Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Au Revoir!

No cooking, baking or blog posts for a while - it's holiday time! Tomorrow, Hubs and I are off to the Canadian East coast for a tour of the Nova Scotia area followed by a few days in Montreal.

I've left my mother and the Chief Tester in charge of the garden - he waters and she harvests and eats the vegetables. It's the first time we've left the garden at the height of the harvest, and CT is no great vegetable lover!

We return on 6th August. Meanwhile keep an eye on  the blog Deb Cooks; a few days ago Deb interviewed me for her series of interviews with fellow food bloggers, and hopes to publish the results soon!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Chocolate Honey Meringues

With three egg whites to use up after making the Melting Chocolate Puddings, some kind of meringue seemd the answer.

This recipe for Chocolate Honey Meringues was published by Dan Lepard a couple of weeks ago in his Guardian Weekend column. It only needed one more egg white adding!

The recipe was straightforward to follow and I didn't encounter any problems, although I did lower the temperatue by 10C after the first hour as I know my oven is quite hot. The mixture made about 25 meringues using a tablespoon of the raw meringue mix for each one.

The flavour was great - I used a strongly flavoured Greek mountain honey - but unfortunately I just didn't like the texture. They were almost jaw-breakingly hard, and I'm not experienced enough with meringues to know if this was right, or if I did something wrong, such as overbaking or not beating the egg whites enough. I think I will have to freeze these and eventually use them in an Eton Mess type of dessert, where they will have a chance to soften a bit before they are eaten. 

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Chocolate Puddings to Celebrate Birthdays and Anniversaries.

This weekend is the nearest weekend to the Chief Tester's birthday, and also the first anniversary of this blog. My own birthday was last weekend. The Chief Tester usually gets something new for his birthday treat, even though he's much nearer to 30 than 3! It was going to be the Chocolate and Hazelnut Plait which I posted previously, but that was hardly successful enough to serve as a birthday  treat.

Hubs and I are off on holiday to Canada mid-week, leaving the Chief Tester to two weeks of ready meals and whatever I leave in the freezer. I usually leave him two batches of brownies  - one ready to eat and  one in smaller portions in the freezer, so that he doesn't have to rely on bought cakes. This meant that for his birthday treat I wanted to cook something that was going to be eaten all at once, with no leftovers to compete with the forthcoming brownies. 

After searching fruitlessly through my recipe books, and online, for something which tempted me to cook it, for some reason molten middle chocolate puddings sprang to mind. I've seen Delia Smith's Melting Chocolate Puddings recipe recommended frequently, so decided to try that. The only other attempt I've ever made on this type of pudding involved a lovely recipe with a lump of ganache in the middle - but I've lost the recipe, and didn't have time to make a ganache, anyway.

I only had 6 pudding basins of the correct size, but fortunately the recipe divided easily, so that I could cook 3/4 of it. The other advantage of this recipe is that the batter can be made well ahead of time and refrigerated, or even frozen until required. So no last minute preparation hassle while you're trying to cook and serve the main course. This time I made the batter mix during the afternoon, refrigerated three puddings for use later in the day and froze three for another time.

I had no problems with the recipe, although you do have to be patient and gentle with folding the chocolate into the mousse-y egg mixture. I cooked for the time specified in the recipe and got a small still-molten centre as a result - I think they could have done with a little less cooking  to give more of a molten middle so I'll try 30-45 seconds less next time! My pudding basins were non-stick, so turned out easily, without needing a knife run round the edge.

The resulting pudding is surprisingly light, but still richly chocolatey. The cake part is really more of a cooked mousse than a sponge, with the batter using so many eggs and so little flour. With the ease of advanced preparation, this could easily be a dinner party dessert, although you might want help with turning out a large number of puddings quickly, to serve while they were still hot and molten.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Chocolate and Hazelnut Plait

I was in two minds whether to even post this - the puff pastry 'plait' burst open in the oven and the whole thing looked a real mess - but it tasted gorgeous, so the least I can do is give the recipe for the pastry filling!

50g plain chocolate (70%)
40g unsalted butter
75g ground hazelnuts
60g caster sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon rum
250g puff pastry
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

I put the chocolate, butter, nuts, sugar and cocoa into a mini-chopper and blitzed until everything was the texture of coarse crumbs. This was transferred to a small bowl and the egg yolk and rum was mixed in to make a paste, which was then chilled for 30 minutes.

I rolled out the puff pastry into a rectangle about 20 x 30 cm, and put the chocolate paste down the middle third, along the longest axis of the pastry. Then I sliced the edges of the pastry to give strips to fold over the filling, from alternate sides, to give a plait like appearance. Then the whole thing was brushed with lightly beaten egg white, sprinkled with sugar and chilled for 15 minutes. After chilling, it was baked at 200c for about 30 minutes until the pastry was risen and golden brown.

I think my problem was not enough overlap on the pastry strips - the rectangle of pastry should have been longer, and the filling made into a narrower strip down the middle, giving longer strips to overlap. I've learned something for next time! 

