Thursday, 11 February 2016

Brownies with Salted Chocolate Chunks and Caramelised Biscuit Spread Swirl

Choclette, at Tin and Thyme, has set us the task of baking with chocolate and butter in this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. Whilst I've always been a firm believer in baking with butter, I have had occasion to use substitutes - I experimented quite a lot with oils, when my son was still living at home and on a low-saturated fat diet, and I've used Pure sunflower spread and coconut oil for non-dairy baking. I would say that, in general, substituting baking spreads for butter, or using oil in recipes, works very well, especially in sponge-type cakes, where oils, in particular, make very moist cakes.

However, there are, for me, two categories of baked goods where butter cannot be substituted so successfully. One is flapjacks, where you need a hard fat to get final texture right and where butter is much better for flavour once you go down the route of using saturated fat. The second category is brownies, especially if you like dense fudgy brownies, as I do. With growing evidence that butter is healthier than spreads and baking products based on hardened vegetable oils, there's really no reason not to use butter when baking these types of things. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that it is the amount of sugar that we should be worrying about - whether it's refined cane or beet sugar or sugar from more 'natural' sources, such as honey, maple syrup, or fruit molasses.

Anyway - back to brownies! In the past I've tried brownies made with vegetable oil, mayonnaise and puréed fruit and vegetables in an effort to reduce saturated fat levels, and while the results were usually acceptable, these substitutes made brownies that were lighter and cakier than brownies made with butter. Other than butter, coconut oil gives the best result, but that is because it is an oil with high levels of saturated fat, which makes it my choice for non-dairy brownies,

Having decided to make brownies for this buttery challenge, I looked for ways to make my basic recipe more exciting. I had some  Lotus brand Caramelised Biscuit Spread leftover from Christmas, which I thought would make a good addition to brownies, especially if I could swirl it across the top of them. Because this spread is very sweet, I decided to add some salt to the brownies to offset the sweetness a little. I used a bar of sea-salted milk chocolate, chopped into chunks, in the main part of the batter, and sprinkled a little vanilla/sea-salt mixture on top too.

140g plain chocolate - at least 60% cocoa solids (I used 70%)
140g unsalted butter
300g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
100g milk chocolate with added sea-salt (I used Green and Black's)
200g caramelised biscuit spread
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes*

*I used vanilla sea-salt, made by adding a split vanilla pod to a cup of flaked sea-salt, in a jar, and leaving it for a couple of weeks, shaking occasionally. The vanilla seeds come out into the salt.

Line a shallow 20cm(8") baking tin with parchment and pre-heat oven to 180C.
Melt the chocolate and butter together, in a large mixing bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove the bowl from the heat.
Stir in the sugar, until there are no lumps and the mixture is quite smooth.
If the mixture is more than lukewarm at this stage, let it cool a little more, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour and cocoa into the chocolate mixture and fold in.
Weigh 150g of batter into a small bowl, and stir the chocolate chunks into the larger portion of batter.
Spread the larger amount of batter into the prepared baking tin.
Weigh the biscuit spread into a microwave-proof bowl and heat for 25 seconds on full power to melt. I got the idea of melting the spread from this recipe on the Biscoff site. (This could probably be done in a small pan over a low heat, if a m/wave isn't available.)
Drizzle the melted biscuit spread over the surface of the brownie batter, letting it spread out naturally to cover as much of the surface as possible.
Pour the remaining brownie batter, in three stripes, across the surface of the biscuit spread, then use the end of a spoon to mix the chocolate batter and biscuit spread into swirls, without going too deep into the main brownie mixture. Using a small amount of the brownie batter on top of the biscuit spread layer in this way makes it easier to swirl the two mixtures together.
Sprinkle the sea-salt flakes over the surface, then bake for about 30 minutes until the brownie mixture has set, and a probe comes out with just a few damp crumbs adhering to it. The biscuit spread will crust over but still be liquid at this point, so don't confuse that with wet batter!
Leave until completely cold before cutting into pieces - the biscuit spread stays liquid for a surprisingly long time!

