Gluten Free Coconut Cake The Sussex Girl

If you have tried much gluten-free baking, you will know that it can be tricky to pull off. Taking the gluten out of the equation and not fully understanding what is needed to replace it can leave your cake dry, crumbly and flat.

Wheat flour contains a gluten, which is a protein. Gluten has four functions in baking. First of all, it is a binder – holding the ingredients together. It also provides structure, which starch can stick to that in turn provides the stability for the cake to rise. Gluten has elasticity, more important in bread making over cake baking, but still of relevance. Finally, gluten also has moisture retention profiteering which is why you often find gluten free bakes have a tendency to be dry.

As well as the core properties of gluten, wheat flour contains naturally gums and ground seeds that help the gluten do what it does, so well.

Do you begin to recognise why taking the gluten out of baking can feel tricky?

One of the best ways to substitute  flour is to use a base gluten-free flour to which you can add other flours, gradually building up a mix that brings together those different elements which go missing once you remove the gluten.  You need to increase the stability of the rise of the mixture, which can usually be achieved by using a gluten-free baking powder (most brands are but it’s always worth checking). You have to be careful not to over-beat the mixture as you need to keep the air otherwise you could end up with a dense cake.

There are so many options for gluten-free flours: rice four, tapioca flour, coconut, ground almonds, potato starch, corn flour, chickpea flour…the list goes on. I’m not going to cover the pros and cons of each in this blog post as we will never get to the recipe! Have a play though, the best way to discover what works and what doesn’t is to simply have a go.

I cheat a little bit here and let someone do the bulk of the balancing and mixing of the most user-friendly flours.  You can buy some great ready-to-use gluten-free flour off the shelf now, I used Doves Farm Plain White in this recipe which is a blend of Rice, Potato, Tapioca, Maize and Buckwheat.

You can then use that as a base to add other ingredients which bring their own properties to the party.

In this recipe, it calls for ground almonds which are good at adding moisture back in to a recipe.  The consistency of ground almonds is more like a cornmeal than a flour but it is easy to work with. They crop up in baking from macarons to Sachertort and marzipan, they just so happen to also be gluten-free. Handy ey?

Gluten Free Coconut Cake The Sussex Girl

Enough chat, now on to the cake! I originally saw this recipe on the Good Housekeeping website (yes, turning into my Mother!) but tweaked it a little bit to my own taste. You end up with a cake that would pass for afternoon tea with your in-laws without falling apart or resulting in a sponge drier than the Sahara.

Oh and I forgot to say, this is a chuck it all in one mixing bowl and pop into the oven kind of recipe. Simple!

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 (180*C). Grease and line a 18cm round cake tin (I used one of my victoria sandwich tins and it worked perfectly for the quantity of sponge) with baking paper.

Add 125g Gluten Free Plain Flour (or blend of flours), 75g ground almonds1tsp gluten-free baking powder, 50g desiccated coconut and 125g caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can mix this with a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon! Don’t panic, you can still have baked coconutty goodness.

Once you’ve weighed out all the dry ingredients into the bowl, add 1 large egg, 100ml full fat coconut milk, 150g sunflower or olive oil spread (can be substituted for dairy free if you need to) and 1.5tbsp water.

Mix away! Pulse the food processor until the mixture is fully combined, don’t go crazy though – you want the texture of the coconut to remain. Scrape the batter into the lined cake tin and bake for 35-40 mins, until golden brown on top and a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool for ten mins in the tin before releasing and cooling on a baking rack.

Gluten Free Coconut Cake The Sussex Girl

Gluten Free Coconut Cake The Sussex Girl

Whilst it’s cooling you can make the meringue icing. This is totally optional, you could just dredge it with icing sugar and be done.  However, this meringue topping is quite easy and looks pretty damn good.

Put 40g caster sugar and 1tsp cream of tartar into a small bowl. The cream of tartar is optional so don’t panic if you don’t have any, it just helps stabilise the egg white when you whisk it. It’ll still work if you omit it. Pour on 2tbsp boiling water and stir quickly until all the sugar is dissolved.

