Intro

What's WIDE CIRCLE COOKING about?
I blog information, news and recipes about gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, alcohol-free and vegan cooking. Right now I've been working on an exciting project where I avoid refined sugar and create recipes using a range of healthier alternatives.

Happy cooking!

ps. ask all guests if they have an allergy (because the recipes use some unusual combinations and they may not expect to find citrus and soya in the chocolate cake, for example).
pps.if you are cooking for someone with an allergy, please read my allergy page first.

Looking for a gourmet hotspot? Try Northamptonshire!





Each year, the Cotswolds attracts millions of visitors to its mixture of picturesque honey-coloured villages, great food and rolling hills. I won’t deny that it is a stunning part of the world. But if you’re looking for all of this – without the hordes – then cast your eyes further north…. at Northamptonshire.
The villages are gorgeous. Stone houses the colour of fudge (it’s part of the same geological seam as the stone in Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire), a verdant landscape and some fabulous places to dine make this a hidden gem of a county. Around 70% of it is farmland, with roughly 1 in 7 of the workforce employed in the food and drink industry. That’s an incredible 50,000 jobs.
And so we go on to the Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards, now entering its seventh year. Winning one of these trophies is truly prestigious for the chefs, cafes, restaurants and food producers who take part. And rightly so, for in an age of mass-produced , low quality junk food, here is a county packed with artisanal producers lovingly crafting amazing food – like Cobbler’s Nibble cheese or The Good Loaf's bread – and food outlets where you can enjoy incredible meals, cooked with passion, made with produce from local suppliers.
For instance, you’d be hard pressed to find a more delightful town than Oundle, which looks like Cambridge in miniature. There is a stack of great eateries here, many of which are finalists in various categories. Don’t miss the Tap & Kitchen, which won the Restaurant of the Year Award last year for its home-from-home hospitality mixed with stellar cooking. Or head to the market town of Daventry, where the Evergreen Art Café, winner of last year’s Independent Café/Tea Room Award, is expanding thanks in no small part to its success.
Or if villages are more your thing, don’t miss the chocolate-box prettiness of Yardley Hastings, where the Food Pub winner Rose & Crown is your classic ‘ye olde pub’, rammed full of oak beams and enough character to fill your boots and then some. And if you'd prefer a curry you’ll still find outstanding choices (try Dhan Shiri in Brackley or Mem-Saab in Northampton).
The comprehensive Made in Northamptonshire Food & Drink Directory gives a list of produce and suppliers, while this website gives more details of winners and finalists in the awards, which reach their climax in November. The winners and finalists are all examples of British excellence – perfect for a special day out.

The Great Gluten-free Muffin Experiment


Aha, the great muffin experiment – which of my 8 featured gluten-free flours would work best when all baked to the same recipe?

Now, readers of my sponge cake experiment may recall that I deliberately used a) the recipe on the back of the pack, if it came with one, or b) a classic Delia Smith recipe for Victoria sponge because most of the flours liked to boast about how similar they are to wheat flour.

Personally though, I thought this approach was nonsense. Gluten-free flours are totally different in composition and behaviour to wheat flours although they may have a superficial resemblance. In the same way that I wouldn’t do a straight substitution between eg, mayonnaise and a Greek yogurt (which looks similar) in a recipe, neither would I do it with wheat flour and gluten-free flour.

So, for this experiment I have used my signature muffin recipe, specially developed for gluten-free flours. Its main point of difference is the thorough mixing followed by a 20-minute rest period. This is to take into account the fact gluten-free flours (specifically those based on rice flour) absorb moisture much slower that wheat flour. Raising agents are thus only added right before the mixture is baked (which caused a slight problem for the self-raising flours in my selection – more later).



