Monday, 26 May 2014

Blueberry and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding

This turned out to be a very tasty version of bread and butter pudding, which is traditionally made with dried vine fruits. I also reduced the fat content of a traditional recipe by only using a little melted butter to grease the baking dish and drizzle over the top of the layers of bread to give some crunch when baked. Usually each slice of bread is spread with butter.

This recipe will make 4 generous portions, or 6 portions for those with more delicate appetites!

25g butter, melted
5 - 6 slices bread from a large loaf, not too thinly sliced (optional - remove crusts).
120g orange curd - approximately
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
300mls semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs
120g frozen or fresh blueberries. (If using frozen, don't thaw before assembling the pudding)
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

Use a little of the melted butter to grease a 2 litre baking dish.
Make sandwiches using the bread and a generous amount of orange curd, and cut into small triangles. 
Arrange half of the small sandwiches over the bottom of the baking dish and sprinkle over the blueberries and orange zest.
Arrange the rest of the sandwiches evenly on top, with some of the points sticking up, if possible.
Drizzle over the remaining melted butter and leave for about 10 minutes to allow the butter to soak in and set.
Beat the eggs and milk together and pour over the bread, pressing down with the back of a spoon to submerge the bread initially.
Allow to stand at room temperature for about 40 minutes, then sprinkle over the sugar and bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes, until the pudding is gold and crispy on top and the custard is set.

Best served warm rather than straight out of the oven, so allow to stand for about 20 minutes.

I used frozen blueberries, which didn't all burst when cooked; this looked good as there wasn't a lot of fruit juice spoiling the colour of the custard. The orange curd gave a strong flavour which was freshened by the orange zest. Using fresh fruit instead of dried made the pudding seem lighter and more suitable for summer.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Another Attempt at a Courgette and Lemon Cake

Over the last couple of years I've had a few attempts at trying to make a courgette cake which was as light and fluffy as a sponge cake, only to produce cakes which tasted good but were heavy and close textured.

When the apple cake I made last week turned out so well, I immediately wondered if it could be adapted to make a courgette cake. I also wanted to have another go at getting a better lemon flavour into a courgette cake than I did with this effort last year, when lemon marmalade was used. I didn't have lemons, but I did have a jar of Sicilian Lemon Dessert Base, bought from the cheap 'end of line' shelf in Tesco.

It's a blend of lemon juice concentrate, sugar, lemon zest, butter and cornflour and is designed to make quick desserts - for example, mix with whipped cream to make a mousse or with cream cheese to fill a pastry case. It sounded perfect for adding intense flavour to a cake batter.

So, I adapted the apple cake recipe a little and produced a courgette and lemon cake which was the best I've made so far! It was much lighter than previous efforts and had a pronounced lemon flavour. It was also quite pretty, with the flecks of courgette peel still visible.

225g SR flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g unsalted butter
150g golden caster sugar
150g coarsely grated courgette
2 large eggs
100g lemon dessert base (without this I think I'd use the zest of two lemons and 50g natural yogurt)

Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a 7" diameter round cake tin.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter as for making pastry.
Mix in the sugar, then all the other ingredients, and mix to soft batter.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, level the top and bake for  around 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.
Cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

I didn't think the cake needed frosting for everyday eating but a lemon glacé icing would pretty it up for a special occasion.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Chocolate Cake for £1: Part 3 - Chocolate Swiss Roll

The quest for a really good chocolate cake, costing no more than £1 continues! As I've mentioned before, this is for the We Should Cocoa challenge for May.

The brownies I made on my first attempt were very chocolatey, but probably wouldn't suit the tastes of small children. The next offering, a chocolate orange cake, was more suitable for children but it was a plain, everyday kind of cake. Today's chocolate swiss roll is aimed at pleasing children and adults alike, as well as being something you wouldn't be ashamed to put out for guests.

I used the standard recipe of 3 eggs, 80 of caster sugar and 80g SR flour (substituting 1 tablespoon of flour with cocoa); the fact that a swiss roll is made from a fatless sponge brings down the cost considerably. I then filled the swiss roll with 200g of orange curd, and used 50g of the cheapest plain chocolate I could find to decorate the finished cake.

