Thursday, 22 September 2016

Spiced Chocolate Gingerbread

This Spiced Chocolate Gingerbread made a welcome change from the delicate summer cakes made with seasonal fresh fruit. I always look forward to the more robust flavours of Autumn baking - apples, blackberries, pears and even quince if I'm lucky enough to find any - and the feeling that dried fruit and spices are seasonal ingredients once again.

This gingerbread, an adaptation of this Green and Black's recipe, contains spices and chopped prunes as well as chocolate. I didn't have any Maya Gold chocolate, so used plain dark chocolate and added orange zest and mixed spice, instead of cinnamon to try to replicate the flavour as near as possible.

Although the method followed that of a classic recipe for gingerbread, the flavour of the chocolate was strong, and the use of black treacle gave a good bitter edge to the cake. It made me wonder why the  melting method and similar ingredients (without the spices) is never used to make a plain chocolate cake - it's something I'm going to try soon!


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Blondies

The classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, and a recipe from Green and Black's website. I have one of their chocolate recipe books (Unwrapped), but this recipe isn't in it. I found this while checking whether another of the recipes from the book was online, and decided it looked worth trying

I made these blondies primarily for my son, who doesn't get home-baking very often now that he's away from home. Of course, I had to make sure they were OK before passing them on to him, so after dividing the tray into 16 pieces, he got 12 and we had two each! I liked them a lot, although it looked, in the couple of pieces I tried, that some of the white chocolate had melted into the batter, rather than staying in lumps. He liked them enough to email me to say how good they were!

I only made one change to the recipe - I didn't have crunchy peanut butter, but wanted to add the crunch of nuts, so I used 125g of smooth peanut butter and 30g of finely chopped  roasted (but unsalted) peanuts.

Blondies nearly always turn out more cakey than brownies, because you don't have melted chocolate to give a fudgy texture, but this recipe was on the dense end of the spectrum, rather than the light and sponge-y end. This is definitely a recipe to make again!


Because these were so good, I'm adding them to September's We Should Cocoa link-up. After 6 years, Choclette at Tin and Thyme has changed the format of WSC; instead of setting a theme each month, anything containing some form of chocolate can be added. I'm a little sad to lose the challenge that WSC gave me - I baked many things, and used many odd combinations of ingredients, that I wouldn't have thought of trying without needing to bake for WSC.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Lemon Cake

made with whole lemons

This recipe, from Martha Stewart,  for a lemon cake, starts by slicing two lemons thinly and cooking them in boiling water for 15 minutes. This is certainly speedier than cooking them whole - that can take up to an hour!

Cooking the lemons like this cuts out a lot of the sourness of the fruit and gives the cake a very delicate lemon flavour. For me, this was the sort of lemon flavour that is best in a dessert cake, served with fresh fruit and cream, where you don't want the lemon to overwhelm the flavours of the fruit. Eaten as a cake, the taste was decidedly underwhelming, although it had a good light texture and I liked the little pieces of lemon zest spread through the crumb (my mini-food processor didn't reduce the cooked lemons to a smooth purée).

If I made this again, I would use the zest from the third lemon in the cake too - I thought at the time that it was a shame not to use it. This might boost the lemon flavour to something more in line with my tastes, although if you like a more subtle lemon flavour this recipe is well worth trying as written.

Friday, 26 August 2016

'A Cake for Midsummer' from Nigel Slater

This was a much more successful recipe from Nigel Slater - a rich almond sponge studded with fresh apricots and raspberries. I've made the cake twice in quick succession this month - once to try it out and again for a Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) meeting. The only changes I made to the recipe, the second time, was to add a few drops of almond extract to the cake batter and sprinkle some flaked almonds on top, to increase the almond-ness of the cake.

The theme for the CCC meeting was 'the third suitable recipe in one of your baking books' and I was stumped for a while, as few of my baking books had suitable recipes. In terms of CCC, 'suitable' means a full-sized cake - not a dessert, brownie, tray bake, small cakes or a tart. Suitable in my case meant something I actually wanted to make!

Most books dealing exclusively with baking go through variations of sponge cakes first, so many books were discarded on the grounds that a basic sponge was too ordinary. Others were discarded because the recipes were too difficult, or I'd already tried that recipe and didn't like the result, or I couldn't get hold of particular ingredients, or even that it didn't seem right for the season. I'd discarded all but two of my baking recipe books when I decided to look at recipe books not exclusively about baking, and found this recipe in Tender: Volume II (Fruit). Being called 'A Cake for Midsummer' made it doubly appropriate for an August meeting.

