Saturday, 28 April 2012

Keeping The Cake Tin Filled

 - orange and honey gingerbread and hazelnut brownies.

I only intended to make the gingerbread, to keep us going over the weekend, but the texture was so weird that I thought it might be inedible, so I quickly made a batch of brownies as well. By the time I mentioned to the others that I thought I'd have to bin the gingerbread, FB had already eaten some and said it tasted fine to her!

Front - brownies; back - gingerbread
I used this recipe, but instead of equal quantities of black treacle and golden syrup, I used a mixture of roughly equal parts of honey, golden syrup and black treacle, and added the grated zest of a medium sized orange. Although the gingerbread was delicious, the texture was too dense and stodgy. I think the honey made the mixture too acidic, so that the bicarbonate of soda was activated and used up before the cake batter was properly set.

The brownies were made following this recipe, adding 50g each of chopped toasted hazelnuts and chopped milk chocolate, instead of just chocolate. This is now my 'go-to' recipe for low saturated fat brownies, but it is important for the best texture to beat the eggs and sugar for the full five minutes.  I think I tried to cut a corner this time, and they didn't have the usual volume.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Chocolate and Coconut Layer Cake

This cake was inspired by this Double Chocolate Lamingtons recipe from Dan Lepard, in yesterday's Weekend Guardian. I love it when there's what is essentially a store cupboard recipe from Dan, as I'm often stumped for new ideas by the weekend, but don't read the newspaper until after I've been shopping.

I could have followed the recipe exactly, but I didn't have enough coconut. In addition, I didn't really like the idea of having at least 1/3 of the chocolate coating left over, probably contaminated by cake crumbs, and using up to 500g of coconut, much of which would also be left over, but mixed with drips of chocolate icing. My thrifty nature just couldn't come to terms with this!

Instead, I followed the recipe for the cake exactly, and split it in half when cold. I made half of the chocolate coating recipe, and allowed it to cool to spreading consistency. I then used used half, together with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut, to sandwich the layers. The rest was spread on top, and finished off with another heavy sprinkle of coconut.

This was a delicious chocolate cake - richly flavoured and moist, but still very light in texture. The techniques for keeping in moisture worked very well! It's also quite low in fat, in proportion to the other ingredients, although it does contain some butter. Despite a high proportion of sugar, both in the cake and the frosting, it wasn't over-sweet. The coconut gave a little extra taste and texture when eating, and an idea of what a real Lamington might be like!

I really liked this chocolate cake recipe - I can see it becoming one of the recipes I keep returning to - especially for layer cakes.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Nutty Lemon Biscotti - a Random Recipe

A double celebration - my 300th post is for Belleau Kitchen's 2nd Blogiversary Random Recipe challenge! This is the first time Dom has specified a baking recipe for his Random Recipe challenge, so I can take part with (almost) no cheating on choosing the recipe. I had to cheat slightly, as the first recipe I got when randomly opening the gorgeous book, Tea with Bea (recipes from Bea's of Bloomsbury) was Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscotti, and peanut butter isn't allowed in the house while FB is living here, as she has a severe peanut allergy! Fortunately the recipe on the next page was for these Nutty Lemon Biscotti, so it didn't feel too much like cheating to use that recipe instead.

Unfortunately I can't find an online version of these tasty lemon biscotti, but the ingredients and method are very similar to the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscotti in the link above - more flour replaces the cocoa, honey replaces the golden syrup, white sugar and extra-virgin olive oil are used, and the dough is flavoured with the zest and juice of a large lemon and a pinch of ground cardamom before adding 50g each of whole almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios.

I haven't tried many biscotti recipes, and these may not have dried out enough, as once again, I forgot that this book uses a fan oven when giving cooking temperatures, but it was really good to make a batch of biscotti that weren't tooth-breakingly hard!

The flavour was excellent too, but you really have to like whole nuts to enjoy these fully - I prefer my nuts in smaller pieces, although recently I've coming to appreciate whole nuts more.

These biscotti recipes both use a little oil instead of butter, which makes them suitable for my low saturated fat baking. The lemon recipe suggests that dried fruits or chocolate chips can be used instead of nuts, such as sour cherries, dried apricots and white chocolate - so anyone with a tree nut allergy can still enjoy the basic recipe.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Chocolate Chip and Blueberry Oat Bars

This is a delightful tray bake for busy days - you only need a large mixing bowl, a sieve, a wooden spoon, a measuring jug and a fork, and you can have the whole mix into the baking tray by the time the oven has heated up. With only 20 minute baking, you can have the whole job done in half an hour!

