Whoever put the myth out there that French women don't get fat needs a serious reality check or needs to visit more of France than Paris, as it is nothing but a myth. You might as well claim that all French people wear Breton tops, a beret, chain-smoke Gauloises whilst drinking red wine and drive around in 2CVs. Unless of course that person has never ventured outside the 16ème, the 16th Arrondissement of Paris that is populated by the kind of people for whom the sentence 'you can never be too rich or too thin' is an absolute statement from which there is no deviation. However, go and travel a little, discover the country and you'll soon discover that French women get just as big as they do in the rest of Europe or indeed the world.
I'm one of them. Admittedly, I live in the UK now where people are generally a little larger than in France, but it's not a problem that has developed since moving here. For me, it has been a lifelong battle. I wasn't exactly a fat child (I realise that especially looking back at pictures now), but always on the side of just slightly, well, more rounded than others. Hearing from young age that I should watch what I eat clearly hasn't helped as if it had, I'd be a size eight by now. Over the years I have lost and gained, lost and gained again enough weight to make an entire second human of it. I know pretty much everything there is to know about food and its impact on my body. I very rarely eat junk food, cook from scratch and use fresh produce. If I had a pound (£ - no pun here) for each time I hear somebody saying "it's simple: calories in - calories out", I'd be a very rich person by now and so would many others in my situation. Because it's just not that simple.
I have met enough people to know that we're all different and I believe that genetics do play a role and maybe very early upbringing too. That is not meant as an excuse, but it comes from observing people and their body types. Some are by nature dainty with a delicate looking bone structure, possibly blessed with a youthful metabolism and finding it hard to put on weight, and others are naturally broader and heavier and might have to watch every bite. I'm in the second category and so are all the females on my mother's side of the family. The total denial that a person has been lucky in the genetic lottery sends the wrong message. It projects that they're somehow superior and it's all completely and unquestionably down to their own enlightened behaviour and fabulousness.
I'm of course not denying that our behaviour has an impact on our weight and bodies. Of course it does. Stuffing ourselves with rubbish day in day out would inevitably have consequences on our weight. Though even those consequences vary from person to person. A simple thing like eating a meal at 9pm instead of 6pm (how early?!) has an immediate impact on my weight. However, Monsieur is perfectly able to have the same meal at midnight without the same "side effects". We eat pretty much the same things as I cook for us, but whilst my weight has slowly crept up, his remains stable. Why is that? I obviously know that I can eat with a pretty healthy appetite, but I can also skip meals when I'm busy or just grab a snack. Yes, I eat my greens and no, I don't have family sized bottles of sweet, fizzy drinks at home. Not so different to other people I would think.
One of the main issues though is that I tend to "eat my feelings". Insecurities, feelings of not being good enough, frustrations and worries send me straight to the fridge. Is there a rational explanation for it? I doubt it. Eating numbs those feelings for a little while. It's not about huge amounts: a bit of cheese, a slice of toast with butter, a bowl of porridge. Comfort for that short moment it takes for the food to pass my lips and reach my stomach. It works for a little while and because it does, food becomes the default medication for any anxiety issues. The irony is that we might even recognise it for the irrational behaviour it is. However, recognising it and not actively changing things adds another "flaw" to our character. After all, any intelligent person who recognises that their behaviour isn't ideal would simply go a change it, right? And if we struggle to change that pattern and deal with our flaws we feel frustrated, helpless and anxious which sends us straight back to the start. No, it really isn't as simple as "calories in - calories out".
As I've already mentioned, like all people whose weight goes up and down like a yoyo, there isn't much I don't know about food and its impact on me. And, like all people who are battling with their weight, there isn't much I haven't tried. One thing I have found over the years is that carbohydrates and sugar have a negative effect on me and my weight. I do better on a low carb diet. I have tried the old fashioned diets which rely on low fat and low calorie intake and have always found myself struggling with them and not being able to stick with them for very long. I mean, they're all about cutting out butter! That's no way to live! No, trying to cut out sugar is the better way for me.
So, now I'm getting to the part that drew you to read this post in the first place. The cake. Since I'm trying to cut down on my sugar intake, I need to get a little creative when it comes to treats. As with every change in eating habits, I need to do it in a way that will be sustainable for longer than a week, so saying that I will give up on sweet treats entirely would be completely unrealistic and wouldn't last. I'm not claiming that I won't touch sugar ever again nor that I'll only post recipes considered super healthy. Instead, I'm aiming to gently move into the right direction. I guess it's all about generally trying to be a little healthier. So, this is my gluten-free and refined sugar free cake and I hope you'll like it. The flavour combination of almond with a delicate hint of pear, coffee and cardamom works beautifully and is perfect for a sunny autumn day. I have replaced refined sugar with rice syrup which makes it overall less sweet but still sweet enough to be a treat. The rice syrup I have used is by Crazy Jack, but the sweetness level might vary between brands.
You will need:
- 2 x 20cm lose bottomed baking tins
- 200g ground almonds
- 5 eggs
- 6 tbsp rice syrup
- 1 large, fresh pear (around 300g) + 1 tbsp rice syrup
- butter to grease the tins
- flaked almonds for decoration
- pinch of salt
- 300g cream cheese
- 100g butter at room temperature
- 4 tbsp rice syrup
- 2 tbsp hot water
- 1 level tsp instant coffee
- seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed
Here's how it's done:
- Core and cut your pear into small chunks and put into a sauce pan.
- Heat the pear on a high heat and once boiling turn the heat down to simmer and add the rice syrup
- Keep on a simmer until the pear is soft and most of the water has boiled away.
- Take off the heat, put aside and leave to cool.
- Put two tbsp of boiling water into a small cup, add the instant coffee, crushed cardamom seeds and 4 tbsp rice syrup, stir and put aside to cool.
- Preheat your oven to 175C
- Grease the two baking tins with the butter
- Separate the eggs and beat the whites with the pinch of salt until you have stiff peaks and you can turn the bowl upside down without the whites falling out.
- Add 3 of the 6 tbsp of rice syrup and whisk for a further minute.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the other 3 tbsp of rice syrup until pale, smooth and doubled in volume.
- Now whisk in the cooled pear purée into the yolks.
- Sift the ground almonds into the mix and fold in.
- Now put three tbsp of the egg whites into the mix and stir in.
- Fold the rest of the egg whites gently into the mix.
- Evenly distribute the batter into the two greased tins and put into the oven.
- Bake for about 40 minutes until both cakes are golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tins.
- To make the cream, mix the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
- Add the cooled coffee mix and whisk until combined taking care not to overwork it.
- Toast the flaked almonds until golden and tip onto a cool plate.
- Take the cakes out of the tins and once completely cooled spread 1/3 of the cream mixture onto the first cake.
- Put the second cake on top, then spread the remaining cream on top and around the sides.
- Sprinkle the toasted, flaked almonds on top.