Monday, 26 December 2011

Truffle Torte

One of our Christmas traditions is a chocolate dessert, as one of the choices at Christmas lunch. I don't often have a proper Christmas Pudding, as most of the family prefer other things, but this year we gave in to the mass hysteria and bought one of Waitrose's Heston Blumenthal Hidden Orange Puddings. Sometimes you just have to know what the fuss is about! This was deliciously orangey, as it oozed orange syrup, and the candied orange was a lovely texture to eat, but the pudding part itself wasn't anything special.

For anyone who didn't want to try the Christmas Pudding, and for the few days following Christmas, I made a version of Delia Smith's Truffle Torte, something I've been making occasionally over many years. This year I made 2/3 of the truffle mixture, and set it in a 8" diameter springform tin, on a crumb base made using half digestive biscuits and half crisp Amaretti, crushed to fine crumbs and mixed with half their weight of melted butter. I decorated the top with chocolate flutes, getting them to stick to the top of the truffle mix by melting the flat bottoms with  the back of a spoon heated in a gas flame. I then dusted with cocoa and icing sugar.

Delia doesn't warn you about this, but it is very crumbly and difficult to cut while really cold, and needs about 30 minutes out of the fridge to soften up before serving. This makes it a nicer texture for eating, too.  I forgot to do this, of course, and really struggled to get the first slice out. This is a really rich dessert, and can only be eaten in small slices, but it really allows the true flavour of the chocolate you've chosen to shine through, so needs to be made with a good quality chocolate that you enjoy eating.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'm pacing my baking, to stop us all ballooning up over the holiday period. I don't think I'll need a cake until Boxing Day, as there will be leftover desserts from Christmas Lunch, as well as the inevitable presents of biscuits and chocolates. I don't mind leaving some of the cooking until Boxing Day, as coping with The Lunch will take enough of my time and energy.

We do need mincepies though, and these turned out quite well. The sweet shortcrust pastry, which I make with SR flour to increase the crumbliness, is flavoured with orange zest, and the bought mincemeat contained 7% dark chocolate. Another reason for using SR flour at this time of year is that it keeps the pastry soft, so the mincepies last for several days in good condition. Saves baking every day!

The pastry is made by rubbing 125g of lard and 125g unsalted butter into 450g SR flour, 50g icing sugar, a pinch of salt and the zest of a medium orange. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add 1 egg and enough cold water to give a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes before cutting into quarters and  rolling out thinly on a floured board. I find that it's best to deal with the pastry in smaller amounts, then incorporate the trimmings into the next piece of pastry. That way there is always some fresh pastry in each pie, and you don't end up with the last few circles being from pastry that has been re-rolled several times.

Cut out an equal number of bases and lids to fit your mincepie tray, or use seasonal cutters to make pastry shapes for the top, instead of full circles. Fill the base with a good teaspoon of mincemeat and fix on the lids by brushing the undersides with water and pressing together where the lid meets the base. Brush the tops with water and sprinkle over some granulated sugar. Bake at 200C until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Cool the pies in the tins for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if desired.

Although delicious, the chocolate mincemeat was quite sweet, and not very spicy; we all decided that we preferred the Cranberry and Port Mincemeat that I used in the Bramley and Mincemeat Pasties last weekend.

I'd like to wish all my internet friends a
very Merry Christmas
and everything they wish for
in the New Year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Gingerbread with Lemon and Ginger Buttercream

The smell of gingerbread baking is another seasonal scent which is really uplifting - one of my favourite Christmasssy smells.

This was going to be an unfrosted plain gingerbread, but the first bite told me that would it be a mistake to leave the cake as it came out of the baking tin! The molasses was so overwhelming that the cake was quite bitter. Add to this the fact that there wasn't enough ginger in the recipe and the flavour of the cake was quite disappointing. However, the addition of a lemon and ginger buttercream perked it up a lot and counteracted the bitterness. I found the recipe here, while trawling the internet looking for a recipe using oil.

I made the buttercream by beating 70g of unsalted butter and 40g full fat cream cheese with 200g icing sugar, the zest of a lemon and 2 tablespoons of syrup from a jar of preserved ginger. I then folded in three nuggets of preserved ginger, finely chopped.

Leaving aside the flavour, this was a really well textured cake, and won't need much adjustment to make it worth repeating - I'll try replacing half of the molasses with golden syrup, and at least tripling the amount of ginger. I think a flavourless oil such as sunflower would be better too, as the other flavours are so strong - any flavour inherent in the olive oil is lost.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Bramley and Mincemeat Pasties

Another recipe from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet, although it was Nigel Slater who reminded me of them a couple of weeks ago. The recipe has also been published in Dan's column in the Guardian Weekend magazine. The thought of making my own puff pastry, even rough puff, has always been offputting, but FB wanted to try these, and was willing to put in the work while I pottered around the kitchen giving advice (!!).

We made one major mistake, by not following the folding and rolling instructions properly, so spoiling the first half batch of pasties, but once we realised the fault we corrected it with the second batch, which came out much better. Our misreading of the instructions meant that we only built up half the number of layers in the pastry, which didn't incorporate the butter properly, resulting in much of it running out of the pasties onto the oven floor! By re-folding and rolling the second half of the pastry before using it, we got a much better result, although I think we were still short of a few layers. Still, it's a good learning experience, and means the mistake won't be repeated!

One gripe I have with the recipe is that you can't cut a 30 x30cm square into 6 even squares - you need a more rectangular shape to be able to do that - and you do need squares to get a neat triangular pasty. We rolled the dough to a rectangle which was roughly 24 x 36cm, giving 6 squares that were 12 x 12cm. There was also far more apple than we could get into the pasties - one apple would have been enough! We couldn't work out how to fold the pasty edges to seal them properly, either - I need to find a video of someone making a Cornish pasty, I think.