I used this recipe for Choc-chip Muesli Slice from, substituting 75g dried blueberries for the same weight of chocolate. You could view this as a healthy version of flapjack - less fat (and oil instead of butter) and less sugar, but all of the tasty bits. In fact it's more like a chocolate chip cookie dough baked in a tray.

I found the bars a little on the dry side, but that might be because the blueberries absorbed some of the moisture. An all-chocolate version, like the original, might be better in this respect. They were not very sweet at all - which is why milk chocolate is specified in the recipe.

As Blueberries and Bar begin with B, I am entering these into this month's AlphaBakes challenge - the letter randomly chosen for this month being 'B'. AlphaBakes is hosted alternately by Caroline from Caroline Makes and Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker - this month the random letter B was generated by Ros, and must be used as a predominant part of the name of the recipe or one of the main ingredients. See the full rules on this link if you'd like to know more!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Brownies with Stem Ginger

My baking plans for today have gone awry, as my mother sent an urgent demand request for help putting her kitchen back together now that the decorator has almost finished. I'll need to leave a chicken in the oven on the timer, so that we are sure of a meal this evening, which means I can't run the risk of still having a warm oven when it's time to pop in the chook.

Luckily I made some more brownies yesterday, so we are not cakeless. This time I tried my new best recipe, originally from Cookie Madness,  with sunflower oil instead of extra-virgin olive oil, and added about 4 knobs of finely chopped stem ginger, as well as a teaspoon of ground ginger and half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

The flavour and texture were just as good with sunflower oil, but I didn't add enough of the spices for them to be really detectable in the flavour. The stem ginger pieces could have been bigger too, but I was worried that they would sink. Still, the prime objective was to try the cheaper oil, so I'm pleased with the outcome.

Note - I first tasted these about 2 hours after eating a curry, and really couldn't taste the spice in them. Today I ate one after something containing no spices and the ginger flavour was quite evident - just about right, in fact! I hadn't really expected the flavour to be dependant on something eaten earlier - I've never noticed that effect before!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Rugelach with Chocolate and Cherries

This momth's We Should Cocoa challenge is to pair cheese with chocolate! I was happy to use a little chocolate with goat's cheese for a savoury challenge a while back, but the only cheese which I think will work in sweet chocolate baking is cream cheese, and I'm guessing that most entrants to the challenge will use this too. I'd have liked to conjure up something using 'real' cheese, but my imagination just wasn't up to it!

Although they didn't really follow the rules of the faith once in this country, my parents-in-law were Jewish immigrants, escaping from Hitler's invasion of Eastern Europe. My mother-in-law was a great cook and her Jewish heritage still influenced the things she baked.
I rescued some of her cookery books from the house clearance after she died, so I've been interested in traditional Jewish baking for a while. Rugelach are a small croissant style pastry made with cream cheese in the dough, and with varied fillings, often including chocolate, which make them ideal for this challenge.

There are dozens of Rugelach recipes around, but most are very similar, although some recipes for the dough add sour cream and/or egg yolks. For a guideline on quantities and techniques, I used this recipe from Dorie Greenspan, although I only cut 12 pieces from each circle of dough.

As I was making the dough by hand, I brought the butter and cream cheese right up to room temperature, then chilled it for 24 hours before making the cookies.

The filling is all my own invention, although I dare say a trawl of every single recipe online would produce something similar. I used about 1/3 of a jar of dark chocolate spread; 100g dried cherries, finely chopped and steeped with two tablespoons of Kirsch and half a teaspoon of cinnamon; 100g of finely chopped milk chocolate (I thought the filling would need the sweetness of milk chocolate, but I still used a good quality chocolate with high cocoa solids(39%)) and 25g of finely chopped toasted hazelnuts. Half the chocolate spread was spread evenly over each pastry circle and the other ingredients sprinkled on top in turn, before cutting and rolling the wedges.

These little pastries were absolutely delicious and well worth all the fiddling about to make them. I only wish I'd doubled the recipe and made more, as we demolished the batch of 24 tiny crescents in one sitting! The filling was very tasty with the sweetness of the chocolate balanced by the sourness of the cherries. I almost didn't include the hazelnuts, but decided that the filling would need some crunch, and I was the correct in thinking that way!

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. This month's challenge, to use cheese, was chosen by Choclette.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Orange and Hazelnut Cake with Chilli-Chocolate Chunks

This was a quick bake at the end of a busy day, when I thought I wouldn't have time to bake at all. I was just using ingredients that I could find in the storecupboard, which is starting to look woefully inadequate everytime I have to rely on it! Some spending will soon be needed!

