Friday, 3 July 2015

Gooseberry and Hazelnut Slices

I've been taking part in the Formula 1 Foods challenge over at Caroline Makes. The idea is to make a dish inspired by the country in which each round of the F1 Grand Prix races take place. This weekend, the race takes place here in Great Britain, so it was relatively easy to find an ingredient which, to me, seemed  to represent the best of seasonal British food.

I chose to bake with gooseberries, rather than go for a typically British recipe, such as Battenburg Cake, or Maids of Honour, for two reasons. The first was that it was impossible to make a choice between all the 'British' recipes I have; the second was that gooseberries seem the most British of all the summer fruits available. They don't feature much in the cookery of any other country, as far as I can find out, even though they can be grown in most of Northern Europe. At the moment they seem out of favour with even British cooks, perhaps because they are difficult to harvest, which makes them expensive to grow commercially, as well as fiddly to prepare once you've got them. I was surprised recently to hear Raymond Blanc say that he had never cooked with them before making a gooseberry cheesecake for the TV series 'Kew on a Plate'.

Having decided on gooseberries, I looked around for a new recipe to try. Because they aren't a commonly used fruit, there aren't many recipe variations around - pies, crumbles and streusel topped cakes seem the most popular use, but all the recipes are very similar. I was very pleased to find this recipe for Gooseberry and Hazelnut Slices on the BBC Good Food website, as pairing gooseberries and hazelnuts is new to me, and it got over a major problem with cake baking with fresh fruit in hot weather, namely that nothing keeps for more than a couple of days, without refrigeration, before going mouldy. This recipe cooks the gooseberries with a lot of sugar, to make a purée with an almost jam-like texture. I hoped this would hold the mould at bay for long enough for us to finish the cake, as I really dislike the texture of cakes that have been refrigerated.

There were three stages to the recipe, which made it quite a trial on one of the hottest days of the year (so far)! I decided to make my own shortcrust pastry, which increased the work load, then the fruit had to be cooked and a sponge cake topping made to go on top of the pastry and fruit.

I followed the recipe exactly, but rather than ice the cake to finish it off, I sprinkled 25g of chopped toasted hazelnuts over the cake batter before baking, then brushed the cooked cake with 3 tablespoons of elderflower syrup to glaze it, while it was still hot.

This recipe was not without it's problems. The first was that the cake batter took far longer to cook than stated. After 25 minutes it was dark brown on top but still very liquid underneath, so I covered it, reduced the temperature by 20C and cooked it for longer, testing every 7 minutes or so. It took another 20 minutes before I was satisfied that the cake was cooked through - that's a big discrepancy!

The second problem was evident when cutting the cake - the layer of gooseberry purée hadn't been thickened enough, so that it oozed out from under the cake layer, which in turn made the cake slide about on the base. This made the squares of cake difficult to serve and they had to be eaten with a fork rather than just fingers. I guess the amount of juice in gooseberries varies with factors such as variety and ripeness, so if I make this again, I will thicken the fruit by eye, rather than just using the amount of cornflour specified in the recipe.

It's certainly a recipe worth making again. The pairing of gooseberries and hazelnuts was delicious, and the gooseberries were still tangy and fresh tasting. The recipe is reminiscent of a Bakewell Tart, but using fresh fruit, rather than jam, elevates things to the next level.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Baking with Coconut Flour - Blueberry Coconut Cake

Coconut flour seems to be a fashionable ingredient at the moment. It is popular with those eating a Paleo diet, as they avoid any type of grain, so have considerable difficulties when it comes to needing flour for baking. It is also gluten-free, but it's cost would probably rule it out as the sole alternative to grains containing gluten for most coeliacs. Those on a Paleo diet are usually doing so because they fear modern diets are harming our health. I'm sceptical about these sort of claims, and think the new breed of 'well-being' bloggers and cooks could do more harm than good if others follow their restrictive diets, but it's not a point I want to argue about here.

I was asked to try coconut flour by, and was interested in taking up their challenge to try it in my baking because I've already tried, and liked, coconut oil and sugar. It was the gluten-free aspect of the flour that most interested me, as I do need to bake gluten-free goodies occasionally.

When I looked into coconut flour more closely, it seemed a very interesting product - lower in carbohydrates, higher in fibre and protein than wheat flour, as well as being gluten-free, and containing several important vitamins and minerals. This appears to make it a more nourishing ingredient to use than wheat flour, although, because it is extremely absorbent, much less of it is needed when baking, compared to flours from grains and pulses.