Separate the yolk and white of 1 large egg. Discard the yolk (or save to add to your scrambled eggs!).  Put 2tbsp egg white into a different bowl and whisk with until it begins to go frothy.  Whilst whisking, slowly pour the sugar mix into the egg white. Continue beating until it’s white, glossy and holding stiff peaks. Add a few drops of vanilla essence and mix in gently.  Spread the meringue over the top of your cool sponge, I just use a spatula to work in a few whirls and peaks. Sprinkle over a handful of toasted almond or coconut flakes.

Et voila! Now put the kettle on and grab a slice (not before instagramming the shizz out of your  creation).

good mental health

On Tuesday I’m going back to school! Well, I’m visiting a local secondary school. That’s scary enough, that feeling of teenage anxiety creeping in – this isn’t even MY old school and I’m still freaking out. They’ve asked me to come in and speak to their Year 13 (17 and 18 year olds) about Mental Health. That’s a pretty broad subject, which makes me double think what I’m going to say. I’ve been in to this particular school about four or five times speaking to a variety of different year groups about Depression, Eating Disorders and Young Carers. I have tended to take a similar tack on the previous occasions which has been received well but I’m shaking it up this time.

The irony of being anxious about speaking on this topic is not lost on me. I promise!

It was Mental Health Day last week and I noticed a lot of media activity around that theme. It’s fantastic that the conversation is happening, that we are acknowledging that striving for positive behaviours that protect our mental health is just as important as picking up habits that protect our physical health.

Side thought…have you noticed how we always seem to see ‘mental health’ written when we are actually discussing conditions that affect mental health? We bundle up all sorts of very different illnesses, syndromes and diseases under the umbrella ‘mental health’ when what we actually mean is ‘that which affects our mental health’.

This week, when I stand in front of a bunch of year 13 students, I’ll be putting forward some of the myths around mental health and seeing what the students think. 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem in their teenage years with the problems often being perpetuated by the usual myth that ‘it is just puberty’. It’s important that we help them build an environment where they can talk if someone is feeling their mental health is declining, if they can’t cope with life or if they feel they aren’t able to take part in their usual activities.

Covent Garden Mental Health Personal Space

It’s not just about their personal mental health; building a positive generation is also about making sure they are able to support and encourage those that they see who might be suffering from mental health conditions. From their peers, to their parents. Some in the audience will already be young carers, something I can empathise with. Some will support friends through serious illness. Some will simply be the person that is turned to when anxiety mounts or stress takes effect on day to day life.

By sharing with each other some of the ways that they can support those who need a little extra help, we hope that there will be growth of understanding and a destigmatisation of mental health problems as well as a base of knowledge of how they can keep themselves healthy – mentally as well as physically.

It was no surprise to me to learn that 63% of references to mental health in TV soaps and dramas were flippant, negative or unsympathetic terms. How can we begin to build understanding and break down critical barriers to support if the message we are fed on a daily basis is that someone living with a mental health condition is a ‘nutcase’?

You Are Good Enough - Positive Mental Health

On the other hand, in the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in things like adult colouring-in books, mindfulness podcasts and apps that help you monitor stress. We are becoming a society that talks about good mental health habits more and more. Now think of all the things that we know are good for our physical health – 8 glasses of water a day, 5 portions of fruit and veg, exercising for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week. They roll off the tongue thanks to many an advertising campaign. The scientists like to challenge their own good advice on a regular basis but we know the gist of what is good for our bodies and what isn’t.

Many of the things that will protect our physical health are also good for our mental health. The two are indelibly linked. If we give time to communicating all the positive steps we can take to support our good mental health, we subconsciously make it okay to talk about those times when we don’t feel that great.

So yes, I’m super anxious about standing in front of a bunch of teenagers, telling them my story and trying to dispel some myths.  But I’m also pleased to have been asked, as it means that, slowly, we are building a society that cares.

Wahaca Chichester The Sussex Girl Adam Scott

Remember Thomasina Miers? She won Masterchef in 2005 (way back when I was procrastinating from GCSE revision and dreaming about running a café instead of going to Med School) and went on to front a Mexican cookery programme for Channel 5. Two years later, she teamed up with Mark Selby and started a Mexican Street Food restaurant in London’s West End. With the opening of the latest Wahaca in Chichester, there are now 24 restaurants touting their very endearing version of Mexican street food.

I have to admit, that when I first visited Wahaca, just tucked off Oxford Street, it was by accident.  My brother and I were meeting for lunch equi-distant from our workplaces and happened across the bright welcoming colours whilst being easily tempted by the promise of tacos.

