Rhubarb is a quintessential taste of spring. The first pink stalks are eagerly awaited in the markets in France from late April onwards. Bizarrely the French seem to prefer mammoth-sized stalks, so a friendly chat with the stallholder in my local market usually results in him agreeing to pick me out all the tender thin stalks that his compatriots aren’t so keen on. The French also recommend peeling their rhubarb – something that has never made sense to me, as along with the skin you remove most of that gorgeous colour.
If you want to make even more of that amazing colour when you’re poaching rhubarb then you have a few options – you can add a shot of cassis to the poaching syrup or alternatively another trick I read about on the lovely Mad about Macarons blog recently is to add some dried hibiscus flowers to the pan.
This recipe came about as I wracked by brains trying to think of a suitable dessert for a Spring-themed charity lunch I held at home recently. I love flat Italian style polenta cakes – they are so delicious warm from the oven, but are also very easy to dress up for dessert with a little crème fraîche, crème anglaise or ice cream.
It was a recipe certainly worth working on, as everyone absolutely loved it at the lunch. I plan to make it again later in the year when the apricots are in the market, although I might swap the orange and cardamom flavourings for lemon zest and a little amaretto. If you make it, do leave a comment!
By the way, I have made this using the ‘instant’ type polenta that is finely ground and also the coarser maize grits, and both worked well.
Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake (serves 8+)
300g young thin stalks of fresh rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm pieces
2 tbsp demerara sugar
175g unsalted butter, softened
150g golden caster sugar
200g ground almonds
4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange (untreated), finely grated
juice of half an orange
75g polenta, fine or coarse
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground in a pestle and mortar
2 tbsp flaked almonds
- Mix together the rhubarb and demerara sugar and set aside for an hour.
- Grease the sides and base of a 9” 22cm spring from cake tin. Line the base with a circle of baking parchment.
- After the rhubarb has macerated, drain it in a sieve over a bowl and then preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan).
- Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the ground almonds, and then the eggs, one at a time.
- Fold in the vanilla, orange zest and juice.
- In a small bowl combine the polenta, baking powder, salt and ground cardamom.
Fold this dry mixture into the wet one.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Arrange the drained rhubarb evenly over the surface and then scatter the flaked almonds over.
- Bake for about 75 mins until the centre springs back when touched and the mixture is dry to the point of a knife or skewer. Cover the top loosely with foil if it is browning too much for the last 15 mins.
Best served warm.
Let’s face it, if you’re not a Brit, mincemeat is a bit baffling. I recall visiting the Marks & Spencer store on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris quite a few years ago and seeing a young French couple perusing all the Christmas food items. They picked up a pack of mince pies and as they walked towards the counter I heard them say they’d be looking forward to having them with their aperitif before dinner that night.
Mincemeat has been around since the Crusaders returned bearing spices from their conquests. Recipes dating from the 15th century include dried fruits, chopped beef (including ox heart!) and venison, and sweet spices, like cloves, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg, bound with vinegar or wine and used as a filling for pies. Regional variations include finely chopped neat’s tongue – I’m not sure what a neat is, but be assured it is probably available at vast expense at the Grande Epicerie.
Nowadays the meat element has either been reduced to the presence of suet (beef or vegetarian) or omitted entirely. I prefer it without, and opt for a version with cooked apples, which reduces the chances of jars fermenting in your cupboard. Having had that experience, I can confirm it isn’t pretty.
I finally swapped over to suet-free mincemeat when we lived in France the first time around. I shall never forget the look on my poor butcher’s face when I asked if he had any suet – something seemingly unknown in France. Having done my vocabulary homework beforehand, I was able to explain it that I was hoping to buy some fat that encases the beef kidneys. “What for?”, he enquired. To add to dried mince fruit and spices to make a kind of special Christmas patisserie. Needless to say, he didn’t ask me to bring one in for him to sample – either with an aperitif or a tasse de thé.
Are you living in Paris and wondering where you can find festive gluten free baked goods?
Perhaps you are new to gluten free baking and would like to try a taster baking class out to find out more about my way of teaching.
Or maybe you have a gluten free visitor this Christmas and would like to offer them something traditional and homemade.
If one of these is the case then maybe my mince pie masterclass is for you!
What you’ll learn:
- the different types of gluten free flours available and where to source them in France
- how to substitute GF flours one for another in recipes
- how to convert regular recipes to GF
- what the different types of binders are and how they replace gluten in GF recipes
- how to make a blend of GF flour that is 50% wholegrain and suitable for all your GF needs
- how to make mincemeat without suet (usually palm oil) contained in most commercially available mincemeat
- how to make additive-free butter pastry, suitable for quiches, tarts and pies
What the 25€ fee includes:
- a hands on class for a max of 6 people lasting approx 2 hours, plus the recipes to take home
- all the ingredients for each person to make their own dozen mince pies during class, ready to eat or freeze at home
- a glass of wine, tea, coffee and some festive nibbles while we work
- Mon 7th December 10am – 12 noon (2 places remaining)
- Fri 11th December 10am- 12 noon (4 places remaining)
How to book:
Please complete the form below, making sure to let me know which date you are interested in, and I’ll contact you to arrange deposit payment via Paypal/cheque to secure your place.
