Why I won’t be entering GBBO (the Great British Bake-Off)

I’m well known among family, friends and acquaintances for being an enthusiastic baker, with end results to match.  And like, I am sure, many other people in the UK, it has often been suggested that I enter GBBO.  It’s very sweet of people to suggest it, and even sweeter that they think I would stand a real chance of getting as far as the show, but it’s something that’s not destined to happen.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is not some sort of false modesty on my part, or a lack of self-confidence.  I admit, most people who know me also know I hate having my picture taken, although I’m learning to be better about that now.  I will also admit I’m not hugely keen to have TV cameras add another ten pounds to my already overweight frame.  But this is not the reason I’ll be steering clear.  No, the simple reason comes down to what got me baking in the first place: the simple fact that I can’t eat gluten.

I love watching the Great British Bake Off, and in many cases I think I could probably do as well without gluten as many of the contestants do with it, but there are some things I simply cannot do.  The blind challenges in particular would be impossible for me as I would doubtless end up being ‘glutened’ either by inhalation or from the simple need to check flavouring.  Paul Hollywood’s focaccia?  Would love to, but I don’t think it’s worth risking my health to get there.

Would I enter if the Beeb did a gluten-free version of GBBO?  I would indeed, but the chances of them ever doing that are probably fairly slim.  I do find this frustrating.  After all, increasing numbers of people are having to exclude gluten from their diet because of either coeliac disease or intolerance, and yet you’ll see very little about gluten-free cooking on TV.  I think the best gluten-free bakers can hope for on that front is for series 3 to include one episode where the contestants have to bake exclusively gluten-free.  It’s at least as much of a challenge as the perfect macaron, after all.

Anyway, back off the soapbox.  For those of you that fancy entering, I believe they’re recruiting the next set of contestants now.  In the meantime, if anyone from the BBC would like someone to set and judge a gluten-free challenge on GBBO, I’m right here 🙂


The great gluten-free pork pie experiment – part 3

If there’s one thing I really ought to do, it’s finish off – for now at least – my gluten-free pork pie experiment posts.  To recap, I had done a little research, as I was sickening for a decent pork pie, worked out a couple of recipes to fiddle with to see what might result, and then done the initial experiment.  All that was lacking – from the blog, at any rate – was the results of that process… which is when the computer and other issues kicked in.

Gluten-free pork pie, cut in half and ready to eatAnd this is what we ended up with, although the camera flash has bleached it out a bit. Once chilled, the pies had a delicious filling and jelly – good – and a nice, crunchy crust. However, for all that the crust was crunchy, it was realistically also a bit hard. Not tough the way a crust with gluten can go, because from experience it’s pretty much impossible to overwork a gluten-free flour.

It’s entirely possible I’m being too demanding, of course, and that this is as good as it gets, but since it’s only my first attempt at a raised crust, I’m convinced at this point that there has to be a way of improving upon it and getting a result that is crunchy on the outside, but tender and crumbly enough to have that proper melt in the mouth texture I associate with Mum’s pork pies in my childhood.  Fingers crossed!

Plain eggless sponge – the vegan adaptation experiment

I was having a chat with someone in one of my favourite Facebook groups last night.  It won’t surprise anyone to hear that the group in question is a bunch of ladies who are obsessed with making beautiful and delicious cakes.  Someone posted up a request for a decent eggless sponge recipe – something actually worth eating.  The lovely Sandra posted up this recipe, as the first eggless recipe she’d actually found to be edible.

Of course, the next step was someone wondering whether it was possible to do a dairy free version of the recipe, and we all got to thinking of alternative for the condensed milk, which seems to have a dual role of binder and sweetener in this recipe.  My first thought was using coconut cream, as I had a 250ml carton sitting on a kitchen shelf needing a cake to call home, and volunteered myself for the experiment.

What I’d not initially considered, of course, is that the original recipe also calls for butter, which may be part of what makes the original taste nice.  Still, I had some Trex in the fridge as a substitute, and decided that, so long as I tasted the mix and adjusted the flavouring before getting it into the oven to bake, I probably couldn’t go too far wrong.

While the recipe in question could be used as well for a large cake as for cupcakes, I decided to use cupcakes for proof of concept: if it turns out as nice for cupcakes as I think it will, I’ll definitely be using it in future as a sort of vegan Madeira.

