Friday, 1 February 2019

Mincemeat and Orange Cake

With this cake I surprised myself by finishing off my mincemeat before the end of January; it's not unusual for me to be baking with the remnants from a jar at Easter. I've used this recipe before, adding my own touches to the ingredients, as you can see here.

As I had two jars of mincemeat open, one of which had orange flavour notes, I added the zest of an orange to the cake, and soaked the rather wizened sultanas I was using in the juice of the orange for a couple of hours, before draining off the excess. I was lucky that there was just about 400g of mincemeat when the contents of both jars were combined. I also added a sprinkling of demerara sugar as a topping, before baking.

I cooked the cake in a smaller tin - 20cm in diameter - as I prefer a deeper cake, but this didn't affect the cooking time, it was still done in 75 minutes.

It looks, in the photo as if the fruit sank, but that's just the randomness of that particular slice - it was  much more evenly distributed in reality! Adding the orange definitely perked up the cake - the usual spiciness and tartness of mincemeat is muted when it's spread though cake batter, giving a much more gentle flavour.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Mincemeat Shortbread Bars

There's always mincemeat to use up after Christmas, but even with an opened jar in the fridge, I couldn't resist a 'reduced to clear' jar of Bitter Orange and Juniper Mincemeat in Waitrose. So I rolled out my favourite shortbread slice recipe yet again! I've made mincemeat versions of this with various embellishments - marzipan or chopped hazelnuts in the topping, cranberry sauce mixed with the mincemeat - but decided that this time I'd use the mincemeat just as it was, to allow the orange and juniper flavours to shine through. I used about 300g of mincemeat for the filling, but it wouldn't have hurt to add a bit more.

Although the recipe was as good as usual, with crisp, melt in the mouth shortbread layers, I was a little disappointed that the advertised flavours of the mincemeat - bitter orange and juniper - weren't really very strong at all. It didn't seem much different to the basic mincemeat I'd used for my mincepies at Christmas, and in the past I've added better orange flavour by adding freshly grated orange zest to mincemeat.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Salted Caramel Brownies

My second festive bake, aiming to be more versatile. These are great warm, with cream or ice cream, as a dessert, but are also good for coffee breaks and tea times. I was lucky in my choice of salted caramel sauce -  from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range - as it stayed soft and gooey after baking, even when the brownies were cold. It added an extra touch of decadence to have the caramel oozing out!

I used my usual recipe for the brownies - Melt 140g butter and 140g of 70% plain chocolate together. This can be done in a microwave, but I prefer to do it in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool a little if necessary, as you don't want to scramble the eggs, then add 300g light muscovado sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Next, add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beating each one in to give a smooth batter. Sift 160g plain flour and 3 tablespoons of cocoa into the bowl and fold in.

Set aside about 3 tablespoons of the batter, and transfer the rest to a 20cm square shallow tin, lined with baking parchment. Warm 250g salted caramel sauce, if necessary, so that it flows easily, and spread it over the surface of the batter. Dot the reserved batter, a teaspoon at a time, over the caramel then swirl the caramel and brownie mixture together, without going to deeply into the batter.

Bake at 180C for 40 minutes. It's difficult to do a skewer test as the caramel stays liquid and becomes very hot and bubbly, but as the brownies cool, everything settles down. When the brownies are cold, cut into bars or squares. I usually cut into 16 squares.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Lemon Curd and Hazelnut Tart

This was one of my Christmas desserts - not very festive, but I'd just made 2 large jars of lemon curd with some excess lemons, and needed to find ways of using it. I used this recipe for my curd, but this time added the zest of all 5 lemons. Lemon curd makes a tasty dessert, swirled into natural yogurt and topped with a sprinkle of plain granola, but it takes a long time to get through a whole jar that way, let alone two. This recipe used around 200g - I didn't weigh it, just spooned out about half a jar.

I made a sweet shortcrust pastry, using 200g plain flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt, 100g of butter, 50g of icing sugar, an egg and enough water to make a soft dough. After resting in the fridge I lined a shallow fluted flan tin with the pastry (the recipe won't use all the pastry, if you can roll it out really thinly - I made mince pies with the leftovers). I spooned 200g lemon curd onto the raw pastry, spread it evenly and refrigerated again while I made the hazelnut frangipane. I did this by putting 100g softened butter,
100g caster sugar, 50g SR flour, 50g ground roasted hazelnuts, half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and two eggs into a bowl and beating until well combined. The frangipane was spread gently over the lemon curd, working from the edges inwards, and being careful to get the batter to seal against the pastry edges, to minimise the chance of any lemon curd bubbling out. I sprinkled a handful of finely chopped roasted hazelnuts over the frangipane, then decorated the top with a few pastry shapes cut out from the excess pastry - they're supposed to be snowflakes but look more like stars. The tart was baked, on a pre-heated baking sheet, at 200C for 15 minutes, then the heat was lowered to 170C and baking continued until the frangipane was golden and firm - about another 20 minutes. The frangipane rose quite a lot while cooking, but thankfully sank back to give a level surface as it cooled - I think perhaps SR flour was unnecessary, but it does give a lighter texture to the tart.