These classes will be taught in English, but if you are interested in a class in French then please let me know your preferred days and times via the contact form below:
In the throes of trying to nail this recipe, I have discovered that I’m pretty picky. That won’t be news to many who know me… but still, I was surprised how many recipes for gluten free muffins I trialled failed to make the grade. A chocolate muffin should be dark, moist and chocolatey. It doesn’t seem so very much to ask, but it wasn’t until fell back onto one of my own top tips for GF baking – using whole milk yogurt – that I was happy with the result.
Whatever your take on what you use elsewhere in your hot drinks and general cooking, I always recommend using whole milk products for GF baking. Whether it’s butter, milk or yogurt, the fat in whole milk products helps lock moisture in, combatting the driness that is always the enemy of the GF baker. Whole milk products are also free of thickening agents, which can only be a good thing.
If I hadn’t been making them for a coffee-phobe today, then I would try using a shot of espresso to replace part of the volume of milk. A little coffee always flatters the flavour of chocolate, and it’s a trick used with great success in chocolate mousse. And now that gets me thinking of using any leftover muffins as the base of a chocolate cherry triflesque (if that is a word) dessert , with cherries and chocolate mousse layer. Watch this space…
- 130g Lisa’s four flour blend (or other gum free GF blend)
- 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
- 25g cocoa powder
- 75g sugar
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 125g natural whole milk yogurt
- 60g milk (or espresso coffee + milk combined, see above)
- 50g cooled melted butter or oil
- handful chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 200C (180C Fan). Place 8 muffin cases on a baking tray.
- Combine the flour, xanthan gum, cocoa, sugar, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and whisk together to combine well.
- In a second bowl combine the egg, vanilla, yogurt, milk and butter (or oil) and mix until combined.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients, scatter in the chocolate chips (holding a few back for topping) and then pour the wet ingredients in. Stir slowly with a spatula until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated, but the mixture is still lumpy. Do not over mix.
- Fill the muffin cases 3/4 full. Top with the reserved chocolate chips.
- Bake in the oven for approx 20 mins, until the top springs back when pressed with your finger.
- If baking in mini muffin cases then bake for approx 15 mins.
I’ve been saving this post for gluten free cinder toffee cupcakes up since August, when I made them for my(non GF) son’s birthday. He was celebrating his 19th birthday and requested cupcakes this year. I have a pathological fear of icing (along with deep-frying, but that’s a different story…) – most of what I bake is very much on the rustic end of the baking style spectrum, as you may have noticed.
However his birthday gave me an excuse to push the boat out and this recipe from Vagabond Baker fitted the bill. He’s a bit of a caramel/fudge nut, and this cake was easy to convert to gluten free. For bakers just starting out on their gluten free journey I always recommend starting with Doves Farm self raising flour as (unlike their plain flour) it already contains a perfect amount of xanthan gum for recipes that are likely to use SR flour, so it can be substituted ‘1 for 1’ in any recipe using SR flour. The alternative gluten free flour fridge-filling extravaganza that usually ensues from experiments in gluten free baking can wait for a while, until people get confidence and become more inquisitive about other options in texture and flavour available.
I will not reproduce the recipe as I made it pretty much as written, except for the flour substitution. I would say that you need to assemble these on the day. The cinder toffee ((like a homemade crunchy!) weirdly dissolved in the cakes left overnight, despite coating the bases in chocolate. You can find the recipe here.
Flapjacks are a staple of school life in the UK. At least they were when I was a child. They have now probably been overtaken by trendy pre-wrapped granola and raw bars (who am I kidding?!). But when I was a child, flapjacks were the absolute pinnacle of quality homemade goodies that could be found tucked in a lunchbox.
When I was at secondary school I remember the music teacher making flapjacks for the teachers’ coffee break every day for about 2 years to fund the purchase of a new grand piano for the school. Dedication to the cause indeed. And when I was at medical school, triangle shaped flapjacks featured regularly as a post- Dissection Room snack. I kid you not. But I think I’d better leave that particular conversation there….
Flapjacks are not tricky. Buttery, sugary, utterly sinful but ridiculously easy with one caveat – as long as you have the right sized tin and oven temp. Too large a tin and your flap jack will be too thin and crispy, too small and it will be too thick and chewy. I like mine crispy. You have been warned. And please don’t ask me for nutritional information. I like to eat mine, albeit very occasionally, without a guilt complex.
- 90g demerara sugar
- 90g granulated sugar
- 175g unsalted butter
- 1 heaped tbsp golden syrup
- good pinch sea salt
- 350g jumbo GF oats (old-fashioned oats)
- Heat the oven to 150C or 130C fan.
- Butter a tin measuring approx 20 x 27cm.
- Place the sugars, butter and golden syrup in a medium pan and heat over medium heat until the butter has melted.
- Stir in the oats and salt and mix well.
- Tip the mixture into a greased tin and flatten down well with a spatula.
- Bake in the oven for 40-45 mins until golden brown.
- Allow to cool and tip out of the tin as one piece before absolutely cold, or you might have trouble getting them out of the tin! Cut into squares or triangles once absolutely cold.