As always, the success of a mince pie  or pasty depends on the mincemeat, and we used a Cranberry and Port mincemeat which was very strongly flavoured. It still allowed the flavour of the apple in the filling to come through, but masked the ginger in the pastry, I think. The tart Bramley apple lessened the sweetness of the pasty - I often add grated apple to a jar of mincemeat for this reason.

These were really tasty, and well worth the time spent making the pastry. It wasn't really difficult, just time consuming, and really needs attempting when you won't get distracted by other chores.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dan Lepard's Stollen Bars - A Tea Time Treat

Tea Time Treats is a new challenge jointly hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. Obviously the baking side of treats for tea time is what appeals to me, but anything that could possibly be eaten at tea time can be entered into the challenge, which gives a pretty wide remit. Each month there will be a theme for the challenge and in December what better theme could this month's host, Kate, pick than Christmas?

The recipe for these Orange and Pistachio Stollen Bars, by Dan Lepard, was published in the Guardian Weekend Magazine a few weeks ago, in the Christmas Party Food Supplement  and had instant appeal for me, as I love Stollen but am rubbish at yeast doughs - even Dan's recipes! This unusual take on the traditional recipe is raised with baking powder and contains large lumps of marzipan throughout the mixture - utter bliss! As Stollen is usually only eaten around Christmas time, these bars seem ideal for the Tea Time Treat challenge.

Although I liked all the flavouring ingredients in the bars, I was tempted to swap the sultanas for dried cranberries, as they seem more festive and seasonal. In the end I decided to stick by my view that unless something serious like an allergy forces a change, every recipe should be tried as the cook has written it, at least for the first time.

The recipe was straightforward and quick to follow, so within an hour of starting to assemble the ingredients, I had a fragrant tray of stollen cooling on the counter, ready for brushing with melted butter. The only forethought required is to get the butter, cream cheese and egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. As I didn't expect to have to keep the bars a long time, I only used about 25g of butter to
brush on top - this seemed to me to give a generous coating anyway.

When it came to cutting and tasting, I was glad I had kept in the sultanas, as the flavours of orange and pistachio are very delicate and would have been overwhelmed by dried cranberries. I loved finding such large pieces of marzipan nestled within the bars. The texture of the bars is hard to describe - it's somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, doughy like a bread but quite light and open textured too. After a night's sleep I realised that what it most reminded me of was biscotti dough before the second baking!

I'm sure these will be repeated, although I already have two bought Stollens stashed away for Christmas and New Year. Hubs liked them, but he didn't think they matched up to a traditional stollen so I might need to call them something different next time. I thought they were comparable, in texture, to some of the stollens I've bought in the past, but not as good as a slice of stollen with a really big piece of marzipan in the centre, which is what Hubs missed most too, I think! However, for a homemade treat, these are quick, unlike yeast dough, and successful, unlike most of my attempts at yeast dough.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Muffins

What could be more seasonal than the smells and flavours of oranges, cranberries, chocolate and cinnamon? All are present in abundance in these muffins, which would make a tasty light breakfast on Christmas Day morning. These muffins may be my entry to December's We Should Cocoa Challenge, but for the moment I want to hold them in reserve; I have other plans using orange and chocolate together, but at this time of year, my plans are often greater than my achievements! If I run out of time or energy, these will be a worthy entrant to the challenge.

I've used this recipe for Orange and Blueberry Muffins, from Dom at Belleau Kitchen, as the base recipe as it's one of the most successful muffin recipes I've tried. It isn't oversweet and the use of oats and oil give more than a passing illusion of healthiness! Instead of fresh blueberries I used dried cranberries presoaked in orange juice, and plain chocolate.

125g dried cranberries
roughly 300ml orange juice (I used juice from a carton; see method for explanation of amount)
100g rolled oats
375g plain flour
200g caster sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (reduced from original recipe)
250ml sunflower oil
3 beaten eggs
1 egg white*
225g blueberries
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange, separated
100g plain chocolate, finely chopped

Topping, mix together - 70g turbinado (or demerara) sugar
50g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon

* the extra egg white was just to use up one that was lurking in my eye-line in the fridge!

Put the cranberries into a small bowl and cover with orange  juice. Soak for at least 4 hours.
Drain the berries, reserving any juice not absorbed. Measure the juice into a jug or cup and make up to 250ml with the fresh orange juice and more juice from the carton if necessary. (I found I needed only about another 30ml of carton juice)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C, 180C fan
Mix the rolled oats into the orange juice and set aside while you mix the batter.
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Make a well in the centre and add the oat mixture, eggs + extra white and oil, and mix until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate.
Fill muffin cases 3/4 full and sprinkle the top of each with just under a teaspoon of the topping mixture.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a test probe is clean (mine took 22 minutes this time, perhaps due to the extra egg white).

I made 22 muffins from this mixture.

These muffins don't appear to rise a lot, but they still have a good light, but moist, texture. All the separate flavour elements in these muffins could be tasted, and the turbinado sugar and hazelnuts gave a lovely crunchy contrast to the soft crumb and chewy cranberries. The only improvement I could see was perhaps a little more cinnamon in the topping - perhaps another 1/2 teaspoon.

Note Added 18th Dec - I'm pretty sure now that I'm going to run out of time. The next Chocolate/Orange combination I bake will be my Christmas Cake, which will be made on Christmas Eve. Even after it's finished, I probably won't have time to post about it by the We Should Cocoa deadline. So this is now officially my entry to the December Challenge, which was to use orange in combination with chocolate. This month's challenge is hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, and you can also find the rules on her Blog if you want to join in with future challenges.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cake

Yet another reworking of the basic cake recipe made with yogurt and oil. It really is a versatile recipe for a general everyday cake. For this one, I substituted 50g of the flour with ground almonds to keep the cake moist, and added 50g each of plain, milk and white chocolate, all three varieties chopped from a bar, rather than chips.

