of creamy yogurt so that those pancakes can be adorned in whatever way my beloved sees fit.

When the pancakes are done, I'll cut heart shapes from a few of them and scatter them over the stack of pancakes - like the fairies came and sprinkled a little magic over the breakfast table.

Then I'll tell my beloved
how much I love them and we'll eat breakfast together quietly, remembering all the pancakes that have come before and imagining those yet to come.

Heart Shaped Pancakes
makes about 10 pancakes (10cm diameter) more if smaller

These pancakes are grain free and soaked overnight using live yogurt. The friendly bacteria in the yogurt digest antinutients in the almond and chestnut flours and resting the batter makes for a fluffier pancake. For a simpler pure almond pancake, try this recipe - or check out the blinis or squash drop scones in my book, River Cottage Gluten Free.

100g ground almonds
50g chestnut flour
150g Greek yogurt
60-70g water or milk
2 large eggs
pinch sea salt
2 tsp ground psyllium husk
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Butter to fry
heart shaped pastry cutter

  • Put ground almonds, chestnut flour, yogurt and enough water/milk to make a stiff dropping consistency batter - the mixture should fall off the spoon if you give it a little flick, rather than sliding off if you just hold the spoon up. If you use runnier yogurt you may not need much water at all. Cover and set aside for 6-12 hours at room temperature.
  • When you are ready to make pancakes, whisk in eggs and psyllium husk and set aside for a minute while you get a heavy frying pan on a low heat.
  • When the pan has heated through, put a knob of butter into it - this shouldn't sizzle too much, but just melt quickly. Wipe the butter around the pan using some folded up kitchen paper, just leaving a film of butter.
  • Quickly and thoroughly whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the batter and place spoonfuls into your pan - they will expand a little, so don't crowd them. Allow them to cook for a couple of minutes, until the edge of the pancakes look matte and then flip gently, giving then 30-40 seconds on the other side. If they seem dark on the bottom, turn down the heat and give a little less time to the next ones.
  • Keep your pancakes warm under a very low grill or in a warming oven, whilst you cook the rest. When they are done, cut heart shapes out of them with a pastry cutter and eat whilst still warm.

Troubleshooting for gluten free sourdough starters

Many of the breads in my book, River Cottage Gluten Free, use a sourdough starter to make the grain more digestible and bring that wonderful sourdough flavour that so many of us miss when we follow a gluten free diet. Embarking on your first gluten free sourdough starter can be both daunting and exciting. What should it look, smell and taste like? How do you know if you've got the right place for it to live as it changes from unpromising flour and water to a bubbling, living thing that will bring your loaves to life and infuse your pancakes with the umami tang you crave? If you are asking any or all of these questions, read on and I will attempt to help you breathe life into that unpromising mixture.

Rice flour
I generally use brown rice flour for my sourdough starter because it is mild, vigorous and cheap to maintain. You can make a sourdough starter from nearly any wholegrain available to you, but more of that below. You need to use brown rice flour, or at the very least a rice flour with some brown rice in it such as Doves Farm rice flour (a 50/50 mix of brown and white). This is because the yeasts and bacteria that will come to life and flourish when you give them heat and water, live in the brown part (germ) of the grain. Brown rice flour is available from Shipton Mill - who also have a great range of other gluten free flours. Their flours are not certified gluten free, but they are tested to 5 parts per million, which is better than Bobs Red Mill, who only test to 20 parts per million.

Always use filtered or bottled water for starting and maintaining your starter because chlorine is the enemy of yeast and bacteria. If you don't have access to either, leave some water out for 24 hours uncovered to allow the chlorine to evaporate and then use this to feed your starter.

Ratio for a gluten free sourdough starter
I find that you need to use more water to encourage the yeasts to grow. The ratio is 3 parts flour to 4 parts water. For example 150g of flour will need 200g of water. The consistency of the starter if fed like this should look like lightly whipped double cream. If it is very thick and pasty to start with, give it a little more water and return to the correct proportions when things are bubbling and have loosened up.

How much to feed my starter?
You need to double the starter each time you feed it. I keep a reservoir of 700g of starter and each time I feed it I give it 300g of flour and 400g of water. When I am finished baking, I pour off 700g of starter and keep this in the fridge until next time - anything left over can be used to make pancakes and crumpets or give the compost a kick start. If you keep a larger amount of starter, you must feed it more each time. just keep to the ratio of 3 parts flour to 4 parts water.

When you add your flour and water, give the mixture a good whisk. Aerating the mixture helps things to stay fresh and vigorous.

