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.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Pretty New Things!

New is a relative term for some of these - the three small plates were picked up at a local Antiques Fair. I'm guessing that they are all pre-1950s.

 When we got home from the Antiques Fair - hot and tired after the hottest September day on record - a mysterious parcel was waiting for me. I wasn't expecting anything, and couldn't initially find any trace of the sender on the box. Inside, well padded with bubble wrap, was another box and still no sign of a sender. This box revealed the lovely cake stand in the photo - a limited edition for Waitrose in celebration of Summer 2011. I vaguely remember entering a few competitions on the Waitrose website - this must have been from one of them, although I would have expected an email to let me know it was on the way.

It will take a lot of baking to fill such a large cakestand, although it could be assembled with just two tiers if necessary.