Saturday, 29 June 2013

Caramel Almond Thins

Biscuits aren't my favourite things to bake. The extra work involved often outweighs the deliciousness of the biscuit produced, and in my small kitchen I always find myself juggling hot baking trays and cooling racks, with not enough room to deal with anything properly.

However, this recipe, from Rose Prince, caught my eye. Commercial almond thins are one of my favourite biscuits to add to a creamy dessert (such as a mousse or pannacotta) to make it both fancier and less rich, but making the biscuits myself would be so much more impressive!

In addition, the recipe was so simple to make - it took only moments to make the dough, which then needed to be frozen for a couple of hours. This gave me time to clear away the mixing bowls and other apparatus and make the space needed for two baking trays and cooling racks (as well as doing some other household chores!).

The biscuits were delicious, but I soon realised that they weren't the same as the shop-bought version. They were thicker and still chewy in the middle - not crisp all the way through as I wanted them to be - and took quite a bit longer to cook. Although I thought I was following the recipe instructions carefully, I think I still sliced the dough too thickly. I only made about 35 biscuits from the dough instead of the expected 60. Initially I thought it was a mistake with the recipe, or that my block of dough was too big, as I was slicing the dough as thin as I could. It will be interesting to see if I can make the slices thinner next time; this is definitely a recipe to make again, especially when I want to show off to guests!

One thing I learned, which was not mentioned in the recipe, is that the dough needs to cool quite a bit before it is finally shaped and frozen - my block of dough gradually spread outwards every time I stopped shaping it. I had to freeze it for 15 minutes and then give it a final pat into submission, before it would hold it's shape.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hazelnut and Courgette Fruitcakes

This recipe contains ingredients better suited to Autumn - courgettes, apples, hazelnuts, spices and dried fruit - but I was looking for something to use up excess courgettes without using citrus flavours, which have dominated my baking recently.

The recipe comes from the revamped Good Food site, and all I did differently was to bake the mixture in two 1lb loaf tins, rather than a 8" round cake tin. I also squeezed out some of the moisture from the grated courgette and apple. For the dried fruit, I used a mixture containing raisins, apricots, pineapple and papaya. After tasting, I realised the tropical fruits were a mistake and I should have stuck to fruits more in keeping with the other flavours from more temperate regions  - dried pears, peaches or cranberries would have been better additions to vine fruits and apricots.

The cake was very moist and quite dark in colour - I think it might have been better made with white caster sugar rather than  light muscovado, as more of the colour from the courgettes might have shown through. As it was there were only occasional flecks of green to be seen.

Although the cake, as I made it, wasn't quite to my taste, with a little tweaking and a better choice of dried fruit, I'm sure it would make a good cake for colder afternoons in front of the fire.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Blueberry, Hazelnut and Lime Cake

Sometimes I wonder whether my shopping habits are really as thrifty as I think they are. Why buy five limes in a pack when I only need two? Because a multi-pack is 5p per unit cheaper than buying limes individually, of course! But then I'm left with the business of making sure the three remaining limes get used up before they are too soft and squishy to use.

This recipe was a good example of getting rid of the leftovers. When searching the back of the freezer for something or other, I came across a very sad looking pack of blueberries which had been there far too long. I used my favourite quick-mix, oil-based, cake recipe, replacing the lemon zest with that of lime, the almonds with hazelnuts, and sprinkling the punnet of blueberries, still frozen, over the top. The 'drizzle' of citrus juice and sugar was left off altogether.

The resulting cake was a very good combination of flavours. The blueberries were, surprisingly, still quite juicy when cooked, so gave little tart bursts of flavour when eaten. I'm always pleased with the texture of this cake, which is moist and tender, and as this isn't a very sweet cake and doesn't contain much fat, it's feels almost healthy to eat some!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Oatbake with Rhubarb

This summer dessert is based on this recipe from The Nordic Bakery Cookbook, a collection of the favourite recipes from the Nordic Bakery in London. The original recipe used blueberries and raspberries, which aren't quite in season yet, but I used rhubarb chopped into small pieces plus a little extra sugar with the fruit. Not only did this enable me to use fruit from my own garden, but it also meant I could enter the dessert into this month's AlphaBakes challenge, which uses the letter R.

The cake is made by the unusual method of soaking oats in hot milk before mixing them into a cake batter. This is something I've only seen before in Dan Lepard's recipes, but perhaps Scandinavia is where he got his inspiration. The result is a dense, moist, not too sweet loaf which is definitely more suitable as a dessert than as a tea-time cake. We ate it with vanilla pouring yogurt, which is the nearest my husband will come to eating custard, but cream would be a good choice too.

