Tuesday 28 December 2021

Nigella's Cider and 5-Spice Bundt Cake ....

....... in a new bundt tin! 

It's been a long time since I posted. I haven't been baking much, and what I did bake was nothing new - I seemed to need ease and reliability rather than experimentation. Perhaps that's a sign of the times; the unfamiliar is too worrying!

I hadn't even done any festive baking in the run-up to Christmas; my daughter has embraced making mince pies as her contribution to Christmas feasting and it's sometimes easier to buy small amounts of treat-type food when you're on your own, and watching your weight - a packet of stollen bites or mince pies can be spread out over a few days, and a pack of individually wrapped biscuits lasts even longer.

I had already planned to make a cake for Boxing Day, so that I could share it with the children and they could take the major part of it home with them. I'd also already planned to make Nigella Lawson's Cider and 5-Spice Bundt cake, to get away from chocolate and dried fruit, so when I received a new bundt pan as a present from my daughter it seemed that serendipity was playing a part!

The design of the pan is called Autumn Wreath, so it didn't look very festive, but I decided that really didn't matter, as I could cover everything with frosting and festive sprinkles if I needed to. Fate took a hand there, too, as I didn't have enough icing sugar to make enough frosting to completely cover the cake, but as you can see from the photos, the design didn't stand out really well on the dark cake. In the end, a drizzle of glacé icing was enough to confound the eye, so that all you saw was a wreath-shaped bundt! Unfortunately the lighting conditions weren't right to get a photo of the cake at that stage.

I really love this cake - it's very similar to a gingerbread but the 5-spice gives a savoury edge to the flavour. It was the first time I'd made it for the children and they both liked it too, and were eager to take their share away with them.

I'm going to try the pan again soon with a light coloured cake, to see if the details of the design show up better. The design is quite shallow, but I expected the pattern on the cake to be crisper. A closer look at the photo shows a lot of tiny holes on the surface of the cake, so I think the light texture of the cake contributed to the disappointing finish. Hopefully the right recipe will show an improvement in the appearance.

Sunday 26 September 2021

Instant Coffee Banana Bread

Faced with over-ripe bananas, yet again, but wanting to try something different, I came across this recipe from Matt Tebbutt and BBC's Saturday Kitchen. It adds coffee and (optional) chopped chocolate to banana bread  - of course I added the chocolate! This was a straightforward recipe to follow, and didn't give me any problems.

This made a pleasant enough loaf cake, but didn't convince me that any of the added flavours - chocolate, coffee and nutmeg - actually improved the basic premise of banana bread, which is that you want it to taste mostly of bananas. 

I've just noticed that when I used chocolate in a banana cake once before, I didn't really like the result that time either, but thought the issue was too much chocolate. I'll be sticking to adding dried fruit and/or nuts in future.

Monday 30 August 2021

Sultana and Lemon Buckwheat Flapjacks

For some long forgotten reason, I have buckwheat flakes in my store of baking ingredients and they need using soon. They look like rolled oats, so I wondered if they would make good flapjacks. I was relying on them having the same sort of absorbency as rolled oats, but in case they hadn't, I decided to use them 50:50 with oats for the first trial, and take a tip from Lynn Hill at Traditional Home Baking, and add 50g of plain flour to my usual recipe. This makes the flapjacks softer and less sticky, so if absorbency was a problem, extra flour would help.

In case the flapjacks didn't work well, I used some of the cheapest add-ins that I had - sultanas. I also had a couple of lemons in the fridge which really needed using up, so added the zest of both of them to the mix. This turned out to be a flavour combination which worked really well.

I needn't have worried. Although the flapjack mixture initially looked wetter than usual, everything was absorbed during baking and the flapjacks emerged from the oven looking as good as ever! 

I tasted both the buckwheat flakes and oats raw, and although some online sources describe buckwheat as nutty and slightly bitter, I thought they were both equally bland and tasteless. So although buckwheat probably isn't something one would use to add flavour to anything, it does have nutritional benefits. It is gluten-free, high in fibre and magnesium and relatively high in protein.

The recipe is very simple: 

Melt together 160g butter, 70g golden syrup and 100g sugar. (I usually use light muscovado, but only had soft brown sugar in stock - even white would do!) This can be done in a bowl in the microwave, or a pan on the hob. Only heat until the butter has melted; don't let the mixture boil. To this mixture add 120g rolled oats, 120g buckwheat flakes (or use all oats), 50g plain flour, 100g sultanas and the finely grated zest of 2 lemons. Mix well until everything is combined evenly. Tip into a 20cm square shallow baking tray, lined with baking paper, spread evenly, then press down firmly. Bake at 180C/160C fan for 25 minutes, until golden brown. 

Rest for 5 minutes, then mark into bars or squares with a sharp knife. Leave in the tin until cold - they may crumble if lifted while warm

This gives soft, chewy flapjacks - if you like them crisper, bake for a few minutes longer. If you like sticky flapjacks, leave out the flour.

