Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Degrees of Failure

I can't decide how I feel about recipes which don't work well the first time. In some ways a spectacular failure is easy to deal with, as I can just forget about the recipe. Despite saying this, I often try a recipe twice, in case I made a mistake first time - that's how I found out that Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Gingerbread recipe does work (goodness knows what I did the first time!).

More difficult to deal with are the recipes which almost work; then I have to decide whether it's worth spending time on getting it right. This is especially true with a recipe I've only tried because it's a way of using up a 'leftover' ingredient. Would I really want to make this cake again? Is it good enough to buy that ingredient specifically for the cake? Is it outstanding compared to similar recipes which I have used more successfully?

This whipped cream cake, from Rose's Heavenly Cakes, by Rose Levy Berenbaum, is a case in point. I only tried it because I had a carton of double cream at it's use-by date, and nothing else to do with it. I'm far too much of a penny-pincher to throw this sort of thing away. The cake was almost there, but there was a layer of denser mixture at the bottom of the cake, as if it hadn't cooked evenly, or had started to separate during cooking. It also sank quite dramatically as it cooled.

So then the questions start; was it because I was only making 2/3 of the mixture? Or because I baked it in a regular pan, rather than a tube pan? Or because I used orange blossom water and orange zest as flavouring, instead of vanilla, which seemed to react with the eggs? Or was it just because the cream was old?

I feel it's worth pursuing this recipe a bit further, as the cake had a really good texture - a fine, close crumb which was moist, but still light, and which suited the delicate flavouring used. Next time though, I will have to follow the recipe exactly before I start making alterations.

I almost managed to disguise the sunken top of this cake with a small amount of chocolate glaze, made by melting 90g plain chocolate with 45g butter and a heaped teaspoon of golden syrup. This went well with the orange flavour of the cake.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Chocolate Flapjack

I recently won a competition set by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog. The prize was donated by Dorset Cereals, and I was surprised, as well as delighted, to receive 6 x 600g packs of their new chocolate granolas (3 of each variety), plus a hessian shopping bag and a breakfast bowl.

The problem is that the while the granolas are absolutely delicious, they are much richer and more calorific than our usual meagre breakfasts! They are much higher in calories than my husband's Bran Flakes, and I only have a banana for breakfast. This Chocolate Granola contains over 19% sugar and 30% fat! Much of this is explained by the 14% plain chocolate and 10% coconut, but, as we are both prone to gaining weight too easily at this time of our lives, we just can't eat afford the calorie intake of eating them for breakfast.

The answer is to use them as desserts, and to bake with them. Occasional desserts and one portion of my baking is factored into our daily intake, so we are just replacing like with like here! (Well, it makes sense to me!) A spoonful or two sprinkled over yogurt makes a delicious mid-week dessert, and my first foray into using them in baking produced this delicious chocolate flapjack. I based the recipe on my usual flapjack recipe, but altered the amounts of the ingredients to compensate for the amounts of sugar and fat already in the granola. I also used some raw oats, which I thought would be more absorbant than the granola and would help bind the mixture together.

The result is a slightly crisp but still chewy flapjack which is really tasty and definitely too tempting! The only improvement I could think of, to make it even better for chocoholics, is to add 100g of chocolate chips to the mixture - the chocolate in the granola is spread evenly over the cereal clumps, not in discrete pieces. I could probably cut down the butter slightly more without affecting the chewiness or the ability of the bar to hold together well, but we don't make flapjacks if we are too worried about healthy eating, do we?

200g butter
100g golden syrup
50g light muscovado sugar
400g Dorset Cereals Chocolate Granola
100g rolled oats

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a 30 x 20 cm (12 x 8") baking tin (at least 2.5cm (1 inch)deep) with one piece of baking paper, folding it into the corners, and letting it come slightly higher than the sides of the tin, so that none of the flapjack mixture will touch the tin.

In a large bowl, melt the butter, syrup and sugar together in the microwave, on high. This took just over 2 minutes in my microwave. Then stir in the granola and oats, and mix until evenly blended.

Tip the mixture into the tin and spread evenly, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20 minutes. After cooling for 5 minutes, use a sharp knife to cut into squares or bars of a suitable size (I cut into 18 pieces), but cool completely before removing from tin.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Malted Chocolate and Caramel Tart - Take 2

This tart looked, as the saying goes, like a right dog's breakfast! I made a real mess of the topping, which didn't work at all. The only reason I'm even mentioning it here is that I've cracked how to use the malted chocolate filling and dulce de leche together, and the tart tasted wonderful!

