Friday, 31 July 2015

Red Gooseberry Crumble

Our little gooseberry bush which produces red berries has never fared as well as the green gooseberry bush. It was damaged by a falling branch a few years ago, and also grows in a shadier part of the garden, overshadowed by what has become a hazelnut grove in my neighbour's garden. This year I gathered just over 400g of gooseberries from the red bush, compared with 2.6kg of green gooseberries.
net cage to protect ripening green gooseberries

I learned early on in my gooseberry growing experience that the only way to be sure of harvesting fruit is to build a net cage around the bushes as soon as the fruit gets to a reasonable size; the first year I waited until I thought the majority of berries were perfectly ripe and decided to pick the next day. Unfortunately the local blackbirds (I assume, as they are notorious fruit eaters) also recognised the ripeness of the fruit and stripped the bush in the early morning, before I was even out of bed. I didn't lose a lot that year, as both bushes were small, but since then I protect them with netting before the end of June, and expect to harvest any time after the middle of July.

netting removed to show framework of  a cage
I decided to use the red gooseberries first, as there were just enough to make a fruit crumble. The green gooseberries were frozen in handy sized portions, to be used at a future date. Gooseberries are a fruit which keeps in the freezer really well, and despite preferring to eat seasonally, it's nice to be able to have a gooseberry pie or crumble in the middle of winter!

I made my crumble from 100g each of butter, caster sugar, plain flour and rolled oats, and also added 50g of chopped toasted hazelnuts, as I liked the combination of gooseberries and hazelnuts together in this dessert. I mixed the gooseberries with 70g sugar, 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial and two teaspoons of ground rice to thicken the juices produced.

A recipe for gooseberry crumble isn't something I'd usually bother to write about, but the red berries produced such a glorious colour that I couldn't resist taking a photograph. I think the berries were a little riper than usual this year - they were certainly darker in colour than photos from previous years, and had more natural sweetness while still retaining the characteristic tartness of gooseberries.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Blueberry Streusel Cake with Chocolate-Orange Chips

It would be fair to say that my heart sank when I saw that Choclette, from Tin and Thyme (formerly Chocolate Log Blog), had picked blueberries as the added ingredient for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. There are only a few fresh fruits that I think make good partners for chocolate, and blueberries isn't one of them! However, in the nick of time, I've come up with something that fits the brief and is much tastier than I expected!

I was unsure about whether I should look for a chocolate recipe to which I could add blueberries, or a blueberry recipe to which I could add chocolate, but after much recipe research I chose the latter. As many blueberry recipes contain an element of citrus, I decided to add orange flavoured milk chocolate to a blueberry coffee/streusel cake. I thought that the sweetness of milk chocolate would compliment the tartness of the blueberries better than plain chocolate, which can be bitter. What surprised me was how little orange-flavoured chocolate there is in the shops - in the end I had to buy a Terry's Chocolate Orange to get reasonably priced chocolate without added ingredients such as almonds.

This cake from King Arthur Flour is not a rich cake - only one egg and quite a small amount of butter - but it made a good carrier for the juicy blueberries and sweet chocolate. I left the cinnamon out of the streusel topping, and added 170g blueberries and 100g of coarsely chopped chocolate to the cake batter instead of 2 cups of blueberries. I also used light muscovado sugar in the streusel topping. In a round 23cm (9") tin, the cake took 55 minutes to cook.

The only downside to the cake is that the fruit and chocolate pieces both sank, which surprised me a little as it was quite a stiff cake batter. However, it was also a shallow cake, so everything sinking didn't spoil things too much - you can see in the top photo that the fruit and chocolate filed more than half the depth of the cake in places. As I said before, I enjoyed the flavour of the blueberries and orange-chocolate together much more than I expected, and the crispness of the streusel topping made a good contrast to the soft juicy fruit.

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is the brainchild of Choclette, who usually hosts alternate months of the challenge, with guest hosts filling in the gaps. The idea of the challenge is to use chocolate in some form, alongside an added ingredient chosen by the host.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Baking with Coconut Flour: 2 - Brownies

As I mentioned in my first post about baking with coconut flour, it's quite difficult to find basic recipes that are similar to wheat flour recipes. Although coconut flour can be used for it's gluten-free properties it's more commonly used by those on a 'paleo' diet, who have given up all forms of grains, as well as dairy and processed foods (often including refined cane and beet sugar). This means that anyone on a 'paleo' diet who still wants to bake has to come up with viable alternatives to most people's baking staples such as flour, butter and sugar, which makes it hard to find recipes where just the wheat flour has been substituted with coconut flour. It's made more difficult because recipes using coconut flour need a higher proportion of liquid, as the flour is very absorbent; this is often solved by using more eggs, but liquid fats and sweeteners are often used too.

