Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lemon, Almond and Elderflower Cake

I've decided that I'm jinxed when I try any cake which includes a "whisk until pale and thick" step. I thought this one might be different because the eggs and sugar were whisked over simmering water, but once again the cake sank (or didn't rise properly) in the centre. The flavour was very good, and the texture was light and moist, and above all, even, throughout the whole cake, so it wasn't a case of underbaking and a soggy centre.

I chose this recipe from Good to Know, but replaced the Amaretto liqueur with elderflower cordial. Instead of putting flaked almonds on top before baking, I left the cake plain, then brushed with another 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial, and sprinkled lightly with demerara sugar as soon as it was removed from the oven.

The only problem with the recipe was that the cake was still very wobbly in the centre at the end of the cooking time. It needed another 10 minutes baking after the suggested 25 minutes, but was already quite dark, so needed covering with a piece of foil.

The elderflower flavour wasn't really noticeable in the finished cake, but I didn't want to add alcohol, or increase the almond flavour, in this cake.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Also known as St Phanourios's Cake, and, as it will become in my non-religious household, Greek Walnut Cake. The origins of the cake is explained in the recipe at Leites Culinaria, and it's worth following the link on that page to read the author's personal quest with the cake.

I picked out the recipe because I was looking for a cake made with oil, with a different flavour to those I've tried before. I wouldn't usually use walnuts in a cake, but FB, who dislikes most nuts, is away this week. I happened to have an opened carton of orange juice to finish up, so that provided most of the juice, although I added the juice of one fresh orange to make up the volume. As I was using an orange I thought I might as well add the zest to the cake too, rather than waste it. I had to use rum instead of brandy, as that was all I had in stock. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly, although I didn't beat the batter for 9 minutes, as I was using an electric mixer.

In my pleasure at finding a new recipe, I completely failed to notice that the cake didn't contain any eggs, until I had mixed the liquid ingredients. Too late to go back at that point! I put the cake into the oven with some trepidation, and if I had any religious leanings I might have been praying to St Phanourios that I hadn't lost my senses at that point. My only previous encounter with a cake with no eggs was a disaster that had to be thrown away, and if you've seen some of the disasters which we've still eaten, you'll realise how bad it must have been!

Thankfully all was well; the cake rose nicely and tasted much better than I expected. The richness you get with eggs and butter wasn't there, of course, and it wasn't very sweet either, but the plainess of the batter allowed the flavour of the nuts and spices to shine through. It was the kind of cake you wouldn't feel guilty about eating for breakfast!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Low Fat Chocolate Cake

Rather than my usual practise of using oil instead of butter, to make a low saturated fat cake, I thought this cake, with a low overall fat content was worth a try. Most of the butter is replaced with plum jam and skimmed evaporated milk.

Well, it was worth a try, but it probably won't be repeated! The cake was dry, with an uneven texture - full of holes and sticky areas where there were lumps of fruit in the jam. It had a pleasant enough flavour, but that flavour couldn't really be described as chocolatey!

It also used ingredients which I don't keep in stock, and I would need it to be a much nicer cake before I kept plum jam and evaporated milk at the ready in the storecupboard.

I guess if it's necessary to cut down on all fats for health reasons, then this is probably a good way to get round the problem of having cake while on a diet, but it's a step too far for us!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Blog Comments

I'm still having problems with making comments on other people's blogs. I can only leave comments on Blogger blogs if the comment box is in a separate pop-up window, not if it's embedded within the blog. So if you have a blog on my reading list, and I haven't commented recently, that may be the reason why. I'm still reading them all!

In particular I wanted to say how much I've enjoyed Kate's (from Kate's Cakes and Bakes) French Baking Month. We've had lots of holidays in France, but not the sort where I've spent time baking - this makes me wish I had!

I don't imagine I'm the only one having problems, so if any of you have noticed that the volume of  responses to your posts has fallen off, you might consider changing to a pop-up window for comments!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Chocolate Chip and Apricot Bars - 'We Should Cocoa' July

However much you like fresh ripe apricots, I'm sure you'll agree that they don't have an awfully intense flavour; they are easily overwhelmed by stronger flavours and really need pairing with something even more delicate for them to shine. For that reason I chose to use dried apricots  for July's We Should Cocoa challenge. This month the challenge to use apricots was set by Chele at Chocolate Teapot. If you would like to join in the challenge of using a specified ingredient in a chocolate product, then the rules can be found on Chocolate Log Blog.

