Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Winter has come early this year, with sub-zero temperatures here and snow in many other parts of the country. It's very rare for this to happen before late December, or even January. Here is one of the joys of winter - not feeling guilty about the occasional hot, calorific pudding! Sticky toffee pudding could even make you feel almost virtuous, as puréed dates replace some of the fat in the pudding itself. If you are restrained with the toffee sauce and cream (HA HA!) then it's not so bad. ;)

The original of this recipe made seven individual puddings, but I bake it in one 9" square dish and get at least 9 servings from it - which brings me to the other great feature of this pudding - it reheats beautifully, either in the oven or as individual portions in the microwave. This recipe was once online, on the GoodFood site, under the name The Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding, and I think it is published in The Ultimate Recipe Book from GoodFood. I've made a couple of small changes in both the method and ingredients, but want to acknowledge the original.


225g stoneless chopped dried dates
175ml boiling water
1 tea bag
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g SR flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
85g softened butter
140g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
100ml semi-skimmed milk

For the Toffee Sauce:
175g light muscovado sugar
50g butter
225ml double cream
1 tablespoon black treacle

Cut the dates into halves (a good way of checking for missed stones) and place in a small bowl. Add the tea bag and the boiling water. After ten minutes, remove the tea bag, but leave the dates soaking until cold - most of the liquid will be absorbed. Whizz briefly in a blender or mini-chopper to give a coarse purée.

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 9" square baking dish which is at least 2" deep. Mix the flour and bicarbonate of soda together. Beat eggs in small bowl.

Beat the butter, sugar, black treacle and vanilla extract together. Add the eggs in three portions, together with a teaspoon of flour with each portion, and beat until well mixed. Fold in the rest of the flour alternately with the milk, then stir in the date purée. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes until well risen and firm (a probe should come out clean).

Meanwhile make the toffee sauce by bringing the sugar, butter, and half of the cream to the boil, in a small saucepan, stirring continuously. When boiling, add the treacle and cook for a few minutes, until it begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and beat in the rest of the cream.

When the pudding is cooked, prick all over with a cocktail stick and pour over about 1/3 of the sauce. The pudding can be served immediately with extra sauce poured over, and with cream or custard.  It will also reheat well if required, as will the extra toffee sauce. I reheat individual portions of the pudding for about 45 seconds in the microwave and reheat the sauce in 30 second bursts until it is hot and runny again. 

This pudding is surprisingly light, and the dates melt into the texture of the sponge, unless you have left any really large chunks when puréeing. The addition of black treacle to both the pudding batter and toffee sauce cuts through the sweetness so that it's not too sickly.

The photo doesn't do this justice - I don't have the best equipment for taking photographs with no natural light, for one thing. It's also not a pretty dessert when made in one dish.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Maple, Pecan and Cranberry Cookies

Happy Thankgiving to anyone celebrating this holiday. These cookies have what I consider to be some of this season's flavours from the USA - maple, pecan nuts and dried cranberries, so could be considered my virtual contribution to the feasting.

This is another version of the cookie from this Dan Lepard recipe. I used 100g of each of chopped pecans and dried cranberries, and left out the chocolate altogether. For the maple flavouring I replaced 60g of the sugar with the same amount of dried maple syrup flakes which I brought back from my holiday in Canada, and I used two teaspoons of maple syrup instead of almond essence.

Changing the sugar seemed to alter the texture a bit, or perhaps it was removing the chocolate, because these cookies didn't spread much and reamained almost exactly the shape which I put into the oven. If I'd known that I would have flattened them a bit more before baking. Being thicker, they took about 5 minutes longer to cook through. Although they were too thick, they were well flavoured, but a little dry without the chocolate melting in the mouth. Perhaps a change, or two, too far!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Pistachio and Cocoa Nib Shortbread

Back to baking, albeit nothing too rich yet! My daughter brought home a pack of cocoa nibs on her recent visit. What a treat - it's impossible to get anything like that around here - we're so provincial! Mail order is a possibility, but adding on the postage costs of  relatively heavy items often makes it prohibitive.

I thought the characteristics of cocoa nibs would be best showcased in a crisp biscuit, and decided to also add some pistachio nuts, chopped into pieces about the same size as the cocoa nibs. The number of shortbread recipes around only  bewildered me, so I went right back to basics and used Delia Smith's recipe from The Complete Cookery Course, first published in 1978. It has the classic proportions of 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour (in Imperial measurements!). The only change I made to the basic recipe was to use a small proportion of cornflour alongside the plain flour, which is supposed to make the biscuits denser and crisper.

