I miss biscuits, flapjacks and other treats, and I’m bored with squares of chocolate.
“Our flourless chocolate cake is our top seller – people are obsessed with it,” says Jessica Elliott Dennison, owner of Edinburgh neighbourhood kitchen Elliott’s. “What’s nice is it just happens to be gluten-free.” Heading down the naturally gluten-free path is a good idea, because, let’s face it, it just makes life easier, and Dennison’s chocolate cake couldn’t be simpler to knock up: “Melt dark chocolate, butter and a pinch of salt, cool slightly, then throw in cocoa powder and soft brown sugar.” Whisk, crack in eggs, and now you can take it in whatever direction you fancy – add espresso, citrus zest, vanilla or nuts, say – then bake until slightly risen. “I’ve also discovered that if you put the leftovers in the freezer, it tastes like Ben & Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice-cream.” Enough said.
It’s also wise to make friends with ground almonds. “Almond-based cakes and biscuits are moist, you get more flavour and they’re more interesting,” says Dennison, whose latest book, Lazy Baking, is published later this month. Sam could chuck them in, say, Felicity Cloake’s sticky orange cake: beat six egg yolks, 225g caster sugar and a tablespoon of honey until thick and pale, then fold in 300g ground almonds and the puree of two oranges that have been simmering in water for a few hours. Gradually fold in six egg whites whisked with salt until stiff, then bake until firm on top. To finish, poke a few holes in the cake and pour over an orange-cardamom syrup. Alternatively, Dennison says, “amaretti with a coffee are amazing – crunchy on the outside, squidgy in the middle. For her “go-to biscuit vibe”, whisk an egg white until frothy, add caster sugar and whisk again until you’ve got soft peaks. Add honey, vanilla and grapefruit zest, whisk, then fold in ground almonds and salt. Divide into equal-sized balls, roll in icing sugar and bake. “You don’t need a mixer or anything.”
If you are planning to sub in gluten-free flour, however, there are a few things to bear in mind. Gluten-free flours absorb moisture, so swapping like for like in a non-gluten recipe might leave bakes a little on the dry side. “I decrease the amount of flour by 10% when swapping to gluten-free,” says Katarina Cermelj, author of The Loopy Whisk blog and Baked to Perfection. “When removing gluten, you’re removing a very important binder that prevents bakes from being too crumbly, so in most cases you’ll need to add a separate binder, too.” As a basic rule of thumb for cakes and cookies, Cermelj uses a quarter-teaspoon of xanthan gum per 120g flour (her favourites are Doves Farm’s Freee flours) – “If you’re making choux or shortcrust pastry, and need more elasticity, you might need more.”
Meanwhile, shortbread plus caramel plus chocolate is hard to better in the snack department. Food writer Anna Jones’ blitzes gluten-free porridge oats to a “scruffy powder”, then adds gluten-free flour, cornflour, dates and butter until the dough just comes together. Base completed, she tops it with date caramel and melted chocolate mixed with chopped nuts (almonds or pistachios, for instance) and dried sour cherries. Now that beats a square of chocolate any day.