Gluten Free Baking at the River Cottage

I feel like I’ve lost my mojo with food lately. Actually I feel like I’ve lost it in general, but that’s a topic for another post. Either way, this rescheduled (due to snow) break at River Cottage couldn’t have come at a better time, even if it did involve a frantic foggy late night drive west to fit in childcare.

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You’ll know that I’m a keen cook and avid baker and experimenter, but there are some things that it really pays to learn from a professional, and to see the techniques first hand. Macarons, for instance, or in this case – the baked gluten free goods of my wildest coeliac dreams.

Yup, crisp shattering, buttered layers of puff pastry; airy choux buns dredged in ganache; honeycombed wedges of hearty bread – no not the hole-strewn sweet slices from the free from aisles; but the kind of fresh stuff that needs to be devoured the moment it’s cool enough, not least because unencumbered by preservatives, the next day it’s only good for crumbs. It’s the kind of stuff I can pick up at the local bakery for my gluten-eating family on the weekend, whilst I have to nibble a sad rice cake with my breakfast.

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This was a whole day of total luxury – the opportunity to indulge in creating and eating for the fun of the process (and without gluten the process is different from anything you’ve seen on Bake Off). In all honesty I’m sure the occasions I will recreate those time-consuming pastry layers at home will be seldom – but then the number of times I eat something so indulgent should probably also be seldom!

Our expert tutor, Naomi Devlin, treads that curious but pragmatic line between advocating a whole food, gut-nurturing diet; but also recognising the importance of these occasional soul foods – including the white starchy wonders that so many of us miss when we find out we can no longer eat gluten grains. Whenever I attend events or courses like this, it’s the easy conversation between strangers bound by that common experience which makes the whole thing flow.

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In all honesty, the course did not all ‘flow’. A relaxed morning discussing all manner of flours and grains over constantly replenished tea gave way to a hearty lunch, and then a frantic finale as our final pastry turns collided with buns that needed filling at the same time as cakes were iced before we bumped back up the hill on the back of a tractor. ‘Full on’ indeed; but luckily there were brief bread-proving-pauses to nose around the rainy surrounds of the famous ‘cottage’.

Have I got my mojo back? Not yet, but I do have a renewed appetite for simple whole ingredients, and trying something new. In fact, there’s already my first try at a sourdough starter bubbling away at home. I’m never going to be an ‘everything from scratch’ foodie – because busy busy real life just doesn’t allow it, but it is nice now and then to take a ‘slow food’ moment.

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