Saturday, 26 June 2010

Chocolate Fudge Cake

This recipe is a recent addition to the Good Food website. Unusually, it stipulates a plain chocolate with low cocoa solids content, so I had to add chocolate to my shopping list and make a special effort to get some. I choose a Tesco own brand 60% from Madagascar.

I followed the simple cake recipe exactly, with no problems in the mixing stages, and baked in a 9" square tin. It was lucky that I was keeping a close eye on things in the kitchen as the cake was cooked in 40 minutes - at least 10 minutes quicker than stipulated in the recipe.

I also followed the icing recipe exactly, but here I ran into problems. I used a 70% cocoa solids chocolate at this stage, but I don't know if this was the cause of the problem. The 'fudge' went into that strange sludgy ball that I'm sure you've all seen - a stage on the way to seizing, I think - where it doesn't seem to wet the sides of the bowl. As it cooled it began to exude excess oil.  I managed to remedy the situation by beating in a tablespoon or so of cold semi-skimmed milk, but the fudge didn't get really set as if got colder. It held it's shape for spreading and swirling but didn't set firm (although it's a very hot day, so it might get a bit firmer overnight).

This cake neatly bridges the gap between cake and brownies - it is quite dense, rich and moist, but not as chewy or gooey as the best brownies. It's not as sweet as many brownies and the texture is a little crumbly. One good point was that it had a good level top after baking, with no cracks - perfect for holding a frosting. If the icing had set firmly it would have been a very good cake. The cake recipe will certainly be repeated, but I'm not sure about the fudge frosting. 

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Orange and Rosemary Polenta Cake

It's officially mid-summer, if you go by the lunar calendar - yesterday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. Once again we've had pretty unseasonal weather here - some really cold days with north winds, but yesterday was one of those warm days which make you think of summer cooking - lighter flavours and seasonal ingredients. I'm a bit hampered by the Chief Tester here, as he doesn't like much summer fruit, so there's no point baking it into anything I expect him to eat. The next best thing would be a cake to eat with some of the fruit from the garden, and it would make it really seasonal if it could include some of the herbs we have growing at the moment.

A long search online, using various ideas for herby cakes eventually turned up this Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Orange Glaze from the blog Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Punch. I didn't really want to put the glaze on top, if I was going to use it as a dessert cake, but otherwise it fitted the bill perfectly - basic ingredients and flavours that the CT would eat, and it used a herb which I had growing in abundance. I've never used rosemary in sweet baking but was willing to take a chance on it.

I did a quick conversion to metric weights, and followed the slightly unusual method for the cake exactly.

Ingredients: 200g plain flour; 100g polenta; 35g pine nuts (toasted and coarsely chopped); 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves; 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 165g cream cheese; 4 eggs; 270g sugar; 115g unsalted butter, melted.

For the syrup to brush over the cake I used the juice of one large orange and 2 tablespoons of sugar, and after heating, I left 3 small sprigs of rosemary infusing in the syrup while the cake cooked.

I left the cake in it's springform tin while I slowly poured the syrup over the top, as brushing seemed too tedious for the volume of syrup to apply. This was a bit of a mistake as it was then difficult to get the cake off the base, as the top was so sticky (the rosemary sprigs in the photo are an attempt to hide where the surface came away on my fingers). There didn't seem to be excess syrup seeping from the cake so I think putting the cake on a plate first (as advised) would have been better.

This recipe made quite a shallow cake, with a light, close texture. Even after adding the syrup to moisten the cake it was still quite light. I'm always surprised that using polenta doesn't affect the colour of cakes more. It was only 1/3 polenta and 2/3 flour, but I still expected a more yellow colour. I had chopped the rosemary really finely so the tiny specks of green don't show up as well in the photograph as the toasted pine nuts.

This is a really well flavoured cake, which I will certainly be making again - perhaps adding the orange glaze to make it a tea-time cake. The orange was the predominant flavour, with occasional bursts of the more pungent flavour of the rosemary coming through. The pine nuts added more to the texture than the flavour - perhaps a stronger flavoured nut would have been better, but pine nuts add to the overall Mediterranean feel to the cake and give a nice crunch.

After the event, I traced the original recipe through Fine Cooking, where I don't have a membership, so couldn't read the recipe, to Once Upon a Plate. Here I found out that the original Tom Douglas recipe used mascarpone cheese, rather than cream cheese - a possible improvement for the future. I was also slightly out in my conversion of the polenta and cream cheese, using a little less polenta and more cream cheese than specified - it didn't seem to affect things greatly.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Rich Chocolate Almond Slice

Is it a cake? Is it a chocolate bar? Is it a petit four? Is it a dessert? This Rich Chocolate Almond Slice could be all of these; a thin layer of dark chocolate topped with a chewy almond macaroon-like layer, which is in turn topped with what I can only describe as a thick layer of chocolate fudge.