The combination of lemon and hazelnuts was delicious, and the frangipane had the lightness of a sponge rather than being stodgy, as is sometimes the case when no raising agent, or all nuts, rather than a mixture of nuts and flour is used. I chose to use hazelnuts as they have a much stronger flavour than almonds, and because I thought they would work better with the tanginess of the lemon curd. I think the lemon curd would have overwhelmed the nut flavour if almonds were used, but this way the hazelnut flavour won.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Brownies with Almond and Orange Chocolate Chips

After deciding to make brownies, I realised I didn't have enough butter, so went back to the oil-based recipe I used to use frequently when my son was on a low saturated fat diet. It's not as rich as a butter-based recipe, but it's not bad at all. I added 100g of  dark chocolate with orange and almond pieces to give more interest to both the flavour and texture.

The recipe is based on this one, from Cookie Madness, although I make it half as big again to make deeper brownies, and use sunflower oil rather than olive oil, as well as changing the add-ins. I have tried olive oil, and although it adds an interesting dimension, it's not a flavour I want every time I bake them, so I find a more neutral oil is better on most occasions.

Ingredients
150g plain chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids)
120mls sunflower oil
3 large eggs
130g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
105g plain flour
100g chopped chocolate of choice (I used a dark chocolate with almond pieces and orange flavour)

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, then remove from the heat and whisk in the oil.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugars and vanilla for 5 minutes, then fold in the chocolate and oil mixture.
Sift the flour over the batter, and fold in, followed by the chopped chocolate.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, then bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in the tin, then cut into squares or bars.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Banana and Coconut Flapjacks

Just occasionally, I need a mid-morning snack before going out to do something energetic, such as a long walk or a session of lifting and carrying crates of food at the local Food Bank, where I do some volunteer work. In my normal daily routine, I'm quite happy to go without breakfast and have a early lunch at noon, but if I'm using extra energy I need food beforehand. I usually have a banana topped with a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt, a sprinkling of granola and a drizzle of date syrup.

As I don't eat bananas at any other time, I sometimes end up with one that needs using up, which is what happened here. It's difficult to find recipes using one banana - banana breads, cakes and muffins seem to need a minimum of two - so I decided to add it to a batch of flapjacks. I followed my usual recipe but reduced both the butter and sugar slightly to allow for the banana although I wouldn't claim it made the flapjacks any healthier!

Ingredients
125g unsalted butter
50g golden syrup
80g caster sugar
200g rolled oats
50g desiccated coconut
100g golden raisins
1 ripe banana, mashed

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, golden syrup and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved - the mixture will feel smooth under the spoon with no grittiness from the sugar - and the mixture is just beginning to bubble.
Meanwhile, weigh the oats, coconut and raisins in to a large bowl.
Tip the hot butter mix over the oats and mix together thoroughly, then stir in the mashed banana.
Transfer the oat mixture to the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Cool for 10 minutes then mark into bars or squares while still warm. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

These were delicious, with a good balance of flavours between the banana and coconut. My only criticism would be that although 25 minutes is the right time to bake my usual flapjack recipe, these were underbaked and a little too soft. Another 5 minutes, to compensate for the additional moisture from the banana, would have made them a little firmer but still chewy. If you like crisper flapjacks you might need 35-40 minutes baking time, but watch they don't get too brown.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Cookie Bars

I've been really busy lately, helping my son clean and redecorate his new flat before he moved in. I made these cookie bars in a quiet moment - probably waiting for paint to dry before I could do anything else. I found this recipe, which originally came from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog, a while back, and it's really useful for cookies in a hurry.

Because I didn't want to add to my store cupboard of cooking ingredients, I bought a 120g pack of ready-mixed 'add-in' morsels marketed by Whitworth's. It was a mix of 35%  cranberries infused with cherry juice, 25% dark chocolate, 20% cherry infused apple and 20% raisins, called Dark Choc Cherry mix 'n' bake. I added 30g chopped roasted hazelnuts to add a bit more flavour and crunch. I used these in place of the chocolate and the orange zest in the recipe.

Although it was quick and easy to use a pre-packed mix of chocolate and fruit, infusing cranberries and apple pieces with cherry juice didn't give the same intense flavour that using dried cherries would have done, and there wasn't really enough chocolate in the cookie bars to satisfy a chocoholic! Not a bad idea for a speedy bake, though, particularly if you don't want to accumulate lots of opened bags of dried fruit and nuts.