Flirting with Flavour


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The Perfect Summer Cake for Everyone

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My niece graduated from high school last weekend. Wow, that sentence makes me feel old. Perhaps I should qualify that I am only 6 years older than my niece. Phew, now that feels better; less like I should have a coherent life plan.

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My sister is a phenomenal cook. A love of cooking and baking definitely runs in the family. As she and I were discussing the all-friendly menu for last Sunday’s graduation celebration, I offered to help out in any way I could. When we realised we had overlooked the sweet part of the meal, my duty became clear. The only thing is, my niece, while she loves to have dessert, is obsessed with being healthy. This makes sense for a girl recruited to play Div 1 lacrosse at Mercer. So I wanted to make something that she would actually enjoy and not end up feeling like she’d cheated on her dietary routine. Plus, it had to be me-friendly. I wasn’t about to make a dessert I couldn’t partake in!

A quick read through my inbox revealed this Honey Almond cake with Raspberries, Orange, and Pistachio from Cookie + Kate. It looked perfect. Naturally gluten free, refined sugar free, and it utilised delicious summer fruits. As much as I love chocolate, there are occasions when it’s just too heavy… At the bottom of the recipe Kate suggests that the cake might also be good with lemon and blueberries. I took this suggestion and ran with it.

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As a disciple of Amanda Hesser’s, I of course must use Meyer lemons if they are available, so rushed off to the farmers market hoping to find some. Meyer lemons and blueberries in hand, I remembered a truly outrageous lemon polenta cake I had made a few years back from one of the River Cottage cookbooks and thought – why not sub in some cornmeal? The recipe below is what was born out of this inspiration. A little bit later in the summer, when blueberry season is in full swing, it will probably be even tastier. That said, it is delicious as is and everyone has seconds! Some even thirds … ūüôā

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Honey Almond Polenta Cake with Meyer Lemon & Blueberries

Ingredients

1 cup firmly packed almond meal
1 cup cornmeal, fine grain polenta, or corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is called corn flour in the UK)
1 tsp baking powder, heaping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

3 eggs, beaten
2 Meyer lemons, juiced & zested
2/3 cup honey + 1 tsp (separated)
1/4 cup olive oil
8oz blueberries, preferably organic (plus a few for garnish)

Powdered sugar to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 10″ springform pan & sprinkle with almond meal, line bottom with parchment paper
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, & salt) in large bowl
3. In another bowl combine eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and 2/3 cup of honey. Mix well.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just a few clumps remaining. Gently fold in blueberries.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to your touch. If you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
6. While you allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tsp of honey in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until honey & juice are just blended.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey-lemon juice over the cake while warm (though not to worry, it will still soak in if you let it cool all the way first). It will soak right in!

Enjoy! It also makes a phenomenal breakfast cake ūüôā

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London’s Best (mostly gluten free) Cupcakes

In honour of a certain person’s upcoming visit, I have decided to share my list of the top cupcakes in London with you all. ¬†For those of you who, like me, have to stay away from either wheat or gluten, I hope this helps you take full advantage of all London’s many bakeries have to offer. ¬†Only a couple years ago it was next to impossible to find gluten free cupcakes in this city. ¬† I am happy to report that not only have they become more prevalent, they are also steadily increasing in quality, so you can actually find absolutely delicious (and regret-free) cupcakes, as well as many other baked goods! ¬†Trust me, I know that feeling of jubilation that comes when you notice that single option among 20 in a coffee shop that you can eat. ¬†Even if you’re not hungry, or it’s not the flavour you were craving, you’ll probably buy it (proof – I bought Caffe Nero‘s new rye carrot cake last weekend. It was actually pretty good… but that could be the joy of being able to¬†buy¬†a cafe treat speaking). ¬†The cupcakes below warrant more than the surprise-buy, they deserve cupcake-specific trips, I promise! ¬†And if a state of euphoria ensues, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you… ūüôā

By the way Рthese are in no particular order.  Because most bakeries only do 1 gluten free option, where you go and which you choose will depend on your mood!

Primrose Bakery

Their Primrose Hill location is the original (and source of their name), but they now also have a small storefront in Covent Garden that is the perfect location for that sweet treat after (or before!) a long day of studying. ¬†A deliciously dense flourless chocolate cake is available everyday and most days they also have a chocolate almond cake (sold by the slice) or cupcakes. ¬†On some special occasions they switch it up and make some of their signature flavours with a gluten free base, such as rose! ¬†I know I said these aren’t in any particular order, but Primrose is probably my favourite bakery in London. ¬†For my birthday, B “surprised” me with a custom decorated chocolate almond cake. ¬†It really is everything you could want in a chocolate cake. ¬†Dark, dense, moist, and CHOCOLATY. ¬†The almond gives the crumb a really nice texture and complements the dark chocolate beautifully. ¬†I have snuck bites of their non-gluten free selections and would readily recommend them as well. ¬†The violet cupcake was particularly special, with violet permeating the cake¬†and the frosting. ¬†I have really never had anything quite like it.

