For some time now I have been opting to eat a mainly gluten free diet. Thankfully I am not a coeliac nor do I have any allergies, I just know that it makes me feel better if I don’t eat anything that contains wheat or gluten. Plus I find my digestive system a much happier place!
I first visited River Cottage back in September 2015 when Foodies100 ran a Blogcamp there. I love everything they stand for and, well, you know when you just feel ‘comfortable’ in a place – I had that feeling. It does help that they are only 30 minutes up the road too! So, when I had the opportunity to go and review their gluten free cookery course I couldn’t refuse.
As luck would have it, my good friend Charlie Hughes, whom I met through blogging and only lives 15 minutes from me, was also attending because her daughter is suffering from gluten intolerance so she was my cookery partner for the day.
Upon arrival, we took the tractor down to the cottage along with around 20 others. We thought it looked a bit busy for a cookery course but it turned out that half of them were on the small holders course (and wanted to taste our baked goods at the end of the day!).
About Naomi Devlin
The course started with an introduction from Naomi Devlin who runs the programme. Naomi was diagnosed as a coeliac over ten years ago and her aim is to inspire people to get in the kitchen and make their own gluten free bakes instead of spending a fortune on what the shops have to offer. She has also written a gluten free recipe book for River Cottage. Throughout the day I found her to be very knowledgeable, patient and informative. She gave a detailed description of each process for every recipe we baked and made the instructions easy to understand.
Naomi began the course by explaining what a sourdough starter mix consisted of. This mix is a live culture kept in your fridge for up to 5 months at a time. It is used to bake your sourdough bread and she explained how you ‘feed’ your starter before anything – or anyone else – on the morning that you want to bake bread. Whilst we were attentively listening we were served a plate of asparagus topped with a poached egg.
We started off by preparing our sourdough sponge mixture ready for it’s bake – it needed a bit of time to rise. This mix included wholegrain gluten-free flours and a rice sourdough starter.
We then moved on to preparing our gluten free cookies. There were a number of ingredients to choose from in order to make our own individual flavours including lemons, white chocolate, dark chocolate, hazelnuts and dried blueberries. I opted for dark chocolate and blueberry. The mixture was then placed in the fridge for an hour in order to harden the mixture and make it easier to shape for baking.
After a short coffee break, during which time I took the opportunity to take some photographs in the Cottage garden, we shaped our cookies and placed them in the oven for baking.
Naomi promised us chewy gluten-free cookies – and they most definitely were. In fact, Ross has developed rather a taste for these so I am rather thankful that they can be stored in the freezer. I am on our third batch in less than a week.
We then prepared the tins for our loaves by lining them with butter and then a seed of our choice – I chose sesame seeds. This not only gave a coating to the bread once baked but also stopped it sticking to the tin. Next the bread dough mixture was finalised by adding fresh yeast, potato starch, 1 egg, psyllium husk, liquid pectin and salt and this was then left to rise whilst we removed our cookies from the oven.
Lunch was served and we were able to either sit in the cookery school room or take our food outside. When the rain came, Charlie and I were rather pleased we opted to do the former! We were served roast lamb coated with summer savoury accompanied by roasted beetroot, young onions, sugar snap peas, broad beans and pak choi. It tasted fresh and delicious and was, of course, all gluten free.
After putting our bread into the oven to bake, we were brought our puddings which consisted of meringue made with brown sugar, with a compote of strawberry, elderflower and stewed rhubarb. They certainly don’t do food by halves at River Cottage.
With lunch over, our bread was ready to come out of the oven – and I was very pleased with the end result. I have since been out, bought the ingredients and made my own last weekend – and it turned out pretty well!
Next on the agenda was to bake a frangipane tart using gluten free shortcrust pastry. The pastry was rolled out between two sheets of cling film and then lifted and placed over the tart ring. This worked really well and will certainly be a method I use in future. We blind baked the pastry and were then given the option of either strawberry jam or lemon curd as a base filling. I have an obsession with lemon curd so it had to be done – and Charlie and I took it in turns to lick the bowl after we had used it in our tart cases as she has a similar love for the stuff! The frangipane had been pre-prepared so we piped this over the top of the tarts and then gave it a topping – I chose strawberries.
Finally we were given a pre-made mixture to make our very own crackers. We were given a selection of ingredients to give flavour to the crackers which then had to be rolled out extremely thinly again between two sheets of cling film. These were then sprinkled with seeds – I chose nigella seeds – and placed in the oven to bake until crisp.
What I Learned
As well as her informative demonstrations, Naomi is full of interesting facts about the food she bakes. Here are just some of the things I learned during the day:
- Wooden spoons absorb gluten. If you are baking for someone with allergies, make sure you use a dedicated spoon.
- You can use your flour from frozen unless you are baking bread – then it needs to be at room temperature
- Potato starch is used when you want to ‘fluff up’ your mixture
- Muscavado sugar is great for chewy cookies as it has molasses in it and keeps your bake moist
- Rice flour is great for shortcrust pastry as it makes your bakes short and crumbly. It benefits from being rested before rolling – and don’t knead it too much
- Just rice flour is too short so add ground psyllium husks or ground linseed
- Psyllium husks hold the flour and help to shape the pastry
- Ground linseed holds the water in the dough – if not then gluten free flour would not be able to do this as there is no ‘bind’
- Sweet rice flour – as used for sushi – is great for a chewy, fudgey texture
- Finally I was always aware that margarine had the same qualities as paint. Naomi explained that the reason for this is that solvents are used to extract the oil from the seed, this is then neutralised using caustic soda and then bleached to change the colour. Then, because it smells of burnt fat, it is deodorised. I am never touching margarine or processed oils ever again!
I have to say that I came away with much more than I expected after a day on this course. Yes, there were all the yummy goodies which I had baked (which got polished off quickly at home!) but there was lots to be learned from both a baking and general information point of view too.
You do have to work with a partner as much of the time the batch of ingredients is prepared and split in two – so it is great if you have gone on the course with a friend or if you are happy to go on your own and meet other people.
The cost of the course at £195 is reasonable in my opinion. Included are all the ingredients that you use throughout the day, the bakes which you take home with you, a pack detailing the recipes that you make during the day as well as some extra recipes on top, information about the different flours you can use and what they do and other fact sheets including suppliers of gluten free produce, a two-course lunch, as much tea and coffee as you like as well as refreshments and, at the end of the day, Naomi also gave you the option to take home some ingredients at the end of the day including some sourdough starter mix.
If you are interested in booking a cookery course then I pleased to say that River Cottage is offering my readers a 15% discount on Naomi’s Gluten Free and Advanced Gluten Free courses in the award winning cookery school at River Cottage HQ. Use the code VVVGLUTEN at the checkout.
T&C’s: Offer is valid until 30/09/2016 and can be applied to dates until 31/03/2017. Offer is not to be used in conjunction with any other promotion.
Disclosure: Thank you to River Cottage who provided me with the gluten free cookery course in return for this review. Please note that all words, images and opinions have been formed by the owner of this blog and have not been influenced in any way. Please do not reproduce any of the content or images on this post without prior agreement from Verily Victoria Vocalises.