Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Pineapple and Carrot Cake - no added refined sugar

All of a sudden, sugar seems to be a dirty word! It doesn't matter whether we need to lose weight, or are just worried about a healthier lifestyle; either way we shouldn't be eating refined sugar! We're even told that sugar is now thought to be at the root of many illnesses previously thought to be due to eating too much fat.

I'm sure it's a lot more complicated than that, but I do find that the most effective sort of weight loss diet for me involves reducing carbohydrates, and refined carbohydrates such as white sugar are the easiest to cut out (as long as you don't ask me to cut out chocolate!). I lost a lot of weight following the 5:2 diet, where the restricted calorie intake on two days a week meant that there just wasn't room for many carbohydrates in a day's food; I also had to watch the carbs on non fasting days, or I could easily find myself eating too much in compensation for the restricted days. At the moment I'm 'resting' on a reduced carbohydrate diet, until I'm ready to tackle another bout of weight loss; I'm maintaining my weight and even still losing a little.

Anyway, that explains why I was attracted to the recipes in this article in the Daily Mail; although it is part of a series aimed at what it calls a 'sugar detox' for your body, leading to total avoidance of refined carbohydrates, the recipes here aim to sweeten cakes and desserts with only the natural sugars found in fruit and starchy vegetables. I thought the Pineapple and Carrot Cake was the recipe which best fitted in with my current eating style - it would give us something to eat with our evening cup of coffee and could be my only carbohydrate fix of the day, if I was being really strict with myself.

I deviated slightly from the recipe, in that I used sunflower oil, and I also added about three tablespoons of sultanas (one spoonful didn't look worth adding!). I had spelt flour in the store cupboard so used that rather than buckwheat flour. The sweetness in the cake comes from canned pineapple, banana, carrots, sultanas and passion fruit, and some crunchiness is added through the use of walnuts.

I was pleasantly surprised by this cake. The texture was much lighter than I expected and the combination of fruit, vegetable and nuts gave a really good flavour, although I think a little spice (perhaps cinnamon or nutmeg) would be an improvement. On first tasting I thought that the cake was really going to suffer from the lack of sugar, but the reduced sweetness grew on me, and I could see how this would be a good cake to eat if you were really serious about cutting out all refined carbohydrates - the sweetness of a 'normal' cake would tempt you back into eating more sugar. You could add some artificial sweetener to bring the flavour up to the normal levels of sweetness, but I think it's far better to train your taste buds to accept less sweetness as normal.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Congress Tarts

 What is it about the combination of desiccated coconut and raspberry jam? I think it's a bit of national nostalgia for times past which sends so many people into a drooling tizzy when it's mentioned! Just as Proust had his madeleine moments, the British have the raspberry and coconut combination to take them back to a childhood of school dinner jam tarts sprinkled with coconut and sponge castles baked in dariole moulds (also called madeleines in some regions).

Whatever the reason the combination is loved, this recipe for Congress Tarts leapt out of the book at me (in my case, I found the recipe in a book called 'The Book of Old Tarts', by Elizabeth Hodder), as I was searching for a recipe for this month's Tea Time Treats challenge. The brief this month, set by Jane at The Hedge Combers blog is to make something for the tea table in which eggs play a role. To me, that meant that eggs ought to play a dominant role, as in meringues, custards, quiches, mousses and similar products. My problem was finding something which would fit into my normal baking programme, which is restricted at the moment due to a need to lose weight, and remaining Christmas treats still in the store cupboard. I needed something small, as well as tasty, and this recipe fitted the bill, as it looked possible to scale it down a bit without any problems

A Congress Tart is a cross between a British Macaroon and a Bakewell tart - raspberry jam is spread into the bottom of a pastry case and a macaroon mixture of egg whites, sugar, ground almonds and coconut is placed on top before baking. I had to replace about a third of the ground almonds with ground hazelnuts, as I didn't check my storecupboard properly before starting the recipe, but I don't think this was detrimental to the overall flavour - it was the coconut flavour which was dominant, despite adding a little almond extract and lemon zest to the macaroon mixture. The recipe in my book (as opposed to the online recipe, made in a jam tart mould) made eight 8cm tarts and was easily reduced by 1/3, so that in the end I only made six slightly smaller tarts.

As you can see from the photo below, the excess pastry was made into a raspberry jam and coconut turnover, to make the most of the delicious raspberry/coconut combination. The turnover was filled with 3 heaped teaspoons of raspberry jam and a tablespoon of desiccated coconut, and was sprinkled with a little more coconut before baking.

Tea Time Treats

Tea Time Treats (click here to see the rules) is a monthly challenge to bake for a good old-fashioned tea table, following the theme set by that month's host. It is hosted alternately by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and a new host, Jane at The Hedge Combers. Jane chose the theme of eggs, and will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month.

If it's not obvious from my description of Congress Tarts, I feel they are a good entry for TTT because the filling uses egg whites to bind and raise the macaroon mixture.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Green Tea Layer Cake with Yuzu Frosting

I'm trying very hard to bake small things at the moment, as there's only the two of us here now, and it wouldn't hurt either of us to eat a bit (or a lot, in my case!) less. One problem with small cakes, rather than individual cupcakes, or sliced traybakes, is to get them to look right, proportionally; I don't think I've succeeded very well with this cake - narrower and taller might have looked better.