This absorbency presents problems when baking, as coconut flour can't be substituted weight for weight for other flours - less than half is typically needed in most recipes. Additionally, recipes advise increasing the number of eggs used (doubling the usual number seems popular), although some use oils and syrups instead of solid fats and sugars, as well as extra liquid. The main advice is to initially use recipes specifically written for coconut flour, rather than trying to adapt your own favourite recipes, until you are more familiar with how it works. This is fine, if you can find a trusted source of recipes - they aren't exactly mainstream; Paleo recipes often use ingredients that I just wouldn't want to put in my baking! Coconut flour is also extremely expensive compared to wheat flour - I paid £6.99 for 500g of Tiana coconut flour in Holland and Barrett - so I didn't want too many failures when trying recipes, even if the recipe uses only 50g! It is, however cheaper than ground nuts, which I tend to use a lot, and in larger quantities, in gluten-free baking.

The first recipe which appealed to me was a blueberry and coconut cake from the Great British Chefs website, devised by Victoria Glass. I liked the look of this because it didn't seem too extreme - it used basic white sugar, a reasonable number of eggs (I found one chocolate cake recipe which used 12!) and made a product which looked comparable to 'normal' cakes, even though it was both gluten- and dairy-free. I tried not to deviate too far from the recipe, although I did add a little vanilla extract, and only had 150g of blueberries.

This cake worked out very well - it was  moist but surprisingly light, and tasted strongly of coconut, which wasn't surprising in a cake containing coconut three ways - flour, oil and desiccated. The texture of the cake wasn't any different to cakes made with grain flours, so I don't think anyone would notice that it was made with such an unusual ingredient. Despite the number of eggs used, I didn't find the flavour or texture 'over-eggy' which is a complaint about some coconut flour recipes.

The very fact that the cake was so coconutty made me want to try the flour  in a recipe where the coconut flavour isn't really needed, such as a chocolate cake or brownies. The search for a suitable recipe for one of those is ongoing - the recipes I've found so far are either too 'paleo' or add other coconut products to make sure there's a strong coconut flavour.

I don't think coconut flour is likely to become one of my 'everyday' baking ingredients, but I can see that it will be useful for gluten-free baking, and that it might appeal to those who feel guilty about eating cakes and other baked goods, and want to make them a little more nutritious.

If you are interested in trying coconut flour, here's a few links to nutritional and baking guides that I found useful. Note that I'm not endorsing any health claims written therein - I don't have the expertise to either agree with or challenge them - you'll have to make up your own mind!

Sukrin Coconut Flour

All Day I Dream About Food
Nourished Kitchen
Elana's Pantry

Disclaimer  - Although asked me to try coconut flour, I have received nothing from them as an inducement to either endorse their product, or give a favourable review of coconut flour in general. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

Our rhubarb patch hasn't been as productive as usual this year, and is already showing signs that we won't be harvesting much more. I only needed 400g for this recipe, but had to throw away several stems which were just too tough and woody to use. I think the less prolific growth is probably because last winter wasn't cold enough - rhubarb seems to need a really cold spell to perform at it's best. Although it's not a major problem, and many people say that you shouldn't harvest field rhubarb past the end of June, anyway, it's quite sad to say good-bye to rhubarb for another year!

On the whole, the fruit and vegetable garden isn't doing very well this year - June has been colder than usual, with less sunshine, and nothing is growing very fast. We had good weather at the right time for the apple blossom, though, so I have high hopes for a good harvest later in the year  - at the moment it looks as if we may actually have to thin the fruit, although there's a thing called 'June drop' apparently, so we'll wait a while before deciding whether or not thinning is needed.

At this time of the year it's good to use recipes which make a little rhubarb go a long way, and this Rhubarb and Orange Cake, from  Good Food, is a recipe I'll be returning to in future. It's very similar to another favourite recipe from Waitrose, for a cake with the same name, but the Waitrose recipe uses less flour and eggs, which results in a denser, more moist cake better suited to a dessert than a cake for the tea table, or coffee time. The Good Food cake was light and very well flavoured, and thanks to a few tips in the comments about the recipe, the fruit didn't sink and it wasn't too moist.

