Written by Emma Mitchell


Don’t Mention The Gluten

Think all gluten-free grub tastes like a horse’s nosebag? Have a biscuit, says Emma Mitchell

Croissants. The ones from my local shop are freshly baked, obscenely buttery and the size of small yachts. Add jam and a vase of tea and it’s a recipe for Saturday morning joy. A year or two ago I began to notice with interest that if I scoffed a couple I would fall asleep afterwards. An extra weekend nap. Something peculiar, it seemed, was happening post-croissant. I endeavoured to stay near soft furnishings lest this pastry-induced narcolepsy got me into bother down the supermarket.

There were other odd symptoms. A post-pasta lethargy, and what I’ll euphemistically call “collywobbles” in the middle of the night. When this began to happen three times a week and I felt as though my belly was in a warzone I knew there was something amiss. I went to the doctor’s. It was the gluten: a protein that confers stretchiness to wheat-based dough and helps it to rise. I remember thinking to myself, “What? Allergic to cake and toast? How very unfortunate.”

For several months I ate things from the “free from” aisles while inwardly feeling livid that my foolish immune system should take against Danish pastries. Many of these special foods taste like something from a horse’s nosebag. They are mixed liberally with dust and packed with sugar in an attempt, I suppose, to disguise the taste of sadness. One day my kind and lovely other half brought home such a package. “Gluten-free croissants!” he cried, his face ablaze with hope. I’m not going to dwell on the next few minutes. These were the croissants of despair. It was like eating slippers.

Wooden croissants (800x789)

Some days I rebelled. I ate cinnamon whirls and Victoria sponge. I ate pizza and quiche. My insides didn’t thank me. Then a friend baked some biscuits. “Um, they’re gluten-free”, she said quietly. “Did you know I was gluten intolerant?” I did not, I replied, and promptly ate three. They were chewy and delicious. The recipe was written on a scrap of paper. I copied it down.

If your innards ever feel uncomfortable after eating pasta, bread or pastry then I recommend these biscuits. I tinkered a little with my friend’s recipe and added a bit of polenta. It seems to create a sort of heavenly crunchy place where air meets biscuit. “Gluten-free” is often synonymous with floor sweepings stuck together with glue or woven from hessian during a full moon, so I don’t mention the lack of gluten when I serve these up. There’s often a clamour for the recipe afterwards, which I’m fairly sure counts as a good review. They are as far from the commercial gluten-free biscuits of dusty doom as you could imagine.

Chewy chocolate biscuits

3 ounces/85g of butter
5 ounces/140 g golden caster sugar
1 egg
3.5 ounces/100g ground almonds
0.5 ounce/30g gluten-free flour
0.5 ounce/30g polenta (replace with 0.5 ounce gluten-free flour if you have no polenta)
1.5 ounces/45g good quality cocoa powder
2-3 ounces/75 g of your favourite chocolate broken into chunks (don’t be restricted by this measurement)
Set oven to 170 degrees fan oven/180 degrees standard oven
Put baking paper onto a couple of baking sheets
Soften butter in the microwave on its lowest setting. Try not to let it melt
Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk/mixer for around 3 minutes until pale and fluffy
Add the egg and whisk/beat it in
Add all dry ingredients. Fold in until combined
Put walnut-sized dollops onto baking sheets. Space them out – they’ll spread. 6 or 7 on each sheet works well
Bake for around 8 minutes
Remove from the oven. Add chocolate chunks. If you’re feeling swanky sprinkle a little seasalt on instead
Return to oven for 4-5 minutes or until biscuits are very slightly darker brown round their edges

Makes 12-16, depending on the size of the dollops.

Wolf several, to the riotous applause of your insides.

I am now almost reconciled to the vagaries of my immune system and its aversion to this pesky protein. Steam-baked loaves often taste like window putty anyway. I have made the truly joyous discovery that I can eat a little sour dough bread, so delicious toast and butties have re-entered my life. I did a special dance when I found this out. Eating a gluten-free diet isn’t so bad. Curries are still on the menu, almond sponges are heavenly and the range of non-disgusting gluten-free recipes grows wider by the day. A bit of faff and some special flour are worth it for a happy belly. Hurrah!

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Written by Emma Mitchell

I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.