The recipe is one of Dan Lepard's, see here, that I've never managed to get right. At the end of my last attempt, I thought that perhaps using the chocolate filling on top of a layer of dulce de leche might work better than trying to 'gently swirl' the caramel mixture Dan uses into the chocolate. So this time, I baked the pastry case blind, and gently spread about 4 heaped tablespoons of dulce de leche onto the hot pastry, before pouring in the chocolate mixture.

This proved to be the right thing to do - but my mistake was trying to gild the lily with a swirl of pure dulce de leche as a topping. This caramelised during baking and sank into the chocolate mixture, leaving a swirly trench on top of the tart. However, the fudgy malted chocolate on top of a layer of dulce de leche worked really well and tasted rich and decadent. Definitely the way to go forward.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Malt Loaf

This isn't like the soft sticky commercial malt loaf which UK readers may be familiar with, but it's just as tasty. It's a dense loaf which needs a lot of chewing, so a small slice is quite satisfying (particularly when spread with butter). Despite the huge amount of sugary substances in the recipe - golden syrup, treacle, malt extract and dried fruit - it does not taste excessively sweet.

This Malt Loaf recipe is an old one from Dan Lepard, which has been revived recently by some of his board members. I used chopped prunes, lard, and a smoked malted bread flour in place of the wholemeal flour in the recipe. My mistake, I think, was to choose a badly proportioned loaf tin, relative to how much the loaf rose, but that did mean I could cut small slices!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Dulce de Leche Brownies

with Pecan Caramel Crumble Topping.

I used this recipe as a guide, but reduced the sugar in the brownie batter a little, as I didn't have unsweetened chocolate, only 85% cocoa solids. I left off the fudge sauce topping, as I wanted a cake, not a sticky dessert. I also took a guess at how much dulce de leche to use, when converting to metric weights. As suggested in the recipe, I needed to add more flour to the crumble topping to get it dry and crumbly enough to scatter. I left out the cinnamon from the brownie batter but put it into the crumble topping.

The crumble topping was very hard after baking, although it seems to have softened a little during storage. The brownies were overbaked when I tested them at the minimum suggested time, so that might have contributed to the crunchiness of the topping too. The brownie part of the recipe was nothing special - it really needs to be richer - but overall these were saved by the nutty caramel crumble topping which gave a good contrast in texture and flavour. With either more chocolate or more dulce de leche in the batter, and a few minutes less cooking, these could become something very good. I guess replacing the reduced sugar would improve the texture too - we live and learn!

Here's my metric weight conversion, if you are interested.

Brownie Mix:
115g 85% plain chocolate
175g butter
200g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
50g dulce de Leche
3 large eggs
140g plain flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

80g Dulce de Leche, 60g plain flour, plus more as necessary, 3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 60g pecans, chopped small, 30g melted butter.

Friday, 19 March 2010

White Chocolate Bars with Nuts and Lemon

This will be the last lemon recipe for a while, to the relief of others, as it used the last of the lemon curd I made just over two weeks ago.

This was based on this recipe for White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Brownies, which I've used before, but I made quite a few changes, including inadvertently increasing the sugar by 50%! I intended to use only walnuts, but didn't have enough in stock, so had to change my plans here too.

The result was a dense, moist chewy bar which tasted quite nutty, but surprisingly the lemon flavour was very mild. I wonder if the white chocolate somehow masked the flavour of the lemon?


60g butter
150g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
180g white chocolate - chopped into small pieces
2 large eggs
150g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
large pinch salt
finely grated zest 1 lemon
80g approx lemon curd
90g finely chopped nuts - I used equal amounts of walnuts and hazelnuts


Pre-heat the oven to 160C, and line a 8" square shallow tin with baking paper.

Mix the lemon zest, baking powder and salt into the flour.

Heat the water, butter and sugar together in a medium saucepan until the butter has melted, then remove from the heat, add the white chocolate and stir until it has melted.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the flour mix, followed by the nuts and lemon curd. Stir until evenly mixed.

Pour into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Bake for about 40 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs still clinging.

