Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pear and Ginger Cake

So many British baking bloggers seem to prefer autumn to any other season, and I'm no exception! I love using the fresh autumn fruits and nuts, and being able to bake stodgier cakes meant to be eaten in front of a cosy fire after a long walk! It's also so satisfying to use homegrown products in my baking - we've been growing vegetables for many years, but have only just started branching out into fruit production, and our own  hazelnuts are an unforseen consequence of planting an ornamental twisted hazelnut!

This cake, from the BBC Good Food site, certainly fits that bill! It's dense and moist, and flavoured with the warming spices of ginger and mixed spice. It's an unusual recipe for a cake, as it uses softened dates to provide moistness and density and some of the sweetness comes from ginger preserves. The use of dates also means that less fat can be used, which fits into my current baking style.

I used two more of the large conference pears from my mother's tree, and some fresh hazelnuts from our own tree (instead of pecans). The only other change I made to the recipe was to leave out the brandy syrup - and I don't think it was greatly missed, the cake was certainly moist enough without it.

As the website suggests, this cake makes a great dessert while still warm, but is just as good eaten cold, with or without a drizzle of fresh cream!

Even though I didn't manage to photograph the inside of this cake, due to lack of light at this time of year and a busy schedule, I'm going to enter it into the Autumnal Baking Challenge at What Kate Baked, as it's one of the best seasonal cakes I've tasted so far this year!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Little Book of Treats - Part 2

As part of the review of 'The Little Book of Treats', available exclusively from M&S Cafés and sold to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support, as part of The World's Biggest Coffee Morning,  I decided to try a couple of recipes straight away. I was a little constrained by what was already in the store cupboard, and by the fact that I'd already made a batch of our favourite low-fat brownies, for the weekend, so didn't want another chocolate bake.

My first choice was Fabulous Flapjacks, a recipe which contained a little less fat and sugar than I usually use. This used add-ins which I often use in my flapjacks - dried apricots, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds - but added orange zest and juice and some mixed spice.

The flavours worked really well together but I found the flapjacks a little too crisp for my taste, although this could be due to the 5 minutes extra baking I gave them before I got a golden colour on top. The mixture didn't really hold together well either - the downside of trying to reduce the fat and sugar, I think - so the flapjacks crumbled when eaten. I used a tangerine instead of the orange stipulated, so may have been a little short of enough orange juice, which might have contributed to the crumbliness.

This is one of my quibbles with this particular recipe - the imprecise nature of the measurements and instruction! "Add orange juice to taste" said the recipe - well how am I to know how much it needs, and whether it's a vital part of holding the ingredients together, or just a flavour addition? An instruction which makes sense to the recipe owner, who may have developed the recipe over several years of changes, may not mean much to anyone else trying the recipe, without the experience with it. I'd also much rather have weights of syrups, rather than tablespoons. It's also difficult to measure dried apricots in tablespoons! OK, they need chopping, but if I chop them first and then measure out 3 tablespoons, then I may chop too many and end up with waste. In the end I decide two apricots would fill a tablespoon, so chopped 7 of them (one for luck!).

The recipe - melt 125g butter in a pan, adding 60g unrefined demerara sugar (I used light muscovado) 1 tablepoon of golden syrup and 1 1/2 tablepoons of honey. Stir in 250g porridge oats, 3 tablespoons chopped dried apricots, 3 tablespoons dried cranberries, 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, 1 teaspoon of mixed spice, 1 teaspoon salt (I left this out as I used salted butter) and the zest of an orange. Finally stir in the juice of the orange, to taste. Spoon the mixture into a shallow base-lined 20 x 18cm tin (I used a 20cm square tin, lined with baking parchment), press down firmly and bake at 180C for 20 minutes or until golden on top. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out and cut into squares. (I marked the flapjack into squares while still warm, then cooled in the tin, as I usually do!)

