Friday, 6 May 2016

Chunky Fig, Apricot and Prune Cake

I know! It's the middle of May; we ought to be well into lighter Spring flavours, but when I made this cake it was snowing in northern England! Anyway, I quite like fruit cakes at any time of the year, as they keep better than sponges and cakes with fresh fruit, which is a good thing when you are only baking for two people.

Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker, has announced that as AlphaBakes has reached the end of the alphabet again, she and co-host, Caroline, at Caroline Makes, have decided to end the monthly challenge after this month's recipe link-up. It's understandable - life has moved on for both of them and they have different priorities now, but I will miss the monthly ritual of stretching my imagination and/or culinary skills.

As the last AlphaBakes Challenge, and the last letter of this second run through the alphabet, this month's entries  need to feature an ingredient or recipe name beginning with F. I found the recipe for this Chunky Fig, Apricot and Prune Cake, on the River Cottage site, while I was looking for a cake with dried figs in. It sounded ideal - not too heavy with fruit, lightly spiced and flavoured with citrus.

The recipe was simple to follow, although it's slightly unnerving to add large pieces of dried fruit, sticky with a marmalade coating, at the last stage of the recipe. Surely disaster would follow, with sinking fruit? The recipe does warn of the possibility, and I was prepared to add a little extra flour, if necessary, to make sure the batter was quite stiff (especially as I was using large eggs). However, extra flour (I was using spelt) wasn't needed, and the fruit didn't sink, so all was well!

All was well with the flavour too. Because the pieces of dried fruit were larger than usual, each could be individually tasted, and the background flavours of mixed spice and citrus (from both orange and lemon zest, and marmalade) added an extra dimension. The texture of the crumb was moist but not heavy, and sweetness levels were about right too, overall. Definitely one to repeat!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Date, Banana and Rum Loaf

Gluten-free and dairy-free.

This Date, Banana and Rum Loaf, found on the BBC Good Food website, could be considered a healthy cake, as it has no added fat or sugar. The natural sweetness comes from almost 800g of fresh and dried fruit packed into the loaf, and the only significant fat is that which is contained in the nuts - 100g of pecans.

I was a little worried about making the cake, as some of the comments on the Good Food website said the cake was quite crumbly, but I needn't have worried. I followed the basic cake recipe closely and made a dense, very moist fruit cake, which even survived being dropped (in it's cake box); quite frankly I was amazed that just the puréed fruit, 100g of fine cornmeal and 2 egg whites made a batter that actually held everything together! In a slight departure from the recipe, I added 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum, as it's easy to get hold of now, although it wasn't when this recipe first appeared in 2008; I don't know if it made any difference but it couldn't have done any harm!

One other thing I did, not mentioned in the recipe, was to cut each date in half, cross-ways, before cooking them. I found two stones while doing this, so it's well worth the extra time spent, as unnoticed stones could damage food processor blades.  When I drained the cooked dates I didn't get enough liquid, so I added water to get to the 100mls needed for the recipe. I varied the topping, as I don't really like banana chips - I used the remaining pecans, chopped coarsely, and 4 crushed brown sugar cubes (optional if you don't want to add sugar).

I really enjoyed this cake, but I would leave the sugar off the topping next time. It only added a crunch when the cake was fresh, and quickly dissolved in the moisture from the cake. Unlike a lot of other recipes that rely on the natural sweetness of the ingredients, rather than adding any additional sugar, this cake did taste sweet enough. This is definitely a recipe I'll be using again!

One small criticism - sultanas and raisins are very similar in looks and taste; the cake might have been more attractive and even tastier if a different mix of dried fruit was used. Cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots and/or golden raisins could be used to replace some of the 400g of raisins and sultanas used in the loaf.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Chilli and Orange Chocolate Cake

This is one of my favourite chocolate cakes when I want something a bit special, but not too rich. It's lighter than a flourless mousse torte, because it does contain flour and raising agents, but it's richer and denser than a simple chocolate sponge cake. The flavour combination of chocolate, chilli and orange is perfect too, so although the cake could probably be made as a plain chocolate cake, or by adding different flavouring ingredients, this is the version I always make.

The recipe for this Chilli and Orange Chocolate Cake comes from Sam Stern, and dates back to when he was a school boy. He's now graduated from University and has several cookery books to his name, specialising in recipes for school children and students.

The only change I make to the cake recipe is to use cayenne or pure chilli powder. I have tried pounding chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar and almost choked on the inhaled dust (even though I couldn't see it)! Rather than use either of Sam's recommended frostings, I add a smaller amount of a fudgy frosting made from one of Mary Berry's recipes - melt 90g plain chocolate with 30g butter, then beat in 1 tablespoon of golden syrup and 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk. Cool a little and pour on top of the cake, while it will still run, to cover the top easily. If you want it to run down the sides, to coat the cake completely, make double the amount and use straight away.