If my description of a pastry plait has left you bewildered, there's a neat little YouTube film here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Cinnamon Chipotle Brownies

I found this recipe while searching for chilli flavoured brownies; I have one quite good recipe, but that involves toasting and then grinding spices and also needs a few ingredients which I didn't have to hand today. I'll show you that one some other time. I found this Cinnamon Chipotle Brownie recipe on a blog called 'A Mingling of Tastes', which has somehow passed me by during the year I've been paying real attention to food blogs.

As usual, I did a rough conversion to metric weights:
220g 72% chocolate (Green and Black's Dark Cooks' Chocolate, in this case)
170g slightly salted butter
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
3 large eggs
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I followed the recipe as given, although as I was using salted butter I didn't add any extra salt. The method was quick and simple and I didn't have any problems. The lower end of the cooking time was right for my oven.

I had to grind my own chipotle chiles from whole ones, with my little coffee grinder, but I did enough for several batches of these, or for a good few meaty chilli dishes. I split the chiles and discarded the seeds. I used the minimum amount suggested in the recipe (a decision made after licking my fingers after handling the chiles, and getting a lungful of airborn dust from the grinder - ouch!) This seemed the correct choice - I think more would have been too much for a sweet dish.

The brownies are moist, rich and lighter than they look. Because they have so little flour the texture is  almost like a truffle, so they seem to melt in the mouth rather than need any chewing. The spices are well balanced with the chocolate, and the chipotle leaves a lingering warmth which is just right for our tastes. Definitely a recipe to recommend and keep using.

All I need now is for someone to clear up the differences between chile, chilli and chili!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Pear and Ginger Cake

This was a spur of the moment baking idea to use up a few ripe pears which didn't have much flavour. I didn't want a heavy gingerbread type of cake as it seemed too heavy for the exceptionally hot weather we're having at the moment, so I just added a little powdered ginger and some stem ginger (plus some syrup from the jar) to an all-in-one sponge cake mixture. I also drizzled some Dulce de Leche over the pears before baking to improve their flavour. This wasn't visible after baking, so just added to the sweetness rather than giving a visual effect. Because of the caramel, I reduced the sugar in the sponge mix slightly.

This was a moist but still quite light cake, with just the right amount of gingery tang and juicy pieces of pear. Some of the pears were still visible on the surface and some of the larger pieces sank, which was OK, as it gave a more random distribution. It made a great dessert with cream or yogurt.

I apologise for the poor photograph - by the time I realised I hadn't taken a good one, there was nothing left to photograph!


4 small ripe pears, peeled, cored, divided into 6 pieces and held in acidulated water while the batter is mixed.
100g butter, softened
120g caster sugar
2 large eggs
50ml sour cream
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
3 balls stem ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of syrup from the ginger jar

75g Dulce de Leche 


Pre-heat oven to 170C, prepare a 8" diameter round springform tin. (I line the base and grease the sides)
Place all the batter ingredients (except the Dulce de Leche) into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is smooth. Transfer to the springform tin and level with a spoon.
Drain the pear slices and lay on kitchen paper to dry a little, then arrange neatly on top of the batter.
Drizzle the Dulce de Leche over the pears (I put it into a freezer bag, then cut off the tip to make a piping bag)
Bake for about 50 - 60 minutes until a test probe is clean. Cool in tin.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart

I wanted to make something with the soft pastry that a Linzertorte has, but without the nuts. My daughter, visiting for a few days, has a severe peanut allergy which, when first diagnosed, made her wary of eating any nuts. Although we don't think she's allergic to any of them she still prefers not to eat them - cross contamination is often a risk.

I also wanted to do something to preserve the last of the strawberries until she was home, and have always wanted to cook rhubarb and strawberries together. In the end I made a small batch of jam with 350g rhubarb and 150g strawberries, but I think this was too sweet - I should have just cooked the fruit with sugar to taste to make a thick compote. I also didn't cook it enough to give a good set - it was too soft, even after  cooking it again in the tart.

The pastry worked very well and produced the soft result I wanted, but the way I constructed the pie wasn't very pretty as you can see. It was difficult because I'd chosen a fluted tin, but I should have used a rope of pastry around the edge, rather than a strip. This could have then been joined more effectively to the sides. However because the jam was so soft, I was working quickly and couldn't see a way of joining the strip without making a mess. At least I made a 'proper' lattice! Frankly, I was surprised that the finished result looked even remotely photographable - I expected the jam filling to bubble up and cover the lattice during cooking.

For the pastry I used 250g SR flour, 150g butter, 50g icing sugar, 1 egg and water as required to mix to a soft dough. I added the zest of a large orange, a quarter of a teaspoon of cinnamon and a grating of nutmeg to give some of the flavouring of Linzertorte pastry.

Unfortunately the sweetness of the jam overwhelmed any other flavour, and because of the small proportion of strawberries used it was difficult to judge whether rhubarb and strawberries used together is better than either of them used separately.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Growing My Own Fruit and Vegetables

I've been really disorganised this year, and pretty thoughtless when it comes to planning ahead. We're usually on holiday around the third week in June, which is before the garden really needs a lot of attention as far as gathering in crops is concerned.  This year, for various reasons, we are not going away until the end of July, which looks as if it's going to be the peak of the harvest period as far as much of the garden is concerned. I can get neighbours to take the vegetables which are ready to eat, but it means we will miss out on the benefits of home grown produce, and to use a cliché, lose the fruits of our labours.