Here’s how it went:

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Harvey helped out, as he’s finished school for the summer, so between us we added 310g of Dove’s Farm plain gluten free flour, 1.5tsp baking powder, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, and 0.75tsp xanthan gum to a large bowl.  I got Harvey to stir this gently to mix it all evenly, and then we added 250ml of coconut cream, which we mixed in thoroughly before adding 225g of melted Trex and 235ml of orange juice, plus 2tsp vanilla essence.

So far, so good.  However, since the original recipe calls for close on 400ml of fluid in the form of the condensed milk, we weren’t surprised to see that it was going to take more fluid to get us where we needed, and that, like it or not, the mixture we had in the bowl wasn’t really sweet enough to call itself a ‘proper’ cake.  So, testing all the way, we ended up adding 100g of golden syrup in total, plus another 120ml of orange juice.  And by the time we’d done that, we had something that looked and tasted like a decent cake batter.

Some 35 minutes of baking later – which is a lot for a cupcake, even in a muffin case, and I finally called a halt to things.  There was no doubt that the cakes were cooked, but the texture, just from doing the spring test with a finger, made me suspect we had a problem on our hands, even before we got them out of the tin.  Yes, the cakes sprung back, but there was an obvious underlying squidginess that had me thinking of steamed puddings.

Actually, steamed pudding is not a bad way to think of the final result we achieved.  There was a lot of melted fat in the base of my muffin trays once the cakes were removed from the tins and the texture of the first one we demolished tested was very much more of a pudding than a cake.

And so, in one sense, we have a failure.  We didn’t end up with a cake.  However, for all that we didn’t get a cake out of the deal, the underlying flavour was good, and could only be improved by reducing the amount of Trex.  I think, were we to lower the amount of Trex and swap sugar for the golden syrup, we’d have a much better result.  So that’s an experiment for later in the week and next time, I’m pretty sure, we’ll have a winner on our hands 🙂


The great gluten-free pork pie experiment – part 2

Having thought I was ready to get on and start baking yesterday afternoon, it turned out I was wrong.  I’m not sure how I managed to mislay a packet of lard from the fridge.  After all, I don’t cook with it all that often.  But it wasn’t there and I wasn’t about to start playing with more variables than the flour on the first attempt.

So, after a fruitless walk to the little Tesco on Whitechapel and a rather more productive trip up to Sainsbury’s on Cambridge Heath Road – on the bus, much to Harvey’s delight – we were finally able to get on and start work on the pies.

In the end, I decided to combine elements of the recipe from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy and the method from Merrilees Parker’s recipe.  The balance felt slightly better on the ingredients – not least Ms Pascale’s understanding that flour can be more or less thirsty, which is often a problem with gluten-free flours – but given the lack of gluten I was not convinced I wanted to let the pastry chill and then try to work it – it would be friable enough when warm or even room temperature, cold it would potentially be impossible to use.  So I stuck with the Parker recipe for the method, forming the pastry while still warm.  With the adjustments for using gluten-free flour (Dove’s Farm plain flour), this is the recipe I used:

430g plain gluten-free flour
1/2tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
80g butter
100g lard
230ml water

NB: If you have Lorraine Pascale’s book, you’ll know that her recipe (page 84) calls for 180ml water, and that you may not use all of it.  I upped that to 200ml from the start, then found myself adding extra as I worked the dough.  Gluten-free flour is seriously thirsty.

As instructed, I put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, added the egg yolk and then let Harvey stir them all together while I melted the lard and butter into the water and then brought that mix to a boil.

I then shooed him out the way and poured the molten fat and water mix into a well in the dry mix and stirred it quickly to form quite a firm dough.  Harvey helped, but found the dough too firm for him to stir, and then too hot for him to work with his hands.  Since I have asbestos hands, however, I was able to work the dough rather better and was therefore able to add the extra water it needed, which took it up to the total of 230ml.

I then separated it into two lumps – one third and two thirds – and then separated these into four balls each, since we were going to be making pies using some nice little foil dishes I’d picked up rather than the muffin tins Lorraine Pascale suggests.

The next bit was great fun as it involved squidging the pastry into place in the dishes and up the sides to create the body of the case.  This is a perfect job for a 4 year old.  We then popped in the filling – the one bit we had been able to make earlier! – which was coarsely minced pork loin steaks (480g pack) and pancetta (75g) with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg.  This, it turns out, is another job that mummies should leave to their children.  Finally, we used our last four balls of pastry to squash out lids to put on the pies, pinching them onto the cases where they met at the edges.  Harvey did admit this bit was a little more tricky, but he gave it a good go.

