Topsy Turvey

It has been a bad day, and cake was called for…

A catalogue of mistakes, small injuries and things just going wrong culminated in me giving myself a minor black eye. It doesn’t look that bad – no-one’s going to think the Husband has started slapping me around – but it does show. I’m lucky to wear specs, they saved me from worse damage without taking any themselves. I’ll spare you the detail, but the corner of my eye had a close encounter with a large steel set square I use for squaring up my quilts. It’s designed for use by carpenters, and is very, very robust… So, the situation called for cake, the panacea for what ails me.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 7.00.39 pmThis is my Pear Upside-Down Cake, so called for a very obvious reason. And it’s extremely yummy; buttery and caramely with delicious wodges of pear on top that start life on the bottom. I make the same thing with pineapple, apricots, plums and rhubarb, also extremely delish. I had pears, so that’s what it was today. As always, it’s gluten free, but it would work perfectly well with ordinary wheat flour.

4 peeled, cored and quartered pears (Beurre Bosc are best for this purpose, but any firm pear will do);  you can also use canned pear halves if fresh ones aren’t in season.
200g butter
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups GF self raising flour
¼ cup milk

40g butter
½ cup dark brown sugar.

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a loose base or springform 24cm pan with strong aluminium foil, grease the sides. You need to make sure there are no holes anywhere.

First make the syrup by putting the butter and sugar and 1 tblsp water in a pan over low heat and stir till melted. Simmer until thickened slightly, then pour into the bottom of the lined cake tin. Arrange pears on top of syrup. If you’re using canned pear halves (and I often do), place them flat side down. Be careful, the syrup is hot.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars till pale and creamy, add vanilla extract, then the eggs, one at a time, scraping down frequently. Sift in the flour and fold in, add the milk, combine everything well. Spoon carefully over the pears so you don’t disturb the arrangement, and smooth out the top.

Bake for an hour or so. If it starts to get too brown, cover with foil. It’s done when it springs back when pressed gently with a finger.

Leave the cake to sit for 5 minutes or so before inverting onto a large plate. Gently and carefully peel away the foil to reveal the caramelised pears on top and the brown and sticky top of the cake. You’ll be wanting to scrape the gooey bits off the foil, I suggest…

Don’t be silly enough to wait till it’s cool. Eat it warm, with cream or vanilla icecream.

Black eye? What black eye?


Travel rations

We’re off on our travels again on Saturday.

It’s one of our long trips south to visit friends and family in mid north coast New South Wales, a distance of about 1320kms (820 miles) one way. But this time, we’re doing it on the bike. We’re taking in a bike rally in Toowoomba on the way home; there’ll be hundreds of ST1300 and 1100 owners and their bikes, talking, bragging, riding, eating, drinking and generally catching up over 3 days. It’s going to be a loooooong trip; it’s already a long way, but Toowoomba adds several hundred extra kms. But you know, I’m really looking forward to it! Firstly, because I’m going to be spending time with people I love, secondly because the whole motorbike thing is heaps of fun (think hundreds of middle-aged people reliving their youth), and thirdly because we’re going south, into cooler weather.  We’ve also had the bike seat reupholstered with more padding, so hopefully the numb-bum syndrome we experienced on the last long trip will be kept at bay.

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Packing space for two people for 10 days, plus spares and tools…

Packing is always tricky when you’re away for a while and you’re travelling by bike. There are 4 containers: 2 panniers, a top box and a tank pack, which sits in front of the driver on top of the fuel tank. We’re away for 10 days. We need clothes, washkit, wet weather gear, laptops, camera, toolkit, spares – and in my case, travel rations.

Most of the time, I can accommodate my gluten (and now lactose) free diet with a little creative thinking, but there are always going to be those remote country pubs or small towns where a request for gluten free food produces the ‘duh?’ response, and I need to be able to carry something for those times. It’s got to be something that doesn’t need to be kept cold, won’t melt, get stale quickly or fall apart if you look at it. It’s got to be small, nutritionally dense, portionable, and last but by no means least, tasty. Quite an ask. Good job I’ve got something that fits the bill.

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Pepitas, almond meal, coconut, peanut butter, honey, dates, prunes, pecans and flaked almonds… Looks dull, tastes anything but!

You’ve seen this before, only last time it had chocolate on it. That’s a no-no for this purpose (think melted chocolate all over your clean clothes, or worse still, the camera…), but the basic bar is still completely yummy, and I’ve added a few extras to the mix, including prunes, pecans and flaked almonds. Wrapped tightly in foil, the portions will take very little space, last well and fill the gap when there’s nothing else around that I can eat. Which sadly happens with monotonous regularity…

Right, I’m off to work out how few pairs of socks I can get away with and where I can squeeze in my hexie sewing kit…


Gold-plated bird food

No, this isn’t some post about the latest pointless trend of the rich and famous.