These brownies were delicious! The salted chocolate chunks, and the small amount of salt sprinkled over the top of the brownies was just enough to subdue the sweetness of the biscuit spread, without the brownies becoming overwhelmingly salty. The biscuit spread itself, as it was in such a thin layer,  was delicately flavoured with cinnamon and caramel, adding just a hint of extra flavour to the brownies. This variation on my basic brownie recipe is definitely something worth repeating!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Morning Glory Yogurt Loaf

an Anna Olson recipe

I'd never heard of Morning Glory Bread, until I started looking for a recipe for a loaf-shaped cake using yogurt in the batter. It seems that it's a quick breakfast 'bread', of the type popular in America and Canada - the sort of thing that's often called a tea-bread over here, as we haven't really embraced the habit of eating what seems like cake for breakfast, yet! It's raised with baking powder rather than yeast, and is packed full of whatever the cook has available in the way of fruit and nuts. This Anna Olson recipe adds tinned pineapple (or fresh peaches), raisins, coconut and orange zest, but on further investigation I found recipes adding things such as bananas, walnuts and even grated carrots too.

I had already decided to make a coconut flavoured loaf, as that was just about all I had in my store of cake 'add-ins', and had found a couple of possible recipes, but when I came across this recipe, with it's extra flavour elements, I knew I had to try it. Luckily I also had the remains of a bag of sultanas, that I could use instead of raisins, and there was a tin of pineapple rings in the larder, which I could blitz to turn into crushed pineapple. I used unsweetened desiccated coconut; I didn't think it would make too much difference as there was quite a lot of sugar in the loaf.

Most yogurt cakes use oil instead of butter, so are made by simply mixing wet ingredients in one bowl, dry in another and combining the two. Because this recipe used butter there was the added stage of creaming it with the sugar before adding the wet ingredients,  but it was still an easy recipe to follow.

The only problem I had was one of baking time - I've no idea how long the loaf spent in the oven, as I gave up keeping note after 90 minutes. I eventually took it out when my digital thermometer read 94C as I thought that was as near to 100C as the cake was going to get, and I needed the oven at a different temperature by then! The huge discrepancy between the recipe and my experience may have been down to a differently proportioned loaf tin (mine was short and deep), or the moisture in the tinned pineapple.

This was a very moist, close-textured loaf, because of the juicy pineapple. Although it was packed with fruit, and hadn't risen much it still seemed quite a light cake. The flavours of the pineapple and coconut were the most dominant, with the orange and touch of cinnamon providing subtle background notes. I treated this loaf as a cake, but it would also have made a good dessert, perhaps heating slices in a griddle pan and serving with poached fruit and yogurt.

The reason I wanted to bake a cake containing yogurt was that this month's AlphaBakes challenge is the letter Y. My imagination failed to come up with anything out of the ordinary for either an ingredient or a recipe name beginning with Y, so yogurt will have to do! AlphaBakes is hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker, and it is Caroline who is hosting this month's challenge.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Beetroot Cake

It's a measure of changing tastes that it's almost impossible to find a reliable recipe for a simple beetroot cake; the first 16 pages of Google search  results showed almost exclusively chocolate and beetroot cake recipes, and most of those without chocolate were paleo or so-called  'healthy'! I knew Nigel Slater had a recipe, but didn't want that one. In the end I searched through my store of pages torn from food magazines to go back to Nigella Lawson's recipe for 'Ruby Red Loaf Cake' and adapted it to suit the ingredients I wanted to use; the biggest adaptation, and worry about how well it would work, was using cooked beetroot instead of raw.

The recipe was published in Sainsbury's magazine in 2001, but I have no idea which book it was published in. My recollection of it was that the cake batter stayed pink when it baked, but I didn't manage to achieve that this time - possibly because I cut out the juice of half a lemon, or because I used already cooked beet rather than raw. I really should do some scientific research into this, to find out what keeps the colour in the beet as it cooks - a pink cake is so much more attractive!