A small bunch of grapes can bring much needed yeast and some sugars to your starter - yeast loves a little bit of sugar, but too much can kill it. When you get your starter going, dunk some unwashed grapes - preferably organic - into the mixture and leave them there for at least 24 hours, up to 72 hours. Take them out when the grapes start to split a little and give them a gentle squeeze to release a little juice. Continue to feed the starter as per instructions during the whole time that you have the grapes in there as the starter still needs flour and water to keep it alive.

Alternatively, if you make your starter in the winter, a pear might be more appropriate. Grate a whole pear, put into a soup bowl and pour over just enough chlorine free water to cover. Cover the bowl and leave for 12 -24 hours. Strain and use the water when you feed your starter

Water kefir
I make a probiotic drink called water kefir (also called tibicos) that is a natural source of yeasts and probiotics. You can obtain the water kefir grains (also called crystals) from a friend who has some, or buy them online. When my starter has been resting in the fridge I will sometimes give it a feed using water kefir as the liquid part and find that this gives it a real lift and makes it very vigorous and yeasty. This will not work with milk kefir, so make sure you buy the correct grains and use the drink that you brew from them to feed your starter, not the grains themselves.

Yogurt and milk kefir
If you would like your starter to be really sour or to have a more complex flavour, then you can give it a spoonful of live yogurt or milk kefir. This won't make your starter more bubbly, or give you any more lift with your breads though.

Other flours
Teff and quinoa flour can be great to give a starter a kick start - both are yeasty and more sour than rice flour. Try feeding the starter with teff or quinoa flour (or either grain put through a clean coffee grinder or high speed food processor) for a couple of days to get things going and then return to rice once the starter is strong. If you like the flavour, you could switch to a mixture of rice and another flour for all feeds.

Where to keep your starter when it is growing?
The ideal temperatures for starters are between 21-24ºC, if your house, or environment is warmer then your starter will work faster and may require feeding more often as a result (see below). If however, your house is colder than this, you may find that you struggle to get your starter going and end up with a very sour, but not bubbly mixture. This is because yeasts like warmth, whereas the lactic bacteria can thrive at slightly lower temperatures.

Too warm?
If your starter bubbles up nicely on days 1 and 2, but seems lifeless afterwards the chances are it burnt itself out because it was nice and warm, but didn't have enough food to keep chomping. If this is the case, just feed your starter twice, or even three times daily and then keep it in the fridge once it is well established. You might also want to give it bigger feeds after day 1: 90g flour/120g water, or even 150g flour/200g water on days 3 and 4. If you feed it more often, you will need to drain off some of the mixture to avoid ending up with a ton of starter (see above - how much to feed my starter) You can use this discarded starter mix in pancakes, crumpets or to soak your porridge overnight.

Too cold?
If nothing seems to be happening at all and you are giving fresh wholegrain flour and water that has no chlorine in it, warm things up a bit. Only a bit mind! If you make things too warm then you will also kill the yeast. Think about a nice summer day in England rather than mid day in the Algarve. Try putting the bowl into some luke warm water and topping up occasionally, or putting the oven on the lowest setting with the door open - this only works if your oven goes to about 30ºC, any higher and you will kill the delicate wild yeasts. Avoid putting the bowl at the back of the Aga, onto a floor with underfloor heating, or over a radiator - these are too warm. An airing cupboard is often good if you have one.

How do you know when its ready?
Your starter is ready when it starts to bubble up within an hour or two of feeding (this may take a little longer if it has been dormant in the fridge). It should rise up in the bowl, take on a bubbly mousse like texture and even bubble and pop as though it is alive! You may find that your new starter is not as vigorous as a well established one and in this case, to avoid disappointment you can add a little fresh or dried yeast to your loaf after you have fermented it as a sponge. Between 4-8g of fresh yeast or 1-3g of dried yeast will give you a lift, without taking over. Then you can add some of the kick starters listed above to try and strengthen the yeast population in your starter.

Can I use it straight away on day 5?
Yes! After you have fed it and it has risen up and looks bubbly and alive, you can go straight on to the sponge stage of your first loaf. If you don't want to bake with it that day, put it into a container and keep it in the fridge. If you use a kilner jar for this, take the rubber seal out first.

After it has been in the fridge?
Remember to warm up your starter after it has been in the fridge. A bowl of luke warm water is ideal for this. Feed the starter, whisk well, put the bowl into luke warm water and cover with cling film for a couple of hours. If your starter isn't coming to life, you may need to give it 24 hours to wake up. Feed it again in 8-12 hours and then again another 8-12 hours later before using.

