Saturday, 27 December 2014

Limoncello Tart with Amaretti Crumb Base

This dessert was one of  several available over the Christmas period. I made it for Christmas Eve and only two portions were eaten at that meal, so it reappeared on the dinner table for the next couple of days too. I'd been looking for ages for a suitable dessert incorporating some of the limoncello I brought back from Italy in the Autumn, and this proved to be an excellent use for it.

I used this recipe from Proud Italian Cook, as the tart filling seemed particularly easy compared to some I'd found, and I liked the idea of using Amaretti crumbs in the base. I bought a 250g pack of crunchy Amaretti biscuits and used all but the 4 I tried for quality control purposes (!) in the base. I used 125g melted butter, as I would for other biscuit crumb bases, then followed the recipe exactly as written for the filling and cooking instructions.

Once chilled I gave the tart some festive decoration with crystallised lemon zest chopped really finely and some sugar snowflakes. The decoration was meant to form a large star on top of the tart, but this was a little ill-defined, as I couldn't lay the stencil directly on top of the tart because it was too delicate and stuck to anything that touched it, even briefly. I found that out when I tried to cover it with cling-film, which was the reason I needed the decoration in the centre of the tart - I'd originally intended to add a border of the decorations.

The tart filling was wonderful - soft, creamy and quite delicious - almost like lemon curd straight from the jar. I usually prefer my lemon tarts to be sharper than was the case here, but the balance of the lemon flavour and the creamy texture, against the almost bitter Amaretti biscuits in the crunchy crumb crust was just right.

I'm not sure how much extra flavour the limoncello added, compared to using more lemon juice; and I'm not sure if the alcohol would have cooked out in such a short baking time, but I'll definitely be using this part of the recipe again.

Unfortunately, although the crumb crust tasted good, the crumbs hadn't absorbed all the butter and a lot had leaked out during cooking. It also made the texture of the crust a little greasy, although this wasn't bad enough to spoil the overall experience. I think in future I might try using part Amaretti biscuits and part a more absorbent biscuit such as digestives or oat biscuits, and also cutting down on the butter a little. It would also be a good filling to use with a pastry or almond shortbread crust.

The second of my Christmas desserts isn't worth a separate post, as I wasn't able to get any good photographs. I made a pavlova case which I filled with some of this olive-oil based chocolate mousse, then topped with a half quantity of the chestnut and ricotta cream from this Dan Lepard recipe. I was trying to make a more chocolatey, but smaller, version of Dan's Mont Blanc Gateau, and although it was delicious, it failed miserably in the looks department. I filled the pavlova case just before serving, and with hindsight, I should have used a piping bag for the chestnut cream. As there was no natural light by that time, it wouldn't have improved the photographs, but it might have made the dish little more presentable. The pavlova was a little overbaked too, so was pale brown instead of snowy white.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mince Pies with Hazelnut Crumble Topping


I made sweetened enriched shortcrust pastry with 300g SR flour, 75g butter, 75g lard, 50g icing sugar and 2 egg yolks, plus enough cold water to make a firm dough. This was enough for bases for 24 standard mince pies and 6 mini-tarts (9cm in diameter). Commercial mincemeat for the filling and a crumble topping made from 50g plain flour, 50g porridge oats, 40g light muscovado sugar, 50g butter and 40g chopped hazelnuts. Once assembled, bake for around 15 minutes at 200C.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Spiced Chocolate Bundt Cake

 - with a little pre-Christmas sparkle!

I noticed this cake in the January 2015 issue of Sainsbury's Magazine; the recipe wasn't in the magazine, but the pointer to the online recipe looked quite appealing.

I used the cake recipe exactly as written, even though I knew my bundt tin was too large, because I think a decorated ring cake can look more festive than a round cake. However, I used a different icing recipe, as I didn't have any cream to make a ganache. I used my old standby (from Mary Berry) for a dark fudge frosting; this consists of 175g plain chocolate melted with 30g butter, which is then removed from the heat and 2 tablespoons of syrup and 3 tablespoons of milk beaten in until smooth.  I usually use golden syrup, but for this recipe I used syrup from a jar of stem ginger.

I went to town on the decorations, even though the cake was to be eaten before Christmas, so that I could use this cake as an entry to December's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is for Glitter, Sprinkles, Candles and Shiny Stuff! I used crystallised ginger sprinkles, crunchy chocolate drop sprinkles (dark, milk and white), snowflakes and gold glitter, and I think I succeeded in making something suitably glittery.

The cake, which is a cross between a chocolate cake and gingerbread, is made by melting butter, chocolate, sugar, treacle and golden syrup together, before mixing in eggs and flour. This makes it quick and easy to make with just a bowl and spoon. The cake was very moist, but not too dense with a good crumb texture. The spicing was very subtle and reminiscent of  Lebkuchen, which made the cake very festive and gave the house a lovely smell as it was baking. The addition of tiny pieces of stem ginger, and the slight hint of ginger in the frosting adds an extra note to both the texture and flavour.