Cool in the tin, then cut into 16 portions when completely cold.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Lemon Tart 'Amandin'

This is similar to a Bakewell Tart - pastry case, frangipane topping - but I used lemon curd instead of jam. The name comes from the mix of ground nuts I used in the frangipane - a mix of 44% almonds, 44% apricot kernels and 12% hazelnuts, produced by Vahiné and sold in France under the name 'Amandin'. It's said to give a more intense flavour than using almonds alone, and although it's very subtle, I think it does make a difference - many desserts made with ground almonds do not actually taste nutty unless some almond essence is used.

I was so pleased with the way the pastry for Raymond Blanc's Apple Tart turned out that I used the same recipe and method here. Again, it worked beautifully, with crisp pastry and no shrinkage - why has it taken over 30 years of cooking to discover this method?
So - I lined a 23cm(9") diameter fluted flan tin with pastry (following the instructions in the recipe), and chilled until I was ready to cook. Then I covered the base with a generous layer of lemon curd. I didn't weigh this, but estimate I used at least 100g.
I made the frangipane by beating together 100g softened unsalted butter, 150g caster sugar, 100g Amandin mix ground nuts, 50g SR flour and three large eggs.
(I thought about not using any flour, but decided in the end to add a little SR flour to lighten the mixture.)
The frangipane was spread over the lemon curd, then I sprinkled a handful of flaked almonds over the top. The tart was put onto a pre-heated baking sheet and cooked at 200C for 20 minutes, then the heat was lowered to 180C and the tart baked until it was deep golden in colour and firm to the touch. I got distracted with other kitchen chores, but I estimate this took about another 30 minutes! The frangipane puffed up as it cooked, but sank down again as it cooled.
Serve at room temperature with whipped cream, custard or whatever you fancy!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Star Anise Chocolate Brownies

The wonderful thing about brownies is that, if you regularly bake with chocolate, you always have the ingredients to hand to make a batch. They are so quickly made, too, that I find them the most useful 'cake tin filler'.

It also means, that if you see a new recipe in your weekend newspaper, you can get straight into cooking, without having to add ingredients to your next shopping list, by which time you will have either thrown out the newspaper or forgotten that you were enthusiastic about the recipe.

This recipe for Star Anise Chocolate Brownies was in yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine - part of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's series on cooking with spices. (The meat dishes look good too!). I have to admit that, in my haste, I didn't read the instructions carefully, and overcooked the brownies, but that's a mistake that won't be repeated. I also thought that the tin size used was too large for the amount of batter - I will use a 7"(18cm) tin next time, as I like my brownies to be a little deeper.

As I know I overcooked them, I can't comment on the texture, but I think the flavour is possibly an acquired taste. The star anise and orange zest blended into something which was completely different to either flavour on it's own. I think if you like baking with Green and Black's Maya Gold Chocolate, you will like these.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Lemon Curd and Pistachio Ripple Cake

There are occasions when I wish I had the time and money to work more intensely on recipe development. This cake has the potential to be something really special but it needs a lot more work, and yet I know my family won't want to eat slightly varied versions of the same cake for the next few weeks (particularly as it isn't chocolate!). It might be several weeks before I feel I can have a second attempt at this recipe.

The intention was to layer vanilla madeira cake batter (is this the same as what is known as pound cake in the US?) with more of the cake batter flavoured with pistachios and lemon curd. I expected the lemon curd to change the consistency of the cake batter and thought that it might form moist, gooey layers within the cake. I hoped the pistachios would colour this layer green, so that it would stand out as a differentiated layer, and I could see how it spread while the cake was baking. This didn't happen, because I didn't grind the pistachios to meal, just chopped them in a mini-processor to give a mix of coarse and fine lumps - there wasn't enough fine meal to colour the lemon layer, but I was worried that nut meal would make the lemon ripple too dry.

The finished cake was delicate in flavour, but rich and moist in texture, with a tender, close crumb. It was too difficult, for the most part, to differentiate between the vanilla and lemon/pistachio areas. I have a suspicion that, apart from a patch at the bottom of the cake, the lemony layers blended with the vanilla as the cake cooked, but I won't know this for sure unless I colour the lemon layer. The rich, even moistness of the cake is what suggests to me that the layers merged during cooking.

