Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Fructose-Free Coconut Brownies

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Fructose-Free Coconut Brownies

We had an utterly inspiring talk at our Women’s Institute meeting last night by one of our members, Alison Graham, about how to get the best out of your sugar. I have to confess I am an absolute sugar junkie and anything to help me curb the cravings but not obliterate cake and chocolate from my life is worth looking into.

Quitting sugar is one of the latest fads that diet gurus seem to be peddling which is all well and good but is it really practical? I’m sure most of us simply want to understand our bodies better from an informed perspective and enjoy the odd treat without being slaves to our 4pm sugar crashes. These days we are becoming more aware of what we eat, what triggers our eating habits and the science behind it. There seems to be new information to guide us all the time as nutritionists and scientists learn about how our bodies react to natural substances like gluten and processed substances like everyday cane sugar. All we can do is take the information on board and decide how it can work for us so that our food is giving us energy and not taking it away.

keep calm and no sugar

The ordinary cane sugar we buy for baking or using in our tea and coffee is made up of half glucose and half fructose. Glucose is in all foods and is the good sugar which our body needs to make and store energy. It’s glucose we crave when we need a sugar fix and our bodies recognise it and use up every calorie of it. Fructose is the interloper. That’s not to say all fructose is bad and if you eat it in the form of a piece of fruit then you’ll be fine, thanks to the fibre in the fruit which helps your body digest the fructose. It’s when fructose is not in its natural state though that you will have a problem. Even if you do a simple thing like blitzing your banana to make a smoothie or juicing your apple, then you are breaking down the fibre before you eat it. Without its fibre bond, your body cannot recognise the fructose so it doesn’t provide an insulin response, it moves to your liver unaided to form fatty acids which swim around your body until they are deposited as body fat.

Not only that but because your body hasn’t recognised the fructose you might as well have not eaten it in the first place, your body will still crave the glucose it wanted in the first place and will insist you try and get yourself more. So instead of having just the one glass of apple juice or one chocolate bar, you will crave another then another. If you stick to just the glucose in the first place you are giving your body what it needs and you should feel fully satiated.

So basically fructose, when not found in whole fruit, is not a good thing to be eating. It was surprising to me though that many of the sugars we consider as natural and healthy like honey or maple syrup are also just fructose so has the same effect within our body. This is also not to mention the obvious fake sugars out there like sweeteners and corn syrup which again are just fructose. There is a whole bunch more reading that I need to do on this subject as I’ve only had a taster and I have found it fascinating. Alison recommends reading Sweet Poison by David Gillespie for more information and I’ve already bought it for my Kindle.

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In the meantime to celebrate this fascinating talk and enthused by this new way of looking at sugar I wanted to bake something using pure glucose which is the good sugar our bodies need for energy. I saw these amazing looking Extra-Fudgy Coconut Oil Brownies from Pinch of Yum last week and knew this would be the recipe I would use as a base as I’ve been desperate to make them.

Lindsay had already done the hard work and made them dairy free since she uses Coconut Oil instead of butter in her brownies. However, I adapted it a bit by substituting the sugar in the form of rice malt syrup, which is a blend of glucose and maltose. Then to really get on board the health wagon I made it gluten free by adding coconut flour which also amped up the coconutty taste and added cocoa to boost the intense chocolateness. I couldn’t just leave it there though and topped the brownies with a rich ganache made from dark chocolate and a smidgen of coconut milk to thicken it. The coconut milk I use, as I’ve advocated before, is from Pride and is very thick with almost no liquid. The thinner your coconut milk the thinner your ganache will be so it might not be so easy to spread. I then sprinkled a liberal amount of unsweetened desiccated coconut on top to finish them off. The end result wasn’t overwhelming coconutty but definitely had a delicious hint and I have to say these are one of the best brownies I have ever made. They are dense and fudgy but also light without making you feel all stodgy inside after you have eaten them. They feel like a decadent treat but also wholesome like you are doing your body a favour by eating them.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Fructose-Free Coconut Brownies

Although I’m not sure I could tear myself away from all different types of sugar entirely, I love baking and cooking too much to restrict myself, I have certainly come away from these brownies and Alison’s talk by knowing that this way of living would be completely achievable if you still want to indulge in your treasured treats. The brownies were nice on day one, delicious on day two and then days three and four the brownies were absolutely sublime. These started off being just an experiment but they have ended up being firm favourites of mine.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Fructose-Free Coconut Brownies

125g 70% dark chocolate
160g coconut oil
200g rice malt syrup
3 eggs, lightly beaten
100g coconut flour
25g cocoa
½ teaspoon salt

For the ganache:
100g 70% chocolate
1 tablespoon coconut milk
3 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and line and grease a 9 inch square baking tin.
  2. Place the chocolate and coconut oil in a bain-marie and melt together.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and pour in the rice malt syrup, stirring until thoroughly combined.
  4. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together in a separate bowl then stir into the chocolate mixture and pour into your baking tin.
  5. Bake the brownies for 20 minutes then remove from the oven.
  6. Leave the brownies to cool in the tin for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight to set before removing from the tin and topping with the ganache.
  7. To make the ganache melt the chocolate and coconut milk together in a bain-marie.
  8. Once the chocolate has melted and the mixture has thickened you can immediately use it to adorn the top of your brownies.
  9. For the final touch sprinkle on some unsweetened desiccated coconut then cut into squares.

