When Chef Gearóid Lynch found out he was a coeliac in 2013, his passion for food was jeopardized and for a while the fact that gluten was now an enemy became so overwhelming that it threatened his love for cooking. But as author George Bernard Shaw put it, there is no sincerer love than the love of food, and as I might add, it is also one of the strongest and longer lasting forms of affection.
So this obstacle din’t stop Lynch from following his heart and enjoying his kitchen and the wonders that came from it, now sans the treacherous protein off the table. For the past couple of years, the Cavan-based chef who runs The Olde Post Inn with his wife, added a new project to his busy agenda: the writing of a cookbook that would help others who shared his condition or that were simply following a gluten free lifestyle.
Once a closely held dream, My Gluten Free Kitchen was recently published and when I was given a copy to try a few of the 120 gluten free recipes I was intrigued. Despite being a complete omnivore, I’ve had my flirts with the gluten free life and when I took a strict gluten free challenge some months ago I was introduced to cookbooks and food blogs that offered to make me feel like if I was having “the real thing” or “something as good as”.
In this case, the tagline promised “Meals you miss made easy”. After opening the book I was glad to realise that it was far from being the welcome-to-your-new-life-as-a-coeliac type. A short and clear introduction with some basic concepts, personal experiences and a list of tips and essentials quickly lead the way to the main part: The recipes. I noticed that some of them were already gluten free in their original version such as the smoothies, some salads, the risotto, the paella or the pavlova, but in fairness, all of these are dishes that a coeliac person will be likely to enjoy and able to share with all type of guests.
I decided to select four recipes from the ones that usually contain gluten and just to keep it diverse, I chose one breakfast, one bread, one lunch and a dessert.
Shopping time: a visit to a large Tesco left me with almost everything I needed, including the chef’s recommended gluten free plain white flour blend (Doves Farm), but not the xanthan gum nor the gluten free white bread flour blend. A quick detour to a Holland and Barret was enough to find the sci-fi sounding ingredient, which is a thickening substance often used to improve the texture and elasticity of doughs in the absence of gluten. They also didn’t have the bread flour. Same luck in SuperValu, and to my surprise, at the Dublin Food Co-Op where I usually get the tricky ones.
Since the ingredients in the flour I found and the one I didn’t were very similar (a base blend of rice, potato and tapioca flours is present in both) I decided to use it as a substitute, which is what I’d normally do after four fruitless attempts to find an ingredient anyway.
For my first recipe I went with the Breakfast Cereal Bars. As a granola bar addict, this had to be in the list. I loved the fact that it was a very flexible recipe and instead of telling you exactly what to use, it was kept deliberately open. So where it said chopped nuts I went for pecans, where it asked for mixed seeds I chose a combination of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and golden linseeds. As to the dried fruit, I allowed myself to use only mixed peels, my favourites yet not usually found on this type of confection. The rest of the recipe called for desiccated coconut, gluten free rolled oats, condensed milk and honey.
As my oven is not that reliable, the instructed 50 minutes at 130°C turned into a bit more than an hour at 150°C. As I suspect that the recipes were developed with state of the art equipment, I would advise anyone with a less than perfect oven to know their machine and adjust the temperature and baking times if your experience tells you so.
I have to say that I was beyond pleased with the result, these are the best granola bars I’ve made, and gluten free or not, I’m keeping this recipe in my repertoire.
After that I had big expectations for the second act for which I chose Gearóid’s Camembert Quiche. To make this, I’d have to prepare his Savoury Pastry recipe in advance: gluten free plain flour blend, xanthan gum, salt, butter and water left me with a dough that inevitably was a bit brittle, but was manageable enough to roll into the necessary thin layer that’d become the quiche’s base.
Don’t try to make this in a hurry, as this dough has to wait in the fridge for at least one hour before being rolled. I waited two, but I suspect that if I had left it overnight it would have been even easier to roll. If I had to make this again, I’d prepare 20 per cent more dough, since I felt that I had to really stretch it to cover the 25cm loose-bottomed tin that I greased and floured as instructed.
The filling of the quiche was lovely mix of peppers, onions, spices, eggs, milk, cream and Camembert cheese. Contrary to the scarce pastry, I felt that this time the resulting quantity was too much, and very runny. If I made this again, I would reduce the amount of milk, cream and eggs (in fact I ended up leaving out about 1/4 of the liquid and a few tablespoons of the veggies.
Again my diva-like oven took longer than Lynch’s but it was worth the wait. I was relieved to have removed some of the liquid from the filling, as even after doing so the base was still a bit mushy in the middle. I served it as the chef suggested, with salad leaves, Irish potato and chives salad and red onion marmalade. For this last one the book includes a recipe that I used as a guide, but I made a simpler version just with the onions, butter, sugar, chilli, red wine and cinnamon instead of cloves. After all that playing by the book, I had to get away with something.
Thirdly I wanted to try a bread recipe. Aware of the fact that the flour and the oven could conspire against me, I decided to go with Soda Bread, one of the most forgiving bread recipes in my opinion. This noble Irish classic only required gluten free white bread flour blend, bread soda, salt, caster sugar and buttermilk. It took me less than ten minutes to mix it and put it on the tray and despite it being sticky, I managed to give it a round shape and pop it in the heat.
It was a nice white soda bread, for a gluten free version. For the first and only time during my baking quest the though crossed my mind. It was fine, but a bit paler than its wheat containing counterpart and also, denser and with a faint but noticeable starchy feeling. It had good flavour and was better toasted.
And to wrap up the session with a dessert I felt like something indulgent, something that would say So? I can’t eat gluten, but watch me enjoy this treat. The Baked Raspberry Cheesecake with Raspberry Jelly sounded like the type of sweet that would bring me to say that.
Like a player looking for loopholes in the rules of a game, I decided to use gluten free triple chocolate biscuits for the base (it said gluten free biscuits, but didn’t specify what type!), then I chose mixed berries instead of raspberries (there are some raspberries in it anyway) and finally, substituted the Crème de cassis for Cointreau (no point in getting a whole bottle if I only need a dessertspoon).
This time the quantities felt accurate and I have to give a special mention to the tip he shared on how to wrap the springform cake tin with cling film and then with tin foil. It really made unmoulding the cake so much easier, I’ll do that all the time from now on. Baking this took way more than expected (well, as you know by now my prima donna oven likes to take her time), instead of 35 to 45 minutes, it was little over an hour for the cake to come out. After a night in the fridge, I covered it with the gelatine and served with cream.
Even with all the playing around, the book takes all the credit for a creamy cake that didn’t need artificial colouring or flavouring to be appealing and tasty.
I feel that this book has a heart, and it’s in the right place. I’m aware that it’s not easy to reproduce all the characteristics of gluten containing foods without the infamous component itself, but Gearóid knows his way around and the recipes I made didn’t feel like lesser versions of “the real thing” (although the bread was understandably “the next best thing”).
He meant for the book to be a collection of Meals you Miss Made Easy, and he delivered on that promise: If gluten was suddenly banned from my life I would miss these meals and I believe that even someone without much kitchen expertise would find his recipes easy and approachable.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.