Monday, 30 August 2010

Butterscotch Blondies - Take 3

I'll skip right over the disastrous attempt at making a courgette and pineapple cake - it was too bad to even photograph! Although the flavour was the sort of thing I'd been trying for - delicate and fruity - the texture was awful. Almost inedible - except I don't believe in wasting anything, so we're eating it as a warm pudding, like it or not! Needs more work!

But that disaster left me with a hole to fill, so today, I've been baking again. I think I've cracked the base recipe for blondies at last. Previous efforts have been too light, too thin, too biscuity, too cakey or too sweet, but this was just right. A little on the cakey side but still quite dense and chewy. After one of my previous attempts, I said I'd found a selection of nice looking recipes on Ice Cream Before Dinner which needed further investigation - the recipe I used was based on this recipe, for Sea Salted Blondies,  from there.

I intended to use the basic dough from that recipe without change, but found I only had small/medium eggs. so I used two eggs and increased the flour to the equivalent of 1 1/3 cup. I added 100g chopped 74% plain chocolate, 75g butterscotch chips and 50g chopped pecans.

I've almost finished the butterscotch chips I brought back from Canada, so probably won't make butterscotch blondies again in the near future, but this is the base recipe I'll be using for other types of blondies from now on.

Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Blondies
180g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g light muscovado sugar
115g salted butter
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain chocolate  - chopped or as chips
75g butterscotch chips
50g chopped pecans


Line a 8" (20cm) square tin with baking paper, pre-heat oven to 170C.
Sift flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a small bowl.
Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave, being careful to just melt it. If it gets too hot, allow to cool a little.
Mix the sugar and vanilla extract into the melted butter, then mix in the eggs until thoroughly blended.
Stir in the flour, then the chopped chocolate, butterscotch chips and the nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and  spread evenly.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until an inserted probe comes out just clean.
Cool completely before cutting into squares or bars in a size of your choice - I got 16 squares.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Chocolate Frangipane Tartlettes

Including Chocolate and Raspberry Frangipane Tartlettes,  my entry for the September "We Should Cocoa" Challenge, which is being run by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, and Chele at Chocolate Teapot. The idea is that the two chocoholics will take it in turn each month to suggest a compulsory added ingredient to be used in conjunction with chocolate products in our baking. It's no hardship for me to include a chocolate baked product every month, and the challenge of using new ingredients may expand my cooking into new areas. The full rules can be found here, and this month's challenge of using raspberries has been set by Chele.

It was actually the use of raspberries which was the hard part of the challenge, as my Chief Tester is famous within the family for showing his dislike of raspberries in a spectacular way (throwing up over Granny's tea table). However, that was more than 20 years ago, and he's too polite to do that now, I hope! But it does mean that I don't often include raspberries in things I want him to eat.  To get over the possibility of him not liking a tartlette with raspberries in, I decided to make half the tartlettes with Nutella instead of raspberry jam.

Raspberry Frangipane Tartlettes

Chocolate Pastry:
150g plain flour
100g butter at room temperature
25g icing sugar
25g cocoa 
1 egg yolk
cold water as needed

Frangipane Topping:
110g soft butter
110g caster sugar
1whole egg + 1 egg white
1 tablespoon plain flour
110g ground almonds or other nuts of choice (I used a mix of almonds, apricot kernels and hazlenuts)

To finish - raspberry jam, Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread, a few flaked almonds, 50g plain chocolate


To make the pastry - Sift the cocoa and icing sugar into the flour, then rub in the butter until the mixture is like breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg yolk and enough water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead lightly, then wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes. After chilling roll out as thinly as possible and cut out fluted circles to line tartlette moulds (mincepie tray). (I got 18 tartlettes out of this amount of dough).

To make the frangipane topping - Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, egg white and tablespoon of flour. Finally, fold in the ground nuts.

To assemble the tartlettes - Put a scant teaspoon of raspberry jam into half the pastry cases, and the same amount of Nutella into the rest, spreading it as much as possible. Top with the frangipane mixture, adding enough to almost fill the cases. Sprinkle the rasberry tartlettes with a few flaked almonds.

Bake at 200C for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C and cook until the frangipane is golden brown and feels set - roughly another 10 miuntes. Rest in the tin for 3 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool. The frangipane will puff up as it cooks, but fall back as it cools to give a level top.