Still, the internet is a vast place, and I eventually found a recipe for chocolate brownies (on Bob's Red Mill site) that didn't stray too far from the sort of recipe I would usually use. It used a mixture of vegetable oil and butter, ordinary sugar and cocoa and chocolate chips for the chocolate hit. A 20 x 20cm (8 x8") tray of brownies only used 60g of coconut flour compared to 100-160g of flour in other recipes I've used. The recipe also used 4 eggs, compared to the 2-3 usually used in the same sized tray. I left out the optional nuts, as I wanted to get the full effect of the coconut flour flavour when used with chocolate.

The recipe was really quick and easy to make, as everything could be mixed with a spoon in one big bowl. As the recipe used cocoa, then stirred in chocolate chips, there wasn't even any chocolate to melt.  I baked in a 20 x 20cm tray as I like deep brownies. Here's the ingredients, converted to metric weights: 75g softened butter, 75mls (5 tablespoons) sunflower oil, 200g light muscovado sugar, 4 eggs, 60g coconut flour, 50g cocoa, 175g plain chocolate, roughly chopped (or chocolate chips).

I was quite pleased with how these brownies came out. They were more cake-like in texture than the perfect brownie - moist but light and a little crumbly, rather than dense and chewy  - but had a good chocolate flavour. I thought that I could taste the coconut flour when the brownies were freshly made, but that seemed to fade over the next few days. I'm not sure whether someone who disliked coconut would notice the flavour or not! This recipe is definitely worth making again when gluten-free baking is needed, although I'd also like to try a recipe with melted chocolate, to try and get a more chewy brownie.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Gerbeaud Slices

I know it seems contradictory to say that I don't like layer cakes but that I love layered bars or slices, but there is one big difference between the two. Layer cakes are often assembled with fillings that aren't essential to the flavour of the cake, but just pile on the fat and sugar; with layered slices, the filling between the layers of dough is often where the main flavour lies, and the whole thing is assembled before baking is complete (with the exception of a frosting, if added). With layered slices, the base or layers of biscuit act as a carrier for the main flavour ingredients.

These Gerbeaud Slices (scroll down for a photo of the real thing!) are a typical example - the layers of dough are simple, almost unsweetened, flavoured only with a little lemon zest, whereas all the flavour and sweetness is in the two layers of walnut and apricot jam filling and the chocolate on top. This recipe originated in Hungary, from the famous House of Gerbeaud in Budapest, which now comprises a patisserie, a bistro and a smarter restaurant. The pastry is typical of Eastern European baking, with it's use of yeasted dough, nuts and fruit preserves. There are several, slightly different, recipes online, as you'd expect from something that has become a traditional cake of the country, and has passed from a patisserie into household use. I eventually chose this one, from the Good Things website, because of the detailed instructions and the fact that it was very similar to the recipe in a Hungarian cookery book I have.

I made half the recipe from the Good Things site, as there were only two of us to eat it. This meant I had to adjust the recipe a little - I still added a whole egg yolk (who wants to divide an egg yolk in half?) and used a little less liquid in the dough to compensate. I used natural yogurt instead of sour cream, and found that I didn't need to add more than 1 tablespoon to get a nice soft dough. I baked the slice in a 20cm square cake tin, which was perhaps a fraction too large;  the dough had to be rolled quite thinly to fit the tin, but the rest of the ingredients seemed in the right proportions.

When I first discovered the recipe it was difficult to imagine what the layers of dough were going to be like after baking. The dough contained yeast, but wasn't left to rise as long as most yeast doughs, and also contained a little bicarbonate of soda and acidic sour cream which would also act as a raising agent. Was I making bread or biscuit? The dough had the elasticity of bread dough, which helped when fitting it to the baking tin, but after baking the layers were more like a soft, but firm, biscuit with an open texture.

I thought these bars were really delicious; the sweet nutty filling was balanced by the plainer biscuit layers and both were complimented by the chocolate topping. My husband wasn't as impressed - he said he could only taste the chocolate on top! I suppose that's probably an example of the fact that people's taste buds makes their eating experiences unique!

These bars would look very impressive as part of a special tea, especially when the edges are trimmed off before cutting the main part of the slice into bars. Although they were a little more fiddly to make than some bars, the dough was very easy to work with and the finished slices really made the effort seem worthwhile.

