Thursday, 31 January 2013

Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Cake

Another quick adaptation of my favorite oil-based cake, so that CT, who was coming for dinner, could take half of it home with him.

The basic premise of adapting this recipe is to leave out the lemon flavouring and syrup topping and add up to 200g of dried fruit, chopped nuts and/or chopped chocolate, as well as any other flavouring such as spices. Either the polenta or ground nuts can be replaced by more flour to vary the flavour and texture, and 25g of flour could be replaced by cocoa to make a chocolate flavoured batter.

For this cake, I kept the ground almonds and added a few drops of almond extract to emphasise the flavour. I added 100g chopped plain chocolate and 75g dried cherries to the batter, and sprinkled flaked almonds over the surface before baking.

Ground nuts keep the texture of this cake moist, and the combination of chocolate, cherries and almonds is so classic, I'm sure it needs no further endorsement from me!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Mincemeat Wedges

There's not much still waiting to be used up after Christmas. Anything perishable has been frozen ages ago, so there are just a few pieces of cheese left in the fridge, alongside some longer lasting chutneys and relishes, and an open jar of mincemeat. I know mincemeat is sold all year round, and I know it's wonderful in many ways other than mincepies, but if I don't finish the jar quickly, I also know it will still be there next Christmas.

These Mincemeat Wedges used 115g (4oz) and just about emptied the jar. The remaining spoonful can go into the next apple crumble, with some sultanas and cinnamon. The dough mix for these wedges is very similar to a rich scone dough made with wholemeal flour, and the finished result was scone-like in texture too. The dough is baked in a sponge tin, rather than being free-formed like a scone round, as it is slightly wetter than a scone and needs to be held in shape. It's then cooled in the tin before being cut into wedges.

The mincemeat gave just a subtle hint of fruit and spice to these scone wedges, but certainly made the kitchen smell like Christmas again!

The recipe comes from the Ultimate Cookie Book.
225g wholemeal flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder (or use SR wholemeal flour if available)
75g unsalted butter
75g light muscovado sugar (the recipe used demerara)
1 egg, beaten
115g mincemeat
about 4 tablespoons milk
crushed brown or white sugar cubes for topping

Preheat oven to 200C. Base line a 20cm(8") sandwich tin with baking paper and grease the sides.

Rub the butter into the flour, then stir in all the other ingredients, using just enough milk to give a dough which is soft enough to spread.

Spread the dough evenly into the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with the crushed sugar.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until risen and golden and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin, then cut into twelve wedges.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Raspberry, Oat and Almond Bake

The Guardian newspaper is producing a new supplement in Saturday's edition, entitled Cook, which features more recipes, articles and cooking tips than is usually found in the Weekend magazine.

It looks as if Dan Lepard has swapped to teaching basic baking skills for a while, which is a pity for those of us who appreciate his more innovative recipes, but there's lots more to admire in the supplement, including a selection of readers' recipes on a given theme each week.

Last week, this dessert recipe, from the 'Good for You' section, featuring recipes from Rosie Sykes, caught my eye - it features frozen raspberries and marzipan baked with a crumble-like mixture of oats, sugar and flour. The result was layers of fruit and crumble with a really strong almond flavour, but without the excess juices you often get in a soft fruit crumble.

My only quibble with the recipe is that it was impossible to mix 70g of grated butter and 150g grated marzipan into 100g flour to make a breadcrumb-like mixture. I had to add the rest of the crumble ingredients to the mix and rub the butter and marzipan into that. I was slightly short of the required weight of raspberries, so added half  a grated apple to each layer of fruit.

The dessert was only lightly sweetened, although the quality of the marzipan will affect the overall sweetness - the marzipan I used was 60% almonds. The dessert was delicious with creme fraiche, as suggested, and I thought it better eaten slightly warm, rather than straight from the oven.

It felt quite decadent to be eating raspberries in January, but frozen ones are quite good value and make a change from the usual stodgy winter desserts (or in our case, a change from the self-imposed diet of yogurt for dessert!).

Monday, 14 January 2013

Caraway and Vinegar Fruit Cake

In his Guardian column this weekend, Dan Lepard gave two recipes for cakes raised with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Although I've never really noticed vinegar cakes before, both recipes sounded really interesting. I chose the first recipe, as I'd baked with dates in my recent Date and Maple Brownies. Dan suggests that this Caraway and Vinegar Currant Cake is quite adaptable, so I took him at his word, and replaced the currants (not tolerated in this house) with a mix of sultanas, dried cranberries and chopped ready-to-eat dried apricots. I kept the caraway seeds in the recipe, as I quite like the flavour, but it could be replaced with any other spice - I know it's an acquired taste.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I only used 225 mls of the suggested 275mls milk - I kept back 50 mls, as Dan used that inexact term  'about' 275mls. The batter was very sloppy, so I decided not to add the reserved milk.