The second recipe I chose was Butterscotch Apple Meringue, a dessert of apples cooked in a butterscotch sauce and topped with meringue before baking. This was pleasant enough to eat, but lacked any textural contrast. It would have been more than twice as good in a crisp pastry case! We ate it still slightly warm from the oven, but I thought it was better the next day, after a night in the fridge, when the apple flavour was more pronounced.

The recipe - Preheat the oven to 150C. Cook 450g (weight before peeling and chopping) of chopped cooking apples in a little water, until tender, then drain. Blend 40g cornflour with a little of the milk from 450mls. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil with 1 tablespoon golden syrup, 50g light muscovado sugar and 25g butter. Add to the cornflour mixture then return to the pan and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons single cream and two egg yolks, then remove from the heat before the mixture boils again. Fold in the cooked apples and pour into an oven proof serving dish (you need a pie or flan dish about 20cm in diameter). Whisk the 2 egg whites until stiff then whisk in most of 100g caster sugar (I whisked in about 2/3). Gently fold in the rest of the sugar, then spread the meringue over the apple mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the meringue is crisp and golden. Serve hot or cold.

NB - I received a free copy of The Little Book of Treats, from Macmillan Cancer Support,  but have tried to give an impartial review of the book, and the recipes I've tried.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Little Book of Treats - Part 1

The 'World's Biggest Coffee Morning' is an annual fundraising event run by Macmillan Cancer Support. This year the event is in it's 21st year, and will be held on Friday 30th September. For the second year running, Marks and Spencer is Macmillan's official partner and will be helping to raise money in several ways detailed below.

The aim of the coffee morning is to encourage people to take time out together with friends, relatives and colleagues over a coffee, and help raise £8.5 million to support much needed funds for Macmillan's vital work to help improve the lives of people affected by cancer.

As part of their support, Marks and Spencer are selling, in the M&S Café, the exclusive Macmillan's 'Little Book of Treats' (£3) which features recipes from supporters and celebrities, including celebrity cooks Gwyneth Paltrow, Sophie Dahl, Eric Lanlard, Lorraine Pascale and Antonio Carluccio, with all proceeds going directly to Macmillan. Until 4th October, they are also donating 10p of the sale price of a range of products to Macmillan, and for every coffee sold on 30th September, an additional 50p will be donated.

It's probably too late to organise your own coffee morning by now, but you can find one to attend locally on the Macmillan's website, or you can have a coffee break in an M&S Café, and/or buy The Little Book of Treats

I have been sent a free copy of the book to review by Michael at Macmillan Cancer Support, but I am giving an unbiased opinion:

This little book contains 31 recipes, covering a wide range of baking, most being suitable for beginners but some a little more challenging. Amongst the ubiquitous fairy cakes, victoria sponges and Lemon Drizzle Cakes there were a few recipes which caught my eye - Red Velvet Cupcakes from Eric Lanlard, where the rich colour comes from vinegar and bicarbonate of soda reacting together (no added colour), which are then decorated with a cooked buttercream based on a roux sauce, some crumbly piped Polenta Biscuits from Antonio Carluccio, plus several brownie recipes!

I'm not sure an experienced and dedicated baker will find much new here, but even one new recipe that you bake again and again is worth the price of a book, and in this case the profits are going to a very good cause!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Chocolate and Pear Upside Down Pudding

This was a quick mid-week dessert, to use up a couple of pears from my mother's tree. She picked them while they were still hard, and it's always risky leaving pears to ripen - so often they rot from the core outwards. I chose this recipe because it used oil in the cake batter, and a lot of chocolate! The cake batter was quick to mix together, as it was just a case of dissolving the sugar into the wet ingredients and mixing the liquid into the other dry ingredients.

This pudding was delicious, although it doesn't make a very pretty picture! I think it would have been better if the pears were riper - or cooked a little first, before using them in the cake. It seemed to me that the caramel sauce needed some juice from the pears for it to work properly. Either that, or the proportions of butter and brown sugar weren't quite right. As it was, the topping was still a little granular when the cake was un-moulded, although the excess sugar eventually dissolved in the molten chocolate.

