Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas Desserts

- Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake and Key Lime Pie

No-one in the family is keen on traditional Christmas pudding, and I also wanted to make things which would keep for a day or two, in case no-one even wanted dessert after Christmas Lunch.

I made my first choice quickly, as something chocolatey is a tradition with us. I decided to splash out on a block of Willie Harcourt-Cooze's Venezuelan Black Cacao and use his recipe for Cloud Forest Cake. Of the three varieties of cacao available, I chose the Rio Caribe Superior, which is described as having 'a zesty note of citrus fruit'.

Although some comments after the recipe suggest that it's not an easy recipe, I've made it twice now with no problems - the most difficult, and time consuming, part is grating the 100% cacao, as the blocks are very hard. Even with a large microplane, it took me 15 minutes (the first time with a smaller microplane, it took me 30 minutes!). I found I needed to cook the cake for about 10 minutes longer to ensure it was cooked to the centre.

The cacao has a very distinctive flavour which is carried through to the cooked dessert. The cake has a dense close texture, and has just the right amount of sugar to make it palatable, but still retain the intensity and bitterness of the cacao.

The cake is so rich that double cream, sweetened slightly and whipped with vanilla extract, actually lightens it!

If you are a chocoholic, but haven't yet tried coooking with 100% cacao, I recommend you try it once - the results are worlds away from cooking with standard supermarket 70% chocolate bars.

For my second dessert, I wanted something sweeter and lighter, as a counterbalance to the chocolate dessert. When I was making a decision about desserts, I planned to bake a Christmas cake with lemon in, and another cake with orange as the predominant flavour. In the event, the orange cake didn't get made, but my original plans kept me away from choosing either lemon or orange as the basis for dessert.

However, I did decide that citrus would be good balance against the rich chocolate, so finally opted for a Key Lime Pie. Never having made it before, choosing the right recipe wasn't simple.

Deciding to go with a cook I can trust, I looked at Foodycat's blog entry here, and realised the recipe she recommended was almost identical to Delia Smith's, which sounded promising, as Delia may not be exciting, but she is reliable!

Again, this was a very simple recipe to follow - the only change I made was not to use grape nuts in the pie crust - just 200g crushed digestive biscuits and 100g melted butter. I sprinkle the baked dessert with more lime zest, and served whipped cream separately. My limes were very small - it took 8 limes to give 150mls juice, and four of them to give enough finely grated zest.

Despite not having real Key Limes, this was still a well-flavoured dessert and made a good counterpoint to all the rich food at the Christmas lunch.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

'Christmas' Cake

Not a traditional cake, but a new favourite - Squidgy Lemon-Ginger Cake from Good Food. The first time I baked it, I commented that it reminded me of Christmas cake, without all the dried fruit. Fresh ginger, lemon, dates and muscovado sugar seem to magically combine to give the right spicy warm smell! I decorated it with drizzled white chocolate, chopped stem ginger and fondant icing snowflakes.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Mince Pies

We don't eat many mince pies, so it's not worth making my own mincemeat. This year, I used a Cranberry and Port Mincemeat from Waitrose; a pretty dark red colour and plenty of flavour.

I use my own pastry recipe, a combination of how my mother makes all her pastry and a sweet shortcrust. My mother uses SR flour all the time - it makes the pastry short and crumbly, and prevents it hardening after a few days, as regular shortcrust pastry can, especially if you're not an expert, and are a bit heavy handed with the water. I find using SR flour especially useful with mince pies which you want to keep for quite a while. This amount of pastry should make about 2 dozen pies.

500g SR flour, 250g salted butter, rubbed in. Sift in about 75g icing sugar, and mix to a dough with a whole egg and as much cold water as necessary. The dough should be a smooth paste which holds together well but isn't too wet, or crumbly around the edges - unfortunately only experience can help you with this! Knead lightly and chill for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into quarters, for ease of use. Roll out one portion and cut out an equal number of pie bottoms and lids to fit your moulds. Add the trimmings to the next portion when rolling those out. Assemble pies as usual and bake at 200C until golden - could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size of pie and thickness of pastry.

My mother always brushes the pastry lid with water and sprinkles over some granulated sugar before baking, and this is a tradition I carry on - I like a sparkly finish better than a loose dusting of icing sugar afterwards. I only had caster sugar available this year, which doesn't work quite as well, because of the smaller crystals.

Friday, 18 December 2009

My First Bundt Tin

Same cake - different cake tin! This is my favourite Chocolate and Orange Marble Cake, with an orange glacé icing, made in my new bundt tin.

It was a bit of an experiment, as I didn't really know how much cake batter I was going to need to fill the tin, or how efficient the non-stick surface of the tin was going to be. I decided that starting from a known cake would help me decide which cake recipes could be used in my tin in future.

As it turned out, this cake was too small by at least 50% - half as much batter again would probably have filled the tin to the top when baked. However, it was good to know that the finished cake still looked reasonably attractive, because the design of the tin isn't different around the base.

I greased and floured the tin carefully and the cake fell out easily, so hopefully sticking is not going to be a problem.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I didn't have all the ingredients to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, which seems to get consistently good reviews, so I decided to tackle Delia Smith's recipe instead.

You'll see, when you compare my photo with the one shown with the recipe, what was wrong with the cake - it didn't rise well and the quantities given for the frosting and filling were very sparse. It was also a crumbly but sticky cake (how is that possible?), so it was difficult to turn out of the sandwich tins. I added the chopped walnuts to the filling, but decided not to use them on top.

The texture was moist and dense, and the flavour was fine, although nothing special, and the frosting was not as richly chocolatey as I'd expected, considering the high proportion of chocolate added. Sometimes I think that cocoa gives a better flavour in frostings.

I'm not sure I'd bother to make this again, but if I did, I think I'd try making it in 7" sandwich tins to give a deeper cake and the illusion of more filling and frosting.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


A while back I made these Fig and Pumpkin Seed Bars. Although I really liked the flavour, I didn't like the basic bar recipe. I eventually got around to trying the mixture of dried figs, sour cherries, pumpkin seeds and walnuts in my usual flapjack recipe. This was a big improvement, as my flapjacks are perfect (in my eyes!) - thick and chewy, as I like them. I would like to incorporate some maple syrup in future, although I know from experience that this alters the texture of the flapjack.

This is my basic flapjack recipe, which produces a thick chewy flapjack which isn't at all crumbly.

For these flapjacks I used 90g dried figs, 70g dried sour cherries, 40g pumpkin seeds and 50g walnuts. I chopped the figs, walnuts and dried cherries into smaller pieces, adding the pumpkin seeeds at the end so that only a few were chopped and most remained whole. This could be done in a processor, with brief pulses, but I used a mezzaluna.


250g butter
100g golden syrup
150g light muscovado sugar
350g rolled (porridge) oats
150g dried fruit, nuts and seeds of choice - chopped where necessary


Fully line a 30 x 20cm x 2.5cm deep (12" x 8" x 1" deep) baking tin with parchment, ensuring that the parchment comes up the sides of the tin, so that none of the flapjack mix will touch the tin. I do this with one piece of paper, pressed and folded into the corners.

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together, either in a large bowl in the microwave, or in a large saucepan on the hob, on a low heat.

Stir in the oats and dried fruit mix. Mix well until the wet mix is evenly distributed.

Press the mixture into the tin as evenly as possible, then bake at 180C for 25 - 30 minutes until just turning golden. If you prefer a crisper flapjack, bake for a few minutes more.

Remove from oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes then mark into bars. Allow to cool completely before removing bars from the tin.

To make smaller batches, use 2/3 of the quantities given in a 20cm (8") square tin, or half quantities in a 18cm (7") tin.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Peanut Butter Marble Cake

It's a pity that the original name for this flavour-packed cake is such an ugly mouthful - Chocolate Mocha Peanut Butter Marble Cake, although it's hard to convey all the information any other way. The peanut butter runs right through the cake batter, which is then divided in half, and one part flavoured with a mocha mixture, while chocolate chips are added to the other part.

