Monday, 27 May 2013

Nutty Cinnamon Sultana Crumb Cake

I first made this cake a few years ago in my pre-coeliac days. I have fond memories of it being one of my favourite cakes I’ve ever baked. I have recently been longing to recreate it, but part of me was worried it either wouldn’t live up to my expectations, or else wouldn’t replicate so well in gluten free form.

This weekend I decided to do some therapeutic cake baking, and wanted something tasty and yet not piled high with mountains of frosting (I’ve really gone off buttercream frosting recently). My thoughts drifted back to this cake and I decided to bite the bullet and bake it.

The original cake calls for a much bigger pan, so I started my halving the quantities. I then used a combination of different gluten free flours and added some xanthan gum to held bind it all together. Tapioca starch is a recent discovery of mine and it adds a great chewy moistness to baked products, you only need a little though. It wouldn’t be suitable to use all tapioca starch.

I also substituted the milk with buttermilk, which like yoghurt, I find adds a lovely moistness and tenderness to the crumb. I also increased the quantity of the buttermilk, as gluten free flours are quite starchy and tend to absorb more liquid. The final substitution I made was to swop the raisins for sultanas.

The cake comprises of a thick vanilla cake mix layered with cinnamon sugar, melted butter, sultanas and chopped pecans. A second layer of cake mix is added before the cake is topped off with more of the nutty cinnamon. The cake batter itself turned out quite stiff, almost like a very soft scone mixture, but still light and airy. At first there didn’t look enough to cover the middle layer, but it puffed up and rose nicely in the oven.

Half an hour later I removed the cake from the oven. The top had turned into a crisp sugary cinnamon surface, studded with the sultanas and now-lightly-toasted pecans. It smelt divine and I had to prevent myself from sticking my fork straight in. I managed to resist temptation and left it to cool in the tin while I went and did my weekly shop.

Upon returning, the waft of sweet spicy cinnamon and freshly baked cake hit me as soon as I opened the door and I knew it was time for a taste.

The cake was light and tender in texture but sturdy enough to hold together well on slicing. The top and sides were crisp and slightly chewy while the middle was soft and yielding to the fork. The sultanas gave a wonderful chew and the nuts were…nutty thanks for their toasting in the oven. The cake batter itself is not that sweet, the main sweetness coming from the generous layers of cinnamon sugar both inside and out. I think using buttermilk in the batter was good too, as its natural acidity and tang helped combat some of the sweetness, preventing the finished cake from being overly sweet.

The texture had a slight chew to it, almost like it was a yeasted cake. It took me a while to realise what it reminded me of – a cinnamon roll! This cake is like a cinnamon roll in cake form – that same soft yet sturdy texture to the crumb. Delicious.

This cake was a little different in texture, but just as tempting tasty as I remember. I love how it has two distinct layers of the cinnamon, nuts and fruit, rather than everything being mixed together. I really enjoy having lots of different textures in a cake, and this one didn’t disappoint. A mix of tender cake, chewy raisins, toasted nuts and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar which turns crisp and caramelised during baking. I might just go and have another slice…just to neaten off the edges.

Nutty Cinnamon Sultana Crumb Cake
(Recipe loosely based from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
90g white rice flour
50g brown rice flour
30g tapioca starch/flour
2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
165g buttermilk
100g butter, softened
70g caster sugar
1 egg

Nutty Cinnamon Sultana Filling
65g light soft brown sugar
1 tbsp white rice flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
100g sultanas
70g pecans
70g butter, melted

Method – Nutty Cinnamon Sultana Filling
Combine the light brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Roughly chop the pecans and mix with the sultanas in another bowl. In a third bowl, melt the butter until liquid and set aside for use later.

Method - Cake
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an 8x8inch/20cm square pan.
In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar and beat with a mixer on high speed until pale and evenly mixed. Scrape down the bowl and add the egg and vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth and aerated.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir with a spatula, only until the flour disappears. Add a third of the buttermilk and fold in. Repeat twice more until all the flour and buttermilk have been incorporated. Stir just enough to incorporate the ingredients.
Spread half the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter and then drizzle over half the melted butter using a spoon. Scatter half the sultanas and nuts over the top.
Drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter carefully over the filling and use a spatula to smooth the batter all the way to the edges of the pan. (It will look like there isn’t enough, but it puffs up on baking). Top with the leftover cinnamon, butter and nut mixture, covering the cake evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, fragrant and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. A skewer can have a few sticky cinnamon crumbs attached, but no raw batter.
Place the tin on a wire rack and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin before cutting into generous squares and devouring.
Store any leftovers on a plate wrapped in clingfilm or an airtight container
Makes 1 x 8inch cake

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup

What a week it’s been, so busy and the next couple of weeks don’t look like being any different. The weather has also been pretty miserable, damp, windy and cold. Parts of the UK even had snow early this week – snow! It’s May for goodness sake!!

Hard work and cold weather make me crave warm comforting foods, rice puddings, stews and soups. Feeling a little careworn I decided to make soup to give my body an extra wholesome boost. I love making soup, I find the process almost as therapeutic and comforting as eating the soup itself. There is something calming about a gently simmering pan of savoury veg.

