Friday, 28 August 2015

Carrot and Pineapple Cake

I decided to make this cake to finish off a tin of pineapple chunks, which had been opened to eke out the remains of a fresh fruit salad. I can't remember ever having made a carrot cake with added pineapple before, although I was aware of their existence, of course - I knew I hadn't invented something new! To be honest, until I started looking for recipes, I thought I would be making a Hummingbird Cake, but soon realised that was a banana cake with added pineapple!

I also quickly realised that many carrot cake recipes make huge cakes! Is this because they are traditionally used as celebration cakes in the USA? After a bit of searching I found this recipe from Anna Olson, the Canadian TV cook, which seemed to make a cake of a sensible size for two people. It caught my attention because it used maple syrup and fresh ginger in the cake - two flavours I like, but didn't expect to find in a carrot cake. It also used just the amount of pineapple that I had available!

It was a pretty straightforward cake, once I'd translated the ingredients to metric weights. After being drawn to the recipe for it's use of maple syrup, I found my tin was emptier than I thought - I could only get a couple of tablespoons out of it, so made up the volume with pomegranate molasses. Obviously, this had an effect on the final flavour, but as the recipe only needed 60mls of syrup in total, I don't think the maple syrup would have been the dominant flavour in the cake, anyway. The only other point to note was that the cake cooked in only 65 minutes, rather than the 75-90 minutes suggested in the recipe. I guess there's a lot of leeway with cakes containing ingredients which can be variable in moisture content, such as grated carrots and crushed pineapple.

For the sake of our waistlines, I left off the cream cheese frosting, and made a glacé icing using some of the juices from the canned pineapple. Which brings me to the current controversy about Tate and Lyle adding maize starch to icing sugar instead of the previous E-number anticaking agent. Like other users, I found it harder work than usual to get the icing sugar through a sieve, and initially it clumped badly when liquid was added although it did become smooth eventually. I can't understand why change was really needed - I've never had a pack of icing sugar 'clump' no matter how long it's been stored.

The cake sunk a little, as it cooled, leaving a lip around the edge, which contained the glacé icing, but could have been covered up if I'd used a cream cheese frosting.

This cake was more moist and denser than the carrot cake I usually make. This didn't make it better or worse, just different! What was a disappointment was how bland it was. Considering the ingredients, I expected it to have far more depth of flavour, but there wasn't enough of either the fresh ginger or the cinnamon, and the pineapple wasn't noticeable in the taste of the cake. I'm also used to carrot cakes with either sultanas or nuts in, to add to the texture, and this was an element sorely missing here - perhaps if I'd left the pineapple in larger pieces that might have been  an improvement in that respect. A touch of citrus to lift the flavour wouldn't have come amiss either - another ingredient often found in carrot cakes, obviously for good reason! It wasn't an unpleasant cake, just not memorable enough to add to the 'cook again' list!

Note: (added 31/08/15) Silver Spoon and Aldi own brand icing sugar don't have maize starch added, so  icing sugar that is easier to work with isn't going to be difficult to find. Tate and Lyle will be losing out bigtime, I suspect!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ham and Courgette Slice

This savoury bake is ideal for summer, especially when the forecast is for weather so hot that you wouldn't want the oven on, and you have enough warning and time to bake ahead. It's also good for when the courgettes are producing fruit faster than you can harvest them, or there's a glut on the market. We're not quite at the over-production stage, but I'm determined not to allow things to get out of hand this year - I don't want any marrows!

My inspiration comes from this recipe on Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which I've written about before. This time I used two thick slices of smoked ham instead of the bacon, and added a sliced chilli and some shredded sage leaves for extra flavour.

This is what I used, but it seems a very versatile recipe, so a little more or less of any of the flavouring ingredients probably won't make a lot of difference, as long as you keep the batter the same (the eggs, flour and oil). I guess it would also be OK to add things like leftover cooked vegetables to the mixture too, as part of the total weight of vegetables.

300g coarsely grated vegetables (I used roughly 220g courgettes with 80g carrots for colour contrast)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
about a dozen sage leaves, finely shredded
100g grated cheese (I used 60g strong cheddar and 40g parmesan)
100-150g smoked ham, cut into small strips
5 large eggs
125mls light olive oil
130g SR flour
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix everything together, pour into a parchment-lined baking dish (I used a 23cm (9") cast iron pan) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175C (fan) for around 50 minutes until firm and golden brown. The baking time depends on the depth of mixture which is determined by the size of the dish you use. A 20 x 20cm (8 x 8") square dish would be a similar size - anything smaller will give a deeper mixture which takes longer to cook.