This is basically a sponge cake with fresh fruit folded in - the only online copy of the recipe coming directly from Nigel Slater uses peaches and blueberries - so it wasn't a difficult recipe to follow. I found I needed to use a tablespoon or two more milk than in the recipe, to loosen the batter enough to fold in the fruit, but other than that there were no problems.

The apricots and raspberries tasted good together, and the almonds kept the cake moist. Adding the flaked almond topping and almond extract to the second cake was a definite improvement, both in taste and appearance

We ate one portion of the cake as a dessert, with the raw fruit left over after making the cake,  and it surprised me that the cooked apricots tasted more intense than raw ones, whereas raw raspberries tasted better than the cooked ones!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Lemon Coconut Cake

The batter for this Lemon Coconut Cake has to be the quickest to mix, ever! If you start by melting the butter in the microwave, it can take less than 5 minutes to get the cake into the oven and baking, as by the time all the ingredients are weighed into the bowl, the butter is ready to add. The only thing holding you up would be pre-heating the oven, which may not be necessary with a fan-assisted oven.

It has to be said that this isn't the lightest cake ever, but it is tasty and makes a good mid-week 'cake-tin filler'. I decided not to add a frosting, so made a drizzle by dissolving a tablespoon of caster sugar in the juice of a lemon (the one that I'd taken the zest from) by heating them together in the microwave for a few seconds. I pierced the top of the cake using a cocktail stick, as soon as it came out of the oven and spooned the hot lemon syrup over, then sprinkled on a little extra granulated sugar.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Tahini Brownies with a Sesame Praline Crust

I recently bought both tahini and sesame snaps for a cake recipe which I then decided not to make, so I had to think of another use for them. This recipe for tahini brownies with a sesame praline crust was the result. None of the sesame/tahini brownie recipes I could find online were quite what I was looking for - many used tahini to make dairy-free brownies and even more were so-called 'healthy' brownies, using raw ingredients or unusual grains instead of wheat flour. All I wanted was brownies with the flavour of sesame seeds!

In the end, I took inspiration from my recipe for brownies with a hazelnut praline crust, substituting tahini for some of the butter, and grinding the sesame snaps to make a praline topping. The results were very good - the brownies were very soft and gooey, and although the tahini flavour in the brownies wasn't very strong, the topping more than made up for this, adding a sweetened sesame flavour and crunch..

Ingredients
100g sesame snaps
90g butter
140g 70% plain chocolate
50g tahini
300g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm/8" square brownie tin with baking parchment.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large mixing bowl, over a pan of simmering water.
While this is happening, use a food processor or pestle and mortar to grind the sesame snaps to a fine praline crumb.
When the butter and chocolate has melted, stir in the tahini, followed by the sugar. Stir until smooth and evenly blended, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Sieve the flour and cocoa over the chocolate mix, and fold in.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and level the mixture, then sprinkle the sesame praline evenly over the batter.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a probe comes out with just a few damp crumbs sticking to it.
Cool before cutting into pieces of the desired size.

As this is the only chocolate baking I've done this month, and I was so pleased with the result, I'm sending this to August's We Should Cocoa link-up, hosted this month by Choclette at Tin and Thyme. As for July, the theme is 'Anything Goes'

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Apple and Orange Cake

In the absence of any better ideas, and with no inspiration to be found in any of my books, I fell back on this family favourite. The recipe makes a shortcake style dough which sandwiches a layer of fresh and/or dried fruits. Almost any fruit can be used, although fruit which releases a lot of juice during cooking is best cooked and drained first. This time the filling was three sliced eating apples, 100g mixed dried fruit (including raisins and cherries), 100g thick-cut orange marmalade and the zest of a large orange.

The dough is made by melting 150g butter and mixing in 150g caster sugar and 1 large egg. When everything is blended together tip in 300g SR flour and mix to a soft dough. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the base of an 8"(20cm) springform cake tin - just spread it out with your fingers, trying to get an even thickness. If you think the filling might release a lot of juice, you can build up a small wall of dough around the edge of the tin, but this isn't necessary with this particular filling as the dried fruit absorbs any juices from the apples. Mix all the ingredients for the filling together and spread out on the dough. The remaining dough makes the topping - break it into small pieces and drop on top of the fruit, then flatten the pieces to cover as much of the fruit as possible. There may well be small gaps but the dough spreads while baking, so most of these will fill up, and any gaps look quite attractive, anyway! There's a bit more detail on making this cake, with some explanatory photos, here.

Bake for 50 - 60 minutes at 180C until the cake is golden brown and feels firm. Cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before removing the sides of the springform tin. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if liked. The cake can be served warm as a dessert, or at room temperature as a cake.

Adding the orange elements - marmalade and orange zest - gave this cake a light refreshing flavour and made the mixture of apples and dried fruit more suitable for a summer cake.