There wasn't enough lemon flavour from the lemon curd alone, so this is another area which needs work. The next step would probably be colouring the lemon/pistachio layer with added food colour, to see if it stays separate, and adding some lemon zest to boost the flavour.

225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
275g SR flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
milk, as necessary
75g pistachio nuts, divided, see note
100g lemon curd
note - chop the pistachios to give a mixture of fine and coarse pieces, then remove about 25g of the larger pieces to top the cake.

Pre-heat the oven to 170C, and prepare your cake tin. I used a 30cm long, narrow loaf tin with the same capacity as a 2lb loaf tin. This is roughly the same volume as a round 8"(20cm) diameter tin. I used a sling of baking parchment covering the base and the long sides of the tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, with a tespoon of the flour, to prevent curdling. Fold in the rest of the flour with the vanilla extract and enough milk to give a dropping consistency.

Weigh 250g of the batter into a small bowl and stir the 50g portion of nuts and the lemon curd into this smaller amount of batter.

Layer the two batters into the prepared tin in this order, spreading each one to make an even layer before adding the next: 1/3 of the vanilla; 1/2 the lemon; 1/3 vanilla, rest of the lemon, rest of the vanilla.

Sprinkle the remaing nuts evenly over the top and press them lightly into the batter. Bake the cake for about 70 minutes until a tester is clean. You may need to cover the cake for the last 20minutes or so, if it is browning too fast. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then move to a wire rack.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Apple Tart 'Maman Blanc'

Wow! Raymond Blanc is now even more of a hero for me - or perhaps I should thank his mother! For the first time I've made a pastry tart which kept a crisp base and didn't shrink! The recipe for his mother's Apple Tart is part of his Kitchen Secrets series currently being shown by the BBC.

There's nothing special about the pastry recipe - it's the standard shortcrust proportions of fat to flour, enriched with an egg, but after making the pastry by hand (I have no food processor) I followed all his instructions for shaping, resting, rolling and lining to the letter and the results were superb.

I'm sure that cooking the apples in the pastry case before adding the custard filling helped to keep the base crisp, as the apple juices and their glaze made a sticky syrupy layer on top of the pastry, but the way the pastry is handled minimised the usual shrinkage.

As I don't have a pastry ring, I used a loose-based fluted flan tin instead. I don't know whether this was slightly too shallow, or whether my apples were larger than those he used, but I couldn't get all the custard into the case - I only used about 2/3 of the mixture. It looked very pale and wobbly after only 10 minutes in the oven, so I turned off the heat but left the tart in the cooling oven for another 10 minutes, by which time it had coloured slightly. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to use dark rum instead of Calvados - I can't justify buying a bottle for just half a tablespoon!

The finished tart was wonderful - caramelised apples (I used Coxes) which were soft but still holding their shape and not too sweet, held together by a little custard. Together with the aforementioned crisp pastry case, this was just about perfection. My only quibble with the description of perfect was that the cooked custard shrunk away from the apple pieces as the tart cooled. I don't know whether this was because I overcooked the custard or because the tart case was too full - on the TV programme it only looked as if the tart was less than half filled with the custard.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Fudgy Coconut Brownies

I have Maria, over at 'The Goddess's Kitchen' to thank for this recipe - I no longer buy Good Food Magazine, so wouldn't normally have seen this recipe for Fudgy Coconut Brownies, from April's magazine, until it was available on the website.

This is an ideal mid-week baking project, as it's made quite quickly in one saucepan, saving on washing-up. I didn't have a 21cm square baking tin so used my adaptable tin set to 8 x 9" (20 x 22.5cm), which is as near as can be. The cocoa powder that I'm currently using is a Polish import being sold cheaply by Tesco, and is very dark, so the colour of the melted cocoa, butter and sugar was alarmingly black and sludgy. I've also never used such a large amount of cocoa in a bake, being more used to using both cocoa and melted chocolate together, so I was a little concerned as to how they would come out.

I needn't have worried - the brownies were dark, rich, chewy and delicious. The coconut flavour was not overwhelming, considering how much was used, and the use of SR flour did not make the brownies too light, which was another concern. The high amount of sugar in the recipe is to balance the use of such a large amount of cocoa, so the end result is not too sweet either. The edges of the brownie were quite hard immediately after baking, but softened up a little overnight. This recipe is definitely a keeper. Thanks for paving the way, Maria!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

When You've Got Too Many Lemons......

make lemon curd!

