Coeliac disease is an epidemic.
And it changes lives.
In recent years, the incidence of Coeliac Disease has quadrupled and specialists with an interest in Coeliac (which is Greek for belly) believe we are still under diagnosing it. It has various manifestations which may be odd or vague. When my own Daddums was diagnosed almost a year ago after his practice nurse did screening bloods “just in case” as he was suffering with mouth ulcers, we were shocked to later have it confirmed he is most definitely Coeliac. There’s a 1 in 100 chance of the general population in the UK having Coeliac and by virtue of my dad’s diagnosis, my risk has shot up to 1 in 10. Oh happy days!
Over the last year, we have had to come to terms with a sudden and dramatic change in lifestyle affecting not just my Dad but the whole family. You see, until you have to live gluten free, you have no idea just how hard that is. It’s not just a case of taking the ham out of your prepackaged sandwich at lunch and tossing aside the bread. Firstly, the sensitivity of a Coeliac sufferer to gluten varies and in some, tiny amounts can make them very sick. Secondly, gluten seemingly gets into everything. Whilst I hope you are visiting my blog as you love to prepare and cook food from scratch, even for the most committed it is practically impossible to navigate a single week without eating something which is processed in some way. Even mustard often contains gluten (the powder is usually GF though). Do some label reading if you fancy a bit of enlightenment.
The real kicker is that, there is no cure and the only treatment is to eat gluten free for the rest of your life. If you ever wanted evidence for the influence of the foods we eat over your experience of health, Coeliac disease is surely one of the most powerful out there.
Just think about how that would affect you for a second. Like to bake homemade cakes and bread? Erm I’m sorry – you can never again eat those familiar foods and as for those who live with you, they too may not be able to either. It can be so difficult to ensure the kitchen is gluten free that often whole families go GF (which means increasing your weekly food bill dramatically as GF products are very expensive).
The good news is, that even in the short time we have known my Daddum’s diagnosis, things are changing. Labelling is improving, restaurants are being forced into providing gluten free options which aren’t just steak and salad and some GF products are moving from “barely palatable” to “just as good as the original” which brings me on nicely to today’s recipe. The Most Perfect Gluten Free Victoria Sponge.
When Daddums was diagnosed, he registered with lots of charities who support Coeliacs and their families – Coeliac UK is a good place to start. He was sent hampers worth of GF food and flour replacements to try and I’m sorry to say, almost without exception, the ready made products were sampled and promptly chucked in the bin. It really beggars belief how much of a difference the microscopic viscoelastic protein that is gluten makes to the texture of food as we know it and as yet, substitutes such as xantham gum and guar gum leave a (perhaps not surprising) gummy texture which most Coeliacs I’ve met find inedible. Cue a major rethink of how you eat as you can no longer rely on bread and pasta plus various other grains to bulk out your meals. Disheartened, I shelved the samples Daddums gave me in the hope I could create something worth eating for him, it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this photograph on my Instagram feed from newly diagnosed GF blogger Anwyn Rowberry that I dusted those boxes off!
Do my eyes deceive me or does that not look like the most perfect Victoria Sponge ever? Psst, newsflash – it’s not just an ordinary Vicky Sponge, it’s a gluten free one :O #gobsmacked
I was blown away by this piccie and if you see the discourse which followed, I probed Anwyn for exactly how she did it and I was so convinced it would work by her encouragement, I texted my Dad a link to the photograph and promised I’d make it for him for Father’s Day the next week. I had the exact box of Juvela White “Mix” and the results I got blew me away.
Anwyn’s secret ingredient is a spoonful of Bird’s custard powder which adds lightness to the cake (being cornflour based, it gives that cake flour finish you expect from American cakes). The method is very much similar to good old Mary Berry’s all-in-one sponge: you beat butter, sugar, eggs, GF baking powder and the Juvela Mix together then divide between tins and bake. I make the cake a bit larger so have altered the proportions to reflect this – no one wants a thin and mean Victoria sponge!
The texture of the White Mix is very light, very fine not dissimilar to corn flour itself. Interesting! The texture of the batter was a little different to normal as it had a bit of stretch to it (that will probably be the guar gum I suspect) but it had a lovely warm hue of primrose yellow from all those eggs and the additional custard powder. The stretch somehow magically does not manifest in a spongy chew when baked. What dark magic is this?!