If you can't find the answer to your starter query here, please email me using the contact form and I'll try to help and can then update the post with new information. Happy baking!

x x x

Carob Fudge - a wickedly nutritious winter treat

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A few months ago after a period of intense work, long days and not a little stress had ended, I noticed that I felt permanently on edge. It was a kind of excitable, nervy, thrilled feeling - the kind you get on Christmas eve. Sleepy tea seemed to help and I always felt better after a run - elated and spent enough to sigh from the bottom of my lungs and flop down in a chair for a few minutes.

So I checked in with myself - what on earth was going on? I had no worries of any sort; book done, roof over head, lovely husband and son, work that I adored, friends a plenty. I went to bed early, ate well, exercised regularly and contemplated the fat pigeons in the garden tree just as often as ever. Yet some internal itch had me dancing the tarantella and shallow breathing.

Eventually of course, I worked it out - caffeine! I don't drink tea or coffee any more, preferring a smooth cup of rooibos, or soothing chamomile tea. But what I have been eating daily - almost as a religious habit, is dark, dark chocolate of the 90% variety. I checked out the caffeine content and it's not even that high - much like a cup of tea, or very small cup of weak coffee. However, the theobromine in cocoa can affect the body just like caffeine, in much smaller amounts. The two combined can set some people's pulses racing as effectively as a shot of espresso. I cut it out and hey presto! My serenity returned.

Chocolate is an old friend of mine, I love her bitterness and melting smoothness. Without her I started to crave dark flavours and longed for something cool to sink my teeth into and melt with the heat of my tongue. I went searching in the health food shop for something to appease my longing and amongst the sickly sweet halva and fruit leathers I chanced upon a carob bar - an old friend from my youth, when it was sanctioned by my hippy mother as an alternative to the tooth rotting sweets of the 1970s. Commercial carob bars are unfortunately full of ingredients like soya flour, agave syrup and damaged vegetable fats. So I grabbed a pot of raw carob flour and started to experiment with my own fudgy freezer treats. I find that a tray of these can last a week, just popping a couple out when I feel the need for a little something - the high fat content and lack of sweetness makes them satisfying without leading to a Cookie Monster style episode in front of the freezer.

Carob is not chocolate. It has some similar flavour notes - dark, nutty, slightly bitter - but it has a totally different identity with caramel, dried figs, coffee, molasses and salt coming through to make something altogether less bitter and more fruity. It is almost completely caffeine and theobromine free and packed with lots of minerals, particularly calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains anti-inflammatory gallic acid and is reputed to lower cholesterol. Carob is naturally sweet and if you have a penchant for bitterness like me, you can reduce or even eliminate the honey from the recipe below. Luckily for me, I love the flavour of carob and am fully aware that it is not chocolate and never will be. When I eat some carob, my brain is not looking into the cupboard and hoping to find chocolate there - it's happy to find some carob! Some people dislike it intensely and make the same face as our cat whenever we tempt her to eat a chilli king prawn - know yourself and only eat carob if it brings you joy.

Carob Fudge

This fudge is not cooked, has no refined sugar in it and will require only the most modest of kitchen skills - you can make it with your toddler if they are a carobophile. You can flavour your carob fudge with a few drops of mint essential oil, ground cardamom seeds, finely grated orange zest or chopped roasted hazelnuts. I also like to swap a teaspoon of the honey for one of blackstrap molasses to add treacly depth to the flavour.

60g coconut oil or soft unsalted butter
40g raw carob powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tsp raw honey or date syrup
tiny pinch of fine sea salt

A silicone ice-cube tray or 15cm square tupperware container
  • Put carob powder, vanilla, honey or date syrup and salt into a mixing bowl.
  • Put the coconut oil or butter into another bowl over some gently simmering water (bain marie) and allow it to partially melt. Don't melt more than half way, or your carob fudge will separate.
  • Pour the partially melted fat into the carob mixture and stir until you have a smooth mixture with no oily or buttery lumps. If you can't get the mixture to become smooth, return the bowl to the bain marie and allow to melt a tiny bit more before mixing again.
  • Spoon into the ice-cube tray and set in the freezer for about an hour. Allow your carob fudge to come up to room temperature for a few minutes before you bite it, or you might take a front tooth out. I like mine pretty chilled - you'll soon work out how you like yours. If you use a tupperware container, mark into squares with a sharp knife after the fudge has been in the freezer about 20 minutes.
  • Store in the freezer.

A pink pickle pick me up

Although Christmas has been and gone, New Year celebrated with kisses in Bridport's town square, my body is still waiting for winter to arrive. I brace myself for every trip to the compost bin and yet I have skipped there bare legged on all but a few days so far. The garden is churned muddy as a summer festival and my eyes long for a clear blue sky in which to soar.

