Dairy-free Pain au Chocolat – New Improved Recipe

 

One of the true joys of a French holiday are morning trips to the boulangerie to buy fresh crusty baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast. Every morning, little S would come and buy the fresh bread and pastries first thing and then look enviously at our pain au chocolat on the breakfast table. So I made a promise to make a batch on return.

Since last summer’s wonderful holiday in Corsica, I’ve got in the habit of regularly making friendly pain au chocolat for the girls. It’s been a mixed blessing, they’ve got rather used to freshly made viennoiserie for breakfast, so I end up making them often which takes time, but my croissant dough skiIlls have improved dramatically.

This new improved recipe has been gradually tweaked over the last year and I think we’ve finally got a jolly authentic, flaky and ‘buttery’ dough. The lamination has proved the tricky part of the recipe. Besides being the most time consuming aspect, I suffered for months with the layers simply disappearing which is really demoralising when you’ve spent hours putting them there in the first place! After some in-depth research it seems the crucial detail for lamination is that the fat content of the ‘butter replacement’ has to be around 82%. It’s that precise. In the UK our dairy-free margarines are predominantly water-based with fat coming way down the list of ingredients. If you use such a margarine the water just makes steam and you get a bready dough rather than buttery flaky layers. Makes total sense doesn’t it.

After much experimentation I’ve found that it works best to combine a mixture of dairy-free margarine such as Pure with a baking spread such as Stork (in the foil wrapper) and a touch of flour. This combination makes a great fat-rich butter substitute which also provides the right ‘buttery’ flavour.

Surely a good flaky Pain au Chocolat is possibly the most perfect breakfast item ever 🙂

Dairy-free Homemade Pain au Chocolat

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 16

500g strong bread flour

90g caster sugar

10g instant yeast

10g salt

100ml dairy-free milk (I used Oatly)

250ml cold water

150g dairy-free margarine

150g baking fat

1 tbsp flour

160g dark dairy-free chocolate chopped into batons

a sprinkle of caster sugar

melted dairy-free margarine for brushing

  1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, salt and yeast.
  2. Pour in the dairy-free milk and water and stir. Once come together, knead well to form a soft and springy dough (about 5-10 minutes).
  3. Cover and leave to rise for a couple of hours
  4. Meanwhile, put the dairy-free margarine on to some cling film, sprinkle with the flour and then top with the baking fat (making a kind of sandwich affair) and loosely wrap. Roll out to a square shape, and place in the fridge or freezer to harden.
  5. Once the dough has risen, turn out onto a floured surface and knead until a smooth dough. Cut a cross on top of the dough ball and roll out the leaves (see photo below)
  6. Place the cooled ‘butter’ in the middle and fold the four flaps over the ‘butter’ making sure it is entirely encased with dough.
  7. Roll out and fold into thirds twice
  8. Place back in the fridge for thirty minutes or so, then roll out and fold back into thirds twice more. Repeat two or three times.
  9. Rest in the fridge for 30 minutes more.
  10. Roll out to form a large rectangle. Cut into four long strips, halve each.
  11. Place a line of chocolate at one narrow end and roll over to cover. Add another chocolate baton and continue rolling up.
  12. Loosely cover with cling film and let rise on the baking tray for 30 minutes.
  13. Brush with the melted margarine and sprinkle with caster sugar
  14. Bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes 

 

Afternoon Tea at The Langham Hotel, London

children's afternoon tea menu at The Langham Hotel

I’m always astounded by my girls that they have never made a fuss, never whined and whinged about having food allergies. They’ve always just taken the whole thing in their stride, but for the first time at the age of 12 Big S has voiced a complaint. We were on holiday and the children’s menu came with ice cream – clearly a no go, but the nice waiter claimed there was a dairy-free sorbet. Having searched extensively in France for a safe sorbet and never having found one, we were sceptical, and there was no possibility to check the label ourselves. Besides, we were on a lovely day out on a beautiful beach and had to factor in scoops with ice cream traces having been used in the sorbet tub (happened more than once before), so we erred on the side of caution and said no. For the first time she voiced how unfair it is. We felt awful, it’s such a little thing, but being able to eat an icy dessert on a hot day can make have a big impact on your enjoyment, especially if you’re young.

