Sunday 25 January 2015

Selfridges, Beyond Bread Bakery and Cookies & Scream: A Gluten Free Day in London

I’ve had a list of gluten free places to visit in London for a while, and last weekend I persuaded my mum to come with me on a gluten free day trip to London to investigate. We set off bright and early and arrived in London just after 9am accompanied by a flurry of snow. Our first stop was Selfridges, the posh department store known for their gourmet food section. I’d heard tell that they now offered a range of gluten free cakes and pastries so it was with eager anticipation that we set off.

On arrival at Selfridges we spent a happy half an hour taking in their glorious chocolate and confectionary displays. Everything was so nicely presented and ranged from French macarons in beautiful pastel shades to individually wrapped bars and brightly coloured bonbons.

Next up was the cakes and pastry section. The smell as you entered the room was wonderful. Freshly baked bread and stunning displays of delicate French pastries and glossy fruit topped cakes. I could only look on enviously as my mum purchased some delicious looking bread to take home. I was eager to see what the gluten free offerings would be and asked an assistant to point me in their direction. I had high hopes after seeing the ‘normal’ displays.

So imagine my disappointment when I was shown the gluten free selection…

Well that about sums it up. Not much of a display at all! A few chocolate sandwich cakes, that looked a little haphazardly put together with no decoration or attention to detail given to them at all. There wasn’t even any icing on top! Underwhelmed (and undervalued) is an understatement!

The assistant could see I was disappointed and said they were going to get some more in later in the day, but that’s no good to me. It was mid morning on a Saturday – I expected more than this. I left cakeless.

They did have a small display of fresh gluten free pasta – which I was tempted by as I’ve never seen gluten free ravioli in my life, but as it was the first stop on our journey and they needed to be kept chilled, I decided not to buy any on this occasion.

I love this display of Heinz tomato soup though. What a genius idea. A perfect little cheer up gift for a loved one who’s feeling under the weather.

Next stop was Beyond Bread. A brand new, entirely gluten free bakery and café that only opened this month. The minute I heard about it and saw their baked treats I knew I had to visit.

It’s a lovely little bakery hidden down a side street not too far from Goodge tube stop. On entering you are greeted by the delicious aroma of freshly baked breads and cakes. The shop has a collection of little tables and chairs as well as a long counter displaying the freshly baked tarts, cookies, cakes and breads on offer.

We decided to stay for cake and coffee. We couldn’t decided what to get so decided to share half each of two cakes. I selected the chocolate muffin and my mum went for the orange & almond cake.

The chocolate muffin had a slightly misshapen appearance which hides an almost gooey chocolaty middle. It was still warm from the oven – yes that’s right, a chocolate muffin so freshly baked it was still warm, soft and melty inside. Wow.

The texture was part muffin, part brownie, part soft centered chocolate cake. It had a soft, slightly chewy outer edge with a moist rich middle that was ever so slightly squishy, not uncooked, more like a softly set chocolate brownie. We both agreed it was delicious and you’d never know it was gluten free.

The orange and almond cake was quite dense but had a delicious zingy orange flavour. It was studded with chunks or almonds which gave it a nice bite rather than being made with solely ground almonds. There was a zingy orange icing sugar glaze on top which finished it nicely. It was slightly crumbly, but not dry, more like a cross between cake and shortbread.

While we finished out tea I had a look at the other things on offer and was very impressed to see gluten free baguettes on offer. I’ve never seen a freshly baked gluten free baguette in my life. It had the proper slashes on it and even the little dimpled bottom markings where it had sat on its tray – just like regular baguettes. I was so impressed. I bought one to take home and it was delicious.

It had a proper chewy springy outer crust while the middle was light and airy. I had some for tea and then toasted the rest the next day and it was fabulous. I’d love to know how they made it. It even smelt like real bread. Gluten free breads can often smell strongly of vinegar or molasses, but this smelt wonderfully yeasty and bready. I can’t wait to go back to try some more of their offerings. I’ve even seen photos of gluten free Danish pastries – DANISH PASTRIES!!! I can safely say I’ll be returning as much as possible.

Next on our whirlwind tour of London was Camden Lock Market. I’d never been before and it is an amazing display of just how multicultural and exciting London can be. Walking through a brick built entrance from the main street you are suddenly immersed in a whole different world of little shops, street food traders, interlocking underground passageways and great swarms of people. (If you’re one of those people who don’t like crowds, this isn’t the place for you).

We spent a happy hour wandering around taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We even got a little lost down some of the alleyways and couldn’t find our way out again. It was so exciting. Some of the little shops displayed carved wooden antiques while others had swaths of brightly coloured shawls and shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the souks or Morocco.

When we found our way out again and came across the street food market we decided to have lunch. There were at least 4 places offering gluten free options and if you have no dietary restrictions you would be spoilt for choice – everything from dim sum, stir fired noodles, gourmet toasted sandwiches, burgers, burritos, mediterranean salads, Turkish falafel, cupcakes and even a dedicated mac n cheese stall. The assortment of smells, and wafts of smoke was so exciting.