I could have filled the roll with one of the cheaper jams available, but thought orange curd would be a better partner - Sainsbury's had a 411g jar in their range for 62p. The chocolate was ALDI's 'everyday essentials' brand, costing 30p for 100g, and had 50% cocoa solids; it also had quite an acceptable flavour when eaten on it's own, which surprised me - it didn't taste cheap or feel nasty in the mouth.

Ingredients and cost
3 medium eggs        25.0p
80g caster sugar         8.0p
70g flour                    3.0p
1 tablespoon cocoa  10.0p
200g orange curd     31.0p
50g plain chocolate  15.0p
extra caster sugar +
a tsp of sunflower oil  3.0p
                    Total = 95.0p for 6 portions; just under 16p a portion.

This certainly looks the nicest of the three cakes I've made, but the cake itself didn't have a very strong chocolate flavour, although being able to use real chocolate for the decoration made up for that to some extent. The main disadvantage of a fatless sponge has to be mentioned - it really needs eating the same day it is made, which makes it OK for a special tea-time treat, but not if you want a cake to come back to over a few days.

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is a monthly challenge to produce something made using chocolate and the extra ingredient or theme chosen by that month's host. The challenge is the idea of Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. Although Choclette often shares hosting duties with various guest hosts, this month's theme of frugal baking is her idea, and she will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month.

I've just realised that the rules of We Should Cocoa
stipulate only one entry. This is the best of the three cake I've made, so will go in as my entry, but if you've followed the link from the challenge round up to here, I hope you'll look at the other cakes I made!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Apple and Pistachio Cake, with Elderflower Drizzle

As a break from cheap chocolate cakes for the We Should Cocoa challenge, I decided to tackle this month's AlphaBakes challenge. We're on the second run through the alphabet now, and this month's randomly chosen letter is E. I'd already decided that I would bake with Elderflower flavour, so imagine my delight at finding the first elderflowers out this morning, just in time to add to the photographs of the cake. I'd looked in my usual patch yesterday and they were still in bud, but this morning I passed an elder tree in a sunnier position, and the first bunches were open!

While I was looking for inspiration for flavours to pair with elderflower, I came across apple and elderflower yogurt in the supermarket, and a recipe for a pistachio, yogurt and elderflower cake from Jamie Oliver. Although the cake looked delicious, I didn't want anything quite so elaborate, but I liked the idea of using apples and pistachio nuts with the elderflower flavour.

I decided that I didn't want the contrasting textures of chopped nuts and chunks of apples, just their flavours, so I grated the apples and ground the nuts, so that the cake would have an uniform texture. I based the cake on this recipe for an apple cake using grated apple, substituting 50g of the flour with ground pistachio nuts and using golden caster sugar instead of brown. I also used about a tablespoon of elderflower cordial instead of milk to get a soft batter. I kept the peel on the apples - two small red eating apples - in the hope that the flecks of pink would show in the finished cake, but any visible peel seemed to have turned green on cooking! When the cake was cooked, I pricked the top all over with a cocktail stick and drizzled on 4 tablespoons (60mls) of elderflower cordial before leaving it to cool.

Although all the flavours were very subtle, the cake was delicious, and much lighter than I'd expected after the addition of grated apple. It might have been better to follow the example in JO's recipe, and use more cordial, reduced down to a syrup, but after a week of costing out cake recipes I was very conscious of how expensive elderflower cordial is!

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a challenge based on a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet. The dish made must feature something beginning with that letter as one of the main ingredients or part of the name. It is hosted jointly by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline MakesRos is this month's host with the letter E, and will feature a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Chocolate Cake for £1: Part 2 - Chocolate Orange Loaf

I wasn't really happy that my first attempt at making a chocolate cake for under £1 (this month's We Should Cocoa challenge) produced something that small children would enjoy as much as adults. While the brownies were rich in chocolate flavour, they didn't look very substantial on the plate and weren't very filling. This cake, called a 'plain family cake' in my cookbook, is more family friendly - the portions are more substantial and filling, as there is a lot more flour in the recipe, and there is a lot less sugar per portion too, which can only be a good thing.

This type of cake goes down the traditional route of producing a chocolate cake - substituting 25g of flour in a recipe for a plain cake with cocoa. I don't think this produces a rich chocolate flavour, but under the circumstances, there wasn't much I could do. I decided to boost the flavour by adding the zest of an orange. I haven't included the cost of this, as the orange itself could still be used in some other way - this may be looked on as cheating, but if you want to include the cost of the orange, you'd have to leave off the frosting to keep the cost below £1*. In that case I would make the cake with the juice of the orange, rather than milk, to boost the flavour.

