Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Kentish Cobnut Cake - for AlphaBakes

We're on the second run through the alphabet for the AlphaBakes challenge, and this month's choice of the letter K is just as difficult a letter to use the second time round. Few ingredients that I would want to bake with begin with the letter K, and named recipes beginning with K are thin on the ground too.

Last time I made a Kentish Pudding Pie, and I make no apologies for going back to the same county for this Kentish Cobnut Cake, as I had a load of foraged cobnuts to use. Cobnuts are traditionally associated with the English county of Kent; they are a form of hazelnut which takes well to being grown commercially, and are available as fresh nuts for only a few weeks at the beginning of September. They are often paired with apples, another traditional product from Kent, in recipes. It's quite acceptable to use hazelnuts instead of cobnuts, if they aren't available.

I don't know how ginger crept into a traditional English recipe, although spices have been imported for over 500 years, so I guess that's long enough to create a tradition out of it's use. Either way, it added a welcome extra flavour to an otherwise quite bland and dry cake. There are recipes online which look as if they've been adapted to modern tastes, but I wanted to try one that claimed to be traditional. The recipe warned that the cake mixture would be dry and crumbly before baking, so it's no surprise that the cake was quite dry, although I may have overbaked it, as I didn't like the idea of taking it out of the oven while still wet inside.

The cake wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't anything exceptionally good either. The texture was short and crumbly, but didn't rise much. Perhaps the cake mix was more suited to being made into biscuits - the texture was reminiscent of a soft shortbread.

The AlphaBakes challenge is jointly hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, from The More Than Occasional Baker. Ros is the host this month, and has picked the letter K at random. The rules for the challenge can be found here, and Ros will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month..

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Yotam Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake

Yotam Ottolenghi is a chef I admire greatly; his recipes often have Mediterranean or middle Eastern influences and he's perhaps best known for recipes based on vegetables - perhaps not 100% vegetarian, but where vegetables take the starring role.

This cauliflower recipe, which comes from his new book 'Plenty More'; is called a cake, but the texture is more like a frittata; flour and baking powder are added to a lot of eggs to give a lighter, but somehow also sturdier, texture than the traditional frittata.

The picture of the cake, which was published in the Guardian Weekend magazine, along with a few others from the book, instantly attracted both of us. My husband liked the pattern of onion rings on the top and I liked the description of something more appealing than a cauliflower cheese! I followed the recipe exactly, although I was slightly short of basil - the plant on the patio didn't really recover from the last harvesting; I suspect it hasn't had enough sun this year. The tin I used was slightly larger than the tin specified - I had the choice of using either a larger tin or a smaller one, and went with the larger one - but the cake still needed the full cooking time to get enough colour on top.

There are lots of big flavours in this cake - cheese, rosemary, onion, basil, sesame and kalonji seeds - and they do rather overwhelm the cauliflower, but nevertheless this is a really delicious and unusual way to use the vegetable. This makes a good dish to eat at room temperature, with a salad or hot vegetables, but is also something suitable for a picnic or buffet table. It's sturdy enough to withstand transportation, especially if it's left in the tin until required, and can be eaten as a finger food.

I can't resist adding this last photo - just to prove that this recipe turned out looking as it should!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hazelnut, Apricot and Chocolate Tart

It might not look like it, but the inspiration for this tart was the Bakewell tart. The first step in a gradual change was to add cocoa to the usual frangipane filling to make a chocolate version. After a while, I changed the jam used, because apricot seemed to be a better partner for the chocolate and almond combination than the traditional raspberry. That version, sometimes topped with flaked almonds, and sometimes with a glacé icing, has been a family favourite for many years, and has also helped to stock many fund-raising cake stalls, when made in small foil cases.

This time, I decided to use some of the foraged hazelnuts, instead of almonds, and to up the chocolate content by adding 100% cacao to the filling, as well as cocoa powder. This gave the filling extra richness and depth of flavour which contrasted well with the sweet, yet tart, apricot jam. I was fortunate that although my choice of jam (Aldi's own brand conserve) had quite a soft set, it contained large pieces of fruit which improved the texture.

I'm entering this tart into this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, which is to use jam and chocolate together. We Should Cocoa was the brainchild of Choclette, over at Chocolate Log Blog, and the rules for the challenge can be found on this link. Choclette alternates her hosting duties with guest hosts, but it is fitting that she should be the host for this month's challenge, as it is entering it's 5th year. I think that's a fine testament to the universal appeal of chocolate!

