As a kid, I’d always loved to bake. It started with cupcakes and jam tarts with my mum and graduated to ambitious solo projects like tiered cakes and fancy pies. I spent Christmas and birthdays accumulating cookbooks, and it was in one of these I found the brownie recipe that became my signature bake.
Then shortly after I turned 14, I got very ill. I couldn’t go to school (and wouldn’t for several years), I was practically house-bound and I had no energy for the things that used to bring me joy, including baking.
A few months after that ‘crash’ I discovered that, as well as the chronic fatigue, I had coeliac disease – a serious autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when you eat gluten. Suddenly, my chocolate brownies weren’t an option anymore.
While my crashing fatigue remained, I began to feel better once my diet became strictly gluten-free: fewer headaches, fewer dizzy spells, I could finally concentrate for more than a couple of seconds. And with this came my desire to bake… and to rise to the gluten-free challenge.
Inevitably, the first recipe I turned to was my chocolate brownies. I didn’t want to just use someone else’s recipe; I was determined to use my own. With enthusiastically scientific zeal, I started experimenting with different gluten-free flours, pre-mixed flour blends and my own combinations. Gluten-free flours have different properties than your typical wheat or rye flour, and I set out to learn them all. I still have the notebooks I filled with the observations I took from each iteration (no surprise, I’m now doing a science degree).
This gluten-free chocolate brownie was the first bake I mastered after my coeliac diagnosis, and something that brought me comfort and joy through tough years of illness and exhaustion. I think it is perfect – just the right amount of chewy crunch from the top layer, just the right amount of gooiness from the middle. And the smell is absolutely divine.
Coeliac-Friendly Chocolate Brownies
100g dark chocolate (90g will do if the bar is that size)
150g unsalted butter
80g ground almonds
60g gluten-free self-raising flour* (+ 1tsp xanthum gum if it’s not already included)
15g cocoa powder
250g soft dark brown sugar
1tsp vanilla or almond essence
Optional: 100g dried sour cherries or glacé cherries, chopped
*different flour mixes will be a little bit different. Gluten-free batters are typically runnier than their gluten counterparts, but depending on the blend you use this recipe might need a little more flour.
Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF). Grease and line a 20x15cm/8x6inch tin with grease-proof paper.
Melt the butter and chocolate over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally (if you’re feeling adventurous you can microwave it, but be careful the chocolate doesn’t burn). Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a separate bowl, then mix in the ground almonds.
In a third bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy, then add the vanilla/almond extract. Fold in the melted chocolate and butter into the egg mixture. Then fold in the flour mix until there is no visible flour. Stir in the cherries if you are using them.
Pour the mixture into the tin, smooth the top and bake for approx. 30 mins (having baked this in a ton of different ovens, it can be anywhere from 25 to 40 mins. It’s ready when a knife comes out mostly clean with a few clinging crumbs). Allow to cool in the tin then cut into squares.
Photo courtesy of Norwood Themes