The only change I made to the cake recipe was with the Mocha flavouring. I didn't have any Camp coffee essence, and wanted it to be more chocolatey, so I used a tablespoon of coffee granules and a tablespoon of cocoa mixed to a thick paste with a tablespoon of flour from the recipe quantity and 2 tablespoons of cold water.

I baked the cake in a 9"(22cm) springform tin, as I don't have a bundt tin - it took about 10 minutes longer to cook.

I used plain chocolate with 86% cocoa solids - I prefer using chopped chocolate bars for most cakes as I really like the irregularity of large and small pieces (right down to crumb sized).

I made a small quantitiy of frosting, rather than using the apricot glaze, by mixing about 100g icing sugar, a tablespoon of cocoa and a heaped tablespoon of smooth peanut butter to a paste with warm water, and used a piping bag to drizzle a lattice pattern over the cake.

This is a fairly heavy cake - there isn't a great deal of raising agent in the mixture - but the eggs and peanut butter keep it quite moist, and we prefer this type of cake to those with a really light airy texture, which look more substantial than they really are.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Chilli-chocolate Orange Cake

If you're a regular reader of my posts you will know by now that I am quite critical of what I bake and it's very rare for me to be completely satisfied with a recipe (or of the way it turns out for me!). No such problems here - this Chilli-chocolate Orange Cake is perfect. A moist, close texture, but not too dense; a good balance of all the added flavours, and equally tasty with or without a frosting (and there's a choice of two with this recipe). Of course, you do have to like the chilli-chocolate combination in cakes! The amount in this cake is just right for me, giving enough warmth to be noticable, but no lingering burn.

The recipe is by Sam Stern, who published his first cookery book in his mid-teens. It's the last recipe on this page of chocolate cake recipes on The Guardian website. I used 2 tablespoons of orange juice instead of rum and/or water, and the grated rind of the whole orange, otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.

For a frosting I used a Mary Berry recipe very similar to the bitter chocolate icing suggested in the recipe, but with smaller quantities - 90g plain chocolate, 45g butter and 2 teaspoons golden syrup melted together, then cooled until thick enough to stay on the cake. This amount is just enough for a thin layer on the top of the cake. I sprinkled orange zest over the frosting for an extra finishing touch.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Fresh Ginger Cake

- David Lebovitz recipe

I really expected to love this cake. Everywhere I looked at it online, the reviews are fantastic - I used the recipe from Epicurious and of the 70 reviews there, only a few people didn't like the cake, and that could be put down to personal tastes being different. Every blog I read thought it was great too.

Well, I didn't like it.

The flavour was fine - no problems with that; in fact, the idea of adding black pepper is something I'll take back to my usual gingerbread recipes - the buzz from that was lovely. However, I didn't like the texture. If it's possible to say it about a cake, it was too light and airy in texture, while the sides were crisp and crunchy. For me this wasn't a pleasant contrast, and it made the cake difficult to cut too. Perhaps it's because I'm used to dark gingerbreads being dense and moist; if so it's something that is so ingrained that it's not going to be easy to rid myself of the prejudice.

It would probably have made a lovely dessert, cooked in a pyrex or earthenware dish, so that the edges didn't crisp, and then served warm with cream or custard, but I'm afraid it's not a cake I will be trying again.

The only change I made to the recipe was to use black treacle instead of molasses, and replace 1/3 of the quantity with golden syrup, as I'm not sure black treacle can be described as having a mild flavour. A couple of notes if you want to make it - my cake had a few little patches of paler crumb. I think this is down to the action of the baking soda, as it's happened before when I've used recipes which dissolve the soda in hot water then stir it into the batter. I'm not sure if it's down to not enough mixing, or something else! Also the mixture of wet ingredients is very liquid, which makes it difficult to incorporate the flour at the end. Better to sift it over the surface of the wet ingredients and mix in gradually, rather than dump it in, in two or three parts, as I did!

Observation, made the next day - to be absolutely fair, the crisp edges seem to have softened a bit with time, but the cake is still too light in texture for my tastes.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bake in Haste.....

......repent at leisure!

These Malted Milk and Chocolate Chip Cookies would be labelled a failure, and not even mentioned, if it wasn't for the fact that the flavour is so good. Now I have another recipe that I need to perfect!

I'd planned to make a cake, but other things intervened and I had to bake something quickly to keep the cake tin filled. Cookies seemed ideal, and I'd recently found this recipe for Malted Milk Wholewheat Cookies. I didn't have any wholewheat flour, nor time to chill the cookies, so did a general search online for similar recipes which used white flour and didn't chill the dough before baking. I settled on this one as I had all the ingredients (some used condensed milk) and decided to make half a batch, just to see us through the day.

The only thing I planned to do differently was double the malted milk powder to intensify the flavour. I've no idea how, or if, this affected the dough, but I needed to add another 50g of flour to the half quantities to even get a dough which looked like cookie dough. Then they spread a really long way in the oven and took twice as long to bake as the recipe suggested. As they spread so thin they were quite crisp when cold - not the sort of chewy cookie I'd been expecting, but the flavour make this a concept worth perfecting, as I said before.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Work in Progress

fig rolls and lemon cookies

With a batch of brownies available if all else failed, today I had time to work on a recipe that I'm trying to perfect. Since seeing this fabulous photo of Lemon Burst Cookies last month, I'm determined to make something similar from scratch. For one thing, I don't even know whether the cake mixes we get here in the UK are the same as American ones, for another, I always have the basic ingredients available for baking, but buying a cake mix involves remembering to put it on the shopping list and thirdly, I've never seen a cake mix that doesn't have chemicals and cheap fats in, which I don't use when baking from scratch.

Reading the labels on cake mix boxes (online) wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped, as many boxes contain frostings too, but the ingredients listings aren't separated out. So as a starting point, I decided to assume that a 18oz cake mix would contain equal weights of SR flour and sugar, like many cakes. I decided to use 20% cornflour to give a more tender texture. Then, I added all the additions used in the recipe in the link, plus some natural yellow colour. This made a very liquid batter which need more flour to make a cookie dough. Even then the dough spread too far, too fast - the balls of dough didn't even hold their shape on the baking sheet. The resulting cookies were very tasty, and had a nice cakey texture, although they were too sweet, so I knew I was on the right track.

Today, I looked through my Cookies recipe book to find something that looked as if it had the right texture after baking, and compare it with my first attempt. this recipe used a creamed mix of almost equal amounts of butter and sugar with double the quantitiy of flour and an egg yolk mixed in to bind. I added lemon zest, lemon extract and natural colour instead of the flavours in the recipe. I again used about 20% cornflour to keep it tender and added a little bicarbonate of soda to ensure a cakey texture. The recipe I chose gave a raw dough that was too dry, but adding a little lemon juice soon rectified that. The cookies held their shape and baked to a good texture, but the raw dough balls didn't 'hold' the icing sugar coating, and it was all absorbed during cooking. I sprinkled on icing sugar after baking but it doesn't give the same effect. I'm not sure how to proceed from this point, as what I made were very good cookies in their own right - they just didn't look correct.

I also decided to make some homemade Fig Rolls (Fig Newtons), which my husband had suggested, to use up a bag of dried figs. I used this recipe, although I didn't have any wholemeal flour, so used all white. I also used the leftover egg white from the lemon cookie making, plus a little water, instead of egg yolks. I was happy doing this as several recipes I looked at used egg white to mix the cookie dough. The resulting fig rolls were pretty good, but with the benefit of hindsight, I rolled the dough too thin. I also think both the dough and the fig filling would be improved with some additional flavouring - orange zest, perhaps or some cinnamon. So again, this is a work in progress, although not as far to go as with the lemon cookies!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tropicana Banana Cake

You can tell how tempting this recipe is - published on Saturday, in the Guardian Weekend magazine; baked on Monday afternoon as soon as the ingredients were acquired. Another Dan Lepard recipe, no surprise there!