Once again, I've costed the cake using a non-free-range egg and I've used UHT (long-life) semi-skimmed milk, granulated sugar and a soft baking spread to reduce the costs even more. Hubby actually uses the UHT milk on his breakfast, and reckons he can't tell the difference between that and fresh, so I don't think using it in baking is a problem. As before, I've used prices from ALDI, except for the cocoa and the baking spread, which were bought from Tesco.

Ingredients and cost

215g SR flour (7p)
25g cocoa        (20p)
120g soft baking spread (28p)
1 medium egg  (9p)
100ml milk       (5.5p)
100g granulated sugar (7.5p)
orange zest*
100g icing sugar (15p)
5g cocoa             (4p)


Pre-heat the oven to 170C and prepare a small loaf tin in your usual way.
Sift the flour and 25g cocoa together and rub in the baking spread. Mix in the sugar.
Use a zesting tool to remove about 1/3 of the peel from the orange in thin shreds, and set this aside for decoration. Finely grate the rest of the peel into the bowl containing the mixed dry ingredients.
Add the egg and milk to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff dough; transfer to the loaf tin and bake for about 75 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.
Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
When cold, mix the icing sugar and 5g cocoa to a thick paste with cold water and spread over the top of the cake. Sprinkle the reserved shreds of orange peel along the centre of the cake to decorate.

Total cost = 96p
This makes 6 portions at 16p per portion, each portion weighing around 125g. 8 smaller portions (around 95g) would cost 12p each.

*The cost would be more or less the same if the orange was included and the frosting left off. The orange was 25p (from a multibuy pack), which is the cost of the frosting and the milk in the cake. There should be 100ml of juice in the orange to replace the milk in the cake batter.

This recipe makes quite a dry, solid cake which isn't very sweet, but I think it's just the thing to keep in the cake tin to feed hungry children after school (if that sort of thing still goes on after the recent demonization of sugar!). Neither the chocolate nor the orange flavour is very strong, but the frosting adds a nice touch of sweetness lacking in the cake. This is something plain and simple which will offend no-one, and for the price provides something more substantial than can be bought!

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is a monthly challenge to produce something made using chocolate and the extra ingredient or theme chosen by that month's host. The challenge is the idea of Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. Although Choclette often shares hosting duties with various guest hosts, this month's frugal theme of making a chocolate cake for £1 is her idea, and she will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Chocolate Cake for £1: Part 1 - Brownies

This month's We Should Cocoa challenge is to make a chocolate cake for £1 or less. Many bloggers are responding to the Live Below the Line 2014 Challenge - to live on less than £1 a day, to raise awareness of extreme poverty and raise funds for OXFAM while doing so. The challenge to make a cake for less than £1 was in sympathy with this cause.

Those of us who don't have to think about every penny we spend perhaps don't realise how expensive home baking can be, as we blithely pick chocolate, dried fruit and nuts from the baking aisle and just add them to the shopping trolley. We might believe a home-made cake is cheaper and better than a bought cake, but is that true? Manufacturers have the advantage of buying ingredients in bulk, which must be cheaper than retail prices. Factory procedures may make use of ingredients which we wouldn't necessarily want to put in a home-made cake, but which does make them long lasting and cheap. Chocolate cakes have their own particular problems, in that good quality chocolate can be expensive, and producing a rich tasting cake often uses a great deal of chocolate. It's not unknown for me to use at least 200g of chocolate in a cake - that's around £2 before any other ingredients are taken into account!

Looking at the supermarket shelves, I could see that making a decent sized cake (at least 6 portions, for example) for £1 was not going to be easy. Packet mixes for a chocolate sponge start at around 85p, but still need two eggs and some filling adding - if that was the cheapest a supermarket could do, then I didn't hold out much hope. Ready made cakes were, surprisingly, cheaper - a 'cream' filled chocolate sponge, claiming to serve 6 people, can be bought for £1, but the box was so light that I suspect the main ingredient would be the air incorporated into the mixture! That particular cake weighed in at just over 200g, so the portions were very light (36g). Cakes without chocolate were even cheaper - 12 plain fairy cakes could be bought for £1. I even found a 'basic' plain sponge mixture for 22p, which only needed one egg, some water and a filling added.

