Sunday, 29 March 2015

Chilli-Chocolate and Green Tea Marble Cake

for a Clandestine Cake Club 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party'.

I went to my first Clandestine Cake Club meeting recently; I joined the organisation almost a year ago, but this is the first local event that has been arranged since then. The theme for the cakes was Alice in Wonderland, and the meeting was called, appropriately, a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

I have to admit I was thrown a bit by the theme; I'd hoped just to bake something with spectacular flavours, but my cake was obviously going to need some decoration too. I haven't decorated a novelty cake since my youngest child stopped having that sort of birthday cake about 25 years ago, so I approached the task with some trepidation. After seeing lots of  'bunny bottoms' on cupcakes while I was researching the theme (basically using Google Images!), I decided to make a large version using my bundt tin as the basis of the rabbit hole, with a fondant icing white rabbit disappearing down into it. Making the back end of a rabbit seemed infinitely easier than making a whole rabbit or even the front end of one, especially as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland was dressed, and carried a watch!

I choose the flavours for the cake to fit in with the 'tea party' theme by using green tea and chocolate layers in a marble cake, and flavouring the chocolate layer with chilli too, as an extra 'madcap' idea. I used my favourite recipe for a marbled bundt cake - the reduced size version of this Alice Medrich recipe which I use here. For this version I used sunflower oil instead of olive oil, and added almost half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the cocoa mixture and two tablespoons of green tea powder to the plain layer.

The decorations were made from fondant icing and edible wafer flowers, plus two chocolate 'bunny paws'. I needed the best part of 500g of fondant icing sugar to make enough modelling fondant to fill the hole and make the legs and tail of the rabbit, and 250g of green ready to roll fondant for the grass and flower leaves. The top photo was taken before I roughed up the 'tail' by cutting into the fondant ball with a pair of scissors to make it look more like fur - it was quite an effective technique, as you can see in the photo to the left.

Neither of the cake flavours were overwhelming, and the bitterness of the green tea was nicely balanced by the lingering warmth of the chilli and the sweetness of the fondant icing. It was fortunate that I didn't use too much chilli, as many of the Cake Club participants were mothers who had brought their young children along (something I hadn't expected!).

This was a small meeting, although a few more cakes arrived after I'd taken my photos. The theme was quite loosely interpreted, so I needn't have worried about not doing enough! The gorgeous pink and purple Cheshire Cat cake was flavoured with almonds and rosewater, and was really delicious, and there were two other cakes using tea - a fruited tea loaf and an Earl Grey loaf with lemon icing. I also got to bring home slices of the cakes that I was too full to sample during the meeting, so I think the only thing I didn't taste at all was the strawberry tart.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tropicana Banana Cake

- revisited for Formula 1 Foods

Although blogging about my baking has made me more adventurous, one of my frequent regrets is that I don't get a chance to remake things that I really liked first time around. It's one of the penalties of always looking for something new; although I often make flavour adaptions of good recipes, so that they are a little bit different the second time around, some recipes inevitably fall by the wayside. This was true of this Dan Lepard recipe, which he calls Tropicana Banana Cake (for the totally tropical taste, I guess!). I made the cake back when the recipe was originally published in 2009, noted my dislike of the very sugary tropical fruit mixture I'd chosen, and then almost forgot about it.

I say almost, because when Caroline of Caroline Makes started her Formula 1 Foods challenge at the beginning of the month, this was the first thing I thought of for the Malaysia leg of the journey around the world. The idea behind the challenge is that we make something inspired by the country where the current Formula 1 Grand Prix race is taking place. Caroline often bakes while her partner watches the GP, as it doesn't interest her, and thought there might be others in the same situation. I do actually watch the races, although they are not as interesting as they used to be (and a snooze on a Sunday afternoon, in front of the TV, is no bad thing if the race gets too boring), but thought the challenge sounded fun.