Having recently bought a large butternut squash I decided to use this as the base of the soup, replacing the usual potato as the starchy thickener. This not only gave the soup a wonderfully rich orange hue, but also an incredible smoothness and natural sweetness.

I considered adding some chili to the soup to make it extra warming, but decided instead to use the fresher warming kick of fresh ginger. I’ve never used fresh ginger in a soup before but the results were lovely. The ginger wasn’t immediately apparent, but it left a lingering tongue tingle and aromatic freshness after each spoonful.

I topped my soup with a swirl of buttermilk and used some crunchy roasted spiced chickpeas in place of croutons. They added a lovely contrast to the soup, much better than a bit of soggy bread. Wholesome, healthy and spirit lifting. A delicious soup for the soul.

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 carrots
400g butternut squash
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Small knob of butter
2 pints vegetable stock (check any stock or stock cubes are gluten free)
½ tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the onion, carrots and garlic cloves. Roughly chop the onion into chunks, it doesn’t need to be that neat as you blitz everything later.
Heat a large saucepan with the oil and butter and add the onion. Stir, put the lid on the pan and leave to sweat.
Chop the carrot and butternut squash (leave the skin on) into chunks and stir into the onion and replace the lid again.
Finely chop the garlic and fresh ginger. Stir into the veg along with the thyme and replace the lid again. Leave to cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare you stock, ideally you want it hot so it doesn’t destroy the heat in the pan.
Once the veg is starting to soften and take on a bit of colour, pour over the vegetable stock, stir well and replace the lid, this time ajar so some of the steam can escape. Bring the mix to a boil then reduce it to a simmer and leave to cook for 25-30 minutes.
Check the butternut squash and carrots are cooked by fishing a bit out with a spoon and tasting it. If it is, remove the soup from the heat, if not, leave to cook for a further 5 minutes before testing again.
Ladle the soup into a liquidizer and blitz until smooth, you may need to do this in batches. Alternatively, use a hand blender to blitz it straight in the pan.
Return the soup to the pan and warm through if needed. Taste and add extra salt and pepper if desired.
Serve in warmed bowl and top with a swirl of buttermilk or cream. Add a few croutons or gluten free alternative. (I used roasted spiced chickpeas for a nice contrasting crunch)
Serves 4-6 depending if served as a starter or main

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Coeliac Awareness Week 2013

Monday sees the start of Coeliac Awareness week in the UK. It runs from 13th-19th May as is all about raising knowledge, awareness and acceptability of Coeliac Disease.

As someone who was diagnosed with coeliac disease myself nearly 3 years ago, and now has to follow a strict gluten free diet, this is something close to my heart. Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease has organized a host of events all over the country.

Local businesses can also get involved too. Delicious Alchemy, which is based in Sheffield and makes delicious gluten free cereals, are going to be doing their bit by handing out free samples of their Purely Oaty Fruity Muesli at Sheaf Square outside Sheffield Train Station tomorrow (Monday 13th May) from 7am-9am. Do pop down and say hello and pick up some gluten free muesli if you are in the area. Free breakfast!?

Supermarkets and restaurants too will be promoting special offers and gluten free menus during this week to show support. Silversmiths (also in Sheffield) are offering a 5 course gluten free tasting menu on Monday 13th May. It’s where we had our office Christmas meal last year and we all enjoyed it so much that we are going down to show support on Monday too.

Even if you yourself don’t have to follow a gluten free diet, it’s highly likely you know someone who does. Why not stop and think about how you might cope with the condition. How you could adapt your meals to make them gluten free. Why not try eating gluten free one meal a day during the awareness week? Make sure to check the ingredients and allergy box advice, as gluten can sneak in in the most unlikely places. We have challenged two people in the office to eat gluten free for the whole week; it will be interesting to see how they get on.

I think the main thing is to learn to adapt recipes and make substitute to foods, not simply cut them out completely. Going gluten free doesn’t mean going without!

Click here to read more about coeliac disease and how you can get involved during awareness week.

Monday, 6 May 2013

My First Dosa at East & West Restaurant, Sheffield and a visit to Castleton

My parents came up to visit me over the bank holiday weekend for a belated birthday celebration. We spent the morning wandering round Sheffield city centre before going for lunch at East & West restaurant, followed by a walk in Castleton, afternoon tea and then back to mine for dinner. The sun was shining, the food delicious and the company couldn’t have been better. All in all a fabulous day.

East & West is a South Indian restaurant on Abbeydale road that apparently has been running for 5 years, but it has only just registered on my radar. They are famous for their dosa, which are huge, paper thin crispy pancakes made from rice and urid (lentil) flour. I have been watching Paul Hollywood’s Bread programme on tv and he did an episode on breads from different cultures, one of which was Indian dosa. I had never heard or seen a dosa before but the uniqueness of them and the fact they are naturally gluten free made me instantly long to try one for myself. I did a little googleling and discovered East & West restaurant that specialised in them. Until recently, they were in fact the only restaurant in Sheffield to offer dosa. Upon discovering this I immediately suggested to my parents we go there for lunch when they came to visit. Thankfully they too had been watching the bread programme and so were more than happy to accompany me.