Nutella  Frangipane Tartlettes
To finish, put 50g plain chocolate into a small plastic freezer bag and heat in a bowl of hot water until the chocolate has melted. Snip a corner off the bag to make a very small hole, then swing the bag about over the tartlettes to allow a free-form trail of chocolate to land on the tartlettes as it runs out of the bag.

Both tartlettes were delicious, the pastry was crisp and the frangipane moist and chewy. Those with the raspberry jam had a tart fruity flavour which went well with the frangipane topping, but those with Nutella were better - the added chocolate flavour really enhanced the flavour of the pastry.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Chilli Chocolate Fudge Cake

This is another of Dan Lepard's marvellous recipes. The unusual blend of ingredients - tahini, salted peanuts, cinnamon and chilli - together with a tangy lime flavoured icing gives this cake a very complex flavour. It's supposed to be reminiscent of a South American mole.

Although there's a long list of ingredients, the recipe is simple to follow and doesn't present any problems. I made it with bowls, pans and spoons - no need to get the food processor or mixer out! I used the maximum suggested amount of chilli flakes, which gave a gentle warmth which is just right in chilli cakes. From past experience, the cake cooks a little faster than the time given in the instructions, so I usually do the first test after 45 minutes baking. It rises evenly to give a good flat surface for icing.

The ground salted nuts give a coarse texture to the cake - if you don't like this be sure to grind them as finely as possible. To my mind the cake is a little too dry to be called a fudge cake; it might benefit from a more fudgy frosting rather than a glacé icing, but the cool tang of lime does bring out the warmth of the chilli.

I would call this a good snacking cake - robust and sturdy rather than fragile or crumbly. Just right to accompany a mug of black coffee - or hot chocolate - mid morning.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Chocolate and Cherry Cookies

I've been incapacitated with a flare up of arthritis in my knees for most of the week, and thought I was going to have to face the family with nothing in the cake tin and no opportunity to buy anything either.

However, by Thursday afternoon the medication was kicking in properly and I felt I could stand long enough to make a quick batch of cookies.

This recipe, oringinally for Blueberry Choc-Chip Cookies, is from Dan Lepard's most recent Guardian column, and seemed to fit the bill for something quick and easy. I had to make a few adaptations so that I could use store cupboard ingredients - I only had strong wholemeal bread flour, I used vanilla instead of almond extract and dried cherries instead of blueberries. The dough was quite dry and crumbly when first mixed, but held together well when formed into balls by hand. My usual cookie recipe is quite wet and difficult to handle, so I might make this my basic recipe from now on. I got 20 small cookies from one batch of dough.

Unfortunately I chose a chocolate from the storecupboard which melted during cooking, so some of the cookies didn't look very pretty after baking, with puddles of chocolate on top, or dribbles around the edges. However, once the cookies had cooled and the chocolate had hardened, they were just as nice to eat as the prettier ones! Lesson learned for the next time I want chocolate chunks though - Green and Blacks Plain Chocolate for Cooks is only for melting!

I used the maximum amount of chocolate suggested, which made these very rich. They were nicely chewy too. My only criticism is of my variation - I wish I'd taken the time to cut the cherries in half, as they were quite large, so not evenly distributed. There would have been no problem with smaller blueberries or cranberries. A cranberry and orange variety would probably work very well - dare I mention Christmas yet!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Chocolate Guinness Brownies

Most of the online recipes for Chocolate Guinness Brownies are remarkably similar, and they seem to be based on this recipe for what are called 'Grace Neill's Chocolate and Guinness Brownies' originally published  in "The New Irish Table" by Margaret M. Johnson. Adaptations use more flour, add chocolate chips, play around with the types of chocolate used and bake in a larger pan, but are essentially this recipe.

Having baked them, I can understand why most people use a larger pan - these were too deep for brownies, and it's not often I have that complaint about a recipe - the reverse is usually true! It's difficult, without trying alternatives, to see why white chocolate is used, rather than a lower cocoa solids percentage dark chocolate, but I'm guessing that the extra cocoa butter affects the texture. I used 4oz of white chocolate, 3oz of 85% chocolate and 5oz of 72% chocolate which has extra cocoa butter (Green and Black's 'Chocolate for Cooks'). I also used Murphy's Irish Stout instead of Guinness, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly, although I added a couple of minutes to the baking time as they didn't seem done at 25 minutes.