I think this cake would make a delicious festive-flavoured alternative to fruit cakes on the Christmas tea-table, particularly if made in the correct sized baking tin, so that it stood higher. Tea Time Treats, hosted jointly by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, and  Jane of The Hedge Combers, is in a suitably festive mood this month, and Karen, as this month's host, will be collating the entries and writing a round up at the end of the month.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Fig, Chocolate and Ginger Panforte

This marks the true start of my Christmas baking, as Panforte is something which keeps for ages if well wrapped or in an airtight container. According to which source of information you choose, it will keep for anything from 2 weeks to several months, which is just as well, as it's so rich that it will only get eaten a sliver at a time. It's the sort of thing that you eat with your evening coffee, or that might appeal to someone who prefers confectionary to desserts.

Although Panforte is something I've been meaning to try for years, what prompted me to make it now was two of this month's cooking challenges. We Should Cocoa wants participants to pair chocolate and figs, and AlphaBakes is using the letter X this month, and will be accepting 'X = Xmas' recipes!

Panforte is an Italian fruit and nut cake, original from Siena, and traditionally only eaten at Christmas. As explained in the link, because the basis of the cake is a boiled syrup made from honey and sugar, the texture of panforte is more like nougat or toffee than what we usually expect from 'cake'. Chocolate is a relatively modern addition, although most recipes nowadays contain at least a little cocoa.

I decided to go for a double chocolate version, and to also add figs and crystallised ginger, as in this recipe. This was one of the first recipes I found when looking for 'fig and chocolate' recipes, but as I researched further, I realised that it might not be the best recipe to use. Many of the more traditional recipes used a variety of old-fashioned spices such as cloves, pepper and nutmeg as well as cinnamon, and most used a much smaller quantity of flour. Panforte is also often baked on a base of edible rice paper (or communion wafers), which would have made it easier to remove from the baking tin before the days of non-stick bakeware.

The problem was, the more I researched, the more confused I got about which recipe to actually use - some cooked the dried fruits in water, or added wine, or boiled the sugar and honey with butter too. Some recipes made huge cakes - suitable for feeding dozens of people for several weeks, and some recipes made something which was more like a refrigerator cake - no cooking at all!

In the end, I decided to base the recipe on the basic ingredients required to make an 8" diameter (20cm) cake, in a recipe from one of my own cookbooks, but to vary the added ingredients according to my instincts in order to make something like the original fig, chocolate and ginger version. I used the spice mix from my basic recipe too, as it seemed in line with several other recipes, although I used nutmeg instead of mace.

The one thing I did differently from almost all the recipes I found was to leave the added chocolate in large chunks; I knew it would melt in the heat of the syrup, but hoped that little pockets of richer chocolate would be left in the finished cake.

200g blanched almonds
200g dried, but soft, figs
60g crystallised ginger
100g plain chocolate
50g plain flour
50g cocoa
zest of one small orange
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100g runny honey
100g caster sugar
Rice paper - optional

First toast the almonds lightly in a 180C oven for 10 minutes, then cool and chop coarsely. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C
Grease a loose-bottomed 8" sandwich tin, and line the sides with baking parchment. Then cut a sheet of rice paper to fit the base (or use more baking parchment).
Cut the figs and ginger into pieces about the same size as the chopped nuts.
Mix the flour, cocoa, orange zest and spices in a bowl, the add the figs, ginger, almonds and coarsely chopped chocolate. Mix to evenly coat the fruit and nuts in the flour mixture.
Gently heat the sugar and honey in a medium sized pan, until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to the boil and heat until the temperature reaches 115-120C on a sugar thermometer. Many recipes say boil for three minutes, so without a sugar thermometer, this is what I'd suggest.
Remove the pan from the heat and add all the other ingredients; you'll need to work quickly to mix everything together and will look initially as if there isn't enough syrup, but it will eventually come together. When everything is evenly mixed, tip the ball of ingredients into the centre of the baking tin. Use the back of a wet spoon to spread out the dough evenly to the edges of the tin.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Cool in the tin, then remove the baking parchment and store in an airtight tin, wrapped in foil.
Sift over icing sugar before serving. I have the feeling that this stage will need repeating at intervals, as the sugar dissolves.

The smell of spices, chocolate and orange, as this baked, was amazing. Once it was cold, I cut out the small sliver shown in the photograph, for research purposes, and it was very chewy, reminiscent of nougat. The chocolate and spices blended well with the figs and nuts but the best part was getting a nugget of crystallised ginger to chew on, which gave an extra burst of flavour in the mouth. Looking at the photo, I may have been successful in getting separate areas of chocolate too - there's definitely a darker patch in the middle!

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog; she often has guest hosts, but this month is running the challenge herself.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is hosted alternately by Caroline, of Caroline Makes, and Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker. Caroline is this month's host, choosing X, to make things easier for us during the rest of the year!.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Maple Syrup Gingerbread

Although this is one of the low-saturated fat recipes I tweaked into something good a couple of years ago, when CT was at home and needed a low fat diet, I've carried on using it as it produces a light, but moist and sticky, gingerbread. The surface of the cake goes on getting stickier with time, as should all good gingerbreads!