It’s about making a virtue out of a necessity, emphasising the positive and refusing to believe that something that’s good for you has to be dull and tasteless. Good can be good.

This is a recipe for a fruit, nut and seed bar. See what I mean? If I’d called it that, you’d have moved briskly on to something a bit more interesting. But I have to tell you, it’s gorgeous. Delicious, chewy, sweet without being sickly and lavishly topped with dark chocolate. It’s incidentally also gluten and dairy free. It’s grain free. It’s almost raw: I toasted some seeds and heated the chocolate to melt it, but the bar itself has not been baked. It’s actually good for you, but pretend I didn’t tell you that. Look, it’s dead easy, give it a go why don’t you? And then tell me it’s not absolutely yummy.

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1 cup of lightly toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1½ cups pitted dates, roughly chopped
½ cup chunky peanut butter
¼ cup runny honey
2/3 cup almond meal
½ cup moist coconut flakes

200g dark dairy free chocolate (I used Whittakers 72% Dark Ghana)
2 tblsp dairy free margarine (I used Nuttelex Sunflower)

Line a 22cm/9″ square brownie pan with greaseproof paper.

If your pepitas are untoasted when you buy them, toast them lightly in a frying pan or in the oven for a few minutes. You can used them untoasted, but the flavour is improved by the toasting. Put all the bar ingredients into a processor and pulse till everything is blended and a sticky dough is formed. Press the dough into the paper lined pan and put into the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up. Overnight is good if you can wait that long… Break the chocolate into small pieces and put into a shallow bowl with the margarine. Microwave on full power for 30 seconds at a time, for a total of 1½ minutes. Stir gently for several minutes to integrate the margarine into the melted chocolate till smooth and glossy. Quickly pour onto the hardened bar, and spread out, giving the top a ripply finish. Return to the fridge to harden up. Once the chocolate’s hardened, remove from the pan by lifting with the lining paper. Cut into bars.

Eat one, and develop a whole new opinion of ‘bird food’….

Lemon Meringue Pie

One of my favourite desserts, so long as it’s not overly sweet and stodgy. This one isn’t.

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Don’t you just want to dive into that snowdrift of meringue?

I got an order for it, and took a punt; I’d never made a GF version before, all previous efforts had been with ‘proper’ pastry.  Because this was an order and I wanted to be sure it would work, I cheated and used a commercial ready-made GF sweet shortcrust, but I’ve given a recipe for a perfectly suitable GF pastry below as well. Just be aware that GF pastry is cranky: brittle, sticky and easily overworked. Of course, there’s no need to make it gluten free if you’re OK with regular pastry. Use a rich sweet shortcrust for best effect.

For the lemon filling:

1 cup (225g) caster sugar
½ cup (75g) gluten free cornflour
½ cup (125ml) lemon juice (about 2 large or 3 medium lemons)
1 ¼ cups (310ml) water
Finely grated zest of 3 large lemons
3 large egg yolks
60g (2oz) butter

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
good pinch of cream of tartar, say ¼ tsp.
½ cup (225g) caster sugar

Line a 21cm fluted flan tin with your pastry, thinly rolled. It’s there to hold the sweet stuff in and shouldn’t be too assertive. Bake blind for 10 minutes at 200°C/400°F, remove baking paper and baking beans from base and bake for another 3 minutes till pale golden. Keep an eye on it during this time; ovens vary and you don’t want it too dark before the final baking. Put aside to cool in the tin.

Put the cornflour and sugar in a medium pan, mix together and slowly blend in first the lemon juice and then the water, stirring thoroughly till smooth. Put onto a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. As it gets hotter, you’ll see dark blobs appearing in the milky coloured mixture. Do Not Panic. It’s supposed to do this. Keep stirring, and quite soon, the whole thing will darken, become slightly translucent and shiny, and thicken. Once the mixture is blooping volcanically, reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, egg yolks and butter. Stir well until everything is well mixed in and the butter has melted. Work fast, you don’t want scrambled egg. Set aside to cool. Once completely cool, spread this filling in the pastry shell, smoothing the top. You’ll be wanting to lick the spatula, I suggest…

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Zingy lemon filling and golden crispy shortcrust pastry. All it needs is a snowy blanket of meringue…

Making the meringue really needs a stand mixer or it’ll take you a long time. Wipe the bowl out with a little lemon juice or vinegar to get rid of any fat or grease, which will stop the meringue thickening. Beat the egg whites till softly peaked. Gradually add the sugar and cream of tartar, beating till the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is shiny and forms stiff peaks. At this point, you can also beat in 2 tsps cornflour for a firmer meringue. It depends on how much wobble you like; I prefer it a bit firmer.

