Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Salt Caramel Flapjacks

A few days ago, I opened a tin of ready made caramel to make a toffee apple and pecan cake, which needed just 200g of the caramel. It turned out to be a waste of caramel, because although the cake was just about edible, it took twice as long to cook as the recipe stated, and was very dense and stodgy, and not particularly well-flavoured, as the added ingredients of apples and pecans were in quite small quantities.

As I was so disappointed with the cake, I decided not to even write a blog post about it, but you can follow the link above, if you want to know what to avoid!

That left me with roughly half a tin of caramel to use, and I also had some really good quality Sainsbury's gluten-free rolled oats that I wanted to compare with ALDI porridge oats and Tesco everyday value oats. Obviously, finding a recipe for caramel flapjacks was a priority, but it had to be a recipe that used the amount of caramel available.

It didn't take long to find this Annie Bell recipe for Salt Caramel Flapjacks. I was a little flabbergasted by the amount of butter, but I've cooked enough of Annie's recipes to trust her, especially as I was a little short on the amount of caramel needed. I had to use unsalted butter for the recipe, so added extra salt, in the form of 1 teaspoon of vanilla flavoured salt I happened to have in the store cupboard.

The recipe was simple to follow and quick to put together and cook. I cut the finished flapjacks into 16 portions - 25 seemed ridiculously small, although they would have been less calorific per portion! The results were absolutely delicious; my only criticism of the flavour was that I couldn't taste the salt. If (or, more likely, when) I make them again I will increase the amount of salt added. The flapjack was chewy and fudgy flavoured, and very rich. They were perhaps slightly on the crumbly side, but I think a few minutes extra baking will take care of that.

As for the oats - the gluten-free oats were miles ahead in quality - they were whole grains rolled flat, to make large crisp flakes. The Tesco everyday value oats were next in quality, with smaller, less crisp flakes ( I have to say that I've been using these for baking for years, with no complaints about the results). The ALDI porridge oats were very small pieces of flake, which probably make great porridge, but were too fine to give a good result if used on their own in baked goods. I think in future I will use a mixture of the Tesco everyday value and the gluten-free oats to improve the texture of things such as biscuits and flapjacks. But for things like cakes, where the coarser texture isn't as important, and perhaps not even necessary, I'll continue with just the Tesco oats.

I'm just in time to submit this recipe to this month's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is to produce food suitable for a bonfire night party. TTT is a cooking challenge hosted alternately by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, and Jane of The Hedge Combers, who is this month's host.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Hazelnut and White Chocolate Brownies

I whipped up a quick batch of brownies for CT to take home with him after he had dinner with us recently. I used my usual oil-based recipe, this time using sunflower oil and adding 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 50g of white chocolate chips, instead of all chocolate. 
They were as good as they always are - dense, moist and chewy, as a good brownie should be!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake

 - from a recipe by Harry Eastwood.

This cake was made specifically for the AlphaBakes challenge, where this month's randomly chosen letter is H.

My baking books were surprisingly short of recipes containing ingredients beginning with H - hazelnuts featured heavily, but I've used them a lot lately, and wanted to avoid them if possible. Honey was the only other frequently used ingredient, so I set myself the task of finding a recipe for a fruit cake sweetened only by honey.  So many recipes are called 'honey (something or other)', only to feature a tablespoon or two of honey, supposedly added for flavour, in addition to the usual high amount of sugar found in most cakes and biscuits.

I'm not going down the route of claiming that a cake sweetened with honey is any healthier than a cake sweetened by standard sugar (they are both types of carbohydrates not really needed for nutrition), but I do think that if you are using honey for it's flavour, you need a fair amount of it in a cake!

However, Harry Eastwood's baking recipes (ooooh! an extra H there!) are special for being a little bit healthier than most. She uses added vegetables a lot, and tries to cut down on the amount of sugar and fat in her recipes. This cake, called a Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake, uses finely grated butternut squash to replace much of the fat  - the only fat comes from nuts and eggs - and the squash also has a natural sweetness which means less needs to be added in the form of honey. The cake batter is made from half flour and half ground almonds and is packed with dried fruit and chopped nuts. In fact, for the size of cake made, it's really fruit and nuts held together with a little cake batter!

I followed the basic recipe, but as I'm trying to finish some of the half-used packets of dried fruits and nuts in the storecupboard, I altered what I used from what was suggested in the recipe. Instead of raisins and cranberries, I used sultanas, cranberries and sour cherries, and instead of chopped almonds I used a mixture of almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and peanuts. I also sprinkled some flaked almonds on top of the cake before baking.

This was a really delicious cake; the almond flavour was predominant, as you'd expect with the use of almond extract, but the lemon zest and the honey both made a noticeable contribution. Obviously, the cake will vary in flavour depending on what type of honey is used - I used a Fairtrade Guatemalan honey which wasn't produced from any specific flowers, and was just a generic 'honey' flavour.

The big surprise was that the absence of fat wasn't noticed, nor was the addition of  quite a large amount of grated butternut squash. The recipe stated to grate the squash finely, so I used a finer grater than I would have used if grating carrots for a carrot cake, and this made the vegetable vanish into the cake batter, only adding moisture to the texture.

