Fairy Cakes failure – thank goodness for packet mixes 2

They say pride comes before a fall and I have discovered that is definitely true, in the world of ‘free from’ baking. After the success of the flapjacks earlier in the week, I decided the time had come to try and create some dairy free, gluten free fairy cakes for the school jubilee party.

Even though I am not very good at making cakes, my confidence was up as a result of my recent triumphs. The rock cakes, brownies and flapjacks were all so easy and I have to admit I did enjoy making them. The kids loved them and they had already vanished, so I decided to branch out and try something more complicated and suitable for a jubilee tea party. Fatal error. The first in a series of mistakes.

My biggest mistake was deciding to try and do two things at once. I had decided to make some fairy cakes and a Victoria sponge. Perhaps I got the recipes mixed up or missed something out because I didn’t have enough batter to fill the two cake tins for the sponge. And when I started on the mix for the fairy cakes, I measured out my sugar and then the flour and then combined the two! I wasn’t concentrating. I was supposed to add the butter first and cream them together. So I had to dump the sugary flour mix and start again.

That was when I realised I didn’t have enough caster sugar for another attempt. So I decided to improvise by topping up with a bit of ‘ordinary sugar’ and some light brown sugar. I was also low on Pure ‘sunflower’ spread and used some coconut oil instead. I am not really sure what happened but when I added the eggs and eventually the flour and milk it all started to look rather curdled and nasty.

I suppose you just cannot substitute the butter and the flour and the sugar and expect a good result. Too many changes at once. I am not sure what went wrong but the mix was very thin and watery and starting to separate a bit.

So I decided to pour it all into one of the sandwich tins as it looked like it would not hold inside the flimsy fairy cake cases. I thought I could then stick the two cooked sponges together and they could be my Victoria sandwich.

I decided I could make the fairy cakes later on, once I had run to the supermarket for more ingredients. I hoped that the cakes would not look too bad when they came out of the oven and I would be able to pretty them up with a bit of icing, some sprinkles and chocolate drops. I had even decided to swap out the jam for some dairy free chocolate spread. This would be my take on the Victoria sponge – mine would be filled with chocolate and topped with chocolate and forever after known as the Elizabeth sponge.

The plan was a good one at least. But the reality was not so good. The cakes looked good and smelled good. They came out of the sandwich tins very easily. I decided to make ‘mini’ sponges, by using cookie cutters to get the perfect little discs. Impressed by my spontaneous creativity, I pushed down with the cookie cutter on the first sponge, I could feel the sponge bounce back – but not in a good way! As I pressed down into the other sponge I didn’t even manage to cut through. Oh dear.

I had created a sponge but the sort of sponge you could clean your car with. You know it will absorb water, you could also squeeze it out and it would probably bounce back to its original shape. The inside was rather yellow too. So I have decided to blame the eggs. I was supposed to use medium sized, but had used ‘extra large’. That was all I had left in my fridge! Anyway, I took a bite of one of the sponges and it had a nice flavour but it was chewy and after a few seconds I realised it was actually pretty inedible!!! So I spat it out and threw it all away. Annoying, a waste of time and money but I was now left with a bigger problem. I still needed to make something for Zac to take to the jubilee party.

I decided to have one last stock take of my cupboards and see if I had enough ingredients left to knock up a handful of rock cakes at least, and that is when I discovered my saviour. Hiding behind a packet of not yet tried bread flour, was a Hale & Hearty branded, dairy free, gluten free chocolate chip cookie packet mix. http://www.halenhearty.co.uk/our_range/products/chocolate_chip_cookie_mix/

 I was saved. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl add my last scrape of Pure spread and add an egg. It all created a lovely cookie dough in no time at all and a few minutes later I had ten perfect little cookies baking in the oven. 15 minutes later the warm little cookies were cooling down and one was missing! Well I thought I should make sure they were ok and they were perfect.

So what did I learn today? Many things really. Definitely don’t try and run before you can walk. I am a novice baker and the world of ‘free from’ baking is actually a bit more complicated than normal baking, so I should have known better. I should also remember to always check the cupboards and fridge before I start, to make sure I have enough ingredients to make the thing, and have plenty in reserve for when I make mistakes and need to start again!