Although it's an unusual method, it's not difficult if you plan ahead and have everything weighed out in advance, in little bowls. Sometimes you do need to be organised and careful! The only 'problem' I encountered was that the cake took a lot longer to bake than suggested in the recipe, but I put this down to my loaf tin probably being a different shape. I often have timing problems with loaf cakes - my 2lb tin is short and deep, so a cake will take longer to bake than in a longer, more shallow tin. This cake took 25 minutes longer, and I covered it with a piece of foil for that extra time to prevent it getting too dark.

There are lots of flavours in this cake - almonds, banana, orange, coconut, tropical fruit - and they all come together nicely to create a very subtle, well balanced, delicately flavoured cake, with a moist delicate crumb, as promised. No one flavour predominates, although the orange and coconut are recognisable, and biting into the pieces of tropical fruit gives little bursts of other flavours - in this case pineapple, papaya, mango and melon. I didn't taste the banana at all, but someone who doesn't like bananas might notice it.

If I have any criticism, it's that I wasn't happy with sticky, soft texture of the Tropical Fruit mix - I used Waitrose own brand 'Tropical Fruit Medley'. It was the only tropical mix I could find which was only semi-dried, but it had a lot of added sugar - more than 50%. It's clear from the photo, too, that the weight of this sugar dense fruit has made the pieces sink through the batter, rather than being evenly distributed. I think next time I make this, I will use soft dried pears or apricots and leave the word 'tropical' out of the name.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Double Chocolate and Almond Cake

- chocolate almond cake studded with white chocolate and marzipan chips.

This was made using the basic proportions of a Madeira cake, which is ideal for the kind of plain cake you like to keep handy to eat with a cup of tea or coffee, rather than a fancy dessert type of cake.


175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
150g SR flour
25g cocoa
75g ground almonds
2-3 tablespoons milk
100g white chocolate
100g good quality marzipan - I use Anton Berg which is 60% almonds


Chop both the marzipan and white chocolate into cubes about 3mm across and set aside. Sift the SR flour, cocoa and almonds into a bowl.

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a teaspoon of the flour mix to prevent curdling. Add the vanilla extract with the last egg.

Fold in the rest of the flour mixture in two batches, using enough milk to give a 'dropping consistency', which means that the cake batter is soft and liquid enough to just fall off the spoon with no effort on your part.

Gently fold in the white chocolate and marzipan chips.

Spoon the batter into a 19 or 20cm (8") prepared springform cake tin - I like to base line even tins claiming to be non-stick with baking parchment or a silicone circle - level the surface and bake at 170C for 75 minutes, or until done when tested with a probe.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

This isn't a very good picture, I'm afraid - with typical bad luck, the next slice off the cake was not well endowed with either chocolate or marzipan chips on either surface, but I didn't think I could cut the whole cake up just to find a cut surface which would give a better picture. LOL!

I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate; to me it tastes of little except vanilla, so I only really use it when I want to provide a visual contrast. Here it gave a textural contrast too, as the chocolate chips set hard on cooling whereas the marzipan chips stayed relatively soft. Overall, the three elements of almond chocolate cake, white chocolate and marzipan worked really well together. The cake itself is not richly chocolatey, but I think you could add some melted plain chocolate - say 50-75g - if you wanted a richer, moister cake.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Apple and Walnut Cake

(note to self - check you have enough dried cranberries in stock before you decide to make an apple, walnut and cranberry cake!)

Another cake using the lovely autumnal flavours of orchard fruits and nuts, but again, one that is plain and brown to look at and not very easy to photograph well.

My starting point was this recipe on the Bramley Apple website; my motivation was to use up three Bramley apples which had been lingering for too long in the fridge. I made quite a lot of changes to the recipe, to make the walnuts more of a feature, and to adapt to what was in my store cupboard, so will write out the list of ingredients I used. I had the remains of a bottle of walnut oil brought back from France to finish up, and I wanted to use dried cranberries instead of sultanas and add some nuts to the cake batter too. I also felt that a nutty streusel topping might be nicer than a lot more walnuts embedded into the top of the cake - not sure I was right about it, but more about that later!

As it turned out, I only had 70g of dried cranberries, so used those and 50g dried cherries, cut in half, to make up the 120g needed. I didn't have any 00 pasta flour either, but a bit of research told me that basic plain flour would be a good enough substitute.


70g dried cranberries
50g dried cherries, halved
150ml walnut oil
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
350g plain flour
1 tspn cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
500g Bramley apples (weighed before peeling) grated.
100g coarsely chopped walnuts
grated zest of 1 lemon

Streusel Topping:
50g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
20g butter
50g finely chopped walnuts

To make the topping - rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the sugar and nuts.

To make the cake - follow the recipe in the link, using the cranberries and cherries instead of sultanas, and adding the chopped walnuts to the batter. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the cake before baking, instead of using the topping in the recipe. I found that the cake was cooked in 70 minutes - quite a bit less than the time given in the recipe.

Given the amount of grated apple in the recipe, I was surprised by how light and dry this cake turned out to be. I wouldn't have minded a denser, moister cake, as I wanted to serve it as a dessert, but it was still very good. The amount of topping I made was too much, and too dry - half the quantitiy would have been enough, but using a higher proportion of butter too. The suggested topping of chopped nuts mixed with demerara sugar might have been even better!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Chocolate Custard Muffins

I've written about these before, as they are the only home-made muffins which my son really prefers to shop bought ones. I don't think that's anything to do with my baking skills - I think it's just that shop bought muffins are lighter and softer than those produced by any of the recipes I've tried. This is the first time I've made these since I started writing this blog, so it's a good opportunity to add a photo.

These are called chocolate custard muffins, not because they conceal a custard centre, but because they are made in a saucepan, with a base of cooked cocoa flavoured custard. The recipe, here, is another of Dan Lepard's marvellous creations, and it's very quick to make, once you have all the ingredients weighed and laid out ready to add to the pan.

There's not much else to say about them really, except they are light, but intensely rich and chocolatey in flavour!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Lemon and Ginger Bars

Sometimes it's easy to put together elements of different recipes, or to adapt recipes, to get exactly what you're looking for. This bar, with it's ginger shortbread base and lemony almond sponge topping, was one of those occasions. My inspiration was the bakewell tart, or at least, the non-authentic version which uses sponge cake mixture for the topping; I often make a chocolate version using cocoa in the cake mixture and apricot jam spread on the pastry base, so it wasn't a huge stretch of the imagination to come up with a lemon and ginger version, using ginger preserves instead of jam. Once the idea had grown roots, I decided to use a shortbread biscuit base instead of pastry, to make it more of a cake than a pudding.

I had to 'guesstimate' the quantities needed to fill the baking tin I wanted to use, but it worked out really well, although along the way I realised there were a few things I should have done differently, and will next time.


300g plain flour
200g cold butter, cut into small cubes
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger

ginger preserves - at least 225g (half a jar, in my case)

100g SR flour
50g ground almonds
150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
3 large eggs

100g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Use a baking tin 30cm x 20cm and at least 3cm deep. Prepare as necessary - I completely lined my tin with baking parchment; you'll know what you need to do to your tins to make sure nothing sticks.
Base - Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the caster sugar and ground ginger. Work the dough with your hands until it comes together into a ball. Use this dough to line the base of the baking tin, spreading it as evenly as possible with your fingers, and pressing it in firmly. Bake at 180C for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 160C.

(I found the shortbread had bubbled up in places, and reading other recipes, realised I should have pricked the base before putting it in the oven to prevent this. I pricked the base as soon as it was out of the oven so that any air bubbles were released and the hot dough sank back down)

Filling - Allow the base to cool for a few minutes to harden up a little, then spread with the ginger preserves.

(Another lesson learned - I think the ginger preserves would have been easier to spread if they had been warmed slightly - they were set quite hard, unlike some jams.)

Topping - Put all the topping ingredients into a bowl and beat until smooth, using an electric food mixer. Spread this mixture carefully over the ginger preserves. Bake until golden brown, and firm and springy to the touch - about 40 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into bars or squares - I cut into 15 pieces, 18 would give daintier pieces. Leave in the tin until cold.

