Gluten-free chestnut and pear cake

img_1168It was Geoff’s book launch yesterday, and I wanted to make something (with mainly wild ingredients) for people to nibble on. We had a glut of pears and sweet chestnuts, so I started looking in the usual places, but chestnuts don’t seem to be widely used in baking, at least in this country. Or when they are, they’re paired with chocolate, which I thought might overwhelm their subtle taste.

I’d heard you could use them to make a (gluten-free) flour, as per the Italian ‘poor man’s cake’ Castagnaccio, which looks delicious – but it contains pine nuts and I wanted a recipe where all the ingredients could, in theory, be foraged in the UK. Eventually I found this recipe from Azalea’s Kitchen, which I’ve adapted by removing the chocolate and adding pears, and substituting fresh chestnuts for the chestnut puree.

This recipe was a great success, yielding a moist, light, subtly flavoured cake that wasn’t too sweet. Everyone liked it. BUT, I’m going to say this right up front, making chestnut flour is labour intensive! It took probably two hours to remove the shells from enough chestnuts (pro tip: wait for them to cool, they come out easier). So if anyone knows how to speed up that process, I’d be glad to hear it.

img_1166Once they’re shelled, you just crumble them or put them through a food processor. I also spread them out thinly to dry for an hour, as I thought that might help give a lighter texture, but I don’t know how necessary this is.

In future I’d be interested to try this recipe with honey instead of sugar, but I know that can create challenges with texture too, so on this occasion I played it safe!


4 hours to prepare the flour
20 mins to prepare the cake
50 mins to cook


  • 4 eggs
  • 200g sugar
  • 100g butter / coconut oil / other oil
  • 200g ground almonds / other nuts
  • 400g shelled chestnuts (about 500g before shelling)
  • zest of one lemon / orange
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 3 ripe pears


  1. Score the chestnuts and roast for 30 mins. Set aside to cool.
  2. Peel the chestnuts (ha, she says), then crumble them to a flour-like texture, or use a food processor. Spread the flour out to dry for an hour.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and line a 20cm tin.
  4. Slice the pears and set aside.
  5. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and sugar together until creamy.
  6. Add the melted butter, or whatever fat you’re using.
  7. Add the ground almonds, chestnut flour, lemon zest and baking powder and mix well.
  8. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold gently into the cake mixture. Don’t over-mix.
  9. Pour the mixture into the tin and arrange the pear slices across the top.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

Leave to cool, and voila!



Elderflower champagne – hic!

20140617_213935This was my first attempt at making wine. We don’t have any special equipment at the moment, so I cleaned up a household bucket, asked Geoff to switch his beer-drinking habits to Grolsch for a couple of weeks (for the swing-top bottles), and bought some balloons (bear with me…).

I basically used this recipe from Channel 4, which is in turn taken from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring series. However, the reader comments on the Channel 4 page worried me so much that they almost put me off trying – it seemed nearly everyone who had tried the recipe had suffered explosions.

Ours has been going for nearly two weeks now, with no explosions so far, so below I’ll also explain how I did it safely. (Now if that’s not asking for an explosion I don’t know what is!)

4 litres of hot water
2 litres of cold water
juice and zest of four lemons
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
15 elderflower heads – picked before noon on a sunny day
1tsp champagne yeast (may not be needed)

Plus: 18x330ml Grolsch bottles or 12x450ml Grolsch bottles or equivalent plastic carbonated drink bottles. These must be sterilised – I used sterilising tablets made for babies’ bottles, 80p from Asda.

1. Put the hot water and sugar in a clean bucket and stir until the sugar dissolves, then add the cold water.
2. Add the lemon juice, zest, vinegar and elderflower heads.
3. Weight down the elderflowers with a plate, so they don’t stick up out of the water and go mouldy.
4. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for two or three days.
5. Check the mixture, and if it’s not at all foamy on top, there may not be enough natural yeast in there – so add a teaspoon of champagne yeast and stir it in.
5. Leave for four or five more days, stirring each day.
6. Strain through a sieve draped in muslin and pour into bottles, leaving a 1-inch gap at the top.
20140614_0005077. Don’t seal the bottles – instead put a balloon over the neck of each one.
8. Put the bottles in a cool place, with a little space between them (in case the balloons blow up big and knock the surrounding bottles over) and revisit them every day. If the balloons are full, let out the gas. If they’ve blown off, put them back on.
9. When the mixture has calmed down (mine took about five days) and there seems to be little more gas coming out, add a pinch of sugar to each bottle and close the lid. This will re-start the fermentation process and give you bubbles, but in a more controlled manner!
10. There may still be a risk of the bottles exploding when you open them. To keep an eye on this, I dedicated one ‘test bottle’ to reopen a few days later. If it had erupted, I’d have gone around and let the gas out of the others – but it didn’t, just made a satisfying pop and fizz. Of course, then we had to drink it.

I’d love to say that it’s delicious, but to be honest “drinkable” is probably a more accurate word. Having said that, apparently it improves if you leave it a few weeks. It’s a lovely colour, it smells gorgeous and it’s nice and sparkly.

Alcohol content
I estimate that the alcohol content is about 5% abv (if you wanted a higher alcohol content, you could put in more sugar at the beginning).

Cost: £2.40 for six litres – or 40p for the equivalent of a 75cl bottle of wine
Lemons – £1
Champagne yeast if needed – 50p
Sugar – 70p
White wine vinegar – 20p

Jew’s ear and wild garlic pasta

P1070649 It’s that time of year when, walking through the woods – or even the local park, in this case, you’re periodically greeted by pungent breezes from crops of wild garlic. The Jew’s ear, or jelly ear, fungus is still out on the elder trees, so I thought it was time to combine the two flavours.

You’re not allowed to dig up the roots of the wild garlic, but that’s OK because the leaves are perfectly garlicky enough anyway.

P1070641This is a really quick, simple and cheap dish. Be prepared that no-one will want to kiss you for a couple of days afterwards, however.

Ingredients (serves two)
1-2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves
10-15 Jew’s/jelly ear fungi
200g spaghetti
olive oil, salt and pepper, knob of butter
handful of toasted pine nuts (optional – I added these for a bit of protein)

Put the spaghetti on to boil. Rinse, dry and slice the fungi. Rinse and roughly chop the garlic. Heat the olive oil, then add the fungi. Don’t let it get too hot, as the fungi can start ‘popping’ at high temperatures. Fry for about five minutes. Drain the spaghetti and add the knob of butter and stir. Then add the cooked fungi and raw garlic leaves, plus salt and pepper. If you’re adding pine nuts, toast them briefly in a hot frying pan until they’re slightly browned, then sprinkle on top.

Cost: 20p
Spaghetti: 20p
Pine nuts (optional): 80p