This dessert was quick and easy to make, economical and reasonably healthy, as the oats and milk lowered the sugar and fat ratio of the batter - I can see this being made frequently using different seasonal fruit.

AlphaBakes is a monthly baking challenge co-hosted by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes. The name is self explanatory - to bake something using a randomly chosen letter as part of the name or a main ingredient - but more information, and the rules for entry, can be found here. Ros, as this month's host, will be posting a roundup for the letter R at the end of the month.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Chocolate Marble Cake........

........ flavoured with Fresh Mint, Lime and Chilli.

My friend Foodycat mentioned on her blog recently that if she googles what she hopes is an original combination of flavours or ingredients for a dish, she invariably finds someone has already tried it, and that it came as a real surprise when she found she had thought of something unique. Well, I can honestly say that I got no results when looking for a chocolate cake flavoured with mint, lime and chilli! There were plenty of meaty marinades using mint, lime and chilli together, which convinced me that the idea might work, but it was a real leap into the unknown to use the combination in a chocolate cake.

I decided that if I was making a cake which might not taste great, it would have to look good, so I returned to one of the best marble cake recipes that I've come across - this one from Alice Medrich - although I've adapted it to make a smaller cake, as in the recipe here.

For this cake, I added a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper to the chocolate mix, and after dividing the batter, I added 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint leaves, the grated zest of two limes and enough green colouring to give a pale green colour to the 'plain' portion of the batter. I also used sunflower oil instead of olive, as I didn't have any light olive oil to hand and I didn't want the distraction of a strongly flavoured EVOO. I added a glacé icing flavoured with lime juice to the finished cake.

I love this cake - it's simple to make (you don't even need to remember to bring the refrigerated ingredients to room temperature), it bakes to a lovely moist, tender, even crumb and, perhaps most importantly, has never failed to release properly from a bundt tin. It's only downside - and it's really not a large concern for a family of chocoholics - is that, although it can be adapted to many different flavours, one part always needs to be chocolate.

None of the additional flavours to this cake were really dominant, which  meant there was a subtle blending of flavours to give an overall effect which would probably have people puzzling to identify what they were tasting. For me, this was a bonus as I don't really like the chocolate-mint combination in baking, although I love mint flavoured chocolates. Fresh garden mint (spearmint, I think) is different in flavour to the peppermint essence usually used in baking, so this cake was never going to taste like most bought chocolate-mint confections, regardless of the other added flavours. If I change anything when making it again, it will be to add a little more chilli flavour, so that there is a warmer after-taste from the cake.

The We Should Cocoa challenge for June was the reason I was using mint at all. I don't like avoiding my regular challenges just because I don't like the added ingredient or the particular type of baking required (the layer cake for Tea Time Treats is another thing I'd rather not have to make), so this was my best shot at camouflaging the mint!

WSC was originally the brainchild of Chele from Chocolate Teapot and Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, and the rules can be found here. This month, the challenge to combine chocolate and mint was proposed by Victoria from A Kick At the Pantry Door and she will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Dan Lepard's Orange Walnut Cake

Well, the end of May passed in a blur of trying to catch up with the gardening, finishing clearing my mother's house and a cold, wet week in northern France. Not much baking to post about, although I did leave FB a tin of Marmalade Flapjacks to sustain her while we were away.

One good part of the slightly disappointing holiday was bringing back apple pie, macarons and a box of mini croissants, pains au chocolat and pains au raisins to get us through the first weekend back home. I also picked up two new plates in the supermarket to enhance my blog photos, one of which I'm using in the photo below.

Once the French goodies were eaten, I found myself with a whole bag of oranges which needed using quickly. I wouldn't usually have enough fruit in the fridge to tackle a recipe calling for 5 oranges, but in this case it was just what I needed. This Orange Walnut Cake from Dan Lepard uses the zest of 5 oranges and 150mls of orange juice. My oranges were very juicy so I only needed two of them to supply enough juice for the recipe.

This is another cake made by a slightly unusual method (no surprise really!) but it resulted in a cake with a lovely moist texture and a close tender crumb. The only changes I made to the recipe were to use hazelnuts instead of walnuts and to bake the cake in a longer, shallower tin than specified (same volume though), so that I could cut smaller slices. The batter was quite liquid, so I didn't attempt to swirl in the sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon between the layers of batter. They seemed to disperse themselves evenly throughout the cake without this. I estimate I used about 50g of nuts, and although I sprinkled the cinnamon straight from the jar, I don't think I used even half a teaspoon.

The fresh ginger and ground cinnamon in the cake were subtle background notes to the intense orange flavour, and my personal view was that the chopped nuts were an unnecessary textural distraction from the tender crumb. I think I'd leave them out quite happily if I made this cake again, although I admit that using the specified walnuts, with their stronger flavour, might have given a different result.