Icing - Mix enough lemon juice into the icing sugar to make a thick paste. Put it into a small strong polythene bag, and cut off one corner of the bag to give a hole a couple of mm wide. Pipe squiggles or zig zags of icing across the cake.

(Final lesson learned - I made the mistake of putting on the icing before removing the squares of cake from the baking tin, which made the bars look a bit messy, as the icing had to be cut through as the bars were lifted. Next time I will move the bars to a wire rack and either ice them individually or group them closely together, but not touching, and ice as one piece, allowing some icing to drip down the sides)

Although they tasted really good, the balance of flavour was in favour of the lemon, which wasn't what I really wanted; the ginger wasn't much more than a hint, with the sweetness of the preserves toning down the sharpness of the lemon. When I make them again I will increase the ginger, using more spice in the shortbread base, and perhaps some additional fresh ginger grated into the ginger preserves to add a little more kick to the ginger side of the equation.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Hallowe'en Brownies

I think I enjoy seasonal baking at this time of year more than any other; I love the bold gutsy flavours of autumn fruits and nuts much more than the delicate flavours of summer berries. The autumn harvest takes the added flavours of spices well, which I also like to use, and fits into my (usually)rustic style of baking much better.

Having said that, I don't usually use pumpkin in my baking, after trying and hating pumpkin pie a few years ago. When my children were younger we didn't get caught up with the growing celebration of Hallowe'en, either, regarding it as a 'foreign' import which might go away if we ignored it. So I was somewhat surprised to find a tin of pumpkin purée in my store cupboard, although the half-price 'reduced to clear' label may have had something to do with why I bought it. Anyone who knows me knows that I can't resist a food bargain!

I'm not the only person to have tried Martha Stewart's recipe for Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies recently; I've seen it on several (or maybe even many) other blogs in the last few days, starting with this one on 'Cake or Death?'. That isn't a reason in itself to try the recipe - my reasoning was that combining the pumpkin with chocolate was possibly the only way I'd be able to sneak it past other members of the family! I found recipes which mixed pumpkin purée into chocolate cake batter, but disguising it that completely seemed to defeat the object of using pumpkin in the first place. The effect created by layering a pumpkin flavoured batter with a chocolate batter and swirling them together seemed ideal; a fabulous visual effect, and possibly a better chance of discerning the separate flavours.

The recipe was straightforward to follow, although I did convert the American cup volumes and ounce weights into metric weights and measures - for some reason I just don't feel confident using cups after years of relying on scales. Despite warnings about working quickly because the batters, particularly the chocolate one, 'set' quickly, I didn't find this to be a problem. The alternate layers of batter were quite thin and I found it difficult to spread them on top of each other without disturbing the layer beneath, but it wasn't a major problem - it just upset my desire for perfection not to be able to spread the second and subsequent layers to the edges of the tin - but I soon realised this could help rather than hinder the final visual effect.

Here's the 'translation' of the recipe to metric weights, rounded to the nearest 5g, to suit my scales:

115g butter
170g plain chocolate (72% cocoa solids)
240g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
400g caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275g tinned pumpkin purée
80mls sunflower oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
75g chopped nuts (I used pecans)

Follow the recipe as in the link - you may find these tips useful:

Mix the oil into the pumkin in a small bowl, and add the cinnamon and nutmeg. You're less likely to forget anything if it's all in one bowl, ready to go.

When it came to dividing the base batter in half I used my scales and found that half the batter was 400g. Next time I can just take out 400g into a second bowl, making one less bowl to wash up.

I found judging the point that the cake was cooked quite a problem. although it felt firm it still didn't test as done when it had been in the oven for 50 minutes, and I was mindful that as a brownie it shouldn't be overcooked. I decided to ignore my testing probe and take the cake out of the oven.

When cooled and cut, my judgement was that the pumpkin part was slightly undercooked and the chocolate maybe slightly overcooked for a brownie. There were as many adverse comments as good ones, about this bake, on the website and perhaps that's the fundamental problem with the cake - the two layers won't cook in the same time. If you cook until the pumpkin layers are done then it is no longer the texture of a brownie, as the chocolate layers will be well overcooked.

The undercooked pumkin didn't detract from the final result, as it kept the texture chewy and moist - as you would want a brownie. Overall the flavour and texture was very well balanced - the pumpkin was noticeable, but not dominant; the spicing was very subtle with the cayenne only just detectable as an added warmth, gentle but not intrusive and the texture was right for a brownie.

If I ever come across cheap tins of pumpkin again, this would be on the list to make again, although in my quest for a recipe I found several that I would like to try, including this lovely looking bundt cake from Hilary at 'Let Her Bake Cake'.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Apple and Cranberry Crumble

There's only one reason to be writing about an ordinary, no-frills apple crumble - and that's to boast that I grew the apples myself!! The apples - a variety called Broadholm Beauty - are what is called dual-purpose; just sweet enough to be an eating apple but good for cooking too. We only planted the tree last year, along with two eating apple varieties, so the low yield we got this year from all three trees wasn't unexpected - all three apples from the tree went into the crumble.

I tried a slice while preparing the fruit and it was just edible raw, but still very sharp. I added a reduced amount of sugar to the slices in the baking dish, compared to what I would have added to Bramley apples.

I really wanted to test the flavour of the apples, as I was using all the crop, so only added a half teaspoon of cinnamon to my usual crumble mix, and 50g dried cranberries to the fruit. The mix I use for 4 portions is 80g each flour, rolled oats, sugar and butter, and I rub the butter into all the dried ingredients mixed together - this gives a coarser texture to the crumble mix which I prefer. Using some demerara sugar adds to the texture too - I only had about 25g left in the pack.

The apples seemed sweeter after cooking than when raw - I could have used less sugar - but they had a lovely flavour. They keep their shape when cooked and don't make much juice, so I must remember to add a little water when using them next year.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Maple Syrup and Pecan Cake

I've spent several hours looking for an interesting cake using maple syrup and pecan nuts, over the last few days. Most seem to rely mainly on their visual appeal - multiple layers of light sponge sandwiched with fluffy billowing frosting; I wasn't convinced there would be much flavour in them, and as a family we're not keen on these types of cakes anyway. Some recipes only used a few tablespoons of maple syrup in the cake batter, others used a whole 350ml bottle, which seemed a bit excessive, not to say confusing. How could I decide what would make a well flavoured cake with so much variation? I even looked for recipes using honey, thinking I could substitute maple syrup for the honey, but still couldn't find anything that appealed.

Lateral thinking was required. Who publishes interesting and unusual recipes? Blindingly obvious answer, of course, at least to British bakers - Dan Lepard! A search of his weekly Guardian recipes came up with this Honey and Walnut Cake - it was a simple step to substitute maple syrup and pecan nuts, and I also added half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. I wanted a round cake, so used a 19cm diameter springform tin, base lined with baking parchment.

The recipe was simple to follow, albeit a little unorthodox in the method and order of combining the ingredients. My cake, in it's round tin, cooked in the time suggested in the recipe. The result, although not a pretty cake, was a triumph of subtle flavours - apart from the pecan nuts, it wasn't easy to identify any of the other flavours, but they combined to make a delicious cake with a sturdy moist, but not too dense, texture. The addition of coffee cut the expected sweetness of the cake, as Dan explained in his notes about the cake.

If I'd had more syrup available I might have added a maple glacé icing, with a few chopped pecans scattered over, but I had to empty the bottle (and use a tablespoon of honey) to get enough for the cake. Note to self for next time, I think!

So once again, I have Dan Lepard to thank for the inspiration for a really tasty cake - I guess I should try the original version with honey and walnuts sometime, as I'm usually pretty scathing about people who write that they tried a particular recipe, but added this ingredient and changed that ingredient - especially if they are complaining that it didn't work, or they didn't like it! I think it's a mark of respect to the work that recipe creators do, to try the recipe, as it is written, at least once - sorry Dan!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Praline Brownies

I've written about these before, but they are so good that it doesn't hurt to mention them again. I can also include a picture this time, as this is the first time I've made them since I started writing this blog.