The photo above is of part of my small veg patch showing runner beans at the front, then mangetout peas, with courgettes and potatoes behind. In the part of the garden you can't see there is rhubarb, a strawberry bed and red onions, and a raised bed for salad stuff. We also grow tomatoes against the house, under a south facing bedroom window, and some herbs and more strawberries in pots on the patio. There is also a row of three minarette apple trees and two gooseberry bushes in one of the flower beds in the back garden.

Oh - and I mustn't forget a photo of the rainbow chard (above)  to show Celia - these leaves are just under 12" (30cm) high and will be picked soon. I'm using smaller leaves and thinnings in salads.

While watering the garden yesterday evening, I realised something was missing. All the fruit from one of our gooseberry bushes had gone! It was only a small bush and this year would have been the first small harvest, but it was a gooseberry which was red when ripe, and I was looking forward to mixing the fruit with the green gooseberries from the older bush. In a panic, I picked the gooseberries from the other bush, before the same fate befell them - birds, I guess, looking for some variety in their diet! The green bush gave us just over 500g of fruit, and I reckon there was about another 150g of fruit which was eaten from the red bush. Together they would have made a couple of generous pies or crumbles.

Here's where the disorganisation comes in again - I have very little room in my freezer at the moment - really bad planning. I think I can squeeze either these gooseberries or some of the prolific rhubarb in, but not both! I've already baked a tart with some of the rhubarb and the last of the strawberries for dessert for the next few days. I've also got some ripe but not very tasty pears which I want to cook soon. Now that the garden is becoming more productive, I really must be more organised, so that I can deal with the excess properly, or we are going to be giving a lot of produce away.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Triumph from Disaster? The Tale of a Pecan Clumpy Cake

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.......

.......Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

This part of 'If' by Rudyard Kipling often sums up my attitude to baking. It's a fine line between triumph and disaster, and it's not always obvious which way things are going.

Today's cake started off as a bid to use up half a tin of condensed milk lingering in the fridge. I'd seen recipes for condensed milk pound cake on other blogs; they seem to be an Asian speciality. The recipe on Engineer Baker, originally from Pichet Ong’s “The Sweet Spot” seemed a good place to start, although I knew I didn't have enough condensed milk. What I did have though, was Dulce de Leche, which isn't a world away from plain condensed milk - it seemed feasible to make up the weight necessary for the recipe with that.

Next, I wanted to add some flavour - a streusel layer flavoured with pecan nuts and maple syrup soon emerged as a front runner. I chose the maple streusel recipe from these muffins, although I didn't have maple extract. I used brown sugar and added 50g of finely chopped pecan nuts.

I followed the recipe instructions exactly, even though it's counter-intuitive to mix flour into the creamed mixture before the eggs. I assume this helps give the moist, close texture that everyone is so pleased with. I had 180g of condensed milk, so added roughly 60g of Dulce de Leche to make up the weight needed. However, trouble struck as I layered the batter into the loaf tin with the streusel mixture. It should have been obvious after the first half of the cake batter went in, that the tin wasn't going to be big enough, but for some reason I blithely carried on - half the streusel mix, the rest of the cake batter then ........ the tin was full with only a couple of centimetes for expansion, and the top layer of streusel not even all on! Idiot! The worst thing possible for a layered cake. Could I take the risk that the cake wasn't going to rise much? No!

I quickly lined an 8" square tin with baking parchment and lifted the raw cake mix from the loaf tin by grasping the baking parchment liner. I plopped it down into the bigger tin with no batter lost, but it was obvious as I spread the batter that the middle streusel layer was going to be disarranged at best. With no choice left, I scattered on the rest of the top streusel layer and put the cake into the oven.
Watching the cake bake, it was obvious what the next disaster was going to be - the streusel topping was slowly sinking out of sight. At the end of the cooking time, there were only a few indentations in the surface to show where some of the streusel was still near the surface!

When the cake was cold, I cut it into 16 squares. Most of the edge squares looked like this photo, with the clumps of streusel mostly on the bottom but some distributed throughout the cake. In the four centre squares all the streusel had sunk completely.

Fortunately I could still appreciate the fine texture that a condensed milk pound cake has. As others have described, it is firm, moist and close textured without being too dense. It is also not exceptionally sweet, considering the ingredients. I don't think using a little Dulce de Leche affected the flavour much - I certainly couldn't taste any caramel.

In my cake, the little pockets of pecan, maple and cinnamon flavoured crumbs added another dimension to the tasting experience. A subtle variation of texture and flavour which worked really well - although perhaps not as well as a proper streusel topping would have! It only remained to give it a name - the only way to describe the results was to call it a 'clumpy' cake. I probably can't call the results a triumph, but it wasn't a disaster either!
I am now determined to try the condensed milk pound cake as in the original recipe, and not to be so over-confident about altering recipes (for a while).