1 Jan 2009

My First Gluten Free Christmas

Christmas is a surprisingly gluten infested feast – bread sauce for the turkey, Christmas Pudding, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies, chipolatas, Yule log, trifle, blinis for the smoked salmon starter ...even the childhood stocking regular (and breakfast) of Cadbury’s selection packs are a no go these days. But, not one to miss out on the festivities, I spent much of November and December researching gluten free goodies to make and buy.

To those new to gluten free Christmas, the wonderful Village Bakery produce a range of festive foods produced in a dedicated gluten free facility. However, having severely got the baking bug, I wanted to start making my own.

As a child, as early as October, my mother would be found making enough Christmas puddings for the whole neighbourhood in the washing up bowl as there was never a bowl big enough for the all the mixture. We would only ever eat one of them over Christmas. The rest would be stored and matured for next year, when they would be discovered as the next batch was being put away for maturing.

My Mother also made the Christmas cake, maturing it and feeding it's boozy diet of brandy, then covered the alcohol laced cake in marzipan and icing. My brother and I would invariably be present for this final stage, to sneak the 'leftover' marzipan and provide artistic direction for the decorating. Every year, mum was determined to use the plastic snowman, Merry Christmas sign and paper ruffle – but I always wanted to replicate the BBC Good Food Magazine creation of that year.

So this year, with the opportunity to eat as much marzipan without a slapped wrist, I found a recipe for gluten free Christmas Cake. It comes from Good HouseKeeping Magazine and I just swapped the 250g of flour for 200g of ground almonds and 40g of gluten free plain flour - as I find it is much more absorbent than wheat flour.

Covered in marzipan and ready to roll icing (after mums rock hard icing incident, I don't plan to make my own!) the decoration was to be saved for Christmas Eve when Mum was arriving at our house, bringing with her 'the tin'. In a moment of nostalgia, when excitedly telling Mum about my gluten free baking triumph, she asked how I was decorating it. I had used all the icing with enough left over for a small snowman, and she jokingly offered her decorations. I accepted hoping for a comedy cake moment on Christmas day when unveiling it to my brother...

But she forgot 'the tin'...

At this point on Christmas Eve, having used every inch of ribbon in the house, the only decoration left was my little snowman, and black ribbon. Not very festive, but minimalistic...

Gluten Free Christmas Cake
You need:
500g sultanas and raisins
250g Agen prunes roughly chopped
100g dried sour cherries
150ml Brandy or Armagnac
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
100g molasses sugar
150g dark brown sugar
250g pack of unsalted butter at room temp, plus extra for greasing
4 large free range eggs
200g ground almonds
40g gluten free plain flour
1tbsp black treacle
1.5 tsp mixed spice
Half tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt

23cm cake tin
Brown paper and string

To make it...

Soak all the fruit in a non-metallic bowl in the Brandy, citrus zests and juices, covered overnight.

Next day, preheat oven to 150degrees C and grease and line the cake tin.

Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric beater until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs a little at a time to make sure that it doesn't curdle. If it starts to curdle, add a little flour. Beat in the black treacle.

Sift the flour, spices and a pinch of salt into the mixture and fold with a metal spoon.

Fold in the soaked fruit and tip the mixture into the prepare tin and level the surface.

Wrap a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin to prevent the sides of the cake from burning.

Bake for 3-3.5 hours until the skewer comes out clean.

TIP - put a tray under the cake as the oil from the almonds can leak a little, and next year I may up the the flour and reduce the almonds...

Leave the cake in the tin for about 10mins, then turn it out to cool on the rack.

Keep the cake in the greaseproof paper, wrap in cling film, then foil and store in an airtight container.

After 2weeks of maturing, prick the cake all over with a skewer and drizzle over about a tablespoon of brandy. Leave to soak then store as before.

Marzipan and ice the cake as per the instructions on the pack...decorate.

The cake will keep for up to 3months.

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