So the usual wintry food feels out of place and I find that I want to eat pickles, salads and stir fries instead of comforting stodge. It's all possible and quite revelatory to cook up such light colourful dishes from winter veg. Shaved carrots and beets, matchsticks of parsnip and celeriac, deep purple cabbage shreds and rose pink chicory leaves. The garlicky, ginger hot flavours feel like piquant medicine against bugs that have lingered on without a proper frost to see them off.

I've been making instant pickles too, from finely chopped or shaved veg doused in lemon juice and left overnight with some
garlic squashed in its skin. Sour, salty, savoury and sweet from the roots, these pickles add punch to the simplest rice bowl supper, or bubble and squeak breakfast.

I give you my current favourite, turnip and beet pickle. It makes a virtue of the watery crunch of raw turnip and takes on a heart warming fuchsia tone from the beets - use more or less beet according to the shade of pink you crave most on your plate. Then spoon into anything you can think of, from roast beef sandwiches to quinoa salads, or even alongside a wintry shepherds pie. I guarantee it will perk you up no end.

Instant pink pickle

Choose smaller turnips and beets for this as they will be juicier and sweeter than larger woody specimens. Adjust the seasoning according to the sharpness of your lemon and use proper chefs pinches - a hefty pinch.

6 small turnips
2-3 small beetroots
3-4 cloves of garlic
3-4 large pinches of salt
4-6 pinches sugar - or spoonful of honey
1 1/2 -2 lemons

Peel turnips and beetroots - I use latex gloves to avoid bright pink hands. Slice thinly and then pile up a few slices at a time and slice these into matchsticks. This takes time, but it's worth it to have lovely thin strips and grating produces too much juice and bruises the flesh of the roots. Crush the garlic under the heel of your hand and peel off the loose skin.

Place the strips into a bowl and add garlic, salt, sugar (or honey) and the juice of one lemon. Turn it all over to cover and taste a little bit - it should taste very sharp, but with the edge taken off a little by the sugar. The garlicky flavour will develop overnight. Add more lemon juice only if there doesn't seem like much liquid, or the taste isn't sharp enough. you can add more later if needed. Stir a couple of times during that period to intensify the pink colour.

Put the pickle into a clean jar, non reactive lidded box or covered bowl and let it sit for 6-24 hours before tucking in. It will keep in the fridge for at least 3 days.

River Cottage Gluten Free

For many months I've been dying to tell you all about the gluten free cook book that I have written for River Cottage, published by Bloomsbury.

I wanted to take you aside and talk about how exciting it was to have the support of a team. How sensitively they did their very best to smooth away the wrinkles and snip off any excesses until my recipes were as simple and easy to follow as possible. That process felt like an education.

When everything was written up and fully checked out by recipe testers and food enthusiasts, gluten free or not (thank you all!), we started to photograph everything. We ate our way through each shoot with glee, licking our fingers before cracking on with yet another gorgeous photo. At the end of every day I gave a huge sigh of pride, the kind that you feel when your children do something just wonderful. That team made my babies look just about as good as they possibly could have. I wanted to tell you then too. But we agreed to wait, because there is nothing worse than being told you have a treat in store and having to wait months and months for it to arrive!

The book is full of everyday recipes, stuff I hope you'll make again and again. It is a celebration of gluten free food, not a list of what you can't eat. There are also some complex projects like puff pastry, to save for a rainy day when you feel like doing something a little more impressive. From sourdough to brioche, you'll find breads to keep even the most determined of gluten eaters happy. My starting point was to look at the qualities inherent in gluten free flours and grains, asking myself - what would taste great with this? I learnt that Teff tastes great with chocolate and makes a cracking sourdough, buckwheat likes squash, chestnut gives a delicious bready flavour and sorghum a mild wheaty chew. Every time I pulled out my bags of flour I felt the thrill of those endless possibilities ahead of me, what combination to try today? I hope that bakers of all persuasions will embrace these incredible flours for the depth and nutritional value that they can bring to a dish - not just us gluten freebies.

It's worth stating here that I don't believe there is anything wrong with gluten - if you can eat it then I am happy for you. But if you do need to eat gluten free, or are one of those lovely people who care to cook delicious food for friends and family who need to eat gluten free - this one's for you, enjoy!