110g butter, at room temperature
50g caster sugar
125g plain flour
50g cornflour
25g pistachio nuts, finely chopped
20g cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 150C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, in a medium sized bowl, until soft and creamy, then beat in the caster sugar.
Sift in the two flours and stir in with the spoon until the mixture is stiff and crumbly - not all the flour will be incorporated at this stage.
Add the nuts and cocoa nibs, then use your hand to gather the dough into a ball and knead together to make a soft smooth paste.
Roll out on a board sprinkled lightly with caster sugar, to 3mm thickness. Cut into circles with a 75mm round cutter and place biscuits on the baking tray. Re-roll the trimmings to cut more biscuits.
Bake for 30 minutes, when the biscuits will be cooked through but barely coloured. Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. The biscuits will become crisp as they cool. Store in an airtight tin.

These biscuits were delicious, with a crisp and delicately crumbly texture. The cocoa nibs, which originated in Peru, were crunchy, bitter and smoky and together with the nuts enhanced the crunchiness of the biscuits. The little flecks of pale green and dark brown looked pretty too. These would be a lovely addition to a traditional afternoon tea!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

We Should Cocoa - November Challenge

We are all feeling slightly unwell, at the  moment. I don't think it's anything too serious, but no one feels like eating rich cakes, and I don't feel much like baking. I think I'm going to run out of time to try anything else for the We Should Cocoa challenge. This month's challenge, set by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, was to use caramel in a chocolate goodie, so I'm submitting the Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel Bars I made earlier in the month. The rules, for anyone interested in joining the We Should Cocoa challenge, can be found here, at Chocolate Log Blog

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hazelnut Prune Cake

It's not often that Hubs asks for anything specific in the food line - except that if I ask what he wants for dinner, the answer is always sausages! LOL! So when he looked at this recent Dan Lepard recipe for Hazelnut Prune Cake, and said he wanted to try it, what could I do but obey? (Don't answer that I could have made him cook it - I think he can cook, but he's never baked a cake and hasn't cooked a meal since the time I was incapacitated after an operation, which was probably 15 years ago!)

Another excuse to give in to him is that I'm baking Dan's Chestnut Brownies again this weekend, and he didn't really like them. He certainly liked this cake, though, and so did I! You do need to like prunes, however, as the other ingredients don't hide the flavour of 300g of prunes - that's a lot of prune in each slice! As usual it was a simple recipe to follow, although toasting and chopping hazelnuts, and snipping sticky prunes into pieces with scissors was quite time consuming.

I had a slight worry that the cake batter was too stiff, bearing in mind the prunes would absorb liquid as the cake cooked, but decided to trust Dan, and not add any extra milk. I used a slightly larger cake tin but the cake still took 60 minutes to cook against the suggested time of 50 minutes in the recipe. While the cake was cooking I dithered about which alcohol to use to finish the cake as I didn't have any brandy; the choice came down to rum or Amaretto and in the end I went with the Amaretto - drizzling about 3 tablespoons over the hot cake, after pricking a few holes with a cocktail stick. This turned out to be a good choice - it really enhanced the nuttiness of the cake.

The finished cake was moist and sticky, and the nuts and prunes really stood out as dominant flavours. However, the  brown sugar, nutmeg and a little cocoa, together with the liqueur, gave a subtle background flavour which was hard to identify. A really delicious cake which would make a good Christmas Cake if you want something lighter and moister than a traditional cake.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Apple, Fig and Almond Pie

This pie was a last minute idea, to use up the last windfall cooking apple, and to make a change from fruit crumble. I was in a rush to get it into the oven before the F1 Grand Prix started, so decided to go with a free-form pie, as it wouldn't matter too much if there was any pastry shrinkage. I did have time to rest the pastry after it was mixed, but I don't think it was entirely  necessary in these circumstances.

I added chopped dried figs and ground almonds to the apples to soak up any excess juice and provide a bit more texture and flavour to the filling. I also made the basic shortcrust pastry with SR flour as I like the soft, crumbly result it gives. Using lard in the pastry also adds to the 'shortness'.

