A Little Gluten Free Something For The Weekend Sir?

February is officially the month of chocolate in our house (ok, the other months are quite friendly with it too). I guess it's something about the cold nights and wet days, the lack of seasonal fruit and a general need for comfort, that leads me straight back to cocoa.

Well we were going to visit Nick's Spanish teacher for lunch and she requested that I bring dessert as her head was already exploding with the challenge of feeding us without gluten. I thought about damp lemon and almond sponges or juicy fruit crumbles and even flirted with a pear tart, but there calling from the depth of my consciousness was a luscious chocolate cake - the kind nobody ever says no to.

Now although Fin will eat the darkest chocolate available - offering a cogent critique on the relative merits of Green and Black's 70% to their 85% bar - most kids are not as amenable to bitter, rich darkness. Hell even Finley was floored by Booja Booja! To make this cake an offering for less advanced chocolate connoisseurs, I thought I would tone down the darkness, lighten it up with some orange zest and smooth on a creamy ganache.

I had left it too late as usual, so we drove to lunch with a still warm cake balancing on its glass cake stand, held nervously on my lap along the bumpy track to the Spanish teacher's cottage. OOh! Cake! was the greeting we got as Fin and Jonah sized each other up for a minute and then ran off to dangle a slinky from a top floor window and terrorize the kittens. Lunch was long and leisurely, the children ate like gypsies on some abandoned furniture in the garden. Finally Fin's sixth sense bought him noiseless as a ninja to the table with Jonah following in his wake like a bisto kid.

The cake was moist and light, deeply chocolaty with a warm back note of oranges. The Spanish teacher was astonished that a cake such as this could be made without gluten, Fin and Jonah ate two slices each and the rest of us just wished for a second slice. When we left, the remains of the cake were gladly accepted, although Fin had to be reassured that I had recorded the recipe and would be able to recreate it again, soon.

'What should I call this cake?' I mused generally on the way home, 'maybe weekend cake?'
'Weekend cake?' laughed Nick incredulously; 'you make cake every weekend, you can't call it that!'

I suddenly remembered having a luscious chocolate cake at a friend's when I was a child. I asked her mum about the recipe and she told me it was always a winner - she hadn't ever had anyone turn it down. 'I call it Yes Cake', she said with a twinkle, 'because everybody always says yes to a piece'.

So Yes Cake it was; a gentle slice of positive affirmation, a shared yes, a chocolate embrace. A cake that says yes to smarties and candles or agrees to some Cointreau in place of some of the juice, a cake that wouldn't mind if you wanted to add some cinnamon or introduce it to some caramelised oranges. A gentle, friendly chocolate cake to say yes to......

Yes Cake (gluten free 8-10 slices)

2 oz dark fairtrade chocolate
6 oz butter
3 medium free range eggs
4 oz palm sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs date syrup (or 1 tbs molasses & 1 tbs raw honey)
3 tbs raw honey

4 oz ground almonds
2 oz cocoa
2 oz tapioca starch (or arrowroot or sweet potato flour)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cream of tartar or 1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
pinch of salt
zest and juice of an orange

Preheat oven to 150C fan assisted or 170C if not. Butter and line a deep sided 8" loose bottom or springform cake tin.

Melt butter and off the heat add the chocolate, broken into pieces - leave aside to melt and cool for a few minutes.

Into a mixing bowl sift the ground almonds, cocoa, tapioca starch and xanthan gum. Set aside.

Separate the eggs, setting the whites aside in a spotlessly clean bowl. Beat the yolks one at a time into the butter mixture. Then beat in the palm sugar, vanilla, date syrup, honey and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside while you beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar / vinegar until stiff, but not dry - soft peaks.

remove the zest from the orange and juice it. Stir butter mixture, orange zest and juice into the dry ingredients until just combined.

With a metal spoon fold one large spoonful of egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it and then fold the rest in gently, just until no white is visible - trying to keep as much air in it as possible.

Scrape gently into the tin and level the surface. bake for 45-55 minutes, until a cake probe comes out cleanish, with crumbs rather than raw mixture on it. The top will crack, but that's just fine. Cool in the tin for a little while and then unmold and cool completely on a rack (unless you are rushing to lunch!)

Top with a creamy ganache or buttercream.

Chocolate Ganache

3 1/2 oz good dark fairtrade chocolate
4 1/2 fluid oz (130ml) double cream
1 tbs raw honey

Chop the chocolate as finely as possible. Heat the cream gently until just under boiling - when it starts to steam but no bubbles are visible. off the heat, add chocolate and honey to the pan and leave for a minute to melt before stirring gently until smooth. Leave until luke warm and spoon onto the cake. It can be cooled completely and then whipped and piped or spread onto the cake, for something less shiny and more like a truffly buttercream in appearance.