Something else which comes under scrutiny, when looking at drastically cutting costs, is my insistence on buying free-range eggs. I realise that if I was really having to cook with so low a budget, then the ethics of egg production would probably not be high on the agenda, but I've used free range eggs for many years and it is one of the food principles that I stick by. For the purposes of this exercise in cheap cake production, I baked with free-range, but costed up the recipe with basic quality eggs, which are up to 6p cheaper.

The first recipe I tried was for brownies. As soon as I started costing up recipes, it was obvious that chocolate couldn't be used - I would have to find a recipe using cocoa. It also became clear that it wouldn't be possible to use a recipe containing butter either, because of the expense, so I looked for one using oil instead. I chose this recipe, encouragingly called The Best Brownies Recipe, from, although my idea of portion size meant I cut the cooked brownies into 8 pieces rather than 10. Costs meant that I used granulated sugar instead of caster, to save a few more pennies, and had to cut the vanilla extract down to 1/2 a teaspoon (shockingly expensive stuff!). The brownies produced were rather thin, even though I used a slightly smaller tin (8" square), but they did have a satisfyingly rich flavour, and the right sort of chewy texture for brownies. I managed to bring in the batch of brownies at just under £1 (my costs are based on shopping at ALDI for everything except the cocoa, which was Tesco's own brand):

125ml sunflower oil        15p
200g granulated sugar     15p
2 large eggs                      23p
35g cocoa                         27p
70g plain flour                    2p
1/2tsp vanilla extract        12p
salt, baking powder            2p
                             Total = 96p, or 12p a portion (each portion weighing around 70g)

Although I like the flavour of the brownies, they were perhaps more suited to adult tastes and didn't look very filling on the plate. If I were cooking for a family, with a limited budget, brownies are probably not the best thing to make for everyday eating. More investigations are needed to find something more family friendly, I think. Should Cocoa (rules here) is a monthly challenge to produce something made using chocolate and the extra ingredient or theme chosen by that month's host. The challenge is the idea of Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. Although Choclette often shares hosting duties with various guest hosts, this month's theme is her idea, and she will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

One of the nicest things about Spring is harvesting our home grown rhubarb, but this doesn't seem to be a good year; I think it's because it was a relatively mild winter, with no prolonged cold periods. Rhubarb definitely benefits from being cold during it's dormant period. Our apple trees have suffered from the strange spring weather too - only one had a good quantity of blossom, and one hasn't had any at all. Who says Britain has a reliable climate?

This recipe was devised mainly as a way of making a small amount of rhubarb go a long way, but also as my entry to this month's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is for open top tarts, pies and quiches.

I managed to take about 400g of rhubarb from our plants, without completely denuding any of them. Hopefully there will be more to harvest in the future, but the crowns aren't producing as many new leaves as in other years. I cooked the chopped rhubarb with 100g of sugar until most of the liquid had been driven off and it was reduced to a thick jam-like purée. This was spread into the base of a deep 20cm(8") diameter tart dish lined with shortcrust pastry - no need to blind-bake the pastry case for this recipe.

The frangipane topping was made from 100g each of ground almonds, slightly salted butter (softened) and golden caster sugar, 2 large eggs, half a teaspoon baking powder and a few drops of almond extract. These ingredients were just beaten together until light and fluffy, then spread carefully on top of the rhubarb, making sure to seal the mixture around the edge where it joined the pastry.  A few flaked almonds were scattered over the surface, then the tart was baked at 200C for 15 minutes. The oven temperature was then lowered to 180C and baking continued until the frangipane was golden and firm - the total baking time was about 40 minutes.

This is a dessert best eaten at room temperature. The rhubarb and almond flavours complimented each other well and the frangipane had a good chewy texture, contrasting with the crisp pastry and sticky rhubarb purée.

Tea Time Treats
Tea Time Treats is a baking challenge co-hosted by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and  Jane from The Hedgecombers. Each month we are invited to produce something suitable for a tea time spread, following the theme set by that month's host. This month's theme of open tarts, pies and quiches was set by Jane, who will post a round up of entries at the end of the month.