Monday, 25 June 2012

Lemon Drizzle Cake - Baking Mad part 2

The Baking Mad PR person listed several links to recipes and recipe categories from which I could choose to bake, including the general categories of cakes and muffins. Having tried a muffin recipe which I wasn't entirely happy with, I turned my attention to cakes.

Unfortunately, once I'd excluded everything that someone in the rest of the family wouldn't (or couldn't) eat and those that I didn't have all the ingredients for, there wasn't much left that looked really interesting. I was particularly hoping to find a cake made with oil instead of butter, but eventually picked this Lemon Drizzle Cake - although it used butter it was quite a low proportion compared to standard recipes. I've tried several lemon drizzle cake recipes, but am always willing to try another; to my mind they need to be more interesting than a sponge soaked in lemon syrup, and this cake seemed to fit that brief.

The recipe used 150mls lemon juice in total, but I only got 120mls from the 3 average sized lemons I had available. This didn't worry me - I just reduced the drizzle mixture accordingly - most cakes use far too much for my taste anyway! As I was using 3 lemons, I added the zest of 2 to the cake, rather than the 1 stipulated. These were the only changes I made to the recipe, which was quite straightforward to follow. I haven't made this sort of cake with melted butter before - I was a little worried about adding lemon juice and eggs to hot butter, so let it cool as much as I dared, something which wasn't mentioned in the recipe.

As usual, I had trouble getting the cake to absorb the drizzle mixture, especially as the crust of the cake was quite crisp. I find drizzling only works really well on flat topped cakes, with domed cakes like this the tendency is for everything to run off, however careful and slow you are with the drizzling. Bigger holes might help, but then the appearance of the cake is spoiled! I didn't use all the drizzle I made - I guess, between this and making less, I only used about half the total volume made in the recipe.

This was a great cake - well flavoured and with a lovely texture, thanks to the ground almonds and cornflour. What drizzle I did get onto the cake made a crunchy coating which was intensively lemony, but it hadn't penetrated far into the cake. I often leave off the drizzle on these sort of cakes, as I find it so difficult to get them on, but used it this time because I thought the cake wouldn't be sweet enough without it. However, I needn't have worried - the interior of the cake was nicely balanced between sweetness and a gentle lemon flavour.

I think this is a recipe I'd use again, as it's simple and quick to make, but perhaps making a smaller volume of  more concentrated hot syrup with caster sugar and lemon juice, just to brush on the top. Alternatively the cake could be prettied up with a lemon glacé icing and some strips of lemon zest, as there is peel leftover from the number of lemons needed in the recipe.

There are several other lemon cakes on the site, including this traybake with cream cheese frosting, and a simple recipe search to enable you to get all the examples together to make your choice. This is worth doing, as some cakes aren't in the category you'd expect to find them. For instance, this lemon and poppy seed loaf was in the 'sweet doughs' category, even though it is obviously a cake!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Chocolate Brownie Muffins - Baking Mad

I expect most food bloggers receive promotional emails offering free goodies in return for a mention in a blog post. I've only taken advantage of these twice before - once to receive a charity recipe book, and once for free samples of one of the low sugar/stevia products. I don't like feeling obligated to cook or write about something in particular, which stops me taking up a lot of the offers I get - they just don't fit into my style of cooking or the general theme of the blog. However, the ongoing campaign for Baking Mad caught my eye - bake from a selected bunch of recipes from the Baking Mad site and receive a book by Eric Lanlard.

I'm only peripherally aware of Eric Lanlard, as I don't watch many of the food programmes on TV - we only bought a Freeview box just before the digital changeover, and I still try not to watch TV during the day. My impression of him is of a French patissier whose recipes looked amazing, but far too complicated for the average cook to follow. This certainly isn't true of all the recipes on Baking Mad, but then, they are not all Eric Lanlard recipes; he seems to be associated with the site through the name of his TV series, but the site itself is run by a conglomeration of food companies such as Silver Spoon, Billingtons and Allisons - are all these owned by the same parent company? Yes - they are all under the Silver Spoon umbrella!

The Baking Mad site seems to give extensive coverage of all aspects of baking, with several ways of looking for particular types of recipes - from Cakes and Pastry recipes through Jams and Chutneys, to gluten free baking. There's a section on Kid's Cooking as well as baking tips. There's also a community area, where you can join in discussions on baking. As well as Eric Lanlard recipes, there are others contributed by TV cooks, although the vast majority have no noted contributor, other than 'bakingmad'.