The dessert was good served warm from the oven, but just as nice eaten cold the next day.

As my pears were unripe, and I only had two large fruit, I sliced them thinly and still had enough to cover the base of a 23cm pan. If making it again with ripe or tinned pears, I would use more and slice them more thickly, as in the recipe.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Happy 1st Birthday, We Should Cocoa!

This month's 'We Should Cocoa' challenge was to produce something suitable for a virtual 1st birthday party, as the challenge itself is now a year old. In the past, my novelty birthday cake making has been almost legendary (within the family!) - dinosaurs, volcanos, a TARDIS and daleks, ladybirds etc have all been produced at party times, but I think my family would have been a little shocked to find something like that in the cake tin, for no real reason! Happily, Dom at Belleau Kitchen has made a wonderful cake, which has taken the virtual pressure off the rest of us.

I still racked my brain for ages trying to think of something suitable for both adults and small children - my best idea was biscotti with just chocolate chips for the children and added nuts and dry fruit for the adults - but the thought of making them didn't really enthuse me. I don't know what flash of inspiration put Jaffa Cakes into my mind, but once it was there, it was stuck! As well as being loved by children and adults alike, these cakes (or biscuits, if you want an argument! LOL!) would also challenge my baking skills as I'm not very confident about adding chocolate coatings to things. Never mind how messy a small child would get eating one - it would be the same with anything covered in chocolate.

I can't imagine anyone not knowing what a Jaffa Cake is, but for the uninitiated, it's a small fat-free, fairly dry, sponge cake disc topped with a circle of orange flavoured jelly. The top is then coated with chocolate to enclose the jelly.

The best recipe I found, one on the BBC from Simon Rimmer, used jelly for the topping - many just put a blob of marmalade on top of the cake discs. Commercial jelly blocks are not suitable for vegetarians, so that might be one reason it's not used in recipes, but it does give the cakes a more authentic look and taste experience.

The recipe was fairly easy to follow, although I had a heart-stopping moment when it looked as if all the sponge discs were going to stick to the muffin pan. Each individual stage was quite quick too, with just the assembly taking time, as it was quite fiddly and needed a great amount of care.

I'm quite pleased with the results, although I think the chocolate coating was too thick, which unbalanced the flavour a little. The sponge cake part was quite bland and not as sweet as I remember the real thing. (The photo of the cut cake isn't very good, as the chocolate hadn't quite set, but it does show how thick the chocolate was in relation to the sponge and jelly layers!)

The cakes had a mixed reception from the others - Hubs didn't really like them, but CT did, and was quite disappointed when I said it was a one-off experiment not likely to be repeated. The main reason for saying that is that it took 4 passes through the washing-up bowl to clean off the stuck-on layer of cake crumbs from the muffin pan, which was supposed to be non-stick! If I make them again, I need a silicone baking mould, I think - a good excuse for buying one anyway.

If you'd like to join in with future We Should Cocoa challenges, the rules can be found on Choclette's Chocolate Log Blog. Choclette shares host duties for the challenge with Chele at Chocolate Teapot, and it is Chele who has set this month's challenge, which means she will be giving us the round-up of entries towards the end of the month - I guess she will have to clear up after the party too!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Spiced Apple and Ginger-wine Loaf

I had planned to spend a quiet afternoon working on my entry for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, but the internet was down and I couldn't get to the recipe I'd picked out - I hope now that I have enough time before the deadline to have another go - a whole afternoon free is a rarity these days!

Fortunately I had saved this Diana Henry recipe, published recently in the Telegraph, as a .pdf file, so had a fall-back position to make sure there was actually something to eat. It's a fairly straightforward recipe, and I didn't have any problems following it. The loaf tin size specified is a standard 2lb loaf tin. I didn't have a Cox apple so used a Jazz apple for the decoration as they have a lovely coloured skin.

