September saw the launch of Ricki Heller’s much anticipated Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free, featuring the most incredible array of scrumptious desserts that just so happen to be vegan and allergy-friendly!
Ricki’s blog was one of the first food blogs that I came across when I set up Bit of the Good Stuff back in 2011, and she has been a constant source of inspiration to me. Through her blog, ebooks and magazine articles, she’s demonstrated time and again how dietary restrictions, allergies, or the desire to eat healthily, doesn’t mean that we have to miss out on dessert, or settle for one that tastes second rate. Ricki’s desserts are visually beautiful, taste amazing, plus they’re packed with nutrients and healthy goodness! Ricki is certainly one of the most creative recipe developers I’ve ever come across.
In Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free, Ricki shares with us her vast knowledge of healthy ingredients and baking techniques, as well as tips on how to substitute ingredients. The book’s opening chapter is a great introduction to the world of gluten and allergy-free cooking, and provides lots of useful information including:
♥ Tips on working with gluten free flours
♥ Unrefined sweeteners and the subtle differences between them
♥ Natural egg substitutes
♥ Healthy fats and oils
♥ Non dairy milk alternatives
The following chapters feature one hundred fabulous recipes (most of which are accompanied by beautiful photographs, courtesy of Celine Saki), split into:
♥ Breakfast Bakes (and toppings for pancakes & waffles)
♥ Cookies, Squares & Bars
♥ Cakes, Cupcakes, Toppings & Frostings
♥ Cheesecakes, Pies, Tarts & Puddings
♥ Raw & No Bake Treats
All the recipes contain whole foods and are free of gluten, eggs, dairy and cane sugar. Many are also corn-free, soy-free and nut-free (or provide substitute options).
This week, I’ve had the opportunity to try two of Ricki’s recipes, and both were amazing! First up, I made her Easiest Almond Cookies. This is the perfect title for these cookies as they couldn’t be easier to make!
My family absolutely loved the flavour and texture of these cookies, and since they’re almost entirely made of almonds, they were super filling too.These cookies proved to be the perfect snack to sustain us during our half-term holiday road trips. If you’d like to try them for yourselves, you’ll find the recipe in Angela Liddon’s review post here (along with some absolutely stunning photographs of Angela’s home baking!)
The second recipe I tried was Ricki’s Raw Frosted Lemon-Poppy Seed Squares. When I first opened Ricki’s book, this is the recipe that immediately jumped out of me. I adore raw desserts and lemony flavoured sweets, so this sounded like my ultimate treat! Raw desserts are so easy to make – it’s just a case of whizzing the ingredients in a food processor then chilling or freezing them. You don’t have to worry about oven temperatures and cooking times. With raw desserts, pretty much nothing can go wrong!
I absolutely adored these lemony treats, as did the rest of my family. I followed Ricki’s recipes pretty closely, making only a couple of minor substitutions – using coconut sugar in the base and frosting, instead of stevia (I really liked the flecks of caramel colour that the sugar left in the frosting!)
While I usually make my frostings with cashew cream, I was pleasantly surprised how well this coconut oil-based frosting turned out. Lil’ L commented on how much he loved it too! For those of you that are new to using coconut oil, or have read mixed reviews concerning its health benefits, check out Kathy Hester’s review of Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free, in which Ricki shares her views on coconut oil, as well as her delicious Grain Free Autumn Fruit Crumble recipe.
I’ve stashed some of my Raw Frosted Lemon-Poppy Seed Squares in the freezer, so that we can dip into them as and when we fancy a treat. I’m sure it won’t be long though until they’re all gone and I’ll be making a second batch. I have no problems with my family tucking into these treats though as they’re packed with goodness 🙂
Here’s Ricki’s recipe, which I’ve reproduced with kind permission from Sellers Publishing.
