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Sweet things for the food allergic and intolerant; others will happily join the feast

Free-From DessertsWhat a delightful and warm-hearted book this is! Julia Thomas had a personal journey in creating these recipes. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early forties, early in pregnancy. Hugely influenced by Professor Jane Plant, and the book she wrote, Your Life In Your Hands, she embarked on radical dietary changes, and cut out dairy from her diet; she also went wheat and gluten free.

As she explains in her interesting introduction, 20-30% now believe they have a food intolerance, 2% have diagnosed food allergies, and many people just want to make healthier choices.

Thomas succeeded well in her dietary changes, but missed, really missed puddings. So she set out to explore the possibilities of the well-loved puds from childhood without dairy, wheat or gluten – the wealth of dishes made from varieties of sweet pastry, the steamed puddings, the ice-creams.

What I love (amongst many things) about this book, is that this is indeed ‘home cooking’ rather than over fussy, over fancy stylistic twirlery, but it is tried, tested and achievable home cooking of excellence. The reader benefits from the trials and errors Thomas went through. She was clearly an excellent maker of puds using traditional ingredients, but now needed to explore the possibilities, of, for example, pastry making with other flours, with the challenges imposed by the fact that those other flours lack the elasticity which gluten gives, and which is needed for pastry.

Thomas guides the novice free-from pudder through all the alternatives for her free-from ingredients, including pointing out hidden ingredients to beware of – for example, not all baking powder brands are gluten free – and advises on brands and sourcing of ingredients.

And, for those who do not need to avoid dairy, wheat or gluten, for themselves or their friends and family, she sensibly points out that you can use the recipes with dairy, wheat and gluten versions, and tells you which added ingredients you need to avoid – mainly, xanthan gum. Xanthan is a natural ingredient made from the fermentation of corn sugars, though the microorganism which carries out the fermentation removes all the sugars in the process. Xanthan gum gives the ‘stretch’ needed for pastry to wheat free flours

So, then we come to the recipes. Now, they are not ‘healthy’ in terms of the fact that they do contain sugar, even though in many recipes Thomas is using less refined version – but these are, after all, rich treats and possibly not for daily consumption. Vegans should also note that eggs are prevalent in many recipes.

Many of the recipes will provoke longing, from old favourites such as sticky toffee pudding, lemon meringue pie, apple tart, treacle tart, to more ‘modern’ sweetnesses such as Tiramisu, a wide variety of cheesecakes, chocolate fondants, crème caramel, pots au chocolat (a version with prune and Armagnac cream. Yum). Then there is a glorious range of ice-creams . I’m rather tempted by a very grown-up sounding Merlot Gelato. Not to mention a sorbet – of chocolate (swoons) And a selection of sauces, creams, ripples and the like to further adorn your pudding feasts.

Even the Number 1 tennis player in the world at the moment, and recent Wimbledon winner – yes, that’s Novak Djokovich – ascribes his improved stamina and fitness to the fact that he went gluten free in 2010,. He was following the advice of a kinesiologist and nutritionist Dr Igor Cetojevic, who believed that the mid-match fatigue crashes Djokovich was experiencing was due to wheat and gluten allergy. Djokovich became a wheat, gluten and dairy free zone, and saw the difference in his fitness. But I do hope that the gluten-free diet hasn’t done anything to dull Djok’s clear comedic abilities, as shown in the above video. When he eventually hangs up his racquet (by recent showing, not for many, many years), perhaps another career awaits on the stand-up circuit.Djokovich gif

Though clearly there are significant dietary properties in the Wimbledon grass, which also play their part (you have to watch Djokovich’s final matches, 2011, 2014, 2015)

(Ends digression on Novak Djokovic)

Now, for those who would impatiently rather have a recipe or four than a side-step into tennis, I’m afraid that the ‘look inside’ stuff for easy cut and paste was copyrighted and I was too lazy to laboriously type out a recipe by hand. But you can mosey over to the Amazon’s and take a look inside, and will find 4 or 5 ‘free-from’ pastry recipes, information about ingredients and an index to make your mouth water

Should you live in the UK and want gluten free cakes but not want to make them, I discovered when trying to find an author photo (nothing outside copyright) that Julia Thomas’s business offers mail order goodies Julia and son And for those of you outside the UK, you’ll just have to do your own baking

This gorgeous sweet collection of heaven for ‘free-from’ pud yearners is published by Quadrille. And I’m delighted to see that the photos are gorgeous, but, more importantly, the pages are traditionally white and the type-face clearly set out, spaciously arranged, and, above all, legible. Which might seem peculiar to mention, except another recent recipe book from Quadrille (which didn’t make the grade and get reviewed on here) was rendered incomprehensible by every page being a different colour, fonts being ‘distressed’ and often set on a slant. Clearly designed to be read by cooks one over the eight working at a tipsy leaning angle!

Thomas’ book is a delight all round, and of course, especially for those who have been longing for ‘free-from’ puddings to make at home

Meanwhile, I hope Julia sent Djokovich some cakes during his sojourn on the grassy lawns of SW19


I happily received this as an ARC from Amazon Vine. Unfortunately they did not send me any cakes
Free-From Desserts Amazon UK
Free-From Desserts Amazon USA