The best antidote I've found for chasing away this year's winter blues is a baking day with friends. On a Sunday with typically dour July weather, K, Toby and Katy joined me in the where's the beef kitchen with the purpose of trying out some gluten-free flour I'd been sent by a PR company.
There's a lot of love amongst us ladies for peanut butter-chocolate combos, and so first item of business was Isa's peanut butter chocolate pillows. Though the flavours were a winner right from the start, Katy and K had to tinker with the textures. The peanut butter filling was immensely gooey but some extra icing sugar got it into a rollable state. Meanwhile the chocolate dough was far too dry and crumbly to mold around it! The first solution was to make some sandwich-style cookies. (These were delicious but a little dry and messy.)
K experimented with xantham gum to no avail, then eventually found success when she accidentally added more soy milk than she intended to.
The pillows were just wonderful. Their taste and texture is consistent with the other Isa recipes I've tried, but I would never have detected the gluten-free flour in a blind test.
Over by the stove, Toby and I set about making the broccoli quiche from Vegan Brunch. Toby did a gorgeous job of chopping, sautéing and spicing while I struggled over the shortcrust pastry. Things got off to a terrible, terrible start - while I followed the recipe quite faithfully, it turns out there's a typo in the recipe book such that I added 5 times more fat than is really needed. This batch had to be rejected outright.
My second attempt was better, though it didn't resemble any butter-and-gluten-full shortcrust I've made before. It was a stark white, and I wasn't a bit surprised when it proved difficult to roll and transfer smoothly to my pie dish. With the help of two more pairs of hands we dragged it in and avoided too many tears. Thinking back to my limited-gluten wholemeal crust, I resolutely patched up the crust and hoped for the best. It stuck together well enough. After the blind-baking stage, I noticed that the crust had shrunk and pulled away from the dish, while the patchy sections were flaking and separating a little too.
While I was relieved to see the crust hold together and resist leakage, it was in no other way a success. The exposed edges were horrendously tough and it was utterly flavourless all the way through. Consolation came from the gorgeous filling, which I wouldn't hesitate to make again.
More savoury joy was had from Toby's spontaneous whipping up of some Chinese-style lemon tofu (à la lemon chicken). It seems to be his latest obsession and he's written more about it here. It was very special indeed.
Finally, K and I put our heads together and fashioned these lemon and cherry-spiked cupcakes. We took inspiration from this lemon-almond cake recipe, replacing the ground almonds with ground cashews and dividing the batter into 10 cupcake cases.
The icing was even more experimental. I reduced the syrup from a jar of morello cherries to a quarter of its original volume and used it to flavour a buttercream made from Nuttlex, sifted icing sugar, a little soy milk and vanilla. Tasting as we went, we were surprised at the improvement that those smidges of Bonsoy and vanilla made to the final taste and texture. The cakes had the faintest strange aftertaste but were otherwise brilliant.
I'd guess that this gluten-free flour will work best in strongly flavoured, robust cakes and cookies and I'd be more hesitant about substituting it directly into subtly flavoured cakes or finicky sponges. While my shortcrust was an unmitigated disaster, I haven't given up entirely - Ellie has recently reported gluten-free shortcrust success and I'm toying with another experiment.