My oranges were quite small so I used the zest from two of them, but the juice of only one (which was 60mls) as I was mindful of the commentators who said they found the cake too moist. (In fact, the cake was a little crumbly when first cut, and I wondered if I had been too mean with the liquid, but the following day it was just right, so I wouldn't increase the liquid!) I also cut the rhubarb stalks into quite thin pieces (about 1cm), as some people found that large pieces of fruit sank to the bottom of the cake.  I used a small proportion of light muscovado sugar in the cake batter (30g with 200g caster), as I didn't have any golden caster sugar. Apart from these small changes I followed the recipe closely. My cake cooked in 60 minutes, and needed covering for the last 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. I would have been happier with a few more flaked almonds on top (I was using the last of a pack), but overall, I'm very pleased with this cake.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Linzer Squares

This variation of the famous Austrian pastry, Linzer Torte, was inspired by this recipe I saw on the blog Bake or Break - it looked so pretty! However, I really love the hazelnut pastry that Delia Smith uses in her Linzer Torte, so I decided to combine the best of both recipes - Delia's pastry and the presentation style from Bake or Break. Traditionally, I think Linzer Tortes are usually filled with either redcurrant or raspberry jam, but even Delia seems to have tossed tradition aside, and now uses cranberry jelly, so I had no qualms about using three different jams to fill this version of the recipe.

I made 1.5 times the amount of pastry in Delia's recipe, but used a whole egg and some water to bind the dough, rather than 3 egg yolks, as I didn't want egg whites waiting to be  used up. This amount of pastry was enough to line a 12 x 8" (30 x 20cm) tin, after 200g had been put aside for the topping. I raised a shallow wall of pastry along the edges of the tin, just to stop the ram running off, then used 3 varieties of jelly-style jam to spread over the pastry base - redcurrant, apricot and blackberry. The redcurrant and apricot were ends of jars that needed using up, and there wasn't quite enough to use equal amounts of each, unfortunately  - I think the squares would have looked better with less of the darkest jelly.

I rolled out the set aside portion of dough and cut out small circles of various sizes, and dotted them over the jam. This was certainly much easier than making a lattice, especially as the dough is fairly soft and can be difficult to work with. The tray was then baked for 35 minutes at 190C, until the pastry was beginning to turn golden brown. After cooling, I cut the pasty into 12 squares, which wasn't easy, as the pastry circles wanted to sink into the jam, rather than yield to the knife!

These made a tasty little treat, although my husband always reminisces about his mother's jam tarts whenever I bake them. She cooked hers at a very high temperature until the jam had cooked to a very sticky  texture, and was quite chewy, rather than still jam-like! I think my pastry would have been burnt before that happened with this recipe.

The bottom of the three photos, a piece taken from a corner of the traybake, was the best picture to show all three colours of jam together, although it's not a good looking piece of pastry!.

Despite these squares not being traditional to Austrian cooking, I am entering them into the Formula 1 Foods challenge on Caroline Makes, which asks us to make something inspired by the country where each stage of the F1 GP season is taking place. This coming weekend the race takes place in Austria - a relatively easy country from which to take inspiration.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

White Chocolate, Coconut and Raspberry Flapjack

This recipe was devised to use up a carton of Jordan's 'Country Crisp with Raspberries'  breakfast cereal. The cereal is made up of clusters of oats and barley flakes, stuck together with sugar and palm oil and flavoured with small quantities of dried raspberries, hazelnuts and coconut. It's very tasty, and very calorific if you eat the recommended portion size, but unfortunately my husband didn't find it as filling as his usual brands of granola and muesli. Never one to waste food, flapjacks seemed a good use of what was left after he'd tried it for a few days.

I adapted my usual flapjack recipe, reducing the amount of  butter, sugar and syrup used to allow for the fat and sugar already in the cereal, and adding rolled oats for substance and a little more coconut for flavour. I also threw in the remains of a pack of white chocolate chips, just to use them up!

200g butter
75g golden syrup
125g light muscovado sugar
250g Country Crisp cereal
150g rolled oats
30g desiccated coconut
50g white chocolate chips

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together in a large bowl in the microwave, or a saucepan on the hob, then mix in the other ingredients. Spread evenly into a 30 x 20cm (12 x 8") baking tin, lined with baking parchment, and press down firmly. Bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then mark into bars with a heavy knife (I get 18 pieces out of this size of tin, but you may prefer smaller bars). Leave in the baking tin until completely cold before cutting into pieces, and storing in an airtight tin.

These flapjacks were light and crunchy, as I think some of the cereal is puffed during the manufacturing process.  This crunchiness made them harder than those I usually make, but it's nice to have an occasional change from chewy flapjacks. Although there was only a small percentage of dried raspberries (2.5%) in the cereal, their flavour was noticeable, and complimented the coconut well.

