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!

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Mincemeat and Marzipan Teabread

I can't say that I haven't eaten anything sweet for the last 10 weeks, but less activity during winter lockdown, coupled with a bit of over-eating around the New Year has meant I've been struggling with my weight again. It's easier not to bake and buy the occasional treat than to have home-made cakes and other goodies tempting me all the time.

However, Easter is a time of celebration, and even though the cold weather meant I wouldn't be meeting my children, I still felt we all deserved a treat. I delivered cake and Easter Eggs to them both, and put most of what I kept for myself into the freezer, to be rationed out.

I shared this Mincemeat and Marzipan Teabread with my daughter; the flavour of the spiced fruit in the mincemeat, together with marzipan, is reminiscent of the traditional Simnel Cake. The flavour obviously depends on the mincemeat ingredients.



Ingredients:

200g SR flour
100g cold butter, cut into small cubes
85g light muscovado sugar
110g marzipan, cut into small cubes
3 eggs* 
300g mincemeat
6 crushed brown sugar cubes to sprinkle on top, or a couple of tablespoons of demerara sugar

*the eggs were mixed sizes - medium or smaller; 2 large eggs are usually enough, if the mincemeat isn't too dry

Method
Line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment, pre-heat oven to 180C (fan 160C).
In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the  muscovado sugar and marzipan cubes.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then mix in the mincemeat to loosen it.
When the mincemeat is well distributed into the eggs, add this mixture to the flour mix and stir until evenly combined.
Transfer to the loaf tin and sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake for 60-75 minutes**, or until a probe comes out clean. You may need to cover the top with foil towards the end of the baking time, if it's browning too much.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

** the cooking time depends on how sloppy the cake batter is - a stiff batter will cook faster than a very loose one

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Cranberry and Hazelnut Frangipane Tart

Just before Christmas, I bought a jar of Christmas Cranberry Curd; just after Christmas I bought another - 'reduced to clear' so that the supermarket could get rid of unsold Christmas stock. I didn't have a clear idea of what to do with them at the time, but the idea of using some in a Bakewell tart type of thing slowly took shape. So, in my first baking session since Christmas, that's what I made.

I didn't have enough ground almonds, but I did have ground hazelnuts which needed using. I thought the hazelnut flavour might be better with cranberry, as it's much stronger than the flavour of almonds (in fact, you really need to add almond extract if you want a strong almond flavour in anything).

I also had some Trex cooking fat in the fridge, which needed using up too. I've never used Trex in baking (it was bought to make a lining paste for bundt tins) but it was past it's BBE date, so needed to be used. I did taste it to make sure it wasn't rancid, and it was fine. I substituted 1/4 of the butter in the pastry with Trex and just that amount was enough to make the pastry shorter than usual. The pastry dough seemed a little more difficult to work with, but it was worth it for the result, and didn't seem to affect the flavour greatly.

Ingredients

  • Shallow 24cm tart/flan tin lined with chilled raw shortcrust pastry - no need to bake blind.*
  • 200g of cranberry curd (lemon curd or a jam of your choice can be used instead)
  • Frangipane - 100g softened butter, 100g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 50g ground roasted hazelnuts, 25g ground almonds, 25g flour (I used SR flour, but think plain flour, or more nuts would be better **).
  • 2 tablespoon of chopped roasted hazelnuts.

Method

Spread the cranberry curd over the base of the pastry case and return to the fridge while the frangipane is made.
Pre-heat oven to 200C/180C fan-assisted. Put a baking sheet in to heat up.
Make the frangipane by putting all the ingredients, except the chopped hazelnuts, into a bowl and beating until the mixture is light and fluffy and no specks of butter can be seen. Spread carefully over into the pastry case - I spoon small amounts of batter around the edge of the case then spread it inwards, so as not to move the curd or jam towards the edges of the pastry case, where it might erupt out of  any gaps between the frangipane and pastry. 
Use a teaspoon or a damp finger to try and seal the frangipane batter against the pastry sides, level the surface, then sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts.
Transfer the tart to the heated baking sheet and bake at 200C for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 170C and bake for roughly another 25 minutes, until the frangipane isn't wobbling, and is golden brown in colour.

* I made shortcrust pastry using 300g flour, 150g butter and Trex and water to mix to a dough. I wanted some pastry for something else, so made more than necessary for one tart case. I'm guessing starting with 200g flour would be enough for just the tart case, and you could make a sweet shortcrust (adding sugar and egg) if preferred.

** The tart puffed up while baking, which I expected, as I'd added some SR flour, but it didn't sink evenly when it cooled, leaving a puffy rim around the edge of the tart and a fragile crust on the frangipane. This hasn't happened to me before, but I'm now rethinking the use of SR flour in frangipane. I'll try plain flour next time, but all ground nuts can be used too; I like a little flour as it makes the frangipane lighter and more cakey than when just nuts are used, but that's a personal preference.