I love Australian Women's Weekly recipe books - particularly the baking recipes - perhaps because there's the occasional recipe which sounds so foreign and exotic, with ingredients we just don't get here. But with the older books it's always been the usual pain of translating the recipes from cups to grams  - while trying to remember that Australian cups aren't exactly the same as US cups. I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Australian Women's Weekly came to their senses and started using metric weights alongside the cup measurements. Hooray!!

This bar is a little time consuming as there are three stages, with waiting between, while things set or cool. None of the stages are difficult, however, so it's just a matter of being patient while things are happening without your input. The only change I made to the recipe was to use a tablespoon of DiSaronno (Amaretto) liqueur instead of brandy. I used 72% chocolate for the base and a mix of 72% and 85% chocolate for the fudgy layer, as it was sweetened a little. One word of warning though - don't press the hot fudge layer to see if it's set - a big fingerprint in the centre of the tray is not pretty! At the moment I'm storing the cut slices in the fridge, but will bring one up to room temperature to see if it gets too messy to eat easily.

Cut into small squares, these would be ideal as an after dinner sweet with coffee, larger squares make a luxurious dessert or tea time treat. The layers contribute more to the appearance than the flavour, as once you are chewing a piece it's hard to appreciate the difference between the almond macaroon and the chocolate fudge, although the base is crisp and snaps between your teeth. Overall it's very rich and delicious, but perhaps too decadent for everyday eating.

Update - these probably need to be kept refrigerated; even eating them cold is quite a messy business. As my son says - there's nothing to get hold of which doesn't melt!

Updated update - best stored in the fridge, but if you have the foresight, bring them up to room temperature before eating - the chocolate fudgy layer is tastier when not too cold.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Chocolate Orange Crumble Cupcakes

These should really be called 'leftovers' cupcakes, as the idea was conceived when I couldn't initially find a pan big enough to bake the Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake in. "Don't worry" I said to myself, "CT doesn't like rhubarb anyway, so you'll have to bake him something - cook the excess batter as cupcakes".

Then I found a skillet type pan which was big enough to take all the rhubarb cake batter. But the need to bake for CT didn't go away and there were still leftovers from the cake - a small quantity of sour cream and the zest of half an orange, plus I really liked the idea of a crumble topping on cupcakes. So I made these:

100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
50mls sour cream
finely grated zest of half a large orange
100g bar Honeycomb Crisp Toblerone - chopped fairly small

Topping - 55g butter, 70g plain flour, 50g demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C. Place paper cases into a supporting muffin or cupcake tin.(I used muffin cases and made 9 cakes.)
Make the topping by melting the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and mixing in the flour and sugar - set aside to cool.
Put all the remaining ingredients except the chocolate into a bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate.
Divide the mixture between cupcake cases, filling them 2/3 full. Crumble a little of the topping mixture over each cake, trying to make the crumbs quite small.
Bake until well risen, golden and springy to the touch - about 25 minutes depending on size.
Cool on a wire rack.

These were not fairy-light cupcakes, in fact they were quite like muffins in texture. The little pieces in the chopped Toblerone (honey and almond nougat and crisped rice) and the crisp crumble on top gave a varied texture to the cake. The flavoured milk chocolate and the orange zest added up to an interesting but subtle flavour! I don't usually use milk chocolate in cakes, but here the extra sweetness balanced the lower amount of sugar and the sour cream in the batter. 

Monday, 14 June 2010

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

I'm always looking for new desserts using rhubarb, so when I saw this delicious looking Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake on a the Blue Ridge Baker blog recently I had to try it.  I followed the link back to Martha Stewart's site and saw that she used sour cream rather than buttermilk, and had a useful video showing how to cut and arrange the rhubarb.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I used demerara sugar in the crumble topping. Here are the metric weights of ingredients that I used: Topping - 55g butter; 70g plain flour; 50g demerara sugar.  Fruit - 450g rhubarb and 150g caster sugar, plus 50g butter for the tin. Cake batter - 115g butter; 200g caster sugar; 200g plain flour; 2 large eggs; zest of half a large orange and 1 tablespoon juice; 11/2 teaspoons baking powder; 250mls sour cream.