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F. Top the lemon filling with the meringue, making decorative swirls. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly browned. I think this is best eaten chilled, but most people prefer it warm from the oven. Why not eat half warm, the other half chilled, and form your own opinion?

GF sweet pastry, if you need it:

1 cup (150g) rice flour
1/2 cup (75g) gluten free cornflour
1/2 cup (60g) almond meal
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
160g (5oz) chilled, chopped butter
2-3 tblsp iced water

Process all the dry ingredients and butter in a food processor till the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, gradually add iced water until the mixture just comes together. Turn out onto a clean work surface and shape into a ball and flatten. Cover with plastic wrap or put in a ziploc bag and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll the dough out between 2 large sheets of baking paper. Job done.

This dessert doesn’t keep well; the meringue tends to absorb moisture and get soggy, so make it the same day you want to eat it, if possible.

Yellow Bird

I’ve been messing about in the kitchen again.

This time, I’ve made an adaptation of a cake known to many of you as Hummingbird Cake, and recently featured by Jamie Oliver on the Comfort Food series. Obviously, mine’s gluten free, and I’ve made a few other adjustments too. So rather than pretend it’s ‘proper’ Hummingbird Cake, I’m calling it Yellow Bird Cake, after the tune they play on steel drums in all movies when they want to indicate a Caribbean setting. After all, what could be more tropical than bananas, pineapples and passionfruit? And these are the flavours of Yellow Bird Cake, together with dark brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of allspice. It’s filled and topped with a creamcheese and passionfruit blend which is delicious enough to eat by itself with a spoon.

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Probably the least glamorous cake shot of all time, but oh Lord, the flavour!

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This slice lasted ooh, let’s see, 10 whole seconds after the photo was taken and then it was GONE. The Husband’s slice lasted an extra 5 seconds….

Yes, alright, there are sticky crumbs and smears on my plate. And yes, I did fairly extensively lick the bowls and spatulas. And yes, the cake won’t win any prizes for looks because I went a little crazy with the topping and filling, so it’s extremely oozy, but it’s sooooo goooood!


350g (12oz) gluten free self raising flour (or use all purpose with 2 tsp baking powder)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
large pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
250ml (8 fl.oz) vegetable oil (I used olive, but sunflower or a nut oil would be nice too)
350g (12oz) soft dark brown sugar
4 small very ripe (even black) bananas, mashed
440g (15oz) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained
2 large eggs, at room temperature

250g (8oz) cream cheese at room temperature
Pulp of 2 passionfruit (you can sieve it if you want. I didn’t)
300g (10oz) icing (powdered) sugar

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4/350ºF.

Grease and line the bottom of 2 springform 23cm cake pans.

Sieve and blend together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the mashed bananas, oil, eggs and pineapple in another bowl till thoroughly blended, then gently fold them into the dry ingredients until there are no dry bits or flour showing. Don’t over mix. Divide the batter between the two cake pans, and bake for 35 – 40 mins until golden and springy. Run a knife around the outside, cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on wire racks.

To make the filling, in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese till smooth, then add the passionfruit pulp and icing sugar, and beat until it’s just smooth. Refrigerate till needed – it will firm up a bit more in the fridge. You could consider adding the passionfruit pulp a bit at a time, in case yours are very large, you don’t want the filling to be quite as squidgy as mine… a firmer filling will be tidier.

When the cake halves are cool, sandwich together with the filling and spread the remainder over the top.

Then get stuck in!


International Chocolate Week

Prompted by the lovely Kirsten at The Pink Rose Bakery, I’m posting this recipe for Jaffa Cake in response to International Chocolate Week, which starts today. I first posted about this cake nearly a year ago, and since then, I’ve made a few slight modifications to both the recipe and the process, but it’s still moist, intensely chocolatey, intensely orangey and altogether delicious. It’s also fairly simple, having only seven quite ordinary ingredients; it’s easy to make, and as a bonus, it’s gluten free.

'Jaffa' cake, lightly dusted with Dutch cocoa and served with a puddle of thick cream. Yum!

It looks like just another brown cake, but your tastebuds will be doing the fandango and begging for more.

You’ll need:
2 navel oranges (they need to be thin skinned, not too much white pith)
200g/7oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) broken in small pieces
100g/4oz unsalted butter, chopped
8 large eggs (Yes, it’s a lot. Yes, you need them all)
300g/10oz caster/fine sugar
375g/13oz almond meal/ground almonds
2 tbsp cocoa (not drinking chocolate, the good stuff – I like the Dutch kind, which is more intense.)