the Langham Hotel

Anyway, it gave me the push to make plans that I’ve been harbouring for a little while come true. We’re massive fans of the Great British Bake Off Creme de la Creme (you may not know but the wonderful Claire Clark taught me patisserie when I studied at Le Cordon Bleu) and I’d heard that Cherish Findan, one of the other judges, serves a vegan afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel in London. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to make a fancy 5* tea for us too?? So I contacted Cherish and the hospitality team at the Langham, and yes they’d be delighted to cater for us and give us a memorable afternoon. Wow, exciting! The sorbet incident was long forgotten, luxury tea here we come!
children's afternoon tea The Langham Hotel, dairy-free egg-free

The hospitality and bookings team were most helpful (no doubt they always are in such a luxurious hotel, sadly I’m not so familiar with such surroundings 😩 … Yet!) I went through our multiple requirements many times and was reassured that we’d be admirably catered for. The only caveat was that nuts are used in the kitchen. How could they not be in a kitchen serving fine patisserie? So they couldn’t guaranteed no traces of nuts. Little S is ok with most nuts; peanuts and sesame are our problems, so we took the decision that just this once for an ultimate treat we’d go with a nut warning. I also wanted the discussions over and done with in advance – the girls have to always put up with conversations with waiting staff who then to and fro to the kitchen, ferrying labels and often knocking choices off the limited menu as they go. Just for once, I wanted us to go to a restaurant and eat wonderful food with no fuss. We were also all going to have dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free versions so we could taste each other’s delights.

We booked it for the 1st September just before the shock of the start of Autumn and the return to school after a long, magical summer. Yes, you bet were we excited! We talked of the forthcoming treat daily, and planned what to wear, guessed what we might eat. Little S had high hopes of vegan macarons but I kind of knew that it wouldn’t be that experimental, there’s no reason for a usual pastry chef to have worked out the magic of aquafaba just yet!

So what was it like? It was totally magical. Expensive yes, but we felt like true VIPs for the afternoon, and that is priceless when you’re used to multiple long conversations with catering staff, limited choice on menus and indeed limited destinations to eat out.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

We entered through the marble lined entrance hall, waited on by top hatted doormen and the first impression was, wow, what is that divine smell? It wasn’t food or perfume, it was just a delightful aroma. If this is what top hotels are like, I’d love to visit more often! Of course you have to check the bathrooms in these places, no?  Gilded features, soft music, freshly laundered individual hand towels and beautifully scented soap and hand cream. Check!

Palm Court at The Langham

The actual dining room of Palm Court is stunning. The epitome of luxury, with stunning chandeliers, softly played piano, extremely comfortable squidgy chairs and wonderful Art Deco features. This was going to be special. The girls were having the Hamleys children’s tea so were greeted by wonderful cuddly complimentary teddy bears holding their menu.

We were first offered drinks. The girls had a choice of strawberry and kiwi tea, fruit juice or hot chocolate. They chose fruit juice with was refreshed at regular intervals in our two hour sitting. Now neither D nor I drink tea, but were persuaded to try the drink of choice. I sampled the Langham blend which was without doubt the nicest tea I have ever tasted – taken black it had a light, delicate and flavourful with none of the bitter tannins I associate with tea. I wonder if they sell this blend anywhere as I could develop a serious habit with this one. The waiting staff were attentive and discreet which is probably perfect as waiting staff go.

strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in sherbet, vegan

Then the food started to arrive – wow! The girls began with a strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in strawberry sorbet which was probably the most strawberry tasting thing we have ever eaten. The looks on their faces were priceless as they savoured every last morsel. This was far better than a sorbet on holiday. D and I were served vegetarian champagne jellies flecked with gold flakes. I don’t make this kind of thing at home!

vegetarian champagne jelly

Next up were the sandwiches – the girls’ were cut like interlocking jigsaw pieces and contained ham, smoked salmon, red pepper and cucumber. There was an uncomfortable moment when we were told the red pepper also contained hummus which is obviously a no-go due to sesame, but thankfully it was a slip of the tongue, hummus had been kept out of our sandwiches. The adult vegetarian range included sweet red pepper, guacamole, cucumber and tapenade. And they kept coming, we had to refuse the multiple rounds which kept on being offered after a while.

vegan sandwiches at The Langham

The girls then had their teddy bears picnic pastries – a vanilla carousel cake, a chocolate and raspberry cake, mango pate des fruits and a mango and pomegranate jelly all served with a rich chocolate drink and a bag of sweets. The highlights were certainly the cupcake and sweeties. The chocolate drink was actually too intense and the chocolate cake not as stunning as I hoped for, but overall we were mightily happy.