I'm not sure this would convince me that it's good to eat cake for breakfast, but it is certainly a cake that's good to eat, and will go on my list of things worth repeating.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a blogging challenge hosted on alternate months by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes. This month's randomly chosen letter H was picked by Ros, who will post a roundup of entries at the end of the month.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Gooseberry Crumble

 I'm a great believer in seasonal eating, but it's getting ever more difficult to stick to  eating just what is traditionally in season. Growing crops in poly tunnels means that even British fruit such as raspberries are available for 9 months of the year, and that's before you even consider imports from abroad. Another factor is the use of the freezer to preserve fruit and vegetables. Rather than throw away excess from a glut, or eat it for weeks ad nauseam, it can often be frozen for out of season use.

This is what happens to my gooseberries and green beans, most years; I know our forbearers bottled fruit and salted beans, but some of the original freshness was missing when these were used. If you choose your fruit well, there is no loss of quality on thawing and cooking - blackberries, gooseberries and plums in particular freeze well, but rhubarb is less successful in my opinion, so that is still a truly seasonal fruit for me. Consequently, however much I might like to stick to seasonal fruit in Autumn and Winter desserts, there are always these fruits calling to me from the freezer .

You don't really want a recipe for fruit crumble - I'm sure you all have your favourite recipes - but I thought it was worth noting that I made a successful gluten- and dairy-free crumble using a proprietary brand of gluten-free flour and pure oats (labelled as wheat, dairy and gluten free), and coconut oil instead of butter.

I used my usual recipe of 100g each of flour, oats, fat and sugar (caster in this case) to make 4-6 portions. I rub the fat into all the other ingredients, which seems to give a better texture after baking. When I'm using coconut oil, I chill the crumble mixture for 30 minutes before putting it on the fruit and baking; I do this because I was worried about the coconut oil becoming too liquid while being rubbed in (even though I handled it a little as possible to get it more or less rubbed in), and wanted to keep the effect of using a solid fat.

If I'm using a fruit which I expect to make a lot of juice when it cooks, such as gooseberries or rhubarb, as well as sweetening it, I add just a level teaspoon of ground rice for every 300g fruit. This seems to thicken the juices perfectly, without adding any unwanted flavour, and with not much change in texture. Beware of using too much though - ground rice absorbs much more liquid than other thickeners such as flour or ground almonds.

I was really pleased that the texture and flavour of the gluten- and dairy-free crumble were comparable to my usual recipe, and I was really pleased with the 'free-from' oats, from Sainsbury's, which were a lot sturdier than the usual 'value' rolled oats I use. They gave a slightly crisper finish to the baked crumble, but of course, I did pay a price premium for them!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Black-Bottom Coconut Bars with Chilli

Back in March this year, the theme for the We Should Cocoa challenge was coconut. I made these coconut and cherry bars with a chocolate biscuit base, by combining two recipes that I found in my cook books, but while I was searching online for something suitable, I found this similar recipe from Martha Stewart,  which I bookmarked for future use.

When this month's WSC challenge  theme was announced as chilli, I had a sudden urge to try chilli, chocolate and coconut together, and remembered the Martha Stewart recipe. The black-bottom layer for her tray bake is a thin layer of brownie mixture, and is topped with a vanilla flavoured coconut macaroon mixture which doesn't contain any added fat.

I followed the recipe exactly, adding half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (pure ground chilli) to the brownie batter, but baking in an 8" square tin, rather than a 9" tin. This turned out to be a good move - as I had anticipated from experience with other US recipes, the brownie base would have been impossibly thin in a larger tin.

These bars were delicious, proving that the combination of chilli, chocolate and coconut is a winner (Bounty bar manufacturer - take note!). The amount of cayenne I used left a noticeable warm aftertaste of chilli, without being overwhelming, although more could be added for a bit more kick! I cut the tray bake into 12 decent sized bars - trying to cut into 24 pieces, as suggested in the recipe, would only mean eating two at a time!

However, although the flavour was spot on, eating the bars wasn't the great experience it should have been. The weight of the coconut macaroon compressed the brownie layer a lot, making it dense and chewy, and the coconut topping was heavy and dry. I much preferred my previous combination of biscuit base and a macaroon mixture with some butter in it - the combination of  crisp biscuit and moister chewy macaroon seemed lighter and was much more pleasant to eat.

We Should Cocoa is the brainchild of Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, who alternates host duties with guests. This month the theme of chilli was chosen by Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen, and as Shaheen is vegetarian, she also asked that any entries submitted also be suitable for vegetarians.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wholemeal Apple and Cranberry Cake

It's time for another cake with delicious Autumnal flavours!

This Nigel Slater recipe is proving to be remarkably adaptable. The original, from his weekly Observer column, used marmalade, sultanas and orange zest to add flavour to an apple cake made with wholemeal flour, and I've previously made versions using apples and cranberries and pears and ginger preserves.

This time I kept the apples and added dried cranberries flavoured with orange, and some smooth cranberry jelly instead of marmalade.

This was a really well-flavoured cake - the cranberries flavoured with orange were very intense - and moist yet light in texture. After making so many variations of this cake, I should stop being surprised by how light it is for a wholemeal cake, but I'm not yet!