Apple, Cinnamon and Ricotta Gluten-Free Friands

Apple Cinnamon and Ricotta Friands
If you have met a financier (the cake kind not the money kind) then you have met a friand, albeit in a different shape and from another country. Financiers hail from France and are so-called due to their rectangular shape which was thought to resemble gold ingots. They are made with sugar, ground almonds, a kiss of flour and foamy egg whites, giving a lovely light and moist sponge. The friand is made in exactly the same way, except in an Australian kitchen and baked in oval shaped tins rather than rectangles. So that’s basically why I chose to made friands instead of financiers – that’s the tin I have.

Because the recipe uses so little flour it is no effort to turn these babies gluten-free without losing anything from the original recipe. The flour is just there to bulk out the ground almonds rather than any grand alchemy taking place. I think that’s the easiest way of creating gluten-free bakes, by adapting recipes which don’t rely on flour.

Apple Cinnamon and Ricotta Friands

I have tried mixing my own gluten-free flours and experimented with different blends of sorghum flour, potato starch, rice flour and millet flour among others. However, sometimes it’s just easier to reach for the bag of ready-made stuff. When you’re using so little flour anyway like in this recipe the difference is negligible. For this purpose I am more than happy to use Dove’s gluten-free flour blend, it’s reliable and the benefit is that you don’t need to order any out of the way ingredients from Amazon as it’s more than likely that your local supermarket stocks it.

These friands are amped up from the usual recipe by dropping in a teaspoonful of lemony sweetened ricotta into the finished batter then garnishing the top with cinnamon spiked buttery apple pieces just before they go into the oven. I think I got the idea of including the ricotta in a food magazine years ago and haven’t been able to resist adding a dollop to my recipe every time since. The creamy ricotta pairs perfectly with the buttery apple topping, making this a very simple bake but one that feels luxurious, delicate and of course good for your gluten-free friends.

Apple Cinnamon and Ricotta Friands

Apple, Cinnamon and Ricotta Gluten-Free Friands
Makes 12

3 Apples, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon icing sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
squeeze of lemon juice
160g ricotta
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
250g icing sugar
160g ground almonds
100g gluten free flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
200g butter, melted
180g egg whites (about 6)

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and butter a 12 hole friand tin.
  2. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter then add the icing sugar, cinnamon, salt and lemon juice and then tip in the apple pieces.
  3. Fry for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat just before the apples turn soft and leave to cool.
  4. In a small bowl mix the ricotta with the vanilla, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon icing sugar until smooth and set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl mix the almonds with the flour, the rest of the icing sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and salt together
  6. Then in another bowl the whisk egg whites a little until light and foamy.
  7. Fold the egg whites into the almonds along with the melted butter.
  8. Divide the batter between the friand moulds, then top with a spoonful of ricotta mixture. Finally add a few apples to the top of each one.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes then turn out and finish cooling on a wire rack.
  10. Dust with icing sugar.

Skopolos

I can only apologise for my tardiness in posting lately. I have been away but I felt the wrench of leaving my blog behind nearly as much as it pained me to say goodbye to my three little monsters for a week. However, it was generally decreed that we all needed a jolly good holiday. Willow and Wesley went south to be puppy-free where they could play with their toys to their hearts’ content at my mother’s in Berkshire and Billy Buddy went in the opposite direction to my in-laws to spend the week on the canals of Cambridgeshire. Meanwhile, before any of our parents could change their mind and demand their money back we hightailed it to the nearest airport and boarded a plane for the remote Greek island of Skopolos.

It has been over a year since our last holiday, our much talked about adventure in the deep south of America, but this year has been so busy that we craved the complete opposite of that experience. My husband has been sweating it out in the unrelenting demands of a job in the city and ever since I quit working as a TV producer last year I have been toiling to carve out the rewarding existence I had promised myself. The addition of Billy Buddy to our household was the final piece of lego to turn our lives back to front and upside down. Stroud Green Larder and Billy have given my days a fulfilling and haphazard structure but loving what you do so entirely means that it’s sometimes too hard to take a break.

The past few months I have been dreaming of white-washed buildings, cobblestones underfoot, awe-inspiring vistas, the crystal clarity of the azure ocean but most importantly, a pool, a Kindle chock full of the pulpiest material and gin and tonics on tap.

It’s a bit of trek to Skopolos, our taxi collected us from North London at 1.30am to take us to Gatwick. The early hour was only made bearable by a very chatty cabbie who was giving us all the gossip of his celebrity passengers; Gary Barlow – miserable, Michael Barrymore – horrendously drunk, Nadine from Girls Aloud – the most normal of the band, Jude Law – a top notch bloke.