This is best eaten warm or at room temperature. It's probably OK hot too, but I haven't tried that - I'd still let it rest for about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven.

Although this is very similar to a quiche filling, or a frittata, the SR flour makes it a little sturdier, whilst still keeping it light because of the raising agent, and the oil keeps the texture moist. The added bonus over a quiche (besides not making pastry, thus avoiding a soggy bottom) is that the onion doesn't need pre-cooking - any moisture given out during cooking is absorbed by the batter, which doesn't happen with a quiche filling.

I'm sending this to Belleau Kitchen's Simply Eggcellent bloggers' link-up. Dom is allowing us free reign this month saying that 'anything goes'! This dish makes a quick and easy main course, could easily be made vegetarian  and is robust enough to hold up in a lunch box or picnic basket, making it a useful recipe during the holiday season.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Blackberry and Hazelnut Polenta Cake (gluten-free)

Several weeks ago I bookmarked a gluten-free cake recipe that I wanted to try, but for various reasons I hadn't got around to making it. After we'd been blackberry picking, I remembered the cake, and even though it was made with raspberries, I thought the recipe would work well with blackberries too, and make a change from apple and blackberry crumble. My husband loves a fruit crumble above all else, so he needed a little persuasion that change was a good thing!

Necessity forced a few other changes too - ground hazelnuts instead of almonds, and the zest and juice of a lemon and a tangerine, instead of 2 lemons. I really don't like making huge alterations to recipes before I try them as written, but I was confident that my changes would only affect the flavour, not the technical aspects of the recipe. I might have been wrong about that!

The cake batter looked a little strange when mixed - it was very grainy but I put this down to my home-ground hazelnuts not being as fine as commercially ground almonds. It was also quite sloppy, possibly for the same reasons - I hoped that once the polenta started absorbing the moisture during baking it would sort itself out. It did sort itself out in the oven, but not before all the fruit sank to the bottom. This could have been because of the sloppy batter, or because blackberries are heavier and juicier than raspberries.

Now I'm interested in trying the recipe exactly as written, to see if my changes affected the outcome, or whether it wasn't such a good recipe in the first place, and the fruit will sink even when raspberries, and finely ground almonds are used.

None of this stopped the cake being absolutely delicious. Hazelnuts and blackberries are a good flavour combination, and the subtle hint of citrus blended in well without overwhelming everything. If the fruit had stayed evenly distributed throughout the cake, I'd have said that 200g wasn't really enough, but more sinking fruit would have made the bottom of the cake too moist.

The Great British Blackberry Recipe Round-Up
Karen, over at Lavender and Lovage, and Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen are co-hosting a round-up of blackberry recipes until mid-September, so I'm submitting this recipe for it's deliciousness, even if the technical execution wasn't perfect! 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Chocolate, Peanut and Biscuit Spread Cookie Bars

These cookie bars were made for the blog challenge, Formula 1 Foods, run by Caroline at Caroline Makes. The idea is to cook a dish inspired by the country where each round of the F1 Grand Prix races take place. For some  races I have found traditional recipes from the country in question, and for others I have used ingredients particularly associated with that country. The next race takes place in Belgium, which has a reputation for great patisserie similar to that of France, as well as a few traditional pastries of it's own, such as waffles, rice tart, a meringue confection known as a Merveilleux, and a curd pie called a mattentaarte. And then there's the chocolate, of course - the Belgians have a long tradition of producing superb quality chocolates!

Unfortunately, none of the traditional recipes fitted in with the sort of baking I wanted to do, both in terms of time and what would get eaten, so I decided to take inspiration from two Belgian foodstuffs - chocolate and Speculoos biscuits (in the form of Lotus caramelised biscuit spread). The recipe I chose was loosely based on this one from Sally's Baking Addiction, but underwent quite a few changes, both to introduce lots of dark chocolate and to adapt to things I didn't have in the storecupboard.

I was quite perturbed to find out, despite my guesstimate of how much was left in the jar, that I didn't have enough biscuit spread (or cookie butter, as it's known in the USA), but decided to replace it with peanut butter as in the past I'd made a similar traybake using biscuit spread as a straight substitute for peanut butter. Once that decision was made, it seemed a good idea to add some chopped roast peanuts instead of some of the chocolate, to emphasise the peanut part of the recipe. I added a little ground cinnamon to strengthen the flavour of the biscuit spread, used plain wholemeal flour instead of white and two whole eggs instead of 1 egg and an extra yolk. The chocolate that was taken out of the cookie dough was used as a topping.