We were impressed.  Since then, I’ve visited several of their London restaurants and made their way through both the street food tapas-style menu AND the cocktails. (Well, you can’t blame a girl when they’re THIS good)

Wahaca Chichester seating The sussex girl
Image courtesy of Wahaca and Adam Scott

So you can understand that when the lovely folk at Wahaca got in touch about their new Chichester restaurant, I was a little excited. Finally! A Wahaca within striking distance all year round.

Wahaca have taken over an big old warehouse style space on South street. The night I visited, Mark Selby (co-founder) was also there and he described how they discovered the awesome ceiling height at the back half of the restaurant had been hidden behind a false ceiling. The restaurant looks fantastic from the uncovered vaulted ceiling with its industrial details through to the incredible mural that the Italian artist, Gola Hundun, painted along one wall.

Wahaca chichester mural The Sussex Girl
Image courtesy of Wahaca and Adam Scott

Not only is it a comfortable place to be, I can’t remember the last time I felt such genuine warmth from staff. From the welcome on the door, to the friendly barman who couldn’t wait to show off the cocktail menu through to our waiter, James, and the restaurant manager, Helen.  Everyone felt invested and engaged as well as quite happy to show off the menu by recommending their favourite dishes.

Wahaca are very good at producing tasty food. They’re also pretty good at being good. Good to the environment, good at supporting communities, good at being sustainable.  Good job.

See the thing is, I am far more likely to go back to somewhere that I know is bothered about its impact on its surroundings than I am your run-of-the-mill restaurant.  I seek out places that are conscientious in their sourcing of ingredients and who consciously seek to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint.  They might not shout about it but Wahaca have won the ‘Sustainable Restaurant Group’ award three times and when you dig a little deeper, it seems they actually care.  That’s a big deal on the high street these days.

After chatting with Mark, it seemed sustainability and careful sourcing of ingredients is something that he is genuinely passionate about and it isn’t just a gimmick.  It’s refreshing.

Wahaca Chichester The Sussex Girl

Wahaca street food The Sussex Girl

But back to the food.  We ate so. much. food.

As we were both driving, we had to skirt around the Chilli and Coriander Margaritas but headed to the Passionfruit and Hibiscus Cooler mocktail instead. Delicious.

After pondering the menu whilst demolishing a bowl of the Chorizo topped frijoles (don’t miss them!), our waiter helped us to decide on a pile of different street food plates including both of the late summer specials.  Our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies but we did our duty and set about trying each plate that was brought out to us. I particularly enjoyed the Cactus and Courgette Tostadas, the Summer Pea and Mint Empanadas annnnd the Cornbread.  Oh heck, actually, I loved the whole lot.

Wahaca Chichester The Sussex Girl
Image courtesy of Wahaca and Adam Scott

Wahaca Chichester The Sussex Girl

There was definitely no room for pudding.  So we…had pudding. Fresh pineapple with spiced caramel. Yum.

We had to practically roll ourselves back to the cars. Not at our most elegant, one can admit!

So thanks Wahaca, for inviting us to experience your new Chichester branch.  I’ll be back really soon (quite possibly with my sister this Friday I think…any excuse!).

Give Wahaca a try if you’re in town and if you don’t live on the South Coast, find your nearest Wahaca.

Thanks to Wahaca for inviting Ellie and I to visit their Chichester restaurant – I only feature products or companies on my Blog that I would personally use and recommend to my readers. All reviews, words and opinions are my own and posted with no obligation to the collaborating brand

Aunty Alice - sibling with Down's Syndrome - NIPT Testing

I remember it vividly. Dad gathered the three of us together in the dining room of our family home shortly after the excitement of our new baby sister arriving.  His arms enveloping all three of us, he was clearly emotional. ‘What’s wrong Daddy?’

‘The baby has something called Down’s Syndrome’.

‘Is she poorly?’

‘No, we don’t think so’

‘Is Mummy poorly?’

‘No, Mummy’s fine.’

‘Ok then, why are you crying?’

To a 9.5 year old, 8 year old and 4.5 year old, ‘Down’s Syndrome’ didn’t mean anything.  All we cared about was that the new baby was here.  It was a girl (this had repercussions about who was going to get their own room, it had all hinged on whether the baby was a boy or a girl!) and she had arrived in time for Christmas in late December, 1998.