The recipe makes a moist but not too heavy cake, subtly flavoured with the ginger wine and spices. We all enjoyed eating the cake but didn't really like the fresh fruit topping - not sure why really, as it looked very pretty. Perhaps that was the problem - it looked nice but didn't add anything to the enjoymernt of eating the cake - we're more concerned with flavour than looks, most of the time. I think it might have made a nicer cake if the eating apple was finely chopped and mixed into the cake batter, or the slices put on top of the raw batter and baked into the cake.

One other potential problem with the fresh apple slices on top is that they may not keep as well as the cake, so I think it's probably best to use them only if you expect the cake to be eaten all at once. I took the slices off after I'd cut the first slices of cake, so that they did not spoil the leftovers. If you do try the decoration, make sure the apple slices are really dry before you drizzle over the icing, or the moisture will soon dissolve the icing sugar and spoil the appearance.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Orange and Blueberry Muffins

You know that me and muffins don't get along, so I surprised even myself when I decided to make these muffins, from Dom at Belleau Kitchen, as soon as I saw the recipe. This is a recipe that Dom's mum picked up from the chef when she was at the Peregrine Inn in Yosemite, California - she's a determined lady when she wants a recipe, apparently!

Surprise number two was that the recipe worked really well, although I didn't do it full justice, as I couldn't find any nuts to make the topping. That was surprise number three - that I'd let the baking store cupboard run down - not like me at all!

Unlike Dom, I did have some rolled oats that I could use, so apart from the topping and reducing the salt a little, I followed the recipe exactly, although the muffins took 20 minutes to bake with my oven set to 180C fan. This was a big recipe - I made 22 muffins, although the last two didn't have their fair share of blueberries - the fruit I bought was quite large (especially compared to frozen blueberries) so I wished I'd added a few extra. I sprinkled demerara sugar on the top of the muffins before baking, to give a textural contrast, but I really think they needed the topping given in the recipe, as the flavour was pleasant, but a little bland, without it.

As I said, the recipe worked very well to give light muffins with a close crumb. The oats really weren't evident in the texture, which was another surprise! The flavour was quite delicate, but would have been improved by the walnuts and cinnamon in the intended topping. I think this is a muffin recipe which could easily be varied by using different fruit juices, spices and added fruit - apple and blackberry springs to mind. As it's one of the most successful muffin recipes I've tried, and it fits into my 'low saturated fat' baking scheme, I'm sure I'll be using it again, so thanks to Dom and his intrepid mother for sharing the recipe!

I'm not going to copy out the recipe - you can visit Belleau Kitchen for that, from the link above - but as an aide memoire I'm going to list the metric weights/volumes of ingredients I used (or should have) after converting from cups:

  • 100g rolled oats
  • 250ml orange juice
  • 375g plain flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (reduced from original recipe)
  • 250ml sunflower oil
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 225g blueberries
  • finely grated zest of medium orange
  • 70g sugar for topping
  • 50g finely chopped nuts for topping
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon for topping

Monday, 5 September 2011

Chocolate and Marzipan Yogurt Cake

Another outing for the basic yogurt/oil cake recipe, this time with added 85% plain chocolate and chunks of marzipan. The bittter dark chocolate was a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the marzipan, and as usual the cake had a moist but not dense texture.

The method has been simplified as far as possible too, including weighing the oil and yogurt:
  • Weigh the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly
  • Weigh the wet ingredients into a bowl or jug, and beat together lightly
  • Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just amalgamated
  • Fold in any lumpy additions such as nuts and chocolate chunks
  • Spread evenly in a 2lb loaf tin or 8" diameter springform tin and bake at 180C for 50 or so minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean
I'm never without enough storecupboard ingredients to make this cake, and without having to wait for butter to soften it is very quick to assemble and get into the oven.

