Monday, 13 January 2020

Lemon Curd 'Bakewell' Bars

I've recently started to donate baked goods to a monthly Coffee Morning run by the Friends of my local library. Not only is it giving me a much needed excuse to bake, but it's helping a good cause too. This month I made some date shortbread squares and these lemon and almond bars - similar to a Bakewell tart, but with lemon curd instead of raspberry jam.

Because the tart was going to be cut into individual portions before being put out for sale, I made it in a narrow rectangular tart tin, measuring 36 x 11.5cm. That way it could be cut into bars which would be easier to eat with fingers than a wedge from a round tart. Having a border of pastry on both short edges looked quite attractive too.

After lining the tart tin with sweet shortcrust pastry, I spread about 200g of lemon curd over the base - there's no need to blind-bake the pastry for this recipe. I used this BBC Good Food recipe for the frangipane mixture. It was exactly the right amount to fill the tart! The only changes I made to the recipe was to only use the zest of 1 lemon, and to add a few drops of almond extract, as I wanted the frangipane to taste more of almonds than lemon.

I baked the tart for 15 minutes at 200C, then lowered the temperature to 180C and continued baking until the frangipane was cooked to a golden brown colour - about another 25 minutes. When cool, I cut into bars about 3cm wide, although I discarded the first centimetre at each end, with the extra pastry (cook's treat!).

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Festive Desserts

I made two desserts for the Christmas period, as something chocolate is obligatory, but my daughter had also asked for a repeat of Dan Lepard's Mont Blanc Layer Cake.

The Mont Blanc Layer Cake recipe, based on meringue, is far too big for just three of us, particularly as it doesn't keep well, so I made a meringue roulade with only 3 egg whites, filled it with a half quantity of the chestnut and ricotta cream and drizzled melted chocolate over the top.

We decided, on trying the dessert, that although it was delicious, we all preferred the crisper meringue of the original recipe, which gives a better textural contrast with the chestnut cream than the soft meringue of the roulade.

For  the chocolate dessert, I made a half-sized quantity of Delia Smith's Chocolate Truffle Torte, which fitted nicely into a 7" (18cm) shallow cake tin. The only departure from the recipe was to use Amaretto liqueur instead of rum.

My daughter also contributed a batch of mince pies, which has become a tradition now. She uses this Mary Berry recipe, which adds dried apricots to the mincemeat and tops the tarts with grated marzipan.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Shortbread Squares (Again!) with Mincemeat and Hazelnuts

I make these shortbread squares so often these days that I feel guilty about writing a blog post about them again!

However they are so delicious and so quick to make that reminding you about them in the run-up to Christmas is probably doing you a favour. Don't bother with pastry and individual mince pies, especially if you're feeding a crowd - make these instead!

The basic shortbread recipe, and general idea, comes from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking'. Over time I have experimented with many fillings based on jam, mincemeat and dried fruits.  This time the filling was mincemeat mixed with apricot jam, and I also added chopped toasted hazelnuts to the portion of dough put aside for the topping.

Dough Ingredients:
170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
30g finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

250g mincemeat and 100g apricot jam, mixed together well (or use all mincemeat).

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Mix the flour and semolina in a large mixing bowl.
Melt the butter and sugar together gently, until the sugar has dissolved, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until well combined.
Take 2/3 of the dough and press firmly and evenly into the base of the baking tin.
Spread the filling over the base, leaving a small margin around the edges.
Mix the chopped hazelnuts into the remaining dough and crumble the mixture over the filling layer. Press down lightly with the palm of the hand.
Bake for 25 minutes, by which time the shortbread should be a light golden brown in colour.

Cut into pieces of the desired size (I make 16 squares) as soon as the tray is removed from the oven, but don't try to take the pieces out of the baking tin until they are completely cold - they are too fragile while warm, and will break up.

The shortbread layers of these squares are perfect - crisp but a little crumbly, and they just melt in the mouth. Curiously,  adding apricot jam seemed to reduce the sweetness of the mincemeat - it must just be down to the natural tartness of apricots because the sugar content of jam and mincemeat are very similar.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Lemon Loaf Cake

Every time I need a lemon I fall into the trap of buying a bag of them - partly because unwaxed lemons don't seem to be sold singly, and partly because each lemon works out cheaper.

However, if I don't use the lemons fairly quickly, it's a false economy, but that's not difficult to do as I love a lemon cake.

Dan Lepard calls this recipe a lemon drizzle cake, but whenever I make it the drizzle sets to a proper glacé icing. This doesn't bother me, as I don't like too much drizzle, but I don't feel happy calling it a drizzle cake, either.

This recipe really is delicious; there's the zest of 2 lemons and 75mls of juice to make it really lemony. Additionally, ground almonds keeps the cake moist and the addition of a little cornflour keeps the crumb really tender and delicate.

I don't deviate from the recipe in any way, but after adding up the weight of the ingredients, I bake it in a 2lb (900g) loaf tin, even though the recipe suggests a small tin should be used.

I'm still using the whole almonds, which were ground with the skins on (which explains the speckly appearance of the cake).

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Cherry Cheesecake Brownies

I've made these Cherry Cheesecake Brownies once before; an attempt which was delicious, but not altogether successful, because the cherry jam sank through the (reduced fat) brownie batter, and ended up in pools on the liner of the baking tin.

This time I went back to my favourite brownie recipe, made with butter. It's the one I've been using for more than 20 years, with a small reduction in sugar being the only modification I've made to the recipe in that time.

This time the recipe worked perfectly! The swirls of tart cherry jam balanced the sweetness of the cheesecake and both were a good contrast to the dense, chewy brownie.

