Despite the fact that this has evolved into what I describe as a mainly gluten free baking blog, I don’t have particularly strong feelings either way towards gluten.
I grew up in a household where eating gluten-free was second nature. My dad was diagnosed as a coeliac on the day that I turned two – those were the days when you got a plastic loaf of bread on prescription and that was about it. Our meals gravitated towards the kind of foods that were naturally gluten free, based on vegetables and salads and whole grains like rice and corn, and they’re still the choices that I tend to make.
I’ve had periods where I’ve eaten almost entirely gluten free, mainly to see if it had any health benefits. I’m still not convinced that it actually makes any difference to me but still, I’d guess that our diet these days is about 95% gluten free.
There are a couple of main reasons for this. For a start, nearly everything that I cook at home is gluten free, partly by accident because it’s the food I like to eat but also by design. It makes me feel more confident about cooking for my family if I know that there are unlikely to be crumbs or traces of gluten anywhere (or that I haven’t accidentally reached for the plain flour instead of the gluten free flour which always used to be my greatest, if slightly irrational, fear when I kept plain flour in my cupboards).
But what I really liked about the challenge of eating gluten free was the way that it forced an element of variety into my diet. As much as I like to try and make sure that I eat a balanced range of foods, it’s all too easy to get to the end of the day and realise that every meal has been constructed around wheat – a piece of toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a bowl of pasta for dinner. But now, whilst there is still be a small of regular wheat in our diets (almost always in the form of pizza), our weeks are more likely to be filled with millet and buckwheat and quinoa and, if I’m being honest, way more vegetables than there used to be. And that can only be a good thing.
If you feel better because you’ve cut gluten (or dairy or whatever) out of your life for whatever reason then I think that’s great! I know a lot of people for whom it has had a real and lasting benefit. If you’re a coeliac or intolerant to gluten, then I know what a pain (in all senses of the word) it can be, particularly when you’re eating out or trying to navigate through a sea of hidden wheat. If you can’t imagine a life without regular flour, then that’s okay too. I’ve never felt that it’s really my place to mandate a particular way of eating – what works for one person almost certainly won’t work for everyone – and, frankly, I think that we’re all adult enough to make our own decisions (and let’s not judge anyone else for theirs).
The truth is, I’ve grown to love gluten free baking far more than I ever loved regular baking. It’s not always easy but the process can be so much more rewarding. Most importantly though, I really do prefer the taste and texture of gluten free baked goods. Why would I want to throw a cup of flour into a pan of brownies when ground almonds will give me a far richer and fudgier result? Plain waffles and pancakes now taste so boring compared to the heartiness that you get from buckwheat flour. A combination of rice flour and cornstarch gives such a soft and light crumb to a cake.
And then there are these – my absolute favourite cookies in the world. I’ve baked a lot of cookies in my life, the vast majority made made with regular old flour, and none of them are a patch on these.
They’re what I bake whenever I really want a cookie. I make them whenever my boyfriend has had a bad day – they’re his favourite too and he has zero interest in what type of flour I’m using. When I make them, I’m not allowed to take any into the office; we have to keep the whole batch for ourselves. I made them on the day before we met the priest to see if he would agree to marry us because it was the only way I could distract myself from getting nervous. I’m pretty sure there will be lots of them between now and the end of October.
They’re perfectly good (better than good really) if you make them with plain flour but then they’re just a cookie, like thousands of others. When they’re made with buckwheat flour, they’re so much more than that. The flavour is deeper and more assertive. The texture has the perfect (for me) balance between crisp and soft; something I’ve never been able to get with wheat flour. The nutritional benefits of buckwheat flour are well documented and I do like knowing that I’m getting some minerals and antioxidants that I might otherwise be missing out on but most of the time, I just really want a cookie.
Plus, they’re pretty perfect for making ice cream sandwiches.
You can put anything in these cookies really - dried cranberries are particularly good (although not if you're going to make them into ice cream sandwiches). The dough freezes well too and I usually only bake half of it at a time. If you're cooking from the freezer, just add another couple of minutes to the cooking time.
- 125g (4.5 oz) dark chocolate, 70% cocoa
- 125g (1 cup) buckwheat flour
- 25g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 60g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 175g (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) demerara sugar for preference but granulated sugar also works
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 100g (4 oz) white chocolate, chopped
- Any other add-ins you like e.g. chopped nuts, seeds, dried cranberries
- Carefully melt the chocolate in a small pan over a low heat (you could use a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water but I rarely bother - so long as you keep an eye on it and keep the temperature low, you should be fine over a direct heat). Set aside to cool.
- In a bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and the vanilla, followed by the melted chocolate. Finally, fold through the dry ingredients and chopped chocolate (and anything else you want to throw in!). Chill the mix for a couple of hours or so.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F/180C and line a baking tray with non-stick paper. Put heaped tablespoons of mixture on the tray, leaving a little room between each one (I usually get 6 to a tray) and bake for 10 - 12 minutes until set round the edges. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
There are lots of similar recipes out there. I think this originally came from a book called 'Chocolate Magic' by Kate Shirazi but I've played around a little with it over the years.