This recipe for Praline Brownies is taken from the Telegraph newspaper. They are lower in sugar than my usual recipe but much higher in chocolate content, with 225g in the batter mix and another 225g in the topping. As mentioned before, I used a mixture of Guylian seashells, white chocolate and 74% plain chocolate for the topping. I also used 85% plain chocolate in the brownie batter this time, making a dense intense but not over-sweet brownie.

Cooking them as in the recipe makes a very gooey brownie - much sloppier than I like to eat them, so I cook for an extra 5 minutes and don't cool them quickly.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Fig and Pumpkin Seed Bars

A biscuit recipe from Nigel Slater, in his weekly column in the Observer newspaper, caught my eye recently, for the unusual combination of flavouring ingredients used. As well as the eponymous figs and pumpkin seeds, dried cherries and walnuts are used, plus some ground almonds in the base oat mix and maple syrup in the binding mix.

In his preamble to the recipe, Nigel describes his quest to make a muesli style biscuit which is crunchy, yet still sticky like a flapjack. I like my flapjacks thick and chewy, not biscuity, so wasn't sure how I would like the texture of this Fig and Pumpkin Seed Bar, but decided it was worth a try for the flavours alone.

The only change I made to the recipe was to use pecans instead of walnuts; if there were walnuts in my storecupboard, then I couldn't find them! I chopped the figs in the mini-processor first, to the size of raisins, then added the rest of the fruit, nuts and seeds and pulsed briefly until the nuts were chopped. This reduced the figs, cherries and pecan nuts to quite small pieces but left the pumpkin seeds more or less intact - I didn't want the biscuits to be too crumbly. After baking, I cooled the mixture with some weights on top, as Nigel stressed the need to press them down while cooling.

The final result was a thin oat bar which is crunchy, flavoursome and very sweet, but to me is neither a crisp biscuit nor a chewy flapjack. I really liked the flavours together but didn't really like the texture. I think I would prefer using the same combination of nuts, fruits, seeds and maple syrup in my usual flapjack recipe, or in a soft cookie recipe.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Poppy Seed Cake

It's late on Sunday afternoon, and I am short of both inspiration and baking supplies - only two eggs, no citrus fruit or vanilla extract. All I know is that I want to make something 'different', without nuts, as nuts seem to have dominated my baking recently. Rumaging through my storage box of nuts and dried fruit I find a packet of poppy seeds, bought for sprinkling on bread dough before baking. It's years since I made a poppy seed cake, but the only recipe I have adds citrus flavours too. Can I find a recipe using flavours that my fussy son will eat, but only using two eggs?

It doesn't take long to find this recipe for a plain poppy seed cake. But now I'm worried that it will be too plain and that the flavour will be bland. A bit more searching leads me to this recipe which adds veins of sugar, flavoured with cocoa and cinnamon; perhaps I can combine the two.

So, I make a mixture of 75g demerara sugar, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a tablespoon of cocoa. I follow the recipe with no problems and put 1/3 of the batter into the loaf tin, which I've lined with baking parchment - this turns out to be important! Then I cover the surface with a generous sprinkle of the sugar mixture, and add another 1/3 of the batter.

It's now that I realise that a 1lb loaf tin is not going to be big enough! Fortunately my 2lb loaf tin is similar in its base dimensions to my smaller tin - just a centimetre or so longer and wider - with most of the difference in size being in the height. So I grasp the baking parchment liner by diagonally opposite corners, pick it up carefully and place it into the larger tin. I'll just have to hope the batter spreads neatly of its own accord, as I don't want to mess up the layers by spreading it myself.

Continuing with the layers, I add another sprinkle of sugar, then the last portion of the batter. There's still a lot of sugar mix left, so I also add a layer on top of the cake mix.

The finished cake looks more impressive than I'd expected, although the sugar mix on top of the cake makes it messy to handle - either leaving it plain or adding a chocolate glaze after baking would have been better, I think. Moving the cake mix doesn't seem to have messed up the layers too much.

There are a few small patches through the cake where the thickness of the layer of sugar has prevented the cake mix on either side of it bonding together. I think this could be rectified by using a more traditional streusel mixture of flour, sugar and butter with cocoa and cinnamon flavouring, so that it behaves more like a cake mixture during baking.

The cocoa and cinnamon add an extra dimension to the nuttiness of the poppy seeds, but I think it will be worth trying a plainer poppy seed cake, now that I've tasted it - perhaps with just a little vanilla extract added.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Yorkshire Puddings

If there's one question which is asked more often than any other on the BBC Food Messageboards, it's probably how to make perfect Yorkshire puddings, and there are always several different answers given as to what is the most important factor - sizzling hot fat, metal tins, very hot oven, the right flour, the only 'celebrity chef' recipe which works for that particular poster etc.

I think one of the problems with answering the question is that, if you have always made good Yorkshire puddings, it's hard to see why others have problems. What could be simpler than a batter made with plain flour, milk and an egg, which is baked in a hot oven until risen, firm and golden? How could anyone not do it?

For me, the only problem during more than 35 years of cooking has been YPs which stick in the tin, and I solved that problem about 10 years ago with one of the, then newly introduced, silicone moulds. The mould I bought can't be heated empty, and doesn't hold heat like metal does anyway, so straight away I abandoned the idea that sizzling fat in a hot metal tin was essential. The hollows in the mould are about 8cm in diameter across the top and just over 1cm deep. When filled to the top with batter this is just the right depth to produce ideal individual puddings. The picture above shows the silicone tray, on it's metal tray, with four moulds containing meat fat ready to receive the batter and the two holes not needed for puddings filled with water to prevent damage to the silicone.

So - what's my recipe? I'm a traditionalist who makes the batter in the same way my mother did, with no weights or measures. I just use a kitchen cutlery tablespoon (not even a calibrated measuring spoon) and my experience. If I want four puddings I use 3 slightly rounded tablespoons of plain flour, and if I want six puddings I heap the spoons a bit more. There are those who claim to make YPs with SR flour, but the odd time I've used SR flour by mistake, my puddings haven't worked, so I would say that plain flour is essential.

I also use only one egg for up to six YPs. My belief is that the British celebrity chefs such as James Martin and Brian Turner, who drastically increase the ratio of eggs to flour in their recipes, do so because they couldn't make traditional puddings either! Yorkshire puddings originated as a cheap, filling part of the meal to cut down on the amount of meat that needed to be served - adding several expensive eggs just wasn't part of cooking cheaply. Delia Smith's recipe, using one egg for every 75g (3 ounces) of flour is close to the ratio of eggs to flour which I use in the batter I make. You can find her recipe and lots more information on Yorkshire puddings on this link.

So, put 3 tablespoons of plain flour into a small bowl and add a pinch of salt. Add 1 large egg and a splash of milk (I use semi skimmed). Using a large spoon, gently mix to a smooth thick paste, adding a little more milk if necessary. Once you have a smooth paste with no lumps, use the spoon to vigorously beat the mixture for a couple of minutes. Then gradually stir in more milk until the consistency of the batter is that of unwhipped double cream. At this point the batter can be left for a while - some cooks think a waiting period of around an hour is essential, but I haven't found much difference between batter left standing and batter used straight away.

If you are using a metal YP tin, put it into the oven with a little of the fat from the roasting meat about 45 minutes before you want to eat, to allow it to get hot. Whatever temperature you are roasting the meat at is fine at this stage - you won't be cooking the YPs until the meat is out of the oven and resting. My oven is usually at 180C/160C fan/Gas 4 at this stage. With my silicone mould, which doesn't need pre-heating, I add a teaspoon of meat fat to each mould just before putting in the batter.