As we are not eating large quantities of cake at the moment, I divided the batter between two small loaf tins, so that half could go into the freezer. The batter completely filled my loaf tins, so if you make this, make sure you use a really deep baking tin. I was worried about overflow, but the cakes rose gently, and the outer edges were set before the centre showed signs of rising - I think most of the rise occurred in the last 15 minutes of the baking time, which was the same for these loaves as suggested in the recipe.

This was a really well flavoured cake, with a soft-textured, moist crumb not usually seen in fruit cakes - Dan says this is down to the use of vinegar, whose acidity 'mellows the starch'. The crumb is a little 'holey'; and uneven,  but this doesn't detract from the flavour.

The mix of fruits I used worked well too, with the sweetness of the sultanas and apricots balanced by the tarter cranberries. The fruit stayed evenly distributed throughout the cake, and although there wasn't the quantity to call this a rich fruit cake, there were plenty of pieces of fruit in each slice. The caraway wasn't overwhelming, but it was noticeable, so it's best to substitute if you don't like the flavour.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Date and Maple Brownies

I don't really subscribe to the school of thought that refers to baked goods made without cane or beet sugar as 'sugar-free'. To me there are usually just as many calories in what are sometimes referred to as 'natural' sweeteners -  honey, maple syrup, fruit molasses etc - and they are really just other forms of sugar. There are too many chemicals in the old fashioned sugar substitutes to want to use them to replace sugar(sucrose) regularly. Newer sugar substitutes such as agave and stevia may be lower in calories, but they are expensive to use. In addition to all this, the health benefits of changing to sucrose substitutes aren't really proven!

Dried fruit, however, does reduce calories, increase fibre content and go a long way towards sweetening things such as bread, cakes and baked desserts if used to replace some of the sugar. It was with this in mind that I decided to combine two of this month's challenges. The We Should Cocoa challenge is to bake something free of beet or cane sugar, and the AlphaBakes challenge is to bake something either containing a main ingredient beginning with the letter D, or with a name containing a word beginning with the same letter. In this instance, D is for Dates, of course. I'll suspend my scepticism about sugar-free baking for the duration!

I looked at many recipes for brownies containing dates before deciding on this recipe from Australian chef Bill Granger. It had lots of good reviews and didn't contain a huge amount of sugar, so I didn't expect substituting what sugar was there to have a huge effect on the recipe. It also used cocoa, so I didn't have to adjust the sweetness of a recipe using chocolate containing sugar, to allow for using 100% cocoa solids chocolate instead.

I wondered about using pomegranate molasses instead of the 90g of sugar in the recipe, but thought the sour flavour notes might be too overwhelming in something with reduced sweetness, so I went with maple syrup instead. I did a straight swap - take out 90g sugar, add 90g maple syrup - but was prepared to add more flour if it looked necessary.  I changed the method slightly, by adding the liquid sweetener to the dates and melted butter, to give the dates a chance to absorb some of the liquid. The raw batter looked fine after mixing so I went ahead with baking it - it took a few minute longer to bake but turned out well.

These were light, cakey brownies, rather than the dense fudgy sort made with a high sugar content, but they were still quite moist and very tasty.  The flavour of the maple syrup wasn't strong, but that might have just been a characteristic of my maple syrup; having tasted them now, I think it would be worth trying pomegranate molasses another time, for a stronger flavour. I deliberately chopped the dates very finely in a food processor, as I didn't want to see too many lumps of fruit in the brownie. Dates have quite a neutral flavour when used in baked goods this way - even people who don't like eating the fruit on it's own usually like things such as sticky toffee pudding made with dates. I think they'd like these brownies too!

The We Should Cocoa challenge (rules here) is hosted this month by Choclette, of Chocolate Log Blog, who shares her hosting duties with Chele from Chocolate Teapot, and various guest  hosts. The AlphaBakes challenge is hosted alternately by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes..., and the rules can be found here.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dan Lepard's Lemon Curd Cookies

I don't usually bake two things in a row with the same flavour, but the lemon-lime curd I made before Christmas was reaching the end of it's storage life in the fridge. We've also had lots of chocolate and other goodies such as stollen to eat over the Christmas and New Year period, so lemon is still a welcome flavour for a refreshing change.

