Four ways to celebrate a very merry gluten-free Christmas

Becky Excell's best-ever Christmas pudding.
Becky Excell's best-ever Christmas pudding. Photo: Hannah Hughes/Quadrille

The festive season shouldn't mean skipping delicious treats just because you or someone you love can't eat gluten,  Becky Excell believes.

"I'll never forget my first gluten-free Christmas ... mainly because I felt miserable and I missed out eating almost everything worth eating," the English blogger and recipe developer writes in her new cookbook How to Bake Anything Gluten Free. 

Becky Excell's new cookbook.
Becky Excell's new cookbook. Photo: Supplied

"But now, I've realised that Christmas doesn't have to mean missing out on a single thing, and the same applies to you."

Here are four festive favourites to help you celebrate a very merry gluten-free Christmas.

Best-ever Christmas pudding

My gluten-free Christmas pud is proof that everything tastes better when you make it yourself … because this is the only Christmas pudding I will actually eat. It's like taking one big bite out of Christmas. This couldn't be easier to make, and while the pudding is enjoying a luxurious steam, you can get back to wrapping pressies.

INGREDIENTS

For the soaked fruit

  • 150g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 150g candied mixed peel
  • 1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsp brandy or sherry
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For the pudding batter

  • 75g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 90g gluten-free plain flour
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 slices of gluten-free bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

For the brandy butter

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • grated zest of ½ orange
  • 4 tbsp brandy, plus an extra 4 tbsp to serve

METHOD

  1. Place the raisins, currants, mixed peel and apple in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice, the brandy or sherry and leave to soak for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight.
  2. Grease a 1.4L pudding basin and line the base with non-stick baking paper. If your pudding basin doesn't have a lid, create one by cutting a circle of foil and baking paper that's roughly 4cm larger than the basin's diameter. Place both circles on top of one another (foil on top) and fold a pleat down the middle. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one by one, mixing in between each addition. Add the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, nutmeg and breadcrumbs, and mix until well combined. Lastly, mix in all the soaked fruit, plus any soaking liquid.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the pudding basin. Compact it down and ensure it is flat on top. Secure the lid, or use string to secure your paper and foil in place. If your pudding basin has a lid, I'd suggest wrapping the whole thing in foil after popping it on, just to be safe. Place in a large saucepan and add boiling water to come halfway up the basin. Place the lid on the pan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 hours, keeping an eye on it and topping up the water when needed.
  5. Remove the pudding basin from the water, take off the lid and allow to cool completely in the basin. Cover and store in a cool, dry place until Christmas Day.
  6. On Christmas Day, put the lid back on your pudding basin; if you made your own, you'll need to create a new one. Place in the large saucepan again and add boiling water to come halfway up the pudding basin. Pop the lid on, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile, whip up your brandy butter. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric hand whisk) and mix on a medium speed for 5 minutes until pale. Add the icing sugar and mix until incorporated, then add your orange zest and brandy and mix once more. Transfer to a serving dish and keep refrigerated until needed.
  8. To serve, turn out your Christmas pud onto a lipped serving dish. Warm up the extra brandy in a small saucepan (don't let it boil) and then pour it over the hot Christmas pudding. Carefully set light to it and serve as soon as the flames have died down, with brandy butter.

Serves 6-7

Gluten-free chocolate yule log

You wouldn't believe just how incredibly flexible and strong a gluten-free sponge could be until you've made this. The sponge is super-soft and light, yet strong enough to roll and hold all that lovely, chocolatey buttercream.

INGREDIENTS

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 65g gluten-free self-raising flour
  • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • red and green fondant icing, for the holly decoration

For the chocolate buttercream

  • 675g icing sugar
  • 45g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 65g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125ml milk

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Grease a 35 x 25cm Swiss roll tin, and line it with non-stick baking paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together your caster sugar and eggs until light and a little frothy – I use an electric hand whisk for this. Sift in your flour, xanthan gum and cocoa powder. Fold this into your mixture carefully until fully combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared Swiss roll tin, ensuring it spreads right to the edges. Try your best to get it as even as possible.
  3. Bake for about 9 minutes; the sponge should have come away a little from the sides of the tin and be slightly risen.
  4. Remove from the oven and very carefully invert the sponge onto another piece of baking paper that's lightly dusted with icing sugar. Carefully peel off the paper that was lining the tin.
  5. Now, while the sponge is still warm, roll it up from a longer side, with the paper inside it as you roll. Place to one side and leave it to cool completely, while rolled up. I usually put something heavy against it to ensure it stays fairly tight and doesn't unroll itself.
  6. While your sponge is cooling, make your buttercream. Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer (an electric hand whisk will do the job just fine too, but if making by hand, ensure you mix for longer), sifting in the icing sugar and cocoa powder. Start the mixer on low and then increase to a higher speed as it all begins to come together into a lovely, smooth, spreadable consistency. If it's not coming together, add a little extra milk very slowly, while mixing.
  7. To assemble, carefully unroll the sponge and remove the baking paper.
  8. Spread a layer of buttercream about 1cm thick over the sponge, leaving a 5mm clear border. Carefully roll the sponge back up and transfer to a serving plate.
  9. Your rolled-up sponge will probably now look a little long. To create a "branch", cut a quarter off at a 45-degree angle, then simply place it against the main cake. Trim the angled end off the main log so both ends are straight once again.
  10. Cover the sponge with the remaining buttercream and use a fork or sharp knife to create a wood-like pattern. Dust with icing sugar and, to finish, use a tiny amount of red and green fondant to create a holly leaf decoration or two. Cut the ends off to reveal your swirl, and enjoy.