The restaurant itself is tiny, with only 4 tables inside but we managed to get a table when we visited at lunch time. It’s quite a simple set up, but the aromas of food wafting out the kitchen were mouthwatering and it was clear everything was made fresh. The menu is made up of a few choices, with a variety of fillings or flavour varieties for each dish. It all seemed very authentic and included many dishes I have never even heard of before. However, we were on a dosa mission and all decided to order dosa.

While we waited for the food we were served our drinks. My father and I had mango lassi, while my mother chose mango juice. The lassi was delicious. Very thick and creamy from the yoghurt and nicely sweet without being sickly. The mango flavour was good too.

When our dosa’s arrived we were all very excited and impressed at the sheer size of them. They were longer than the trays they were served on! Dosa are cooked on a large flat griddle until crisp, when they are rolled around the filling of your choice and served with a selection of chutneys. I chose Masala Dosa, stuffed with a potato and onion curry mixture, while my parents both went for a Chicken Dosa, chicken and potato curry.

They filling is only in the very centre of the dosa, to ensure the rest of it remains crisp. You eat the dosa by breaking off pieces from an end, scooping up some of the filling and then dipping it into one of three chutneys – two were spicy and the third was like a cottage cheese. I love eating food with my fingers in this rustic fashion, and it made the process of eating really fun and interactive. The filling was only lightly spiced but two of three chutneys had quite a powerful kick that really pepped the dish up. Different flavours and levels of spice with each bite depending on the chutney chosen. It was delicious and surprisingly filling.

I found the dosa themselves quite salty, but the saltiness was calmed down when eaten with the filling and spiced chutneys. I loved how thin and crisp they were. The mango lassi was also great at calming the mouth and preventing anything from getting too hot. It was such a unique dish to me that I could quite happily go back every day for a week to eat another one. It was a very simple yet delicious lunch.

After lunch we drove to Castleton and had a quick wander round the village before trekking up to the ruins of Peveril Castle at the top of Peak Cavern (also affectionately known as The Devil’s Arse!) There is good parking at or nearby the visitors centre.
There are a couple of routes you can go to get up there, but we decided to climb up Cave Dale, which is a meandering rocky trail up an old river way, through the hills. The beginning was quite steep and rocky in parts, but the scenery was stunning. From the top it leveled out and we were treated to a spectacular view over Castleton. We then clambered back down a very steep grassy hill (the hardest part) and back round into Castleton for afternoon tea.

It was a lovely way to celebrate my belated birthday and it was so lovely to spend some time with my family again. The day was perfect, it almost felt like a little holiday and I didn’t want it to end.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Crispy Kale Crisps

After doing a bit of research as to what foods work well when dehydrated I found a site selling kale crisps. I was intrigued by the idea. I love sheets of nori seaweed and could imagine they would taste similar. The site was charging a fortune for tiny tubs of kale crisps and I decided I could make some myself for much less cost.

I decided to keep things simple and start off with just a little oil and salt as a coating for my kale crisps. I was slightly dubious filling my dehydrator with layers of kale, I didn’t want o eat up with something that tasted of overcooked cabbage! After a few hours my kale was looking glossy and dried and I got my first taste.

The dehydrated kale crisps were fabulous! They were super thin and crisp, with a salty iodine flavour. Super light and crisp, they were a mix of salty savoury goodness. They were so addictive that I ate half of them in one sitting. My one disappointment was that I found them a little too salty for my tastes, but this can be easily modified and I will reduce the amount of salt I add next time (noted in recipe). It reminded me of the salty crispy seaweed you used to get in Chinese restaurants. It probably was kale and not seaweed to be honest.

I enjoyed the crispy kale so much that I also tried some with lime juice and a little curry powder, (in addition to the oil and salt) but I wasn’t keen on this one. It smelt heavenly when drying, a fragrant mix of warming spices filled the whole kitchen, but the curry powder ended up tasting bitter after being dehydrated and concentrated. I think something like a little smoky paprika would be a better idea.

Like potato crisps, only packed with extra vitamins! Anyone got any other flavours they can recommend?

Crispy Kale Crisps
100g sliced kale
3 tsp olive oil
½ tsp salt (I’d use ¼ tsp next time)

Additional Ingredients
2 tsp lemon or lime juice
½ tsp medium curry powder

Place sliced, washed and dried kale into a large bowl. Discard any thicker stalks, as these are too chunky to dehydrate sufficiently.
Drizzle over the oil and salt and mix together using your hands until every piece of kale is lightly coated.
Place the kale in a single layer over the plates of a food dehydrator.
Set to 65C and allow to dehydrate for 4 hours, until crisp.
Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before storing in an airtight container.
Eat within 1 week.

I also tried some with lime juice and a little curry powder, (in addition to the oil and salt) but I wasn’t keen on this one. It smelt heavenly when drying, but the curry powder ended up tasting bitter after being dehydrated and concentrated.

Note: if you don’t have a dehydrator, simple place your kale on a cooling rack, placed over a baking tray and leave in a cool oven, around 65C for 3-4 hours until crisp.