Archives for posts with tag: gluten free

Plum and Almond SpongeThe rain came, finally. The hills are misty and the sky is grey and for the first time in over a month the city feels quiet, calm and reflective. We have been high on summer here. Bright days and warm nights, restless without the weight of a sheet or a duvet. There is a sobriety to dull misty rain and while the humidity hangs heavy, for today, this could be the beginning of the end of summer. So to mark the transition of the seasons I sign off to summer with one last plum recipe.
Plums and red wineheartily spiced almond batter
It’s been a bit of a plum summer, really. Plums have been in my fruit bowl more than any other stone fruit this season. There is something humble about the plum quite different to the polished, white-fleshed peaches or nectarines and I don’t feel the plum has the same following of the apricot with their pleasing pink blush, downy skins and child-friendly pull-apart groove. Nearly every piece of food writing or poetry of the plum mentions the bloom – the silvery blue smudge to the skin of the fruit. The obvious association would be with the bloom of a flower, full of the promise of scent and colour. But when I read about the bloom on a plum I tend to think of algae bloom. Moving right along.
fading light, ready to bakegolden and warming
This recipe takes a different sort of plum altogether – the canned plum. The slick patent leather-like skins of the dark purple Black Doris have disappeared and the fruit sits in a sweet, lip-staining juice. (Good for a bit of colour and sparkle in a gin and tonic.) The plums are baked with dollops of heartily spiced, almond sponge spreading over the fruit like a winter quilt. The sponge is tinged burgundy in colour, not necessarily from the plums as you might think, but rather from a splash of red wine in the batter. I’ve made this dish sound decidedly wintery, and the ease of canned fruit does lend this dessert well to cold nights, but come back to the plums for they are sweet and light and fragrant.

The fruit, the fruit – plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines – they’re all so lovely and innocent, but sometimes you just need a bad-ass, a rebel. The red wine is robust; it delivers a strength to the sponge that perhaps contradicts with a traditional Victorian sponge and all its typical associations of lightness and delicacy. But the red wine; it works. It adds ooomph and character.
warm plums and an open crumb
Mum has been making this dessert for a while now; it’s part of our regular repertoire. Like many of the recipes in this rotation, they feel so normal, so regular; delicious for us four perhaps only because of their history in our kitchen. But these recipes are worth sharing and worth eating, no matter the weather.

Plum and Almond Sponge
This recipe comes from a small cookbook from the kitchen of Church Road Winery cook book. Every recipe in here looks great and every recipe lists wine in the ingredients, but we have settled on the plum and almond sponge; it’s our favourite. Time to branch out maybe.

100 grams butter
40 grams brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, separated
130 grams ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon caster sugar
6 tablespoons red wine + 4 tablespoons (preferably a weightier varietal like syrah, merlot or a blend)
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tin Black Doris plums

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cream butter, egg yolks and brown sugar, then add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the first measure of red wine (6 tablespoons), then the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar. Fold the egg whites into the creamed butter mixture.

Place the plums in an oven proof dish and pour over the second measure of red wine. Sprinkle the ground anise over the plums. Spoon the almond batter on top of the plums and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

We serve this with cream or yoghurt; crème fraîche would be nice too. The original recipe suggests a slice of blue cheese and a glass of noble semillon. That sounds very nice, indeed.


As a child it would be fair to say I had a few food related issues. I liked to eat and was an adventurous eater compared to some children, but the seed of healthful eating had been planted early on. I remember asking my mother before I tried something new like an avocado or a zucchini, “Is it good for me?” I would probably have eaten anything had I believed it was good for me. I don’t think I was motivated by a desire to be thinner – body consciousness had not yet become a catch phrase at the tender age of 7 or 8 or 9 – rather I was aware of having healthy insides. The body is a temple, as my father says.

Fast food very rarely tempted me as a child, in fact I was known to pale and dry retch at the thought of McDonald’s or Burger King. I couldn’t go to the movies for a while due to the hideous smell of butter popcorn and the thought of sitting in a movie theatre with chocolate and greasy hands. After birthday or sleep over parties, days and nights spent gorging on cake, lollies, chips and fizzy drinks, I would come home feeling like I needed a cold shower, to go for a 100 kilometre run and to eat nothing but raw carrot sticks for a week. I felt I needed to redeem myself in some way, to take care of my body. Instead, possibly trying to instill a sense of rationality and moderation in her children, my mother would feed us a bowl of mashed vegetables – potato, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, sometimes blanched spinach streaked throughout. We felt better instantly.

These days, this need for cleansing food comes around less often mostly because I have a natural inclination towards salads and lean proteins. I enjoy eating well. But working in the hospitality sector can be challenging in trying to have some sense of control over what and when I eat. Sometimes the food is just so damn good I really do need two helpings of chocolate mousse cake for dinner. And other times I find myself nibbling on bread crusts and that’s that.