Raw Frosted Lemon-Poppy Seed Squares
Makes about 1 dozen
For the base:
2 heaping TBSP ground chia seeds (from about 1 TBSP whole seeds)
1 cup (165 g) natural raw skin-on almonds, preferably organic
¾ cup (115 g) natural raw cashews
Pinch fine sea salt
2 tsp grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon), preferably organic, divided in half
Juice of 1 lemon, preferably organic, divided in half
2 TBSP agave nectar or yacon syrup
15 to 20 drops pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Up to 1 TBSP water, if needed
2 TBSP poppy seeds
For the frosting:
Heaping ¼ cup (70 ml) ground chia seeds (from about 2 TBSP whole seeds)
1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut oil, at room temperature, preferably organic
1 TBSP raw smooth cashew or macadamia butter, at room temperature**
Reserved lemon zest (from making base, above)
Reserved lemon juice (from making base, above)
15 to 20 drops pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste*
For the garnish (optional):
Extra grated lemon zest (from an additional lemon)
Extra poppy seeds
* I used a sprinkling of coconut sugar instead of stevia
** I used raw almond butter
Make the base: Line a regular loaf pan*** with plastic wrap. Set aside.
Combine the chia, almonds, cashews, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture looks like a fairly fine meal (no pieces of almond should be visible).
In a small bowl, mix together half of the lemon zest, half of the lemon juice (about 2 TBSP), the agave nectar, stevia, and vanilla until everything is well combined. Pour the lemon-juice mixture over the dry ingredients in the processor and blend until it comes together in what looks like a sticky dough (if it’s too dry, add up to 1 TBSP water). Sprinkle with the poppy seeds and pulse just until they are incorporated.
Turn the base into the prepared loaf pan and, using wet hands or a silicone spatula, press it down firmly and evenly. Place the pan in the fridge while you prepare the frosting.
*** I used an 8” x 4” loaf pan and my squares weren’t as high as Ricki’s. Next time I’ll use a slightly smaller pan.
Make the frosting: In the bowl of a food processor or using a hand blender, blend the chia, coconut oil, nut butter, reserved lemon zest, reserved lemon juice (you should have about 2 TBSP), and stevia until perfectly smooth. The mixture may liquefy as the coconut oil melts; this is fine.
Frost and unmold: Pour the frosting over the base in the pan and swirl the top. If desired, sprinkle with additional lemon zest and poppy seeds to garnish. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. (Tip: If the frosting is too liquid to hold a shape when you first pour it over the base, refrigerate about 15 minutes until it firms up a bit, and then add any swirls that you like.) Once the top is firm, fold the plastic wrap over it to cover.
To unmold, peel back the plastic on top and invert onto a cutting board; turn right-side-up and cut into 12 or more pieces (they should be relatively small). Serve immediately; store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days. May be frozen. Defrost in refrigerator.
I’m on a mission to work my way through all 100 of Ricki’s recipes (it could take me a while!) Next up it’s going to be her Chocolate Pecan Pie. It looks so good!
If you’d like to try more of Ricki’s recipes, her book is now available to purchase in the UK. The Book Depository is currently selling her book for £9.37, which is a great price for this very substantial, 224-page full colour book.
Baking Gluten and Sugar Free
If you already bake gluten-free, you’ll know that recipes often call for a mix of gluten-free flours and a binder. Many of these ingredients are now available in larger supermarkets and health food stores in the UK, though they’re often easier (and cheaper) to purchase online. My favourite online UK stockists for these products can be found below.
Ricki avoids the use of cane sugar and other high GI sweeteners in her recipes, so all her desserts are suitable for those following a low sugar or anticandida diet. One of her favourite natural sweeteners is pure stevia, which is available in powder form or as a liquid suspension. UK supermarkets sell ‘stevia sweeteners’, but these are combined with fillers such as maltodextrin and aren’t equivalent to pure stevia. Below, I’ve listed stockists of pure stevia that are available to UK residents.
UK Stockists for Ricki’s Gluten-Free and Sugar-Free Recipes
– Xanthan Gum and agave nectar are available from Asda, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Ocado
– NuNaturals Pure Stevia liquid is available to purchase from Amazon UK, but it’s a bit pricey (£13). I’ve ordered mine from the US store IHerb, where it costs $9.91 (£6.61). If you’re a first time customer to IHerb, you can get $5 off your first order with the code RTM144. To avoid paying customs charges, make sure that your order comes to less than £15, weighs less than 4lbs and you choose Global Priority Mail by DHL. The average delivery time is 10 days (mine arrived within 14 days). I’ve combined 2 bottles in the same order, which should last me a very long time!