Which makes it all the more annoying that I didn't get any photographs before some of the brownies were eaten, and the rest distributed between my children, for them to take home after dinner. I was left with this one portion for myself - a remarkable feat of restraint on my part!

Brownies: 140g butter
140g plain chocolate - about 70% cocoa solids
300g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
Cheesecake: 180g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Plus: 125g cherry jam

Line a 20cm(8") square baking tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C fan.

To make the brownie batter: Melt together the butter and chocolate in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Cool to around 40C if necessary (so that the eggs don't start to cook) then mix in the sugar and vanilla extract, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Finally sift in the flour and cocoa, and fold in until thoroughly mixed. Put 3/4 of this batter into the baking tin, reserving the rest for the swirls in the topping.

For the topping: Beat together the cream cheese, caster sugar, vanilla extract and egg until smooth. It will be quite runny. Pour this over the brownie layer in the baking tin. Dot the cherry jam over the surface, about a teaspoon at a time, then do the same with the reserved brownie batter, putting the blobs between the areas of jam. Use the handle of a teaspoon, or something like a chopstick, to swirl the jam and brownie batter blobs into the cheesecake mixture - you get a better pattern if you swirl deep enough to get into the lower brownie layer just a bit.

Bake for 40 minutes until just firm, then cool in the pan before cutting into the desired sizes. I cut into 16 squares, but less greedy people might prefer smaller bars.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

'Pastry Scraps' Oat Biscuits

 - with cranberries and hazelnuts.

I always err on the side of caution when making pastry, having been caught out several times trying to stretch the amount quoted in a recipe further than it wants to go. Perhaps I just can't roll it as thin as a professional pastry chef, but I'd rather have a bit more than I need, than dough which has to be stretched to fit the tin, then shrinks unevenly when baked, or even worse, tears as you try to move it.

And since I found this recipe for using leftover pastry I don't have to worry about waste either (although I usually rolled out any scraps, baked them and then crumbled for wild bird food).

I had 200g of leftover shortcrust pastry, so added 200g of rolled oats, 100g butter100g of light muscovado sugar and half a teaspoon cinnamon. I left everything in a large bowl to allow the pastry to warm up a bit from the fridge, then kneaded everything together until no trace of any lumps of pastry could be seen. Then I mixed in 35g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 35g of dried cranberries which had been chopped into smaller pieces.

After  rolling out the dough, I used a 6cm cutter to cut out circles, then baked at 180C for about 15 minutes - a little longer than suggested in the recipe.

This recipe makes great biscuits which are not too sweet, but the sugar can be left out altogether to make savoury oat biscuits. I imagine that you could add dried herbs or seeds to flavour savoury biscuits but I haven't tried that yet.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Autumn Fruit Frangipane Tarts

It's a measure of how little baking I do these days, that it's over three weeks since I last posted. When I do bake anything, however small, half of it usually ends up in the freezer, meaning there's always cake there if needed, but as a result I don't need to bake as often. My waistline doesn't need cake every day, either!

When making this tart I realised that I hadn't made any pastry since the festive baking at the end of 2018 - an indication that calorific desserts are also becoming something for special occasions; I usually just have fresh fruit and yogurt!

These Autumn Fruit Frangipane Tarts had plum jam in the base and fresh blackberries and pieces of eating apple embedded in the frangipane mixture. I made two small tarts instead of one big one, as I was taking one to my local Cake Club. The frangipane comes from this Jamie Oliver recipe, but I made half as much again, after seeing the amount the original ingredients gave.

I made sweet shortcrust pastry to this recipe, but this made enough for the two tart cases with quite a lot leftover: 300g plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 150g butter, 50g icing sugar, 1 medium egg, water as necessary to bind. If you reduce the quantities you could use just an egg yolk instead of a whole egg.

Once the pastry is mixed, rest in the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out as thinly as possible to line 2 x  20cm (8") tart tins (or one 23cm tin if you're following the recipe). Refrigerate again while you make the filling - there's no need to blind bake with a frangipane.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan) and put a baking sheet in to heat up too.

Put all the frangipane ingredients into a bowl and beat until well combined. I added just a few drops of almond extract, to give a better flavour, instead of the lemon zest in the recipe. Then prepare the fruit.

(I used one large eating apple, which I peeled and chopped into quite thin pieces, about 1cm square, and put into acidulated water so that the pieces didn't turn brown. I also used fresh blackberries, as I was worried that frozen would release too much juice and spoil the colour of the frangipane - I didn't weigh the amount I used but the quantity give in Jamie's recipe sounds about right.)

Spread a couple of tablespoons of plum jam (or whatever red jam you prefer) into the base of each pastry case. Divide the frangipane mixture between the two tarts, working from the edge inwards, and trying to get a good seal between the frangipane and the pastry, so that the jam doesn't boil out around the edge. Spread evenly and then dot the drained and dried apple pieces and blackberries over the surface, pressing down gently to embed them in the frangipane. Sprinkle over a handful of flaked almonds, then a little extra caster sugar.

Transfer to the heated baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes until the frangipane is a good golden colour and feels firm. Cool on a wire rack.

I decorated the tart which I was taking to Cake Club with a drizzle of glacé icing, but it's not really necessary, and the icing soon dissolved where it was in contact with the pieces of fruit, so didn't really give the desired effect by the time it was eaten.

Adding fruit to a frangipane tart is a tasty bonus, although in this case the plum jam had a stronger flavour than the apples and blackberries - I should have looked for a blackberry jam, I think.

My tart looks darker than most frangipane because I was using almonds which had been ground with the skins still on; the jury is still out on whether this really gives a good look.