It's another adaptation of the basic yogurt and oil cake, which once upon a long time ago was originally a Lemon Cake from Ina Garten. It doesn't look much like it now, as I have reduced the liquid in the recipe, and think that low-fat yogurt gives a better result, but I have to acknowledge the inspiration - I'm not clever enough to think up recipes with no help from the professionals.

So, for this cake I weighed 200g of plain flour and 200g caster sugar into a bowl, and added 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and the zest of 1 large orange. In another bowl I whisked together 250g natural low-fat yogurt, 110g sunflower oil, 3 large eggs and a teaspoon of orange extract. I mixed the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until just combined, then folded in 50g of chopped toasted hazelnuts and 100g of chocolate flavoured with chilli. The batter was put into an 8" round tin, lined with baking parchment, and baked at 180C for 50 minutes (or until a tester comes out clean). The good thing about this cake is that it is really quick to put together - I can have the cake in the oven within 15 minutes of deciding what to flavour it with!

The orange flavour was really fresh after the rich chocolate desserts of Easter, the hazelnuts gave a nice crunch, and there was just the barest hint of warmth from the chilli-chocolate.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Layered Chocolate Truffle Torte

This Dan Lepard dessert is the kind of thing which is only really permissible for celebrations - Christmas, Easter, birthdays or similar. The mere fact of using over a kilogram of chocolate, and 800mls of cream, in one dessert is enough to make you have second thoughts about it at any other time!

However, this is Easter - a holiday associated with chocolate even more than Christmas. The moment this recipe was spotted in last week's Guardian Weekend Magazine, we all said it was what we wanted for our special treat - no Easter Egss for us! In the end, we weren't dissapointed! This dessert is like eating pure chocolate by the spoonful!

As an aside, I have to say I was severely tempted by some slices of soft Italian nougat 'cake' on sale at our local Continental Market yesterday, but the thought of this torte in the fridge stopped me reaching for my purse!

This dessert looked simple to make, and, with the exception of the coffee flavoured covering, each individual step was simple, but putting it together and turning it out was fraught with incidents, and my nerves were frazzled by the time we eventually got to eat it! The only change I made to the recipe was to use Tia Maria in place of the brandy, which I didn't have. Tia Maria seemed to go well with the coffee flavoured covering, although I left it out of the white truffle mixture in case it affected the colour..

There were no problems with the brownie base or dark chocolate truffle layer, but there was far too much white chocolate truffle mixture for the depth of my springform tin - and I had chosen the larger of the two sizes Dan Lepard suggested. Knowing there was another layer to add, I stopped pouring the white truffle mix with a centimetre to spare in the tin. Looking at the relative sizes of the layers when the torte was out of the tin, I think I used about 2/3rds of it.

The biggest problem for me was that the covering layer, made by mixing hot coffee into melted chocolate, solidified into a paste as soon as the two ingredients were mixed. I got over this by dotting the paste around the torte and marbling it into the surface of the white truffle, which was still obligingly soft.

Two hours later, I chickened out of trying to get the torte from the tin, as the white truffle layer still seemed too soft - I could see it oozing sideways as I ran a hot knife around the torte to loosen it from the tin. I didn't want to remove the sides of the tin, only to see the top layer run off onto the work surface. A day later, and I felt ready to try again! This time the torte was fine, although there was a marked difference in the solidity of the two truffle layers. The dark layer was rock solid, and could have done with bringing up to room temperature before serving, as it was difficult to cut, but the white truffle layer was soft and barely held it's shape - it softened at room temperature very quickly too! This was an interesting feature of the dessert - the creamy, sweeter and softer topping was an excellent  contrast to the solidity of the dark, almost bitter, truffle.

I wonder if this textural difference was deliberate on Dan's part, or a result of my choices of chocolate? I know that different chocolates have different characteristics, and the dark chocolate I chose - Tesco's 74% plain from the Ivory Coast - is very crisp. I used Menier white chocolate for desserts and cakes, as I've had problems when melting other brands of white chocolate.

This really was a chocolate overload - so rich! The good point was that it is going to make at least 12 servings and will keep us going for the whole weekend, as it has to be eaten in such small portions!

And what of the leftover white truffle mixture? I stirred in half a jar of lemon curd and set the mixture in four individual ramekins. They came in useful when I decided the torte hadn't set enough to be served for Friday night's dessert!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Yet again, I've been touched by whatever jinx it is that makes my yeast baking fail! 

These Hot X Buns, from the recent Dan Lepard recipe published in the Guardian were full of flavour. However, the buns themselves were dense, heavy and dry - and I know that is not how Dan meant them to be.