They coloured more than I would expect from an ordinary Victoria (could that be due to the skimmed milk powder and added sugar in the ingredients list on the box? I can’t work out the proportions of these to be sure) but oh my was I thrilled at the superb rise and even bake. The first cake did stick to the tin despite what I thought to be thorough greasing on my part so future cakes have been made in lined tins which I spray with my trusty rapeseed oil as per ordinary bakes I make.
When I don’t envisage the cake loitering on a cake stand for long (aka when I’m feeding the family!) I fill with softly whipped double cream and fresh fruits or homemade jam. When we sampled the cake every one of us proclaimed you simply could not tell the difference between this Gluten Free Victoria and the old fashioned, wheat flour ones! Blow me down with a feather, this cake was the subject of discussion for most of the rest of the evening! We simply could not believe it – but just imagine the scenario. You’re in your sixties, you’ve had a very traditional English diet all your life and your mother and sister put the Bake Off contestants to shame. Your daughter is an avid food blogger and baker too! You generally have a very balanced and nutritious diet but you love a slice of cake with your coffee on a Saturday afternoon or as part of a celebration. Imagine now not having even a single mouthful of your favourite cake in almost a year. Sure you are healthier and your tummy is now your friend as you’ve given in and accommodated it’s spoilt brat-esque rejection of all and anything gluten but you have to sit on and watch your friends, family, nay strangers in cafes tucking in without care nor consideration to a slab of that now forbidden fruit.
Well, what once was forbidden is no more! Light and fluffy, buttery and sweet, tender and moist crumbed – in essence, the perfect Victoria Sponge made how home bakers have made them for centuries. A cake good enough for the whole family to share which is something which I think is so important – by having to forego all or parts of the family meal (and celebration cakes) or worse yet, have a “special” aka pre-made and quite frankly yacky GF alternative out of a packet just for you, that isn’t very inclusive. Sure, no one should eat cake every day but isn’t it wonderful to know the Coeliac in your life can now partake in the party too?
- 225g Juvela Gluten-Free White Mix
- 1 rounded tbsp Bird's custard powder* (see NOTE below)
- 1 tsp rounded of Gluten Free baking powder
- 225g very soft butter
- 225g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp vanilla powder or seeds from one pod)
- 250ml approx double cream, softly whipped
- 4 tbsp of your favourite jam or a punnet of soft fruits as liked
- 1 tbsp icing sugar to sift over the finished cake
- Grease and line two 8 inch diameter sandwich pans - grease the paper too to ensure the cooked cakes release easily.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
- If necessary, soften your butter by a thorough beating first. If it is already very soft (i.e. been in an ambient temperature room for 24 hours) then beat all the ingredients together for the cake until they form a smooth batter - barely 30 seconds in a stand mixer.
- Divide between the prepared pans and spread the batter out so that it is very thin in the centre and creeps up the sides of the pan - this scooped out appearance makes for a more even and flatter topped bake (and works for non-GF cakes too).
- Bake for 18-20 mins - they will rise a lot and be very brown. They should spring back to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.
- Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the tins to complete cooling.
- Sandwich together with the whipped cream and jam or fruit as liked and dust with the icing sugar before serving.
- Important - Bird's Custard Powder is in itself a gluten free product but the label states it is made in a factory where gluten is handled so depending on your sensitivity to gluten, this brand could be unacceptable to you. Certified Gluten Free custard powders are available by other manufacturers or you can make your own (Google will tell you how until I perfect a recipe!). Failing that, use 1 tbsp of certified gluten free cornflour and an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract. Note that the flavouring in Bird's custard is actually almond not vanilla!
Before I go, I must sheepishly admit the bad news.
Juvela products are primarily available in the UK on prescription to those with certified Coeliac Disease only. A trip to Boots the Chemist informed me you can order and buy over the counter but wait for it, and you do need to brace yourself – a 500g box is going to cost you £13. Oh. My. God. Amazon is marginally better at approx £9 but still, that’s prohibitive pricing. I’m yet to try other recipes (Daddums eyes were glinting at the thought that this may mean he can eat his other beloved once again – a cream scone!) but I have high hopes and will report back hopefully that it is worth the expense or trip to the GP for a prescription. I am hoping I can create something in the bread family with my next attempt so watch this space for further updates!