Gluten-free pork pies ready for the oven

H marks the spot - Harvey makes sure we know which pie is his

And so we had pies.  We slit the tops to let the steam out, and then popped them in the oven at 200C.  While the recipe says 30-35 minutes, our pies were going to be bigger, so we took them out after about 50 minutes.

The first thing I noticed was that the whole tray was swimming in fat.  The pastry had pulled in from the foil cases and you could see fat between the two.  Were it not for the crisp, golden pastry in front of me, the whole thing would have looked very unappealing.  On the other hand, I wasn’t too sorry to know we’d be losing some of the fat from the recipe before eating the finished product, so I mopped up the fat on the tray with kitchen towels (NEVER pour this down the sink, please!) and, when the pies were cool enough to handle, popped them out onto some more kitchen towels so they wouldn’t either reabsorb more fat as they cooled, or just end up coated in a layer of white fat: bleeeurgh.

Gluten-free pork pies

Gluten-free pork pies - looking good for a first effort

One thing you might notice on the photo above is how the neat slits have changed into rather rough holes.  That’s because the pastry resealed itself in the oven and I needed to knock holes in the crusts to pour the jelly in.  Ahem.  So, notwithstanding Harvey’s desire to put an initial on his pie, it will be less effort for future batches to simply make a proper hole in the lid before baking.

It has to be said that the crust, when the pies first cooled, was a nice shell on the outside, just as I had hoped it would be.  Since I seem to remember that pork pies were originally used to preserve the meat and that the pastry was used purely as a case to be discarded when it came to finally eating the thing, the only way that worked was if the case would withstand a certain amount of punishment.  So we at least have something authentic here.  Still, I wiggled in a small blade, hooked out a bit of lid, and poured in some jelly, which I’m sure will have softened the crust slightly by the time we come to eat the pies.

Now, I have to confess I cheated with the jelly.  After the length of time we spent just buying lard yesterday afternoon, I simply could not be bothered to make a proper vegetable stock, and didn’t have any left in the freezer.  I simply melted my gelatine, used half a Knorr vegetable stockpot, a couple of splashes of pinot grigio and enough water to top it up to half a pint.  Tasted OK on the spoon, and while it’s far from what I’d consider ideal, there was a fairly serious ‘life’s too short’ argument going on by that point.  I poured it in until it started seeping out of the join of the lid, popped the pies in the fridge, then topped them up a little later to the brim of the holes.

So, the photo above was taken this morning of my first ever gluten-free pork pies, complete with jelly – that’s what the shiny patch is on the lid of the bottom pie.  I will admit that the three of us ate one of the pies last night, purely to check the seasoning before I put the jelly together.  After all, you want to make sure the tastes complement each other.  Well, that was our excuse.  The pastry was – at that point – marvellously crunchy and lacking the bitter aftertaste my husband deplores in commercial pork pies.  The filling was delicious, although not perhaps so traditional, given the pancetta was smoked, and one would normally use green bacon.  All that was missing was the jelly.

And that, dear readers, is where I shall leave you, for it is time to put together a couple of salads and try the properly finished product.  Full verdict from all the family – and photos – later…

The great gluten-free pork pie experiment – part 1

Pork pies.  I used to love them.  My husband still does, but only when they’re well-made, which apparently most aren’t, these days.  Our son is also a fan, but rather less discriminating than his Dad, by all accounts.  And since you can’t buy them gluten-free in the shops, I’ve not eaten one in years.

I would probably have been content with occasional pining, but the new migraine drugs I’m on are doing some very odd things to my appetite at the moment and, having seen someone this morning scoffing a pork pie, I suddenly really wanted one myself.  As in really, really wanted one so badly that ignoring it wasn’t going to make the wanting go away.

So, accepting the inevitable, I thought I’d better investigate and see how one is supposed to make such things in the world of wheat, before having a bash at a gluten-free version, as I’ve never before made a pork pie.

I’ve often found the UKTV website a good starting point for recipes when I need to find something I can adapt, not least because they always seem to have several versions of the same finished product and you can get a better feel for how things will work, which is quite important for me as I can’t go making up and tasting a version with wheat flour first to use as a ‘control’ for my gluten-free experiments.  Well, not without making myself ill, anyway.

So the first recipe I looked at was Mike Robinson’s ‘proper old-fashioned pork pie’.  I certainly like the way it’s turned out in the picture, but it’s clearly not the pork pie I’m hankering after, because it’s not a raised crust.  And while I agree that a traditional pork pie relies on the flavour of the meat, rather than smothering it in herbs and other seasonings, I can work out the filling part for myself.  It’s time to move on to another recipe.