I'm sending these to Caroline Makes, for the Formula 1 Foods Challenge - food inspired by each round of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. I'm a little early with my entry, as the Hungarian Grand Prix isn't until the end of the month, but who knows, I might find something else Hungarian to bake by then!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Date and Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Cake

I don't often make layer cakes, mainly because I don't often want the extra calories added when the layers are stuck together. Even if the top is only dusted with icing sugar, the simplest filling will involve too many calories, whether it's just a layer of jam, or something more complex. However, I will make an exception for celebrations such as birthdays, and both I and my son celebrate our birthdays in the first half of July.

Unfortunately, the cake I chose to make, this Date and Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Cake, from the Waitrose website, promised more than it delivered. On the plus side, it was perfect for a layer cake, as it rose evenly and made two firm layers which were so deep that I could have cut them in half to make a four layer cake, if I had wanted to.

The biggest problem was that the cake itself didn't have much flavour. If it hadn't been for the cocoa in the fudgy frosting, it wouldn't have tasted of chocolate at all! It didn't taste of dates, either - the only flavour which came through clearly was that of hazelnuts, and I've made better tasting hazelnut cakes! I think the combination of the date purée, coffee and the small amount of chocolate in the chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella) combined to make a new, unidentifiable flavour which was pleasant, but definitely not chocolate. If the recipe had been called a Date and Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Frosting, it would have been a more accurate guide to the flavours to expect.

Another problem was that the frosting didn't work for me - it started to split as the boiling water and Nutella was worked into the butter, cocoa and icing sugar mixture. Adding more icing sugar didn't solve the problem, nor did adding more Nutella. It was only when I beat in some cold milk that everything amalgamated properly to make a smooth frosting.

By then I'd added about 75g of extra ingredients, but the quantity of frosting still looked a little meagre against the depth of the cake, particularly the amount between the layers of cake.

Despite these deficits, the cake was still pleasant to eat, as long as you didn't think too hard about whether or not it tasted of chocolate. The texture was light but moist and firm, which was presumably thanks to the date purée. I'd like to think that using the date purée cut down on both the fat and sugar needed in the cake batter, but when you take account of the amount of these  two components in the Nutella, I think it looks as if the date purée was added for texture, volume and flavour - not for health reasons!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Cauliflower, Blue Cheese and Walnut Cake

Last week, the weather suddenly changed from the usual non-descript British summer to a heatwave. A real heatwave too - the temperatures here in East Anglia got over 32C on the hottest day, and there were several days in succession when the temperature was in the high 20s. This played havoc with my eating plans, as we only wanted salad for most of the week, and left me with, amongst other things, a huge cauliflower which wasn't going to last much longer. I needed to make something which would be suitable for hot or cold meals, depending on how the weather changed.

This cauliflower cake was inspired by Yottam Ottolenghi's recipe from Plenty More, which I enjoyed a lot when I made it last year. This time, about the only thing I took from his recipe was the ratio of eggs to flour, and the cooking temperature, but I would never have thought of making this without trying his recipe first.

1 large cauliflower, cut into even sized florets, about 5cm across
120g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
7 eggs, preferably free-range
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
150g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
3 spring onions, including green parts - finely chopped
a handful of parsley - finely chopped
50g walnuts - coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
25g parmesan cheese - finely grated

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water, for about 8 minutes, until just tender. Drain well and cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan), and line a 20cm diameter springform tin with baking parchment (to save heartache later, line the sides as well as the base, even if your tin is non-stick).
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add three of the eggs and mix to a smooth paste, then mix in the other 4 eggs and the sunflower oil. Crumble in the blue cheese, then stir in the walnuts, spring onions, parsley, salt and pepper.
Gently fold in the cooked cauliflower, being careful not to break up the florets too much.
Tip the mixture into the prepared baking tin, trying to get the cauliflower evenly distributed and level in the tin.
Sprinkle the parmesan over the surface, then bake for about 55 minutes, until golden and firm. (If you use a larger tin, as in Ottolenghi's recipe, it takes about 45 minutes to cook, but I liked the idea of a deeper cake)
Best eaten at room temperature, or just a little warmer, but however you intend to eat it, leave it in the tin to cool.

This is more like a tortilla or frittata in texture, than a cake, but the addition of flour and baking powder makes it both lighter and more robust - ideal for food you might want to stand up to the rigours of transporting to a picnic, for example. The addition of blue cheese and walnuts added two strong flavours to the cauliflower, and the walnuts gave a welcome crunch to the texture, The finely chopped spring onions and parsley added attractive flecks of colour to an otherwise plain looking dish.