200g cooked beetroot
250g butter at room temperature
200g light brown sugar
the zest of an orange, finely grated
3 large eggs
150g dried fruit (I used 40g dried sour cherries cut in half, 60g dried cranberries and 50g sultanas)
1 teaspoon cinnamon or mixed spice
150g SR flour
150g spelt flour
60 mls milk, to mix, plus more if necessary

50g icing sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
the liquid from the drained beetroot - see method

Finely grate the beetroot and leave in a sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes, to allow excess liquid to drain off. Reserve this liquid if you want to frost the cake.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare a deep 8" square cake tin.
Beat the butter sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy, then slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour each time.
Fold in the dried fruit, grated beetroot and spice, followed by half the flour, the milk, then the rest of the flour. If necessary add a little more milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
Transfer the batter to the cake tin and spread evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a test probe comes out cleanly.
Cool in the tin, on a wire rack, for at least 30 minutes before taking the cake out of the tin.

If desired, frost the cold cake using the sifted icing sugar mixed with the lemon juice and enough of the drained-off beet liquid to give a deep pink colour. I put the glacé icing into a plastic bag and snipped off the corner so that I could drizzle just a little icing over the cake.

This was a pleasant cake, very similar to a carrot cake. The beetroot couldn't be tasted, so the flavour was from the orange zest, spice and dried fruit. I'd have been happier with the cake if the beetroot had been more visible, but even the flecks of grated beet seemed to lose the pink colour during baking.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sesame and Ginger Oat Biscuits

 - made from pastry scraps!

I've used this recipe before, when I've had a substantial amount of leftover shortcrust pastry. Last time I reduced the sugar in the original recipe and made savoury oat biscuits, this time I left in the suggested amount of sugar, added some sesame seeds and some crystallised ginger and made some fairly plain, not too sweet, biscuits which provided welcome relief from the excesses of rich food over the Christmas period.

It's more of a baking tip than a recipe - you weigh your pastry leftovers, then add the same weight of rolled oats and half that weight of butter and sugar. I started with 180g of shortcrust pastry, so added 180g of oats, 90g butter and 90g of soft brown sugar. I also added 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and 50g of finely chopped crystallised ginger.

After leaving the bowl of ingredients for half an hour or so, for the pastry and butter to soften, everything is kneaded together either by hand or in a food processor. The dough is then rolled out to about 5mm thick and cut into shapes of your choice. These take about 15 minutes to bake at 180C - they need to be firm but not coloured too darkly.

The recipe I used, plus some other suggestions for using up leftover pastry, can be found on this link to the Guardian 'Readers' Recipe Swap'.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Mincemeat, Prune and Orange Cake

The writer of the blog where I found this recipe calls it a 'Lazy Girl Cake' but at this time of year I'd also call it a cheapskate's cake, as you can often find mincemeat being sold off cheaply to get rid of seasonal stock. I found double-sized jars (820g) in Waitrose for only 60p!

Phil at As Strong as Soup directed me to the recipe here, on the English version of C'est Moi Qui L'ai Fait! but I also found it on this site, which claims that it originates in a National Trust recipe book. Whatever it's origins, I adapted the recipe a little, for my own tastes, using chopped prunes instead of sultanas and adding the zest of an orange to compliment the fact that there were quite a lot of citrus-y ingredients in the mincemeat.

150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
225g SR flour
75g ready to eat prunes chopped into small pieces
400-410g mincemeat (1 standard sized jar)
the zest of an orange, finely grated

Pre-heat the oven to 160C and prepare a 20cm(8") or 23cm(9") loose-based cake tin.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, orange zest and half the flour into a mixing bowl, and beat until well blended, and light and fluffy - easiest with a hand-held electric mixer.
Fold in the rest of the flour, the mincemeat and the chopped prunes.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, and bake until a test probe comes out clean - it will be roughly 90 minutes for the 20cm cake and 75 minutes for the larger cake which will be more shallow.
Cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

This is a gently flavoured cake - the usual spiciness of mincemeat is diluted by the cake batter, and adding orange zest increases the citrus notes. Obviously, the flavour will vary depending on the mincemeat used - mine didn't contain nuts or alcohol! The prunes were the biggest pieces of fruit so stood out in both the appearance and taste of the cake. Again, this is a factor that can be varied to taste - I considered dried apricots and cranberries before going with the prunes.