This cake didn't rise as much as usual but it was still  light and moist. I changed the method slightly and mixed the sugar with the yogurt, eggs and oil, before sifting in the flour. I usually mix the sugar with the flour and then stir in the whisked together eggs, oil and yogurt, and I think the second method gives a better result. In both cases, any solid ingredients such as chopped chocolate are folded in after everything else is mixed together.

For the record, the ingredients were 150g plain flour, 50g ground almonds, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 200g caster sugar, 250ml low-fat yogurt, 3 eggs, 110g sunflower oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 50g each of chopped plain, milk and white chocolate. The cake was baked in a 20cm round tin, at 180C for 50-60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Hazelnut and Coffee Cake with Nutella Frosting

Phew! A successful cake after what seems like a stream of disappointments. It's not really that long since I baked something that I was (almost) completely happy with, but it seems like it when you're having to eat second-rate cakes!

This is my first attempt at adapting the Annie Bell recipe for a Lemon Drizzle Traybake, which I tried recently. I left out the lemon (obviously!), dissolved some coffee in the milk and substituted ground hazelnuts for some of the flour. The batter was baked in two sponge tins and then sandwiched and topped with a soft Nutella and plain chocolate frosting.

Ingredients - cake
180ml sunflower oil
270g caster sugar
3 large eggs
100ml milk
1 tablespoon instant coffee
50g chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon cocoa (see note)
220g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

60g plain chocolate
30g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
3 tablespoons milk
roughly 100g Nutella*

Pre-heat the oven to 190C, and prepare two 8"(20cm) sandwich tins.
Dissolve the coffee in the milk. Put the hazelnuts, cocoa and 20g of the flour into a food processor or mini-chopper and process until the nuts are very finely ground, but not turning greasy (the flour helps prevent this).
In a large bowl whisk the oil, sugar, milk and coffee, and eggs until emulsified. Sift in the plain flour and baking powder, then add the ground nut mixture; whisk together until just combined.
Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins and bake for about 20 minutes, or until done when tested.
Cool in the tins for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.
When cool, sandwich with half the frosting and top with the other half.

While the cakes are cooking make the frosting - melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and beat in the other ingredients. Allow to cool to a spreading consistency before using.

* I tried to add an extra 50g of Nutella and the mixture started to split. I rescued it by adding a little extra milk, but this meant that the frosting didn't set as firm as I'd hoped. If you like thicker layers of filling and frosting, I suggest increasing all the ingredients by 50% (or even more!).

note - adding a little cocoa to cakes containing nuts is a tip from Dan Lepard to increase the nuttiness of the flavour.

This was a really well-flavoured and textured cake. The coffee flavour was a little overwhemed by the Nutella frosting, but I think the amount of coffee I used was enough - any more would have been bitter. The flavour of the nuts in both the cake and the frosting was very good.

With a differently flavoured  frosting - perhaps a vanilla or coffee buttercream - this would make a good coffee and nut cake with the coffee flavour more predominant. I'm really pleased that the recipe adapted as well as I'd hoped, and will be experimenting further with this.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Another quick and incredibly easy recipe from Eating Well, and again, the result was a bit of a mixed bag. The flavour of the cake was fine but the texture was bordering on unpleasant - it felt like a dense bath sponge which needed wringing out.

I like dense moist chocolate cakes but not those that are so moist that they could be called wet! I'm not sure where, or if, I went wrong, but there was definitely too much liquid in the recipe - even after 45 minutes in the oven a test probe showed the cake was still damp in the centre. I'm pretty sure I didn't make any mistakes in measuring or weighing the ingredients, but my experience was nothing like that of those who commented on this recipe online.

At least it wasn't a large cake - we'll only get 6-8 portions out of it! My next bake is going to have to be a cake I know will work, or my family will rebel against my experiments, but I'm going to give Eating Well another chance, I think.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ginger Citrus Cake

I don't know why I haven't come across the Eating Well website before now - it's certainly full of recipes which suit my current style of baking. I think my baking mojo is back after a very lacklustre couple of weeks, but it's getting increasingly harder to find new recipes which are low in saturated fat ie made with oil. Which is why I found Eating Well somewhere around page 25 of a Google search! I don't understand why it doesn't come up sooner - I guess my search terms are wrong.

This Ginger Citrus Cake came from there, and was a very interesting cake. It didn't rise as much as I expected and had quite a dense, and slightly dry, texture, but the flavours were really complex.

I used the zest of a large orange and the juice of 1 lemon and half the orange in the cake, with a Spanish Citrus Blossom honey. I chopped the crystallised ginger quite small and this added a good extra flavour and texture. The honey didn't seem to make the cake as sweet as an equivalent amount of sugar would have.

Despite adding beaten egg whites, there was very little rise  - this could have been due to the relatively small amount of baking powder, or the fact that there were only two eggs in the recipe, for 200g+ of flour. This was an effort to keep the cake healthy, I suppose, although eating eggs seems to be no longer a problem for those trying to keep cholesterol levels down. This recipe was written before the health guidelines on eggs were rewritten!

My only mistake was to try to turn it into a 'tea' cake rather than a dessert. I used some of the leftover orange juice and some honey and icing sugar to make a glacé icing, and decorated with some more chopped crystallised ginger. Once the cake was cooked, however, I realised that it would have made a much better dessert, served with fruit, so that the juices could soak into the cake.