And the most important lesson of all is that it is ok to use packet mixes and sometimes taking a few short cuts isn’t so bad. If it weren’t for the clever people at Hale & Hearty, Zac would have had nothing to take to the jubilee party today. And that is the point, when you have an intolerant child you will do anything for them to be able to feel ‘normal’ at kids parties – even if that means spending all day making a mess and not much else in the kitchen!

So what if all the other kids are eating fabulous artisan standard cupcakes made from scratch by an extremely talented Mummy. My little boy thinks my cakes and cookies are the best in the world and he doesn’t know how they were made or where they came from, all he knows is that I gave them to him and they were made ‘specially’ for him.

Rainbow pasta sauces Reply

Rainbow pasta sauces – the free from family favourites

Anyone reading my blog could be forgiven for thinking I only feed cakes to my children. There is a reason all of my recipes to date have been baked in the oven. My gas hob was broken. A super cautious plumber condemned it when he came to fix our boiler. Long and dull story but I was not able to cook on gas for over a month.

Fortunately the oven was still working, and I have a microwave and slow cooker. So I was able to get by. Luckily, I also had a freezer full of batch cooked meals, so it was not so tough – but it didn’t leave me with much to blog about – so that is why I started experimenting with cakes.

Since Zac started doing three full days a week at pre-school, I have had a bit of time on my hands and seem to spend most of it cooking and stocking up my freezer. I love to cook big family meals and working out new dinners for Zac has been a fun challenge.

When you have an intolerant child, you are even more aware of the need to make sure they get their five a day. With a dairy intolerant child you also have to carefully consider the sources of protein, calcium and essential vitamins, particularly D and the B vitamins. That is why I created my rainbow pasta sauces.

Zac loves all of the gluten free pasta shapes but is picky about sauces and he has become very fussy over the years. So in some ways I have had to go back to the start. Even though I did everything right to ensure he would be an adventurous eater, baby led weaning, not pureeing foods, following Annabel Karmel etc etc, nothing could have prepared us for the impact food intolerances would have. Our non fussy one year old gradually turned into a very fussy three year old, thanks to the years of elimination tests as advised by the dietitians. Every time we took a food item out of his diet for a period of time to test it as a possible culprit, he forgot he liked it. So when we reintroduced the foods that passed the test he flatly refused to eat them anymore and claimed they gave him a tummy ache.

So here we are now, right back at the start and I am back to creating pasta sauces full of vegetables, that I eventually whizz up with a hand blender. Not ideal I know, but when your child has dietary issues, you do anything you can to get the food in him. I just tell myself he will get there in the end and it is not as if he cannot eat lumpy food. He does all the time. He is just weird with certain textures and I need to be patient.

Today was a great day, not only was my flapjack a huge success, but it was also the first day I could use my new cooker. I had waited over a month and couldn’t wait to fire up the burners and do some proper cooking.

I had pretty much run down my freezer stocks, so decided I would make some new sauces. I grabbed all of the vegetables from my fridge and some meat and made a Bolognese type sauce and a turkey, tomato and vegetable sauce. Here are the recipes. Both were very straightforward and worked very well. I shouldn’t imagine many Italians would approve them as particularly authentic, but that is not the point of this exercise. I just need to create delicious and healthy food that gives my intolerant child all he needs.

So tonight, the children had the ‘Bolognese’ sauce with gluten free spaghetti . Tom and I had the turkey and tomato sauce with farfalle (butterfly pasta, according to Sophia). Both were delicious and are very versatile. Worth a try. I only blitz the sauces for Zac. I prefer them with some texture. So if you are making them for yourself, just make them to your taste – with finely chopped vegetables, chunky vegetables or whizzed up to a smooth sauce.