My cake tin was slightly smaller (24cm rather than 25cm in diameter) so the cake took a few minutes longer to cook. The batter was quite thin, which made me worry that the crumble topping would sink, but that fear proved unfounded. The cake rose quite high during cooking but sank back as it started to cool. The cake felt as if it was floating on a puddle of fruit juice, so I was quite worried about turning it out onto a wire rack rather than a plate, but all was well - there were only a few dribbles of pretty pink sugary juices which dripped down the sides of the cake.

The cake batter cooked to a soft and moist, but quite dense texture - not at all sponge-like, but almost like a cooked batter. Knowing how much juice can come out of rhubarb, I think it must have absorbed a lot of liquid during cooking. The crumble topping, which ends up on the base, provided a good contrast in texture. The rhubarb topping was very tasty  - just the correct amount of sweetness, and the extra butter made it very tender.

This is going to be added to my list of regularly appearing rhubarb desserts. You can't beat a crumble for speed, but on warmer days and for special occasions it's worth putting in the extra effort required for this cake.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Caramel, Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

with chocolate granola 'streusel' topping.

I searched for ages for a good basic recipe for a caramel cake, preferably using Dulce de Leche, but nothing seemed to match up to my memory of this recipe from Dan Lepard. The original recipe was simple to follow and made a light, well-flavoured cake.

This time I wanted to use the cake batter to make a bundt cake rather than two layers to be sandwiched together. I used already ground untoasted hazelnuts rather than toasting whole nuts and grinding them myself. I also added 100g plain chocolate chips to the batter. Before spooning the batter into the prepared bundt tin I sprinkled 75g of Dorset Cereal Chocolate Granola in an even layer around the base. (Still looking for ways to use this cereal!). The cake took about 45 minutes to bake at 180C. I cooled the cake for 15 minutes in the tin before easing it away from the edges and turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

I finished the cake with a drizzle of caramel glaze made by mixing 4 tablespoons each of icing sugar and Dulce de Leche, and a little water. I was a bit heavy handed with the water, and had used the last of my icing sugar, so the glaze was a little thinner than I had intended.

This cake had a lovely flavour, a subtle blend of chocolate, caramel and hazelnuts. The granola topping did not show up as well as I'd hoped, as the brand of Dulce de Leche I used gave the cake quite a dark colour, but it was evident as a different texture and flavour when eating the cake.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lemon Tart

This recipe is the latest in a series of advertisments by Waitrose supermarket, featuring recipes either by Delia Smith or Heston Blumenthal.

It's a lemon tart filled with a cooked curd filling, rather than a custard filling which has to be baked. As the idea of the recipe is to get you to buy the supermarket products, it suggests using ready made shortcrust pastry, but I made my own. I followed the curd recipe exactly - I only needed the juice from 3 lemons to make the 150mls needed - and it worked very well. I thought 30 minutes in the fridge to cool the curd before putting it into the cooked pastry case was too long - the curd was very thick and didn't flow to the edges of the case. Coaxing it with a spoon meant that it didn't set with a really flat surface. Point to note for next time!

The flavour of the tart was well balanced between sweet and sharp, very lemony, and despite my worries that the curd wouldn't set well enough to cut, everything worked out fine. I served it with baked rhubarb instead of raspberries, and creme fraiche.

This is the first time I've made a lemon tart with a curd filling, and although it was very good, and you don't have the worry of the baked filling cracking as it cooks and cools, I think I still prefer the texture of a baked filling!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Reprise - Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars

We're having very unseasonable weather here. From day to day it can change from hot and sunny, with temperatures much higher than normal, to days when it is cold, dreary and wet. On the hot days, I don't even want to be in the kitchen. On the cold days I want to cook winter food!

I cooked these Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars again on one of the hot days, as it's probably one of the quickest recipes to put together that I know, so minimising the time spent in my hot south facing kitchen. It took me longer to chop the chocolate than it took to mix the dough! As I've said in a previous post, I make these with plain chocolate. This time I used 250g chocolate with 85% cocoa solids in the dough mix, and 100g of 70% chocolate on top. The topping was a bit on the mean side - in future I will use 150g.

These make a really good bar cookie - soft and crumbly, tasting quite strongly of peanut butter and with lovely large chunks of dark, bitter chocolate inside. They are one of my favourite bars when made this way, but I think they would be too sweet for my taste with milk chocolate.

On one of the recent cold days I found a small pack of gooseberries in the freezer; not enough on their own to do anything with, but they needed using before the start of the new season. On impulse I added some fresh pineapple cut into chunks the same size as the gooseberries, and made a fruit crumble, which we ate hot with natural Greek yogurt. It was a surprisingly successful combination, as both fruits have a degree of tartness, but pineapple also has some natural sweetness too. Here, neither flavour dominated, but complimented each other well.