When Life Gets Complicated…Bake Cake

When I was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with an allergy to almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts I was not – to put it politely – very happy. Life has suddenly become a lot more complicated.

I’ve suffered a couple of allergic reactions to almonds (one far more severe than the other) and went to see an allergy specialist to be properly diagnosed. The more serious allergic reaction had happened after I’d eaten fresh almonds on one of the tiny Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily last year. Within a short time of eating them my whole body was covered in big itchy hives, I had a thick scarlet welt around my neck and shortness of breath with dizzyness. Although I was in a village, it was quite remote with limited / no emergency medical care. However, I think the situation would have been far more terrifying had I been half way up a mountain eating a nut bar or trekking somewhere remote when I suffered the allergic reaction.

I’m still coming to terms with how allergies to these nuts will impact my life (particularly when travelling and eating out) so I shall save a longer blog post on this until I’ve fully articulated my thoughts.

When Caleigh asked whether I’d be interested in taking part in a Spring recipe challenge, I was really keen to participate. This isn’t a recipe blog, mainly because I usually cook straight from recipe books. I’m starting to think that perhaps this will have to change, though, given the prevalence of ground almonds in gluten free baking recipes. The Spring recipe challenge is using oranges as the theme since they are in season at the moment. The challenge is to create a dish which uses oranges, is free from gluten and dairy as well as being free from almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts.

Thanks to the great gluten free community on Twitter, I learnt that polenta can be used in recipes as a substitution for ground almonds. Who knew? Not me! One of my favourite cakes is this Clementine Cake by Nigella. I’ve adapted the original recipe to remove the ground almonds. The cake is amazingly easy to make. Boiling the clementines for 2 hours will make your house smell absolutely heavenly, even before you pop the cake in the oven.


(A Not Very Complicated) Orange Polenta Cake (gluten free, dairy free, almond free)

Ingredients

– 4 to 5 seedless clementines (weighing approximately 375 g)

– 6 eggs

– 225 g caster sugar

– 175 g gluten free polenta

– 75 g gluten free plain flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour, I love the mix of beans in the flour but Dove’s would work too)

– 1 heaped teaspoon of gluten free baking powder

Method

1. Put the clementines in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 2 hours. Drain and allow to cool. (If you’ve used clementines with seeds in you will need to cut them in half when cool enough to handle and remove seeds at this stage). Take the whole fruit (including skin, pith fruit etc) and blitz it in a food processor/blender to make it smoother. Before I had a blender I mashed it up a bit with a potato masher (!!) and it worked just fine.

2. Preheat oven to 190 C. Grease and line a springform tin. Either a 21 or 23cm tin will work. I used a 23 cm tin.

3. If you’ve blitzed the clementines in a food processor/blender then add all the other ingredients and mix. If you’re not using a food processor, beat the eggs by hand and add the sugar, polenta, gluten free flour and baking powder and mix well, adding in the pulped clementines last.

3. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for one hour. Check the cake after 40 minutes. I cover in foil at this point to prevent the top of the cake from burning.

4. The cake is done when a skewer inserted to the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

The cake tastes delicious as it is but I add a syrup:

Ingredients

125 ml fresh orange juice

125 g golden caster sugar

Zest of 2 clementines

Method

1. Put the sugar and orange into a small saucepan

2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the syrup thickens and then sugar is fully dissolved

3. Allow the syrup to cool

4. Poke holes on the top of the cold cake and poor over the cooled syrup

5. Sprinkle the zest of the clementines over the cake


This full on orange fest of a cake will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight tin. It tastes even better the day after you make it, meaning it’s the perfect bake ahead cake.

A huge thank you to Caleigh for organising this Spring recipe challenge. You will find a round up of everyone’s recipes on Caleigh’s blog this afternoon. I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else has created, all of which will be safe for me to eat!

Gluten Free Bilbao, Spain: Zortziko Restaurant

Although our trip to Bilbao was only booked a couple of days before we left, I still had enough time to research gluten free dining options.

I used the incredibly useful Madrid Coeliac Society website (key pages are in English) and printed from there a list of restaurants it recommended in Bilbao. The link will take you to search for restaurants throughout Spain. We then cross referenced this list with our Bilbao guidebook and a map.

It was very fortunate that the restaurant I liked the look of most happened to be close to our hotel. The website for Daniel Garcia’s Michelin starred Zortziko restaurant even noted that they catered for Coeliacs. We asked the hotel to call and make a reservation and they advised the restaurant that I was Coeliac at the time of booking.

From the outside it’s not immediately obvious that the building houses a restaurant. Sure, there’s a sign on the wall but when you enter it’s almost as if you’re going into someone’s house. Albeit a very grand house! The restaurant 4 rooms decorated in distinctly different styles. In the front, the decor is very traditional. We sat in the middle room which was unusually decorated. We later discovered it was used for the cookery school. Personally, I preferred this room because it was fun and a bit different. I also LOVE tomatoes so sitting with this view made me happy!

I was provided with the menu which focuses on Basque specialties and the waiter explained which dishes could be made gluten free. The tasting menu looked very exciting but I thought this would be challenge too far to make the adjustments for the dishes to be gluten free and the options on the main menu all looked very appetising.

This was approximately half of the starters and he said all of the main course fish and meat could be prepared gluten free. Of course, the waiter said, the alterations might mean you can’t have the sauce or perhaps an ingredient should be omitted but I was to let him know what I’d like to eat and he’d discuss it with the chef and advise what the substitutions would be. The waiter said any fish would be grilled or baked (not fried) for me. The service throughout the meal was attentive and our waiter spoke excellent English which helped when discussing the ingredients in each of the dishes and the adjustments to make them gluten free.

The waiter brought me this gluten free bread.

I can honestly say this bread was amazing. Just look at it – it even looks like a normal small baguette, doesn’t it?! Whilst the middle didn’t have the same light as a feather texture of a French baguette, the outside was crunchy and just like the regular, gluten filled version. At the end of the meal the waiter brought out the packet for the gluten free bread. It was made by the Spanish brand, Berlys. Like the fantastic Swedish gluten free bread Fria, comes frozen so it can be stored for whenever it’s needed.

The style of cooking is my absolute favourite. Using ingredients that are so fresh and flavoursome that they are served with just a dash of complementary flavour. Simple but at the same time, complex.

For a starter I chose the scallops with baby squid caviar and smoked onion.


For main course I chose sea bass with “large red prawn brushstroke”. For something thinly brushed across the plate, the red prawn reduction was insanely intense.

There were sweet options for dessert but I really wanted to try some cheese to enjoy with the remaining Rioja in our bottle.

This is a half portion, Mr D and I decided to share the cheeseboard. Eaten from left to right, the intensity of flavours increased as I progressed to the right of the board and a seriously unctuous blue cheese which was local to that region in Spain was a great finale.

As we left the restaurant we were lucky to meet Daniel Garcia and I got to thank him for an amazing meal.

Details:

Zortziko located at Alameda Mazarredo, 17, 48001 Bilbao

Hours: 13:00 to 15:30 h. – 20:30 to 23:00 h.
Closed Sundays and Mondays. Check directly for opening times during late August/September

Cost: 3 course dinner for 2 people including wine was EUR 170