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.