This tart was absolutely delicious. The tartness of the cranberry curd stood up well to the flavour of the hazelnuts. My only disappointment was that the curd seemed to be absorbed into the bottom of the frangipane mixture, so that there wasn't a well defined layer of curd left after baking, as there usually is with jam. When I checked the curd ingredients, I noticed that it contained agar as a gelling agent, which gave it a strange gloopy consistency, but may also explain the way it behaved in the tart, when heated. Fortunately, this didn't affect the flavour, only the looks.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Triennial Chocolate, Fig and Ginger Panforte

For some reason, I have made this Panforte, for Christmas, at three year intervals - 2014, 2017 and again this year. Perhaps it's going to be a tradition!


Panforte is a particularly suitable Christmas treat this year, when, if we are meeting friends and family at all, it's on a very restricted schedule with regards to both numbers and time. It keeps for weeks after making, so however few of you there are to eat it, you'll get through it without any waste. 

This year, this panforte will almost be all mine! Apart from a brief visit from both my children on Christmas Day for an exchange of presents and a meal together, the Covid restrictions mean, like many others, I'll be alone most of the time. That doesn't bother me - all I need is a good book to keep me happy, and it will only be a few days before we're all back into the routines of our lives. For me that can be quite hectic, as I volunteer at the local Food Bank, which has been very busy since the start of the pandemic.

I followed my original recipe from 2014, which was a compilation of several other recipes, in a quest for perfection. I could vary the flavours by changing the fruit, or leaving out the ginger, but this particular combination of chocolate, figs and ginger, together with the spices and hint of orange, works so well that I'm reluctant to make changes.

Here's wishing you the best 

for this Festive Season, 

with hopes that 2021 

will be better for all of us!

Sunday, 6 December 2020

The 'Perfect' Malt Loaf?

Ten years ago, I made Dan Lepard's Malt Loaf and although it was tasty, it didn't bear much resemblance to the squidgy, moist Soreen Malt Loaves found in most supermarkets. 

Considering how long it is since I made that loaf, I can't help wondering why I haven't made one since, or why it's been on my mind so much, lately.

Anyway, putting those questions aside, I thought I'd try Felicity Cloake's 'Perfect' recipe this time, as she does a lot of the leg work by comparing, and trying, available recipes from reliable sources, and taking the best elements from each. The only unknown factor is whether her tastes coincide with mine, but in this case, they fortunately did.

I followed the recipe exactly (the suggested size of loaf tin is a standard 2lb tin) and it really couldn't have been simpler - mix the sugar, syrups, liquid (tea) and fruit together, leave to soak a while, then stir in the dry ingredients, transfer to the prepared loaf tin and bake. 

9 tablespoons of malt extract is 135mls, which was conveniently measured out by filling a 1/2 cup (125mls) to the point of overflowing. Lightly coating the measuring cup with oil ensured the malt extract flowed out easily too - no scraping out needed. 

I also followed the suggestion to wrap the cake in baking paper and leave for at least 2 days before cutting it, difficult though that was. Knowing cake is in the house is such a temptation, but it was worth the wait!

The loaf was everything I'd expected - strongly flavoured with malt, moist, sticky and stodgy. It wasn't quite as squidgy as a Soreen loaf, but that was actually a point in it's favour for me. Much as I like Soreen, I don't like how a slice can be squeezed into a gummy ball about half it's size.

So, was it 'perfect'? Very nearly!

My only slight criticism was that the flavours of the prunes and the malt blended so well together that the prunes were only detectable as a change in texture. I think next time I will try making the loaf with a proportion of sultanas too, so that the fruit adds more flavour contrast.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Apple and Cranberry Cake

I usually make this cake, which is two layers of a scone-like dough sandwiching a layer of fresh and/or dried fruit, as a dessert. I often make it when I haven't got time to fuss around with pastry, as the result is very similar to a pie, but much easier to make. 
This time, I wanted to capture some of the essential flavours of Autumn, which is one of my favourite times of the year for seasonal baking. So I used eating apples, dried cranberries and cinnamon in the filling, and some flaked almonds in the topping.

Ingredients

150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
300g SR flour
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced* 
80g dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
30g flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust
* I usually slice the apples into water to which I've added a little lemon juice or vinegar, to stop the fruit discolouring. When I'm ready to use the slices, I drain them well and pat dry on a clean tea towel. 

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C, and line the base of a 20cm (8") springform tin with baking parchment; grease the sides with a little butter if your tin needs it.
Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl, in the microwave, or in a saucepan on the hob - if you do this in a large pan you can mix the dough in it too. The butter doesn't need to be really hot - just completely melted.
Stir in the sugar, then beat in the egg.
Add the flour and mix in thoroughly - it should give a soft crumbly dough.

Put 2/3 of the dough into the cake tin, and spread evenly with your fingers, building up a little wall of dough around the edge of the tin, to contain any excess fruit juices.**
Mix the flaked almonds into the remaining dough.
Mix the prepared apples, dried cranberries and cinnamon together and spread over the dough base.
Crumble the rest of the dough over the top, then press down lightly, spreading the dough a little to give good coverage over the top. The dough will spread more during baking, so don't try to fill all the gaps.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is firm and golden. Cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the edge of the tin, to stop and leakages of fruit juice sticking to the sides.
Dust with icing sugar before serving; I like this at room temperature, and I usually leave it on the springform base as it's quite fragile, but  it can be moved to a serving plate if you have a large cake lifter.
** There's a photograph here which shows how the cake is assembled.