Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Passion Cake

If. like me, you haven't had any really good experiences with Vegan cakes, or you are just prejudiced against them for some reason, then I urge you to give Dan Lepard's recipe  for Chocolate Passion Cake a try. It's certainly made me adjust my ideas about baking cakes without eggs; until now I haven't baked anything that I'd really want to make again, and at least one attempt at a  vegan chocolate cake has ended in the bin, with no-one wanting to eat it.

Here, the addition of the other ingredients - date purée, carrots, nuts and spices - hides the blandness that is present in a lot of cakes made using neither eggs nor butter. Both the texture and the flavour is much improved - I would willingly put this cake up against a conventional carrot cake and defy anyone to notice that it was a vegan version!

This is a cake which I would happily make again, even if I didn't need a vegan cake (I didn't need one this time - I was just browsing Dan's book, Short and Sweet, for a cake recipe with either oil, or only a small amount of butter). It was light and moist and packed with a whole bunch of flavours - nuts and spices as well as chocolate. If I have one criticism it's that it's a little on the delicate side - it has a tendency to crumble rather than slice neatly. In addition, I wasn't completely happy with the spice flavour; although it wasn't bad, I think it might be better to use just cinnamon, rather than the stipulated mix of ginger and mixed spice.

Even CT, who has always maintained that he didn't like carrot cake, was happy to eat this! I thought about not telling him there were carrots there, as I had grated them finely, and they couldn't be seen in the dark coloured crumb, but I owned up before he ate any. His acceptance made me wonder if I ought to tell him about the beetroot in the chocolate cake a few weeks ago, which he ate quite happily, if unknowingly, even though he refused to try the Cherries, Berries and  Beetroot cake I made a few days later, because I had to tell him what the pink flecks were!

I didn't change anything in the cake recipe, but I did make a different frosting - my usual fudge frosting (see this recipe) which has less sugar than glacé icing. As I don't have a large food processor, I used a stick blender to purée the dates and blend in the oil and vinegar to make an emulsion. This appears to have been an acceptable way of doing things. I chopped the dates and nuts in a mini processor, but I processed the nuts for slightly too long - I should have stopped while the pieces were a bit larger. The recipe appears complicated on first reading, but the cake was really quick to put together and baked quite fast too.

Apologies for the picture quality - I had the usual problems with making brown cakes look attractive!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hazelnut Praline Muffins

This recipe comes from a little book called the 'Muffin Bible', which I found recently in a charity shop. Some of my best books have been bought second hand in this way, and most of them look as if they have never been opened, let alone any of the recipes used. It's obviously where impulse buys after TV series, and Christmas presents, end up after a year or two!

Up to now, I haven't been that keen on muffin recipes, but I'm growing a little fonder of them now that I'm baking more with oil instead of butter - they are quick to mix and cook when other tasks, away from the kitchen, seem more pressing. The book turned out to be an Australian publication from Penguin, and the recipes, including several for savoury muffins, are written in a quirky mix of weights and volumes in the same recipe - half a cup of sugar, but 50g of chopped chocolate, for instance. This recipe for Hazelnut Praline Muffins is the first I've tried, although several more are bookmarked!

For this recipe I had to make praline, which was a first for me - the recipe called for boiling sugar and chopped nuts together, until the sugar was melted and golden brown. I could smell the nuts getting overheated long before the sugar showed signs of melting, so cautiously added a couple of tablespoons of water to slow the heating and start to dissolve the sugar prior to caramelising it. This seemed to work OK, although the proportion of nuts to sugar was so high it was difficult to see the colour of the liquid sugar. My guess at the endpoint worked for this praline, but I'm not sure it would have been right for making a caramel!

The muffins weren't much to look at, but they made up for this with the little pockets of praline, which gave bursts of nutty flavour and crunchy texture when eaten. The caramelised sugar really intensified the flavour of the hazelnuts. They didn't rise a lot, either, so I think it would have been better to make 10 larger muffins than try to squeeze 12 out of the batter.