Monday 19 July 2021

Marbled Bundt Cake (Chocolate, Orange and Chilli)

I returned to another old favourite for my son's 40th birthday cake. Both he and I have birthdays in the first half of July, so in truth, it was a shared cake, and he expressed no preference as to what I baked.

The recipe originally came from Alice Medrich,  but over the years I've made a few tweaks. Most importantly I've reduced the size of the cake to fit the only bundt tin I have and converted the American cup measurements to metric weights and volumes. I've also replaced the pepper in the recipe with cayenne pepper, and added the finely grated zest of an orange.

The cake is made with oil (olive or sunflower, depending on whether or not you want the extra flavour of olive oil) and cold milk and eggs, so is quick to make without needing to wait for ingredients to get to room temperature. The two batters are just layered into the pan and the marbling is formed by the movement of the batters in the tin as the cake cooks.

I was a little disappointed with the frosting - it didn't flow as far as I'd hoped, and then didn't set as firmly as I expected either - but that might have been due to the temperature in the kitchen - it was the hottest day of the year! I wouldn't usually frost this cake, but it was for a celebration!

I used another favourite - a Mary Berry recipe - for the frosting. Melt 90g of dark chocolate and 30g of butter together, then beat in 1 tablespoon of golden syrup and 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk. If used straight away, it should be a glaze, although I usually wait until it's cooler before spreading it on top of a cake to give a fudgy frosting. This time I wanted a flowing glaze, but it was too thick to cooperate! 

The revised recipe for the cake is written out in full in this post here on my blog, so there's no need to repeat it here. I will add that I now prepare bundt tins with a homemade lining paste, following Nancy Birtwhistle's recipe, which you can find in this recipe on her website. Once made, the paste (equal quantities of oil, flour and Trex cooking fat) keeps for many months in the fridge, in an airtight jar, and just needs bringing up to room temperature before use. I've used it for a few years now and it's never failed - the cakes have always released from the bundt tin perfectly.

Sunday 13 June 2021

Date and Lemon Banana Loaf

Another outing for Mary Berry's Banana Loaf recipe, which is so quick and simple to make. This time I added 100g chopped dried dates and the zest and juice of a lemon. Because of the lemon juice I left the milk out of the recipe.

I only used lemon as a flavouring because I had some lemons to use up, but, in all honesty I think orange would have been a better addition to use. The lemon gave an odd tang to the flavour - not enough to spoil the cake, but just enough to know something wasn't quite right.

Apart from that, the cake was as good as usual - moist, with a well-textured crumb - and it's a cake which keeps well for a few days.

Saturday 8 May 2021

Helen Goh's Anzac Cake

I'm not sure what to think about Helen Goh's Anzac cake (from the Australian Good Food site), which is inspired by the ingredients of the traditional ANZAC biscuit. It's a lovely close-textured, moist cake, but without the topping, the flavour really wasn't anything special. The coconut milk used in the cake batter wasn't enough on it's own to give a really strong coconut flavour.

The problem was, the topping didn't work well for me! In fact, most of it ended up on the floor of the oven as it ran off the cake. The flavour was fine - a sort of caramelised coconut macaroon - but as well as just sliding off the cake, what was left didn't stick well, making the cake difficult to cut and serve.

I think part of the problem may be that UK baking tins are different in size to Australian tins - the recipe states using a 1kg capacity tin, whereas standard UK loaf tins are 450g or 900g. The difference didn't seem enough to matter to me, and indeed, it didn't for the cake itself. However, the cake rose above the top of the tin, and domed in the middle, meaning there was nothing to stop the topping sliding off as it warmed up again in the oven.

I'd  like to repeat this cake, with either something extra in the cake, such as a spice, or some dried fruit, to make it better to eat without the topping, or with a different sort of topping. This could be a coconut frosting put onto the cooled cake, but I also wondered if a more traditional macaroon topping, adding egg, would stay in place better, both during and after cooking.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Biscoff Spread and Chocolate Chip Loaves

My second Easter bake, for my son, who would rather eat chocolate than dried fruit, was a variation on this recipe from The Baking Explorer. At the end stage of making the batter, I stirred in 150g of chopped plain (70%) chocolate.

In order to share the cake with him, I decided to bake it in two 1lb loaf tins, and guesstimated that this would reduce the cooking time by 15 minutes, which turned out to be correct!

As I would be wrapping the cake to take it to him, adding a buttercream topping didn't seem a good idea, so I just dribbled some more melted chocolate over the cooled cakes.

As usual, I was disappointed that the Biscoff flavour wasn't stronger, but even though I anticipated this, I decided not to add any extra spices to the cake, as I didn't want the flavour to fight with the chocolate. In the end it was a good balance  between the very subtle spices and chocolate. A little vanilla extract might have been an improvement!