Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Jingle Bells and a Gluten Free Italian Christmas Cake

When I think of Christmas as a child, there is one distinct memory that comes to mind – my mum in the kitchen baking traditional Italian Christmas biscuits. She would prepare these for days, first making the filling and then making the little pastry cases to wrap around the fruit mince and sprinkling them with bright and colourful hundreds and thousands. The house would be filled with beautiful Christmas aromas… cinnamon, cloves and orange. And we would know mum was starting her Christmas baking. These Italian Christmas biscuits, traditional to mums hometown of Calabria, known as ‘San Martini’ are made with figs, almonds and walnuts. Sultanas are also used but I preferred when mum made them without.

With Christmas definitely in the air, I too wanted to get started on my gluten free Christmas baking. But I didn’t want to just make a gluten free version of these Italian biscuits. I wanted to encapsulate the aromas of Christmas and my childhood memories into one gluten free cake!

So I started to pick mums brain and ask her how her biscuits were made. All of mum’s traditional recipes are handwritten in Italian and are usually missing measurements. You know, add a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Add liquid ingredients until the mixture feels right. What is right?? This kind of measuring drives me mad, as I like to follow a recipe that I know is going to work. But back in mums day nobody had measuring spoons or cups so baking was done all by eye. I guess I have to give them credit for that!

Once I sorted out the basic idea of these Italian Christmas biscuits, I investigated possible solutions of putting them into some sort of cake or loaf. With Michael Buble’s Christmas carols playing in the background I began testing and experimenting. The result was this extremely fragrant gluten free and dairy free Italian Christmas Loaf. I even managed to impress both mum and dad, as they said it had the same flavours as the original biscuits!

{Gluten Free Recipe} Italian Christmas Loaf 
Gluten Free, Dairy Free
200g figs, chopped
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
Zest of 1 orange (approx 1 tablespoon)
Juice of 1/2 orange (approx 2 tablespoons)
100g almonds, roughly chopped
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
150g gluten free flour, sifted
50g buckwheat flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg, whisked

1. Mix coffee, cocoa and 1/4 cup sugar (the rest will be used later) in a bowl and add boiling water. Stir until dissolved.


2. Place chopped figs in a medium bowl and pour coffee mixture over the top. Add orange zest and juice and stir well making sure figs are completely covered with liquid.

3. Soak figs for 1-2 hours

4. Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees and grease a 25cm loaf tin.

5. In the meantime mix together almonds, walnuts, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Add both flours and baking powder and mix well.

6. Once figs have soaked add beaten egg and mix.

7. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet ingredients. Mix thoroughly and evenly to remove all white flour patches. Mixture will be thick and sticky.

8. Pour mixture into greased loaf tin. Place in the middle rack of your oven for 1hr or until a skewer comes out clean.

9. Allow to sit before turning out onto a wire cooling rack. Dust with gluten free icing sugar to decorate if desired.

This loaf will last fresh 2-3 days covered tightly with cling wrap. Store in fridge and remove about 20 minutes before serving.

After a few days if the loaf becomes dry, slice and heat under the grill for a couple of minutes on each side. This will bring it back to life and be as delicious and moist as it was when first baked. Be careful when turning or removing from the grill. As this does not have bread like texture it will become too soft to remove with your hands and you may burn yourself. Use a flat spatula instead.

This gluten free Italian Christmas Cake can also be served with a spread of butter when hot (for an extra naughty treat)!

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  1. Sounds delicious! Would it work to use an extra 50g of gf flour instead of the buckwheat flour? And is it plain gf flour please? Thank you!

  2. Yes, I believe using 200g of gluten free flour would work as well. And yes it is plain flour we used in this recipe. Would love to hear how it turns out :)