The book will be published on January 14th 2016. You can pre-order copies from Amazon and Bloomsbury.

x x x

Wild Garlic Pesto

If you're lucky enough to live near some woodland, a walk along any shady path at the moment will be flanked by a carpet of dark green leaves and a sprinkling of starry white flowers. You certainly won't be able to miss the unmistakeable scent of wild garlic, like the freshest, fruitiest garlic you can imagine. The leaves bring life to salads and sandwiches and are best torn rather than cut, as they oxidise and turn black in the same way that basil does. Heating tends to turn wild garlic bitter, so add them to your plate at the table, or stir through food off the heat. You can also eat the flowers, which look gorgeous scattered over almost anything.
My favourite way to enjoy wild garlic is to make it into a rustic pesto, substituting the leaves for the traditional clove of garlic. Because the leaves have less punch, I find this pesto lets the basil really shine. If you would like to make wild garlic the king of the dish, just use all wild garlic leaves instead.

Wild Garlic Pesto
10-12 wild garlic leaves, thoroughly washed and torn into pieces
85g basil leaves
40g raw pine nuts
40g Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
large pinch sea salt and grind of pepper
100ml olive oil
  • Put everything except the oil into a pestle and mortar and grind into a rough paste. Then add half of the oil and grind again until you have a smoothish paste. Add the rest of the oil if you think it needs it and a little more if necessary - you are looking for a soft paste, on the runny side. You can do this in a food processor, but the paste will be much smoother.
  • Scrape into a jar, cover the top with more olive oil and keep for up to a week in the fridge (if you can resist it that long)

Christmas Morning Muffins - grain free

You've probably noticed that I haven't posted much around here for a pretty long time. Things are busy in a very good way that unfortunately prevents me from devoting time to blogging. I can't tell you about it quite yet - but I promise you will be the first to know when I get the green light.

Although busy, cooking, writing, teaching, treating and tweeting - rather than flog myself half dead with work, I have made a conscious decision to make time for myself. At first it feels like skiving, if I sit with a novel and freshly brewed pot of rooibos. I catch myself thinking that I must do this and that, racking up the tasks and chores like a shepherd's tally. The weight of unfinishedness can be paralysing when I allow it to lay heavily, sleepily over my shoulders.

Instead, I have taken up Italian. Every monday morning I cram a little work into the space between breakfast and my lesson and then sprint on my beloved road bike to screech in by the seat of my pants and pretend I am in Tuscany for 90 minutes. Mi piace studiare l'italiano.

After a year of injuries and frustration, I'm back to running again. My body sighs with relief as endorphins flood through my bloodstream to reach the parts that nothing else can reach. I like to run in the dark, under the streetlights, when the world is settling down to watch Strictly and tuck into supper. I'm running hills at last and my knees don't mind - unless I get carried away, pelting down the other side of a steep climb with my arms outstretched, a cry of joy streaming out behind like a cloud of icing sugar. 

And so comes Christmas, my most cherished time of year. Although I long for the heat of summer, my soul is warmed by the cocoon of yuletide. Cinnamon scented, twinkling days spread out before me like a picnic blanket. I have my boys and my family to keep me toasty and we can do what we will, when we want, as long as we choose. Bliss.

I like to make muffins on Christmas morning - I weigh everything out the night before and just blitz everything together when we get up. A few rounds of cards and a pot of tea later, the kitchen is filled with the scent of Christmas and our tummies are full of spicy muffin. These are grain free and lowish in sugar, to help avoid any unpleasant crashes later on.

Christmas Morning Muffins makes 7
These are dense, sticky muffins for date lovers. On cooling, they start to resemble crinkly snickerdoodle biscuits, with a craggly, mischievous, smiling face. If you want to make them look a little more festive, you could dust with icing sugar before you serve them - after all, it is Christmas! 

You can measure the syrups in dessertspoonfuls - 1 heaped = about 50g, so 2 level dessertspoons will probably get you to the right ball park and a heaped dessertspoon of greek yogurt is about right too.

90g dried, pitted dates, chopped
90g flaked almonds
80g salted butter - or coconut oil + a pinch of sea salt
60g date syrup or maple syrup or molasses + dessertspoon sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
good pinch of allspice
90g ground almonds
zest and juice of a clementine or half an orange
60g greek yogurt 
large handful of currants

  • Set the oven to 160C and put 7 muffin cases in a muffin tray. (6 without currants)
  • Blitz dates and flaked almonds to fine crumbs in a blender.
  • Add butter and blitz to combine.
  • Add date syrup, 1 egg, bicarb and spices, blitz till smooth, add the second egg and blitz again.
  • Add ground almonds, yogurt, zest and juice, blitz until smooth. It should be a soft dropping cake mix consistency - if it isn't, add a bit more juice or yogurt.
  • Stir in currants.
  • Spoon into muffin cases almost to the top as they don't rise that much. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until brown, risen and firmish. Cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Eat warm or cool - we like them cool, spreading each mouthful with Greek yogurt sweetened with a spoonful of honey.