September 25, 2011


When we were chez nous in Le Grand-Pressigny a few weeks ago, we invited our friends Elizabeth and Colin round for a BBQ.  Elizabeth can’t eat anything with gluten in it so we had to put our thinking caps on and be careful what we planned to eat.

A starter could be fairly straightforward and the main course was the usual BBQ food, no problem there so long as we paid attention to any marinades and dressings, but dessert was the tricky one.  I didn’t want to do the obvious fruit salad, meringues or chocolate mousse.  What I really wanted to do was to bake a cake.

popina book

My favourite cookbook at the moment is the “Popina book of baking”.  I had taken our local library copy with me and in it was a recipe for ”very chocolate cake”, which was gluten free, so that could be a possibility for our dessert.

gluten free cake 8

gluten free cake 9

However, I continued browsing through my selection of cookbooks that I keep in France ~ always a complete joy, to be sitting on our little terrace overlooking the rooftops of the village with a cup of tea and a pile of recipe books ~ and found a recipe for gluten free cherry cupcakes in “Baking Magic”.  I didn’t have any cherries but I did have some delicious raspberries which I thought would do instead.  The recipe uses ground almonds and a lot of whisked egg white.  It was a few days before our guests were coming so I decided to have a practice.  It’s a good job I did.

gluten free cake 7

They didn’t work.  The cakes rose beautifully in the oven then at the last minute sank horribly, producing a crater in the middle where the raspberry had sunk to the bottom of the cakes.  They tasted lovely, but unless I was prepared to fill the crater with loads of icing they were not exactly the thing I wanted to serve to guests.  (Further reading suggested that over-enthusiastic whisking of the eggs can cause last-minute sinking.)

But I did glean an important snippet of information from the recipe.  It said:

“1tsp baking powder, or, if you want to make the recipe gluten-free, ½tsp bicarb and 1tsp cream of tartar”.

Sure enough, when I looked very carefully at the small print on my tub of baking powder, it said it contains wheat.  This is something the Popina book didn’t mention, in fact it said quite clearly in the recipe for “very chocolate cake” that it was a “seriously rich and creamy gluten free cake”, yet it mentions nothing about the need for gluten free baking powder.  Naughty, I thought.  I could very easily have made this cake with my ordinary baking powder, not realising it could be a problem for Elizabeth.  It only takes a little gluten to upset the applecart.


In the end I decided to use another recipe for “flourless chocolate torte” which I found in this Sainsbury’s recipe book .  It uses no baking powder at all, so I decided to go with that.

gluten free cake 6gluten free cake 5

gluten free cake 3gluten free cake 2

If I had paid more attention to the recipe before I started, I would have noticed that it made a huge cake, baked in a 25cm springform tin.  I had nothing anywhere near that big in my French kitchen, so I filled my largest cake tin and put the rest of the mixture in a loaf tin to make a second cake.

gluten free cake 1

Its appearance was not too attractive when it came out of the oven but with some icing sugar sprinkled on top and a few berries to decorate, it looked very presentable on a nice cake stand.

It was seriously chocolatey with an intensely chocolate flavour, definitely for grown-ups and not for the faint-hearted.  For myself,  I would be tempted to leave out either one of the bars of chocolate or the added cocoa powder next time.  But if serious chocolate is your thing, this is the recipe for you.

Here’s the recipe for flourless chocolate torte.


2 x 100g bars of dark chocolate

200g unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

5 medium eggs, separated

150g caster sugar

200g ground almonds

50g cocoa powder, sifted

icing sugar for dusting

berries to serve (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° C fan).  Grease a 25cm round springform cake tin.  (I lined the bottom of mine with baking paper as well.)

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (or in a microwave).  Stir in the vanilla extract.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with 50g of the caster sugar until pale in colour then pour in the chocolate mixture.  Fold in the ground almonds and cocoa powder.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.  Gradually fold in the remaining 100g caster sugar until combined.

Fold one third of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture.  Then gently add the rest until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, spreading evenly.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Let the cake stand in the tin for another ten minutes before turning out.

When cool, dust with icing sugar and serve.

Serves 8-12, depending on how much you like chocolate!

September 18, 2011


I have made raspberry and banana muffins before, see here, and they turned out very well.  I had some very overripe bananas going begging so I decided to make them again for my dad’s mates at the club.


We have few raspberry canes in our garden that produce a handful of fruit every day all through the summer and often until early October.  I don’t know what variety they are and they wouldn’t win any beauty contest but it’s nice to have a few fresh berries on our cereal every day if we can be bothered to go and pick them.  Those that go unpicked are no good the next day.



 The recipe came from “the sweet life” by Antony Worrall Thompson.

All the recipes in the book use a sugar substitute called Splenda but I use proper sugar instead.  It works if you replace 8 tblsp Splenda with 100g sugar.

However, while I was out with Lulu for her morning constitutional, I picked a few blackberries.  It was a lovely warm and sunny morning, just how it should be in September, and all was well with the world.


Lulu with friends and a young bull watching us pick the blackberries.

When I was looking at the recipe, I thought if it works for raspberries and bananas, I wonder if it would work for blackberries and apples?  So I decided to have a go.

