Christmas Mille Feuille

I love Christmas, especially the buildup. London is amazing at this time of year, with lights decorating every high street, and people rushing around, hot chocolate in hand. I get really into the whole thing, and start feeling festive as soon as the calendar reads ‘December.’

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However, come December 26, I am usually over the whole thing. I want no more mention of Christmas, no more festive songs and certainly no more food! I am ready to move on with my life.

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This year, it’s been a bit different. While I was still a student, I would done with uni and home from Christmas no later than mid-December. I would then still have two weeks before Christmas to be at home and start getting properly festive. But now, I have a job, and that meant staying in London, and in the office, until the 22nd. I got home with three days to spare- and to do all the at-home-Christmas things that I consider compulsory. It has also meant that I have been extremely busy, and therefore baking, and unfortunately posting, have somewhat fallen by the wayside.

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So, the few days after Christmas haven’t felt quite the same for me. The celebration has sort of carried on, and I am still feeling quite Christmassy. It is in this spirit of elongating the festivities, that I share this recipe for Christmas mille feuille with you. Deliciously light puff pastry, sandwiched with ‘chai spiced’ whipped cream and pomegranate seeds make it taste just like Christmas. I have to admit, I baked these about a week before Christmas for some friends, but they would still be delicious eaten during this week of post Christmas revelling.

Christmas Mille Feuille

for the pastry:

25og plain flour

pinch of salt

225g cold butter

For the filling:

25oml double cream

5og icing sugar, plus extra to decorate

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

seeds of half a pomegranate

Put the flour and salt in a food processor. Turn it on and steadily pour in 15oml cold water. As soon as the dough comes together, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest.

Lightly flour your surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle. Place your butter between two pieces of greaseproof paper, and, using a rolling pin, bash your into a flat rectangle, that is about two thirds of the size of the rolled out dough. Place the flat slab of butter over the bottom two thirds of the dough. Fold the top third of dough down over the butter, then fold the bottom third up. You should now have layers of dough, butter, dough, butter, dough. Pinch the edges of the dough down, to make sure the butter is completely encased.

Roll out to a rectangle and repeat the rolling and folding process. Then, wrap the pastry in cling film and place it in the fridge to rest for at least 2o minutes. This rolling and folding process must then be repeated at least 3 more times, with a 2o minute resting period between each fold.

Preheat the oven to 18o degrees celcius. Once your pastry is suitably rolled and folded, roll it out to a large rectangle. The pastry should be less than 1/4 of an inch thick- it will puff up in the oven! Cut out smaller rectangles of pastry, about 3 inches long and 2 wide, and place them on a greased and lined baking tray.

Bake for about 2o-25 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up, feels crisp and looks golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Meanwhile, whisk the double cream until it is firm. Mix in the icing sugar and spices- do this to taste!

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When the pastry is cool, spread whipped cream over half of the pieces, then sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the cream. Sandwich the other pieces on top, and finish with a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon.

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Happy (belated) Christmas!

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xxR

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Pistachio and White Chocolate Cake

Before this, I hadn’t baked just a straightforward cake for ages. I was really starting to miss the feel of beating butter and sugar together, of breaking eggs and the hard to describe sound of batter as it’s mixed around the bowl.

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But, most of all, I was missing the taste of cake. Unsurprisingly, I have eaten far less cakes since being gluten free than at the peak of the gluten-ful diet I previously enjoyed. A craving for cake can really only be satisfied by cake, and this one pulls no punches. Full of butter, sugar and white chocolate, this cake is unashamedly unhealthy.

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I have been experimenting with replacing wheat flour in various recipes over the past six or months, with, admittedly, varying degrees of success. My preferred substitute is rice flour, which I think has a really delicious flavour. The one downside of rice is, however, it’s tendency to suck all moisture out of anything. I have it on extremely good authority that the whole putting your phone in a bowl of rise after you drop it in the toilet thing actually does work, and I can totally vouch for the dryness of rice. I’ve been battling against dry gluten free cakes for month, and then I had this revelation.

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This cake was perfectly moist and soft all thanks to the addition of some chopped pistachios. Turns out that not only are nuts a delicious cake ingredient, but their oil really helps to combat the dryness issue. A cake miracle. I would highly, highly recommend the combination of white chocolate and pistachio. I can’t resist putting dried rose petals on top of anything (must have something to do with my name…!) but how you decorate is completely up to you! Gluten free or not, this is a cake you don’t want to not eat!

