Sunday, 10 June 2018

Courgette Slice, with Bacon and Herbs

I make this recipe more often than I write about it, as it's become a staple warm weather dish; it makes an excellent meal when accompanied by salads. Depending on how filling the salad selection is, it will feed 4-6 people. The added flour also makes it sturdier than a frittata, so it's ideal for carrying to picnics, and of course, with no pastry, it's quicker and easier to make than a quiche.

This time, I was starting with bacon, so there was an extra step involved to fry the bacon until crisp and drain off the excess fat. If ready-cooked ham is used, it's just a matter of chopping and grating the vegetables and mixing everything together. The resulting mixture is then baked in a 23cm/9" parchment lined round baking dish at 195C (175C fan) for about 50 minutes, until firm and golden. I find that it's best eaten at room temperature, or even slightly chilled, rather than warm.

Ingredients:
300g coarsely grated/sliced vegetables (I used 200g grated courgettes, 70g grated carrots and half a red pepper, which I sliced very finely)
1 large onion, finely chopped
100g grated cheddar cheese
200g smoked bacon lardons, fried until crisp, then drained of fat (or 150g ham, cut into small strips)
A small bunch of fresh mixed herbs, finely chopped (I used sage, winter savory and lemon thyme)
5 large eggs
125mls sunflower oil
130g SR flour
Seasoning to taste - a little salt and plenty of pepper, plus a few chilli flakes, if liked


Monday, 28 May 2018

Hazelnut, Lemon and Elderflower Cake

Although I didn't pay much attention to the recent Royal Wedding, I must have been subconsciously influenced by the talk of a lemon and elderflower wedding cake, as I suddenly felt that that was the cake I really I wanted to eat.

Having decided which recipe to use, I realised that I didn't have any ground almonds, so used hazelnuts instead. I love using ground hazelnuts in cakes, as they actually add flavour, as well as keeping the cake moist - so often the flavour of almonds is lost, unless you are using a lot, or add almond extract too.

I chose to adapt this BBC Good Food recipe for a Lighter Lemon Drizzle Cake, as it is a reduced fat recipe, and uses oil instead of butter. I've always found it reliable, producing a light, moist cake with a good crumb texture. As I've mentioned, I used ground hazelnuts instead of almonds, and also used sunflower oil instead of rapeseed, as that's what I always have available. Instead of a lemon drizzle, I reduced 150mls of elderflower cordial by half, and drizzled that over the cooked cake, while still hot, then sprinkled the cake lightly with caster sugar.

This was a subtly flavoured cake - none of the three flavours dominated, although I would have liked to taste more of the elderflower; I think I was just unlucky that the brand of elderflower cordial that I bought was very delicate. Despite that, it was a very good cake for a warm spring weekend.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake

I'm so glad I decided to bake this Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake, even though it was too big for me, and I had to freeze half of it in slices. It's the best cake I've tasted for a long time!

The recipe, from the ever reliable and inventive Dan Lepard, popped up on my Facebook feed recently, as I follow the Australian Good Food site. A lot of the recipes there aren't immediately relevant, as the seasons are reversed, but a lot of cake recipes, like this one, aren't seasonal anyway.

As is often the case with Dan, the recipe has a slightly unusual method - it wasn't difficult, but there were one or two points worth remembering for next time. The recipe says to heat the sugar and molasses (I used black treacle) together until any lumps of sugar have softened, but not to boil the mixture. The butter is then melted in the warm sugar. I don't think I heated the sugar enough, as when it was tipped into my mixing bowl a layer set on the bottom, which was really difficult to mix back in, and the butter, which I had cut into small cubes, only just melted. Better to have a little more heat, I think, then wait for the sugar and butter mixture to cool a little, if necessary, before going on to the next stage of adding the eggs, so that the excess heat doesn't cook the eggs.

I used a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, which made a more shallow cake than the one shown with the recipe, but a 450g (1lb) tin would have been too small, and we don't have an in-between size in the UK, as far as I'm aware.

I added about 3 tablespoons of rum to the cake - all there was left in the bottle - and it soaked in easily. I'd probably add a bit more next time, as the flavour wasn't as strong as I'd expected.

Because I was going to freeze part of the cake, I didn't make the frosting. I don't often add frostings to everyday cakes, but I think I'd add one if I made this for a special occasion - and the cake is certainly good enough for that!

There was a relatively large amount of desiccated coconut in this recipe, compared to traditional British coconut cake recipes, but it was almost overwhelmed by the stronger flavours of the black treacle and the spices. The texture of the cake was soft but not too sponge-like; in some ways it was more like a gingerbread than a coconut cake, although it didn't get a sticky top when stored.

This is definitely a recipe to repeat!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Date and Tahini Brownies

This recipe from Jill Dupleix, for Tahini and Date Brownies, made a fantastic chocolate cake, but I couldn't really relate it to the sort of thing I expect from a brownie recipe - it was far too light! Using puréed dates gave a lovely soft, but rich, texture, as well as cutting down on the amount of refined sugar and fat usually used in a recipe of this size, but did stop the brownies being dense and fudgy.