This time, I didn't have the golden syrup I expected to find in the store cupboard, so I used maple syrup instead. This is a cake strongly flavoured with ginger, cloves and black treacle, so I think the maple syrup was somewhat overwhelmed, but it did mean I could get on and make the cake I'd planned - comfort eating for cold weather!

The recipe can be found on this post, and it's simply a matter of mixing the syrups and the flour mixture into the beaten egg, sugar and oil, in alternate portions. I've never had it fail before! This time, however it ended up with a huge dip in the centre. Strangely, even with the dip, the texture seemed uniform throughout the cake, so I'm not sure what happened to produce it. It certainly wasn't undercooking, but may have been over mixing or mis-measuring the raising agent.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Pineapple Mincemeat Tart

with coconut crumble topping.

I might have gone a step too far here, in a bid to make something different for Christmas, but at least I've tried it out on just the two of us, rather than jumping straight in and making it for guests.

It started with the idea that a crumble topping would speed up the process of making a large quantity of mince pies - half the rolling out, less fiddle with putting tops and bottoms together etc. Then I thought about the fact that I usually add extra apples, oranges or cranberries to bought mincemeat to make it less sweet and a more personal recipe. Adding  chopped nuts to the crumble topping would add an interesting texture too. While I was playing around with ideas, I remembered the fresh pineapple which needed eating - why not try a tropical variation of a mince pie, with pineapple in the mincemeat and coconut in the topping?

I decided to try out the concept in one big tart, rather than fiddle about with individual pies - mainly for speed of getting things done. The base was basic shortcrust pastry with no sweetening, used to line a shallow 22cm diameter flan tin. The filling was 250g mincemeat, 150g of finely chopped fresh pineapple and a teaspoon of ground rice (to absorb any excess fruit juice), spread straight onto the raw pastry. The topping was a crumble mix made by rubbing 50g coconut oil into a mix of 50g plain flour, 50g porridge oats and 35g caster sugar. I intended to add desiccated coconut to the topping, but only had flaked coconut available, so tried to break the flakes up a little as I added 25g to the crumble mix. This was sprinkled evenly over the tart filling. 

I baked the tart for 20 minutes at 200C, then lowered the temperature to 180C and baked for another 20 minutes, covering the tart loosely when I lowered the temperature, as the coconut flakes were browning too quickly.

Although I liked the coconut in the crumble topping, I didn't think the pineapple added enough flavour to be worth using - it was overwhelmed by the spices in the mincemeat. I could just have easily have added a chopped apple for the same result, which was to give the mincemeat a fresher, more tart flavour, but not a noticeably pineapple one. So, I'll  be sticking to more traditional ingredients when it's time for Christmas baking, but I will be using a crumble topping in some form this year.

I've just noticed that this is my 500th blog post - I suppose that's a good enough time as any to be a little experimental!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Date, Maple and Pecan Loaf

I've talked before about the difficulty of finding recipes which use enough maple syrup to justify putting the ingredient name into the title, especially if you're looking for a plain, everyday kind of cake. There are plenty of gateau-type cakes, with maple flavoured frosting, and plenty of cakes which use only a tablespoon of maple syrup, yet still thinks this is enough to add a maple flavour. It isn't, believe me!

Eventually, I found a suitable looking recipe for a Pecan Maple Loaf, and adapted it a little to make this Date, Maple and Pecan Loaf. I did a very rough conversion of the ingredients to metric weights, then rounded up to produce a recipe which looked right to my experienced eyes. I also added 100g of roughly chopped dried dates.

200g SR flour
180g softened butter or baking spread (see note)
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
75mls maple syrup
100g roughly chopped dried dates
50g roughly chopped pecan nuts

Note - I used non-dairy spread, suitable for baking, as I had a tub to use up. I also left the tablespoon of milk out of the recipe to make this suitable for a dairy-free diet - the batter was very loose, so I couldn't see the point of adding the milk. Interestingly, I watched a TV programme (The Icing on the Cake - Nigel Slater) earlier this week, where the food scientist Peter Barham explained that baking spreads often make better risen cakes than butter because the water content is higher than that of butter. This turns to steam during baking and helps give a bigger rise to the cake, as it is trapped within the setting batter.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin. (I lined the base and long sides of a non-stick tin with baking parchment). Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
Rub the fat into the flour and stir in the sugar.
Whisk together the eggs, maple syrup and lemon zest. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mix, but do not over-mix.
Fold in the dates and pecans.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 70 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean. Cover with foil if the cake seems to be browning too quickly (mine needed covering after 45 minutes).
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

The optional frosting would probably have been very nice, but I didn't want to add extra sugar to an everyday cake, and it was fine without!

This was a delicious and light-textured cake, although the raw batter was very wet, and I worried needlessly that the dates and nuts would sink during baking. The maple syrup and lemon together gave a lovely flavour and was a good background flavour to the dates and pecans. The crumb texture wasn't super-fine, but I think that came from the rubbing-in method, which left little lumps of fat in the batter. A creaming method might have given a tighter texture.