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.