This bank holiday Monday was bleak. Smudged grey sky, hammering rain, lights on from breakfast to bed time. I needed chocolate cake. The only thing was, was that this week on the Great British Bake Off, it was “Free from… week”. Now, I’m much more at the “full of… or what’s the point?” end of the baking spectrum, so the thought of baking gluten, sugar or dairy free was almost as depressing as the weather.
I flicked through my books and decided to use Delia Smith’s Cakes. The spiel on the front says that at least 90% of the recipes can be made gluten-free, and Delia says that there is very little difference between cakes made with gluten and those that use gluten-free substitutes. I wasn’t quite convinced, so I went for one of the four recipes in the book that were “naturally” gluten-free, moist chocolate and rum squares. Rum. I could put Buena Vista Social Club on the stereo and pretend I was somewhere sunny. Actually, I ended up with song made out of a story by Julia Donaldson (creator of the Gruffalo). It’s called “A Squash and a Squeeze”. Naomi’s choice. It does have a calypso rhythm, so I suppose my Caribbean daydream wasn’t totally shattered, and the toddler boogie that accompanied it cheered me up no end.
Back to the baking. The cake uses ground almonds instead of flour, and is given a lift by beaten egg whites. It’s then topped with icing made from chocolate, cream and rum. I started off by beating unsalted butter in the KitchenAid. Delia Smith tends to use spreadable butter in her cakes and this one was no exception. I didn’t have any spreadable, so I used room temperature block butter and gave it a good beating before I put any of the other ingredients in. I added golden caster sugar and five egg yolks and beat the mixture until the ingredients came together. Next came ground almonds and chopped dark chocolate (the recipe says that you should use grated chilled chocolate for this bit. I did try grating, but the chocolate must have been too warm and kept melting on my fingers).
The next step was to whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Since I only have one bowl for the KitchenAid, I’d taken the chance that whisking the egg whites by hand would be easier than beating the butter. A trick my mom always uses when whipping cream is to let the cream come up to room temperature before even thinking about a whisk. I did this with the eggs whites and I think it worked, they were at soft peaks stage long before my whipping arm locked up. Definitely the right decision, given how high the KitchenAid was jumping when I put the almonds into the mixture.
I folded the egg whites into the cake mixture in two batches, put the mixture into a lined tin and into the oven at 150° fan.
The recipe says that the cake should be baked for 55 minutes to an hour, and feel springy in the centre when it’s done. This baking time was about right. I took the cake out just before the hour was up. I left it to cool in the tin, then lifted it out in the lining and slid it onto to plate. Then I left it alone. The icing required rum. It would be safer to wait until the children had gone to bed.
The cake topping was simple. I melted dark chocolate over a pan of simmering water, then added a tablespoon each of double cream and rum. Once it had cooled and started to thicken I sprinkled the top of the cake with more rum – the recipe says use a tablespoon – I was a bit more liberal. I spread the icing on the top of the cake, waited until it had set, and divided into squares. I had twelve decent-sized squares, and three bite-sized pieces from along the edge.
The cake was light and moist and tasted chocolatey with a hint of rum (Jon would have liked more) and, I don’t think it lost anything from being gluten-free. I can’t help feeling that I’ve cheated a bit in the free-from challenge though in making a cake which was always meant to be made with ground almonds instead of flour. I just didn’t want to take the risk of making a horrible cake to go with such a horrible day. I will give “proper” gluten-free baking a go at some point – I do own a bag of gluten-free flour. I have until 24 April next year before it goes off.