The amount of tahini in the recipe didn't make much of an impact on the flavour either. It's hard to tell unless I made the same recipe without the tahini, but we certainly didn't bite into a brownie and say 'Oooh! Good sesame flavour there!'

I puréed the dates with a stick blender, which was pretty hard going, as the purée was so thick. A blender attached to a food processor would probably given a smoother purée, but that wasn't possible for me. To those who profess to not like the flavour of dates, I would say, if you get a really smooth purée, you wouldn't even know the dates were there! However, I liked the odd little nubble of date left in my purée, just to remind me what was in the brownie.

If you are worried about the amount of refined sugar your family is eating, you would probably enjoy this recipe. I think it would make a good rich chocolate layer cake too - I'm pretty sure it would fit into 2 x 18cm (7") sandwich tins.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Emergency Brownies with Pistachio Nuts and Chilli Chocolate

I've used Nigella Lawson's recipe for Emergency Brownies, from her latest book 'At My Table', several times now; not because I have frequent emergencies, but because the recipe is just the right size for someone living on their own, who tries hard not to overindulge on cake.

As I said before, it's not the best recipe for brownies that I've ever made, but it's pretty good! This time, I used pistachio nuts left over from Easter baking, and chilli-flavoured chocolate (that was a bit of an emergency - my chocolate stocks were very low!)

The recipe is online now, here on the BBC Food website. I'd advise you to save a copy, as experience has taught me that the BBC doesn't keep celebrity chefs' recipes for ever! Next time you need it, it'll probably be gone! I find that 20 minutes baking leaves the brownies still slightly gooey in the centre, but I think my tin size is a little smaller than the one Nigella suggests, making the brownies a little deeper.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pistachio and Marzipan Palmiers

I have to admit that this was more of an assembly job than a real baking session, but these puff pastry biscuits were a lovely treat over the Easter weekend. I also have to admit that I chose the recipe to use the last of the Christmas marzipan, which had been stored, well wrapped, in the fridge since I made these Mincemeat and Marzipan Squares a month ago.

The recipe was in this feature on Easter baking, in the Guardian newspaper. There are a few points to note when it comes to assembly - the nut mixture needs to be firmly embedded into the pastry (I found it best to press down with the rolling pin rather than roll), and I felt that a longer chilling time would have made the roll of dough easier to cut. Unfortunately I didn't have more time at that stage as I needed the oven for the joint of lamb we were having for dinner. I baked the palmiers at 180C fan (200C conventional) as the temperature given in the recipe seemed a bit low for cooking puff pastry in a conventional oven. The palmiers still took the full 20 minutes to bake to a light golden colour, so my decision to raise the oven temperature seemed correct.

These are best eaten the day they are baked; the pastry wasn't quite so crisp the next day. Comparing my photos to the illustration with the recipe, it looks as though I should have processed the nuts and marzipan to a finer texture, but I liked the crunch of some larger pieces of nuts.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Blondies with a Hazelnut Butter and Cocoa Filling

I bought a jar of hazelnut butter flavoured with cocoa. My thinking was that it would be a healthier treat than Nutella, as it only had a little added sugar (10% honey) and it was also safe to have around when my daughter visited, as she has a peanut allergy, and worries about cross-contamination if she sees I have any peanut butter in the house. The problem was that I didn't really like it. Although the hazelnut flavour was very good, the texture was grainy and it just wasn't sweet enough for me when eaten on plain biscuits - I guess I'm a Nutella girl at heart!

Never one to throw away food if it can be used somehow, I decided that it would be ideal cooked into something sweet, so decided to use it as a layer in the middle of some blondies instead of adding chocolate chips. The plan worked very well, although the blondie recipe I chose was more like cookie dough than blondie batter. The hazelnut flavour came through strongly, and the blondies looked quite attractive too. If I made them again, I think I would add some small chocolate chips too, to increase the chocolate flavour. The hazelnut butter alone didn't have enough chocolate-ness.

Ingredients
125g butter
200g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
125g hazelnut butter with added cocoa (the brand I used was Meridian, which had a little honey and coconut added too)

Method
Line a 20cm(8") square shallow baking tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C(160 fan).
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extrat together until well blended and creamy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour.
Sift in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and beat until well mixed.
Spread 2/3 of the mixture into the baking tin - it helps to wet the back of a metal spoon to spread the thick dough more easily.
Spread the hazelnut butter over the dough, to within 1cm of the edges.
Drop teaspoonsful of the rest of the dough evenly over the surface, then use a wet spoon to flatten and spread the dough as much as possible - it isn't necessary to completely cover the hazelnut butter layer.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until the blondie dough is risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin, then cut into fingers or squares.