After wandering round each stall at least 3 times I finally decided on a hot salad box from a stall called Feed Me Primal. It was all Paleo and Gluten Free. I chose the vegetarian box which included a warm stir fry of cauliflower, beetroot and carrot with lemon and herbs that was topped with fresh spinach, cheese, spicy salsa, picked chilies and a little almond and coconut pancake wrap. It was all very tasty and lovely and fresh.

My mum went for a gourmet toasted sandwich from Toastits. This had sun dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, spinach, avocado and basil sandwiched between 2 slices of toasted sourdough bread. She loved it and said the bread was particularly delicious. It was so big she couldn’t quite finish it. Despite the cold we sat outside on communal picnic benches, watching the hustle and bustle around us which made for a great atmosphere.

After lunch it was treat time again and we managed to find Cookies & Scream, a gluten and dairy free vegan bake shop. It was a tiny little shop front hidden in the market. There was a selection of 2 pies and 3 cookies when we visited.

We decided to share a chocolate chip cookie and a slice of Chico Pie which was a fat slice of peanut butter cookie dough, studded with chocolate chips and shaped into a pie.

The chocolate chip cookie was ok. It had a lovely strong vanilla aroma, but I found the texture to be a bit lacking. It was quite firm, neither chewy nor crispy. Perfectly nice, but nothing special.

The Chico Pie was much better. It really was a thick slab of peanut butter cookie dough, and was just as delicious as it sounds. Very rich, but not too sweet with a great natural peanut flavour. I loved the chunks of chocolate in it too. We were quite full after our lunch and so bought this home with us and enjoyed it the next day.

So all in all a wonderfully food filled gluten free day. The gold star goes to Beyond Bread for creating gluten free heaven with real innovation of the treats and breads they offer. I can’t wait to try some more of their baking.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Mini Batch Buttermilk Sultana Scones

I love a freshly baked scone, you can’t beat them when they are still warm from the oven and are most certainly best devoured the day they are made. However, this can sometimes prove a problem when there is only 1 or 2 of you in the house. Typical scone recipes make at least 8 scones, and yes you can freeze them or reheat them, but they are never quite the same.

Recently when the scone cravings called, I decided to do some experimenting and create sultana scones for the single girl. A small batch perfect for devouring while still warm and fresh from the oven.

5 batches of scones later (I’m not kidding) I had created not only a small batch scone recipe, but also a greatly improved, tastier, fluffier and taller scone recipe than my previous attempts. Hurrah. I admit I did use a pre-made flour blend, something which I tend to avoid these days, but for such a small batch of scones, quick and simple is the way to go.

The secret to the scones is the drop of vanilla and buttermilk, which I am convinced help create light and fluffy scones with a delicious flavour. I also decided to add a few sultanas which add a lovely sweet and juicy addition, but they are of course optional. You could add choc chips, chopped nuts or simply leave them plain if you prefer.

Savoured warm from the oven, spread with your favourite jam (and lashings of cream if you like) these scones are hard to beat. They can be made from raw ingredients to freshly baked scone in 20 minutes – what more could you want? Plus, the small batch means you can enjoy freshly baked scones every day!

Mini Batch Buttermilk Sultana Scones
40ml milk
45ml buttermilk
¼ tsp vanilla extract
100g gluten free plain flour (I used Doves Farm)
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
10g caster sugar
¼ tsp xanthan gum
20g sultanas
20g cold butter

Preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Stir together the milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract in a small bowl and set aside.
Add all the dry ingredients, including the sultanas, into a bowl and stir together. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Rub the butter into the flour mix using the tips of your fingers, lifting it and letting it fall back into the bowl as you rub them together until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. A few larger clumps of butter is fine.
Pour over the milk mixture and mix into the flour briefly using a round bladed butter knife until it begins to form a dough.
Tip the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently to form a soft dough, don’t overdo it, it will be a little sticky.
Pat the mixture into a thick rectangle, around 1inch thick. It should be just big enough to stamp out 2 scones using a 5cm/2inch round cutter. Press the cutter down straight and do not twist or else they may rise wonky. Gather the scraps together and form them into a final scone by patting the mixture into the cutter to form the shape (no leftovers!)
Place the scones on the baking tray and brush the tops with a little milk. Don’t let it run down the sides.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until risen.
Transfer to a cooling rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Best eaten on day of baking. Re-warm any leftover scones in the microwave for 10-15 seconds before eating.

Makes 3 scones

Sunday 11 January 2015

Udi’s Gluten Free Pizza Base Mix Review

Udi’s are an American gluten free company, and their products became available in the UK a couple of years ago. I was aware of them before they came to the UK, having tasted some of their bagels when visiting a friend in California a few years ago. I loved the bagel and so was delighted when they were one of the first products they introduced to the UK market. I have tried quite a selection of Udi’s products now, and they are introducing more and more due to increasing demand. I’ve found some to be a bit hit and miss, but their bagels are probably one of my most regular purchases (especially the choc chip and savoury ones!)

Anyway, enough about bagels. Udi’s have just launched a whole selection of baking mixes and asked if I would be interested in trying some out. Being a good home baker, baking mixes are not something I have bought before, but I was interested to see how they would compare. I was sent a pizza base mix, bread mix, cake mix and flour mix.