I added a few chocolate and sugar sprinkles, just to make it look a little more interesting, but decoration isn't really necessary.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Rhubarb and Ginger Polenta Cake

Gluten-free & Dairy-free

This is a recipe I've been using for years - two layers of shortcake-style dough enclosing some fresh fruit. I usually make it with butter and SR flour, but wanted to see whether the recipe worked if it was made both gluten- and dairy-free. I decided to use polenta in place of 1/3 of the flour, as in this Nigel Slater recipe, a commercial brand of gluten-free flour and a non-dairy spread instead of butter.

This recipe works well with any type of fresh fruit filling, but something like rhubarb, which releases a lot of liquid during cooking, needs to be cooked first, then drained. I roasted 500g of rhubarb (the first of the season, incidently), cut into 4cm lengths, with about 50g of sugar; you might need more sugar if you don't like really sharp fruit.

150g caster sugar
150g non-dairy spread, suitable for baking
100g polenta (I only had the instant kind)
200g gluten-free plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg
500g sweetened cooked rhubarb, drained of cooking juices
3 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped

My usual method is to melt the butter, then stir in the sugar and egg, then lastly add the flour, but I didn't think this would work as well with the non-dairy spread. Instead I followed the method in Nigel's recipe, which is to put all the dry ingredients into a bowl, rub in the fat, then mix to a sticky dough with the egg. The gluten-free flour and polenta made a much stickier dough than usual, which was almost too soft to work with - next time I think I'll add another 25g of flour.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Once mixed, 2/3 of the dough is spread over the base of a 20cm springform tin, which has been greased and base-lined with baking parchment. The dough needs to be worked up the sides of the tin to make a wall about 2cm high.
Spread the fruit onto the base, packing it closely together but leaving the 'wall' uncovered.
Sprinkle the chopped stem ginger over the rhubarb, then drop the remaining dough on top of the the fruit in small teaspoonsful, starting at the edges and working inwards. Use the spoon to flatten and spread the dough as much as possible, but it isn't necessary to completely cover the fruit.
(The method of assembling the cake is covered in more detail, and with photographs, in this post.)
Bake for about 55 minutes until the cake is golden and feels solid. Cool in the tin.
The cake can be served warm but this gluten-free version is quite fragile, so I'd recommend serving at room temperature.

If liked, the top can be sprinkled with flaked almonds or demerara sugar before baking, or the cooled cake can be dusted with icing sugar before serving. As I mentioned earlier, almost any fruit can be used as a filling - sliced apples and a handful of sultanas, for instance, or sliced plums - and complimentary spices can be used in the dough, rather than ginger.

Rhubarb and ginger is a classic combination which worked well in this cake. There was just a hint of ginger in the cake dough, but the stem ginger in the filling was more pronounced and added an extra texture too, along with the graininess of the polenta. This cake was softer and more fragile than the same cake made with the usual ingredients, but I was pleased with how well the 'conversion' to a gluten- and dairy-free version turned out.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Cauliflower and Apple Cake

If your first thought on reading this post title is 'Why?', then I have to say that was my reaction too! Why use cauliflower in a cake?  The recipe featured in April's edition of Waitrose Food magazine as 'Dish of the Month' and comes from award-winning patissier and chocolatier Will Torrent. The introduction says that although baking with cauliflower may seem unusual, it works well with the flavours of apple, white chocolate and coconut. I discussed the recipe with a group of internet friends and the general opinion was that, although the photo of the cake looked attractive, using cauliflower in a sweet cake didn't sound very pleasant. I decided to take up the challenge!

The recipe is based on using a food processor, which I don't have, so I had to adapt the method a little. I also didn't want a layer cake, so baked the cake in a larger tin, and used 2/3 of the buttercream in the recipe, just as a topping

150g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing
150g cauliflower, in small florets
150g caster sugar
2 small braeburn apples, grated (I used 1 1/2 large apples and peeled and cored them, although the recipe doesn't specify peeling.)
2 eggs (mine were large)
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g sultanas
50g desiccated coconut

*Buttercream (the amounts I used):
50g white chocolate, chopped
100g unsalted butter, softened
110g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
extra cinnamon (optional)
25g toasted desiccated coconut optional)

**My Method
Grease and base line a 20cm springform tin.
Simmer the cauliflower in boiling water for 16 minutes until very soft, cool under a running tap then drain, and dry on layers of kitchen towel.
Pre-heat oven to 180C, gas 4.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon.
Process the cauliflower and grated apple in a small food processor to make a purée.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until well combined, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoonful of the flour mixture.
On the slowest mixer speed (or by hand) mix in the cauliflower and apple purée and the rest of the flour mixture.
Lastly, fold in the sultanas and coconut by hand.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, level the surface and bake for about 45 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean. Cover after 35 minutes if it's getting too brown.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
For the buttercream, melt the white chocolate with 25g of the butter and the milk, in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth, then cool slightly. Meanwhile beat the rest of the butter, the icing sugar and the vanilla extract together until light and fluffy. Beat in the chocolate mixture, then spread the frosting over the cake. Decorate, if desired, with a light dusting of cinnamon and some toasted coconut.