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts - I used ready toasted nuts
1/2 cup sugar
80mls sunflower oil
150g caster sugar
1 egg
150mls milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
demerara sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Make a praline from the chopped nuts and first quantity of sugar - boil them gently together until golden brown, and allow to cool on greased foil. Break into pieces then crush into smaller pieces with a rolling pin.
Whisk the oil, second quantity of sugar, milk, egg and vanilla in a large bowl then add the flour, baking powder and praline and mix lightly until just combined.
Divide between 12 muffin cases, sprinkle with demerara sugar, if using, and bake at 190C for about 20 minutes.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Blueberry Traybake with Lemon Streusel

I didn't really follow the recipe at all, except as a guide to quantities, but this cake was inspired by this recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. I just loved the idea of candied lemon pieces in the Streusel topping, and blueberries and lemon are a classic combination.

To keep the cake low(ish) in saturated fat, I used my standard recipe for a yogurt and oil cake, although I did keep the butter in the streusel topping. I read on one of the blogs featuring the same cake that there was an awful lot of streusel crumbs, so I reduced it to a half quantitiy, then wished I hadn't, as it didn't cover the blueberries well enough and the cake rose around the little lumps of streusel. I also made the streusel  by my favoured method of melting the butter and mixing it with the other ingredients - this ensures the streusel isn't powdery at all.

This was a really good cake, and it would also make a tasty dessert if served still warm. It was very moist from the blueberry juice and the little pockets of crunchy lemon streusel gave a lovely contrast in flavour and texture. What started off as a potential problem - not enough streusel - ended up being a positive feature of the cake! It was also just the right size for the four of us to eat in two days - one problem with fresh fruit cakes is that they don't keep long, especially in the sort of unexpectedly hot weather we're having at the moment.

Streusel - 75g plain flour
50g light muscovado sugar (or demerara for more crunch)
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied lemon peel
a few drops lemon extract
grated zest of half a lemon
75g butter, melted
Cake - 200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g caster sugar
250g low fat natural yogurt
115g sunflower oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g frozen blueberries

Pre-heat oven to 180C and line a 12 x 8" (30 x 20cm) shallow baking tin with parchment.
Make the streusel by mixing the melted butter into the other ingredients and leaving to cool. It will be one big lump at this stage, but will crumble nicely when it's cool.
Make the cake by mixing the flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the yogurt, sunflower oil, eggs and vanilla together until emulsified, then mix into the flour. Don't overmix - just stir briskly until there are no signs of dry flour.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, then scatter the frozen blueberries evenly over the surface.
Crumble the streusel topping evenly over the surface, then bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean. Cool in the tin

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Mocha Traybake

There are two ways to use coffee and chocolate together in cakes - one is to use a little coffee to deepen the flavour of the chocolate, which often means the coffee isn't detectable in the flavour, and the other is to use more coffee and less chocolate to make a cake which tastes of the coffee as much as the chocolate. The second is what I tried to do here. The flavour was successful, but the grated chocolate that I added to the batter disappeared during baking, so I didn't get the flecky appearance I was hoping for. I was worried that the very wet batter wouldn't support chocolate chips, but my grated chocolate was too fine and melted into the batter.

This was yet another adaptation of this Annie Bell recipe, which is the nearest I've come to getting the texture of a sponge cake, using oil instead of butter. In this case, I left out all the lemon flavouring and dissolved 3 teaspoons of instant coffee in the milk before mixing the batter. I then folded in 30g grated plain chocolate before baking.

For the topping I made my favourite chocolate fudge frosting - melt 175g plain chocolate and 30g butter over a low heat, then beat in 2 tablespoons golden syrup and 3 tablespoons milk, leave to cool but use while still spreadable - and finished off with a light sprinkle of 'cappuccino pearls'.

Note added 23rd March: At Baking Addict's suggestion I am entering this in the AlphaBakes Challenge, a new monthly baking challenge hosted alternately by The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes. Caroline is hosting this month and the letter M has been randomly chosen. M for Mocha, obviously!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cherries, Berries and Beetroot Cake

This could almost have been a Random Recipe - I'd love to enter Dom's monthly challenge, but I couldn't do it honestly and still stick with the baking theme of the blog. I'd have to tidy rearrange my bookshelves to put all the baking books in one place first. The randomness comes from the fact that I wasn't looking for a cake recipe - I picked up Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet to check the recipe for Lemon and Almond buns, and it fell open at the page for Cherry Beet Cake (here's the same recipe from the Guardian).