250g SR flour
60g lard
65g salted butter
cold water, to mix
1 large cooking apple
1 large eating apple - or more, see note at end
about 10 dried figs, each cut into six pieces
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons ground almonds
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Rub the butter and lard into the flour, and use enough cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough. (I find it easier to rub in the fat if it has warmed up a bit from the fridge temperature.)  Gather the dough into a ball, knead lightly, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Prepare filling - peel core and slice the apples and put into a bowl. Add the zest and the juice of half a lemon, and mix to coat the apple slices. Mix in the sugar, ground almonds and fig pieces.
On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rough circle shape about 40cm (16") across, and transfer to a baking sheet. 
Heap the filling into the centre, leaving a 8-10cm margin all round.
Fold the margin of pastry up over the filling, gathering any excess into folds. This should leave a small area in the centre not covered with pastry - if you have too much pastry, break away a little from the edges to leave a hole in the centre.
Brush the pastry with water and sprinkle thickly with sugar.
Bake in a preheated oven (190C) for about 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

Serve warm, with cream or Greek yogurt.

I'm happy that I judged the added figs and ground almonds correctly - there were no excess juices to make the pastry base soggy. The figs added a lovely flavour and texture to the apples, and the lemon could be tasted too.

Note - You can see from the cut pie that the filling is not very deep. This amount of pastry could easily have taken more filling - at least another apple - but I had to go with what I had available.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel Bars

This might be a 'We Should Cocoa' entry for this month, but it seems a bit of a cliché to cook a Caramel Bar. My excuse is that I've only made caramel this way once before and it was a disaster, as it didn't set. In preparation for November's challenge of using caramel in a chocolate goody, I thought I ought to have another attempt at a basic caramel. I was fairly sure that jars and cans of ready made caramel wouldn't work in this sort of recipe - they are all fairly runny.

I chose this recipe from Rachel Allen, as it added a couple of extras to the basic Millionaire's Shortbread recipe - a chocolate base and hazelnuts in the caramel. I couldn't tell from the recipe whether the chocolate base was going to be like a brownie or a cookie, but I could tell that it wasn't going to be the usual biscuity shortbread. In the end, it seems to be more like a cookie than a brownie - soft, chewy and slightly crumbly.

The recipe was straightforward to follow and I didn't encounter any difficulties. I guess it's always a little tricky to make caramel of the right texture without a sugar thermometer - I stopped the cooking when I could see that the caramel was thickening and it was starting to pull away from the sides of the pan as I stirred. I was anxious that it didn't become hard and brittle when it cooled. The hard part was waiting for each stage to cool before going onto the next. I started at around 1pm, and only got the bars ready to cut and eat  at 6.30pm by setting the chocolate in the fridge.

These were delicious, and considering the amount of sugar in the chocolate base and caramel, not as sweet as I expected them to be. The caramel was just right - soft and chewy but still holding it's shape. I wasn't completley happy with the way the chocolate topping had set - I think in future I might use an idea from other recipes - marble a mix of milk, plain and white chocolate together so that it doesn't matter if it isn't smooth and shiny.

One point to remember is that you need to use chocolate that you like to eat on it's own, as the flavour really comes across -  I ate a piece of the Green and Black's plain chcocolate that I often use in cooking but decided it was too bitter on it's own. I ended up using Waitrose Continental Plain Chocolate.

If I decide to use this as my We Should Cocoa entry, I will edit this post, but I have one other recipe which I want to try before making up my mind.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

An Old Favourite - Chocolate and Orange Loaf

My Chief Taster has had a rough few days; 36 hours starvation, an inner cleansing and an uncomfortable examination. Fortunately the results showed a marked improvement with his medical condition, but such an ordeal calls for comfort food and a favourite cake, not some of my experimental cooking!

I rolled out this chocolate and orange marble cake recipe, but instead of baking it in a round tin, I baked it in a long loaf tin, with a 2lb capacity. Rather than putting blobs of cake batter into the tin and swirling them together to give a marbled effect, I used the batter in alternate layers. I had hoped the layers would make more of a swirly effect as they baked, but overall, I'm quite pleased with the results, which looks good in slices from the loaf shape.

This is a lovely rich tasting cake, with a high proportion of fat and eggs to flour, kept moist by ground almonds in the batter and melted chocolate as well as cocoa in the dark portion of the batter.