That same day was the Nativity rehearsal at our family church. My best friend and her Mum were at the practice. ‘Mummy’s had the baby, it’s a girl, her name is Alice Megan and she has Down’s Syndrome’.  I was as proud of this new fact as I was of the beautiful name my parents had given her. ‘Oh I’m so sorry’ – the Mum looked crestfallen. ‘Why? The baby is cute!’ and I ran off to join the other Angels by the pulpit.

It didn’t mean a thing.

In the days, weeks and months that followed. My parents gently explained more about Down’s Syndrome, as they discovered what it meant for Alice.  Books were bought that explained it in terms a child could understand – one picture book sticks in my memory, it was a great myth buster.  One myth it tackled was ‘they all look the same’ and it stated ‘in fact, your brother or sister with Down’s Syndrome will look more like you and your parents than they will someone else with Down’s Syndrome’. The book was right! Alice has the strawberry blonde hair that is characteristic of the girls in our family, she has the ‘Saunders nose’ and the cheeky grin my brother bears.

Dad once said to me that having a child with Down’s Syndrome ‘isn’t better or worse, it’s just different’. Each one of us siblings are different, with our own challenges, victories and abilities – just so, Alice bounded onto the scene – lighting up the room, with her own incredible personality that perfectly meshed into our family unit that never was complete until she came along.

One of the saddest things I get asked as a sibling of someone with a learning disability is ‘oh but isn’t it sad you’ll have to look after her when you’re older’ or ‘you’ll always have her living with you’.

Will I? Fantastic!  I can’t wait to have Alice’s input into my family life as we move through the stages. She’s a brilliant Aunty to our 18 month old nephew and incredibly excited that our sister is pregnant with her second child.  Chances are, I will be supported by Alice, not the other way around. Chances are, Alice will guide and educate me just as she has in so many ways since she arrived in our lives.  Chances are, Alice will live in her own home with her own life and won’t want her interfering big sister being ‘boring’ anyway!

Family - sibling with Down's Syndrome - NIPT testing

There will always be room for Alice in our home if she wants to come and stay for a while or live with us longer term.  The same offer will be open to my younger brother if he wants to base himself with us and we’ll always come to the aid of my sister and her husband if they need us. It’s just as likely that one of our other siblings will need extra support during the next 60+ years as it is Alice will.  I’ll let you into a secret – she’s not that different.

If Alice needs support in order to continue to achieve, then we’ll make sure she has it.  There wouldn’t be a second-thought.

We know and understand her needs, we know how she ticks, what she loves to do. We’ve seen her at her happiest and at her most sad.  We’ve watched her perform on stage and we’ve celebrated exam success. We’ve helped nurse her and we’ve been nursed by her.  She’s our sister and she brings strength, light and colour to our lives.  Don’t you dare call her a burden.

Next week, our parents are going off to Barcelona for a few nights.  Their 30th Wedding Anniversary present.  My sister and brother-in-law are having Alice (now 17) to stay and will drop her off to college each day as they live locally enough to do that.  My brother is looking after their dog.  Those were easy things to put into place, we didn’t have to flip a coin about whose turn it was to look after Alice and Blue (the dog!), we didn’t have to barter or nag for someone to take responsibility.  It just happened and everyone is excited. Alice gets to spend more time with her nephew and she couldn’t be happier.

It’s not a burden, it’s not a chore, it’s not a weight on my shoulders – it’s family.

That’s what we do. That’s what we’ll always do.

So yes, think about the siblings. Think about the way they’ll know how to make sure games are accessible to all, how they’ll learn to communicate in different ways. Think about how they’ll help their sibling learn to tackle new things head on. Think about the trips they’ll take with each other and the adventures they’ll embark on. Think about the excitement they’ll share as they see the world from a different perspective and think about the bonds they will have with their sibling that will see them fiercely protect each other against ignorance.

But please, don’t pity them.

Tomorrow, Wednesday 5th October on BBC Two at 9pm a documentary is being broadcast that looks at ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’ presented by the incredible Sally Phillips.  Please take the time to watch and join in the debate using the hashtag #WorldWithoutDowns #ThinkAgain