Sunday, 24 May 2020

Malty Prune Flapjacks

In line with government recommendations, I'm trying to shop as infrequently as possible. Where I live, supermarket shopping is the least safe activity - I have plenty of open spaces and wide pavements when I go out for exercise, but I can't avoid needing food.

I'm fit and healthy, and don't yet fit any of the categories of people who should be taking extra precautions, so haven't tried to get any supermarket delivery slots, preferring to leave those for the more vulnerable members of the community. It's taken a while, but I've now figured out the quietest times to shop, so I take a list and shop as quickly as possible.

This is a big change for me, as I loved to browse the shelves, looking for bargains, new products or just what looked good that day. I used to go out almost every day and just buy a few bits and pieces, as I needed them. As I don't drive and have to carry my shopping a mile back home, what it also means is that, for the moment, I'm only buying the basic essentials, as fruit and vegetables and other necessary fresh foods are quite heavy when you're buying everything at once instead of spreading it out over several trips.

This is starting to impact on my baking (even though I'm not baking very frequently) - aside from what seems like a permanent lack of flour, there aren't always eggs or sugar available, and I'm running low on things like dried fruits and nuts. So wanting to bake means looking through the cupboard and seeing what's there before making decisions.

This time I found some 'out of date' prunes which still tasted OK and the scrapings from a jar of malt extract which could replace golden syrup if I made flapjacks. I'd been looking at malt loaf recipes but didn't have enough malt extract, so the idea of something malt-flavoured was still niggling away at me.

I followed my usual recipe, just substituting 50g of the golden syrup with malt extract, although I'd hoped to have enough malt extract to replace all the golden syrup.

First, melt together 160g butter, 50g malt extract, 20g golden syrup, and 100g caster sugar. This can be done in a saucepan, or in a large bowl in the microwave. Try not to let the mixture boil - it just needs to melt the butter completely. Then stir in 240g of porridge oats, 50g sultanas, 70g soft prunes (cut into pieces the same size as the sultanas) and 1 teaspoon of mixed spice. Mix thoroughly.

Tip this mixture into a 20cm square cake tin, lined with baking parchment. Level the mixture and press down firmly, then bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes then mark into squares or bars while still hot. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

I like flapjacks to be chewy, and these were gloriously chewy! More so than when I make the recipe with golden syrup. Additionally, the slight bitter edge to the malt extract cuts the sweetness a bit - you're not reducing the sugar you consume, but it tastes as if you are! The prunes worked well here too - they have a strong enough flavour to be tasted over the maltiness.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Dairy-free Gingerbread

The only time I get to make a large cake these days is if I can bake for someone else. At the end of last year I joined the Friends of my local Library, and had been baking for their monthly coffee mornings. That's all on hold for the moment, of course, with Libraries closed and no mass gatherings taking place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because so little is known about this particular virus, or what are the most effective ways of staying safe, I've been sewing face-masks for me and my two children, in case they are eventually needed (even though I don't really think much of the efficiency of home made ones). I decided that when I delivered their masks to them, I could include some cake, to cheer them up a bit in their isolation.

It was hard to decide what to make, as the three of us have very different tastes, but eventually I decided on gingerbread.

I used this oil-based gingerbread recipe, rather than the best traditional recipe I have, because I didn't want to open a litre of milk just for the small amount that was needed for the cake. The oil-based recipe is very similar to the traditional recipe - it gets a nice sticky top after a few days - but isn't quite as rich as it has less fat and fewer eggs. Using oil, and water instead of milk, has the added advantage of making the cake dairy-free too.

The bottom photo shows the 20cm square cake divided for sharing. As you can see, the three of us vary in how much cake we can eat over a few days; the biggest portion was for my son and the smallest (missing) portion was for my daughter. I was left with the long narrow piece - it  made a delicious dessert when reheated and served with rhubarb roasted with ginger, and natural yogurt.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Fruited Banana Loaf (2)

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a refrain often heard, and this time I decided to take heed. Through some unexpected changes in plans (mostly involving social distancing) I once again found myself with too many bananas. Up until recently this has happened about once every 5 years, but this year, twice so far!

So I used Mary Berry's tasty, quick recipe again; this time I added the scrapings from a jar of mincemeat (roughly 70g) and 50g sultanas. Using the mincemeat meant that I didn't need to use the 2 tablespoons of milk in the recipe - there was enough moisture in the mincemeat - but otherwise I followed the recipe and made the whole batter, including the extra additions, as an all-in-one mix.

Once again, this was delicious. The mincemeat added a little spiciness to the show, but the banana still came  across as the dominant flavour.

This time I didn't freeze any of the loaf, and I was really surprised at how well it kept - the last slice was almost a week old, and as good as the first.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Chocolate Chip and Orange Loaves

I baked two loaves to take one to each of my children, just before the Covid-19 lockdown measures became more stringent. At the time the food panic buying was at it's height and the supermarket shelves were empty of almost all baking ingredients, so I was relying on my store cupboard.


I wasn't sure when supplies would get back to normal so although I would usually use 4 eggs in this amount of cake batter, I decided to cut down to 3 and use the juice of the orange that I was zesting, in place of the 4th egg. That way none of the orange was left over either.

Ingredients
200g caster sugar
200g butter, softened
3 large eggs
250g SR flour
zest and juice of 1 orange
100 - 150g chocolate chips (I used about 30g milk chocolate chips and 100g of chopped plain chocolate)

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C, fan) and line 2 x 450g (1lb) loaf tins (I use the pre-formed liners for loaves).
This cake is made by the all-in-one method, so put everything, except the orange juice and chocolate, into a bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer until smooth, adding enough orange juice to give a dropping consistency. (I needed all the juice from the small orange I was using, but if more liquid is needed a little milk or water can be used too.)
Use a large spoon to fold in the chocolate, then divide the batter equally between the two tins and level the surface.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in tin for about 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack.