This is the first time for many, many years that I've made lemon curd, but it was well worth the 20 minutes at the stove, stirring a gently heating bowl.

Searching for a recipe, I was amazed at all the variations of what should be a simple recipe. I was using the remains of a bag of 7 lemons bought 'reduced to clear', when I just had only needed the zest of 2, so didn't want to use any recipes using just egg yolks - there's no point making leftovers when you're using up leftovers! I finally decided that the crucial part of the recipe was enough eggs to set the lemon juice, and the butter and sugar was more arbitrary, so I started with the simplest recipe I found - one egg, one ounce (28g) of butter, and 4 ounces (110g) of sugar to every lemon. I had found recipes using double that amount of butter, but that seems excessive to me.

My lemons were quite small, but my eggs were large, so I used 5 lemons, only two of which still had their zest. I only had 350g sugar left in the bag, so decided this would be enough, as I like my lemon products quite tart. Then I just chopped a block of butter in half, giving me roughly 125g.

So, 125g butter was cut into small pieces and put into a large bowl with the finely grated zest of 2 lemons and the juice of 5, 350g caster sugar and 4 eggs. The bowl was placed over a pan of simmering water and whisked constantly until the contents had thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

This took about 20 minutes, but would have possibly been quicker if I had used a larger pan, so that the bowl sat deeper into it and was nearer the simmering water. I didn't get any of the possible problems - curdling or threads of egg white setting quicker than the yolks. I put this down to the very slow heating and the fact that I was using a balloon whisk and not a spoon.

The curd was then poured into sterilised jars and sealed with screw-top lids while still hot. Stored in the fridge these should keep for a couple of weeks.

I liked the texture and taste of the curd - smooth, just holding it's shape, not too rich and buttery, but felt it wouldn't have hurt it to be a little tarter - next time I will use more zest.

As you can see, I tried a little for breakfast this morning, but I don't usually eat much bread, so don't want to succumb to this temptation too often. If any of you can recommend baking recipes to use up the lemon curd, that would be fantastic. I would like to be able to incorporate it into something baked, such as a cake or cookie bar, rather than use it as a filling for a layer cake or pie, as the Chief Tester isn't very fond of sharply lemon flavours, even though I am.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake

with pine nut topping.

This was a very successful cake - light, but still moist; a good texture and a very delicate flavour, despite using a strongly flavoured extra-virgin olive oil, with quite a peppery aftertaste.

I used the Giada de Laurentiis recipe from the Food Network site, but left out the crumbled flaked almonds, and baked it in a bundt tin. Instead of almonds I sprinkled about 70g of pine nuts around the base of the greased and floured bundt tin, for a different flavour element and a textural contrast. I changed to a bundt tin after reading several criticisms that the cake took longer to cook than specified (and because I wanted an excuse to make a bundt cake again!).

The recipe was simple to follow - it took about 7 minutes to whisk the eggs to the point where they had thickened, and reached a pale and fluffy stage. I had no intention of measuring out teaspoons-full of citrus zest, so I used all the zest from one large lemon and one medium orange - that way I could grate the zest straight into the mixing bowl and not lose any of the flavourful oils. The end result didn't suggest that I had used too much zest.

The cake took a little longer to cook - about 45 minutes at 175C; this was probably because the depth of the batter is greater when using a bundt tin. I left it to cool for 15 minutes, as advised in the recipe, before turning out. This was the only difficult moment - it seemed the cake had stuck, but I gently eased it away from the sides with a nylon spatula and it then dropped out easily. I think the problem may have been greasing the tin with olive oil - in future I will use butter, even if there isn't any in the recipe.
As I said, this was a very delicately flavoured cake, with a lovely close textured, moist crumb - I think it will keep better than a butter sponge cake. The pine nut topping made a nice contrast, although I think it would be good to try the recipe as written, with added flaked almonds. I also think the cake could take stronger flavours on top of the citrus notes - chopped rosemary or lavender perhaps - although I'm not sure the very wet batter would take any heavy additions such as chopped nuts or chocolate chips. I was also slightly disappointed that the flavour of my peppery olive oil did not show through, but I'm not sure using a poorer quality oil would work as well.