The night before, put the oranges in a deep pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.  Throw out the water, cool the oranges and refrigerate overnight. They’ll be soft and squishy. Remove the little green stem thingy at the top as this will not contribute to the flavour.

Next day, take the eggs, butter and cooked oranges out of the fridge an hour before you bake, to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180C/325F/Gas 4. Grease and line the base of a 24cm/9″ springform or loose bottom cake pan with baking parchment.

Cut up the 2 oranges, put in a blender or food processor and blitz till puréed. You don’t want to see any chunks of peel.

Using a stand mixer – or electric hand mixer – with paddle attachment, beat the caster sugar and eggs together on high for 5 minutes until thick and pale and the mixture ‘ribbons’. (This is when a trail is left when you dribble a bit of the mixture across the surface).

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Be very careful not to allow any water into the chocolate mixture or it will seize.  Alternatively, (and this is how I do it) melt them in the microwave in three lots of 30 seconds on full power. When melted, mix together thoroughly so there’s no visible butter left, and set aside to cool a little.

Add the chocolate and butter, almond meal and cocoa to the egg mixture, and mix on low speed till combined. Fold in the orange purée with a spoon or spatula – do not beat or you’ll knock the air out of it.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, or till a knife or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (it’s going to depend on how hot your oven is). If the top starts to brown too soon, put a layer of foil over it. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Dust the top with a little more cocoa.  Serve with lots of whatever artery clogging dairy product takes your fancy. If you’re feeling exceptionally naughty, you could add a couple of tablespoonfuls of Cointreau to the batter before baking, but it’s quite gorgeous enough without.

If you hop over to The Pink Rose Bakery, you’ll see Kirsten’s repertoire of lovely nosh, which is all gluten free.

Chocolate Week Logo

Bakewell tart

One of the delights of my childhood was ‘proper’ Bakewell tarts from the corner shop, in a shiny cardboard packet with lurid colour photography. I never lost my love of them, and since being forced into a GF diet by coeliac disease, I’ve missed them (except when I’m in England, where they’re so popular a GF version is available). So today was the day to try and re-create something of the essence of my childhood treat.

The glaze is still slightly runny, but I can't wait any longer...

The glaze is still slightly runny, but I can’t wait any longer…

The history of Bakewell tarts is long and disputaceous. There was definitely some kind of almond-based pudding or cake being sold in the Derbyshire town of Bakewell in the late 1800s. What the English have come to know as a Bakewell tart, however, is the bastard child of this original. Sweet shortcrust pastry, then a layer of raspberry jam, then a rich almond sponge, fudgy and loaded with eggs, and finally, a tooth-rottingly sweet white fondant icing with a cherry on top. It comes as a large round tart, or small individual ones, the size of a cupcake. The commercial cake brand Mr Kipling is by far the best known and loved of all Bakewell tart producers, but I’ve noticed that over the years, the pastry’s got thicker and the filling smaller…. Here, then, is my tribute.

You’ll need:

A round 24 x 3cm pie/tart dish, lined with sweet shortcrust pastry (for heaven’s sake buy it ready made unless you’re a pastry wizard, which I’m not, especially GF.  My hands are too warm to make good pastry). Line the base with baking paper and cover with baking beans. Bake at 180C/350F for about 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is lightly coloured.
3 heaped tablespoons of raspberry jam.
2 medium eggs
125g/half a cup caster (fine) sugar
125g/half a cup melted unsalted butter, cooled after melting
125g/half a cup almond meal (ground almonds)
1 tsp almond essence
1 cup well sieved icing (powdered) sugar

Turn the oven up to 190C/375F. Put the caster sugar and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk on high speed for 15 minutes. The final mixture should be very thick, cream coloured and leave a clear ribbon when done. While this is going on, spread the jam evenly over the base of the part-baked pie shell. Once the egg mixture is thick, thoroughly mix in the melted butter, and then gently fold in the ground almonds and almond essence. Pour this over the jam in the base of the pie shell. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or till the almond sponge is set and lightly browned on top. Set on a cooling rack until completely cold. I couldn’t face the thickness and terrifying sweetness of the fondant icing, to be honest, so I’ve specified a simple glaze: To the icing sugar add water, a teaspoonful at a time, until a thick, glossy paste is achieved. Pour this over the top of the tart, and refrigerate immediately to set. If you’re in the mood for authenticity, it should be topped with a glace cherry…

Excuse me. I have an urgent appointment with my tart…