I had half a pack of beetroot left over from the recent chocolate beetroot cake, and had recently stocked up with a pack of dried Berries and Cherries, and  Bonne Maman Berries and Cherries jam. They sounded like a good enough substitute for sour cherries and cherry jam, to me. No fresh cream for the filling, but it looked the sort of sturdy cake which would cope with a cream cheese frosting used as a filling.

There were no problems with the recipe, except that I thought there was far too much streusel topping, and only used about half of it, which gave an even coating on the top of one layer - any more and I don't think it would have stuck in place during baking.

The batter was a lovely pink colour after mixing, and I although was a little disappointed that it turned brown when cooked, there were still pink flecks of grated beetroot visible. This is how I like to see a beetroot cake - the beet itself playing a visible part in the proceedings, rather than hidden behind chocolate!

This was a solid, quite dry cake, and definitley needed the jam and cream cheese  filling. I used cooked beetrrot, and it might be that raw beetroot would make a moister cake. The flavour of the spices were predominant - the family thought it was a very Christmassy cake, and Hubs said it tasted like mince pies! The jam and the lemon in the cream cheese filling added a zing and a touch of  freshness to the flavour.

The recipe for the cream cheese frosting was also from Short and Sweet - I made a half quantity with 200g cream cheese, 100g unsalted butter, 100g icing sugar, the grated zest of half a small lemon and a teaspoon of lemon juice. The recipe advised to beat half the cream cheese with the other ingredients first, then beat in the rest of the cream cheese. I don't know if it was the addition of the lemon, or the proportions of cheese, butter and sugar, but this was one of the best cream cheese frostings I've ever made. It stayed thick and even set to hold it's shape - the photo shows an extra helping of the frosting beside the cake (in case I hadn't put enough in as filling, you understand!)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Beetroot and Chocolate Cake

This is another Good Food recipe, this time one recommended by Foodycat (or should that be Mr Foodycat?).  It has the features I need in a chocolate cake - dark, moist and low in saturated fat. It wasn't quite as easy for me as the 'blitz and bake' technique described in the recipe, as I don't have a large food processor, but it was fairly simple to make in a bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, once the beetroot was puréed in my mini-chopper.

Or, it should have been fairly simple! I had carefully lined my deep loaf tin and scraped all the batter in; the cake had even been in the oven 5 minutes before I realised I'd forgotten to add the baking powder! My language would have disgraced a gang of navvies! Out the tin came from the oven. the batter was scraped back into the mixing bowl, and the baking powder was stirred in as quickly and thoroughly as possible. By now, the lining paper and the baking tin were a real mess, and the only option was to quickly line an alternative loaf tin. This was much longer and shallower than the one I intended to use, and I think in the end this resulted in the cake being a little over-cooked, as I didn't take the shape into account, and reduce the cooking time. But at least it rose!

I took note of some of the comments saying how bitter the cake was, so used milk chocolate chunks to add to the cake, as the only alternative I had available was quite strong and dark.

I have tried another recipe using beetroot in a chocolate cake - it was raw beetroot in that recipe - and once again I found that I didn't notice any flavour from the beetroot at all. Puréeing cooked beetroot meant that there wasn't even the texture of grated vegetable in the cake, as there was in the other cake. This cake wasn't quite as rich, but it was much more economical than the first recipe I tried. This is quite a good chocolate cake, but I prefer beetroot cakes to have more evidence of the beetroort - even if it means leaving out the chocolate!  Here, the beetroot seems an unnecessary gimmick, although I guess it helps retain moisture and adds to the sweetness in a natural way.

One point which I thought quite important - with some oil based cakes there's a certain blandness which tells you the cake is made with oil rather than butter, but that wasn't noticeable here.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Orange Drizzle Cake

Once in a while I go to the Good Food website and put 'cake' into the recipe search. I then tick the box to order the search to show the most recently added recipes first. This is how I found this recipe for a 'light' version of the classic Lemon Drizzle Cake, made with oil and yogurt instead of butter. It also contains ground almonds and polenta to add to the texture and improve the moistness. I didn't have lemons available but did have oranges - I used the zest of two small oranges in the cake, along with a teaspoon of orange extract. I didn't want the full volume of syrup to drizzle over, either, so used a syrup adapted from another recipe - 2 tablespoons of golden syrup blended with the juice of one orange.

The recipe was simple to follow and there were no problems in mixing or baking. After I removed the cake from the oven, I didn't think it had risen much. Worried that it would be too heavy, I made a berry compote and whipped some cream to serve with the cake as a dessert.