I looked at recipes for traditional baked sweet treats originating in Malaysia, but didn't think any of them were quite within my capabilities or budget. Pineapple tarts looked delicious but most recipes used 3 or 4 pineapples cooked down with sugar to a solid mass, which was then formed into balls and put into pastry cases. However, what all the recipes had in common was their use of the tropical fruits of the area, which brings us back to the Tropicana Banana Cake. This contains banana(!), coconut, pineapple, mango, papaya and orange - what could be more evocative of the tropical far East?

This time I managed to find soft dried mango and pineapple which had been dried without adding any sugar, but the papaya had been processed with a lot of extra sugar, so I only used a small amount of that. The 175g of dried fruit needed was made up of 70g each of mango and pineapple and 35g of papaya. I followed the recipe exactly - it's a slightly unusual method but it does give the good results promised by Dan Lepard.

The cake was as good as I remembered - a subtle blending of all the added flavours, with coconut as the predominant flavour, and a light, but moist, tender crumb. The added bonus, for me this time, was that the fruit stayed evenly distributed throughout the cake - last time the sugar heavy fruit pieces sank dramatically.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Cranberry, Pecan and Orange Loaf

This was a strange recipe! The cake tasted good but managed to be both fragile and too dense at the same time; usually a dense cake holds together like a builder's brick, but every time I handled this cake I expected it to fall into a pile of crumbs. I found the recipe  here, on Sally's Baking Addiction, while looking for recipes using orange and frozen cranberries together. Although I wondered about the advisability of relying on just bicarbonate of soda to raise the mixture, the cake looked very attractive, and a streusel topping adds interest without having to add the optional glazing afterwards.

I followed the cake recipe exactly, but reduced the butter in the streusel topping to 30g and added 35g of finely chopped pecans too.

I had fun chopping frozen cranberries, but my mini-processor just about coped, although it shaved a lot of small flakes of fruit off too, which perhaps accounts for the much darker cake crumb in my loaf, compared to Sally's photos. The cake batter was very wet, and I expected to find that all the fruit and nut pieces had sunk, but they were fairly evenly distributed.

The flavour of this cake was OK, but nothing exceptional. None of the cake flavours really stood out, despite there being strongly flavoured ingredients there. The best part was the crunchy, nutty and spicy streusel topping, which was a good contrast to the rather bland cake. Overall, not a cake I'm likely to repeat.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Chocolate Macadamia Slice

This is definitely a 'slice', not a traybake, not just squares, because it's my entry to the new cooking challenge at Caroline Makes - Formula 1 Foods. Caroline's partner is an avid Formula 1 fan and the new Grand Prix season starts this weekend. Caroline says she often bakes while the GP coverage is on TV, but admits that the fixtures dominate their weekend social life. Readers - we used to be like that! However, my husband's interest is waning a little, as the rules have changed (to the detriment of the sport, in his opinion) over the years and only the richest teams are competitive now. The fact that the races aren't all shown live on terrestrial TV doesn't help either, but at least we don't have to plan our activities around race times any more! He doesn't mind missing a race, or watching the highlights only.

Anyway - back to Caroline's challenge! She wants us to prepare something inspired by the country where each race is taking place, and the first race is in Australia. That brings us back to my stipulation that my bake is a 'slice', that mainstay of Australian baking, and not a fudgy brownie (as one of the recipes I used calls it!). To reinforce the Australian experience, I added macadamia nuts to the top fudgy layer, and just a hint of coconut into the bottom biscuit layer. Macadamia nuts are one of the few food products that is only produced in Australia, so what could be better to use?

I even chose the recipe for the base layer from one of my Australian Women's Weekly Cookbooks - Cakes and Slices. It was really simple to make - 125g melted unsalted butter was mixed into 155g SR flour, 2 teaspoons cocoa, 60g caster sugar and 20g desiccated coconut. Once everything was well mixed, the dough was pressed evenly into a lined 20cm (8") square tin and baked at 190C for 15 minutes.

The topping came from this recipe for Fudgy Mocha Brownies, which I've used once before. I left out the coffee and used 100g of roughly chopped macadamia nuts instead of the hazelnuts. I accidently left out the baking powder too, but this was an improvement, I think, as the first time I used this recipe I said the top layer was more cakey than fudgy, but this time it was denser and more fudge-like!