The most important thing to me, is to ensure that there is good quality meat included, as well as a rainbow of vegetables. We are always being reminded that it is best to eat a large variety of multi coloured vegetables as often as possible, hence my ‘rainbow’ home brand name. I usually have a good selection in my fridge and it is always so rewarding to see the children attack their pasta, knowing that it is covered in sauce that is packed with vitamins and nutrients and looks attractive. It worked tonight but I still need to keep working on it. Who knows, one day, Zac may return to eating like the little baby in the photo, with a courgette in one hand and a carrot in the other. But until that day comes, it is up to me to find other ways to get that rainbow in him!

Turkey rainbow sauce Reply

Turkey rainbow sauce

4 large turkey breasts or 6 thin turkey steaks

1 Kallo Chicken stock cube – gluten free, dairy free

1 medium red onion

3 sticks of celery

1 yellow pepper

1 courgette

1 small aubergine

1 handful of mushrooms

Handful of broccoli florets

1 tablespoon of ‘pesto’

1 tablespoon of tomato puree

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika

1 dessert spoon of mixed herbs

1 glass of red wine

1 splash of balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic or 1 dessert spoon of garlic puree

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Chop up the turkey and gently fry it/brown it in the pan with a splash of olive oil. I use turkey because it is cheaper than chicken, has a stronger taste and the texture absorbs the flavours of the sauce better. Once the meat has coloured add the stock cube and let it melt into the meat. Season the meat, with the salt, pepper and smoked paprika and then add the onions and garlic. Soften them on a medium heat for about five minutes. Keep stirring so that the garlic does not burn. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to sweeten it and then add the celery. Once that starts to change colour, add the herbs and aubergine. As the aubergine changes colour and absorbs some liquid, add the wine. Cook for five minutes or so and then add the mushrooms, followed by the courgettes and peppers. Next stir in the pesto. I have just discovered a gluten free, dairy free and nut free one that was really delicious and added a real depth to the dish.  See picture. I found it on the free from shelf at Waitrose. Obviously, if you are ok with dairy, you can use normal pesto, but for us, this has been a revelation. We used to love pesto and it was a real favourite with Zac, so I am glad I found this one.

After the pesto, then add the broccoli and let it cook for a few minutes, before adding the tinned tomatoes. Stir it all through and taste the sauce. Add extra seasoning or a splash of wine, paprika or tomato puree if it needs more intensity. Keep going til you like the taste and then cover it and cook it on a low heat for about 40 or 50 minutes. Keep an eye on it and stir from time to time. You need the sauce to reduce and intensify but you don’t want it to burn or stick. This sauce is great with any pasta, but also works just as well with rice. Again, a naturally non-dairy meal, full of protein, vegetables and vitamins. It also blends up really well and goes quite creamy in texture if you blend it till it is smooth. A big hit with the children.

Bolognese rainbow sauce 1

Bolognese rainbow sauce

500g steak mince

1 x Kallo Beef Stock cube – gluten and dairy free

1 large handful handful dried mixed herbs

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 splash of balsamic vinegar

1 glass red wine

1 medium red onion

3 cloves crushed garlic or 1 dessert spoon of garlic puree

3 sticks celery

1 large carrot

1 small courgette

1 small yellow pepper

2 handfuls of chopped mushrooms

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Season with salt and pepper

I always chop and prepare all the vegetables first, so I can add them as I am going along. Brown the meat in a large pan over a medium heat, season with salt and pepper, add the stock cube and stir it around so it melts into the meat. I always use the Kallo branded stock cubes, as they are gluten free and usually a bit lower in sodium than other brands. They are easy to find, usually amongst all of the other brands and not particularly pricey.

Next, add garlic, onions, splash of balsamic vinegar, tomato puree and then the wine. The balsamic vinegar sweetens the onion and adds a nice warmth to the sauce. Cook gently until meat is really brown and the garlic and onions are soft. Next add the carrot and celery and let them soften, keep stirring over the gentle heat. Once they are looking softer add the courgettes, pepper and mushrooms. Season again and keep moving until they start to soften too. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, let it heat up til it bubbles and then turn it back down and cover with a lid so it simmers very slowly. Cook it as slow as you can for at least an hour until the meat is really soft and the vegetables have all softened. Keep tasting and if it needs extra flavour, you can always add a bit more garlic, a sprinkle of herbs, a splash more wine or some more tomato puree. I don’t think I ever do it the same way twice, I just taste and add and taste and add until I am happy.