Working at Big Bad Wolf Charcuterie is wonderful. The sausages, terrines, dried and cured meats, pork pies and spit roast pork sandwiches are the best around, and when people say gosh, it must be great to work here, it really, really is. But I’m exhausting myself living on a diet of meat, meat and more meat. Sausages for breakfast – I want to try them all – tomato, beef and bacon; pork and fennel; pork, watercress, anchovy and potato; beef, cheddar and caper. The day I had the Big Bad Blood sausage for breakfast (kidney, heart and liver) was a wild day indeed. But now is the time to bring a little greenery and, that all important word, moderation into my diet.

This blog is not motivated by a specific diet, vegetarianism, veganism, a carb free diet, or low fat. This is not a space to extol the virtues of healthy eating, for while they are numerous and important, this blog and my food is dictated by taste. This space is for the appreciation of all good food – the fruit and vegetables, the fish and seafood, the nuts and grains, yoghurt and ice cream, the cakes and sweet treats, the dinner meals; light soups or salads alongside the heavier stews or highly spiced curries or pastas. Moderation is the name of the game.

So today, I made these fruit and nut truffles – vegan, dairy and gluten free. These baby truffles are sweet with dried fruit, with the slight crunch of sesame seeds and blitzed almonds, the faint creaminess of coconut milk and all wrapped up with the bitterness of cocoa. These baby truffles are my re-aquaintance with a different way of cooking and a different way of eating. It helps that they are bite sized, perfect for a little sweet treat.

There is something so festive about truffles coated in cocoa, chopped nuts or dessicated coconut. The truffles sit beside me as I type and I can smell their nutty, bitter aroma. We always make several types of truffles for Christmas. This year I’m adding these to the list for moderation applies at Christmas, too.

Fruit and Nut Truffles

A quick note on the dried fruit: Soak in hot water for 10 or so minutes, then drain but reserve a tablespoon of the soaking liquid. Also, I used one third of a cup of raw almonds as that is all I had. A half cup would be fine, possibly even better. On that note, feel free to play with the fruit and nut varieties and quantities.

1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut cream – the thick layer from the top of the can
zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Blitz the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped. Pour into a mixing bowl with the sesame seeds, ground almonds and cinnamon. Mix well.

Place the soaked fruit in the processor with the tablespoon of reserved soaking liquid and the vanilla extract. Pulse until the fruit is nearly a paste. Spoon into the bowl with the almonds and seeds. Add the coconut cream and grated lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined.

Place the cocoa powder on a plate and roll each truffle into a tiny bite sized ball – they are quite sweet so you don’t need a lot. Roll the truffle through the cocoa powder. Once all the truffles are coated keep truffles refrigerated.

Serve as an after dinner sweet treat with tea, or during the day as a little pick-up.

September has brought clear days of high winds, the sort of wind that seems to be rolling and sweeping in the air above us, almost unnoticed, but will take you by surprise with the flick of a tree branch or the lift of a hat. See the blossom, dusky pink, before it is blown off the trees.

There have been mild days with warmth in the sun. There has been a grey wet day, a freezing cold day, a torrential rain day. It’s only day 7 of September. Welcome to Spring in Wellington.
This chocolate berry torte is rich, dense and the chocolate sits squarely in the front row, so to speak. It is perhaps more appropriate to dark winter nights, maybe in front of a fire, with a glass of dessert wine or a citrus-y bourbon. But here we have it in Spring and I’m sure you won’t complain.
Like I said this torte is rich, dense and deliciously fudgey. It’s brownie meets ganache truffle. The sort of cake where you take a bite, smile in delight at how good it is, and you may very well have chocolate on your teeth. Every second spoonful or so there is a berry tartness, a smash of raspberry or blackberry or blueberry. It adds a freshness to the cake, but not a lot of sweet. The bitter-sweet of the chocolate is the leading flavour here.
This cake is gluten free, taken from the same book as this recipe. I’ve realised that in our house we often make gluten free desserts not because we fool ourselves that they are healthier, or because we are dangerously gluten intolerant, but because the understated disc of a cake that these recipes produce suit us perfectly. They are clean and simple to look at, nothing much really, but the flavours, whether citrus or chocolate, hold their own.

Chocolate Berry Torte

Any berries would be fine in this cake, fresh or frozen. We used frozen mixed berries which lend a bumpy texture and add more colour.

200 grams dark chocolate
50 grams butter
3 eggs, separated
50 grams caster sugar
50ml cream
110 ground almonds plus extra for dusting tin
150-200 grams berries

20cm spring form tin

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Line the base of the tin with baking paper and brush the sides with melted butter. Dust with ground almonds.

Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, until melted and smooth.

In a large bowl beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg yolks and mix well to combine. Stir in the cream and ground almonds.