I didn't get to see the insides of these cakes, or to taste them to see if the lack of egg was detrimental to the texture, but there were no complaints from the recipients. I asked my daughter if the cake was dry and she said that it wasn't, so I'm pleased about that.

Unfortunately I didn't get any good photos either, although you can see the bulging top!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Fruited Banana Loaf

After deciding to leave two bananas to ripen enough to use in a cake, I realised that I've never made a basic simple banana bread/cake in the 10 years I've been writing this blog. It was definitely time to remedy that situation, even though I don't regularly have bananas available.

Of the two simplest recipes I could find, I decided to go with Mary Berry's, as she appeared to be cutting down on the fat and sugar content to compensate for adding the bananas rather than just putting bananas into a standard sponge cake recipe, as here. The other advantages of Mary Berry's recipe were that it was an all-in-one mixture, so really quick to put together and get into the oven, and would freeze well. Being able to freeze slices of cake is always a bonus for me!

After saying I wanted simple, I then changed my mind a little and decided that I would like some extra flavour, so I added the zest of a small orange, 70g of a mixture of sultanas and dried cranberries, and I used 2 tablespoons of orange juice instead of the milk in the recipe.

I folded the fruit into the batter after it had been mixed, rather than include it at the all-in-one mixing stage.

None of these changes affected the baking time - the cake was still cooked in the time suggested in the recipe.

The cake had a lovely texture, moist but not too heavy, and the extra ingredients boosted the flavour without masking the taste of the banana.

This is definitely a cake to remember when I'm baking for coffee mornings, and I can imagine other additions that would work well - chopped dates, for instance, or nuts and a little mixed spice.

I'd even go so far as to say it's a cake worth buying bananas for, if you can plan far enough ahead to let them ripen!


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Mincemeat Loaf Cakes

It seems quite a long time since I tried a new recipe; I have a lot of favourites that I keep returning to at the moment, either because they are reliable (if I'm baking for someone else), or I know they freeze well.

I knew I wanted to make a mincemeat cake to use some of the Christmas excess,  so decided this might be the time to try a new recipe. Mary Berry's recipe appealed because it made two small loaves and she says they freeze well.

It's a straightforward recipe to follow - it's an all-in-one mixture, so you just need to make sure you have well softened butter before you start. I didn't have currants, so used dried cranberries instead, and topped the cakes with flaked almonds rather than split nuts.

The cake batter was very stiff, and with the benefit of hindsight, now that I've cut the cakes, I think I should have added a couple of tablespoons of milk to loosen it a little. The cakes were a little dry and crumbly, and didn't compare favourably, in that respect, to the recipe I usually use. They rose well during cooking, in terms of increased volume, but there was a definite dip in the middle of each one. I think I might have been guilty of not mixing well enough, as the batter was so stiff.

As always with this  sort of cake, the final flavour relies heavily on any added ingredients in the mincemeat. I used a Waitrose brand with their 'Christmas 2019 special' ingredients of plum, honey and ginger. Even after being diluted into the cake mixture, the plum flavour (provided by prunes and plum juice) was still evident.

I think this is a recipe to use again, as it uses mincemeat leftovers, rather than a whole jar, but I'll be more careful next time, and make sure the batter has a 'dropping' consistency, and is well mixed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Lemon Bread and Butter Pudding

This dessert used up a panettone  bought for Christmas, in case of an unexpected need which didn't arise. I also had fresh lemons and an opened jar of lemon curd to use up, so as the panettone contained mixed peel, a lemon B & B pudding seemed the way to go.

I decided to make 4 individual puddings so that 2 could be frozen. I'm not sure how well they'll freeze, but I thought it was worth a try, rather than eating  a calorific dessert for 4 days running. I'd eaten one portion of the panettone, so I estimate there was about 425-450g left of the loaf.

I halved the loaf from top to bottom and sliced one portion into thin semicircular slices, which I sandwiched in pairs, spread with lemon curd. The rest of the panettone was cut into 4 slices to fit in the bottom of the dishes - I spread these with lemon curd too, and put into thickly buttered dishes curd side uppermost. Any trimmings and leftover pieces of panettone were crumbled and divided between the 4 dishes, then the semicircular sandwiches were cut and arranged neatly on top. I brushed the top of each pudding with more melted butter to help it crisp in the oven.

I hadn't realised until I started comparing recipes the wide range of egg:milk ratios used, as well as various baking times and temperatures, so the rest of the preparation went on a kind of average of the recipes I looked at.

I whisked together 3 large eggs, 50g caster sugar, the zest of 1 lemon and 500mls of semi-skimmed milk, and divided it between the 4 dishes. These were left standing for 30 minutes before baking, to allow the liquid to be absorbed into the bread - I pressed down with a fork occasionally to make sure the top pieces of panettone soaked up the custard mixture.

I added a little grated nutmeg and a sprinkling of demerara sugar to the top of each pudding, before baking at 160C (fan assisted) for 35 minutes. I intended to bake until the puddings were set, but still wobbling a little in the middle, but I think I baked for about 5 minutes too long.

These were lovely little puddings; adding lemon curd boosted the flavour nicely. I think adding some more dried fruit (such as a handful of sultanas) would have been an improvement and using a little more milk - another 100ml, perhaps - would have made the puddings softer and lighter, but I was pleased with them as they were.

As usual, with things that look their best straight from the oven, I didn't manage to get very good photographs of these. Not only were the light conditions far from perfect, they were visibly deflating as I watched them!