A loose-bottomed flan dish (about 20-22cm in diameter) lined with shortcrust pastry (no need to bake blind).

200g apricot jam

Filling: 60g ground hazelnuts, 40g SR flour, 100g caster sugar, 100g baking spread or softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 large eggs, 25g cocoa, 25g 100% cacao (finely grated), milk to mix.

To finish: 50g coarsely chopped hazelnuts, blanched if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 200C and put in a baking sheet to heat, too.
Spread the jam into the pastry case, and chill while making the filling.
Put all the filling ingredients, except the milk, into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is well blended. Add a little milk, if necessary, to give a soft dropping consistency - you shouldn't need more than a couple of tablespoons.
Fold in half of the chopped hazelnuts, then spread the batter into the pastry case, being careful not to leave any gaps around the edge where the jam might bubble up during cooking. Scatter over the remaining hazelnuts.
Put the tart on the heated baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180C and cook until the filling is firm - roughly another 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Courgette and Hazelnut Loaf

This is another recipe suitable for the unseasonable dull weather that has characterised most of August - this cake, from the BBC Good Food website, made from an over-grown courgette and some foraged fresh hazelnuts, has warmth from nutmeg and cinnamon, and sweetness from sultanas rather than a lot of sugar.

I haven't had a particularly good year in the vegetable garden. What was once a triangle of land which received sunlight in the afternoon is now a dark and cold corner of the garden which receives much less light, as our neighbours trees are getting so large. However, the courgettes have produced enough fruit to keep us well supplied, although it's nowhere near the excess we've had in previous years. The courgette I used for this recipe is one which hid under a leaf until it was too big to be called a courgette. After taking out the seeds and wringing out any excess moisture in a tea-towel there was just the right amount needed for the recipe (350g).

Fresh Cobnuts

Hazelnut Thief!
Although I moan about the shade from our neighbours trees, and blame them for our poor harvest, they have provided some of the hazelnuts used in this recipe. We also managed to get a few from the small twisted hazel tree in our garden, before this squirrel took them all, and my husband has been coming back from his morning walk with pockets full of what look like cobnuts, found in a local park.

Shelled Fresh Nuts
One advantage of really fresh hazelnuts is that they don't have the thick brown skin which needs removing before use. Once I'd shelled the nuts for the recipe, I chopped them roughly, then roasted them for 10 minutes to accentuate the flavour. I then used them in place of the walnuts in the recipe. This was the only change I made, apart from squeezing out some of the moisture from the coarsely grated courgettes. Even after this, I found the cake took 75 minutes to cook, rather than the hour suggested in the recipe.

Any cake containing grated fresh fruit or vegetables runs the risk of turning out too dense and very close-textured because of the extra moisture, but this cake turned out very well. It wasn't as light as the Courgette and Lemon Cake I made back in May, but I think it's the next best attempt at getting a light-textured cake, so far. The cake crumb still had a springy texture, and the fruit and nuts were well dispersed. Green flecks from the courgette skin could still be seen in places, which I always like to see! I also liked the large pieces of hazelnut - I usually chop nuts a little finer than this, but here the crunch was a good contrast to the chewy sultanas.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pear, Ginger and Lemon Cake

The weather seems to be tipping us prematurely into Autumn, but this is giving me a good excuse to start using the seasonal flavours earlier. I've always preferred Autumnal baking to any other season - I love it when the first British apples, pears and plums appear in the shops, and can be paired with the warm flavour of spices, or used in hot puddings.

Now that I'm only cooking for two, I'm looking for more recipes for small cakes, and for cakes which will keep for more than a couple of days. Good keeping quality generally rules out cakes made with fresh fruit, and while I was looking for dried fruit to use instead, I was quite sad to see that there is a much smaller range available than a few years ago - where did the dried peaches and plums (I don't mean prunes) go? If I asked, I guess I would be told that there was no demand for them, but it's such a shame to be limited when looking for produce. Fortunately dried pears are still available, so I grabbed a pack to make this cake.

When I checked the basic recipe for this cake, I realised that I had scaled it up many years ago from one which was made in a 1lb(small) loaf tin, so it was easy to go back to the original, although I did cut down on the sugar a bit.