35 minutes before you want to eat, when you have removed the meat from the oven, add the batter to the 'YP tin'. First though, give it a stir, and if you can see that it has thickened during standing, add enough cold water to bring it back to it's original consistency. I fill my YP moulds to the top, so I would advise adding batter to your chosen mould to a depth of about 1 cm:

Carefully transfer the YPs to the oven, using the highest shelf, or hottest position, if you are not using a fan oven. At this stage, turn up the heat to 230C/210C fan/Gas 8 and resist the temptation to open the oven door for at least 20 minutes. A friend gave me the tip that cooking YPs in a rising temperature produced better results, and I tend to agree with her. After 20 minutes, have a peek, without opening the oven door too far; if your puddings are risen and already evenly dark golden, it's OK to turn down the temperature a bit, rather than risk burning them. I think they need to be in the oven for at least 30 minutes so that they become firm enough not to collapse when taken out of the oven.
With a bit of luck, you'll have something similar to the pudding in the photo below, shown as an accompaniment to roast lamb, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and cabbage cooked with shredded leeks. The ideal pudding, for me, should be well risen and crispy around the edges, with a hollow in the centre, but the base should still retain some stodgy, chewy, puddingness - a totally light crispy pudding is wrong.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Apricot and Hazelnut Cake - version 2

The second attempt at this gluten- and dairy-free cake was much more successful. I used the best parts from both the recipe I posted here already, and the similar Annie Bell cake from the Daily Mail. I increased the amount of hazelnuts and added baking powder, in line with the Daily Mail recipe, but still separated the eggs and used the spices from the original recipe. I left out the lemon, but added two teaspoons of orange flower water instead, as one of the tasters can't eat acidic citrus fruit; I don't think either the orange flower water or the lack of the lemon had a major impact on the flavour. To get a deeper cake, which would look more like a birthday cake, I baked it in a 20cm tin.


225g ‘ready to eat' dried apricots
1 cinnamon stick – about 7cm long
5 cloves
5 cardamom pods
6 large eggs, separated
125g caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)
200g ground hazelnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder


Put the apricots into a small saucepan with the spices and 150ml water, bring to the boil then simmer, uncovered, until the apricots have absorbed most of the water. Watch carefully towards the end, so that the saucepan doesn’t dry and burn the fruit. Remove the spices, then purée the apricots in a food processor or mini chopper.

Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4, and prepare a springform or loose bottomed cake tin. [I used a 20cm(8”) tin to get a deep cake, but for a dessert you could use a 23cm(9”) tin and obtain a shallower cake. The cake mixture filled my 20cm tin to within a couple of cm of the top, but it doesn’t rise much.]

Whisk together the sugars and egg yolks (or use the food processor after puréeing the apricots), then stir in the orange flower water. Mix in the hazelnuts and baking powder, then the apricot purée. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the cake mix in three parts. Transfer to tin, level surface, then bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown and a probe inserted into the centre comes out clean. [I needed to cover it after 30 minutes to prevent it getting too dark.]

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, run a knife around the edge of the cake, between the cake and the baking tin sides, then leave to cool in the tin. This is so that when the cake deflates slighty, it does so more evenly, without leaving the outer edges raised.

The baking powder didn't seem to make a lot of difference to how much the cake rose, but definitely gave it a lighter and more cake-like texture. The cake deflated (slightly) more evenly than my first attempt too, although that may have been due to the knife trick.

The picture shows the cake decorated with glacé icing and coloured sugar sprinkles, as it was used as a birthday cake. Everyone who tried it thought it was marvellous; the gluten- and dairy-free guest had two helpings and took the recipe home with her!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Double Helpings of Desserts

They are not seasonal, it's true, but a lunch party seemed an excellent reason to use some of my frozen gooseberries. These were a gift from my mother - we planted two gooseberry bushes this year but the yield wasn't enough for excess to be frozen.

As the desserts needed to be dairy-free, and fairly light, as the rest of meal was quite substantial, I chose this recipe for Gooseberry and Elderflower Jelly from Delia Smith. Instead of wine I used a sparkling grape juice drink, as I knew several of my guests didn't drink alcohol.

It's a fairly simple recipe to follow; the only problem was that the amount of liquid for soaking the gelatine didn't seem enough - the powdered gelatine absorbed it all and still looked grainy, so I added enough to keep the gelatine loose enough to be stirrable. Most recipes use hot water to soak powdered gelatine, so that might have been a better option.

The jelly took ages to set - long enough to have me worrying that it wasn't going to set at all, but it did eventually. The resulting dessert was vey tasty and light, although there was no evidence that a sparkling drink had been used, probably due to the long setting time.

The second dessert was more seasonal - Blackberry and Apple Mousse - and again, was dairy-free. The recipe was adapted from a recipe for a Summer Fruit Mousse in a 'free from' cookery book I have, and uses coconut cream and soya cream, and some gelatine, instead of dairy cream, plus a couple of beaten egg whites to lighten the mixture a little. This dessert didn't produce the same clean flavour that the gooseberry dessert did; the creaminess seemed to dilute the flavour too much.

For 6 servings you need 500g of cooked fruit, sweetened with 100g sugar (or to taste) . While this is hot, add 2 tablespoons of powdered gelatine soaked in 3 tablespoons very hot water, then sieve or purée, depending on whether there are pips to remove. When cool, and just showing signs of setting, stir in a 160ml tin of coconut cream and a 250ml carton of soya cream. Then beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into the mixture. Spoon into individual glasses, or a large bowl. The recipe suggested decorating with frosted fresh fruit - dipped in lightly beaten egg white then caster sugar.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Guess what! Another Dan Lepard recipe - or almost! This time I had to tweak the ingredients a little to fit what was in my store cupboard, but the basic recipe is the same as here. I had run out of both spelt flour and ordinary wholemeal flour, didn't have enough light muscovado sugar and only had smooth peanut butter, so my ingredient list looked like this:

200g smooth peanut butter
125g slighlty salted butter
175g caster sugar
25g dark muscovado sugar
125g light muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
65g plain white flour
60g strong wholemeal bread flour
125g rolled oats
100g 72% plain chocolate - chopped quite small

I followed the recipe exactly, using an electric beater for the butters and sugars, then mixing in the flour, oats and chocolate by hand. With my 'walnut sized' lumps of dough I made 32 small cookies out of the batch; they cook to roughly 6 cm across.

The cookies are crisp on the outside but chewy to the bite and taste of peanut butter and chocolate - what more do you need to know?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Guinness Cake

This isn't a pretty or delicate cake; you probably won't want it on your tea-table alongside the bone china, cucumber sandwiches and fondant fancies. However, it does have a really fantastic flavour, and if you need something in the cake tin for elevenses, hungry children, visiting workmen and so on, this might be worth a try,

This Guinness cake recipe is taken from Mark Hix's weekly column in the Independent newspaper - he suggests serving it as a pudding, with icecream. It's a very straighforward recipe; my only dilemma was whether to cook it in a 20 or 23cm diameter tin. I chose the larger size as the weight of the ingredients seemed to add up to a lot, but a 20cm tin would have been fine too.

As you can see, adding Guinness doesn't make the cake very dark. The orange flavour is obvious when you first taste it, but the Guinness, lemon and spices blend with the orange to give a very subtle, unusual flavour. I guess you could add a drizzle of glacé icing to pretty it up a bit.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Chocolate Crumble Pear Tart

Again, I was seduced by the picture accompanying Dan Lepard's recipe in the Guardian Weekend Magazine two weeks ago. This time, though, the product did not fulfill the promise. It was a pleasant enough dessert, but all three of us felt that there was no WOW! factor - the pears were very delicate in flavour, the chocolate crumble wasn't strongly flavoured, the caramel was diluted by the pear juice during cooking.

The only difficult part of the recipe was trying to roll out the pastry enough to fit a 23cm deep fluted flan tin. There was barely enough, and it was very thin in places. During blind baking it slumped around the sides, showing that I'd had to stretch and patch it to fill the tin. I'd recommend using a 20cm tin or pie dish, and maybe weighing out 275g of the initial mixture to make the pastry, rather than 250g. The finished dessert would have looked better in a smaller tin too, as there would have been a deeper layer of fruit.

When I put the crumble mix onto the tart, I squeezed it between my fingers, then crumbled the resulting lump of dough over the pears, to ensure there was some texture, as the crumble mix looked very powdery.

