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
– Healthy Supplies has a great range of gluten-free flours, coconut palm sugar, coconut nectar syrup and virgin coconut oils
– The Glastonbury-based Earthfare Natural & Organic Store has an online delivery service that’s great for bulk buying items such as chia seeds, psyllium husks and pure stevia leaf powder.
– I buy Essential Virgin Coconut Oil from Harvest in Bath, but it’s also available from Amazon UK and other online stores.
– 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!
To connect with the lovely Ricki Heller, you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter or Facebook ♥
16 thoughts on “Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free Book Review & Raw Frosted Lemon Poppy Seed Squares Recipe”
I’ve never made raw desserts – well apart from stuff like fruit salad I suppose – but I can see how the flavours in these lemon-poppy squares would be lovely and fresh!
These raw lemon bars are indeed very refreshing! My family absolutely loves them 😀
Raw desserts are great on so many levels – they taste scrumptious, they’re packed with nutrient-rich ingredients, and they’re really easy to make. It’s very hard to go wrong making raw desserts as you simply need to blend & freeze them. You’ll have to try out some raw recipes and let me know what you think x
Oh my goodness–thank you so much for this incredible review, Sharon! I’m so glad you (and especially Lil’ L!) enjoyed the almond cookies and raw lemon bars. 😀 And thank you for including this extensive list of suppliers in the UK (I think we need to add some of those to the resources section in the next edition of the book!!). I hope your readers enjoy the recipe, too! xo
It’s been an absolute pleasure reviewing your book Ricki ♥ I’ve read it from cover to cover and, now that my stevia liquid as arrived from iHerb, I can’t wait to try more recipes.
My freezer stash of raw lemon bar squares has gone already! Lil’ L said they were “scrumptious”. Somehow I have a feeling that he’s going to love all your desserts 😉
Congratulations once again on your fantastic achievement with this book. It truly is a masterpiece xx
This book is definitely on my X-mas list! The squares sound delicious.
These raw lemon squares are indeed scrumptious!
Yes, Ricki’s book would make a fab Christmas present. All the recipes look amazing! Most of them call for liquid stevia, which I’ve just bought from iHerb. Do you use liquid stevia yourself? I haven’t tried it yet but I’m hoping I get on better with it than I have with powdered stevia. I’ve tried the pure powder a few times but I really dislike the aftertaste :/
I’ve never used stevia before, only had it within my protein powder. I just ordered some liquid stevia from iherb as I’m seeing more and more recipes featuring it.
What a wonderful review! I too was tempted by the raw lemon-poppy seed squares! Everyone has a favourite! I’ve loved reading all the reviews 🙂
I’ve really enjoyed reading all the reviews of Ricki’s book too! It’s been so interesting to see all the different recipes that people have chosen to showcase.
BTW, your photo of the cinnamon crumb coffee cake is amazing! (http://glutenfreescdandveggie.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/naturally-sweet-and-gluten-free-by.html) (even better than the original, dare I say…) The cake looks absolutely scrumptious. I can’t wait to try it for myself 😀
It’s such a good book isn’t it?! Great review Sharon. I’ve been working my way through the pancake recipes as I’m a pancake addict but have made a couple of the other recipes too. I’m sure you’ll get to love working with stevia- I use the nunaturals brand too and love how much you can reduce the other sweeteners in a recipe just by adding a few drops of stevia instead.
It’s an amazing book isn’t it? I’m really looking forward to working my way through the recipes. I now have the liquid stevia (which I ordered from iHerb) but I’ve not had the chance to try it yet. I’m a bit apprehensive as I’ve not got on very well with powdered stevia. In the past, I’ve tried both the blended stuff and the pure powder, and I’m not keen on the taste (plus they leave a horrible aftertaste in my mouth :/) I really hope the liquid stevia suits my taste buds better (fingers crossed!)
I’ve used other brands of stevia in the past but haven’t liked them. Nunaturals is far better I’ve found though. I just use the liquid drops mostly. Have fun trying it out!
I haven’t made the cookies yet but I just made the Easiest Almond Cookies curd and WOW, is it good! The challenge will be not eating it all before I have time to make the cookies. Delicious, thank you!
Hi Julia! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! Ricki’s Easiest Almond Cookies are great aren’t they? I find they make a fantastic snack as just one is enough to leave me feeling full up for ages. I can’t wait to try more of Ricki’s recipes… starting with the Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake 😀
Mmm! This sounds like a really wonderful book.
Hi Jon! So lovely to hear from you ♥
This is, indeed, a wonderful book. All the treats sound absolutely delicious, yet they’re gluten free, sugar free and healthy! Most of the recipes call for liquid stevia, which isn’t easy to get hold of in the UK (yet!) but I found it easy to order it from iHerb in the US. It’s just arrived so I can’t wait to try out some more of Ricki’s recipes 😀