I needn't have worried; although the cake hadn't risen as much as I expected, the texture was still very good. It's wasn't really light - more like a madeira cake than a sponge, and not as light as this Annie Bell recipe, also made with oil,  for a lemon drizzle traybake. However, I like the texture of cakes made with polenta and ground almonds, so it was good to find another successful recipe to add to my repertoire. I think this would make a good everyday cake, without any extra syrup added after baking.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Pistachio Chocolate Ripple Cake - We Should Cocoa

Green is not a common natural colour for many baking ingredients. When you read that green and blue are two of the colours that are most likely to make people reject manufactured food, it's not surprising that there isn't much green around - apparently green and blue are associated with mould! So, when Chele at Chocolate Teapot set the theme of 'green' for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, in honour of St Patrick's day on March 17th, there weren't going to be many options available to me. In the end, it came down to mint or pistachio. Whilst I love the mint and chocolate combination in confectionary, I'm not too keen on it in baking, for some reason. You are welcome to call me contrary!

So, the decision to use pistachio nuts was made for me. I don't often make big cakes for We Should Cocoa, but on this occasion I decided to adapt the Alice Medrich Ripple Cake recipe that I've used several times before. It's a well-textured pound cake which has proved quite versatile in the past. It almost always ripples prettily during baking without any help from me - the swirls in the layers occur during baking.

This time, as well as reducing the size of the cake by 20%, to better fit my bundt tin, I exchanged some of the flour for ground almonds, reduced the proportion of the chocolate ripple, and added chopped pistachios, chocolate nibs and a little green colouring to the cake batter.

The results were very pleasing, although reducing the proportion of the chocolate ripple cut down on the chocolate flavour a bit too much. I did it to make the cake look more green for the challenge, but I think if I make this again I will go back to the original larger chocolate layers. I have to confess that I had to edit the photos a little to try to make the cake look as green as it was in real life - you may call it cheating, but I blame the camera for not capturing the colour properly!

3 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons water

270g plain flour
50g ground almonds
scant 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
320g caster sugar
200mls sunflower oil
4 cold eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200mls cold milk
50g chopped pistachio nuts
25g cocoa nibs
green food colouring

Preheat oven to 180C and prepare a 10-cup bundt tin.
In a small bowl, mix the first 3 ingredients to a smooth paste.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, and whisk in the ground almonds to distribute evenly.
Beat the sugar, oil and vanilla extract until amalgamated.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, then continue beating with an electric whisk for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale and thick.
Reduce the speed of the whisk to slow and mix in the flour mixture and the milk in alternate portions, whisking only enough to incorporate the flour properly.
Weigh 300g of the batter into a small bowl and stir in the cocoa mixture.
Add green food colouring to the plain batter to taste, then stir in the nuts and cocoa nibs.
Layer the batters alternately in the bundt tin, 1/3 of each at a time, starting with the green batter.
Bake the cake for 60minutes, or until a test probe is clean, then cool in the tin for 15minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Dust heavily with icing sugar before serving.

We Should Cocoa is a monthly challenge co-hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot and Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog. Each month participants are given an ingredient (or method) which must be used in a chocolate product. The full rules are available here if you would like to join in.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Parsley Cheese Scones - a Tea Time Treat

I've nothing against a good scone, but they are not something that I bake regularly. For one thing, I like to bake things that can be eaten over several days, and most scones are best fresh out of the oven, or at the very least, eaten the same day. For another, a fresh plain scone is a delight, but only when smothered with butter or jam and clotted cream - not really everyday eating. Lastly, and even more important, even if jam and cream were liberally available every day, scones aren't really the sort of thing the rest of the family like to eat.

So when Karen at Lavender and Lovage set the challenge of producing sweet or savoury scones for this month's Tea Time Treats, I decided to look for something different. Savoury scones appealed to me, although I wasn't sure how well they would fit into a traditional afternoon tea. I also feel that the monthly baking events which I take part in should be a spur for me to make it a real challenge and try something different - a new flavour or technique - so after a lot of searching, I decided to try this recipe for Parsley Cheese Scones from Dan Lepard, not least because it started by making porridge!

