I always bake my own Christmas cake, but my husband has developed a gluten intolerance. Do you have any tips?
What Christmas looks like this year is anybody’s guess, but at least we know there will be cake – even if you’re gluten-free. Elizabeth’s husband just needs a recipe with “tons of fruit and very little flour”, says baking oracle Dan Lepard, because they’re the easiest to translate.
Which gluten-free flour you choose, however, is up for debate. “It’s so rich and moist, just having a bit of store-bought gluten-free flour mix would work really well,” says Claire Ptak, founder of east London bakery Violet. Lepard recommends a gluten-free bread flour, for a cake that slices better. “Use a brown bread mix,” he adds. “These darker mixes have a much rounder flavour and are less chalky-tasting.”
Ravneet Gill’s gluten-free flour education started with Phil Vickery’s Gluten-Free Baking book. “My mum is coeliac and Phil’s book has been a massive help in understanding flour combinations in baking,” says the author of The Pastry Chef’s Guide. Vickery makes his own flour mixes and, for his Christmas cake recipe on Vickery TV, uses a cornmeal, brown rice flour and cornflour combo. However, Doves Farm’s gluten-free plain and self-raising flours are a firm favourite in the Gill household: “You can just sub them in almost equally in a recipe,” she says.
Lepard adds one teaspoon of psyllium husk, or two teaspoons of ground chia seeds, for every 200g flour. This, he says, will add “a slight roughness to the texture and stop the starches compacting during baking”. Vickery’s top texture tip, meanwhile, is to soak the dried fruit and mixed peel in whisky and lemon juice overnight.
Next, the bake. You want the centre of the cake to be rather dry. Lepard explains: “The typical starches used in gluten-free baking require more heat for longer to give a cooked texture.”
But why stop at Christmas cake? Coconut macaroons are a stalwart at Violet – “They look snowbally,” Ptak says – and are naturally gluten-free. She mixes egg whites, caster sugar, salt, honey, desiccated coconut and vanilla extract in a heavy-based pan until melted. “It thickens and gets kind of dry,” she says, “then scoop out individual portions and bake until puffed and golden.” They’ll keep for up to a week, too.
Gill also goes for the double with a twice-baked chocolate cake, a recipe she learned at St John. Again, it happens to be gluten-free, which, let’s face it, makes life easier. The secret to this five-ingredient cake (dark chocolate, butter, eggs, caster sugar, cocoa powder) is to over-bake the bottom and under-bake the top.
Otherwise, look for egg white or nut-based biscuits. For Ptak, this means “Barbados cookies”, which are along the lines of analmond macaroon made with brown muscovado sugar, lots of pecans and dark chocolate.
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