Pistachio and White Chocolate Cake

220g unsalted butter softened
220g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100ml milk
50g coarsely chopped pistachios
50g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Begin by creaming together your butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour, baking powder and milk and mix well before adding the pistachios and white chocolate (easy!)

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is slightly golden and crisp on top. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

For the icing:
150g white chocolate
150g butter, slightly softened
150g icing sugar
pistachios, to decorate
rose petals, optional

Begin by melting your white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Be careful- white chocolate can burn more easily than normal chocolate, so make sure the water is only just simmering.
Beat your butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add your melted, cooled chocolate and mix well.
Cut the cake in half, and spread half the icing over the bottom layer, then sandwich the other half on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the cake and decorate. Perfect with a big cup of (green) tea!

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xxR

Plum Tart with Honey Frangipane

Since April, I have been doing an internship at a very small, London based charity, the Women’s Environmental Network. Over the past 27 years, WEN has campaigned on a number of environmental issues, from climate change to real nappies. At the moment, however, their main focus is promoting growing and eating local food as a way to ensure a healthier lifestyle and planet.

I have always been keen on eating seasonal and local food- where possible of course, I have to admit I am quite partial to the odd avocado….

Eating as much local and seasonal food as you can is one of the best ways of promoting a healthy diet. It also ensures that your food is as delicious as possible. I love browsing my local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, picking out the freshest produce.

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I am also very lucky because my parents’ garden is full of fruit trees and berry bushes, as well as the odd tomato and cucumber plant. Plums are one of their most abundant fruits, so our summer diets are always full of plum pies.

This year, the plums seemed to come slightly later- eating into apple season!

This is my gluten free take on a plum classic. It also contains no refined sugar, so is slightly healthier than the traditional version too! Honey is used to sweeten the frangipane, which gives it a slightly different, but equally delicious flavour.

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Even if you can happily and without worry eat gluten, I would still highly recommend gluten free flour for pastry. I discovered the pastry like qualities of rice flour one evening as I attempted to make myself a gluten free flatbread to accompany a lentil curry, and it was impossibly crumbly. I finally managed to wrangle the dough into a vague flatbread shape and throw it into a frying pan. When it was the perfect amount of charred on each side, I eagerly began mopping up my lentils, only to find that the texture was crumbly and much more similar to a slab of pastry.

Using gluten free flour completely eradicates the risk of a tough, over worked pastry. It makes for a crumbly, melt in the mouth texture, but it is slightly more difficult to work with and takes a lot more liquid. You might need to do a bit of experimenting to get it right (I have!), but once you’ve found the perfect formula, you’ll love it!

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Plum Tart with Honey Frangipane

For the pastry:
225g riceflour
125g butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the honey. In a separate bowl, beat the egg, then gently stir it into the flour mixture. Add the water gradually, bringing the mixture together into a ball of dough. You don’t have to worry as much about the risk of an overworked, tough pastry. What is more of a concern is a pastry that is too crumbly to work with, so it is okay to be a bit rougher with it than usual. Knead it for about 30 seconds, just to bring it together. Wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

For the filling:
75g butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
pinch of salt
75g ground almonds
10g rice flour
3 tablespoons almond milk
10 ten ripe plums

Beat the butter and honey together until you have a smooth paste, then beat in the egg. Add the salt, ground almonds and rice flour, and fold into the butter mixture, then stir in the milk. The mixture should be like a fairly stiff cake batter.

Set to one side while you roll out the pastry. Grease and line a pie dish and preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Gluten free pastry can be very very crumbly, so the easiest way to do this is sandwiched between two sheets of cling film. Place one, large piece of cling film on your work top, flatten the pastry onto the cling film slightly, then place another piece on top. Use a rolling pin to roll the pastry out to about ½ an inch thick.

Peel the top layer of cling film off, then using the bottom layer as support, lift the pastry into the pie dish, flipping it so thee pastry is on the bottom and the cling film on the top. Peel the cling film off, and press the pastry into the grooves of the tin.

Place a piece of greaseproof paper over the pastry and fill the case with baking beans (or real dried beans or rice- just something to weigh it down!) Bake your pastry blind for about 15 minutes, or until it is just starting to go golden brown.

Meanwhile, slice the plums in half and remove the pip.

When the pastry case is just baked, pour in the frangipane and spread it until it’s level. Arrange the plums on top, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of honey.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the frangipane feels firm to the touch and is slightly golden brown. You might need to cover with a piece of tin foil for the last 10-15 minutes to stop the top burning.