200g SR flour
100g butter
75g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
100g dried pears, chopped and soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, then well drained
3 balls of preserved stem ginger, washed and finely chopped
1 large egg
2 tablespoons syrup from the ginger jar
milk or yogurt to mix - about 4 tablespoons (I used vanilla flavoured pouring yogurt)
4 unrefined cane sugar cubes roughly crushed (or a tablespoon of Demerara sugar)

Preheat oven to 180C and prepare a small loaf tin - I used a pre-formed paper liner.
Rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the sugar, lemon zest and ground ginger. Add the pears and stem ginger, and mix well to coat the pieces with flour. Then mix in the egg and ginger syrup and enough milk or yogurt to give a soft dropping consistency.
Put the batter into the loaf tin, spread evenly and sprinkle on the sugar.
Bake for about 75 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

This was a really harmonious blending of flavours and textures; there was the right amount of warmth from the ground ginger, which was balanced by a hint of lemon. The pieces of preserved ginger in the cake gave little bursts of spicy heat and the pears were soft and chewy. My husband usually only says anything about my cooking if he dislikes something, but even he said how good this was!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Goat's Cheese, Apricot and Walnut Savoury Cake

Now that sugar has been recognised as a bigger threat to health than saturated fats, I'm wondering what implications this will have on the recent surge in home baking. Will we all switch to savoury baking? Make bread, quiches and meat pasties instead of sugar-heavy brownies and cookies? I doubt that sweet baking will be abandoned entirely though - at least with home baking, as with all types of cooking, it's easier to control the amount of sugar that you add. Perhaps the way forward is to re-run our favourite recipes and see how much the sugar can be reduced without spoiling the finished product.

Something I like once in a while are savoury cakes, although they will never replace sweet cakes entirely. There are times when a slice of savoury cake goes down well - early evening, with a glass of wine or with a lunchtime salad, but what you need with your mid-morning cup of tea or evening coffee is normal sweet cake.

I chose this versatile recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (second recipe down), and following his suggestions, changed the raisins and hazelnuts for dried apricots and walnuts, as that was what I had in stock. I also used parmesan instead of hard goat's cheese.

This was a pleasant savoury cake, but I think I would have preferred it to be totally savoury. The dried fruit in this recipe was sweet enough to overwhelm the savoury elements, even the parmesan cheese, resulting in something which didn't fall satisfactorily into either the sweet or savoury camp. In this respect, the other two recipes on the link look more interesting - the ham and olive one in particular, although another recent TV programme has warned of the dangers of processed meats!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Two creamy and fruity desserts!

I hosted a dinner recently for some of my husbands distant relatives, visiting from the Czech Republic. It was eleven years since we'd last seen them and only one of the three adults spoke English (and we speak no Czech), so the atmosphere was a little strained initially, but we soon relaxed, except for Petr who needed to simultaneously translate several conversations between the eight of us around the table.

 There were, however, no words necessary when it came down to showing me how much they enjoyed the desserts I'd made. All the adults tried a little of everything - hot rhubarb crumble, a gooey chocolate mousse cake and Delia Smith's Key Lime Pie, made from this recipe. The only change I made to the basic recipe was to use Hob-Nob biscuits for the base, although I decorated the pie differently. As my limes were small, I needed 5 to get enough juice, but only three fruit gave enough zest. This left me with extra lime peel, which I decided to prepare in the way Mary Berry prepares lemon peel for a cake decoration in this recipe - it's a sort of quick crystallisation, and gave some really crispy little shards of peel to sprinkle around the top of the pie.

The recipe is so simple to make and the result is a crisp pie shell and a soft tangy zesty filling which really makes the taste buds tingle!

As usual, I over-catered, so as well as the three egg whites left over from making the Key Lime Pie, I had an untouched 300ml tub of double cream and a 255ml bottle of 'Fruits of the Forest' coulis with only a tablespoonful taken out.

So when a dessert was needed again, the obvious choice was a mousse. I softened four sheets of gelatine, then dissolved it in a little of the fruit coulis, warmed in a pan. To this I added 2 tablespoons of Kirsch and the rest of the coulis. I beat the double cream to the soft peak stage, then used the electric mixer to whisk in and evenly distribute the fruit sauce. The egg whites were beaten to the stiff peak stage, then gently folded into the cream and fruit mix. The mousse was divided between six dessert glasses, then chilled for at least 4 hours.

The flavour was a little insipid - the fruit coulis was obviously diluted too much by the addition of cream and egg whites, but it brought together three ingredients which needed using up immediately, and avoided any food waste. That's good enough for me!