Having had two tasting sessions now, I still can't decide if I like them! If someone had handed me a dessert plate, with a slice of this brownie, a drizzle of chocolate sauce and a neat quenelle of sweetened whipped cream, and called it a 'Chocolate and Guinness Terrine' or something similar, I would have been really pleased, but I can't reconcile either the taste or the texture with what I know as a brownie.

It's not very sweet, for one thing. This isn't something I usually complain about, but in this case, the bitterness of the stout beer and the large amount of cocoa, isn't balanced with enough sugar. The stout isn't evident as a flavour, but gives a subtle overtone of bitterness. Then there's the texture - it's very close textured, but in a mousse-y way rather than a cake crumb way. I don't mind dense brownies, but here the close texture doesn't give a dense fudgy feel in the mouth. When eaten it feels light but cloying - there's not much of substance there to chew on - a very difficult sensation to describe. Anyway, it's a texture that's fine for a dessert, but not a cake, if you can see what I'm getting at! Having said all that, it's not an unpleasant flavour, unless you really need more sweetness. I don't think I'm likely to make these again, given the number of better brownie recipes I have, although it's worth noting the recipe for an unusual dinner party dessert!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Plum and Granola Crumble Layer Cake

My mother visited this week, to collect the maple biscuits and sweets which were her present from Canada, a small reward for harvesting our vegetables for us while we were away. She brought with her a bag of small ripe green plums from her tree, which had been hastily picked to prevent the wasps infesting them all.

I could have made a fruit crumble - indeed, I was very tempted to do so, as it's our favourite quick dessert, but with the blackberry season coming into full swing, there will be plenty of crumbles in the weeks to come!

After searching online for plum cake recipes, I decided to adapt my favourite fresh fruit cake recipe, mainly because it's so quick and easy to make - no waiting for butter to soften, long beating or slow rubbing in. The base cake dough gives a result which is quite dense and on the dry side - more like a shortbread/scone  texture - but when teamed with some moist ripe fruit it works really well. As I've done here, the dough can be made with a proportion of ground almonds, or just with all flour. Usually the top layer is the same as the base, but I decided to work in some granola to give the topping a more crumbly and chewy texture. Using chocolate granola added an extra dimension to the flavour and also gave the finished cake a distinct layered look. All in all this turned out to be a delicious dessert cake; if there were any criticisms at all, I would say that using a little more fruit would have been an improvement, and red plums would probably look better.

Almost any fruit can be used, but the recipe works best with fruit which doesn't produce too much juice when cooked - stone fruit (peaches, apricots, plums etc), apples and pears work better than rhubarb and gooseberries.

150g slightly salted butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
250g SR flour
50g ground almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
100g granola (I used chocolate granola with added coconut)
roughly 350g plums, de-stoned and cut in half
a little icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 180C and grease and base-line a 20cm(8") round springform tin.
Melt the butter in a medium sized bowl in the microwave (or in a pan on the hob). Use minimum heat/time to just melt the butter. If it becomes too hot allow it to cool a bit.
Mix in the caster sugar, then the egg and beat until smooth. Then mix in the flour, ground almonds and cinnamon to give a soft sticky dough.
Transfer 2/3 of the dough to the cake tin and spread out into an even layer - use the back of a spoon or wet fingers.
Arrange the fruit in a single layer on top of the dough.
Stir the granola into the remaining dough - it should become drier and crumbly. Using fingers, crumble the dough over the fruit in an even layer.
Bake for 1 hour, covering if necessary to prevent over browning. Allow to cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack before taking off side of tin.
If liked, dust with icing sugar before serving. Serve with yogurt, cream or creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Blackberry, Apple and Maple Loaf

The first wild blackberries are just appearing locally. They are small, as it has been dry this year, but my favourite patch is giving sweet fruit, as usual. It will be a week or so before picking huge quantities will be possible, but I picked enough for this cake, with some left over for a crumble.

The recipe is adapted from this Good Food recipe; I made some changes so that I could use some of the maple syrup and sugar I brought recently. I left out the cinnamon and orange zest, as I thought they would overwhelm the maple flavour, then reduced the amount of butter and sugar in the recipe so that I could add some maple syrup without making the batter too wet. I also used maple sugar in the topping instead of demerara sugar. The original recipe gets good reviews so would be worth following if you don't have maple products.