I served the tart at room temperature with Chantilly cream.

Maybe I'm being too harsh in saying the tart was not an outstanding dessert; perhaps our love of really rich chocolate desserts blinded us to the subtleties of the flavours - you might find it perfectly delightful!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Black Pepper Rye Bread

It seems a long time since I last posted, although it's not that long since I last baked. The cake tin has been kept filled with goodies using recipes I've already posted (mainly brownies), and I've also had one or two failures which weren't worth mentioning. The failures were mostly part of my quest to produce a gluten and dairy free menu for a meal for 10 at the beginning of next month. I'm tempted to give up on the idea of gluten free baking, but it's a matter of personal honour now that I will produce something edible! What I have given up on is the idea of depriving everyone of good bread just because two guests don't eat wheat, so although most of the meal will be dairy and gluten free, some elements of the meal will be 'normal'.

This recipe from Dan Lepard for Black Pepper Rye Bread caught my eye at the weekend, as a possibility to serve with smoked mackerel paté. I love rye bread, and this loaf promised to be light and moist, with a good kick from the pepper - sounded just right.

My first attempt was a disaster in terms of texture - it was dry, heavy and hardly rose at all - but I wasn't sure whether it was my technique or whether my dried yeast had died in storage. The flavour, however, was wonderful, just what I needed to fire up the tastebuds at the start of the meal, so I didn't want to give up on the recipe. As ever, Dan was very helpful on his website, suggesting where I might be going wrong, and he even baked the recipe again, and published a set of photographs for future guidance.

The second attempt, pictured above, was much better; the loaf was lighter, moister and rose well. I didn't have any poppy or sesame seeds to top the loaf with, so just gave it an egg wash and a light sprinkle of caraway seeds, which was what I'd used in the loaf with the black pepper. I took Dan's advice to cook the rye and spice mix less, and also took the precaution of buying new yeast, but now it's frustrating not to know if it was the yeast or the change in technique which made the difference. I know that you shouldn't really change two things at the same time if you're trying to get to the root of a problem, but I didn't want another failure.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Malted Chocolate and Caramel Tart (without caramel)

or - the case of the disappearing caramel!

I'm a big fan of Dan Lepard's regular column in the Guardian Weekend magazine, particularly his cakes and desserts. Unfortunately I just can't get this recipe for Malted Chocolate and Caramel Tart right, but the malted chocolate tart filling is so delicious that I keep trying.

The problem is the uncooked chocolate tart filling is thick and fairly solid and the caramel sauce which is supposed to be swirled into it is not - it is like unwhipped double cream in consistency.

The first time I tried this, I just couldn't see how to get the caramel into the chocolate and, not wanting to spoil the dessert, ended up piping a caramel spiral on top of the chocolate and using a skewer to feather it into a spiderweb pattern. This was very pretty, but it was just a surface decoration and didn't use enough of the caramel to taste it in the finished tart.

This time, I managed to incorporate all the caramel into the chocolate, but it took a lot of effort and I may have stirred the two mixtures too much - when the tart was cut there was no sign of the caramel, it had all either been mixed into the chocolate by me, or been absorbed into it during cooking. All I had to show it had even been there was a few messy looking swirls on the surface.

The tart was still delicious - a dense, sticky, fudgy texture and rich chocolate malty flavour, with a crisp pastry shell, but I've decided to do without the caramel in future and just make a Malted Chocolate Tart. Or perhaps try a layer of dulce de leche underneath the chocolate?

In my opinion, best served at room temperature with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Hummingbird Bakery - Ginger Cupcakes

I received The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook as a surprise present recently, and promised to bake something from it as soon as possible.

A discussion on the BBC food message board about problems with the vanilla cupcake recipe from the book prompted me to try the recipe for ginger cupcakes. The recipe itself is about as far as you can get from the traditional British 'fairy cake' recipe of equal quantities by weight of eggs, SR flour, caster sugar and butter (counting an egg as 50g) - there is a very small proportion of butter, more sugar than flour and about half the amount of egg, the rest of the wet ingredients being made up with milk. The recipe also uses plain flour and baking powder - giving a little more raising agent than if using SR flour. The method is different too - the soft butter is worked into the flour, sugar and baking powder until evenly distributed, then the wet ingredients are beaten in.

The recipe for ginger cupcakes is similar to the vanilla recipe - adding 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and some finely chopped stem ginger (I used 7 large nuggets). After baking the cupcakes are drizzled with a little of the stem ginger syrup.

I found the recipe easy to follow but ended up with quite a liquid batter. This made me concerned that the pieces of stem ginger added would sink to the bottom. The recipe was supposed to make 12 cupcakes in 'large American sized cases'. I used muffin cases and only made 8 cupcakes, although I may have overfilled the cases slightly. The cakes rose fairly well in the oven and didn't sink on cooling, which was the problem the BBC poster had had. I don't think the rise was as great as if the same amount of Victoria Sandwich batter had been in the cases, and it was definitely a more gentle rise, with the cupcakes staying quite flat on top.

The flavour and texture of the cupcakes was very good, but, as I expected, the pieces of stem ginger sank, and stuck to the paper case as the cupcakes cooled. This made it almost impossible to get the cupcakes out of the paper cases without the cake splitting in half, especially with the soft frosting making them difficult to handle.

The frosting was the best part of the recipe - using less butter than a traditional buttercream and beating in some milk for lightness. The result was both less sweet and less cloying than buttercream, which isn't one of my favourite frostings. The frosting for the ginger cupcakes has added lemon zest and the milk was infused with fresh ginger overnight (although I couldn't taste this).

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars

There's a quote at the top of the page where I found this recipe "Milk chocolate Morsels inside peanut butter squares. What could be better?" Well, I've found something better - plain chocolate chunks inside peanut butter squares!

I was directed to this recipe from one of the blogs on my reading list, but I've been looking at so many recently, I can't remember which one it was. Thank you anyway, whoever you are - these are quick and easy to make and really, really good!

All the recipes I found online for Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars were identical to this one. All I did differently was use chopped plain chocolate bars - a mixture of 74% and 85% cocoa solids - and cook it in a 12 x 8" tin, slightly smaller than specified, but all I had - and a good decision as it turned out, as the bars were quite shallow, even in a smaller tin. I also put the tray back in the switched-off oven for 5 minutes to melt the chocolate topping completely.

Here's the ingredients 'translated' to metric weights:

250g peanut butter - I used smooth.
85g softened butter
280g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g plain flour
350g chopped plain chocolate

There's no way to get 36 bars out of the tray though! I got 20 squares of a reasonable size with a 5 x 4 cut. If you wanted bar shapes a 6 x 3 cut would be about right.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Apricot and Hazelnut Cake

Or - Adventures in Gluten- and Dairy-Free Baking

I've made flourless chocolate cakes before, where ground nuts provide the only 'floury' element. I've even made a gluten- and dairy-free cake - the one where you boil whole oranges and pulp them. However, there are additional limitations on this exercise - no chocolate and I can't use citrus fruit as the main flavour. The hunt is on for a birthday cake, where the recipient can't eat chocolate, one of the guests is gluten-free and one can't eat gluten or dairy or citrus fruit in large quantities.

One of the books I bought fairly recently, but haven't cooked much out of yet, is Annie Bell's 'Gorgeous Cakes'. For some reason the thought of cooking a 'special diet' recipe from someone who is an acknowledged cake expert seemed better than using a recipe from someone who is an expert on special diets. I'd expect the cake expert to concentrate on getting a really good quality cake, indistinguishable from a 'normal' cake, whereas a dietary expert may just be concerned with making something vaguely edible from the allowed foods. So a recipe in the book, for an Apricot and Hazelnut Cake, using puréed dried apricots, hazelnuts, sugar and eggs seemed a good starting point.

I was slightly disappointed, comparing my cake to the picture in the book. In the book it looks cake-like in texture - spongey, light and well risen - just what I needed. The thing I baked was dense and moist and had sunk back, more so in the centre, after baking, to the texture of a heavy cheesecake. The flavour was fine, excellent, in fact - delicately spiced and fruity - and it was a very pretty colour, but with the sunken centre it looked like a dessert, not a cake I could use as a Birthday Cake.