This is certainly a cake to which I will return, although I suspect I will be trying to make it a little lighter. I will be checking out more recipes on the website too - I'm just a little worried that trying to make cakes healthy sucks all the joy out of them when several aspects of healthy eating are addressed in one cake!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Another Low Fat Brownie Recipe

I wasn't sure whether to even bother writing about these brownies. The flavour was good, although CT didn't really like the tang from the sour cream, but the texture was nothing like a brownie. The crumb was moist, but very delicate, so it was difficult to even pick up a piece without it crumbling, and the pieces wanted to cling to the baking parchment. This wasn't helped by the brownie being less than 1cm high -  twice the amount of batter in the same sized tin would have just about made a decent batch.

Additionally I couldn't get a good photograph because of our current grim Autumnal weather, even with Hubs holding a light source for me, so I can't show you a decent photograph of what I'm complaining about!

I decided to include them in the end, because it's the first time I've baked with a lower-fat butter replacement spread. The recipe can be found here, at Joy of Baking.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged

I've been tagged by Kate at What Kate Baked to take part in Food Bloggers Unplugged, a little exercise started by Susan at A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate as a way of getting to know fellow food bloggers. The idea is that we answer 10 questions about ourselves, then tag five other food bloggers to take part, if they want to.

So, here are my answers:

What, or who, inspired you to start a blog? Other bloggers! I'd been reading food blogs for a while, and decided that it might be fun to join in.

Who is your foodie inspiration? I'd have to say my late mother-in-law. Until I got married food was just fuel. My mother wasn't a great cook, although like me, she was quite a good baker. However my M-i-L was a fantastic cook and showed me that there was more to food than just eating it.

Your greasiest, batter - splattered food/drink book is? The first cookbook I bought which was just about baking - Cakes and Cake Decorating by Zoe Leigh. It was published in 1974, which was probably the year I bought it, and I still use some of the recipes in it. Not only is it batter-splattered, it's so worn out that it's falling apart. The start of a well-travelled road!

Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?  I've travelled a lot over the last ten years, with good memories of the food in many places, including Japan (which had worried me a bit before we went) but the single dish that stands out as the best thing I've eaten was a dish of fried rice with chicken, lobster and egg, at a Thai restaurant in Montreal. We ate it with a whole fish served with sweet and sour sauce plus another dish I've forgotten, but the whole meal showed us that Thai food could be much more delicately spiced than we'd experienced up until then. That rice was sublime!

Another food bloggers table you'd like to eat at is? Foodycat, without a doubt. She is so knowledgeable about all aspects of food, an adventurous cook and even a food producer, having tried her hand at such things as cheese-making.

What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)? As I get older I'm beginning to realise the benefits that a dishwasher would bring. Does that count?

Who taught you how to cook? I taught myself with a little help from Delia Smith and Good Housekeeping, although as a child I had learned basic baking techniques with my mother.

I'm coming to you for dinner what's your signature dish? I'm not sure I have one, as I don't like to serve the same thing twice to guests, but you're very likely to get a chocolate dessert!  Probably a variation of this one - Chocolate Ginger Torte

What is your guilty food pleasure? The first crusty slice from a loaf of white bread, thickly spread with lots of butter. And even the last slice, if it's still fresh!

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn? Despite using it so much in my baking, I don't really like the smell of hot chocolate.

In turn, I would like to tag these 5 bloggers, although I hope they won't feel obliged to join in if they would rather not!
Foodycat, at Foodycat
Snowy, at Cookbooks Galore
Anne, at Anne's Kitchen
C, at Cakes, Crumbs and Cooking
and the entity that is hungryhinny

Friday, 18 November 2011

Lemon Drizzle Traybake Cake

I think this cake might be my Eureka! moment - I think I've found a well-textured sponge cake made with oil, which could be varied in flavour. I have baked other cakes with oil, which have been wonderful, but it hasn't been easy to see how to adapt the best of them so that I can use different flavours. For instance, this Chocolate Swirl cake is almost perfect, but will always be a  chocolate swirl cake because of the way it's made!

However, this Lemon Drizzle Traybake Cake recipe, by Annie Bell, looks as if it could be adapted to other simple flavours such as coffee or chocolate. I need to experiment further to see if the batter bakes as well in other shapes such as loaves or deeper tins, and I'm not sure that it's dense enough to take solid additions such as chocolate chips and chopped nuts, but I'm hopeful that it will prove to be a really useful recipe.

As is often the case with oil based recipes, this was really simple to make - mix the sugar with the wet ingredients and the flavourings, then sift in the flour and baking powder and combine. However, I've had other similar recipes collapse after baking - I'm beginning to think that the proportions used in oil-based cakes are much more important than with buttery cakes. Fortunately we can  trust an Annie Bell recipe to be as reliable as always!

The flavour wasn't anything special - just a pleasant lemon flavour - and the topping didn't add a lot, but I was so pleased with the texture! It's not quite as light as a traditional Victoria Sandwich, but I'd say it's almost as good - somewhere between a sponge cake and a Madeira cake. Watch out for more cakes based on this recipe.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Guinness Gingerbread - from Tea with Bea

This recipe comes from the gorgeous new baking book 'Tea with Bea', which I received in the post this week from  Dom at Belleau Kitchen, after winning one of his generous give-aways. I could happily cook and eat any of the recipes in the book - they all sound delicious and are really well photographed. Thanks Dom - that's another few inches on the hips!

I decided to start with a recipe using oil instead of butter, to be in keeping with my current scheme of baking with less saturated fat. The recipe for gingerbread Guinness cupcakes suggested variations to make it into larger layer cakes, so I decided to make a larger tray bake (25 x 25cm) in a single layer, and not use the cream cheese topping. You can read about Tea with Bea, the author, Bea Vo, and see this recipe here, on the publisher's blog.

