Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cranberry and Apricot Flapjacks

This is another variation of my basic flapjack recipe, featuring my favourite combination of dried fruit - cranberries and apricots.

This time I cut down the butter to see what effect it has. The flapjacks were crisper than usual and had a slight tendency to crumble at the edges, but overall it was an acceptable change. CT doesn't eat flapjacks, so I had no concerns about using butter in the first place. These were made primarily for FB's lunchbox - she's quite happy to make up a batch of Dan Lepard's marmalade flapjacks, when she has time, but although they are very tasty I find them a little too soft and crumbly for my taste.

200g butter, 100g golden syrup, 150g light muscovado sugar; 350g rolled oats, approx. 150g dried fruit, nuts and seeds*.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together, either in a bowl in the microwave or a pan on the hob. Remove from the heat when the butter has melted. Stir in the other ingredients. Press the mixture into a 12 x 8" tin lined with baking parchment and bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before marking into bars, but cool completely before removing from tin.

* I used 50g each of dried cranberries and chopped apricots, 20g each of chopped toasted hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds and two tablespoons of sesame seeds.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Macadamia and White Chocolate Brownies

Easter is a busy time for the conscientious cook; even if there are no visitors, the family will probably be eating more at home because of extra time off work. It didn't take long for the previous chocolate cake and the Easter Marzipan biscuits to disappear. I'm still cooking mainly low saturated fat recipes, as CT still hasn't found out his current cholesterol levels, so spent a while going through my books, and searching online, looking for something suitable. My small repertoire seems to have already encompassed versions of most of the recipes available. I eventually found this recipe for brownies in 'The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate', which differs from other recipes I've used, as it uses vegetable oil, chocolate and cocoa. The original recipe added plain chocolate and walnuts, but I decided to enhance the visual appeal, and the luxury, by using macadamia nuts and white chocolate, as well as some plain chocolate. It's no coincidence that Julian Graves had a half price sale on all it's products last week!

150g plain chocolate, melted
120ml sunflower oil
215g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
65g SR flour
60g cocoa
75g macadamia nuts, chopped
50g white chocolate, chopped
50g 60% plain chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 180C and line an 8" (20cm) square tin with parchment.
In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the melted chocolate and then beat until the mixture is smooth and amalgamated.
Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl and fold in. The mixture became quite thick at this stage.
Fold in the nuts and chopped chocolate. Transfer the batter to the baking tin and spread evenly.
Bake for about 30 minutes until a probe comes out with a few damp crumbs sticking to it. Cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

This was a dense and moist brownie with a good flavour, and a crisp flaky top. The only criticism is that the brownies became a little crumbly when they were completely cold. This recipe comes second so far, of those I've tried, behind those made with mayonnaise.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Easter Marzipan Biscuits - We Should Cocoa

Phew! Just got my entry for this month's 'We Should Cocoa' Challenge done in time! I did have my muffins to fall back on, but they were fairly ordinary and I knew I should be able to produce something better.

This month's challenge, set by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, was to use marzipan in our chocolate cooking. The rules of the challenge are also on Choclette's blog, if you want to take part in the future.

My inspiration for this recipe was taken from a book called  Biscuits, Pastries and Cookies of the World, by Aaron Maree, who seems to have been a prominent Australian chef in the early 1990s. I've never heard of him, but the photos in the book are irresistible, and the few other things I've cooked from it have been very good.

The original recipe called these biscuits Marzipan Macaroons, and made them quite a bit smaller, with apricot jam added to the centre before baking.

I was toying with the idea of just adding something chocolatey - chocolate spread or Nutella - to the centre of the small biscuits when the proximity of Easter gave me fresh inspiration. Larger biscuits would look like nests, even if a little pale in colour, and so could have chocolate eggs placed inside, as well as a chocolate centre.

I've never used marzipan in this way, although the book contains several similar recipes, and I'm not very experienced with piping, so it was a bit of a gamble as to how these would turn out. I'm pleased with the result, although I would do a couple of things differently if I made them again. My first mistake was to put the sugar coated eggs onto the hot biscuits - I wanted the melted chocolate to hold them in place. Unfortunately the heat cracked the sugar shell on most of the eggs, so they look as if hatching has started! LOL! I shoulkd have waited until the biscuits were much cooler - the chocolate would have stayed molten for quite a while. The other thing is a minor detail - I would make the biscuit bases a little thicker.

The almond flavour of the marzipan really shone through in these biscuits, and was complimented by the not too dark chocolate in the centre, as well as the crunch of the sugar coated eggs. It's good to have an Easter treat that tastes at least as good as it looks.