I have some suspicions as to where I went wrong; the cake looked well risen when it came out of the oven, and only sank as it cooled, so it may have been under-baked, even though it tested as done. I've also found a very similar Annie Bell recipe online, for a Chocolate Apricot Cake and that adds baking powder! Most similar recipes, using ground nuts and fruit purées, add baking powder, so maybe there's a mistake in the recipe printed in the book. The recipe I tried separates the eggs and whisks the egg whites until stiff before folding in - I thought this would be enough to raise the mixture. I should have trusted my instincts; after nearly 40 years of baking I still think the recipe writers are always right!
Anyway - here's the recipe if anyone's interested, or can make suggestions for improvement.
225g ready to eat dried apricots
1 x 7cm cinnamon stick
5 cloves
5 green cardamom pods
finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
6 large eggs, separated
125g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
125g ground hazelnuts

Put the apricots, spices, lemon zest and juice and 150mls of water into a small pan and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until the water has been absorbed - this will take about 30 minutes. Watch towards the end of cooking, to prevent the fruit drying out and burning. Remove the spices and purée the fruit, however is most convenient for you. I used the bowl of a mini-processor. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan oven 160C/Gas 4. Grease and base-line a 23cm springform tin.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy, then fold in the ground hazelnuts followed by the apricot purée. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold it into the egg mixture, in three parts.
Transfer to the prepared tin, level the top and bake for about 50minutes, or until a test probe is clean. Run a knife around the edge (I forgot to do this which might account for the uneven sinking) and cool in the tin.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Traditional Plain Gingerbread

I was going to call this recipe 'old-fashioned' gingerbread, until I read this post about molasses cookies on Let Her Bake Cake! Anyhoo, it's the old-fashioned cakey sort of gingerbread that is better after a day or two in storage, when it begins to develop a sticky top surface.

I've been using this recipe since around 1974 - that's when the recipe book (Cakes and Cake Decorating, by Zoe Leigh, published by Octopus Books) was published and it was the year I got married, so it's a fairly safe assumption to make. All I've done to it over the years is to convert it to metric weights and increase the amount of ground ginger used. It's a particularly easy cake to make - it doesn't need an electric mixer or any precise techniques - just melt, mix and bake!


120g butter - cut into 6-8 large cubes
60g dark muscovado sugar
120g black treacle or molasses
120g golden syrup - see note about syrups
120mls milk (I use semi-skimmed)
2 large eggs
240g plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
3 level teaspoons ground ginger

Note - you can vary the proportions of the treacle and golden syrup, providing the total weight is 240g. The more treacle you use the darker and more bitter the cake will be. I often use 60g golden syrup and 180g treacle.


Pre-heat the oven to 160C, Fan oven 140C, Gas 3. Line a 20cm (8") deep square cake tin with baking parchment (or prepare as you prefer). I use a Silverwood adaptable tin for this cake - it rises to around 5cm high during baking.

Put the butter, sugar and both syrups into a saucepan, and heat gently, stirring until the butter is melted and the sugar disssolved in the syrup.

Remove from the heat and add the milk. If necessary, allow to cool to blood heat (you don't want to scramble the eggs).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and stir briskly until just combined - do not beat.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 - 60 minutes until a probe tests clean.

Cool in the baking tin. Store in an airtight container when completely cold, and try to wait at least one day before eating! I usually cut this into 12 pieces.

The picture below was taken 48 hours after baking, when the surface is glowing with gorgeous stickiness!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Musing on Muffins

I DON'T do muffins. I CAN do muffins, but almost every recipe I try is greeted with the cry "They're OK, but I prefer the muffins you buy". Is it any wonder I don't bother with them?*

I don't know what makes the difference. Are shop-bought muffins really just large cupcakes, and technically not a muffin at all? Is it the emulsifiers and humectants and so on which make commercial muffins light and airy but claggy in the mouth, or a different type of recipe? Do I put in too many chocolate chips, or too much fruit, and make them too rich? Is my son addicted to artificial chemicals and flavourings?

However, muffins are useful. There are inevitably days when even a dedicated cake maker can't find the time or energy to cook, even when there's no cake in the house; that's when I buy muffins. 'Cake' is still available, and in a form not to be sneered at as inferior to what is usually provided.

* the one noble, and definitely notable, exception to this pattern are Dan Lepard's Chocolate Custard Muffins which must be declared the best chocolate muffins in the world, as my son thinks they are better than shop-bought muffins.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Another Baking Session with Rhubarb

I'm not sure whether to call this a pie or a cake; the dough used for the case is more like a scone or shortcake than pastry; perhaps I should call it a shortcake pie!

I was looking for a way of incorporating some roasted rhubarb into a dessert, but didn't want to make a pie using shortcrust pastry, or a crumble, as I prefer to use raw rhubarb for those.

While looking for suitable recipes I saw one based on a Nigel Slater recipe,
on this blog, for a cake using polenta, with a layer of cooked rhubarb in the middle. The cake looked exactly what I needed, but I didn't want to use polenta again, after last week's cake. I remembered a fresh fruit cake, in my repertoire, which I had never tried with rhubarb because of the amount of juices produced when rhubarb is cooked. Using Nigel's technique of raising a lip around the edge of the dough base should be perfect for containing any juices.


150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
300g SR flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
finely grated zest of 1 orange

Enough cooked rhubarb to fill the cake - sorry this is vague, but I was just took what I needed from a bowl of already cooked fruit. If starting from scratch I guess you'd need at least 400g, perhaps a bit more, but the recipe is fairly flexible.

To 'roast' the rhubarb: cut the stems into 5cm lengths, lay in a single layer in a shallow non-metallic ovenproof dish, sprinkle with caster sugar - about a tablespoon per 100g or more if you have a really sweet tooth - then bake at 180C, Fan oven 160C, Gas 4 until the tip of a knife passes easily through the thickest piece of fruit. This takes roughly 20 minutes. Put the fruit in a sieve over a bowl to drain off any juice which has collected. Cool before making the cake.

To make the pie: Preheat the oven to 180C, Fan oven 160C, Gas 4, and grease and base-line a 20cm springform cake tin. Baking parchment is best, or a circle of re-usable silicon sheeting.

Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave, or in a saucepan on the hob.

Mix in the sugar and beaten egg, then stir in the flour, cinnamon and orange zest.

Put 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared tin and spread into an even layer with your fingers, working the soft dough a couple of centimetres up the side of the tin to make a shallow wall.

Put in the fruit, packing it as closely as you can, but trying to keep a level surface and not bringing it higher than the wall of dough.

Pinch small pieces off the rest of the dough and scatter them over the surface of the fruit. Make sure to put some pieces touching the top of the wall of dough in the tin. You won't have enough to cover the fruit completely, but it will spread in baking.

Bake for 60 minutes, until risen and golden, covering the cake if it browns too quickly.

Cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack before taking off the springform sides. Serve at room temperature; lightly dust with icing sugar before serving.

My OH thought this was a pie, and complimented me on the quality of the pastry! Shows what he knows! As a perfectionist, I wished I'd packed in more fruit, and the topping might have been better with some rolled oats or chopped nuts worked in to give a contrasting texture, but otherwise I don't have too many criticisms of this. I was particularly pleased that the already cooked rhubarb had retained it's shape and texture - I had been worried that it would be just a mush in the centre.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

A Batch of Brownies

Just to keep the cake tin filled! This is my favourite recipe for plain chocolate brownies; I posted the recipe earlier in the month. These were made more rich and gorgeous than usual by using chocolate with 85% cocoa solids - my local branch of Tesco has just started selling this at a very reasonable price, in it's cookery ingredients section.

I need a better camera (or camera operator) for close-up pictures, too.

I'm ashamed to admit that this batch was ever so slightly overcooked, too high in the oven, which meant the the top became papery and flaky. Tasted wonderful though!