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xxR

Butternut Squash, Halloumi and Amaranth Salad with Kale and Almonds

I graduated from uni in July and since then (give or take a few holidays) I have been spending my unemployed days frantically searching for a job. I started out with high aspirations (and hopes), applying for jobs in prestigious art museums and magazines but, after a string of (rather painful) rejections, I have lowered my sights to babysitting and waitressing jobs. Welcome to the real world Rosie!

However, there is a positive side to this apparently chronic unemployment. It gives me the chance to do all the Londony things that I never got around to during my degree. I had a huge list of exhibitions I was desperate to see, which I am working my through.

I’ve also had the chance to do a lot of experimenting in the kitchen. I’ve bought a whole range of gluten-free flours and I’m working my way through my baking repertoire, attempting to remove gluten from all my favourite recipes.

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Okay, so this recipe never had gluten in it to begin with- but it was still a bit of an experiment. I was experimenting with a new grain- amaranth. Similarly to quinoa, to which it is closely related, amaranth is a naturally gluten-free whole grain. But, believe it or not, it might actually be better than quinoa. It has more protein than most other grains, and has also shown potential to lower cholesterol. Like quinoa, it has been a staple ingredient in Mexican and Central American food for thousands of years.

It’s smaller than quinoa, but cooks in the exact same way- simply boil it for about 15 minutes, and then serve with your favourite salad ingredients. If you need some salad inspiration, read on…

This salad is the perfect combination of everything you could want in a salad. The butternut squash is roasted in garam marsala (an Indian spice blend), so it is sweet and rich in flavours. The halloumi is salty, the kale is garlicky and the chopped almonds add just the right amount of bite. Just trust me, you want to try this!

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Butternut Squash, Halloumi and Amaranth Salad with Kale and Almonds

to serve 4

1 butternut squash

splash of olive oil

6 garlic cloves, finely diced

1 tablespoon garam marsala

1 cup amaranth (just use a regular sized mug if you don’t have a measuring jug that does cups)

1 block of halloumi

1oog kale

large handful almonds

salt and pepper, to serve

Preheat your oven to 18o degrees. Begin by peeling your butternut squash. Cut it in half and remove the seeds, then cut it into wedges. Place the wedges in an oven dish, and drizzle over the olive oil. Toss in the garam marsala and half the garlic cloves, then roast in the oven for about 45 minutes. The butternut squash should be soft all the way through.

Meanwhile, cook your amaranth. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to the boil (again, just use a mug if you don’t have a measuring jug- but just make sure it’s the same size as the one you measured the amaranth in!), then add the amaranth. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed.

To cook your kale, finely chop it and remove any of the really tough stalks that aren’t nice to eat. In a large griddle pan, heat up a splash of olive oil and the remaining garlic cloves, then add the kale. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is tender.

On a large serving dish, arrange your amaranth, then place the sautéed kale on top.

To cook the halloumi, cut it into thin slices. Using the same griddle pan that you cooked the kale in, fry the halloumi for 5-7 minutes on each side, until it is golden brown and soft.

Arrange the halloumi slices and butternut squash wedges on top of the kale.

Finally, roughly chop your almonds and sprinkle over the salad. Season the whole thing with a good pinch of salt and pepper and devour!

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xxR

Not (Yo’) Nachos

Today is Mexican Independence day!

I feel very attached to Mexico- as you might know, I have recently graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art with an MA in History of Dress, and my dissertation was all about nationalism in representations of Mexican dress immediately after the 1910-1920 revolution. I know I know, it sounds kinda boring, but I loved every minute I spent cooped up in the British library, pouring over photographs of Frida Kahlo and Mexican newspapers from the 1930s. I spent months reading everything I could on Mexican politics and culture, and then just as long writing 10,000 words exploring the subject further.

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It was hard work, and very stressful at times but I found the subject so engrossing that I was actually quite sad to have to hand in my essay when I finally reached the deadline (but I was also, of course, immensely relieved!)

On a selfish, personal level, I love Mexican Independence day, because, if it wasn’t for Mexican independence, I really wouldn’t have had anything to write my dissertation about! I’m definitely going to be having my own one-person party to celebrate today, and gorge myself on Mexican food (which has always been my favourite!)

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This is a new way, healthier way to make nachos, with much less saturated fat and salt than the traditional kind (even though those are, of course, delicious!)

Sweet potatoes! The solution to everything. To make your very own sweet potato nachos to celebrate all things Mexican (independence, food, tequila…) peel your sweet potatoes (allow about 1 potato per person).