Sometimes, I transfer it to my slow cooker at this point and leave it on low for several hours. The flavours really come together and the meat is always nice and soft, which the children definitely prefer and I am just happy that they have eaten a meal containing seven different types and colour of vegetables, not to mention good quality lean meat. A naturally nutritious dairy free, gluten free, wheat free meal. No particular cooking skill or fancy expensive ‘free from’ ingredients required.

My Jubilee Treats – flapjacks, fairy cakes and ‘Elizabeth Sponge’ 4

There is a ‘street party’ in the playground of the children’s school on Thursday afternoon. The excellent PTA has arranged a fun afternoon of maypole dancing, ‘crown’ decorating competitions and most important of all a ‘tea party’. As ever, those words fill me with dread. Apparently, there are cakes and jelly and ice cream on the menu. So, as usual, I need to create something fun for Zac to take along, so he feels part of the celebration. Obviously, I cannot send him in with his ice cream, in this heat it wouldn’t make it as far as the car, but I can make him some cakes. I think.

His favourites still seem to be my rock cakes, which makes me happy, because they are so quick and easy to make. But in an attempt to get in the Jubilee mood, I feel I need to supply him with something even more English, pretty and suitable for a party. No doubt the other children will be eating amazing looking cupcakes, made by the army of skilled baker/mothers who live in the village.

I am not in that class and to be honest, am a bit bored by this new obsession with cupcakes. It is almost at a competitive level now and I know I cannot ever get excited enough to make the effort. I don’t even like to eat them. The swirly thick, creamy looking toppings turn my stomach and they are certain to do the same to Zac, quite literally.

So I decided to push against it and stick to what I know. I am pretty sure cupcakes are an American thing anyway, and I am fairly confident it is based on their measuring system of ‘cups’. When I was a little girl, sweet little cakes in the pretty cases were called ‘fairy cakes’ and were much smaller. In an age when obesity and greed is becoming an issue, perhaps we should return to baking our more traditional bitesize English teatime treats, starting with fairy cakes. I am sure the Queen would approve.

I have found some recipes, in my mother’s cooking notebook, the one she handwrote at cookery class back in the seventies. I plan to attack the fairy cakes tomorrow. I have found a recipe for a Victoria Sponge, also in the book. Obviously I have to make them all dairy free, gluten free and wheat free but even so – they look beautifully simple, which baking has to be to entice me to get my pinny on. The sponge has a regal enough name but perhaps, as this is ‘my’ recipe and I have created it for the Jubilee of our queen, it will be known as an Elizabeth sponge.

But as I am so nervous about baking and Zac loves cakes with ‘fruit’ I decided to start with a flapjack today. It has just come out of the oven and I am happy to say it was the easiest thing I have ever made. It took minutes and was relatively mess free. I am sure it is very nutritious and relatively wholesome. It certainly smells amazing and I can’t wait for the children to come home and try it. I hope they like it, but not too much, otherwise I will need to make a fresh batch for the party.

Here’s an interesting thing I have learned about homemade cakes – they never go stale, because they are never around long enough! I have about fifteen pounds worth of Asda’s own brand ‘free from’ cakes in my cupboard – they have been there weeks and are still not stale or even out of date! Yet whenever I make a cake, it is gone in less than 48 hours.

I don’t know why it took me so long to get organised enough to do this! I think it is saving me money too.

So the party is on Thursday. The flapjacks are made and now I just need to pluck up the courage to make the fairy cakes and Elizabeth sponge! Here is the recipe for the flapjack and some photos. I will post the fairy cakes and Elizabeth sponge tomorrow.

Flapjack recipe

200g Pure sunflower spread

1 dessert spoon ‘The Groovy Food Company’ organic virgin coconut oil

200g caster sugar

150g golden syrup

1 dessert spoon ‘The Groovy Food Company’ premium agave nectar (light and mild)

375g gluten free porridge oats

2 handfuls of sultanas and a small handful of chopped apricots

Heat oven to 180C. Lightly oil and line the base of a 20x30cm cake tin with baking parchment.