This Dan Lepard recipe has been published both in his book Short and Sweet, and in his weekly Guardian column. The lemon flavoured biscuits are spread with a mixture of cream, rolled oats and lemon curd, which gives a rich, chewy topping when baked - a lovely contrast to the crisp shortbread. Both the biscuit base and the topping have quite a delicate flavour, but the topping lifts the biscuits out of being plain or ordinary, without having to do anything too fiddly, or adding decorations after baking. Although my curd was made using both lemons and limes, the lemon flavour was predominant, so I have no hesitation in keeping the original name.

Another advantage is that it's not a huge recipe either - very important at this time of year, when we often feel as if we have over-eaten, and don't need the pressure of a huge cake or batch of brownies to finish within a few days. The recipe makes 10 cookies, which isn't an unrealistic amount for three people to eat over a weekend.

The top photo was taken in fading light, so I apologise for the bad quality, although the colour looks more realistic than in the second photo!.

The first challenge of the year for Tea Time Treats, is to wake up our jaded taste buds with a burst of citrus flavour on the tea-table, so I'm entering these cookies. Tea Time Treats is hosted alternately by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked. Karen is the host for January, and is accepting entries via a linky on her website. She will also write a round-up post at the end of the month.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Lime & Lemon Curd Ripple Cheesecake

I didn't intend to post about this cheesecake; it was a complete disaster on so many levels. a) it took ages longer to cook than the recipe suggested b) it cracked badly as it cooled c) the curd ripples weren't discernible within the cheesecake - only those on top could still be seen, and I used too much curd for them to look good and d) to cap it all, it broke in half while I was trying to plate it for presentation.

It did, however, have two redeeming features - it tasted fantastic and had a gorgeous texture. My sister said it was the best baked cheesecake she had tasted for years! This just about outweighed the problems, and made me decide to post about it.

So - this is the recipe, from Epicurious.

I used my usual crumb base - 200g crushed digestives and 100g melted butter - which from previous experience, is exactly the right amount for a 24cm springform tin. The amount in the recipe would have given a very sparse coverage.

I used 300g of citrus curd, from a batch made from the juice of 4 limes, the zest of one lime and the zest and juice of two lemons (100mls juice), 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, 150g butter and 150g sugar. This was slightly too much when divided as suggested by the recipe - the cheesecake needed less than half of this amount on top to have better defined swirls.

Other than those changes, I made the cheesecake mixture as per the recipe, using vanilla paste with seeds.

It took 90 minutes before the cheesecake got to the slightly wobbly in the centre stage, but by then the edges were very solid and puffed up, and the start of cracks could already be seen across the surface. These deepened as the cheesecake cooled. The cheesecake breaking was my own fault - I should have left it on the base of the springform pan, as I usually do.

As I said previously, the ripples of curd within the cheesecake had all but disappeared, but I think the butter and eggs in the curd was what added so much to the texture of the cheesecake - it was smooth, creamy and very rich without being heavy. The flavour was more of lemon than lime, but overall it was well balanced and not very tart - although I like sharp tasting lemon desserts, not everyone does!

I'm not sure I would make this recipe again, as I don't know what to do to correct the faults. The cooking time is an insurmountable problem - at 45 minutes the whole thing was still liquid! A longer cooking time causes cracks! Rippling the citrus curd didn't work well either, but I'm not sure just folding it in would have had the same effect.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Mincemeat Tart with Hazelnut Frangipan

My challenge was to create a New Year's Eve dessert or two using storecupboard ingredients and Christmas leftovers. I made a really tasty chocolate and chestnut mousse from leftover chocolate sauce (which was quite solid when cold), unsweetened chestnut purée, ricotta cheese, a little sugar and some double cream, but let CT take the leftovers home before I had a chance to photograph them.

My other dessert was this mincemeat tart - a base of shortcrust pastry spread with a layer of mincemeat (about half a jar) and topped with a frangipan mixture made from 50g ground hazelnuts, 50g SR flour, 100g softened butter, 100g caster sugar and 2 eggs, beaten together. I also added a tablespoon of milk to make the mixture easier to spread over the mincemeat, and decorated the top with pastry shapes made from the pastry off-cuts. The shapes were supposed to be snowflakes, but looked more like stars after baking, especially the way I had them arranged!
This needed to bake at a high temperature (200C), initially, to make sure the pastry base cooked through, but after 20 minutes, I lowered the temperature to 170C and carried on cooking until the topping was golden and firm to the touch.

This was an excellent variation on the traditional mince pie. Using only a pastry base made a slice lighter than a pastry capped pie, and the hazelnut frangipan (for want of a better word - I would usually use only ground nuts and no flour, in a frangipan, but my ground hazelnuts are a precious dwindling commodity at the moment) was light and full of nutty flavour, adding an extra dimension to the overall taste experience.