250g SR flour
150g butter
150g light muscavado sugar
3 tablespoons maple sugar
1 small apple (I used a Braeburn)
2 eggs
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
225g blackberrries

Pre-heat oven to 180C, and line a large loaf tin with baking paper, or prepare as usual. (I used a 2lb loaf tin which was just big enough, then noticed that a larger tin was specified in the recipe!)
Rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles bread crumbs. Remove 5 level tablespoons of this mixture into a small bowl and mix in the maple sugar. Set aside for topping.
Grate the unpeeled apple into a small bowl (not using the core), then add the eggs and maple syrup and beat lightly to break up the eggs.
Mix the baking powder into the flour mix, then mix in the egg mixture with a metal spoon until just amalgamated - do not overmix. Gently fold in 3/4 of the blackberries then transfer to the baking tin. Scatter the rest of the blackberries on top, then sprinkle over the crumb topping as evenly as possible.
Bake for 75-80 minutes or until a probe test shows it is done. It may be necessary to cover the loaf to prevent over-browning. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

The maple syrup and sugar added an extra subtle flavour, and also gave the cake a darker colour. The apple wasn't very evident in the flavour - perhaps adding a chopped apple too would improve this - but undoubtedly helped to give a moist texture. The texture is quite dense, but I feel this is necessary to support the fruit. As the cake is moist, the denseness is not a negative point. This recipe could easily be adapted for other fruit and flavour combinations.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Chewy Chunky Blondies

Having brought butterscotch chips back from Canada, it seemed appropriate to use some of them in my first baking session since returning home. While catching up on the blogs on my regular reading list, the Chewy Chunky Blondies, from the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, caught my eye. Fortunately the recipe was given on the Cookies on Friday blog, so I was able to use it almost as written there.

I  used a mix of 100g  of each of white and dark chocolate chips and 150g of butterscotch chips, instead of just dark chocolate and butterscotch chips, but was a little short of the full amount of walnuts, so there was only 500g of add-ins instead of 540g as per the original recipe. I also used the smaller amount of brown sugar and unsweetened desiccated coconut. The recipe was simple to follow, and didn't cause any problems, except that I used a slightly smaller baking pan, which meant a longer baking time - almost an hour. When I turned out the blondies to cool, I was worried about the amount of grease left on the baking paper, and the bottom of the sheet of blondies, but once they had cooled properly everything was fine.

These blondies were a little too sweet for my taste, even after reducing the sugar in the recipe, but the texture was very good. With a more careful selection of add-ins - say, no white chocolate and more dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa solids - to reduce the sweetness, these could be really great!

I've also learned that not having access to Hershey's Butterscotch Chips here in the UK is no great loss - they taste and smell very artificial!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Canadian Photographs

If anyone is interested, I've cut my photos down to the best 63 (from around 500). View them here.

My camera wasn't good enough to photograph any of the whales we saw, so Hubs is dealing with that part of the adventure.

Friday, 6 August 2010

I'm Back!

We had a great holiday, although the scenery of Nova Scotia is not as exciting as I'd expected. We couldn't see anything for the trees at the roadside for most of the time! The tour guide had us on moose lookout, but I think that was only a way of trying to make the journeys from place to place more interesting.

As a true foodie, eating was a large part of the holiday. We tackled a whole lobster for the first time ever, in Nova Scotia, and found the best Thai restaurant we've ever eaten in, in Montreal. Hubs had lots of dishes with scallops and mussels, which I can't eat, and we both had a lot of good fish dishes (including sweet and sour fish at the aforementioned Thai restaurant). We also ate in one of the Canadian Chinese restaurants which, I discovered later  in a newspaper article, are iconic remnants of a bygone age which are now dying out.

Foodie items found their way into my suitcase too - butterscotch chips, tins of maple syrup and maple sugar could perhaps be easily explained, but I also bought a neat salt pot and two jars of chili powder (ancho and chipotle) which aren't easily available here. Unfortunately I couldn't persuade Hubs that I needed a cookie scoop - he thought the ratchet design of the model I found looked too flimsy!

I'll be back to baking soon, so keep a lookout for new posts.