After a rather disastrous attempt at combining apricots and chocolate into a cake, earlier in the month, I had a rethink about the kind of thing I wanted to bake and I decided to make a bar cookie. None of my recipe books, nor an online search, gave me a satisfactory result, and it didn't seem easy to incorporate dark chocolate either. In the end I amalgamated two recipes from 'The Ultimate Cookie Book' by Catherine Atkinson (currently out of print) - one for a shortbread base and one for an apricot filling - and added chocolate chips to the shortbread and an Amaretti crumb topping to the apricots, instead of the nuts used originally. I think that gives me a new recipe, so I'll write it all out here:

150g plain flour
90g unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
50g plain chocolate (85% cocoa solids) finely chopped

Apricot Filling:
175g dried apricots
250ml water
grated rind of 1 lemon
75g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour

75g crisp Amaretti biscuits, crushed to fine crumbs

Line the base of an 8" square shallow cake tin with baking parchment. If the tin is not non-stick, grease the sides with a little butter.
Preheat the oven to 180C

For the shortbread - either process the cold butter, flour and icing sugar until the mixture begins to come together as a dough, or rub the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs and can be squeezed into a dough. Add the chopped chocolate at the end of whichever process you choose and mix in.  Tip the mixture into the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly with the back of a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes until firm and just beginning to change colour. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on for the next stage. Allow the shortbread to cool for a few minutes before adding the topping.

Apricot filling - while the shortbread is cooking, put the apricots and water in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, reserving any excess liquid. Chop the apricots in a food processor - they need to be quite finely chopped, but not a purée. Return the apricots to the pan and add the lemon rind, sugar, cornflour and 4 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid. Cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.

To assemble the bars - spread the apricot mixture over the shortbread and sprinkle evenly with the Amaretti crumbs, pressing them lightly into the apricot mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes, making sure the crumb topping doesn't get to darkly browned. Cool in the tin before cutting into bars. I cut into 18 bars, but they were very small!

These bars were really delicious. The dark chocolate and bitter flavour of the Amaretti biscuits balanced the sweetness of the dried apricot filling very well, although the chocolate wasn't a dominant flavour. I was initially dubious that apricots and dark chocolate would suit each other, but they worked together well here. My only disappointment was the shallowness of each layer - the bars needed to be cut very small to keep everything in proportion. Such dainty cookies aren't really my style - or the family's - we needed to eat three or four each to feel we had really tasted them!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chocolate Mud Cake with Ganache Topping

We've been rushing around like mad things for the last week, with our normal routine thrown out of the window. Spare time completely disappeared - or, when I had it, I was too tired to do anything - so I have only been putting basic meals on the table, and have had no time for baking.

In place of my home baked cakes, cookies and desserts, I actually had to buy stuff from the supermarket! The things bought ranged from Tesco's decorated cupcakes at 4 for £1 to Waitrose de-luxe cookies at nearly 50p each. At the bottom end of the market I think the prices are cheaper than baking myself, but the quality is very variable. The decorated cupcakes were all air and no substance, in both the sponge and the buttercream, and they were very sweet too, whereas a chocolate chip brioche at a similar price was delicious, and well worth the money. When you get into the de-luxe ranges, I'm not sure whether it's cheaper to buy or home bake, but the quality is usually better than the cheaper bought goodies, and I'm guessing the price differences are marginal. I think the biggest difference is that the shop bought stuff contains a bit less of the expensive stuff than I'd use at home - less chocolate chunks and nuts in the cookies, for example

Both my son and I happened to have birthdays in the last week, and I was quite sad that I couldn't bake anything special on the right day for him (not so bothered by my own birthdays anymore - I'd rather stop counting them!). I spent most of my birthday in hospital A & E with my mother, which is probably appropriate as she spent the day of my birth in a hospital with me! Poor Mum is finding old age hitting her all at once, with bits of her body breaking down in rapid succession over the last year or so. It wasn't a fun way to spend a birthday, although there were a lot of good looking male doctors around to please my eyes!

Fortunately it's a quieter weekend, with medical duties on hold until Monday, so I had time to bake a shared birthday cake yesterday. I used this recipe from Australian Women's Weekly,  for a Chocolate Mud Cake. I used a slightly bigger baking tin, one that was 20cm square, and found the cake cooked in 1 hour and 25 minutes. The ganache split - I have a feeling what the Australians call thickened cream has something like flour or gum in it, which may stabilise it when used in ganache. I managed to rescue my ganache by adding a couple of tablespoons of sifted icing sugar, then beating like a mad thing with a rotary whisk for several minutes. Not sure this would work every time, but it saved the day here! Anyway, the fuss over the ganache meant I didn't use it as suggested in the recipe - I just spread it on top of the cake and threw on what I could find in the way of cake decorations. There wouldn't have been enough candles  in town to put on the number needed for the two of us!

I was worried that I had overbaked the cake as it looked quite dry on the outside, but cutting it open revealed the dense moist centre one associates with mud cakes. The texture wasn't really cake-like at all - more like a slightly lighter version of the fudgiest kind of brownie. Despite the amount of sugar this cake was not too sweet - the large amount of dark chocolate and additional cocoa balanced the sugar quite nicely.

Overall, a successful cake, but I wouldn't use the proportions of cream and chocolate given in the ganache recipe again. If I made it for anything other than a birthday celebration I'd probably use a fudge frosting rather than one with fresh cream, but this was one occasion where I thought the CT could forget his diet for a day or two and have a fat laden treat!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Chocolate and Apricot Bundt Cake

This cake looks better than it actually is!  You will appreciate that if you read this description from the recipe: "As it bakes the interior layers of the swirl (which is more of a layer than a true swirl) and the top of the cake caremelize and turn into delicious viens running through the cake." Now look for the interior layers in my cake!!