100g plain flour
50g icing sugar
65g unsalted butter - chopped into small pieces
1 egg yolk  - from a large egg

270g marzipan*
150g caster sugar
2 egg whites - from large eggs
finely chopped chocolate**
a pack of sugar coated chocolate eggs

* the marzipan must be good quality with a higher percentage of almonds than sugar. I use Anton Berg marzipan which is 66% almonds

** I chopped 125g of 60% chocolate to fine rubble in a food processor, but used less than half in the biscuits

Mix the flour and icing sugar in a bowl and rub in the chopped butter, as when making pastry. Mix in the egg yolk, then use your hands to bring the dough together, kneading lightly until a smooth dough is formed. Shape into a disc about 1cm thick, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Grate or crumble the marzipan into a bowl, then work in the sugar until you have a solid mass. Add the egg whites gradually, and work in, until you have a mixture of piping consistency.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Roll out the biscuit dough and cut out circles about 3"(7.5cm) in diameter. Place these on a well greased baking tray, or one lined with a parchment or silicone sheet. They don't spread much in baking, so can be quite close together. I got 12 circles, about the thickness of pastry, out of my dough, with a little waste - as I said earlier, slightly thicker biscuits would have been better.

Using a star nozzle, pipe a border of the marzipan mixture around each biscuit. Any remaining mixture can be piped directly onto a baking sheet, in finger or round shapes, to make extra macaroons.

Put a teaspoon of the chopped chocolate into the centre of each biscuit.  Bake for 10 - 15 minutes until the biscuits are cooked and the marzipan is just beginning to brown. Cool for a while then add the sugar coated eggs to the nests before the chocolate has solidified.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

After the success of the brownies made with mayonnaise, I thought it was time to try one of the cake recipes which I've had in my folder for years. The copy of this recipe from Sue Lawrence, which I have, dates from 1997, when it appeared in Sainsbury's magazine. In that recipe there was no egg and 50ml more water, but I preferred the idea of adding an egg. This was a very simple recipe to follow and gave me no problems. The only change I needed to make was to use 160g white caster sugar and 40g light muscovado sugar, as I didn't have any golden caster sugar.

I didn't want to add the lemon topping used in the recipe, so used my old stand-by for a fudgy frosting - in a bowl over hot water, melt 175g plain chocolate (I used 60%) with 30g butter, stirring occasionally. When melted, remove from the heat and beat in 2 tablespoons of golden syrup and 3 tablespoons milk. Cool until just spreadable before using, although the original Mary Berry recipe says it can be used warm as a covering glaze, when it should cling to the sides of the cake. I've never been brave enough to try this, as I picture it all running offf, leaving the cake sitting in a puddle of chocolate.

This wasn't a very deep cake, and wasn't very strongly chocolate flavoured, but it was moist, dense and had a good close texture. With a cheaper buttercream frosting or a glacé icing, it would be a good everyday cake. As it's quite firm and not oversweet, I think it would also make a good cake for novelty cakes which need cutting to shape before covering with fondant or buttercream icing.

Mayonnaise is certainly a good way to reduce the saturated fat content of a cake!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Citrus Cornmeal Cake

This is another simple cake, along the lines of a pound cake, made with olive oil rather than butter. The cake batter is flavoured with orange zest and juice, and lemon zest. To increase the sunny yellow colour, which isn't as good in the photo as in real life, I replaced 1/3 of the flour in this recipe from Mark Hix with fine cornmeal. I also made a small amount of lemon syrup with the juice of the lemon and 2 tablespoons of sugar, to pour over the hot cake, which increased the lemony flavour.

I used an 8" round tin which was almost filled with the batter, giving some cause for concern. It did mean the finished cake was nice and deep though. Using the smallest suggested tin meant the cake took a few minutes longer to cook than suggested in the recipe - I think it was in the oven for nearer to 55 minutes, before I was satisfied that the centre was cooked, and I had to cover it with foil for the last 15 minutes. It sunk slightly in the centre, but not because of under-baking - there was no change in texture through the cake, which was very light. There were arguments here as to the stronger flavour - some thought it was a lemon cake, but the orange flavour was the stronger one for others.

I kept the cake plain, because I wanted to serve it as a dessert as well as a cake, but the lemon juice could have been used to make a glacé icing rather than a syrup. As a dessert, I served it with rhubarb and thick Greek yogurt again; I'm making the most of my home grown rhubarb!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Chocolate Almond Muffins with Marzipan Streusel Topping

I intended this to be my entry for this month's 'We Should Cocoa' challenge, but I'm not entirely happy with the results, so I'll hold it as a reserve for the moment. I was quite happy with the general idea, but the muffin wasn't chocolatey enough - it needed either some plain chocolate chips or some melted chocolate added to the muffin batter. A chopped up dark Toblerone bar might have added an extra nuance to the flavour, without overpowering the almond flavour. The streusel topping, containing grated marzipan, worked very well and gave a really crisp crumble topping to the muffins.