**The food processor method was to first chop the cauliflower into small pieces, then pulse in the butter, sugar and apple. Gradually add the beaten eggs before sifting in the flour, cinnamon and raising agents. Pulse to combine, then fold in the sultanas and coconut. 
The original cake was baked in a 18cm tin for 45-55 minutes, then split in half when cooled. 

*A larger amount of frosting was made by melting the 75g white chocolate on it's own and stirring it into a buttercream made from 150g butter, 175g icing sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and used to sandwich and top the cake layers. I couldn't bring myself to melt the chocolate on it's own as I always have trouble melting white chocolate - hence my method of adding some of the butter and the milk to stop it getting too hot and seizing.

The result really surprised me! This odd assortment of ingredients produced a delicious, moist and incredibly light textured cake with a delicate cinnamon flavour. I couldn't taste either the apples or the cauliflower at all (fortunately, perhaps!) and even the coconut didn't come through strongly. The cake wasn't over-sweet, which meant that the very sweet white chocolate and vanilla frosting was a nice counterbalance to the cake. The one disconcerting note about the cake was that although I couldn't taste it in the raw batter or finished cake, there was a strong smell of cauliflower while the cake was baking!

Perhaps it was the subtle blending of all the ingredients which produced such a surprisingly tasty cake, but I think I'm still asking the question of why the cauliflower was used at all? Apart from the novelty value of telling people that there's cauliflower in the cake (and I didn't tell my husband until after he'd eaten it) the only reason I can come up with it that the apples and cauliflower add bulk, and perhaps moisture, but not so many calories. A similar sized cake would normally use more sugar, butter and egg.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Date and Tahini Slice

The randomly chosen letter for this month's AlphaBakes is T, although it's not that random, as we are nearing the end of the alphabet again, and T was one of only two letters left on this run-through. It's another strange letter when it comes to ingredients, as initial thoughts are that T must be easy, but then you look through recipe books to find that there aren't that many baking ingredients, or recipe names, beginning with T. Some of my books didn't have anything at all listed under T in the index, and others only had 'Triple....' or 'Toasted....' or similar descriptive words. Treacle cropped up quite a lot too, but I wasn't in the mood for anything too dark and sticky.

In the end, I decided to use Tahini, but it took me ages to find something that I really wanted to make, once I'd made that decision. I looked at cakes, cookies and flapjacks before I remembered that good old Australian word - slice - and came across this recipe, which seemed to use a good mix of  fruit and spices. It looked fairly healthy too - no added fat - until I read the nutritional information on the jar of tahini, and realised that sesame seeds contain nearly 60% fat, so using 185mls of tahini adds about 100g of fat to the recipe!

It's a simple recipe to follow, especially as metric weights are give alongside the cup measurements, but my cake batter was more like a cookie dough. I'm not sure whether this is down to different brands of ingredients being used, as well as desiccated coconut instead of shredded, or a fault in the recipe. I added a couple of tablespoons of milk, but it didn't make things much better. I gave the slice an extra 5 minutes baking time, to colour the coconut slightly, and be sure it was cooked through - a test at 20 minutes still looked a little damp.

The slice was pleasant to eat, and the flavours of dates, coconut and sesame seeds blended together well, but the amount of ground ginger used was hardly noticeable! The slice was more like a cookie in texture, but that made it a bit too dry for it's depth. Unfortunately, this wasn't something I'll be rushing to make again, although it might have worked better as a bar cookie, cooked in a larger baking tin, or even chilled and rolled into balls of dough to make conventional cookies.

AlphaBakes is co-hosted by Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline Makes, who is this month's host. The basic idea is to use the chosen letter as the first letter of a major ingredient or part of the name of the dish which is made eg T is for Tiger Bread, or in my case, T is for Tahini. Full rules can be found here.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Courgette, Sultana and Pistachio Loaf

I managed to make one more recipe from Honey and Co: The Baking Book, before the library demanded it back from me. It was down to a choice between this courgette loaf and a carrot cake, and the courgette loaf won because I had all the ingredients already (allowing for a couple of substitutions).

I used sultanas instead of golden raisins, and orange zest instead of lemon, neither of which were going to have a major affect on the flavour of the cake. I also chopped the pistachios roughly, as I dislike whole nuts in cakes.

I didn't really encounter any problems while making the cake, although both the loaf recipes I've made from the book have almost filled my 2lb loaf tin, leaving me worried (needlessly, fortunately) about cake batter ending up on the floor of the oven.

This cake was moist and dense but not too heavy. The pistachios, sultanas and flecks of green from the courgettes made it quite colourful, and the chewy sultanas and crunchy pistachios gave some variations in texture while eating. However, once again, it was the spices used that made this cake something special - star anise and ginger, combined with the citrus zest, gave a really unusual sharp and peppery flavour, which was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the sultanas.