Dan promises the recipe is lower in fat and bigger in flavour, fibre and moistness than standard recipes. I'm not sure about the fat, as there was more cheese than I've seen in most recipes, but he used some oil and buttermilk, rather than butter, to reduce the fat a little, and the recipe lived up to the other promises. One of the good things about them was that they kept fresh for at least three days!

Unusually for one of Dan's recipes, I found that by the time I got to the last stage of mixing, I still had a bowlful of cheesey crumbs. Something wrong, somewhere! I had to add 6 tablespoons of milk to bring the ingredients together into a soft dough, which is quite a lot of liquid missing from the original recipe! I think I overdid the milk a little, because the dough was slightly too soft to cut well - the cutter left the scones slightly domed on top which meant they didn't bake to a good shape.

In the scheme of things, the shape didn't really matter as the great flavour more than made up for any shortcomings in the looks department. These scones were rich and moist with a strong flavour of the main ingredients - cheese and parsley. They were delicious still warm from the oven, lucious with melting butter, but they were also good eaten at room temperature. One way of eating them, which would be good at Tea Time, was with smoked salmon, but at other times of the day they would be good as an accompaniment to soup.

Tea Time Treats is a monthly baking challenge co-hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and Kate at What Kate Baked. The full rules can be found here, if you are interested in taking part.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Macaroon Cakes

This was another case of seeing a recipe and wanting to make it immediately! It was a little naughty of me, as the cakes contain butter, but I thought it was quite a small proportion compared to the amount usually in cakes of this type. Of course, there was the double cream too.......

Anyway,  the recipe is published in the March issue of the Waitrose Kitchen magazine as a Mother's Day treat - see here. There's no chance of me getting a Mother's Day treat unless I bake it myself, so why wait? The method is very similar to Dan's much loved Chocolate Custard Muffins, in that a cocoa based custard is made first, to which the other ingredients are added. The topping of crushed Amaretti biscuits was inspired - I love crunchy streusel toppings on cakes and this was an instant way of achieving one. I used 60g of the tiny ratafia biscuit to top twelve buns.

Of course, things rarely go smoothly, and I found I was short of a few muffin cases. I used squares of baking parchment instead, and although I liked the visual effect, working with pieces of paper which don't want to hold their folded shape and keep trying to spring flat again was quite frustrating. Fortunately there were only four of them, or the cake batter might have ended up on the kitchen walls.

The finshed cakes were richly chocolatey, dense and moist. They were unlike either spongey cupcakes or muffins - more like a cakey brownie, or the best sort of rich chocolate cake. The ground almonds in the cake mixture add nicely to the almondy flavour of the topping. This recipe is one to try for those not keen on muffins or over-frosted cupcakes, I think. I'll definitely be making them again for special occasions.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Eggless (Vegan) Brownies - a step too far!

I really wanted to like these brownies! I saw them on Cake, Crumbs and Cooking last month, and C is someone who's taste and opinions I really respect; if she says something is good, then I expect it to be so. She found the recipe here, on the vegan blog, Maple Spice, and made one alteration - to use light olive oil instead of vegetable oil. I went back to sunflower oil and used a slightly bigger tin than C - an 8" (20cm) square tin.

I followed the recipe precisely, and took the brownies out of the oven after 25 minutes - they were still quite wet at the suggested 20 minutes. Although they did have the lovely papery, flaky top so desirable on a good brownie, this was the only positive point, in my opinion!

I  guess it's all down to personal taste - I found them dry and heavy (almost biscuity) and too sweet. I used a good quality chocolate but still didn't think the taste came through in the recipe - the over-riding taste was sugar, and an aftertaste of soy, which I didn't like at all. They were also far too shallow, which might be why they seemed dry, although I'm sure I didn't overcook them; C used a 7" tin and Debbie at Maple Spice actually used a 6" tin

If I were a vegan, and hadn't found a better recipe, I'd be tempted to add a little raising agent to the recipe. As it was, I couldn't help thinking that an egg or two would probably improve things considerably! Removing eggs from this sort of bake just seems a step too far, if it isn't necessary for ethical or dietary reasons.

Not one to be repeated, I'm afraid, especially as I already have a couple of better recipes with low saturated fat levels.

Note - 24 hours after first tasting! In fairness to the recipe, I have to add that the brownies seem to have 'relaxed' or mellowed somehow, and aren't quite so dry and heavy now. A much more pleasant texture, but I'm still not keen on the flavour, although Hubs and CT liked them more than I did.