vegan children's afternoon tea

For the adults tea we had plain and fruit scones which were out of this world delicious. I think I make good scones but these had a wonderful glazed top and finer texture – they were heaven on a plate served with wonderful soft set strawberry jam. Honestly we’d have been happy to finish there, but next came the cakes! We had thought before that we might be hungry when we left, it was only afternoon tea after all, but we certainly didn’t need to worry at all!

plain and fruit scones, vegan

Our vegan/vegetarian version contained three sponges of which the raspberry was my favourite, along with a chopped pineapple cocktail and the most wonderful light and crispy shortbread. I cannot fault the food in any way, it was wonderful especially if you take into account our various difficult requirements.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

Just two negatives soured the occasion – we didn’t mention anything as we didn’t want to make a fuss and it was overall amazing and they’d gone to so much trouble. But, my vegetarian sandwich had a bit of ham stuck to the bottom – not nice! And worse for us was the waiter who came to chat about our requirements and started asking if any of us were ‘normal’ or we all had allergies – I’d just wanted to avoid that ‘oh you’re not normal’ attitude for once. He meant well certainly, but it was just a bit clumsy.
All in all I salute you the catering team at Palm Court, our requirements aren’t easy to cater for, especially when you’re also producing world class patisserie for other clientele. The whole occasion was an ultimate luxury treat and we were admirably catered for.

At one point one of the chefs came out to chat and offered a tour of the kitchen to our girls, but sadly we had to leave before he reappeared. We also saw Cherish herself on our way out, managing to thank her for the wonderful experience but I was not bold enough to have a proper conversation! But if you’re reading this Cherish, thank you so much you really made our day a very special occasion. We very much hope to return one day.

Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way for this review.

dairy-free, egg-free afternoon tea

Lemon Sherbet Drizzle Cake

lemon sherbet drizzle cake, dairy-free egg-free nut-free

One of the few joys of the summer holidays drawing to an end and Autumn approaching is the return of the Great British Bake Off. It’s such great family friendly viewing, and a fantastic place to get some baking inspiration. On last week’s first show of the series, a drizzle cake was the signature bake, and who can resist a wonderful zingy drizzle cake like this traybake version based upon Mary’s own favourite recipe.

However, even better in my opinion is this lemon sherbet drizzle which is doused in a sherbety citrus syrup whilst still warm, giving the ultimate in sweet zippy citrus flavour and sticky, gooey top. This cake really packs in the zing factor so it’s one of Big S’s favourites – she has a particular fondness for anything zingy. In fact, it’s been the family favourite for many years, wheeled out for any celebration when a chocolate cake doesn’t quite fit! Try it, you’ll love it!

Lemon Sherbet Drizzle Cake

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free. soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

vegan lemon drizzle cake

Makes one 1lb loaf cake

200g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g caster sugar

a pinch of salt

100ml sunflower oil

150ml soya milk

1/2 tsp lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp lemon essence (optional)

For the syrup:

zest and juice of two and a half lemons

6 tbsps icing sugar

  1. Sift together the flour, bicarb and salt. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the dairy-free milk, lemon juice, lemon essence and oil.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently mix until combined into a smooth mixture
  4. Pour into a lined loaf tin.
  5. Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for approx. 30 minutes (until a knife comes out clean)
  6. While the cake is baking, make the syrup.
  7. Combine the juice, zest and icing sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until gorgeously syrupy.
  8. When the cake is cooked, take out of oven but leave in the tin and stab all over the top with a knife. Evenly pour over the syrup and leave to cool in the tin. I added a sprinkle of pearl sugar for added crunch.
  9. Remove from tin and sprinkle top with icing sugar, if desired.

dairy-free egg-free lemon sherbet drizzle cake

Mini Chocolate Meringue Pies – egg-free

vegan chocolate meringue pies

I haven’t made many fancy puddings for a while and the girls get so fed up with dairy-free yogurts, (particularly since the flavours available are so limited), or fruit which they’re both pretty fussy about. So some tasty, pretty puds have been on my ‘to do’ list for a while. Sweet, billowy meringue makes some of the most ‘wow’ puddings and after a trip to an Ottolenghi deli last week where I spied some beautiful little meringue topped mini tartlets, I got thinking about making some equally beautiful mini tarts at home.