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The flight to Skiathos in Greece is only 3 hours, but then you taxi it down to the port and then jump on the catamaran to the neighbouring island of Skopolos. Due to lack of sleep and then plane delays which meant we had to hang around on the runway for an age and then missed our catamaran connection, the journey felt as torturous as the time I was forced to watch the extended cut of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. By the time we had dragged our rental car up the vertical incline of the Skopolos mountains to reach our villa nestled in olive trees we were fit to drop. And we did, directly into our pool’s embrace, not to emerge for the whole week.

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You may not have heard of Skopolos but you may have seen it as it was the prime location for Mamma Mia. Luckily the island has mostly survived unscathed by the experience, the only impact this had on us was that we had a great game location- spotting on our various trips out. Now I don’t like Abba music at all, which is strange as I am not at all discerning in my music tastes. However, I do love the film due to its sheer cheeriness, and the best scene without question is Meryl Streep’s fabulously over the top performance of The Winner Takes it All and her utter commitment to wresting such unbridled emotion from every single lyric as she’s flinging her arms and her shawl about on the stone cragged steps leading up to her daughter’s scenic wedding chapel.

The chapel of Agios Ioannis, where this scene was filmed, is considered the ultimate in tourist destinations, and was so even before the film. Our visit was purely magical and not just because of its location where waves crash wickedly beneath the plummeting steps carved steeply into the rock, but because of what we found at the top. It was a surprise as we were struggling up the perilous incline when a be-suited and flustered man tore down the stone stairway, nearly sending us to our doom, followed in hot pursuit by a blonde beauty in a scarlet dress and high heels giggling about what a hurry they were in. I mean I was struggling in my trainers, how she ran down the steps in her skyscrapers without plunging into the sea is absolutely commendable. It soon became apparent when we climbed the last few steps what their hurry was as a bride was looking on bemused at the commotion, tucked behind a flour white wall before her grand entrance, as her maid of honour and the best man raced to fetch the forgotten wedding rings, 100m below in the car.

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It was there then that we witnessed the most romantic wedding I have ever been to. A delicate aisle made from white gauze set the scene just outside the matchbox sized chapel, as high as the clouds, where ribbons breezily hung from a stooped tree as the sun set in the background of this most intimate of gatherings. It made Mamma Mia seem like a circus show. The wedding party were delightfully tolerant of the cluster of five or six tourists lolling about discreetly, snapping away at their special moment.

Now, I am very fortunate that I am a cat lover. Or cat obsessive, whatever. If I were to live in a sci-fi novel then I would definitely like to live on a planet of cats and Greece does not have that long to go before that sci-fi sitch is made a reality. There are cats ev-er-ry-where, which was quite honestly brilliant! Our villa even came with 3 cats, a little kitten whom we christened Jessop before we had even got out of the car on day one, her pregnant mum, Penny and her Dad Agamemnon, named just because we were in Greece – we weren’t much more imaginative than that. There were cats weaving in and out of your legs as you ate your meals in courtyard restaurants, there were cats sleeping on stone steps, doorways, shop windows and street benches. The local cats are known to all the residents and we were given a running commentary on all the cats in one bar we went to, one particular cat that slunk by was singled out for being a ‘bad cat.’ When we enquired as to why we were told that he liked to bite the other cats. A bad cat indeed. Since our return we are contemplating putting Willow and Welsey on diets. Our fat lazy housecats seem quite at odds with the felines we have been frolicking with all week, when I first saw Wes I thought he had been eaten by yogi bear so ginormous he seemed in comparison.

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Like many travellers I like to go on holiday to eat, but probably more so than most as I am horribly greedy. Greek food is a little hit and miss. I have had excellent Greek food in the past, but the problem is that a lot of places we went to were offering very lazy versions of moussaka, stifado and kleftiko. However, there were a few dishes which stood out. One of the specialities of Skopolos is the Skopolos cheese pie, a curl of filo pastry stuffed with thick molten cheese, easy to get very wrong I should imagine depending on where you order it. It sounded so intriguing though and I am thankful that I tried it at Anna’s, a lovely courtyard restaurant swaddled within the twisty stone streets of Skopolos Town where pomegranate trees plump with fruit droop becomingly over your table. The Skopolos cheese pie I ate there was studded with strawberries and graced with almonds. The crisp of the pastry contrasted delightfully with its soft oozing interior.

This was not the only time where I appreciated the art of filo and surprisingly I ate a most delicious minced meat pie from a tiny bolthole in Skiathos on our stop through whilst journeying home. It was so simple but the pastry was crunchy around the soft meat and chewy at the edges. I rarely cook with filo and this is definitely something I will rectify on my return.

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Skopolos is rightly very proud of their plum trees which are prevalent throughout the island, so in turn you cannot open a menu without seeing plums or prunes paired with some sort of roasted meat. The best example of this was at Angelo’s Restaurant in the harbor of Skopolos Town where I was served meltingly tender goat with fat plums, perfectly cooked rice and two fist sized roast potatoes. I am terrible as I love the Greek habit of serving rice with white potato, for some reason this carby combination is one of my creature comforts and this was easily my favourite, if not the most sophisticated, meal I ate on the island.