I chose yuzu as the flavour for the frosting on this cake with this month's AlphaBakes challenge in mind; once that was decided it seemed a logical progression to add some matcha (green tea) powder to the cake batter and give the whole thing a Japanese feel. Yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit with a unique flavour - described as grapefruit crossed with mandarin - and it's juice is found for sale in this country in very small bottles (60mls), usually in the 'world foods' area of supermarkets. Lemon juice is probably the nearest substitute for flavour.

The cake was a standard all-in-one 2-egg sponge mixture, with two teaspoons of matcha powder added. I baked it in a straight sided tin which was 7" x 4" (a 1lb loaf tin is a similar size, but I didn't want sloping sides).

When the cake was cooled I filled and topped it with a buttercream flavoured with yuzu juice - I started with 80g softened butter, 180g sifted icing sugar and 45ml (3 tablespoons) of yuzu juice. I then added 4 rounded tablespoons more icing sugar to make the buttercream firmer. Finally, I sprinkled about 1/4 teaspoon of green lustre powder on the top, in lieu of anything better to decorate with!

The flavour of the buttercream - intensely citrusy - was the dominant flavour here. I'm not sure whether my matcha powder isn't very strongly flavoured, or I'm just not using enough of it, but the flavour just wasn't coming through. However, the yuzu flavour alone was enough to make this delicious.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a baking challenge hosted alternately by Caroline at Caroline Makes and Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker. The idea is to bake something either whose name begins with the randomly chosen letter for the month, or one of the major flavouring ingredients begins with that letter. This month the letter chosen is Y and Ros is the host who will be doing a round up of entries at the end of the month.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

with Sour Cherries and Szechuan Pepper

At this time of year, with the Christmas feasting registering on the scales (or on the waistline), and thoughts turning longingly to the next holiday, it's only natural that many of us start to think about healthier eating. I'm not going to pretend that chocolate chip cookies feature anywhere in a low calorie diet, but this version uses sunflower oil instead of butter, and adds some oats, and it could be argued that these are two steps towards making them a little bit better for you!

The first We Should Cocoa challenge of the year is hosted by Linzi at Lancashire Food, and she has, most appropriately for the New Year, challenged us all to bake with a new ingredient - something that we haven't used with chocolate before.

I thought very hard about what I could use that I haven't previously paired with chocolate, and several meanderings around the internet (you know how it is, you look up one thing and end up a million miles away, as things catch your interest) and an examination of all my chocolate cookery books eventually lead me to Szechuan Pepper. I've used chilli and chocolate together quite often and thought that Szechuan Pepper (it's effects on the taste buds are often described as 'hot and numbing') would give the cookies a nice kick of seasonal warmth. As Szechuan Pepper is also described as having a citrusy tang, I decided to enhance this aspect by adding some tangerine zest and juice. I chose to add sour cherries to compliment both the pepper (I hoped) and the tangerine, and to cut through the sweetness of a traditional chocolate chip cookie.

The recipe I use is adapted from this one on the Cookie Madness site.  I kept all the dough ingredient quantities the same, but I used sunflower oil, light muscovado sugar and spelt flour. I left out the vanilla extract and added 1 teaspoon of ground Szechuan peppercorns (sieved after grinding to remove husks) and the finely grated zest of a tangerine. I added 80g chopped plain chocolate and instead of nuts I used 70g dried sour cherries, which I soaked in the juice from the tangerine while preparing the other ingredients, then drained before using.

The result was a soft chewy cookie packed with chocolate and fruit flavours, together with that distinctive flavour that spelt flour gives. There was a hint of warmth from the pepper, but I think I had been too conservative with the amount of pepper I used. I'd been guided by the only similar recipe I could find which used half a teaspoon. I estimate that was the amount I used after sieving the ground peppercorns. It was still a useful exercise, as it hasn't put me off the combination and I want to try it again with more pepper.

We Should Cocoa is the brainchild of Choclette, at Chocolate Log Blog, and the full set of rules can be found on her blog. Briefly, the aim is to produce something containing some form of chocolate plus the chosen ingredient or task for the month. The host (in this case, Linzi, see above) posts a round-up of all the entries at the end of the month.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Chocolate and Orange Meringues

The time between Christmas and the resumption of normal eating (otherwise known as the diet, in my case!) often calls for ingenuity in using up things leftover from catering for visitors, or just making more than usual to give people choice.

I was pleased with myself this year for making a Gooseherder's Pie with shredded goose meat and a mashed potato topping, as well as some really tasty vegetable patties using all the leftover root vegetables which accumulated over the festive period.

This dessert was another successful use of bits and pieces lurking in the fridge - leftover egg whites and crème fraiche from the Christmas Day dessert, excess cream cheese from  making a smoked mackerel pate and a couple of oranges reaching the end of their life. All I needed to add was a 300g tub of mascarpone cheese.

I made the meringues with 4 egg whites, 200g of caster sugar and two teaspoons of sifted cocoa. I spread the meringue into 6 nest shapes about 10cm across and baked at 150C for about 90 minutes, then left them to cool in the oven.

The cheesecake-style filling was made from a tub of mascarpone cheese, about 100g full fat cream cheese and a few tablespoons of crème fraiche mixed with 50g icing sugar, the zest of 2 oranges and the juice from one of them. This set quite firmly when chilled, and was enough to fill 4 meringues.

The chocolate sauce was made by melting 100g of plain chocolate into 150mls double cream and leaving to cool a bit.

The dessert was assembled just before serving, to avoid the meringue getting soggy.

The second photo is awful - my apologies - bad light and rushing to get a photo while everyone was waiting to start eating!