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Slice your sweet potatoes as thinly as you can (think nacho chip!) and spread them out in an oven dish. Drizzle with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until they are soft in the middle but crisp on the outside.

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Then, use them as you would normal nachos. Cover them with your favourite Mexican toppings (I went for black beans, with plenty of salsa, guacamole, coriander and lime- of course!) For my bean recipe, click here. Or be creative!

Happy Mexican Independence!

xxR

Gluten-Free Bread

Bread is all about gluten. It’s the gluten in wheat, spelt and rye flours that give the dough its stretchy, elastic consistency and bread it’s distinct chewiness. There is nothing better than biting into the crisp crust and fluffy inside of a homemade loaf, fresh out of the oven.

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A really good loaf, one that’s crunchy on the outside and perfectly light and soft in the middle is very difficult to find in a gluten free world. I have often found myself lingering by a freshly baked loaf, trying to get a whiff of the familiar and unmistakable bread smell.

I dread ever going to France again- I think the sheer temptation of baguettes that I can’t eat would get too much.

This loaf is no baguette. But it is bread (in some sense of the word!) I was absolutely thrilled when I pulled this out of the oven. After having some frankly disastrous attempts at constructing a loaf that is both gluten free and won’t break a tooth, this one seemed like a miracle.

The texture is slightly different, I have to admit- it’s not soft and fluffy like the best baguette, but it’s close enough that you could be fooled, especially when it’s smeared with a good dollop of houmous. It’s also dairy and sugar free, and won’t make you feel bloated and too full, like so many of the best breads out there!

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Gluten Free Bread

325ml almond milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

45og gf flour (use your favourite here- I used a mixture of rice flour, corn flour and buckwheat flour)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons honey

1og fast action dried yeast

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

handful of pumpkin seeds

Begin by heating the almond milk in a small saucepan, then leave to cool slightly. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the vinegar, and then gradually stir in the milk until it is well mixed.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until they form a smooth dough. Add the olive oil and bring it together into a ball. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Oil a baking tray, place your ball of dough in the middle and cover. Leave to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 2oo degrees Celsius. Once the dough has risen, use a sharp knife to score a cross into the top. Brush the top with olive oil, and sprinkle a handful of pumpkin seeds over the loaf, then bake for around 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Eat fresh out of the oven!

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xxR

Avocado Chocolate Cookies (gluten-free, diary free and refined sugar free)

Okay I know this sounds gross. But hear me out.

Avocado is oily with a soft mushy texture, a bit like butter, right? But bursting with nutrients and healthy fats, and without the saturated fat that makes butter so bad for you. In fact, avocados can actually help lower cholesterol, and the fat they contain helps you absorb nutrients from plant foods. Basically, they have earned the title of ‘superfood’ with a pretty high level of certainty.

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So why put them in cookies?! Aren’t cookies all about being indulgently unhealthy? Isn’t that the point?! Avocados, when really ripe and mushed, are the perfect butter substitute, in that they are oily enough to hold other ingredients together, and have a mild taste that is easily masked.

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These avocado cookies are actually, believe it or not, also delicious. Seriously. I’m pretty bad at making cookies, but these are amazing. Definitely the best I’ve ever baked. They are super gooey and squigdy, and deliciously chocolatey but also surprisingly healthy.

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They are not only vegan, but gluten free and refined sugar free. Divinely delicious and heavenly healthy. They have, as the cliche goes, all of the taste with none of the guilt. Perfect!

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Avocado Chocolate Cookies

1 large avocado

1 large egg

1 tsp baking soda

15og runny honey

5og cocoa powder

pinch of salt

5og rice flour (or your favourite gluten-free flour)

1oog dairy free chocolate (most dark chocolate is dairy free, but make sure you check!)

Preheat your oven to 18o degrees, and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Scoop out the flesh of your avocado into a large bowl and mash it well until it is a smooth consistency. Once it is completely smooth (lumps of avocado will not be good in a cookie- trust me!) beat in egg, then stir in the dry ingredients. Stir in the lumps of chocolate.

Then, spoon out dollops of mixture onto the baking tray. These cookies don’t spread as much as normal cookies (I left them quite chunky expecting them to spread and they didn’t!) If you want them chunky and fudgy, leave them piled up quite high, or, if you’d prefer a a thinner cookie, spread the batter out more.

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Bake them for 12-15 minutes, or until the top feels slightly crispy. The inside will still be gooey- so don’t worry!

Devour them fresh out of the oven while they are still warm!

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xxR