I used Nigella Lawson's recipe for chocolate chip muffins as a guideline, as it uses vegetable oil rather than butter. Here's one online version of the recipe. Foolishly, I left out the chocolate chips, and lived to regret it. I also used SR flour instead of plain flour + baking powder, and used 200g flour and 50g ground almonds. The only other change was to add a few drops of almond extract to the liquid ingredients.

For the streusel topping, I mixed 70g plain flour, 50g demerara sugar and 75g grated white marzipan, then stirred in 55g melted butter.

When cool this was crumbled evenly over the muffin batter before baking.

The recipe worked quite well, considering muffins aren't one of my strong points, although my efforts not to overmix left a few floury patches in the muffins. I just can't get it completely right!

Because of the butter in the streusel topping, I can't really claim these are low in saturated fat, but they're not as bad as if I'd used butter in the muffin batter too! The mildness of the chocolate flavour allowed the almond flavour to come through too.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Chocolate Ripple Pound Cake - made with olive oil

This is a beautiful cake when served - I don't think I could have made the ripples this way by planning! It was also far too big for my bundt tin; when I make it again I'm going to reduce it by 20% - use 4 eggs instead of 5 and reduce everything else accordingly.The flavours are also very subtle and need a bit more oomph - it needs more orange zest  in the plain cake and more black pepper (or maybe chilli instead) in the chocolate ripples - but the texture is very good, one of the best I've achieved with a cake made with oil.

Amazingly, I was about 20 pages into a Google search before I came across this recipe by Alice Medrich, which was developed for an Olive Oil producer in California. There are other recipes on the site which seem worth exploring too.

My cake didn't look much like the one in the photo accompanying the recipe, but it certainly made up for it's deceptively plain look when cut! Because the chocolate flavoured batter was thicker and denser than the plain batter, it didn't spread out evenly on top of the plain batter when poured into the bundt pan. Instead it sank into the previous layers without getting anywhere near the sides of the pan. I was a bit worried by this at the time, but it was too late to do anything about it - next time I may make the cocoa mix a little thinner.

However, as I've said, the end result were these amazing ripples through the cake! I relieved the plainess of the outside of the cake, and covered a few patches where the tin was over-floured, with an orange flavoured glacé icing, but I think a dusting of icing sugar would have been  just as good.

With a few tweaks to the size and the flavour, this will be a really good cake. I will certainly be using the recipe again, and perhaps experimenting with different flavours. 

I used a very mild olive oil, for reasons of economy, but it might be worth making the cake with a more strongly flavoured EVOO, to see if the stronger flavour of a better oil has much impact on the cake.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

I'm finding it hard to get back into the routine of housework and cooking after my holiday, and don't yet seem to be in the mood for experimenting with new baking recipes. So for the moment I'm content to keep the 'cake tin' full with some old tried and tested favourites.

This was my second attempt at this recipe from Cookie Madness, for cookies made with oil. On my first attempt, the dough was a bit sloppy and the cookies spread too far, which I though might be down to using spelt flour and oatmeal instead of the correct ingredients. This time I used wholemeal flour and rolled oats, as stipulated in the recipe and it made a much firmer dough. I also used sunflower oil this time (75g - it's much easier to weigh it!), upped the chocolate content to 100g and used 45g dried cranberries instead of nuts.

The cookies were nice and chewy, but quite thick, so perhaps I should have flattened them a bit more. I think this is going to be a good basic dough for cookies made with oil; it will take any sort of additions in the form of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, spices and chocolate.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Orange Buttermilk Cake

The unfortunate thing about the lovely recipe for brownies made with mayonnaise is that it needs just two tablespoons of buttermilk  (or 4 if you make a double batch, as I did last week), leaving almost a whole carton to be used up elsewhere. As I also had several oranges reaching the point where they needed using, an orange and buttermilk cake seemed a good idea. It took a while to find a recipe which also used oil, but in the end, I settled for this recipe which was simple to make - the only changes I made was to use the zest of two oranges (but the juice from only one), and to use about 50ml of natural yogurt to make the buttermilk up to the correct volume.

The cake took a few minutes longer than specified to appear fully cooked, but unfortunately it still sank dramatically as it cooled. I'm not sure if it was underbaked or overmixed, but there was a dense layer where  the cake had collapsed and it had a rubbery texture which wasn't very pleasant for a cake.  However, it made a tasty dessert with the first of the rhubarb from the garden mixed with some sliced oranges, and a spoonful of Greek yogurt. Not a cake recipe to keep though!