This was supposed to be a chocolate chip sour cream cake with three layers of chopped apricots, hazelnuts, sugar  and spices running through it. In the event, almost everything in the layers, plus all the chocolate chips, sank during cooking to produce a dense, oversweet, sticky layer at the top of the turned out cake. In addition, a lot of this sticky conglomerate stuck to the bundt tin. I had to scrape it out of the tin, spoon it back onto the top of the cake and stick it down with a chocolate frosting!

The cake is edible, and not too bad if you alternate a mouthful of the fruit, nut and chocolate mixture with a mouthful of the dense moist sour cream cake. The cake itself has a lovely texture!

I had hoped this would be my entry for July's 'We Should Cocoa' Challenge, which is to use apricots in a chocolate product, but I'm now hoping I have time to make another attempt at the challenge, as this isn't nearly good enough!

What I don't understand is why I can't tell from reading a recipe that it's not going to work! I've had enough baking experience by now, after all! I can look at a recipe and think 'I don't think I'd like that', but I can't look at it and say 'that batter will be quite thin; will it support dried fruit and chocolate chips?'

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Caramel Hazelnut Layer Cake

I found a forgotten jar of Dulce de Leche at the back of the refrigerator last week. After a few days, I decided that the only way to stop me eating banana and caramel sandwiches for breakfast was to put the caramel into a cake. This Dan Lepard recipe has been on my mind a while, but it's not really the sort of cake CT should be eating. I decided though, that it would only last a couple of days with four of us eating it, so a little treat wouldn't hurt him too much. I didn't have enough caramel for the frosting, so decided to make a small amount of Nutella buttercream, just to fill the cake.

I made this cake when Dan first published it in the Guardian, before I started writing this blog, and really liked it - I think the only thing that's prevented me making it since is that light sponge layer cakes with filling and topping aren't really my thing. They don't last long, as people eat larger pieces, and I find it a bit too much of a fuss to wait until the cake has cooled before filling and assembling it. Once in a while, they fit the bill though, and a light cake on a hot weekend seemed just right.

The cake is hardly more difficult to make than a plain Victoria Sandwich, and the amount of batter rises to completely fills two sandwich tins when cooked, to give a good deep cake after assembly. The nut flavour is well pronounced, unlike many cakes using ground nuts.

The original caramel filling and frosting is gorgeous, but the cake was very good filled with Nutella buttercream too! I beat 60g softened butter with 120g icing sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in about 100g Nutella. After filling the cake, I dusted the top lightly with icing sugar.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Gooseberry Crumble Cake

I'm so excited by my little crop of home-grown gooseberries. They are such a rare fruit these days - I think it's about 4 years since I saw any in the supermarkets, which is what prompted us to plant a couple of bushes to grow our own. This wasn't a particularly good year; it was such a dry spring that the berries were very small. Another problem we had was that the bush producing the red fruit was damaged when we had a tree felled and is taking a long time to recover, so it isn't producing as much fruit as the green-fruited bush yet.  Nevertheless, we got enough fruit for a two portion crumble (heavenly), this crumble cake and a further portion for the freezer for later use.

This cake isn't very pretty - it's not as deep as I would have liked and the top buckled where the gooseberries collapsed - but it was certainly very tasty! It's an amalgamation of a couple of recipes and my own ideas for flavouring the gooseberries and crumble topping. The sponge cake base comes from this Rachel Allen recipe; the only change I made was to use elderflower cordial instead of milk, in the batter mix. I baked it in a 9"(23cm) diameter springform tin, but I think it would have been better in an 8"(20cm) tin.

For the fruit layer, I mixed 340g (roughly 12oz)  fruit with 2 teaspoons cornflour, 1 tablespoon caster sugar and 2 tablespoons eldeflower cordial. This was spread on the uncooked sponge mix base.

The crumble topping is based on an idea from Martha Stewart website, where I first read about melting the butter for a crumble topping and then mixing in the other ingredients. The resulting soft dough is then broken up into small pieces and scattered evenly over the base layers. In this case I used 100g melted butter, 75g SR flour and 75g caster sugar, plus a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon cocoa to give some colour contrast to the crumble mix.

The cake took about an hour to bake at 180C - it was difficult to tell if it had cooked properly as the top was fluid from the hot fruit, so didn't feel firm, and a toothpick picked up moisture from the fruit.

The only disappointment was that I couldn't taste the elderflower cordial - I had used some in the gooseberry crumble I'd made the day before, with much better results. I think it was just too dilute in this cake. The cocoa and cinnamon in the crumble added just a hint of extra flavour, and the gooseberries were still wonderfully sharp. The crisp crumble topping was a good contrast to the soft sponge and moist fruit layer. This was delicious eaten warm as a dessert with vanilla yogurt or creme fraiche, or on it's own as a cake when it had cooled fully. I stored it in the fridge, but let it come up to room temperature before eating.