Over at Belleau Kitchen, this month's theme for Dom's Simply Eggcellent challenge is 'Eggs in the Morning'. While this cauliflower cake might not be most people's idea of a tasty breakfast, it would certainly be good on a brunch menu.


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Ginger Brownies

I wanted to bake something for my son, who needed a little bit of TLC after an unpleasant hospital procedure. Unfortunately this happened in the middle of the recent heatwave, and while I was happy to quickly mix something and throw it in the oven (and then get out of the kitchen), I wasn't in the mood for complex or new recipes.

As he loves chocolate, it was simplest to fall back on my trusty brownie recipe. This time I added ground ginger, mixed spice and crystallised ginger pieces to the mix. It was easier to use crystallised ginger rather than stem ginger in syrup, as the pieces could be cut with scissors where necessary, and I didn't get sticky in the process.

The basic method is: Melt together 140g plain chocolate and 140g unsalted butter. Cool to lukewarm and beat in 300g light muscovado sugar and three eggs, one at a time. Sift  160g plain flour, 3 tablespoons cocoa, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice together, and fold into the chocolate mixture, then fold in 100g crystallised ginger, cut into small pieces if necessary.

Spoon the batter into an 8" square tin, lined with baking parchment, and bake for around 30 minutes at 180C, depending on how gooey you like your brownies. Cut into squares or fingers while still warm, but cool completely in the tin before removing the brownies.

This was a nice amount of spice to use in the brownies - not too strong, but complimenting the warmth of the ginger pieces in the batter, I've reduced the amount of sugar I use in this recipe - it used to contain 400g - but the revised version still makes a dense chewy brownie, just the way we like them!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Gooseberry and Hazelnut Slices

I've been taking part in the Formula 1 Foods challenge over at Caroline Makes. The idea is to make a dish inspired by the country in which each round of the F1 Grand Prix races take place. This weekend, the race takes place here in Great Britain, so it was relatively easy to find an ingredient which, to me, seemed  to represent the best of seasonal British food.

I chose to bake with gooseberries, rather than go for a typically British recipe, such as Battenburg Cake, or Maids of Honour, for two reasons. The first was that it was impossible to make a choice between all the 'British' recipes I have; the second was that gooseberries seem the most British of all the summer fruits available. They don't feature much in the cookery of any other country, as far as I can find out, even though they can be grown in most of Northern Europe. At the moment they seem out of favour with even British cooks, perhaps because they are difficult to harvest, which makes them expensive to grow commercially, as well as fiddly to prepare once you've got them. I was surprised recently to hear Raymond Blanc say that he had never cooked with them before making a gooseberry cheesecake for the TV series 'Kew on a Plate'.

Having decided on gooseberries, I looked around for a new recipe to try. Because they aren't a commonly used fruit, there aren't many recipe variations around - pies, crumbles and streusel topped cakes seem the most popular use, but all the recipes are very similar. I was very pleased to find this recipe for Gooseberry and Hazelnut Slices on the BBC Good Food website, as pairing gooseberries and hazelnuts is new to me, and it got over a major problem with cake baking with fresh fruit in hot weather, namely that nothing keeps for more than a couple of days, without refrigeration, before going mouldy. This recipe cooks the gooseberries with a lot of sugar, to make a purée with an almost jam-like texture. I hoped this would hold the mould at bay for long enough for us to finish the cake, as I really dislike the texture of cakes that have been refrigerated.

There were three stages to the recipe, which made it quite a trial on one of the hottest days of the year (so far)! I decided to make my own shortcrust pastry, which increased the work load, then the fruit had to be cooked and a sponge cake topping made to go on top of the pastry and fruit.

I followed the recipe exactly, but rather than ice the cake to finish it off, I sprinkled 25g of chopped toasted hazelnuts over the cake batter before baking, then brushed the cooked cake with 3 tablespoons of elderflower syrup to glaze it, while it was still hot.

This recipe was not without it's problems. The first was that the cake batter took far longer to cook than stated. After 25 minutes it was dark brown on top but still very liquid underneath, so I covered it, reduced the temperature by 20C and cooked it for longer, testing every 7 minutes or so. It took another 20 minutes before I was satisfied that the cake was cooked through - that's a big discrepancy!