FIRST: THE RECIPE



Orange Poppyseed Muffins (from my book Gloriously GlutenFree)



For the muffins

225g gluten free plain white flour blend

150g granulated sugar

180ml milk (or dairy-free alternative)

125ml sunflower oil

3 eggs

2 large unwaxed oranges, grated zest only

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of fine salt

20g poppy seeds

3 tsp gluten-free baking powder



For the icing

100g (2/3 cup) icing sugar

2 1/2 tsp orange juice



Place the flour, sugar, milk, oil, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt into a food processor. Blend for a good 30 seconds (if you don’t have a food processor, whisk everything for a minute with an electric whisk). Now leave the mixture to stand for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160C. Drop 12 muffin cases into a 12-cup muffin pan.

After the 20 minutes standing time, add the poppy seeds and the baking powder and blend briefly to combine everything. You’ll have a runny mixture, but this is normal.

Pour out the mixture equally between the 12 cases. Pop the muffin pan in the oven for 20 minutes until slightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave them to cool in the tin.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar and orange juice together; place a dollop on the top of each muffin. If you like, grate a little extra orange zest onto the top of each muffin to decorate.



VARIATION

You can make a dairy-free version of this recipe by using soya milk in the place of the milk.





SECOND: THE FLOURS



This time I decided to test 8 gluten-free flours. They were:



1. Isobel’s Gluten Free and Dairy Free Sponge Cake mix

2. Juvela Gluten-free Harvest White Mix

3. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free 1 to 1 Baking Flour

4. Mrs Crimble’s Muffin & Sponge Mix

5. Glutafin Multipurpose Fibre Mix

6. Orgran Self-raising Flour

7. Dove’s Plain White Flour

8. And a very exciting new wholegrain legume-free, rice-free flour by the FreeFrom Fairy which I like to call ‘Fairy Dust!’ (see my previous post)



For the flours that already included raising agent in the mix (Isobel’s, Orgran and Mrs Crimble’s), I added no further raising agent. In the case of Mrs Crimble's I didn’t add the sugar either (it has sugar added already). Otherwise, they were all treated the same and baked in the oven for 20 minutes as per the recipe. The colours varied from very pale (Isobel’s) to brownish (FreeFrom Fairy), though some of this was down to my oven. Some mixtures became very thick and gloopy, most notably the Orgran and Bob’s Red Mill. Otherwise, the batter was fairly sloppy. There was a variety of results when I opened the oven, as you’ll see on the pic. 







THIRD: THE BAKED RESULTS



The most notable casualty of my delayed baking approach was the Orgran, which collapsed after it was removed from the oven and had an ultra-springy texture. Otherwise, though, I felt all the mixes performed well in that respect. The quality of the muffin sponge varied – some had quite obvious holes (such as Bob’s), some were very moist (Mrs Crimble’s) and some much dryer (Glutafin).

After our blind tasting, there were two that stood out, flavour-wise – the Isabel’s mix had a strong vanilla taste, but this was no doubt because I realised too late there was already vanilla added to the dry cake mix; and the FreeFrom Fairy flour which had a slight hint of buckwheat. The others all tasted pretty much the same, with textural and moistness differences the main variation between them.



Overall, our three favourites were the Mrs Crimble’s, Dove’s Farm and FreeFrom Fairy. Mrs Crimble’s was the kids’ favourite – mainly I think because it seemed more moist, possibly helped by the blend of additives, which didn’t endear it to me after reading the label*. My favourite was therefore Dove’s Farm, a straightforward blend of gluten-free flours**. FreeFrom Fairy’s blend performed really well too – it rose beautifully, looked good and didn’t crumble into pieces – for anyone wishing to cut down on/avoid rice I’d say give it a whirl.

Regardless of your favourite flour, try my recipe above. If you’d like to experiment with a few other alternative techniques, my book Gloriously Gluten Free has a number of different ones for you to try, which helps cut down (or even eliminate) the need for gums or other additives – even in yeast cookery.





*Mrs Crimble’s ingredients: Sugar, maize flour, rice flour, potato starch, emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids and polyglycerol esters of fatty acids), raising agents (disodium dihydrogen phosphate and sodium bicarbonate), salt, stabiliser (xanthan gum), flavouring

**Dove’s Farm ingredients: Rice flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, maize flour, buckwheat flour