Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Honey Cheesecake, with a hint of Chocolate

If more than two years of the We Should Cocoa challenge has taught me anything, it is that I am no longer of the opinion that anything can be improved by the addition of chocolate. The idea for We Should Cocoa is that we should make something containing chocolate and an additional specified ingredient - a spice, fruit, nut or other flavour component. Over time, I've realised that I'm more of a purist than I thought, and although I've found new flavour combinations that I unexpectedly enjoy, I've also found a lot of combinations that just don't work for me.

 This month's challenge to use honey is a case in point. I tried to think of recipes where the flavour of the honey would be prominent, as that is surely the aim of the challenge - there's no point using an ingredient if you can't taste it in the finished article. There was the added problem that baking with large amounts of honey can be problematic too, as I found with a batch of biscuits that ended up like a lace curtain across the baking tray. The pieces tasted great, when I eventually got them to harden and set, but it was impossible to half-coat them in chocolate, which had been my intention.

Eventually, using leftovers from Easter, I decided to make a cheesecake, using chocolate coated oat biscuits for the base, and adding a chocolate sour cream layer on top. Unfortunately, although each component worked well on it's own (apart from a slightly soggy base!), the honey cheesecake mixture just didn't taste right with the two chocolate layers. It may just have been the particular honey I used - my current favourite is a Romanian Lime Blossom honey which has a distinctive citrus flavour, and I'm always wary of pairing citrus, other than orange, with chocolate.

I couldn't find a recipe for a cheesecake mixture which was exactly what I wanted, but in the end I used this recipe from Canadian Living as the basic inspiration. I had to reduce the quantities a little to accomodate the fact that I only had 400g cream cheese, and I cut back the honey even more - to 100g - as I didn't want it to be too sweet.

180g chocolate coated biscuits - I used IKEA Kakor Chocladflard (double chocolate crisps) but would have used chocolate coated hobnobs if these weren't sitting in my storecupboard approaching the use-by date!
90g melted butter
400g full fat cream cheese
100g Lime Blossom honey
2 medium eggs
60g sour cream
rind and zest of 1 small lemon
140ml tub sour cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
25g finely grated 100% cacao block
Use a 7" springform tin and cover the outside with several layers of aluminium foil, so that it can go into a bain-marie. Heat oven to 180C.
Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs, stir in the butter and use to make an even, compressed base in the springform tin. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool.
Beat the cream cheese with the honey, until smooth, then mix in the eggs, lemon and the 60g quantity of sour cream until well combined. Pour onto the crumb base and bake in a bain-marie for 45 minutes or until set but still wobbly. Remove from oven, but leave in bain-marie.
Combine the tub of sour cream with the sugar and grated cacao, spread over the cheesecake and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, open the oven door slightly and leave the cheesecake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and run a knife between the cheesecake and the sides of the tin (may help prevent cracking).
When the cheesecake is cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. Don't cover the cheesecake until it is fully chilled as you may get condensation on the surface!

As I said earlier, apart from a soggy bottom in the centre of the cheesecake, each of the three parts were very good. The base was well flavoured with chocolate and oats, the cheesecake mixture was smooth with a hint of citrus alongside the honey flavour, and the set sour cream topping with added chocolate was delicious. They just didn't work together.

So, not a great success, but I was really pleased with the chocolate sour cream topping, which I'm sure to use again.

We Should Cocoa is a baking challenge started by Chele from Chocolate Teapot, and Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. Each month a different ingredient is chosen to be paired with some form of chocolate in our cooking. This month's choice of honey was made by Choclette, who will be posting a round-up at the end of the month.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Apricot, Marzipan and Cranberry Cake

It wasn't until I started to write about this recipe for an Apricot and Marzipan Cake that I realised the basic cake batter was almost identical to the generic 'quick' cake recipe I've been using for about 30 years.

The part of the cake which makes it quick and easy is that the butter is rubbed into the flour, then the rest of the ingredients are usually simply mixed in. This version was a little different, as the chopped marzipan was sprinkled onto layers of batter in the cake tin, to keep the pieces intact.

As usual, there were a few deviations from the recipe along the way; nothing that drastically changed the cake though. The main change was to substitute the sultanas with dried cranberries, and to add the cranberries into the cake's name  - I really love the combination of apricots and cranberries. The next change was to bake the cake in a round 8"(20cm) diameter tin, and to top with some flaked almonds. Then I glazed the cake with a little honey after baking, rather than apricot jam - simply because I had honey but no jam.

Because the marzipan was chopped into quite large pieces, there was a really intense almond hit when the cake was eaten - I think this is one of the best ways of getting a strong almond flavour into a cake, especially if you can get a marzipan with a high almond content, as this cuts down on the additional sweetness too.

I'm entering this cake into the AlphaBakes challenge this month, as the randomly chosen letter to use in our baking is 'A'. I could have doubled the 'A' ingredients by calling this an apricot and almond cake, but using marzipan gives a different flavour and texture to a cake, and there are some odd people who like almonds, but not marzipan, so I don't want to mislead anyone!

 Alphabakes (rules here) is co-hosted by Caroline from Caroline Makes and Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker. Ros is hosting this month, so she picked the letter 'A' and will be posting the round up at the end of the month.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Rhubarb Streusel Muffins - a Tea Time Treat

This month's Tea Time Treat challenge is to make fairy cakes, cupcakes or muffins, all of which are eminently suitable for any type of tea table, from feeding hordes of hungry children to a dainty afternoon tea using the best china. My problem is I don't really like making them! I can't be bothered with the fiddle of decorating fairy cakes, and don't like cupcakes which have more frosting than cake. I'm beginning to conquer my ineptitude with muffins, but for a long time I avoided making them as they got poor reviews from the family in comparison with shop bought ones.