In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites, a third at a time, into the chocolate almond mixture. Next fold through the berries. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The sides should be cooked but the centre slightly underdone. Leave the cake to cool completely before removing from tin.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream and more berries.

I remember my Nana once complaining about the awful oil slick of a carrot cake she had eaten at a department store in town. It looked perfectly good in the cabinet, she said, and then once served on a plate, the oil practically spilled from its cut sides, leaving a sticky sheen on the plate.

I think of this story every time I make a carrot cake, and I have made a fair few carrot cakes. They are of the high, well risen, fruit, nut and spice variety with a generous spread of cream cheese frosting. Never have they been too oily, thank goodness, but they do pack a punch – that cream cheese frosting can really get to you.Recently while watching re-runs of Nigella Kitchen I saw her demonstrate a recipe for a more simple carrot cake, one with no frosting at all. It had sultanas soaked in brandy, was made with olive oil and almost marigold in colour. But in all honesty, what appealed to me most was the way Nigella whispered and sighed her description of the cake as a modest disc, one that will damply crumble as you cut it.

If modest disc and damply crumble do not make you swoon slightly at the thought of it, then let me add this: the cake is almost custard-like in texture, soft and sweet. The sultanas burst with the rich flavour of cooked brandy. As for the olive oil, ground almonds and carrots, each one is wholesome in their own right but together they are a tri-factor of earthy sweetness. On top of the cake are bark-like shards of almond for a toothsome crunch.I can’t imagine an occasion for which the former style of carrot cake – the big hulking sort with an inch of rich icing – would be more suitable than this soft and delicate version. My Nana would have loved this cake – not least for the sultanas simmered in brandy.

Venetian Carrot Cake
A Nigella Lawson recipe

According to Nigella, this version of carrot cake was made by Jews in the Venetian Ghetto during the time of the Venetian Republic.

2 medium carrots
75 grams sultanas
60ml brandy or rum
150 grams caster sugar
125ml regular olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
250 grams ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 lemon finely grated zest and juice
a small handful whole almonds or slivers

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 23cm springform tin with baking paper and brush the sides with olive oil.

Coarsely grate the carrots then wrap them in a double layer of kitchen towels to soak up excess liquid. Set aside.

Put the sultanas and the brandy or rum in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk the sugar and olive oil until pale and well combined. Add the vanilla extract, eggs and whisk again. When well mixed fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, sultanas (and brandy left in the saucepan), and the lemon zest and juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Roughly chop the whole almonds and sprinkle over the top of the cake. Place cake in oven for 30-40 minutes (mine cooked for closer to 45 minutes and was still very moist in the centre), or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let the cake sit in its tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes before releasing the spring then leaving to cool.

Serve with cream or yoghurt.

My mother is tightening the reigns in her house. No more treats for a while. Time to cut back, to exercise a little restraint. Less carbs, more protein, she says. That sort of thing. My father sighs and pretends to hate every minute of it.

“No sugar in my coffee,” he grumbles, “no cream, just black. No alcohol, except on weekends. No chocolate, no baking, no more cheese and crackers before dinner. Carrot sticks and hummus. Hardly any bread, and no butter on it anyway.”

I took great delight in telling them about the latest food writer and food entreprenuer I had found, Nina Planck. Her philosophy is to reclaim the traditional whole foods of our ancestors; the red meat, full fat dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, lard and butter! My father sighed again, in an if only sort of way. But then he turned to my mother and said, what was that dish you made last week, like the stir fry? What else was in the salad today? We had a great lunch yesterday, didn’t we?

The thing is, my mother could make a pack of rubber-like tofu and bean sprouts taste fantastic. So any eating regime, not matter how severe, is no struggle. Especially not when she decides she simply must do some baking. It looks like a great recipe, she justifies, and it’s gluten free. Pretty much a health food I tell her. And this is how our conversations go.

Regardless of its nutritional make up, this is one of the nicest cakes I have had in a very long time. It is so very moist and light it is similar to a citrus moose. You can feel the air escape between your teeth. It is lovely with yoghurt – full fat, cream top, I say.

Lady Dundee’s Orange Cake
Adapted from Healthy Gluten Free Eating

2 medium orange
200 grams ground almonds, plus a little extra for dusting
3 eggs
200 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Scrub the oranges and place them, whole, in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 1-2 hours or until the oranges are tender. Change the simmering water up to 3 times to ensure the orange skins are not bitter.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush a 20cm spring form cake tin with butter and dust with ground almonds. Place a round of baking paper in the base of the tin.

Halve the cooked oranges, remove the pips and puree the flesh and the peel in a blender until smooth. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and light. Combine the baking powder and ground almonds, then gently fold into the eggs. Fold in the orange puree. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the midddle of the cake.

Cool on a wire rack and remove the paper.