One of the choices on the list provided was for something from the range of muffin recipes on the site. I chose these Chocolate Brownie Muffins because they looked quick and simple to make, and were relatively low in both fat and added sugar. I followed the recipe exactly, only substituting hazelnuts for the pecans in the recipe, so that FB could eat them. The recipe was as simple as it looked, although I couldn't find an explanation of the electric oven temperatures - I had to assume the first was for a conventional oven and the second for a fan assisted oven. There was also the puzzle of the additional ingredient - 50g of dark muscovado sugar  - which wasn't used in the recipe. Perhaps it was an option to increase the sweetness, if preferred. The muffins could certainly have done with the extra sweetness, but I would have liked to read something in the recipe which explained this!

Now, you will know by now that muffins aren't my forté, so it's possible that someone else would get a better product, but I found these a little on the dry side, and although they were light in texture, they didn't rise much. They were also nowhere near as chocolatey as a good muffin should be - the addition of some cocoa to the batter, and some chocolate chips stirred through, would have improved this. The cooking temperature also seemed a little on the high side - the muffins looked a little overdone even on the minimum cooking time!

I certainly can't dismiss the whole site on the basis of one recipe which wasn't a complete success. I'll try another recipe - perhaps one by Eric Lanlard himself - and I will add the site to my list of sites to search when I'm looking for new ideas. I've already wasted spent a lot of time there! From what I've seen, the majority of the recipes are quick and easy to make, and don't need unusual or hard to find ingredients.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Gooseberry, Almond and Elderflower Cake - A Tea Time Treat

This month's Tea Time Treat Challenge is baking with summer fruit. There are several varieties of soft fruit traditionally associated with a British Summer - raspberries, strawberries, cherries and so on - but thanks to improved growing methods and imports, many of these are now available all year round.

So for me. nothing says summer has arrived  more than picking my own gooseberries. Not only do they have a very short season, they are so out of favour with the British public that you hardly ever see them in the supermarkets, either in-season British, or imported. I've been growing them for three years now, and although the bush bearing a red variety of gooseberry has suffered damage since it was first planted, and isn't producing much yet, we get enough off the green variety for several crumbles or pies, plus a batch or two into the freezer in a good year.

Fortunately, this year our gooseberries are just about ready at the same time as the elderflowers, which are late blooming this year. I picked just enough fruit for this cake, and left the rest to mature a little longer. I'm not sure why elderflowers and gooseberries are traditionally paired together - this is the first time for many years that I've seen both ready at the same time. Perhaps things were different back in the days when traditions were being formed! Incidently - I went out to pick the elderflowers on the longest day of the year, after a torrential downpour of rain which was more reminiscent of a tropical storm than a British summer shower. Summer is not very summery this year!

So, for the Tea Time Treat challenge, I needed a cake, rather than a dessert. This is one of my favourite cake recipes for using fresh fruit, but for something releasing a lot of juice, as gooseberries do, the fruit must be cooked first. I used 500g fruit with a tablespoon of water and sugar to taste, and 3 large heads of elderflowers which were only just fully open. I cooked them together until the gooseberries had burst and release their juices, then I removed the flowers. I drained the fruit, reserving the juices, which I boiled down to a few tablespoons of syrup, adding a little more sugar to taste - this will be used to glaze the finished cake.

For the cake I used:

150g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
250g SR flour
50g ground almonds, plus an extra tablespoonful
A few drops almond extract
The cooked fruit, and prepared glaze
A handful of flaked almonds, for topping
A few sprigs of elderflowers for decoration

Pre-heat oven to 180C and grease and line the base of a 20cm(8") springform tin.
Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave, then stir in the sugar and beaten egg, followed by the flour, 50g ground almonds and almond extract. Mix until you have a soft dough - the consistency is like a soft cookie dough.
Use just over half the dough to cover the base of the cake tin, spreading it with fingers, and raising a lip around the sides about 1cm(1/2") high.
Sprinkle the extra tablespoon of ground almonds over the base.
Spread the fruit over the base, then cover with the rest of the dough, breaking off small pieces and scattering it over the fruit, and spreading with your fingers. (You need good coverage of dough around the edges, but it doesn't matter if there are small gaps with fruit peeking through in the middle of the cake). Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and press down lightly.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until golden and firm. Cover with foil if the cake is browning too quickly.
When out of the oven, brush the top with the glaze, which is easier to spread if warmed (my glaze actually set like a jam while the cake was cooking!). Allow to cool.
Decorate with elderflowers just before serving (or just for the photograph in this case!).

This is a really delicious cake - Hubs reckoned that it's one of the best he's tasted for a long while. He's not usually very vocal about my cooking unless he really dislikes something, or finds something better than usual, so it must have been good!  It's a cake that is at home on the tea-table, but which could be served warm with cream, custard or ice cream as a dessert too.