Making bread and pizza is quite difficult to achieve gluten free, as breads rely so prevalently on gluten to help give them their texture and structure. It just so happened that the time the mixes arrived, I was looking after my younger brother and so together we decided to try out the pizza base mix for lunch.

I found the ingredient list and method to be a little disjointed across all the range. As I’ve previously mentioned they are an American company, but I would have expected the packaging to have been made more UK friendly, as the extra ingredients required were stated in tablespoons and cups rather than grams. However the total weight of the mix is given in grams and has been given a coeliac UK accredited logo, so they must have updated the packaging for this. The cooking times too were not consistent, with the pizza base mix being stated in Gas Mark and Degrees Celsius, whereas the white bread mix was provided in Ferinheight only. Another thing I thought was slightly odd is that the instructions tell you use to use the whole bag of pizza mix (570g) which then makes 9 x 6inch pizzas – who needs that many in all in one go?!

Nit picking about packaging aside, I got to work, using only half the mix and was pleased with how quick and easy it was to put together. A bag of flour mix is provided along with a sachet of yeast. Water and oil are the only additional ingredients required.

The instructions state to use a stand mixer, which I don’t own, so I used a spoon and my hands which worked fine. After a short prove I had a lovely soft pizza dough. The instructions say “let rise in a warm area for 40 minutes. Bake for 16-20 minutes at 200C” No mention of when to add toppings (before or after baking), so I went for adding toppings on raw pizza dough and then baking on a preheated baking tray to ensure a crisp base. I suspect this was the right thing to do but I would have liked the instructions to be a little clearer.

I topped my pizza with some leftover tomato salsa, cauliflower, courgette and mozzarella, and finished it with some fresh mint when cooked. Meanwhile, my brother went for a meaty feast of leftover smoked ham, bacon and mozzarella. Both pizzas turned out well. The edges crisped up nicely and turned pale golden brown.

The middle and base of the pizzas were cooked, and had a slight chew which was nice. It was sturdy enough to hold without crumbling apart and wasn’t gritty to eat. Potato and tapioca starch are some of the main flour ingredients in the mix, so I suspect this helped the chew and binding properties. The flavour was good, not too salty, although I did find it slightly sweet for my tastes.

My brother happily devoured his pizza, so it passed the non coeliac eater test. He said it wasn’t quite ‘bready’ enough, but he’d happily eat it.

For ease and convenience I was impressed with the Udi's pizza mix and it’s the kind of thing I would consider buying if I wanted to host or was invited to a mid week pizza making evening with friends. I do however feel more care should have been taken over the units of measure for the ingredients (grams rather than cups) and more consistency given to the cooking temperatures across the range. They should at least be consistent with each other and ideally more geared for the UK market.

I look forward to seeing what other products Udi’s develop. I’ve seen on their American website that have cinnamon rolls – please can we try those in the UK too!

Sunday 4 January 2015

Lemon & Ginger Crunch Tart

To see the New Year in, I hosted a bring and share supper night with my friends. I love hosting parties like this, it takes the pressure off hosting for everyone and means you can enjoy a selection of little bits of lots of different dishes. My friends pulled out all the stops and made sure everything they brought was also gluten free, which was a lovely gesture. We ended up with far too much food, but this creates the joy of leftovers for lunch the next day.

This lemon tart was my offering to the dessert selection. It’s one of my favourites, I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about it before. It’s very quick and simple to put together but results in a dessert that’s a cross between cheesecake and tarte au citron. It uses only 5 ingredients, 2 for the base and 3 for the topping, yet tastes like you have slaved away for ages.

The lemon topping is made from sweetened condensed milk, double cream and lots of lemon. The acidity in the lemon juice reacts with the cream, causing it to thicken almost instantly as you mix it together, creating a thick and zingy mixture that sets into a soft yet sliceable topping after a short chill in the fridge. It’s creamy, sweet and also extremely zingy which makes for a very refreshing tart.

The base is made of ginger biscuits, which is a lovely flavour pairing and adds gentle warmth against the zesty lemon topping. If you can find stem ginger biscuits, it’s even better as the little chunks of stem ginger adds a nice occasional chewy bite to the base when you come across one. Crunchy ginger base and zingy lemon topping, so simple yet so delicious.

Lemon & Ginger Crunch Tart
200g gluten free stem ginger biscuits
40g butter
1 x 397g tin sweetened condensed milk
125ml double cream
Zest & juice of 2 lemons

Line the base of an 8inch/20cm springform tin or tart tin with greaseproof paper.
Blitz ginger biscuits in a food processor until they are broken into crumbs.
Melt the butter in a pan. Add the ginger biscuits to the pan and mix well to combine. Press the mixture into the base of the tin and press down well. Transfer to the fridge to chill.
Finely grate the zest off the lemons and add to a bowl along with the condensed milk and cream. Add the juice from both lemons and whisk together using a handheld whisk until thick and creamy. It should start to thicken up almost instantly into a smooth pourable cream.
Pour the lemon mix over the biscuit base and return to the fridge to set, around 6 hours.
Garnish with a slice of lemon before serving.

Makes 1 x 8inch/20cm tart