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Chocolate Truffles

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Truffles

Last night I had the joy of addressing all of my lovely fellow members of Stroud Green Women’s Institute about one of my favourite subjects – chocolate.

I was thrilled to be able to talk about how to make the perfect truffle, a subject for which I may be no expert but I certainly make up for it in enthusiasm. The most important aspect to making a good truffle is perfecting the ganache, which is the whipped filling inside a chocolate truffle, but can also be used as icing to adorn a glorious fudge cake. Ganache is made up of chocolate mixed together with a liquid ingredient, and the most common pairing is with cream. 250g of melted dark chocolate + 250ml double cream is the easiest ganache in the world to make. Just pop it in the fridge after you have mixed them together so they can firm up a little which will make it easier to ice your cake or roll them into truffles. You don’t have to use cream in a ganache though or even dairy at all. You can make the most delicious ganache with all sorts of liquid added to the melted chocolate – fruit puree, tea, coffee, hot water infused with fresh mint. The choice is endless and that is the fun of making your own chocolate truffles.

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Truffles

The ganache is only half the story though with truffle making. It’s true that you can happily roll stiffened ganache into balls and then coat them in cocoa powder, sprinkles or spices, or even crushed biscuits to finish off a deliciously quick truffle. However, the truffle really comes alive when it is dipped into silky tempered chocolate. The truffle is then left for the tempered chocolate to harden around its soft centre. I have written a post about tempering chocolate here so if you are unsure of what the hell I’m talking about then this is the place to go.

The evening at the WI came together really well and we all got down and dirty with chocolate. We learnt all about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, all the various kinds of chocolate you can buy, what their cocoa percentages mean and most importantly what they all taste like. Getting everyone to taste the Valrhona’s Dulcey chocolate which I was experimenting with earlier this year, was particularly fun with the consensus being that it was just expensive Caramac.

Then we came to the truffle making. I have a few ganache recipes up my sleeve that I have kept meaning to write about, then every time I go to blog about them, somehow they never make it to the picture stage. My most favourite of which is my fleur de sel and olive oil truffles. Guys – it’s happening today. These truffles have been doing the rounds with my friends and family for months now and I have had the best comments from these truffles than anything I have ever made. Those that have been asking for the recipe and to which I have assured them that it will be on the blog soon can breathe a sigh of relief that the day has finally come, then hopefully rush off a whip up a batch.

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Truffles

In fact I have made this ganache so many times that it has even been transported from the truffle stage and adapted for use in my favourite cake. Don’t worry, the cake will come in time. Now you will just have to be placated by the glorious truffle version, which is the unadulterated way to eat this most divine of chocolates.

Fleur de Sel is just another word really for fancy salt. It hails most typically from Brittany where the salt crystals which lie on the rocks are left for the water to evaporate out, the top layer of salt crystals are then scraped off the top to become fleur de sel. It’s easy to get hold of online but if you don’t want to wait for the postman then a good sea salt like maldon can be used instead, just not table salt – it wouldn’t be nice. The olive oil to use here should also be the good stuff and I save my best extra virgin olive oil for this very job. The olive oil is used for flavour here rather than anything else and it really does matter that you splash out a bit on this part. I get my fancy olive oil from The Italian Farmers on Stroud Green Road, a bottle of 750ml can cost about £9 but it’s worth it when you try these truffles and you only need a little so it will last an age. The first time I had the combination of chocolate, sea salt and olive oil was at a tapas restaurant in Barcelona many years ago. I don’t remember anything else about that meal but the memory of that sweet, salty, fruity intense combination was one of the most arresting food experiences of my life.

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Truffles

The fact that it takes about 10 minutes to knock the ingredients together for this truffle then 10 minutes to roll them out is just a boon. I went the extra haul here though and wrapped them in a snappy tempered chocolate coat and sprinkled a few fleur de sel crystals on top. That crisp shell really is worth the extra effort for the texture contrast between the initial crack of chocolate between your teeth, then the rich velvety chocolate oozing with the fruity notes of olive oil and pep of salt which rests within. The ladies in the class who dipped their truffles in the tempered chocolate definitely noted the difference and how it transforms an everyday chocolate that you make in your kitchen to something a little more professional.