Same site, different recipe, and this one looks far more promising, not least because by this point I’ve fished out my Lorraine Pascale when I went to grab a coffee to help the search.  Ms Pascale’s method seems to agree in the main with this one for the pastry, although she omits the jellied stock, which I think is rather a shame.  Still, as she says, some people really don’t like the jelly, but I really do.  Not sure I can be bothered to trawl the East End for a pig’s trotter – living in a Muslim area has some minor drawbacks  at times like these – but I’m sure I can make a nice stock to dissolve some gelatine.

So, I have all my pastry ingredients, some pork, some pancetta (run out of bacon – oops), some gelatine and plenty of time to put together a decent stock.  Now all I need is for my glamorous 4 year old assistant to finish his nap and we can begin.

Of course, in all this, I’ve realised there is no quick fix to my craving for a pork pie.  Given that I daren’t make these without my son – he conked while I was researching recipes and is fully expecting to be part of the ‘sperimenting’ – plus the prep and cooking time, then the cooling and setting time, I won’t be wrapping myself round one of these until tomorrow at the earliest.  But that’s OK.  Since I’ve had to dig the mincer out to make the filling for the pie, we’ll be making some gluten-free sausages this afternoon as well and, believe me, there’ll be no waiting around for those 🙂

Flapjack recipe

And no, I don’t mean what some Americans mean by flapjacks, which is apparently some kind of pancake. I mean proper, oaty, sweet things that are sinfulness itself masquerading as health food.  They’re better for afternoon tea than scones with jam and cream, and even at Harvey’s strict school pass the ‘healthy’ test to be allowed into lunch boxes (no cakes or biscuits allowed).

My husband and son are addicted to them, and I’ve never yet had a complaint when I’ve made them, unless you count people worrying about the effect they’ll have on their waistline. The only reason I don’t get even fatter than I am is because I can’t eat them without making myself ill: I can’t even eat gluten-free oats, so these are definitely off the menu until I start work on an oat- and gluten-free flapjack… and develop the willpower not to scoff the resulting treats in one sitting!

If there’s one thing I particularly like about flapjacks, it’s their versatility. My son, Harvey, prefers them with Callebaut chocolate flakes sprinkled over the top before baking. I used to love them with dried blueberries and lemon zest added in place of the sultanas/raisins. And I have two trays in the oven baking – one with chocolate flakes and one without.

Chocolate chip flapjacks by Suzzle.com

Harvey's favourite - choc chip flapjacks

Here is my fail-safe recipe for flapjacks. I hope you like them.

Suzzle Flapjacks

  • 350g porridge oats
  • 50g jumbo oats (optional – add 30g more normal oats if not using)
  • 230g butter
  • 230g demerara sugar (soft brown also works fine)
  • 2 good tbsps golden (corn) syrup
  • 100g sultanas/raisins

Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a shallow baking tray measuring approx 33cm x 25cm.  If you have a teflon baking tray liner, use that instead as it will be much easier to get the flapjacks out at the end.  Place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan and place over a low heat.  While you wait for them to melt, weigh both types of oats into a large heatproof bowl, add the sultanas and mix well together.

Check the saucepan with the butter and sugar mixture.  Stir it regularly until everything has melted and the whole thing feels much less ‘gritty’ from the sugar granules – usually the ideal point is when the mixture has started simmering gently round the edge.

Pour the butter/sugar/syrup mix into the oats and stir thoroughly together until all the oats and sultanas are lightly coated.  Empty the mixture onto the baking tray and spread evenly, pressing into place with the back of a spoon.

Put the tray in the oven and bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the mixture is molten and turning a golden brown colour.  You can adjust this to suit your taste: my family like their flapjack quite chewy, but you can give it an extra minute or so if you want it to be a little crisper.

Let the flapjacks cool for a couple of minutes and absorb the liquid before dividing them into portions with a plastic knife: this is much easier done now than when they’ve had a chance to cool.  Let them cool for 8-10 minutes more before removing from the pan.  If you leave it too long and the flapjacks have started to weld themselves to your baking tray (some of my older non-stick trays have a tendency to errr stick), pop them back into a pre-heated oven for half a minute or so and you should be able to get them out.

And finally… put the kettle on for a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy!

The finished product should look something like this…

Flpajacks by Suzzle.com

Mmmmm flapjacks!