I used 250g of a mix of cherries, berries and sultanas and 50g chopped dried apricots, but I missed the citrus tang that you get from mixed peel. The only change I made was to divide the dough into 15, rather than 12 buns, although I forgot to make the paste crosses correspondingly smaller!

I don't know where I went wrong - I bought new yeast, in case the yeast used in my last failed attempt was too old, I was careful not to get the liquid too warm, I measured all the ingredients carefully, I followed the instructions exactly. I set the batch of rolls in a warm place to double in size, and hardly anything happened! After 90 minutes, they had nowhere near doubled in size and weren't getting any larger, so I went ahead and put on the crosses, and baked, then glazed, them.

I think this is the last attempt at yeast baking. Failure is not just discouraging, it's flippin' expensive!

I am still going to enter these into this month's challenge over at Tea Time Treats - although the recipe didn't work well for me, I'd certainly recommend it to anyone more confident in their baking skills, as the flavour in the buns was excellent!

Tea Time Treats is a monthly baking and blogging challenge hosted jointly by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and Kate at What Kate Baked. The full rules can be found here. This month the event is hosted by Kate and the theme is baking for an Easter Tea.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Chocolate Chip Olive Oil Brownies

While I plan my Easter baking, the family still needs treats in the cake tin. These brownies should keep them satisfied for a few days.

I tried this recipe, from Cookie Madness,  a while back, and while it was generally pretty good, there were a couple of points which let it down, the main one being there was just too little batter for the baking tin size, giving shallow, mean looking brownies. I wrote at the time that half as much batter again, in the same sized tin, would be a big improvement, so that's what I did this time. I also used a proportion of dark muscovado sugar, to try to make the brownies denser and chewier, and I think this worked too. Finally, I took out the nuts and added a mix of equal parts of white, milk and plain chocolate.

The result was very good - dense moist brownies, with an almost truffle-like texture; just the right depth, and with the light papery surface that good brownies need. I think I might have just cracked brownies made with oil here!

150g plain chocolate - at least 70% cocoa solids
120ml extra virgin olive oil
3 large eggs
130g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
105g plain flour
105 g chopped chocolate - 35g each of white, milk and plain

Pre-heat oven to 180C and prepare an 8"(20cm) square tin.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, the whisk in the olive oil.
Beat the eggs, sugars and vanilla extract for 5 minutes, then fold in the chocolate mix.
Fold in the flour, then stir in the chopped chocolate.
Transfer to the baking tin, and bake for 25 minutes, or until a test probe is just clean (a few moist crumbs clinging is ideal).
Cool completely in the tin before cutting into bars and removing.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble....

....... made with the first rhubarb of the year from my garden!!

I'm not a keen gardener, but if I am going to put in some effort, I like some reward, and what could be more satisfying than growing some of your own fruit, vegetables and herbs? It's so good to see the first rhubarb leaves pushing up through the soil and uncurling, and it's amazing how fast they grow. I can't tell how much we will be able to harvest this year, but we didn't get the cold winter that rhubarb needs to be really fruitfull. However, after this we have gooseberries, strawberries and apples to look forward to.

And once you've picked the first rhubarb, there's little to beat using it in a simple crumble. I added a little ginger to this one, in the form of 3 lumps of preserved ginger, roughly chopped, and two tablespoons of syrup from the jar, mixed into the rhubarb, along with 2 tablespoons of Light at Heart brown 'sugar' - a lower calorie sugar substitute. I didn't weigh the rhubarb - I just picked enough to fill my baking dish to about 3/4 full. I guess there was around 500g - rhubarb is usually sold in 400g packs.

I also used Light at Heart in the crumble mix. I've tried it before in baking, and wasn't happy with it's performance in cakes, where volume is important, but it's ideal in this sort of baking, where just the sweetening power is important. Light at Heart is a mix of sugar and stevia, blended so that exactly half the usual amount will give the same amount of sweetness. Half the amount of sugar means half the calories, of course!

For the crumble mix, I used 100g each of butter, SR flour and rolled oats, and 50g of brown Light at Heart. The butter was roughly rubbed into the other ingredients, leaving quite a few lumpy bits. This was then sprinkled over the fruit, pressed down lightly and baked at 190C for 45 minutes. Eat while still quite warm, although you can reheat in a low oven. I reheat leftover portions of fruit crumble in the microwave, but it's nowhere near as good as one that is freshly baked!

I received free samples of Light at Heart from Tate and Lyle at the end of last year, but wouldn't have carried on using it if I wasn't  pleased with it's performance. The only thing I don't like is the price - it's more than four times the cost of sugar! I don't think I'm likely to carry on with it once the free samples are used up!