The elderflowers made a huge difference to the flavour of the gooseberries and the glaze on top gave an extra fruity flavour boost. The texture of the cake is moist and dense - somewhere between a cake and a shortcake in texture, and the almonds are detectable but not overwhelming, even after using the almond extract. The centre fruit layer is not as deep as a pie filling but concentrates the flavour of the fruit more than just folding the fruit into the cake batter.

Tea Time Treats is a monthly baking challenge to provide goodies for the tea table, hosted alternately by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked. Kate chose this month's theme of summer fruits and will be posting a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Update - June 28th
I've also entered this cake into the Elderflower Challenge at Lancashire Food, although I don't understand the technical bit about copying the badge code so that it links to the challenge! You'll just have to follow the link above if you want to see what's been entered into the challenge. Thanks to Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, for bringing this challenge to my attention!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Lemon and Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel

This recipe is proving to be one of the best I've found. Not only can the basic flavour be varied easily, but the batter is stiff enough to take additions such as chocolate chips and dried fruit without them sinking during baking. The polenta and almonds can also be swapped for more flour, if that is more convenient, without spoiling the recipe. I find it really comforting to know I have a set of good recipes that I can rely on when my imagination fails or time is short.

This time I followed the basic recipe (leaving off the lemon syrup after baking), and added 70g of dried blueberries that had been soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes. For the topping, I mixed 75g plain flour, 50g sugar, 35g desiccated coconut and 50mls sunflower oil. The oil brought the other ingredients together into a nicely clumped crumble, which wasn't too dry and powdery when sprinkled over the cake. The topping seemed to insulate the cake from the oven heat, which meant the cake took about 10 minutes longer to bake. The coconut browned nicely during baking, giving the streusel topping an attractive appearance.

This was a lovely textured cake, moist but still light, with a delicate flavour. If it wasn't for the addition of the coconut and blueberries, I might have liked a stronger lemon flavour, but as it was, the three flavours were perfectly balanced.

My next step is to try this recipe with fresh fruit - if it works well then I have an almost complete set of low saturated fat, adaptable recipes which don't need improvement - a light chocolate cake, a sponge cake, a brownie recipe and this one which covers most other needs. I don't expect that I'll give up trying other recipes though - I'm always finding goodies I want to bake, and CT is hoping to leave home soon, so low saturated fat baking won't be necessary much longer!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mocha Fudge Brownie Slice - We Should Cocoa

The added ingredient for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge is coffee. Coffee is a lovely pairing with chocolate but you do have to be quite careful to get the flavour of the coffee to stand out. Too little and you just make the chocolate flavour more intense without tasting the coffee.

This recipe for Mocha Fudgy Brownie Slice is on the borderline - you can taste the coffee but it's not really strongly coffee flavoured. I've added the name 'slice' to the recipe to account for the fact that this brownie recipe is baked on a shortbread biscuit base - I just didn't feel able to call them 'brownies'.

The brownie batter is unusual too, as it's based on a can of condensed milk and cocoa; I expected it to be less cakey than it turned out, and more like a fudge layer on top of the biscuit, although I used the longer cooking time. 5 minutes less might have left the brownie more gooey. I followed the recipe exactly, although I'm not sure my conversions to metric weights were spot on, and I only had 100g hazelnuts. After conversion the ingredients for the shortbread were almost the classic 1:2:3 proportions of sugar, butter and flour, so that's what used - 50g caster sugar, 100g butter and 150g plain flour.

This was a delicious bake, and a change from the usual brownie recipes. Considering that it was a cocoa-based brownie batter, it had a very rich flavour, rounded out by the coffee notes and the crunch of hazelnuts. Cut more neatly, in smaller pieces, these would be lovely as part of an afternoon tea - the richness of the brownie was offset by the plainer shortbread layer. The only criticism, from FB, was that she would have preferred the hazelnuts to be chopped into smaller pieces. I had left most of them in half-sized pieces, in an effort not to make them too small - I just can't win!

The recipe suggests 36 pieces but I cut the 8" square into 20 pieces - and FB and CT still ate 2 pieces each! I find many American recipes are unrealistic about the yield in numbers - perhaps it makes people more likely to cook the recipe if they think they will get a lot out of it, but they must then go on to eat more pieces! A 36th piece of this would only be two bites.

The We Should Cocoa Challenge is hosted jointly by Chele from Chocolate Teapot and Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, although this month's challenge was set by guest host Lucy from The KitchenMaid, who chose coffee as the ingredient to be added to our chocolate cooking. The round-up of entries will be on Lucy's blog at the end of the month.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Gingerbread Cake

Another try with this recipe from To be honest, I didn't even remember that I had tried it before until I was checking my blog posts for 'ginger'; then I was reminded of why this recipe is less than perfect - it is just too light and cake-y!

I've tried this gingerbread with variations before - adding orange zest, chopped stem ginger and candied peel - but this time I intended to follow the recipe exactly, until I found myself 50g short of enough golden syrup and had to add some black treacle too. The result was still quite a pale gingerbread.

The best thing about this cake is that it is very quick to make, and has a good flavour. I really prefer gingerbread to be darker, denser and stickier, although this sort is probably better for summer eating. I can imagine it making a tasty dessert eaten with some poached or roasted rhubarb, and cream!

I must try to remember that this isn't one of my favourite recipes next time I 'find' it online.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Viennese Whirl Cookies

When it comes to baking I've found there aren't many ingredients that begin with V, this month's AlphaBakes randomly chosen letter. There's vanilla, and you might get away with the generic 'vegetable' for a carrot cake, or similar. When looking for a 'name' beginning with V, the index in my cook books started with Victoria sandwich and stopped with Viennese, with nothing in between.  I hope the other entrants have a better imagination than me!

Danish pastries are called Viennese pastries in Denmark, but my yeast bakery is a bit hit and miss, and I don't have time for misses at the moment. That left Viennese Whirls, or Melting Moments as they are called in some cookery books. All the available recipes are remarkably similar - some use a little more sugar or vary the proportion of cornflour and plain flour - so I don't really need to give one here. They are usually flavoured with vanilla too, so the letter V gets a double workout!

The dough I used didn't hold it's definition well during baking, but that might be because my piping kit is cheap and nasty and didn't include the right sized nozzle either. However, the flavour and texture was just right - light, crumbly and melt in the mouth - and you can still see the hint of a swirl in the photos. These cookies could be considered a little on the dry side, which is why they are often baked without the glacé cherry on top and sandwiched in pairs with a buttercream and jam filling.

The AlphaBakes Challenge is a monthly baking challenge to make something  featuring a randomly chosen letter - this can be part of the name of the product or one of the major ingredients. It is hosted jointly by Caroline, from Caroline Makes, and Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker, who take turns to generate a random letter and collate the entries. This month Ros is hosting and her random letter generator picked V!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Vanilla Cheesecake

LOOK! No cracks!
This first picture isn't pretty, but I just had to prove that I made a cheesecake that didn't split open as it cooled - a rarity for me!

The recipe is a Gordon Ramsay one, which has only been published online in the Times, so is no longer available unless you are a subscriber. It's a fairly standard mix of cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla, on a digestive biscuit crumb base, and I originally chose it because it used the same amount of cream cheese (500g) and sour cream (300g) that I had leftover after Christmas baking one year! Add 200g sugar, 3 eggs, 2 tablespoons cornflour and a splash of vanilla extract, et voila! After an hour's baking at 150C, it is supposed to be golden brown on top, but I've never achieved that effect with this recipe - it stays pale and interesting.

Vanilla Cheesecake
In fact, after an hour the cheesecake is always still very wobbly, and usually I bake for a bit longer, but this time I decided to be more courageous and  switched off the oven. I left the cheesecake for 30 minutes in the closed oven, then ran a knife between the tin and the cheesecake to free it from the tin, and left it to cool completely in the oven with the door open slightly. I don't know if it was the shorter baking time, or freeing the cheesecake from the tin which stopped it cracking, but it's the first time I've made this particular recipe without the cracks appearing.

This is one of my favourite baked cheesecake recipes; the proportions of cream cheese, sour cream and eggs gives a lovely texture which isn't too heavy or claggy. The only criticism is that as a vanilla cheesecake, it's a little too sweet. Previously I've always made it as a lemon version, so hadn't really noticed how sweet it is, as the lemon has cut through the sugar.

Take your pick...
add strawberries, roasted rhubarb or chocolate sauce.
We have a variety of tastes in this family - CT eats hardly any fresh fruit, if he can avoid it, and is a chocoholic, while the rest of us like fruit, but don't always want the same fruit at the same time, or the same amounts of fruit in relation to cheesecake. To cater for everyone, I decided to leave the cheesecake plain, and offer strawberries, roast rhubarb or chocolate sauce as an accompaniment.

It's a long weekend, to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, so we felt deserving of a more luxurious dessert than I usually make. CT and FB are enjoying extra time to relax away from work, and Hubs and I, being retired, are carrying on as usual. We're not exactly anti-royalists, but we're not really celebrating or taking part in any organised events either; I tried to come up with a red, white and blue dessert, to stay with the spirit of things, but the rest of the family told me not to bother - taste was more important than looks to them!

I've just realised that Vanilla Cheesecake could be a contender for this month's Alpha Bakes Challenge - bake something with a 'V' in the name or ingredients list - but I'll  hold it in reserve for the moment, as I'd like to find something more interesting than V for Vanilla.