It's a time of celebration. A time to rejoice, cavort, frolic, caper, dance, jig. To make merry, pop open the champagne, utter gleeful exclamations with joyous abandon. To throw your hands in the air. To sing a small cheerful ditty or whistle a jaunty tune. To high five. Embrace. Jump up and down. Shriek. Shout. Grin. Guffaw. Chortle. Whoop.
That's right, you guessed it. I have a new oven.
If you think I'm being hyperbolic, suggesting a new oven is cause for celebration, let me paint you a picture of my old oven.
Imagine something in the vein of an Aga - a rustic type cooker with big heavy doors that stick out of the body of the oven. It's black, in places because that's the colour of the metal it's made from, in other places from encrusted charcoal and grime accumulated over years of use. There are two big doors, one for the 'main oven' and one for the 'top oven', which is also a grill.
Both ovens hilariously pretend to have temperature controls, although even these use the ancient 'Gas mark' system. The temperature reading on the dial has absolutely zero correspondence with the state of the inferno raging within. The oven sits at the temperature it feels like, and woe betide you if you were anticipating something being cooked at a certain time based on the temperature you'd set it to. Sometimes things blacken to a crisp on one side while remaining raw on the other, sometimes they're just raw all the way through.
You invite friends over for roast chicken, and dish up an hour and a half later than calculated, because the chicken is still stone cold despite the oven apparently being at its hottest.
You make a crumble tart, and have to keep rotating it on the oven shelf every fifteen minutes, to allow for even scorching (that's 'scorching', not 'baking') around the rim.
Roasted vegetables end up being steamed vegetables.
Things you would normally put on a single oven tray take up two, because the oven is just too damn small widthways.
Oh, and when the oven is on, the heat all comes out at the top, at the back of the hob. So when you leave a plastic sieve there while waiting to drain something, or the lid of the Lurpak butter packet, you return five minutes later to the smell of burning carcinogens and a nice pool of molten white plastic adorning your hob top that is impossible to remove and will release an unpleasant singeing smell from now on every time the oven is on. Plus a sieve with a giant hole in, that is no use for anything. (But you remember as you write this that, for some reason, you still have it in the cupboard...)
You see now why a new oven is worth dancing over.
(Not literally - that might break it).
To test it out, I baked these crumble slices. The recipe is from the Honeybuns Cookbook, a wonderful book full of gluten-free (and some dairy-free) baking recipes by Emma Goss-Custard, who runs a gluten-free baking business based in Dorset. I've been experimenting with gluten-free and dairy-free baking recently, now that I have a friend who can't eat either, and this is the first cookbook I own that is entirely gluten-free. It's a wonderful treasure trove of recipes, ranging from big wow-factor cakes (toffee-topped almond and rhubarb, for example) to muffins (strawberry and cream, upside-down peach), traybakes (sticky toffee apple shortbread), cookies (custard creams), flapjacks (fig and almond), brownies (including the wonderful 'dark and brooding' 'Heathcliff brownies') and proper puddings (peach and raspberry roulade, lemon cheesecake). If you thought gluten-free baking was restrictive, this book will prove you wrong - it contains some of the most imaginative and best-looking baked goods I've ever seen.
These apricot and ginger slices caught my eye because they looked fairly easy and used ingredients I already had in the cupboard. While some of the recipes in the book are a bit more complex and use some unusual ingredients to substitute for the flour (sorghum flour, guar gum, chestnut flour), many of them use things you're likely to have already, like polenta and ground almonds. And if not, there's a useful glossary in the back which tells you where to find the slightly more elusive items.
This is very simple. You make a luscious jammy apricot filling by simmering golden chopped apricots with sugar and chopped stem ginger in syrup until they collapse and turn glossy and plump (I nearly ate most of it there and then, it looked so good). You then make a very buttery crumble mix with brown sugar, toasted almonds, polenta, ground almonds, gluten-free oats (obviously you can use normal oats if you're not cooking for those on a gluten-free diet) and ground ginger. Half of this is layered into a tin and pressed down to form a thick base, then the apricots are spooned and spread over the top. The rest of the crumble goes over the apricots, where it bakes to form a delicious crispy, crunchy topping.
LOOK! In this new oven, you can watch things baking! Look how clean it is! Look how shiny!
One tip - I lined my tin with greaseproof paper, and the slices stuck horrendously to it. I would suggest either using a good non-stick tin and not lining it at all, or using proper baking parchment (as the recipe says) that you know is non-stick. Otherwise you end up losing half the crumble slices to the edges of the paper. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - it meant I got to come home and nibble them all off while I was waiting for my dinner to cook...
There's a lot of ginger in these, and it's incredible. I've never paired dried apricots with syrupy stem ginger before, but I plan to make it as a compote for porridge because the combination is so good. The filling bakes to a gooey, jammy consistency with a real bright sweetness from the fruit and ginger, while the crumble turns incredibly crunchy (I suspect from the polenta), while still being rich and buttery; there's a perfect balance between the sharp heat of ginger and the buttery crust. You'd never guess these were gluten-free. They're also very pretty to look at, with their gorgeous golden filling and inviting crumbly topping, and very moreish.
A worthy recipe, I think, for christening the very, very welcome new addition to my kitchen. I'd forgotten what it's like to set an oven timer and find the contents of the oven actually at the required amount of doneness when it beeps.
Apricot and ginger crumble slices (makes 15-20):
(From the Honeybuns Cookbook - not reproduced word-for-word)
Melted butter, for greasing the tin
350g dried apricots, chopped
115g granulated sugar (I used caster)
50g stem ginger in syrup (drained weight)
200g butter, chilled and cubed
150g light brown sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
150g almonds, toasted and chopped (I used 100g whole and 50g flaked)
115g gluten-free oats
70g ground almonds
3 tsp ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30x23x4cm baking tin with baking parchment (NOT greaseproof paper!).
Put the apricots, sugar and 100ml water into a saucepan and cook over a medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, until thick and jammy, stirring regularly. Crush the stem ginger in a food processor or blender, then stir into the apricots (I just chopped mine finely using a knife). Set aside to let the apricots absorb all of the liquid.
Put all the crumble ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Rub the mixture between your fingers to break up the butter, then beat with an electric mixer at low speed until the mixture forms a clumpy crumble texture (you can do it all by hand, as I did - just add the almonds right at the end after you've rubbed everything else together. I put the chopped almonds into the crumble and scattered the flaked almonds over just before baking).
Press half the crumble mixture firmly into the baking tin. Press down with the back of a spoon to form a solid, even base. Spread the jammy apricot mixture over the crumble base, taking care to leave the crumble undisturbed.
Press the remaining crumble lightly over the apricot mixture, then sprinkle 1 tbsp brown sugar over the top (I used demerara sugar here because it's crunchier). Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top and sides are a deep golden colour and the filling looks darker. Cut into pieces (when cool).