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

Hummingbird Bakery

Red velvet has been my favourite cupcake, since discovering Red Velvet Cupcakery with my aunt back in early 2009 (they remain, btw, my favourite cupcake shop). ¬†I had yet to find one, though, that was gluten free, until last fall, that is, when P surprised me with a box of four of Hummingbird‘s gluten free red velvet cupcakes. ¬†When I first saw the box I must admit I started running through all the various excuses I could make to not try one in front of him, fearing ¬†they were probably regular cupcakes and while they looked gorgeous, I did not want to risk eating the wheat. ¬†When P informed me that they were gluten free, a lot of jumping, screaming, and hugging ensued. ¬†Yes, all for the cupcakes. ¬†The frosting is a tad too sweet for me – they could do with making it more “cream-cheesy”, but they are delicious and certainly satisfy my craving for a good gluten free red velvet cupcake, when I don’t feel like baking them! ¬†Hummingbird also sells vanilla cupcakes with either vanilla or chocolate frosting as part of their “made without” range. ¬†And if you give them enough advance notice they’ll bake you pretty much anything special order. ¬†Primrose (above) and Bea’s (below) do the same.

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

outside hummingbird bakery's south kensington shop

outside hummingbird bakery’s south kensington shop

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

One cloudy afternoon last September, after a long day of stressful and exhausting flat hunting, I convinced B & P to peak into the Bea’s on Theobald’s Rd. ¬†I’d read about it, I said, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try anything from them yet. ¬†We obviously ended up sitting down (a much needed break!) and I ordered their gluten free chocolate cupcake. ¬†I have since had it numerous times as part of their full afternoon tea, which by the way, is definitely one of the best (and most fun) afternoon tea options in London. ¬†One word – ganache. ¬†The frosting on their chocolate cupcake is not just any old frosting, it is a deep, dark chocolate ganache.

afternoon tea at bea's of bloomsbury (st paul's)

afternoon tea at bea’s of bloomsbury (st paul’s)

The Freefrom Bakehouse

Considering my frequent visits to Borough Market and self-professed love for red velvet cupcakes, it is surprising that I did not try the Freefrom Bakehouse‘s red velvet cupcake sooner. ¬†Boy am I glad I tried it now, though, instead of waiting until I was about to leave London. ¬†Hummingbird’s is great (and available from their various locations every day), but theirs is the best I have had aside from Red Velvet Cupcakery’s in DC. ¬†The frosting actually tastes like cream cheese (thank you!) and the cake, well it’s moist and the perfect median between dense and light crumb. ¬†Best of all? ¬†It does not taste like it’s gluten free! ¬†All too often gluten free baked goods end up tasting grainy and like something is missing. ¬†Well, it is. ¬†Flour. ¬†But none of the cakes, cookies, and other treats from Freefrom taste like that. ¬†They all stand up on their own, indistinguishable from their flour-full counterparts. ¬†It is well worth tracking down these guys at either Borough or any of the other markets and festivals they set up at. ¬†And don’t wait as long as I did! ¬†Go now!

Violet

I read about Violet (Claire Ptak, founder of Violet, worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to London) and stumbled upon it at the Broadway Market two years ago. ¬†In that instance I took home a variety of their cupcakes/babycakes – salted caramel cupcake, chocolate cupcake, flourless chocolate babycake, almond and polenta rhubarb babycake – and was blown away. ¬†I was subsequently inspired to make my own version of the almond polenta cake (it’s naturally gluten free!), though I still need to perfect that recipe. ¬†It has taken me two years to get back to visit their stall at Broadway and this time I came away with their spelt and vegan chocolate¬†cupcake with violet frosting. ¬†Warning, this one is not gluten free (in fact, spelt has a higher gluten content than wheat flour does). ¬†The spelt flour gives it a gentle nuttiness that compliments the dark chocolate cake, which is delightfully moist. ¬†And the violet frosting, well, it’s perfectly sweet and somehow manages to stay way from the risk of seeming like you’re eating¬†potpourri. ¬†Then again, I would expect nothing less from a Chez Panisse alumna. ¬†They are at Broadway Market every Saturday and their storefront on Wilton Way is open Tues-Sun.

selection of violet cakes

selection of violet cakes

violet cakes

violet cakes

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake