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.

Ingredients
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)

Method
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!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

with coconut and lime sponge.

I only wanted a small dessert, for the two of us, so the sponge layer was a two-egg all-in-one mixture. As the coconut oil was fairly liquid, this could easily be made with just a spoon and bowl - no need to get out any electric appliance:

100g coconut oil
100g caster sugar
90g SR flour
50g desiccated coconut
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lime.

I used a metal non-stick pie dish, as I thought the sloping sides might look quite attractive on the inverted cake. I creamed together 50g unsalted butter, 20g golden syrup and 30g light muscovado sugar and spread this in the base of the tin to make the traditional sticky topping. On top of this I then arranged slices of cored fresh pineapple  - about 1cm thick. I put a whole slice in the centre, but had to halve the other three slices to get them to fit into the dish. Into the spaces left in the arrangement of pineapple slices I put some glacé cherry halves.

I spread the cake batter gently over the fruit, so that it wasn't dislodged, and then the cake was baked for about 35 minutes at 180C until the sponge was firm and golden. After cooling for 10 minutes the cake was turned out onto a plate to finish cooling, revealing the neat pattern of pineapple slices.

The mix of pineapple with coconut and lime gave a nice tropical flavour to this dessert, and made a pleasant change from the traditional plain sponge base. Although I used fresh pineapple, once the fruit was cooked it didn't seem very different from using tinned pineapple in the same way, so don't think that fresh fruit is really essential.

I'm entering this cake into this month's AlphaBakes Challenge (rules here), a blog challenge co-hosted by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional BakerThis month the challenge is hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, who has chosen the letter P. In this case, P is for pineapple, obviously!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Double Cheese and Onion Soufflé Tart

This soufflé tart filling was a revelation! Good-bye soggy bottoms, farewell rubbery egg custard! I know that it is possible to make perfect pastry, blind bake to the exact point needed, get the custard into the case without spilling any, not have any cracks in the pastry for the custard to leak through, get the dish into the oven without any custard overflowing and get the exact set needed for the filling to be creamy rather than rubbery (and not soak into the pastry to give the dreaded soggy bottom) - but how often do they all come together to produce the perfect quiche?

I found the recipe on the Good Food website, and even though I've never made a soufflé, I found the idea of a soufflé filling for a savoury tart quite intriguing. In practice it was even better than I imagined - because the filling was quite solid (like a stiff meringue mix rather than cream), there was no liquid to soak into the pastry, or find the smallest crack to leak through. The pastry case could be filled to the brim without fear of overflow and the filling baked to a light springy texture, rather like a good baked cheesecake. The pastry case also released off the base  of the tin like a dream - something that has never happened when I make a quiche - and it stayed crisp for the three days it took to finish eating the tart.

Although I followed the recipe for the filling exactly, I made my own shortcrust cheese pastry, using 250g SR flour, 125g butter, 50g parmesan cheese and a little cold water. I used the pastry to line a deep 22cm loose-bottomed flan tin, and baked blind following the times and temperature in the recipe. The filling rose above the pastry during baking, and here was the only problem I encountered during making this tart - it was difficult to judge the end point of cooking. To be sure the soufflé was properly cooked, I turned off the oven after the time stated and left the tart in the cooling oven. This worked very well - the filling was cooked all the way through but still moist and creamy in texture. Once cooled, like all soufflés, it fell back to it's original level, but thankfully didn't sink in the middle, which was what I was fearing if it was undercooked.

The flavours in this quiche all worked well together - the sweet yet piquant caramelised onion chutney offset the richness of the soufflé filling, and the crisp pastry was a good contrast to the soft filling. I had picked a mild goat cheese, yet it was still evident that it was goat cheese being used - the flavour wasn't overwhelmed by any of the other ingredients. I'm not sure if this method could be adapted to make tarts with more solid pieces in the filling, such as bacon or vegetables, but  for a straightforward cheese tart this is so much better than a traditional quiche, and not that much more complicated to make.

The tart case only used 2/3 of the pastry, so there was plenty remaining to make some pesto pinwheels with the leftovers - the pastry was rolled to a rectangle, spread with a couple of tablespoons of pesto, rolled up like a swiss roll, chilled, then cut into 2cm slices and baked alongside the pastry case at 200C for about 20 minutes. (See the photo above.)

