CHEF’S DISH: The best things in life are allergen-free

New food labelling regulations introduced this week will make it easier to avoid foods that most commonly cause an allergic reaction.

It’s a problem that former swimming coach and elite athlete Charleh Dickinson knows only too well.

Most would despair at discovering they were intolerant to both dairy products and gluten. But Charleh’s solution was to develop her own foods.

“Because I still wanted to eat cake and dessert, I found it easier to learn how to make it myself,” she says.

And that led to a whole new way of life – not only with delicious recipes that she could enjoy, but also her own food company.

“I was travelling a lot and struggling to find healthy snacks that would support my training and taste great.

“I began baking a variety of recipes which I demonstrated through my food blog. I’m a self-taught home cook and major foodie… just like Nigella Lawson!”

Charleh’s first recipe was a fudgy brownie, which she then refined to exclude eggs, making it suitable for vegans.

Other products soon followed, including a lemon bar, banana bread, macaroons and pistachio cookies.

She also began exploring the way that different foods affected energy levels and stamina.

“With a background in elite sports, I started to become interested in how food could affect your performance,” she says.

During research Charleh stumbled upon the paleo diet and Crossfit exercise philosophy. She began writing a blog about her experiences, then registered the name – 
Designed2Eat – as a business.

Since arriving in Sheffield, to study nutrition and food marketing management, she has begun selling her range at local markets and food events and via her website.

Her latest project was a collaboration which resulted in RAWnola, a grain-free breakfast cereal.

The company now specialises in a unique range of cakes that are dairy, gluten, wheat, egg, soy and corn-free.

Charleh’s signature dish is a coffee cake with cashew nut frosting.

“It’s a unique recipe that I’ve developed and that everyone can enjoy – no matter if they have allergies or intolerances, live by a lifestyle or just want to stay healthy,” she says.

“I’m a big coffee drinker and when cake is one of your favourite foods, what’s better than combining the two?”

She recommends using dark roasted coffee because the beans give a rich, full-bodied flavour: “And with the fruit and nuts too it creates a robust treacle sensation in the mouth, as well as a waft of earthy aromas when it comes out of the oven.”

Grain and Egg-free Coffee Cake
with Cashew Nut Frosting and Walnuts

INGREDIENTS

Sponge:

400g blanched almonds

300g dried dates

300g coconut palm sugar

200g creamed coconut block

(both available from Lembas, Whiting Street, Sheffield)

2 tsp instant coffee granules

1 tsp cinnamon

300ml water

Frosting:

300g cashew nuts, soaked for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight

3 tblsp honey

walnuts to decorate

METHOD

For the sponge:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 1600C

2. Cut creamed coconut into smaller chunks. Place in a food processor, with all ingredients except the water. Process for around 2 minutes.

3. When all ingredients are ground to a flour-like consistency, add water. Continue to blend until the mixture achieves a completely smooth consistency.

4. Pour the mixture into two 9-in greased sandwich tins and bake for 60-75 minutes.

5. Remove from oven when the cake is golden brown and springs back a little when pressed.

6. Allow to cool.

For the frosting:

7. In a food processor, blend nuts and honey together a smooth, thick consistency is achieved. This may take up to 15 minutes and it may be necessary to scrape the bowl during this process.

To serve:

8. Sandwich the two halves of cake together with frosting.

9. Top with frosting and decorate with walnuts to taste.