I used some eating apples that we were given by my friend Elizabeth when we were last in France.  She gave us loads and we brought a lot of them home with us.  They’re absolutely delicious and I think possibly cox’s  orange pippins. 

I considered doubling up on the ingredients and then dividing the mixture in two, adding raspberries to one half and blackberries to the other.  I then decided it was just as easy to make a second batch with blackberries whilst the raspberry ones were cooking.


The raspberries turned to mush.

The recipe suggests using frozen raspberries and in fact they are better as they hold their shape in the mixture.  Mine turned to mush when I started to combine them with the other ingredients, whereas the blackberries stayed in one piece beautifully.


The blackberries kept their shape.

I decided to cook the apples slightly before putting them in the mixture, just in case they might be still firm when the cakes were done.  It seemed to work.


I also decided to sprinkle the blackberry ones with some crushed sugar cubes, just for a change, before baking.  I bought these in France and have never seen them for sale in the UK ~ not in my part of the UK anyway.


Both types of muffins were scrummy.  I would definitely do the blackberry and apple ones again.



200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

100g caster sugar

100g frozen raspberries, briefly thawed, or blackberries

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g butter, melted

100 ml semi-skimmed milk

1 ripe banana, mashed, or two small eating apples

crushed sugar pieces (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.  Put 9 muffin cases in a muffin tin.

If using apples, peel, core and chop them in small pieces.  Put in a saucepan with a splash of water and cook gently until beginning to soften.  Allow to cool.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.  Stir in the sugar and raspberries (or blackberries).

In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the vanilla, melted butter and milk.  Stir this into the dry ingredients with the banana (or apples).  Avoid over mixing and stir until just combined.

Divide between the paper cases.  Sprinkle with the crushed sugar if using.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 9 muffins.

September 16, 2011


Dom at Bellau Kitchen has posted an interesting Random Recipe Challenge for September.  It is to randomly take a recipe from your stash of magazine cuttings and other clippings and cook what ever turns up.

Not that long ago I ruthlessly disposed of most of my old magazine clippings.  I had a whole box file stuffed full to bursting with them, some dating back to the 1980’s and one or two to the 1970’s.  I started out by looking at every one, but then decided that if I hadn’t used a recipe at all in the last 30 years, it probably wasn’t worth keeping.  I ended up throwing most of them out without even glancing at them.  And I don’t miss them at all, not one bit……..sob……..


I was left with a few magazine cuttings, some favourite handwritten recipes copied from friends’ cookbooks ~ some of them still dating back to the 70’s ~ and quite a number of A4 pages printed more recently from websites and blogs.  I had put them all neatly in plastic covers in a ring binder – which is unusually well organised for me.randomrecipes2I flipped the pages and came up with a recipe published by Craig in his blog” Boris in Ayrshire” a few months ago, for APRICOT AND GINGER MUFFINS.  I had been meaning to make them for ages and now I had a reason.

My other reason / excuse for baking regularly is that my dad has rejoined Derby Model Engineering Society.  He is in the process of building a model steam engine himself (something called a Speedy) and is at the stage where he will soon be finishing it and hopefully running it around the little track at the club.  In the “station” at the club there is “buffet car” and I promised him I would bake something for him to take with him whenever he goes, which is most Sundays.

ENGINE2My dad’s Speedy locomotive, on the back yard, ready for a trial steaming.

ENGINE1  A member of the club giving rides on his own engine on a Sunday afternoon.

I digress !!

The muffins were as usual easy and quick to make, except that it took quite a while to gather together a record number of ingredients.

GINGER MUFFINS 1 (Mental note to self – must re-organise cupboards so that all baking ingredients are in one place.)  (Reply to self – that would be such a marathon task that I can’t see it happening for some time yet!)


I adopted a tip I found in a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for whisking the dry ingredients together in a bowl to aerate them instead of sifting.  It seems to work well, so far as I can tell.

GINGER MUFFINS 5 I used another tip I once read somewhere, to use an ice-cream scoop to fill the muffin cases, making it easier to put the same quantity of mixture in each – and it’s less messy too.  That works well as well.

Just before I put them in the oven the phone rang.  It was my dad, checking what time the “buns” would be ready.  When he rang off, I was so keen to get them in the oven that I forgot to do the last bit of the recipe, which is to sprinkle some brown sugar and place a piece of crystallised ginger on top of each one.  Rats !!

GINGER MUFFINS 6 But, even without the decoration, they turned out very well.  My dad and his mates at the club really enjoyed them.



250g plain flour

120g caster sugar

60g dark brown sugar

2 teasp baking powder

1 teasp ground ginger

1 teasp ground cinnamon

¼ teasp salt

142 ml crème fraiche

125 ml vegetable oil

1 tablesp honey

20g crystallised ginger, chopped small

2 eggs

200g dried apricots, cut into small pieces

extra brown sugar for topping


Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Line a muffin tin with paper cases.

Mix together the flour, sugars, baking powder, spices, and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl whisk together the crème fraiche, oil, honey, and eggs.  Fold this mixture into the dry ingredients.

Gently add the apricots and ginger pieces and combine without over mixing.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases.  Sprinkle a little brown sugar and place a piece of crystallised ginger on top of each muffin.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 12 muffins (I found it easily made 14)