The ingredients for this cake were
170g plain flour
30g cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
100g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
250g low fat yogurt
110g light olive oil
3 large eggs
75g plain chocolate (85%), chopped finely
125g white marzipan, chopped into small chunks - 2/3 mixed into cake batter, 1/3 scattered on top of cake before baking.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Autumn Plum Crunch Cake

I love Autumn baking. Plums, apples and pears and their natural association with spices and nuts suits my style of baking much more than trying to use the delicate summer berries. Those are best eaten as simply as possible and are often spoiled by cooking into cakes, I feel. Heavier cakes, packed with fruit and nuts, are also more in tune with the cooling days

This cake is very similar in outcome to Dan Lepard's Stone Fruit Yogurt Cake, but it wasn't quite as successful. My main mistake was to misunderstand the nature of the topping - I thought it was a syrup drizzle, but I think it was supposed to be more of an icing, to help stick down the crunchy sugar topping.  I cut down the sugar to make a drizzle to soak in and also added more fruit to the batter, which I think would have been OK without the extra fruit juice soak. The combination of the two was just too much moisture, and resulted in a soggy cake - fine for a dessert, but not good for a cake. The batter was also too thin to support the slices of fruit on top, and these sank into the sponge as it cooked. This might have been down to the size of my eggs, so I think I'd leave out the orange juice next time, if using large eggs.

The flavour was lovely, but the overall concept needs more work, although FB says she has made the cake with more visual success than I had - meaning the plum slices stayed on top! It would have been far too sweet for my tastes if I had used all the sugar in the topping, so I'm glad I did cut that down! I think making Dan's cake with plums and orange zest would be a better option, especially if you sliced the plums neatly to look good when the cake was turned out.

The recipe comes from the Good Food publication '101 Cakes and Bakes' but unfortunately isn't available on the Good Food website.

140g softened butter
140g golden caster sugar (I used 110g caster sugar and 30g light muscovado sugar)
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
pinch salt
140g SR flour
the finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
200g plums, destoned, half cut into wedges, half roughly chopped (I used 4 large plums which weighed in at 350g; 200g looked a totally inadequate amount for a good flavour)

200g caster sugar (I used only 70g)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
 4 or 5 brown sugar cubes, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 160C and prepare a 2lb loaf tin.
Lightly beat the eggs and the egg yolk with a pinch of salt
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, adding a little of the flour if the mixture looks like curdling.
Fold in the rest of the flour with the orange zest and 2 tablespoons of the orange juice.
Gently mix in the chopped fruit.
Transfer the mixture to the loaf tin and spread evenly.
Scatter the plum wedges on top.
Bake for about 50 minutes until firm and golden ( mine took 60 minutes to cook!)
Cool for ten minutes in the tin.

At this point the original method turned out the cake onto a wire rack, and poured over a topping made by mixing the 200g caster sugar with the lemon juice and the rest of the orange juice, then sprinkling over the crushed sugar cubes. I left the cake in the tin, pricked the top with a cocktail stick and poured over the topping I had made with less sugar, before sprinkling over the crushed sugar pieces. I then left the cake to cool in the tin and soak up the juices.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sticky Gingerbread

This is another slightly adapted version of this gingerbread recipe, made with oil, from the Australian website Taste. I made this a while ago and added stem ginger and candied orange peel to the mix, but the batter was too thin to support any solid additions and it all sank to the bottom.

This time there were no additions, but I replaced roughly 25% (70g out of 300g) of the golden syrup with black treacle to give a darker cake. This worked very well - the colour was much better and the cake got nicely sticky on the top after the first day.

This is a really light cake - the only downside really, as I prefer gingerbread to be a bit denser in texture. It's well flavoured and not oversweet, despite the amount of sugar in the recipe. It's very quick to make too, so good for days when you're in a hurry and just want something simple to fill the cakebox.