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I am always inspired by the local ingredients on holiday and like to stay in my own villa if I can so I can experiment. The cooking is just as fun as going out to restaurants, working from a limited larder where the focus of your cooking is sharpened. I made a stew of cinnamon chicken, a celebration of the best produce Skopolos had to offer – with large juicy prunes and richly fragrant honey. I used chicken in my version as we ate a lot of red meat out at the restaurants and I was looking for something that night a little lighter. If I were to make it at home, I would make it with chicken thighs which are more flavourful and probably lose the sausage but if you are working with chicken breast which is a lot leaner then the sausage gives the dish a bit of oomph to brazen out the sweetness of the sauce.

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The Greek Salad at Angelo’s

One of the most refreshing things about the restaurant menus on Skopolos, besides telling you exactly which dish was made from frozen produce, was the wide and varied range of salads on offer. They are given their own section, they are not only served at lunchtime and they are celebrated just as much as any other dish on the menu. We always included a salad with every meal we ate, which some of the restaurants found a bit odd as we would order it alongside our main dishes which is not really the done thing. We also made sure we ate at least one Greek salad every day. There was one fateful day where we ate it twice, but that was considered a touch too far in the feta aftermath. The Greek salads you get in Greece are worlds away from any Greek salad you could possibly make at home. The reason is simple, you just cannot get Mediterranean tomatoes in the UK. It’s the unabashed heat of the roasting sun which ripens the tomatoes on the vine which give the fruit its flavour and polytunnels in the Isle of Wight just do not do the same job. The flesh is soft and warm without any hint of fluffiness and the juice inside is sweet and luscious. The cucumbers are remarkably unseedy with firmly rippled emerald skins and tight bodies. If you are going to make a Greek salad at home, purchase the best feta you can find which crumbles to the touch, choose the tomatoes which have travelled to your farmers’ market the least distance and ugly organic cucumbers which are far superior to their slimy supermarket counterparts. The addition of honey and cinnamon to the dressing is not authentic but once I cheekily included the honey first time round it brought such a rich forest flavour direct from the mountains of Skopolos that I couldn’t bring myself not to include it every time. The cinnamon I snuck in just because it turns out that at the moment I can’t bear to prepare any meal without a pinch of the auburn spice to add a pep of warming sweetness and Greek cinnamon is quite wonderful.

We eat a lot of tzatziki at home, the version noted below is a little different to the one I normally prepare where I usually grate the cucumber and add a touch of coriander and plenty of mint. In Skopolos though mint is swapped out for dill and it makes the dish taste entirely different but just as delicious. The tzatziki we were treated to in restaurants were punched through with handfuls of garlic to complement the accompanying herb and fish roe fritters which we ate in the beautiful Agnanti restaurant in Glossa or the flowers stuffed with rice and spices which we ate in great mounds at the restaurant of Molos on the harbor of Skopolos.

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Skopolos Tzatziki

200g greek yoghurt
¼ cucumber, finely diced
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a pinch of sugar

Mix all the ingredients together with plenty of seasoning and serve.

Cinnamon chicken with prunes and honey
Serves 2

1 chicken breast
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
120g pork sausage
1 glass white wine
1 tbsp honey
10 prunes, stones removed and chopped
Plenty of seasoning.

  1. Dice the chicken, then sprinkle with seasoning and cinnamon and set aside whilst you begin cooking the dish.
  2. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan and bring up to heat. Add the onion and garlic and sweat them gently until just turning translucent.
  3. Add the cinnamon chicken and the sausage and stir together until the chicken begins to brown.
  4. Splash in the white wine, turning up the heat to middling. Then add the honey, prunes and some more seasoning.
  5. Toss everything together then simmer for 10 minutes until the prunes are plump and the honey has melted.
  6. Serve with rice or a simple Greek salad.

Greek Salad
Serves 2

100g feta, crumbled
2 good sized tomatoes, diced
¼ cucumber, diced
¼ red onion, finely sliced
1 tsp honey
A pinch of cinnamon
Squeeze of lemon juice
A generous tablespoon of olive oil

Don’t be shy with this salad, chop your ingredients heartily and mix it all together with abandon.

Black Pepper Blancmange

Black Pepper Blancmange
Our household has developed a bit of a blancmange obsession. It all began when my mother-in-law gave me her old ceramic jelly/blancmange mould. It was beautiful. White, mottled with use, with a lovely distinctive pattern within. It sat for months on the side of the kitchen waiting to be used. Then recently, when visiting the Emmaus bric-a-brac shop in Cambridgeshire, they had an enviable collection of vintage jelly and blancmange moulds, both glass and ceramic.   I am a sucker for the ceramic and imagined how lovely they would look with my mother-in-laws’. I claimed a mere two of them as my own and back to my house they came to sit on the side of my kitchen, sitting pretty but a little in the way.