However, if I was going to take part in this challenge, it would have to be muffins, so I started thinking about delicate seasonal flavours suitable for the tea table. I didn't want robust, heavy muffins full of oats, bran and dried fruit, which are more the sort of thing you eat to fill you at breakfast time, but something you could eat as part of a larger meal, and not feel over-stuffed. When I saw that my rhubarb was just about ready for the first stems to be harvested, the decision was made for me!

My favorite sort of muffins are those with steusel toppings - you get the contrast of a different texture and often a different flavour too, without a lot of effort when making them. The recipe I chose, from Smitten Kitchen, also stirred a portion of the streusel crumbs into the muffin batter, which was a really effective idea.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I used all white flour to make the muffins lighter and more delicate, and I used demerara sugar in the streusel topping to give more crunch. I also rounded all the metric weights to the nearest 5g - my scales work that way, and it's more than accurate enough for most baking!

The muffins turned out really well - they were light and moist, despite the batter being quite stiff. My naturally grown, unforced rhubarb didn't stay pink when cooked, but the little cubes of fruit were still noticeable in the muffins and tasted really good. The hint of cinnamon and nutmeg in the topping went well with the rhubarb too.

Tea Time Treats is a monthly challenge co-hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and Kate at What Kate Baked, who chose this month's theme. It's name speaks for itself, but more details can be found here.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cherry Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

This was a recipe which didn't quite work, but which was so tasty that it will be worked on to achieve an improvement. The only problem was the brownie batter - I chose one of my favourite low saturated fat recipes which was too thin to support the weight of the cream cheese mixture and the blobs of morello cherry jam.

I've previously had success with making cheesecake swirl brownies using a brownie batter made with mayonnaise, but I didn't have enough mayonnaise in stock to use it this time. All I wanted to do was repeat this recipe adding some teaspoons of cherry jam swirled into the brownie mix with the cheesecake, but you can see from the second picture that although the cheesecake swirls weren't too bad, most of the jam sunk straight to the bottom of the tin, and sat in separate blobs after the brownies were cooked.

To be honest with you, the only way we could eat the brownies easily was to serve them upside down, and a lot of the jam had to be scraped off the non-stick baking paper and put back into the holes left in the baked brownies.

But they were delicious - the flavour of the rich, sweet cherry jam was stronger than the brownie flavour, but the plainer cheesecake swirls in the brownie helped balance the flavour and sweetness. Definitely a recipe worth working on, particularly as I know exactly what went wrong.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Mushroom, Sage and Mustard Quiche

This quiche made me realise what a difference it makes to use cream in the filling. Previously, I've always used eggs and milk, but there was a pot of double cream in the fridge, leftover from Easter, and I didn't want to use it in calorific desserts which we shouldn't be eating. Using it in the quiche made the custard part of the filling more full-bodied and richer in flavour.

I made a traditional shortcrust pastry mix, using half lard and half butter, but before adding the water I added in a heaped teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and 25g finely grated parmesan cheese. I baked the pastry case blind, and also brushed the inside of the case with beaten egg, which I dried out in the hot oven, but it still didn't stop a soggy bottom.

The filling was half a medium onion, finely diced, sauteed with 400g of sliced mushrooms and a crushed clove of garlic, until there was no excess water in the pan. I added half a dozen shredded sage leaves towards the end of cooking and seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper. The custard was 3 large eggs, 150mls double cream, 50mls semi-skimmed milk plus the egg left over from egg-washing the case (about half an egg). After the mushroom filling and the custard were in the case I sprinkled over about 25g finely grated mature cheddar and baked the quiche at 150C for about 40 minutes, turning up the temperature a little at the end, to make sure the filling browned a little.

The sage complimented the mushrooms better than I expected, and the cheese and mustard in the pastry added an extra savoury note - not overwhelming, but it was noticeable that something extra had been added. Apart from the soggy pastry bottom, this was a very succesful dish.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Date and Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Cake

Date and Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Cake - a big title for a cake which, athough delicious in it's own way, didn't live up to the expectation of  the recipe on the Waitrose website.

There was nothing fudgy about this cake - it was almost feather light, despite containing date purée, which I expected to make it fairly dense in texture. The use of chocolate hazelnut (Nutella) spread as the only source of chocolate in the cake didn't make it very chocolatey either. The dates weren't noticeable as a separate flavour, but that was to be expected, as anyone who's eaten sticky toffee pudding can testify. There was cocoa as well as Nutella in the filling and frosting, which gave it a stronger chocolate flavour but unfortunately there was not quite enough of it to balance the perceived shortcomings of the cake.

Despite all that, we all really liked this cake - the combination of all the flavours made it much more interesting than a basic chocolate sponge cake. The crumb was tender and light, but also moist, thanks to the date purée. Using the dates to replace some of the sugar meant the cake wasn't over-sweet either. The nutty flavour of the Nutella was quite strong, even if it wasn't very chocolatey, and the filling and frosting was a rich contrast to the lightness of the cake, although the cake did need more of both.

I think, as the person reading the recipe and making the cake, I had different expectations to the people just eating 'another' chocolate cake. I don't often make light layer cakes, but I'd be very happy to produce this one again. I just think I'd call it something different, and double the quantity of frosting!