Friday, 22 March 2019

Flapjacks - and nostalgia

My sister recently spent the week with me, visiting from Spain. We managed to get all four siblings together for the first time in six years, so a lot of 'do you remember?' conversations were inevitable. My memories of our early childhood are very vague, apart from a few stand-out events, but even so it was surprising how much our memories differed!

Although I've always considered that my mother was a basic but uninspired cook (mainly down to family finances and a head of the household who would only eat 'meat and two veg.') her baking drew no complaints. When us girls were allowed to help in the kitchen (never the two boys!) her recipes came mostly from the little booklet of Be-Ro Home Recipes, which I'm sure every housewife owned before cookery books became more affordable (in the 70s?).

I have Mum's booklet now and it's easy to see from the stained pages which were popular recipes, even if my memory had failed to tell me. However, both my sister and I remembered the flapjack recipe - unusual because it contains cornflakes, and is nothing like modern flapjack recipes based on oats. After my sister had gone, leaving half a packet of cornflakes, I decided to try the recipe. Apart from using butter instead of margarine, I followed the recipe as written - even using ounces on my scales. My baking tin was a fraction smaller than the one stipulated in the recipe but nothing to worry about.

Surprisingly, the smell of them baking was what I remembered most. The flavour was right, but I don't remember them being as crisp. I think they were slightly over-baked, as I forgot the advice that I've often given to others - modern ovens cook faster than old ones, so take a few minutes off the baking times.

The flapjacks were very thin too - almost like biscuits. The flavour comes mainly from the desiccated coconut with the cornflakes adding some extra crunch. I'm wondering whether to try the recipe again in a much smaller tin to see if it produces something chewier and more like today's oaty flapjacks.

I think these lived up to my memories, but there are much better modern recipes around!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Date and Apricot Cookies

I didn't intend to bake last weekend, but I had an online discussion with friends about whether a weird sounding recipe that we'd all noticed would actually work. The recipe in question was this one, from former GBBO contestant Tamal Ray, in the Guardian Feast magazine. Not only did the recipe sound strange - so much liquid! - the accompanying picture didn't look particularly attractive either - should a baked cookie still look shiny? As I had all the ingredients to hand, including date syrup, one of my favourite sweeteners, I decided to set my doubts aside and give it a go.

The result was a delicious soft cookie, strongly date flavoured, with nuggets of sweet dried fruit. I can't say the recipe was entirely successful, as the cookie dough was too soft to shape initially, and had to be chilled for 90 minutes before I could roll it into balls. And my cookies didn't look much like the picture in the magazine, either, but for my personal taste, that was an improvement.

Because the dough had been chilled I allowed an extra 3 minutes baking, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly (apart from needing to chill the dough, of course). I didn't have medjool dates, but did have some large soft dates to use instead, and I used the zest of two tangerines instead of an orange - but neither of these changes substantially altered the recipe.

The cookies were quite large - if I make them again I think I would make them a little smaller - and very soft, and both the orange and almond flavours were overwhelmed by the date syrup, but I'm still glad I decided to risk the experiment, and that the recipe worked (with just a little adjustment!).

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Rose Blondies

with pistachios and cocoa nibs

This recipe is appearing a little late for St. Valentine's Day, but it was made for my local Cake Club meeting, which didn't take place until after that date. Roses and chocolate are synonymous with St. Valentine's celebrations, so it seemed natural to use them together to flavour my bake. I  chose to make blondies rather than brownies so that the full effect of the colourful additions of rose petals, chopped pistachios and cocoa nibs could be seen.

This is a recipe which I've used once before, back in 2011, when it was very much an experiment. I made a bigger batch this time, doubling up the basic recipe but not all the add-ins. I also decorated the blondies to fit in with the Valentine's theme - something I wouldn't usually do.

150g plain flour
pinch salt
scant 1 teaspoon baking powder
60g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
2 tablespoons milk
200g white chocolate
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater*
80g pistachios, chopped
30g cocoa nibs
1 tablespoon rose petals (optional)

* Different brands of rosewater vary a lot in strength. I used Neilsen-Massey, which is very strong. Add to taste, according to what you have experienced with your particular brand, remembering that too strong a flavour can be off-putting.

Preheat oven to 160C and line a 20cm square shallow baking tin with parchment.
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.
In a large pan, melt the butter, sugar and milk together on a low heat. When the butter has melted add the white chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat.
Beat in the eggs and rosewater, then sieve in the flour mixture and fold in, followed by the nuts, cocoa nibs and rose petals, if using.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until an inserted probe comes out just dry.
Cool in the tin then cut into bars or squares for serving.

I used a glacé icing coloured with 'hot pink' gel, and some bought chocolate hearts to finish off the decoration.

These blondies were dense and chewy, as they should be, but a little on the dry side. Most people trying them agreed that the rose flavour was just about right.

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.