Serves 10

Stollen bites 

I've given up waiting for Santa to bring me a gluten-free stollen, so I've made my own bite-sized version instead. They're incredibly quick and easy to make, packed with tons of festive flavour with a "snowy" dusting of icing sugar on top, just like the ones I always see in supermarkets that we can never eat.

INGREDIENTS

  • 340g gluten-free self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • 85g very cold butter, cubed
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 50g almond flour
  • 150g marzipan, grated
  • 100g (sultanas
  • grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
  • 150ml milk
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • icing sugar, sifted, for dusting

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C fan-forced (220 conventional). Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
  2. Mix your flour, baking powder and xanthan gum in a large mixing bowl. Add your cold, cubed butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it forms a breadcrumb-like consistency. Stir in your caster sugar, almond flour, grated marzipan and sultanas. Stir in the lemon or orange zest.
  3. Gently warm your milk in a jug – I do this in the microwave at full power for about 35 seconds, but ensure that it remains warm and doesn't get hot. Add your lemon juice to the milk and allow to stand for 1-2 minutes – it should turn slightly curdled and lumpy. Add the egg and almond extract to the milk mixture and beat together until well combined.
  4. Make a well in the middle of your dry mixture. Pour in the wet mixture and work it in using a metal fork or knife. Keep working it till it forms a slightly sticky dough.
  5. Lightly dust your work surface and hands with a little flour. Take dough ball-sized amounts of your mixture and roll into slightly flattened balls (not too flattened as they spread a little in the oven). Place on your lined baking tray,  allowing a 2.5cm gap between each.
  6. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden. Allow to cool briefly on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust well with icing sugar and enjoy cold, or slightly warm if you can't wait.

Makes 15-20

Deep filled mince pies

What would Christmas be without mince pies? Fortunately, I never struggle to find gluten-free mince pies in the supermarket, but trust me – you absolutely can't beat making your own, especially when it comes to pastry. Feel free to use store-bought mincemeat from the supermarket , which speeds up the process massively – just ensure it's gluten-free.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 quantity of ultimate gluten-free shortcrust pastry (below)
  • butter or oil, for greasing
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • caster sugar, for sprinkling

For the mincemeat filling (or use store-bought)

  • 200g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 150g candied mixed peel
  • 150g gluten-free vegetable suet
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 cooking apple, cored, peeled and finely chopped
  • 50ml brandy (optional)

METHOD

  1. For the mincemeat, combine all the ingredients except the brandy in a large, lidded ovenproof dish. Cover and leave to soak for at least 12 hours.
  2. Preheat your oven to 100C fan-forced (120C conventional). Transfer the mincemeat dish to the oven and cook for 2-3 hours, then give it a good stir and leave to cool. Once completely cooled, give it another good stir, then stir in the brandy, if using.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional) and lightly grease a 12-hole muffin or cupcake tray. 
  4. If your chilled pastry dough is quite firm, leaving it out at room temperature ahead of time is definitely advised. Remember not to excessively handle your dough as this will warm it up and make it more fragile.
  5. Place the pastry dough on a large tray of non-stick baking paper and roll out to a large rectangle, around 3mm thick. Use a 9cm ound cookie cutter to cut out 12 circles for the bases of your mince pies. Carefully ease them into the holes of the muffin tin, pressing them in gently.
  6. Spoon around 2 teaspoons of your mincemeat filling into each pastry case, level with the top of the case. Brush the edges of each pastry case with beaten egg.
  7. Re-roll the remaining pastry to a similar thickness as before. Use a 7.5cm round cookie cutter to cut out 12 lids. Carefully press the lids on top of the filled pastry cases to seal them, then brush the tops of each pie with a little more beaten egg. Generously sprinkle sugar on top of each mince pie, then, using a sharp knife, cut two small slits in the lid of each.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the pastry is lovely and golden. Allow to cool before removing from the tin

Makes 12

Ultimate gluten-free shortcrust pastry

This incredibly versatile pastry is halfway between shortcrust and rough puff pastry and absolutely perfect for sweet or savoury baking. Not only is it incredibly easy to work with, but it also has a taste and texture that I never thought possible in gluten-free pastry. It has a flaky quality that instantly livens up any pie, quiche or tart. Best of all, it's tried and tested by hundreds of gluten-free folks.

INGREDIENTS

  • 300g gluten-free plain flour
  • 1½ tsp xanthan gum
  • 145g very cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar (for sweet pastry only)
  • 1 tsp salt (for savoury pastry only)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

METHOD

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together your flour and xanthan gum.
  2. Make sure your butter is really cold; if not, put it in the fridge or freezer until nicely chilled. Add the cubes to the bowl and mix it into the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour to form a breadcrumb-like consistency. Make sure your hands are cool, as we want to avoid the butter getting warm. (You can also achieve the same result by using a food processor to blitz the ingredients together.)
  3. If making sweet pastry, stir in the sugar, or if making savoury pastry, stir in the salt.
  4. Add your beaten egg and, using a knife, carefully cut it into the mixture until it comes together. It should form a ball and not be crumbly – it will be a little sticky to touch but not unmanageable.
  5. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes before using. You can freeze this pastry for up to 2 months; defrost fully before using.

Tip Chill! Using cold butter and chilling the dough makes your gluten-free pastry stronger and more workable. Making any type of pastry on an incredibly hot day isn't advisable as the warmer your dough is, the more fragile it will become. However, make sure that, once chilled, you allow your pastry to warm up a bit before rolling, otherwise it can be very hard to work with.

Makes 560g

This is an edited extract from How To Bake Anything Gluten Free by Becky Excell published by Quadrille, RRP $39.99. Photography by Hannah Hughes. Buy now