Blancmange MoldsThen over the Easter weekend after being hounded by my husband for not putting these space hoggers to good use we worked together to create a simple yet traditional blancmange. Now, I haven’t have a lot of experience of blancmange, I vaguely remember Angel Delight from my childhood but it wasn’t something we really had at home. Likewise I don’t really remember it at nursery school, just the horror of congealed rice pudding and claggy spotted dick, so I really had no point of reference.

Black Pepper Blancmange  |  Stroud Green LarderBlancmange originated with the Arabs and was typically a white dessert, hence the name, made of rice and almond milk which seems to bear more resemblance to rice puddings. Of course, like most English puddings it would originally have had meat involved somewhere and shredded chicken or capon are said to have been main ingredients, but towards the Edwardian times the meat was being left out and in time so was the rice.

Gelatin is the most common setting agent used in blancmange recipes these days which makes sense as it is easy to use and very stable. Indeed Delia Smith on her website explains how she struggled with her chocolate blancmange recipe until she added gelatin to a chocolate custard and then it set beautifully. It isn’t that gelatin is a modern ingredient; in fact it is historically the original way of setting a blancmange and would have been made by individual cooks the way Mrs Beeton explains, by boiling up a few calves’ feet. Cooks throughout British history have long been experimenting with the setting of magnificent blancmanges, jellies and rennets. Arrowroot and carogeenan (Irish moss) were also commonly used but it is cornflour which I have been most keen to experiment with. It became popular as a setting agent in 19th Century kitchens for its ability to produce a light and smooth result, presumably it was also a lot easier than boiling up smelly calves’ feet. It appealed to me the most as I wanted to try something different, a world away from the panna cottas, which are the set desserts I am most familiar with, and directly from the kitchens of Victorian England which was probably about the time my moulds might have been in use.

Black Pepper Blancmange  |  Stroud Green LarderThe blancmange recipe which I have been experimenting with has been adapted from a recipe in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and it is the easiest dessert in the world. I haven’t ever made an Angel Delight but I can’t imagine that it is easier than this. It only really needs 3 ingredients: whole milk, cornflour and sugar; any other flavourings you want to add are up to you. It is no custard as there are no eggs involved so is a lot lighter than say a crème brulee or an American style vanilla pudding. It does resemble panna cotta the closest but it is softer and more giving and the cornflour lends it a hefty wobble. This does mean that the whole fragile construction is liable to topple if you get too carried away with the size of your mould. The element of risk though is what makes this dessert so much fun.

Black Pepper Blancmange  |  Stroud Green LarderThe flavours I settled on after my first few weeks of experimentation are simple yet sublime. Delicate, not too sweet and definitely not the cloying of commercial blancmange which hammered the nails in the coffin of this much maligned dessert. Fresh from the fridge it is cool and summery, spiked with the light heat of black pepper and cinnamon. Although wonderful on its own, the possibilities of serving it with English berries when they come into season is terribly alluring. This blancmange is also incredibly moreish, a very innocent teaspoon checking for flavour balances was suddenly discarded for a large dessert spoon and a few more tastes later that was soon abandoned for a huge bowlful which feels like childish indulgence laced with grown up flavours.

Blancmange does not keep well, so you should make it the day before you intend to eat it and do not turn it out of its mould until you present it to the table or you will find it will quickly wilt over the course of a few hours. I urge you to rediscover the humble blancmange, the possibilities of experimentation are endless.

Black Pepper Blancmange  |  Stroud Green LarderBlack Pepper Blancmange
Adapted from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management
For a 1.2lt mould

85g cornflour
1.2lt whole milk
⅛ tsp freshly milled black pepper
1 cinnamon stick, bashed a little with a mallet
⅛ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla paste or 1 vanilla pod with seeds scraped out
55g caster sugar

  1. Place the cornflour in a large bowl with about 100ml of the milk and stir thoroughly together to make a smooth yet thin cream. Set aside.
  2. Pour the rest of the milk into a large saucepan and add the black pepper, cinnamon stick, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
  3. Pour carefully, in a continuous stream, into the cornflour cream, whisking briskly to ensure all the cornflour is evenly mixed in.
  4. Pour the mixture back onto the heat along with the sugar and vanilla and bring to the boil whisking constantly. Simmer the mixture for 4 minutes, always whisking, until thickened.
  5. Strain the blancmange mixture then pour into a wettened mould. Leave to cool to room temperature then place into the fridge for about 2 hours to fully set.
  6. It turns out of the mould beautifully by just placing a plate underneath, then carefully turning the mould upside down.