I'm sending this tart to Tea Time Treats (rules here), a baking challenge hosted jointly by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedge Combers. This month, Karen at Lavender and Lovage has asked us to produce something suitable for a picnic tea, and this tart certainly fits the bill - it would be easy to transport while still in the baking tin, and once cut is sturdy enough to be eaten by hand. It is also very tasty when eaten cold.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars

using Lotus Caramelised Biscuit Spread

Lotus brand Caramelised Biscuit Spread (also known as Biscoff spread) has been available for a few years now, but for some reason sales have suddenly surged in the UK. It could be because some reviews describe it as 'crack in a jar' as it's apparently so addictive - if you've ever eaten Nutella or peanut butter by the spoonful in a darkened kitchen, you'll know that feeling! It's basically Lotus brand caramelised biscuits which have been made into a spread with the addition of more oil and sugar. The biscuits themselves are a mass market version of speculoos, and are lightly flavoured with cinnamon.

When I saw the spread on special offer at the supermarket, I thought it was time to do a little research and find out what the fuss was about. I found, to my surprise, that there is a limit to the amount of sweetness I will tolerate - I liked the cinnamon flavour but there's no way I could eat this as a spread on toast or in sandwiches, as suggested. It's described as an alternative to peanut butter or Nutella, but a quick look at the ingredients shows it has even less claim to any form of nutrition than those products. Do you really need a biscuit sandwich for breakfast?

Anyway, to avoid wasting the jar, I looked for recipes to use it up. What I soon realised was that it could be used as a direct substitute for peanut butter in any recipe,  so I decided to try it in my favourite peanut butter recipe - Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars. I reduced all the quantities to 2/3, to bake in an 8" square tin, and reduced the sugar even more to allow for the sugar in the biscuit spread. I also used plain chocolate, to counteract the amount of sugar in the cake batter.

So, the ingredients were: 160g caramelised biscuit spread, 60g softened butter, 175g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 90g plain flour, a pinch of salt and 250g plain chocolate, roughly chopped and divided in half (half for the batter and half for the topping). I followed the method described in the recipe link.

The bars had a lovely texture - somewhere between a cake and a cookie - and a subtle caramel flavour. However, the cinnamon flavour noticeable in the biscuit spread had been diluted too far - I would recommend adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake batter, to get back to the flavour of the spread.

These are still packed with calories, but if you cut into small enough bars, and exercise some restraint, I don't think you'll come to too much harm - they're certainly not addictive!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Courgette and Bacon Gratin


If there's one over-riding reason why I don't post many savoury recipes, it's because I don't often follow a recipe when I make something for dinner. Obviously there's a general template to follow to produce something like a lasagne, or a sausage pie, and I'm often inspired by recipes I've read, but I don't make things exactly the same every time, and I don't often take note of the quantities I use, particularly when I add things to adjust the flavour and seasoning as I go along. Generally, cooking of this sort is a lot more forgiving than baking cakes, where more precision is usually needed.

I did take a bit more notice while I was making this gratin, partly because Hubs has accused me of thwarting his efforts to lose weight by making too many cakes and desserts, so I might have less to post unless I write about my savoury cooking. As I say, I took a bit more notice, but it's still a fairly loose recipe - a little more or less of anything would probably have worked just as well, and it could easily be made a vegetarian recipe by leaving out the bacon and choosing a vegetarian-compatible cheese. I used this recipe by Ina Garten as inspiration.

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
half an onion, finely chopped
100g smoked bacon or pancetta pieces
3 medium courgettes - around 500g - cut into 0.5cm slices
1 clove garlic, crushed
12 sage leaves, finely shredded
1 tablespoon plain flour
milk, as necessary - roughly 200mls
salt and pepper to taste
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon pine nuts

Method
Heat the oil on a medium heat, in a large frying pan, and fry the bacon pieces and onion until the bacon is beginning to brown. Lower the heat a little and add the courgettes and garlic, and continue frying, turning occasionally, until the courgettes are beginning to soften.

Add the sage leaves, then stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the milk gradually, allowing the sauce to thicken between additions. There will be more liquid coming out of the courgettes as the gratin bakes in the oven, so you want a very thick coating sauce at this stage, otherwise there will be too much thin sauce at the end of cooking. Season to taste - I didn't need any extra salt because of the bacon. Put this mixture into an ovenproof dish.

Mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, and scatter in an even layer over the courgette mixture. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and golden and the courgettes are really soft.

We  really enjoyed this accompanied by a mixture of runner beans and mange tout peas. Hubs doesn't really like completely vegetarian meals, so adding the bacon made it tastier for him. I was also trying to keep this meal relatively low in carbohydrates; for a more filling dish cooked pasta or potatoes could be added, but then I think the sauce would need to be a little thinner, as pasta goes on absorbing moisture during baking.

Looking at the photographs, I feel I ought to explain the idiosyncrasy of cutting mange tout peas in half. Hubs is basically lazy, so eats with just a fork where possible (although just a spoon is even better!). Mange tout peas sometimes have a long stringy bit along one side - if you haven't got a knife handy, this can make them unpleasant to eat whole, as well as difficult to fit into your mouth!