Despite it being a relatively simple recipe, I still managed to make a mistake which I worried would spoil the cake - I added a whole tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to the Guinness and treacle mixture - no wonder it frothed so much! You really do need to heed the warning to use a tall saucepan, even with the right amount of soda. However, this extra soda couldn't be tasted in the finished cake, which was my main worry, and didn't appear to affect the cake adversely in any other way.

Another point to mention, which I didn't notice until after I'd cooked the cake, is that the temperatures given in the recipes are for a fan oven - I find this quite unusual, as most recipes are still written either for conventional ovens, or give both temperatues in the text. This didn't seem to have any effect on my cake, even though I cooked it on a lower than specified temperature.

I decorated the cake with a drizzle of glacé icing and some slices of crystallised ginger, as a the cream cheese frosting in the recipe is too rich for an everyday cake, and doesn't fit in with the less saturated fat effort! The cake itself was very light but still managed to be moist and sticky. The combination of spices used was really good - the cloves and allspice  gave a good depth of flavour and the amount of ginger gave a real kick to the flavour! We all liked this cake a lot, so I'm sure the recipe will be used again, with no mistakes next time, and a slightly smaller tin, I think, to give a deeper cake.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Orange and Pinenut Frangipane Tart

We've been having a bit of an Italian themed weekend, as far as eating goes. Tonight's meal is the star of the show, as we are using some pretty striped sombrero pasta and extra virgin olive oil brought back from FB's recent working holiday in Italy. She spent two weeks helping with the olive harvest and learning about olive oil production; the oil she brought back was produced by the organic farm where she was picking.

Tonight we'll be eating the pasta dressed with the oil and parmesan and bruschetta made with the oil and garlic, followed by roast chicken.

The dessert, which was made yesterday, and eaten after salmon coated with pesto breadcrumbs and Nigella's Rapid Roastini, will be the rest of this Orange and Pinenut Frangipane Tart from Giorgio Locatelli.

I followed the filling recipe and the baking method exactly, but used my own sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, which isn't quite as sweet as the pastry used in the recipe (200g plain flour, 110g butter, 30g icing sugar, 1 egg yolk + water as necessary). The recipe was quite straightforward to follow; I chopped the candied peel really small (smaller than the pinenuts) because I wasn't really sure how the rest of the family like it as it's not something I use very often. The only snag was that it took about 25 minutes before I was satisfied that the filling was set, but I turned down the heat to 150C after 15 minutes as the tart was already quite brown.

The tart was delicious - the flavour of both the pinenuts and the candied peel was very subtle and neither overwhelmed the delicate flavour of the frangipane. I served it with Chantilly Cream or vanilla pouring yogurt for those watching the calories. I'm sure the cream would have been tastier!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Chocolate Chip, Hazelnut and Orange Cake

I'm not sure if this cake was a result of lack of time, lack of ingredients, lack of imagination or lack of enthusiasm for baking. Although I enjoy baking 90% of the time, I hate having to bake when I'm not in the mood! To produce something quickly for CT's daily slice of cake, I went back to this foolproof cake made with yogurt and oil, loosely based on this recipe from Ina Garten. I've simplified the recipe, and now mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another, and mix them until just combined, before folding in any lumpy additions. This time, I was limited by a rather sparse storecupboard and a wish not to repeat flavours used recently (except chocolate, of course!)

So here, I mixed 200g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 200g caster sugar and the zest of a large orange in a mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, I whisked 150ml low fat yogurt, 100mls sour cream, 3 eggs and 110mls sunflower oil until smooth. After mixing the wet ingredients into the dry, I folded in 100g of chopped 74% chocolate and 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts.

The cake mixture was baked in a 20cm(8") round tin for 50-60 minutes (or until a test probe comes out clean) at 180C.

This time the cake was a little heavier than usual, which may have been due to using sour cream in place of some of the yogurt. - I just scraped together enough by using a mixture of the two! It didn't seem to affect anyone's appetite for it - even FB, who isn't much of a cake eater, had a slice (although she may just have been hungry!)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Date and Apple Squares with Chocolate Crumble Topping

When Chele, at Chocolate Teapot, announced that apples were to be the added ingredient for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, I can't say I was surprised that this fruit has cropped up at last, although I did think that Choclette would be the host to suggest it, as she has quite a few recipes on her blog using the apple and chocolate combination.

However, it's not a combination that has ever appealled to me, which is strange, as I do think that chocolate goes very well with so many other fruits. Judging by the number of recipes I could find in my recipe books and on websites with recipes from professional food writers/cooks, it's not a combination that many other people find appealing either!  My books yielded two recipes - both for pies with chocolate pastry - and the internet sites I looked at weren't much better. But I rarely shirk from the We Should Cocoa Challenge and I've never actually cooked anything combining apples and chocolate, so I shouldn't let my prejudices stand in the way of possibly startling revelations!

What to cook was a problem; having made the decision to take part in the challenge I then realised that I wanted to cook something where the apple was going to be noticeable, not fading into the background, masked by chocolate and other flavours. I thought this would give the combination a proper test! I also needed to cook something that would be eaten, as I can't afford to cook just for the sake of cooking - it has to fit in with the likes and dislikes of the people who would be eating it.