no egg meringue

One Instagram follower likened these to little smurf hats, which I think is pretty accurate, although it wasn’t the intended result! I think this way of piping a pointy dollop on each individual pie is as pretty as can be, especially once toasted and glazed with a blow torch. I decided to fill these tartlets with a rich chocolate ganache which is the perfect dark accompaniment to the sweet and pillow like Italian meringue. As a note, unexpectedly I had a few of the tartlets left over and found that they keep beautifully well in the fridge for a couple of days, which is a total bonus.

no egg, no milk meringue pies

Chocolate Meringue Pies

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

egg-free chocolate meringue pies

makes 6 mini tarts

  • 75ml oat milk
  • 50ml water
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp corn flour
  • 85g dairy free dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 block shortcrust pastry

– Line the six cupcake tins with pastry, prick all over, fill with cling film and baking beans and blind bake.
– Once it’s browned and cooked through [about 20 minutes in a medium oven], remove the baking beans and leave to cool.
– Meanwhile, make the filling.
– Place the water and oat milk and sugar into a saucepan and gently heat.
– Take 1/2 tbsp of the warmed milk mixture and mix to a smooth paste with the cornflour
– Pour the cornflour mix into the oat milk and stir well, bring to a bubbling boil and add the vanilla.
– Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Pour over the hot oat milk and stir to until its a smooth mixture. Season with a pinch of salt.
– Pour into the chocolate into the pastry cases. Level off and refrigerate for a few hours until set.

vegan chocolate tarts

 

To make the meringue topping:

dairy-free chocolate meringue pies

water from one tin of chickpeas or beans

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar

pinch of zantham gum

pinch of cream of tartar

1 tsp vanilla

  1. Whisk 1/3 cup chickpea water with a pinch of zantham gum and a pinch of cream of tartar until it forms soft peaks
  2. Melt together the remaining 1/4 cup chickpea water (or use water instead) and sugar and bring up to 242-248 degrees F/116-120 degrees Centigrade. If you use the chickpea brine to make the sugar syrup you may not get to the required temperature as it will start to caramelise, so as soon as it starts to turn golden, it’s time to use it.
  3. With the stand mixer on medium, slowly drizzle in the hot syrup into the meringue mix
  4. Turn up to high for a minute or two until you have piles of white glossy clouds of meringue, beat in the vanilla.
  5. Pipe onto the chocolate tarts and glaze with a blowtorch or under the grill.

vegan meringue pies

Strawberries & cream macarons – egg-free and nut-free.

nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free macarons

Macarons, or to be precise Macarons Parisiens are those stunning little almond sandwiched delicacies which we all know because they are absolutely everywhere these days. It’s another one of those tempting treats that has been out of bounds for us, what with them being made with eggs and almonds/nuts.

It has taken me years to get this one right. One of those unattainable recipes that no matter how many times I tried, I’d never be able to make a free-from version. I’ve tried so many times before, but when you’re leaving out two essential ingredients of a recipe it’s understandable to find it difficult to make a free-from replica.

Those pretty pastel-hues kept me trying though. There was no way the macaron was going to win in this battle. This journey has taught me that I hate to be defeated and that everything is possible.

vegan no-nuts macarons

The first problem with free-from macarons was replacing the egg-whites but luckily last spring fellow bloggers started having great success with aquafaba. We were one step of the way there.

Next problem: how to replace the nuts? Almonds are intrinsic to a macaron, delivering not just flavour but also the gooey texture. I’d heard of people subbing coconut, but I’m not keen on coconut and find it a very strong flavour, which in my opinion doesn’t suit a delicate Parisien Almond Macaron. I was going along the lines of ground sunflower or pumpkin seeds but was having trouble sourcing trace-free seeds. Then during the last series of Masterchef the professionals one of the contestants made a cake using popcorn. Lightbulb moment! Why not use ground popcorn in place of the almonds? As it turns out it was a genius flash of inspiration. The ground popcorn has a similar light texture to ground nuts, minus the oil and combines beautifully with the whisked aquafaba meringue to form the perfect free-from replacement.

I was worried the popcorn would have too strong a flavour, but although you could detect it if you knew it was there, it doesn’t overpower once you have flavoured it with other things. Initially the texture is a little firmer than traditional macarons, but I hear that is usually the case with vegan ones made with aquafaba. If you can resist, leave them in the fridge overnight, then the filling melds with the shells to make a slightly softer and gooey centre, far more like the authentic recipe.
My recipe is created by tweaking and experimenting with the creations developed by Floral Frosting and Crazy Vegan Kitchen, and I thank those ladies wholeheartedly for giving me the beginnings of a recipe that could be made nut-free! The joy.