I cut the slice into 16 squares, which gave decent sized portions (2" (5.0cm) square). Getting 36 squares out of the slice, as the recipe suggested would have meant tiny portions - nice for some occasions, but not for everyday eating!

These squares (what do Australians call the pieces from a slice?) were delicious! A dense, rich, intensely chocolate, fudgy topping on a crisp buttery cocnut shortbread base, which had just a hint of chocolate in it. The base was a little crumbly, but made a good textural contrast to the topping. The macadamia nuts added crunch but not a lot of flavour - the small amount of coconut in the base had a stronger flavour!

I hope Caroline gets a good response to her challenge; it's relatively easy to get inspiration from Australia for all sorts of cooking, but I think some of the venues will prove more difficult, especially for people like me, who only want to bake.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

Semolina Cookies

One Batch of Dough, Two Delicious Cookies

The same basic dough is used for these Date Bars and Pistachio Cookies. It's a Dan Lepard recipe, given Middle Eastern flavours with pomegranate molasses, rose water and orange blossom water. I made one batch of dough from this recipe, and made a half quantity of the Date Bars and half a batch of these Pistachio Cookies.

I had decided to use semolina for this month's AlphaBakes Challenge (Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker has chosen the letter S), and was trying to decide between a cake  or biscuits when Janie of The Hedge Combers announced that the March Tea Time Treats challenge was for cookies and biscuits. The decision was made for me - I would make semolina cookies which could be an entry for both baking challenges.


Semolina seems to be common in Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, but is less well known in the UK as a baking ingredient. It's sometimes added to shortbread to make it crisper and crumblier, but is best known as the basis for the sort of milk pudding that we all hated at school! Semolina is the coarse centres of durum wheat grains, left after the flour has been milled away. 

I looked at many recipes for semolina cookies, which all looked similar, but they had small differences in the proportions of fat, flour and eggs, so that it was impossible to decide if one recipe was going to work out better than another. In the end I found Dan's recipe and was persuaded by the extra flavours added to the cookie dough. After trying it, I'm sure the dough on it's own would have made delicious cookies.

In the first recipe the dough is rolled out and wrapped around a filling of spiced date purée and in the second, chopped pistachios and a little more sugar is added, and then the dough is just rolled into balls. Both recipes were fairly straightforward - just a little fiddly - and gave good results. One tip I can pass on - if you are going to purée dried dates in a food processor, cut each one in half across the length, to check that the stones have been removed. I found two left in in my pack of dates. Trying to process a date stone could be a costly blunder!

The dough was a little dryer than I expected, and I eventually realised (after it was too late to put things right) that I hadn't added quite enough liquid, as I had used less of the rose water and orange flower water (mine are quite concentrated and I've been caught out in the past by following recipe instructions and finding out I'd used too much) but hadn't made up for the lower volume of liquid.

The dry dough was difficult to roll out and meant that the dough round the Date Bars cracked a little during baking. It was also difficult to incorporate all the chopped nuts for the Pistachio Cookies, but I'm not sure if that was due to the dryness, which made the dough crumbly, or the sheer volume of nuts - probably a bit of both.  At least I know how to remedy the problem - a couple of tablespoons of milk or water is all that is needed next time.

Additionally, next time I will flatten the Date Bars a little before cooking. This wasn't mentioned in the instructions, so I expected that they would flatten naturally during cooking to turn out as in the photograph accompanying the recipe (see the link above). As you can see from the photographs of my Date Bars, this didn't happen!

Both these cookies were delicious, in different ways. The Date Bars were the best - the moist spicy date filling and the crunchy sesame seed coating were a good contrast to the crumbly cookie dough.

However, with the Pistachio Cookies the added flavours in the dough shone through, particularly the rose water, as the pistachio nuts did not have a strong flavour.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is hosted alternately by Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes.