Melt the ‘Pure’ spread, sugar, coconut oil, syrup, agave nectar in a medium pan, over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats, sultanas and apricots. You could add chocolate chips – e.g. MooFree chocolate drops, if you prefer.

Spread the mixture into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Cut into even sized bars and leave until cold. Turn out of the tin and cut into slices.

I got the porridge oats in the free from section of Waitrose and the agave nectar from the free from section in Tesco. The coconut oil was among all other cooking oils in the ‘normal’ aisles.

I added the coconut oil purely for flavour and because it melts so well at a high temperature. I was also running a bit low on Pure spread and thought I would improvise. I added the agave nectar just because I bought some the other day and haven’t had the courage to use it yet. It is a low GI sugar substitute, totally organic and I keep reading about it so thought I should try it. It tastes a bit more like honey than syrup but, it works. So you could leave both out and just add a bit more butter and a bit more syrup and I am sure the end result would be the same.

Chocolate buttons – my favourite baking ingredient Reply

My chocolate brownies were a success and I have to give a lot of credit to a key ingredient. Chocolate buttons, dairy free of course.

I have always loved chocolate buttons – the Cadbury’s version. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth but when I need a chocolate fix, nothing hits the spot like a packet of chocolate buttons, straight from the fridge. They have to be cold enough to ‘snap’.

When we worked out Zac was intolerant to dairy, we were so pleased to find alternative chocolate buttons. They are not a major part of his diet, obviously we are very careful about the balance of his diet, but I still believe little ones need the odd treat and I think ‘chocolate’ is better than sweets. I have also found myself snacking on them from time to time and think they are just as good as the real thing.

The first ones we discovered were the ‘Dairy Free’ brand, which appeared in most supermarkets. They disappeared from the shelves recently but apparently are coming back soon. I hope.

Asda have an own brand of chocolate button and they also have a chocolate orange variety. Zac really loves the chocolate orange ones, so we usually have several packs in the house. Good job too. When I started baking the brownies, I realised that I didn’t have enough of my dairy free dark chocolate slab, so started rummaging around the cupboards to see what I could find. That is when I had a happy accident. I found two packets of the Asda chocolate orange buttons, so decided to throw them in too.

http://groceries.asda.com/asda-estore/search/searchcontainer.jsp?trailSize=1&searchString=free+from+chocolate+buttons&domainName=Products&headerVersion=v1&_requestid=114773

When you are using non-dairy chocolate you are obviously in the realms of seriously strong dark chocolate so do need a fake milk chocolate to take the edge off the bitterness. These chocolate buttons worked a treat and gave the brownies a really lovely faint orange flavour, which everyone who has tasted them, has noticed and loved.

The other reason I love working with chocolate buttons is that they melt easily. Melting my chocolate and butter was another challenge. Just recently my beloved range cooker was condemned by the gas man who came to fix our broken boiler. Not a good month for us. Anyway, he disconnected the hob from the gas, as it was unsafe! Thankfully, it is a dual fuel cooker, so I can use my ovens.

I had originally promised to make the children my special ‘fake’ pancakes, then remembered that would be impossible – unless there is such a thing as an oven baked pancake?! So that is how I came to cut a deal and agreed to make brownies instead. My brain was clearly having an off day, because I had forgotten you also need a ‘flame’ to melt the chocolate and non-dairy butter together.

The oven was already on and that is when it occurred to me, I could just put the bowl of chocolate and ‘butter’ in the oven for a few minutes. It worked. The little buttons melted down so quickly and infused the rich dark chocolate with a gentle orange aroma and flavour. This was the first thing my sister noticed when she had a taste of the brownies this evening. She declared them delicious and had another one. So I have to call this batch of brownies a big success. I hadn’t planned to make them, I hadn’t planned for them to be chocolate orange brownies, but thanks to my love of chocolate buttons, and Zac’s intolerance, a new recipe was born, along with an alternative method for melting chocolate.