As a coeliac for 20 years, I’ve had to learn to stop whining and get on with it but to be hyper-aware, like a recovering addict, of ‘high risk’ situations that I have to avoid or else seriously micromanage — such as holidays in Italy. However, traditional fare like a Sunday roast — which essentially is what an Irish Christmas dinner is — are wholly coeliac-friendly.
Just look at the basics of the dinner: turkey, cranberry sauce, vegetables, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes — they are all naturally gluten-free. It’s the trimmings such as ham, gravy, stuffing and desserts such as mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake that will flash red lights.
However, just remember that dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins is not to everyone’s taste. I can’t stand Christmas pudding, and really could take or leave Christmas cake. I do, however, adore mince pies. Therefore, if you have a coeliac over at Christmas, don’t kill yourself trying to present an array of seasonal cakes and puddings. Ask your guest what their preferences are (any person with a food allergy or intolerance is acutely aware of how awkward cooking for them they can be and will be happy to help out a host).
I’ve been to Christmas dinners where ever-so-proud cooks have beamed, placing a gluten-free Christmas mini pudding in front of me. In turn, I’ve grimaced inwardly and had to suppress retching as I forced myself to eat something that I cannot stomach.
Secondly, many traditionally gluten-unfriendly Christmas dishes can be easily modified so that nobody at the table will realise that they, too, are eating gluten-free. Take the Christmas ham. I normally bake it from scratch, making up my own honey and mustard paste before scattering over the breadcrumbs and cloves. The only difference between this honey roast and a standard one is the use of good quality gluten-free breadcrumbs (the Aldi own brand, Delicious and Kelkin sourdough are recommended).
This year, I hopped along to the Cookery Cottage in Douglas in Cork where they were doing once-off night classes on gluten-free Christmas cookery. Owner Gillian Mahoney said any of their gluten-free courses have been hugely popular and they are even doing gluten-free and lactose-free cooking courses, as so many coeliacs also have lactose intolerance. One mum on a course recently was taught how to make a gluten-free and lactose-free birthday cake for her daughter, which she then sliced up and froze. Now every time she sends her little girl off to a birthday party, she takes a slice of the cake out of the freezer first so her daughter won’t miss out.
At the Cookery Cottage, we learnt how to make sweet pastry for mince pies, vanilla sponge, sausage stuffing and Yorkshire muffins. The mince pie pastry was super and is loosely based on a sable biscuit recipe, according to teacher Kieran Duff.
The vanilla sponge, made with gluten-free flour, was also the perfect ingredient for a sherry trifle with homemade custard. Again, this is another Christmas dish nobody would notice is gluten-free as the sponge tastes great and does not have that awful plastic taste that plagued first generation gluten-free breads and pastries.
As for stuffing, I prefer bread to sausage, but if you do make a gluten-free sausage stuffing, buy good quality gluten-free sausages, preferably from a butcher as the meat v cereal ratio will be higher. For my bread stuffing, I defer to Darina Allen’s A Simply Delicious Christmas herb stuffing. I just substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs before mixing them with the butter, onions and fresh herbs. Again, another gluten-free trimming where non-coeliacs won’t notice any difference.
If you’re not Christmas pudding fans, a flourless chocolate roulade is a suitably decadent substitute when it comes to dessert. I love the Good Housekeeping recipe using just 6oz of dark chocolate, 6 large eggs and 6oz of caster sugar. The roulade can be made the day before, covered with cling film and then left to chill overnight before it is spread with fresh cream and then rolled and sprinkled with chocolate curls on Christmas morning.
Just remember, if there is any dish or sauce that your family eats each year, check with the coeliac guest if it will pose problems for them and also spare yourself unnecessary work by finding out their individual likes and dislikes. Dare I say it: fail to prepare, and prepare to fail.
330g plain gluten-free flour
100g icing sugar
2 tsp xanthan gum
180g melted butter
2 large egg yolks
2tbsp cold water
Method: Combine dry ingredients, add butter, then the egg yolks, and then add the water slowly. Refrigerate for an hour before rolling out.