Tea Time Treats (rules here) is hosted alternately by Janie of The Hedge Combers and Karen of Lavender and Lovage.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Jammy Bread and Butter Pudding

As a cake and dessert maker, a lot of what I make contains eggs - cakes, tray bakes, brownies, cookies, mousses and cheesecakes. They are indispensable for perfect results, and often the most nutritious part of many recipes. So I'm happy to join in with Belleau Kitchen's new blogger link-up - Simply Eggcellent - which celebrates the versatility of eggs.

Bread and Butter Pudding is made from bread soaked in a simple egg custard - usually just eggs and milk or cream, and maybe some sugar. The fun comes with the extras that can be added - dried and fresh fruit, chocolate, alcohol, preserves, nuts and spices.

This Jammy Bread and Butter Pudding was a spur of the moment dessert, to use up the end of a stonebaked sourdough baguette and the last of a carton of sour cream. I decided to keep things simple and use gooseberry jam to provide the main flavour, some sultanas for juicy fruit chewiness and a little nutmeg to spice it up a little.

I sliced the bread thinly and made jam sandwiches, which I fitted into a small ovenproof dish, interspersed with a handful of sultanas. The baguette was quite thin, making it impossible to remove the crusts, so I arranged the bread with the crusts uppermost, so that they would make a crisp topping after cooking.

I was only making two portions, with about 100g of bread, so a custard made from one large free-range egg, 50ml sour cream and 150g milk was sufficient. I didn't add any extra sugar to the custard as the jam was going to provide a lot of sweetness.

I poured the egg mixture over the bread and left the dish to stand for about an hour before baking, to allow the custard to soak into the bread. Before baking I sprinkled the top of the pudding with Demerara sugar and a grating of nutmeg. I baked the pudding in a bain marie, at 180C for 45 minutes.

Using jam to flavour this bread and butter pudding worked very well; together with the sultanas and sugar topping it was plenty sweet enough. The custard soaked bread was light and moist, with a lovely crisp crunchy topping made from the crusts on the slices of bread and the sugar.

As usual, it isn't good for food photography to take something out of the oven at 6pm, and need to get it photographed before it's eaten a few minutes later, so I apologise for the strange colour!

You can read all about Simply Eggcellent on the link above. I look forward to seeing how Dom, at Belleau Kitchen, develops the core theme of eggs over the coming months.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Banana and Date Loaf

Having bananas that need to be used up is something that hardly ever happens in this household. Although I don't eat them, my husband eats one for breakfast, every day, without fail, but no more than that. So I know I need seven bananas a week and that is what I buy, every week. Except for last week, when I was tempted by a large bag of single ripe bananas at half price. There were two bananas left by the end of the week, so banana bread beckoned me. After looking at several recipes, and finding I didn't have any walnuts in the store cupboard, I decided to make a banana and date loaf.

I based my recipe on this one, found at Cake Recipe, although I made a few minor changes. My bananas weren't quite as big as those stipulated in the recipe, so I added 50g sour cream; I used sunflower oil instead of melted butter; added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and left out the walnuts. My cake took about 10 minutes longer to bake than the recipe suggested, but that could have been down to a differently shaped loaf tin - some are short and deep, some longer and shallower - or the changes I made to the recipe.

Ingredients - 350g bananas (weighed with skins on); 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 300g SR flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 125g caster sugar; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 125ml sunflower oil; 2 large eggs; 50g sour cream; 175g chopped dried dates, crushed brown sugar cubes for topping.

The method is standard - mash bananas with lemon juice; mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another; combine the two bowls of ingredients, and the bananas, without over-mixing, then fold in the chopped dates. Transfer to 2lb loaf tin, sprinkle sugar over surface and bake at 160C for about 70 minutes.

This was a lovely textured loaf, moist but not dense. The pieces of dates had a chewy, toffee-like quality, and added most of the flavour to the cake. My husband complained that it didn't taste of bananas, but I don't think banana cakes ever really do.

It was nice to butter the slices of cake, but they were moist enough to be eaten without added butter, if calories are a big consideration.