Macaron making isn’t difficult but it is quite a lengthy process – be sure to leave yourself plenty of time, as the folding  and resting are crucial to the recipe.

Nut-free, Egg-free Strawberry Macarons

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

free-from nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free macarons

makes about 14

Aquafaba from one tin of beans, you will need 3/4 cup

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 1/2 cups ground ready popped popcorn

1/2 cup icing sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp pink gel food colouring

1/4 tsp natural strawberry flavouring

  1. First reduce the aquafaba by about a third, you need to end up with 1/3 cup of aquafaba. Leave to cool
  2. In a food processor, grind the popcorn to a powder and then pass through a sieve. This takes a fair while and the popcorn turns to airy dust and flies everywhere. Be patient, you want the popcorn powder to  fine as possible. Combine with the icing sugar
  3. In a stand mixer, whisk the aquafaba and cream of tartar until you form a fluffy, bubbly mix. Slowly add the caster sugar until you have a glossy, thick meringue mixture. This will take a few minutes. Whisk in the colour and flavouring. meringue for macarons, egg-free
  4. Stir in half of the popcorn. Then gently fold in the other half, trying to retain as much air as possible. Once it is all combined, fold the mixture 15-20 times. This is called the macaronage.
  5. Transfer to a piping bag with a plain nozzle, and pipe even circles ( with the nozzle going directly downwards) onto a lined baking sheet. With a wet finger, smooth over the top of each macaron so there is no lumps or bumps. piping free-from macarons
  6. Once finished, pick up the baking sheet and drop in onto the work surface so it slaps down two or three times ( this is to remove any air bubbles)
  7. Leave uncovered at room temperature for at least two hours. This will encourage the tops to form a skin-like covering so that when they bake they rise up and form frilly feet round the bottoms.
  8. Preheat the oven to 120 degrees centigrade and bake the macarons for 22 minutes. Do not open the oven! Turn off the oven (still do not open!) and leave for a further 15 minutes. Open the oven door a little and leave for a further 15 minutes. Cool completely before removing from the baking paper.

  9. macarons made with aquafaba and popcorn

For the filling:

2 tbsps dairy-free margarine

2 cups icing sugar

1-2 tbsps dairy-free milk

1/2 tsp natural strawberry flavouring

  1. Whisk all together to make a thick, smooth buttercream. Pipe circles into the flat side of half the macarons and then sandwich together. ready to fill vegan macaron
  2. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat. They last really well for 2-3 days.

 

Madeleines

egg-free, dairy-free madeleine

Its been a long journey to create a Madeleine recipe that actually works, that’s actually just like the real thing. Madeleines, if you don’t know, are iconic little shell shaped cakes immortalised by Marcel Proust in ‘A la recherchĂ© du temps Perdu’ and are held close to every French persons heart. This is how Marcel Proust describes them with reference to involuntary memories;

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt LĂ©onie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea. — Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Definitely an experience worth recreating!

So how to recreate such an iconic classic – it was hard to get the right taste and texture without the essential ingredients of milk, butter and eggs, and many of my initial attempts looked good but simply didn’t have the right texture. This recipe on the other hand is spot on – the addition of aquafaba has lifted the fluffiness and and the sponge has the correct density. It is essential to have the correct madeleine pan, otherwise you’ll have to make mini cakes instead!

chocolate dipped dairy-free egg-free madeleines

Madeleines

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

vegan madeleines

3 tbsp aquafaba

100g caster sugar

100 g plain flour

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp dairy free milk

3/4 tsp baking powder

75g dairy free margarine, melted

1 tsp syrup (or honey if you are not vegan)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Grease and flour the Madeleine mould and place in the fridge to firm up.
  2. Whisk together the aquafaba and sugar until slightly foamy, then whisk in the lemon juice and dairy free milk
  3. Sift in the flour and baking powder and again whisk in.
  4. Then with the whisk running, gently pour in the melted margarine and syrup/honey and whisk until you have a gorgeously shiny, silky dough
  5. Transfer to a piping bag and if possible, place in the fridge for a while to cool.making vegan madeleines
  6. Pipe into the moulds so they are filled level with the top
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden and risen. To get the correct domed tops, briefly open the door of the oven after 3-4 minutes, then continue cooking.
  8. Cool in the tins before transferring to a cooling rack.
  9. Serve dusted with icing sugar or dipped in melted chocolate

dairy-free madeleines