The second problem was evident when cutting the cake - the layer of gooseberry purée hadn't been thickened enough, so that it oozed out from under the cake layer, which in turn made the cake slide about on the base. This made the squares of cake difficult to serve and they had to be eaten with a fork rather than just fingers. I guess the amount of juice in gooseberries varies with factors such as variety and ripeness, so if I make this again, I will thicken the fruit by eye, rather than just using the amount of cornflour specified in the recipe.

It's certainly a recipe worth making again. The pairing of gooseberries and hazelnuts was delicious, and the gooseberries were still tangy and fresh tasting. The recipe is reminiscent of a Bakewell Tart, but using fresh fruit, rather than jam, elevates things to the next level.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Baking with Coconut Flour: 1 - Blueberry Coconut Cake

Coconut flour seems to be a fashionable ingredient at the moment. It is popular with those eating a Paleo diet, as they avoid any type of grain, so have considerable difficulties when it comes to needing flour for baking. It is also gluten-free, but it's cost would probably rule it out as the sole alternative to grains containing gluten for most coeliacs. Those on a Paleo diet are usually doing so because they fear modern diets are harming our health. I'm sceptical about these sort of claims, and think the new breed of 'well-being' bloggers and cooks could do more harm than good if others follow their restrictive diets, but it's not a point I want to argue about here.

I was asked to try coconut flour by, and was interested in taking up their challenge to try it in my baking because I've already tried, and liked, coconut oil and sugar. It was the gluten-free aspect of the flour that most interested me, as I do need to bake gluten-free goodies occasionally.

When I looked into coconut flour more closely, it seemed a very interesting product - lower in carbohydrates, higher in fibre and protein than wheat flour, as well as being gluten-free, and containing several important vitamins and minerals. This appears to make it a more nourishing ingredient to use than wheat flour, although, because it is extremely absorbent, much less of it is needed when baking, compared to flours from grains and pulses.

This absorbency presents problems when baking, as coconut flour can't be substituted weight for weight for other flours - less than half is typically needed in most recipes. Additionally, recipes advise increasing the number of eggs used (doubling the usual number seems popular), although some use oils and syrups instead of solid fats and sugars, as well as extra liquid. The main advice is to initially use recipes specifically written for coconut flour, rather than trying to adapt your own favourite recipes, until you are more familiar with how it works. This is fine, if you can find a trusted source of recipes - they aren't exactly mainstream; Paleo recipes often use ingredients that I just wouldn't want to put in my baking! Coconut flour is also extremely expensive compared to wheat flour - I paid £6.99 for 500g of Tiana coconut flour in Holland and Barrett - so I didn't want too many failures when trying recipes, even if the recipe uses only 50g! It is, however cheaper than ground nuts, which I tend to use a lot, and in larger quantities, in gluten-free baking.

The first recipe which appealed to me was a blueberry and coconut cake from the Great British Chefs website, devised by Victoria Glass. I liked the look of this because it didn't seem too extreme - it used basic white sugar, a reasonable number of eggs (I found one chocolate cake recipe which used 12!) and made a product which looked comparable to 'normal' cakes, even though it was both gluten- and dairy-free. I tried not to deviate too far from the recipe, although I did add a little vanilla extract, and only had 150g of blueberries.

This cake worked out very well - it was  moist but surprisingly light, and tasted strongly of coconut, which wasn't surprising in a cake containing coconut three ways - flour, oil and desiccated. The texture of the cake wasn't any different to cakes made with grain flours, so I don't think anyone would notice that it was made with such an unusual ingredient. Despite the number of eggs used, I didn't find the flavour or texture 'over-eggy' which is a complaint about some coconut flour recipes.

The very fact that the cake was so coconutty made me want to try the flour  in a recipe where the coconut flavour isn't really needed, such as a chocolate cake or brownies. The search for a suitable recipe for one of those is ongoing - the recipes I've found so far are either too 'paleo' or add other coconut products to make sure there's a strong coconut flavour.

I don't think coconut flour is likely to become one of my 'everyday' baking ingredients, but I can see that it will be useful for gluten-free baking, and that it might appeal to those who feel guilty about eating cakes and other baked goods, and want to make them a little more nutritious.

If you are interested in trying coconut flour, here's a few links to nutritional and baking guides that I found useful. Note that I'm not endorsing any health claims written therein - I don't have the expertise to either agree with or challenge them - you'll have to make up your own mind!

Sukrin Coconut Flour

All Day I Dream About Food
Nourished Kitchen
Elana's Pantry

Disclaimer  - Although asked me to try coconut flour, I have received nothing from them as an inducement to either endorse their product, or give a favourable review of coconut flour in general. All opinions expressed are my own.