Gluten Free – Fight The Prejudice (And Eat This Amaretto Coffee Walnut Layer Cake!)
Guest post by Rebecca Lillywhite with Marshside Pantry recipe included
I read an article recently about The Human Library, a not-for-profit outfit established in Denmark, which allows people volunteering as ‘books’ to interact with ‘readers’ and have half hour conversations with them. The goal is to fight prejudice. Each person has a title: ‘unemployed’, ‘refugee’ or ‘bipolar’ are just some of the 'books' on offer. They could be part of a minority group, a different ethnicity, or a person with a genetic or psychological disorder, and the hope is that by listening to their stories you realise that you shouldn’t ever judge a book by its cover.
Life is full of prejudices: we often take one look and make a snap decision about a person or a product without anything to go on other than our preconceived biases. "Gluten free" can be one of those phrases we hear which creates instant judgement. It has a bad rep. Gluten free is often associated with being bland, or even a temporary struggle to a fixed goal. Many of us grew up with the catchphrase "no carbs before Marbs!" and that being gluten free was a fad diet which induced eyerolling.
We have associated the phrase "gluten free" with being tasteless, boring and difficult; often a temporary unpleasantness to work our way through. There are a plethora of articles online calling it a food fad, saying the quality of gluten free alternatives are often still inferior, or that it’s a health myth: those who choose to go gluten free are missing out on critical nutrients. For many people however, being gluten free is a permanent and necessary lifestyle.
Living with an undiagnosed gluten intolerance or being coeliac comes with painful mealtimes, with bloating, vomiting, nausea, cramping and exhaustion, to name a few. Getting a diagnosis is a relief for many, finally having an answer for why mealtimes are often painful and unpleasant, thus leading to little to no enjoyment of eating. It has meant a lifestyle change where instead of dreading mealtimes; they can look forward to them.
The fact is that our world is full of unfriendly foods for anyone with a gluten intolerance, it’s even in salad sauces! Which is why so many people who do suffer have taken to making their own foods, finding their own workarounds and replacements, and why so much of the gluten free food we see today is so damn good. If only we could get around our prejudice and try it!
For those of us who don’t suffer from any kind of gluten intolerance, why would we ever pick a gluten free option? Gluten free is still seen as less than. It’s simply not as good as gluten fuelled foods. Gluten free bread? No thanks. Gluten free brownies? I’ll pass. But is our prejudice of gluten free foods, fuelled by stigma that gluten free foods is something to suffer through, causing us to miss out?
I’m lucky enough to call your very own Marshside Pantry one of my dearest friends, who, for the past few years has made my birthday cake. I remember vividly the first time she made one (coffee and walnut, my absolute fav) which she brought along to the birthday bash that happened to include two Cordon Bleu graduates.
If you’ve never heard of Cordon Bleu, it’s a world leading culinary school steeped in history, with a rich heritage spanning over 120 years. It’s gruelling, challenging, and it is fantastic if you have friends who have trained there who will forever take over the cooking! It might be because they trained there, or they have a general better knowledge of cooking than I ever did, but I remember telling them that Jen was making the birthday cake and that it would be gluten free.
The response was less than enthused. Here comes that prejudice again! "Hmm, I don’t really like gluten free cakes, they’re always very dry", is one comment I remember hearing. However, by the end of the night the same person who ‘didn’t like gluten free cakes’ had chowed down at least two slices, and I got totally swindled by leaving the leftover cake at the host’s home... never to be seen again.
Perhaps there are gluten free cakes which are awfully dry, but then, there are also gluten based cakes that are dry. Speaking from experience, I can guarantee you that The Marshside Pantry’s cakes do not fall into that category. (With my birthday cake recipe, the secret to a moist sponge, which Jen outlines in her recipe below, is feeding the sponge with Amaretto – I’m 100% not complaining!)
So, don’t let your prejudice get in the way of enjoying some very delicious goodies. Gluten free can be great! Check out The Marshside Pantry’s recipe below for your very own gluten free cake experience.
Bex's Birthday Cake (Gluten Free Amaretto, Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake)
For the cake:
175g butter (room temperature)
175g caster sugar
2 tbs instant coffee mixed with 2 tbs boiling water, cooled
175g gluten free self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
200g walnuts Amaretto (however generous you want to be!)
For the butter icing:
250g butter, room temperature
500g icing sugar
3 tbsp instant coffee mixed with 1- 1½ tbs boiling water, cooled
1.) Preheat your oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan oven) and prepare two 8 inch cake tins.
2.) Reserve 8-12 walnut halves for decorating your cake, then finely chop 80g of the left over walnuts and set these to one side.
3.) Add the butter, sugar, eggs, gluten free self-raising flour and baking powder to a mixing bowl and combine. Fold in the cooled coffee mixture and the finely chopped walnuts.
4.) Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, then bake for roughly 30 minutes until the sponge springs back when lightly touched.
5.) Once you have removed the cakes from the oven, while still hot, prick them all over using a cocktail stick or a skewer, then gently drizzle amaretto over both sponges. 20-30ml per cake sponge should be about right. Then, let the cakes sit and cool, absorbing all that delicious liquid.
6.) While the cakes cool, prepare your buttercream icing. Simply add the butter to a mixing bowl and begin to beat, then slowly add the icing sugar a little at a time. Once the icing sugar is combined, slowly add the coffee until combined.
7.) It's time to assemble your cake! Turn out your cooled cake sponges onto a rack, and then cut them in half length ways using either a serrated knife or a cake leveller, so you end up with 4 thin, round sponge cakes. If your cakes have slightly uneven tops from baking, you can trim the tops before cutting the cakes in half. Having even tops to the layers will make the cake easier to stack and ice.
8.) On a plate or cake stand, start to assemble your cake. First, place a layer of sponge cake down, and then dollop two tablespoons of the coffee buttercream on top. Spread this out evenly over the sponge layer, all the way to the edges. Repeat this with the other three layers.
9.) Using a piping bag or a butter knife, coat the outside of the cake with a healthy layer of the remaining coffee buttercream. Make sure it is completely covered, then, using a palette knife or scraper go around the edges and the top of the cake to smooth it off. Don't worry if it isn't perfectly smooth - mine aren't! Icing is a real art and it takes time to master, but, that's why we have lots of walnuts and other decor to hide the wobbly bits!
10.) Have fun decorating the cake with the walnuts, and then have even more fun eating it!
This cake can be stored at room temperature, make sure to cover it and ideally consume within 3 days.