Cookies were out, as I couldn't see how to get much apple in without making them too wet and I didn't want to make a cake, as in my experience, apple tends to melt into the texture of a cake and I thought it would be overwhelmed by any chocolate in the recipe. Cheesecake crossed my mind, but I didn't really want a dessert, as they usually have to be eaten quickly and so are too calorific and indulgent. Once I started thinking about apple as a separate layer it didn't take long to remember traybakes and slices, but it still took a lot of research to find something which I was confident would take the addition of chocolate in some form. Eventually I decided to adapt a date slice recipe to use apples in the filling and chocolate in the top layer of dough. I chickened out of using apples on their own, as I thought they might be too moist, so I kept some dates in the mixture which I hoped would absorb the apple juices. Thus Date and Apple Squares with Chocolate Crumble Topping was born!

It was then that I found that I didn't have a date slice recipe! I was amazed, especially as I was sure I remembered at least one in some of my old books. Of all the recipes I found online, I decided that this recipe from Joy of Baking looked most like what I wanted to achieve, with the added benefit of a properly tested recipe too.

I followed the basic dough recipe exactly, but  I added 75g of very finely chopped 85% chocolate to the 1/3 of the dough which was put aside for the topping. I intended to grate the chocolate but had to chop it in a mini-food processor in the end, as grating was going to take far too long.

For the filling, I used 200g of chopped dates, 120ml apple juice, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and two apples, each weighing about 200g, peeled and cored and cut into 1cm cubes. One apple was a Bramley which would cook down to a purée, and the other was an eating apple which I hoped would stay in cubes. These ingredients were cooked together until the juice was absorbed and the dates softened.

I then continued with the recipe - pressing the plain dough into the base of a 9 x 9" tin, spreading over the filling and then crumbling over the chocolate topping - before baking at 180C for 40 minutes.

After chilling and cutting I could see that part of my plan had worked - there were still visible cubes of apple within the filling. The filling was quite moist, but the base was nicely crisped and solid, so I hope that the squares don't become soggy during storage, as it will take at least three days to eat them all. The apples were still evident as a separate flavour when tasted too, but although we all liked the squares I'm not convinced that adding the chocolate was any improvement. I think using the original plain dough, with it's slight cinnamon flavour, in both layers would have been just as good.

So although  I'm pleased I tried the apple-chocolate combination, I'm yet to be convinced that they are better together than apart. It will be really interesting to see what other entrants to the challenge come up with! 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Alchemist's Chocolate Cake

This is another recipe from Dan Lepard's new book Short and Sweet. I remember making it when it was first published in the Guardian, and not being too impressed with it, but that was back before I needed to reign in my baking extravagances and try to cook with less saturated fat. The book also amends the recipe to use three eggs rather than just one, which would make a richer cake, so I was interested to see if I liked it better this time round.

The cake uses tinned pears and some of the juice as a means of reducing both added sugar and fat. There is only 50mls of oil in the recipe which is a  really low amount - the recipe stipulates walnut oil, but I used hazelnut - I'm sure light olive oil would be OK to use too. The recipe was quick and easy to follow - I  used a stick blender to purée the pears with the chocolate mixture, as I don't have a large processor or blender - but the cake didn't rise as much as I'd expected from the photograph in the book.

I intended to decorate the cake with squiggles of chocolate, as suggested in the book, but my plan to mix white and plain chocolate together to give a two-colour mottled effect bombed when the white chocolate failed to melt properly. I ended up just spreading the chocolate (about 80g in total) over the top of the cake, to try to hide the small white lumps which prevented me piping the squiggles properly.

Cutting the cake revealed quite an uneven texture too - a dense layer at the bottom which might be uncooked batter, several holes and some peculiar pale patches. The flavour of the cake was better than I'd remembered; it was quite dense and moist, and not very sweet, but, on the downside, it wasn't very chocolately in flavour either. I'm sure the faults in the texture are mine -  you just need to check out the photograph of the cake Dan made to see that - but I'm not sure what I could have done differently. I can't imagine that using a stick blender rather than a blender on a processor makes that much difference, and everything else about the recipe was followed to the letter!

It was interesting to make this again, and compare with my memory of making it before, and it's quite a nice plain everyday cake, but I have better recipes for that sort of cake, so can't see this being repeated!

Friday, 28 October 2011

'Short and Sweet', and Spicy - Ginger Macadamia Biscuits

I'm probably one of the last of the baking bloggers to mention Dan Lepard's new book - Short and Sweet - but that doesn't mean I'm not impressed by it. As well as bringing many recipes from his Guardian Weekend column together in one place, Dan prefaces each section of the book with tips on equipment and techniques and information on why ingredients are used and how they interact with each other. While this makes it an excellent book for beginners, there are also things for experienced bakers to learn too. As always, many of Dan's recipes stand out as innovative in terms of using unusual ingredients and flavour combinations as well as for some of the techniques used - the cook has to have a certain amount of trust and just leap in, but as long as the recipes are followed carefully, success is almost guaranteed. I'm sure this book is set to become a baking 'bible' for many bakers.

My one disappointment is the lack of a photograph for every recipe, but I can see that this would have made the book huge, and unwieldy in the kitchen. As it is, the book is specially designed to stay open at the chosen page, making it easier to use when hands are floury or sticky.

For my first recipe from the book, I chose a recipe I haven't made before, and one which fitted into the 'spicy' theme I have for my October baking - Ginger Macadamia Biscuits. The recipe previously published in the Guardian is slightly different in that it uses a large egg, whereas the recipe in the book uses a medium sized egg, but that was the only change. The book also suggests that the recipe will make about 35 biscuits, but I only got 29 walnut-sized balls out of the dough. The only other change I made was to use unsalted macadamia nuts.