The AlphaBakes challenge,  hosted by Caroline at Caroline Makes, and Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, is to make something whose name, or principal ingredient begins with a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet.

This month the challenge is hosted by Caroline, and the chosen letter is O, so I'm entering these flapjacks because they contain OATS.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Gooseberry and Elderflower Cheesecake

While checking around the garden recently, I noticed how quickly the gooseberries were growing. That reminded me that there were still some of last year's gooseberries in the freezer, which ought to be used before this year's excess fruit went in. So when I needed a dessert to take to lunch with friends, something that could be made with frozen gooseberries seemed the best idea.

The biggest problem with taking desserts to other people is carrying them with no damage. It's also a good idea to take something ready to serve, so you're not doing last minute cooking in someone else's kitchen, or taking up oven space at an inconvenient time. A cold dessert, which was not likely to spill while travelling, seemed ideal and I eventually decided on cheesecake. After looking at several very different recipes, I chose a Mary Berry recipe (from her book 'Ultimate Cake Book') for a set gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake using gelatine. A gelatine based cheesecake could be transported still in the springform tin in which it was made, and the sides removed when ready to serve.

I never like to make an untried recipe for other people, so I had a trial run with the cheesecake the weekend before it was needed.

I adapted the recipe slightly so that I could use leaf gelatine, which I find much easier to use than powdered. I also made a few other changes, such as leaving the sugar out of the biscuit base, using the whole 250g tub of cream cheese, rather than having 25g left over, and leaving off the whipped cream decoration, as extra cream didn't seem necessary for the trial run. All I needed to do, to use leaf gelatine, was to soften nine leaves in cold water, then add them to the sieved gooseberries while the purée was still warm.

As with the rhubarb meringue pie I made recently, the addition of cream to the fruit seemed to mute the flavour. It was good, but decidedly 'delicate', and not as sharp as when using gooseberries in a pie or crumble. The crumb base was thin but this was good, as thick bases can be too hard to cut and eat easily. The set cheesecake mixture had bonded with the base well, so there wasn't any danger of things falling apart. The texture was very light and aerated - very mousse-like - so it didn't really seem like eating a cheesecake at all.

Because I was a little worried about the lack of flavour, I decided to make a tangy gooseberry sauce to eat with the cheesecake when I made it the second time, for those who liked the sharpness of gooseberries. I made this by simmering 550g of gooseberries with 80g of sugar until softened. I strained the juices back into the pan and reduced them by about half, until syrupy, while I sieved the cooked gooseberries to remove the pips. The concentrated juices were stirred back into the purée - more sugar could be added at this stage, to taste, but I decided to leave the sauce quite sharp.

By the time I made the second cheesecake, the elderflowers were almost out, so I decorated the cheesecake with small sprigs of flower buds and gooseberry leaves, rather than whipped cream, and served it with creme fraiche. Unfortunately, as I had to leave it in the springform tin for transportation, I couldn't get a good photo of the second cheesecake.

As the mousse-like texture of this cheesecake relies on beaten egg whites, I'm entering this into Belleau Kitchen's Simply Eggcellent bloggers link-up for June, which is for recipes where free-range eggs feature heavily. Dom hasn't set a theme for this month - anything goes - but a light cheesecake with seasonal fruit is perfect for this time of year.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Impossible Coconut Pie

Impossible pies are so called because it's impossible to believe that such a large quantity of very  sloppy cake batter could ever cook into something edible. However, while baking, the mixture separates into layers - a thin dense bottom crust that is very much like pastry, with a custard like layer in the middle that gradually changes to a lighter airy sponge on top. When the impossible pie is a coconut pie, the top becomes golden and crunchy, which is a good contrast to the moist custard layer below.

After some discussion about impossible pies (also sometimes called 'magic custard cakes') with other online foodies, I decided to try one out for myself. I used a recipe taken from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking', which just mixes all the ingredients together and pours them into a large pie dish before baking for 50 minutes. Some recipes make things a little more complicated by whisking the egg whites separately and folding them into the batter.

I really didn't expect my husband to like this, as he's doesn't usually like anything that even hints of custard, but he surprised me by saying he thought it was quite good! Perhaps it was the coconut that won him over!

This was so quick and easy to make, using ingredients that any baker keeps to hand, that I think I'll be investigating other recipes for impossible pie soon - I've heard there's a chocolate version!

In the photos of the cut pie, I think you can see how the custard layer gradually becomes lighter and spongy  as you get towards the top.