3 years old – maybe time for a catch-up!

I’ve neglected this blog. For many reasons, some good, some less so. Suzzle is still on Brick Lane, holding on despite the recent introduction of new coffee shops in the area competing with us. This area doesn’t have massive footfall, so new entrants compete hard with us, but we’re holding our own, and are possibly doing better than ever in some ways.

One of those ways is a new partnership with the lovely people from In FARM We Trust. One of their co-founders, Dom, has been a customer for a while, enjoying occasional slices of brownie as a treat. But when he found out – pretty much by accident – that everything we do is gluten free, he started talking to us about the current project. The long and the short of it, though, is that they have a food-to-go concession in Tesco’s Goodge Street store, and are stocking our cakes, bacon pasties, and granola.

Suzzle cakes and pasties at Tesco

Suzzle cakes and pasties at FARM, Tesco Goodge Street

It’s early days, obviously, but we’re enjoying the opportunity to bring our products to a wider audience, and hoping that this first branch is as successful as it deserves to be, since this will mean rolling out to more branches over the next few months.

For all that this is a positive move, it’s fair to say that it took a while to sink in. Since April 2014, I’ve been in treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, which has been taking me out of the shop and into group therapy sessions twice a week. It’s hard work, but something that has been beneficial. With just 6 months left to go, I’m happy that I’ve made some progress. I may still have BPD, but I handle events and personal interactions more easily than before, and there is now hope of recovery. There is talk of doing another DCS at some point this year, though at Boxpark, not at Suzzle, and I’m looking forward to being part of that again, but stronger, and more able to offer hope that a mental health diagnosis does not have to mean the world coming to an end.

I’ve been doing media interviews since the DCS, however. I’ve sat twice on the BBC Breakfast sofa in Manchester to offer a different image of mental illness to the world, and challenge the idea that all mental health patients are dribbling loons. Sometimes we can be articulate, intelligent… and yet mentally ill. Radio interviews, a student film on mental illness, the WI magazine. It takes me out of my comfort zone by some margin, but for as long as it helps people understand better, and challenges the stigma that still remains, I’ll keep on doing it.

But here we are. We have a range in the shop that now includes 5 flavours of savoury gluten-free pasty, as approved by Gilbert and George, more cakes, new biscuits… and there’s more to come. Our next project is to make our products available over the internet, so we’re currently working out which ones survive best in the post, and how we can package them better so non-Londoners can also enjoy them. It’s a long process, but we’re looking forward to the end results.

Gluten-free heroes part 1: Look What We Found

I first came across the Look What We Found range by accident – I was looking for arborio rice in Sainsbury’s one day, and in its place found packets of LWWF meatballs.  Since it said gluten-free on the front, I had a closer look and lobbed one in the trolley to try at a later date.

Since then, I’ve tried many of their range, omitting only those that contain lactose (I’m lactose intolerant as well as coeliac, so daren’t risk the cream in some of the recipes) and they have all been delicious.

Beyond the flavour, though, there are other reasons why I think LWWF is so good.  Part of it is the focus on finding smaller local suppliers for their ingredients and promoting them and their produce, but the other major factor is that they’ve gone the route of ambient, long-life presentation of the meals, which means you can take them more or less anywhere.  This is a real bonus when you have to go somewhere and are unsure what provision (if any) there may be for your diet – makes day trips across the Channel a lot easier – but don’t want the faff of dragging a cool bag with you.  I’ve taken these all over the place in my handbag, along with a pouch of Tilda microwaveable basmati rice: decent, tasty, safe food, all in about 5 minutes flat.

Particular favourites are the Tees Valley Beef Chilli and the Beef and Pork Meatballs, but I’ve yet to come across a single duff one in the range.  Definitely worth keeping a couple of these in the cupboard as a backstop either to take with you, or for those evenings when cooking from scratch just feels like far too much effort.

So here’s a big thank you to the team at Look What We Found, for making it so much easier to go anywhere, gluten-free.

Coeliac awareness week is coming!

14-20 May 2012 is Coeliac Awareness Week in the UK.  Now, I know, somebody somewhere is always marking something, but since coeliac disease is something that affects me personally, as well as many other people who have yet to be diagnosed, and who could have a much better life if they were, this is one awareness campaign I feel honour bound to support.

If you’re wondering what on earth coeliac disease is, it’s an auto-immune condition that is reckoned to affect some 1% of the population, many of whom remain undiagnosed.  Left untreated, the malabsorption that is the result of coeliac disease can leave sufferers exposed to such nasties as osteoporosis, bowel cancer, etc, as well as fertility problems and, at a more basic level, some pretty unpleasant gastro-intestinal symptoms.  All because of the body’s response to eating or ingesting gluten.

The good and bad news about this, is that there is only one known treatment for coeliac disease at the moment, and that’s a gluten-free diet.  It’s good news, because it’s nice and clear.  It’s bad news because – despite how easy it can be to cater for gluten-free diets – so few places offer a decent selection of gluten-free food, or only offer it with a risk of cross-contamination that negates the good intention of offering gluten-free menu items in the first place.  And yes, cross-contamination is a real problem: I’ve been made ill in the past by a few crumbs lurking in the butter, for example, even though I’ve conscientiously followed a gluten-free diet for years.  It’s also slightly scary – and very frustrating – just how many products seem to contain gluten for no apparent reason, when a simple adjustment could make them safe for more people to eat.

While the quality of foods in the free-from aisle of the supermarket has improved a lot over the last few years, there are still manufacturers who appear to think that we ditched any sense of taste or texture on receipt of our diagnosis.  My carrot cake, for example, has beaten carrot cakes made with wheat flour in open competition, so I know from personal experience that you can make things as good as – or better than – their gluten-containing counterparts, if you try.  But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from some of the offerings out there, which are dry and crumbly and lacking in flavour.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not ungrateful, and I’m glad that these products are available, even the not very nice ones, because it is at least an option when you’re hard pressed to find anything to eat on occasion, and the poor quality can act as a catalyst for others to improve on what’s out there.  It’s a win-win of sorts.  But still.

Gluten-free food can be excellent.  At the risk of shameless self-promotion, ask anyone who has enjoyed a Suzzle cake, most of whom have bought the cakes without knowing they were gluten-free… and then come back and bought more.  It can be done, and without filling the food full of junk like soya flour, palm oil and ingredients known better by their number than their name.  So, for the next week or so, I’ll be using this blog to celebrate some companies who are making or supplying really good, gluten-free food, and making the lives of coeliacs like myself much richer and more enjoyable as a result.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about coeliac disease, please do visit the Coeliac UK web site, where you can find information, recipes and support the excellent work the charity does.

Tweet Tweet – Twitter cakes for iCake

Run-out twitter birds

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m having a great time thanks to Emma – aka Miss Cakehead. I’ve been doing some very therapeutic run-out work making little tweety birds to put on cupcakes for tomorrow’s iCake Shop at the Hospital Club.

Lots of cakes, all themed around things geeky, and all profits to a good cause.  Make sure you get down there tomorrow!

Sneak preview of the twitter birds on the left 🙂

And more details about the event here.

 

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 🙂