These biscuits were very subtly flavoured - the ginger, macadamia and coconut complimented each other without any one of the flavours standing out. Macadamias have a very strange texture because they aren't crisp or crunchy - more chewy and waxy - but they fitted well into these chewy biscuits.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake

This recipe for Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake, from Epicurious, was chosen to use up the rest of the can of pumpkin purée, which I'd opened to make the spiced chocolate orange cake from my previous post. I'm afraid to say this cake wasn't nearly as successful. The pumpkin cake layer was very moist and dense and the homemade pumpkin pie spice was rather overwhelming - in fact CT and Hubs didn't really like it at all! The photo looks worse than the cake actually was - cutting into the dense sponge seemed to compress it, so that the texture was lost, but within the slices the sponge texture was still there!

I followed the recipe almost exactly! I substituted 100mls oil and a tablespoon of water for the butter in the cake batter and used four cups of several varieties of homegrown apples which I had in the kitchen. I've no idea what variety the apple from my mother was, but the apples I grew were Blenheim Beauty and Falstaff. I made the pumpkin pie spice from this recipe.

I like the concept of this cake - the layer of buttery, cinnamon spiced apples on top of a cake, with a crisp streusel topping - but this time the cake wasn't quite right. I could see the idea working well on a ginger cake, but you'd need to be sure that the apples wouldn't sink.

Today, I had to make a batch of our favourite 'healthy' brownies, for CT, who won't eat any more of this particular cake!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Spiced Chocolate and Orange Pumpkin Cake

Since my last post, I've had a disastrous attempt at a honey and spice cake, which ended up with the cake in the dustbin and me buying (!!) cake from the supermarket. It was a Lemon and Ginger cake - I stuck to the October 'spice' theme - and a very nice cake, but expensive for it's size. Not a very good start to National Baking Week! Anyway, while I was idly scanning the cookery ingredients shelf in the supermarket, I spotted the seasonal appearance of tins of pumpkin purée. No-one here likes pumpkin pie, but I have made pumpkin swirl brownies in the past, which were very successful. So into the basket went a tin of pumpkin - and home I went, to look for a recipe combining pumpkin and spices, and using oil instead of butter.

I also decided it was time to open the second tin of maple syrup I brought back from Canada last year, but then couldn't find a recipe that I like the look of. The nicest looking recipe used maple flavouring, which I've never seen on sale - maple syrup just wouldn't give enough flavour in such small quantities. Time to ditch the maple syrup idea, and proceed on the well known baking fact that there's nothing that can't be improved by adding chocolate! So I kept the basic recipe for Pumpkin-Maple Coffee Cake, but left out the maple flavour; I added the zest of an orange to the cake batter and 75g very finely chopped 85% chocolate to the central layer of sugar and cinnamon. I also used natural yogurt instead of buttermilk, because I didn't want to wait until I could shop again, and yogurt is always in the fridge

The result was an excellent cake, although the pumpkin was well-disguised by the other flavours. Hubs was really impressed by the way the cinnamon, chocolate and orange blended harmoniously together in a very light cake. My one criticism is one that I often have with American 'traybake' recipes - the tin size stipulated was too big for the amount of batter. After spreading the thinnest layer of batter possible on the base of the tin, there wasn't enough left to completely cover the layer of chocolate. This meant that although the layers looked neat on the central pieces of cake (top photo), on the edges the layers petered out rather untidily(lower photo)! Note to self - next time bake in a 8" square tin, cook for a few minutes longer and get a deeper cake!

Now I have to look for a recipe using no more than 275g pumpkin purée, to use up what was left from the tin I opened.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Chocolate, Cherry and Chilli Tart

This well-flavoured dessert, which also fits into my spice theme for this month, is my entry to the October 'We Should Cocoa' challenge. This month the challenge was set by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, and if you're considering joining in with this monthly cooking with chocolate challenge, the rules can also be found on Chocolate Log Blog. Choclette challenged us to find a way of using chilli in our chocolate cooking this month, and I have to say I've been waiting for this particular ingredient to come up! I have several brownie recipes using chilli, and one gorgeous cake recipe (which Dom of Belleau Kitchen has baked for this challenge!), but I really wanted to use this challenge to find a new recipe.

After I had an unsuccessful attempt at some cookies - both the way the recipe worked and the spice levels were wrong - I went back to the drawing board and thought about what I really would like. I remembered how much I liked the Lindt chocolate bar which contains a chili flavoured cherry filling (the single 'l' is their preferred spelling!), and I also remembered that I sometimes make a  bakewell-style chocolate tart for dessert. I didn't want to use almonds this time, but I liked the idea of a chocolate tart with a layer of cherry jam at the bottom. I decided to add the chili flavouring to the chocolate layer and that I wanted the chocolate filling to be on the cakey-side, rather than a rich custard or ganache. I also wanted to keep CT's dietary restrictions in mind, so wanted a dessert he could eat without too much guilt, which meant that ideally I wanted a baked mousse cake which wasn't too rich, to balance the inevitable high fat levels of the pastry. One day I will try olive oil pastry, but I didn't have the will to experiment with that here!

I eventually found a recipe in one of the Green and Black's recipe books for a Berry Torte, the chocolate part of which looked just right - not too sweet and not a lot of butter (relative to other recipes I found!). After that it was simple to think through the finished tart - a sweet shortcrust deep pie case, a layer of Morello cherry jam and a mousse cake layer, with added chilli flavour, on top.

The execution wasn't perfect, as the chocolate pulled away from the pastry as it cooled, but it was a very good dessert. The sweet cherry filling was very intense but was balanced by the chocolate layer which wan't too sweet and which gave a warm chilli after-taste. I think I would add more cayenne pepper next time to give a slightly stronger flavour, and for a special occasion would use a richer mousse cake recipe, but on this occasion, it filled the criteria I had for this recipe.