This is such a simple way to make a well-flavoured light fruit cake that I'm sure I'll be using it throughout the year - I've got quite a bit of cheap mincemeat to use now!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Honey Nut Tart

I think this tart must be very similar to a Pecan Pie; it uses sugars, butter and eggs to make the filling, but here the pecans are replaced by hazelnuts and walnuts, and the syrup (corn or maple) used in most recipes is replaced by honey - you could call it an Anglicised version of the classic American dessert.

I saw the recipe in the latest National Trust newsletter, following an article about all that the National Trust is doing to help the plight of the honeybee, including supporting the National Pollinator Strategy. I can't find the recipe (Sissinghurst Honey, Walnut and Cobnut Tart) online, except as a .pdf file, but it's very simple  - the first thing you need is a 9" (22 - 23cm) shallow sweetened shortcrust pastry flan case, baked blind. For the filling, scatter 100g each of roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts (or fresh cobnuts. in season) and walnut pieces over the pastry case then pour over the sticky filling. This is made by melting 85g of butter, then stirring in
100g of set honey. This mixture is blended with 4 medium-sized beaten eggs and 175g of light brown sugar (the recipe used demerara, which I didn't have). When the mixture feels smooth and the sugar has dissolved, pour over the nuts to fill the pastry case as much as possible (I had a little of the filling left over). Bake for 30 - 40 minutes at 190C, until the filling is firm. I found the filling baked in 25 minutes, so it might be an idea to use a slightly lower temperature than that used to bake the pastry case - I suspect a misprint in the recipe! Serve at room temperature.

This was a gloriously indulgent, sweet and sticky tart, with the flavours of both nuts still identifiable. I was a little disappointed that the honey was lost amongst all the sweetness and nuttiness, but perhaps that was down to my choice of honey. A really strongly flavoured one might have stood up better, although I'm always wary of recipes which use a lot of sugar as well as honey - there's often not enough honey to give a strong flavour.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Spiced Fig Squares

I make no apologies for posting two consecutive bakes based on oats - flapjacks, and this type of fruit-filled square, are quick to assemble and bake and we all know oats are healthy, don't we?

I based my recipe on these Date Squares from Joy of Baking, but I used figs for the filling and scaled the recipe down to fit a smaller baking tin - 20cm(8") square. I also used spelt flour instead of wheatflour in the dough.

250g soft dried figs
150mls water
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice*
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
160g porridge oats
100g spelt flour
100g soft light brown sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
180g butter

*I used Waitrose Signature Spice mix, which is predominantly cinnamon but also contains ginger,  nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, star anise, black pepper, tangerine oil and cloves.

Cut the figs into small pieces, either with scissors, as I did, or in a food processor. Put into a small saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the water is absorbed. Stir in the spice and pomegranate molasses.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line the base and sides of a 20cm (8") square baking tin with baking parchment.
Put the oats, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter (or use a food processor to mix in cold butter in pulses until the mixture is crumbly and just beginning to come together).

Put roughly 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin, spread evenly then press down firmly.
Dot small heaps of the fruit mix over the dough, and use a knife or back of a spoon to spread out into an even layer, right to the edges of the tin.
Crumble over the rest of the dough mix and again, spread evenly. Press down gently to firm the mixture.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. Cool in the tin, marking into squares or bars before it cools completely.

These spiced fig squares were a little crumblier than I really like, although they did firm up a bit after the first day. The spiced fig filling was delicious, although I would use a bit more spice if I made them again, and cut the figs into smaller pieces in my mini-processor, rather than snip into pieces with scissors.