Having said all of that, if you don’t have time to temper the chocolate then you should by no means hold back on making the ganache and then coating them simply in cocoa powder, or even chocolate sprinkles. Believe me, they will go down with your recipients just as well.

So after having spent the past few days making copious amounts of this ganache for my chocolate masterclass, it came to my blog post today when I really wanted to talk about my fleur de sel and olive oil truffles and guess what, I still didn’t have any to photograph – they had all been eaten. So what’s a girl to do but make more. This time these truffles are all for you, no one is touching them before you get to see them. Although I can’t promise what will happen as soon as these photos are taken.

Fleur de Sel and Olive Oil Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 30 truffles

320g dark chocolate
1 tsp fleur de sel
270g whipping cream
2 tsp light muscovado sugar
60g extra virgin olive oil
500g tempered chocolate or 60g cocoa powder
extra fleur de sel for decorating

  1. Chop the dark chocolate into small pieces, put into a large bowl with the fleur de sel and set aside.
  2. Pour the cream and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir through to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Rest for 1 minute so as not to scorch the chocolate.
  3. Pour the cream over the chocolate pieces and salt and stir together so the chocolate melts completely into the cream and turns thick and glossy.
  4. Slowly pour the olive oil into the chocolate ganache, mixing all the while to ensure the oil is completely absorbed into the chocolate.
  5. Rest the ganache in the fridge for 1 hour.
  6. Remove the ganache from the fridge and shape your truffles by rolling into little balls in your hands. Each truffle should weigh about 18g so you should be able to produce about 30 truffles.
  7. At this point you can either dust the truffles in cocoa powder or you can coat with tempered chocolate.

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars

If there is one thing I’ve learned from hosting several cake stalls both for WI and personally, it is that chocolate sells.

These Nutella Fudge Oat Bars were no exception when I ran our WI stall at Hornsey Music Festival last weekend. Halfway through the morning when sales were beginning to lag a taster of these Nutella bars were set free amongst the masses, and we sat back in wonder as their fudgey oatiness did their work and brought in the crowd. It was noticeable that the eyes of the children picking over what to have on the stall lit up as soon as they spied the Nutella. I’ve a confession to make, so did mine. Out of all the delights on the cake stall, including victoria sponges, ginger parkin, cupcakes and lemon cakes it was one of these Nutella bars which I saved for myself as a treat on the way home.

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars | Stroud Green Larder

Did you know Nutella is having a bit of a resurgence? It’s 50 years old this year but she isn’t showing any signs of age. According to the BBC, a nutty 365 million kilos were sold last year. Sales are increasing every year and Pinterest and Instagram are prolific with thousands of ways to incorporate this chocolate spread into your baking.

When I was 13 I spent a term in France with my school, and my overriding food memory, aside from being force fed vegetable ‘potage’ every day, was spreading lashings of Nutella over my fresh croissants in the morning. I don’t think I really ate it before then and I’m not sure if I’ve particularly eaten it since, but that doesn’t mean that Nutella isn’t intrinsically now part of my food heritage thanks to those three months mainlining it at a particularly impressionable part of my life.

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars | Stroud Green Larder

Oats make even the most indulgent of treats feel like you are being kind to yourself and this is no exception. It’s an adapted version of these Bramley Apple and Cranberry Oat Bars I made earlier this year but I amped up the oaty mixture as a counterpoint to the creamy chocolate interior. I added extra chocolate to the Nutella to temper down the sweetness and amp up the chocolate factor, it worked without losing any of its innate Nutelleriness. A substantial amount of oat mixture is pressed into the base of the baking tin, then the fudgey middle spooned thickly on top. Instead of crumbling the rest of the oat mixture on the final layer, I made sure it completely covered the oozing chocolate to protect it and hold it all together. It crisped up deliciously in the oven and if you leave it to cool in the tin it is a dream to cut. It went down extremely well at the cake stall with children and this adult in particular.

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars | Stroud Green Larder

Nutella Fudge Oat Bars

300g butter, at room temperature
275g plain flour
200g rolled oats
300g soft light brown sugar, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
200g Nutella
80g dark chocolate
75ml evaporated milk
pinch of salt

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and grease a rectangular baking tin 9” x 13”.
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the butter, flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt and rub together with your hands until everything has come together to form a light dough.
  3. Press ½ the dough into the base of the baking tin to form an even layer.
  4. Melt the chocolate, Nutella and evaporated milk together in a double boiler, mixing together until thoroughly combined.
  5. Spread the Nutella chocolate mixture on top of the first layer of dough.
  6. Crumble the rest of the dough on the top and press down lightly into the chocolate, don’t worry too much about it spreading out evenly.
  7. Bake in the oven for 25-30 mins until the top is golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for an hour or so before removing from the tin and cutting into bars.