For the recipe, you'll need a deep, sweet shortcrust pastry case, about 8 or 9 inches in diameter (20-22cm), baked blind. While the pastry is cooking, slightly warm 250g Morello cherry jam and stir in 2 tablespoons Kirsch or other cherry flavoured liqueur. Spread this over the base of the pastry case when you take it out of the oven. Then make the chocolate mousse cake mixture:

Chocolate mousse cake
25g plain flour
5 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
75g plain chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)
25g butter
5 teaspoons double cream
4 egg whites
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons caster sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, then remove from the heat and add the butter and cream and stir until the butter has melted.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and cayenne powder.

Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage, then add the sugar and beat until thick and glossy.

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl and add the flour mixture. Fold in as much as possible (I found the mixture too dry to fold it all in), then add the chocolate mixture and mix well.

Add about a quarter of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and mix in thoroughly, then gently fold in the rest of the whites.

Gently pour the chocolate mixture into the pastry case, trying to fill the edges first and working into the middle - this should prevent the jam being pushed to the edges. Spread evenly then bake at 140C for about 25 minutes or until a test probe comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream or as you desire

While writing this blog entry, I got very worried about the spelling of chilli. While researching the matter, I came across this article, which in turn links to another interesting point of view on the subject. I think for the time being I'm going to stick to the most accepted British spelling - the double 'll' version!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Pear, Cranberry and Ginger Cookies

A quick stop-gap bake, before I do something special for the weekend! These cookies can be in the oven within 10 minutes of starting to bake, and I just put the mixing bowl on the scales and weigh in each ingredient in turn. The slowest part was chopping a few dried pears!

I kept to seasonal dried fruits and my October theme of 'spices' and made my usual recipe for cookies made with oil, (from Cookie Madness)using 40g chopped dried pears, 35g dried cranberries and 25g chopped crystallised ginger instead of chocolate and nuts. I also added 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon with the flour.

Unfortunately I forgot I was using the fan oven, and set it to the usual temperature for conventional baking. I think this is the reason why the cookies didn't spread as much as usual - it's the only thing which was different. It didn't affect the flavour though - lots of chewy fruit and lovely tangy little pieces of ginger to bite into.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cocoa-Ancho Chile Cookies

These Cocoa-Ancho Chile Cookies were going to be my 'We Should Cocoa' entry for this month, but no-one could taste the chili, so I'm going to have to rethink this one.

However, they fit into my 'spice' theme for October and have cocoa in them, so this post will be in celebration of Chocolate Week, which runs from the 10th - 16th October.

The cookies were pleasant enough to eat and the coating of lime-flavoured sugar gave them a bit of zing, but I wasn't very happy with them, as the recipe didn't work very well, and the amount of spice stipulated wasn't enough to flavour them very strongly - as I said, no-one could taste the chili and Hubs just about picked up the cinnamon!

The cookie dough was very slack when made following the recipe, and even after mixing in another tablespoon of flour it was still very soft. I had to refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes before I could handle it at all, and it was still very sticky. I thought I was making the balls of dough the correct size, but only got 18 out of the mixture instead of 30 - I guess that's the consequence of not having any scoops!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Tamarind Spice Biscuits

It looks as if spices are going to be the theme for October baking. I've still got the chocolate-chilll challenge to complete for We Should Cocoa, and my last cake was strongly flavoured with cinnamon. But that's how it should be at this time of year - warm spices such as chilli, ginger, pepper and cinnamon are great additions to autumnal baking.

This recipe for Tamarind Spice Biscuits is another from Dan Lepard. It's packed with ginger - both the ground spice and chopped glacé ginger, with the addition of tamarind and garam masala. I used well-washed stem ginger as I don't think I've ever seen glacé ginger. Crystallised ginger could probably be used too, although the extra sugar might unbalance the flavour a little.

I made my own tamarind concentrate by mixing 40g tamarind block and 60mls boiling water, then passing the paste through a sieve, leaving the seeds and fibre behind. This gave me more than I needed, but was just guess work really, this time. Next time I might try more tamarind as the spices are really powerful.

The recipe was quick to make and there were no problems along the way, although I flattened the balls of dough a little, and I think they would have been better left completely spherical.

The biscuits were delicious, although the spice levels could be a bit too much for some people - my garam masala has quite a lot of black pepper in it and this gave the biscuits quite a kick. Mixed spice might be better for the faint-hearted! I think the tamarind is lost in the amount of spice, but someone with a better palate might be able to pick it out. It's also difficult to be sure whether or not something is contributing much to the flavour unless you taste the same thing without that ingredient! They were chewy cookies rather than crisp biscuits, which isn't a problem, although Dan's description of them as 'supercharged ginger nuts' might leave expectations of crisp biscuits!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Cafe Beaujolais' Buttermilk-Cinnamon Coffeecake

I don't know where Café Beaujolais is, although I guess it's probably in Los Angeles as the original of this recipe, which I found on Food Librarian, is found in the LA Times.

The method for making this coffee cake is slightly unusual to me, as it mixes oil into the dry flour and sugar mix. I haven't seen this in a recipe before, but I've read that cakes made with oil are more tender because the oil coats the grains of flour, preventing gluten forming. This method of adding the oil to the flour certainly seems to bear this out, as the cake was very moist and tender, and very light too.

The only change I made to the recipe was to use chopped pecans in the topping, when I found that both packs of flaked almonds in the storecupboard were so far out of date that they smelled rancid! I liked the combination of pecans and cinnamon, and I'm not sure that almonds would have been better.

Also, I didn't have the right sized baking tin - I used my adjustable square cake tin, set to 11 x 10", which seemed to be the nearest equivalent. Perhaps because of this change, I found the cake took 45 minutes to cook - a little longer than suggested in the recipe.

The cake was a little too sweet for my taste, but that's about the only fault I can find with it, and I'm really pleased to have found a good coffeecake recipe made with oil.