125g plain wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
75g unsalted butter, melted
200g light muscovado sugar
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
130g biscuit spread
70g smooth peanut butter
100g coarsely chopped plain chocolate
50g unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped

Topping - 100g finely chopped plain chocolate

Pre-heat the oven to 180C, line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8") square baking tin with baking parchment.
Mix the salt, cinnamon and raising agents with the flour. Mix the sugar and melted butter in a large bowl, then beat in the eggs, vanilla, biscuit spread and peanut butter. Fold in the flour mix, then the chopped chocolate and nuts. Transfer the mixture to the lined baking tin and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or until a probe comes out with only a few damp crumbs clinging to it. Turn off the oven, sprinkle the chocolate for the topping over the baked dough, as evenly as possible and return to the cooling oven for 5 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and spread the melted chocolate with a spatula.
Cool completely in the baking tin before removing and cutting into bars or squares.

I didn't think this bake was entirely successful. The dough puffed up during cooking, then sank on cooling, leaving a high rim around the edges and making it difficult to spread the chocolate evenly. I checked my previous recipe using Lotus biscuit spread and noticed that it was quite similar in quantities of ingredients but didn't add any raising agents, which would have prevented the dough puffing up during baking, and kept a more level top. A slightly more firmer cookie would have also given a better texture - this was a little fragile. However, the flavour combination of plain chocolate and peanuts with the caramel and spice notes of the biscuit spread was excellent.

The other minor problem, which affected the appearance rather than the flavour, was that I covered the bars before photographing them, and the next day the chocolate topping had funny little circles on it. I suspect this was due to condensation, even though I thought the bars were completely cold before covering them.

Although these cookie bars weren't perfect, I think they made good use of two traditional Belgian foods - and would probably be enjoyed by any chocolate loving Belgian!

Thursday, 13 August 2015


or, to put it more simply, plum tart.

This German speciality should be made with a type of plum (the 'zwetschgen' part of the recipe name) which is similar to a damson, but is often made with other varieties of plums, particularly if the cook doesn't live in Germany! The pastry is made from an enriched yeast dough, the plums are arranged neatly on top  and the whole thing is baked in a hot oven. What could be simpler?

I found many variations when trying to decide on a recipe - shortcrust pastry is an option, rather than yeast dough; a streusel topping can be added; some recipes sweeten the fruit before baking, some sprinkle on sugar afterwards; some recipes use breadcrumbs on the dough, before arranging the fruit, to soak up any excess fruit juice. In the end, I decided to be guided by the one recipe I had in my cookery books - this was a dairy-free Jewish recipe, but I adapted it to use dairy products.

The dough was made from a teaspoon of easy-bake yeast stirred into 250g plain flour. To this was added 1/2 egg, a tablespoon of honey, a pinch of salt, 50g melted butter and enough warm milk to make a soft but not sticky dough (I used about 100mls of the 125mls recommended in the recipe). After kneading for 10 minutes the dough was left, covered, to rise until doubled in size. The risen dough was knocked back and rolled out to about 1/2 cm in thickness. There should be enough dough to line a 25cm diameter, loose-bottomed tart case, but I wanted to use my new rectangular tart case, so was left with enough dough to also line a 15cm diameter cast iron skillet,

Quartered pitted plums were arranged in neat rows in the rectangular case and the tart was left to prove again for 20 minutes. Then the tart was baked at 190C for about 25 - 30 minutes, until the pastry was golden. As soon as the tart was out of the oven it was sprinkled with cinnamon flavoured sugar.

Before arranging the plums on the small round base, I rolled out 80g of marzipan to fit the case, and laid this on top of the dough. I also cut the plums into 1/8ths for this smaller tart - it helped get a tighter fit  of fruit in the small space. After the second proving, this was baked for the same time as the large tart and also sprinkled with cinnamon sugar while hot (4 tablespoons of caster sugar with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon was enough for both tarts, with some left over).

I bought a kilo of plums and used roughly 600g for these two tarts. My recipe recommended 750g for one large 25cm tart.

The oblong tart was elegant in it's simplicity, and very tasty. The light sprinkling of sugar added enough sweetness to the plums, and I liked the way the plums held their shape; they were just cooked through but still looked fresh. The yeast dough pastry was light and made a nice change from shortcrust. Yeast dough could be considered  'healthier' too (or at least, less calorific) as it contains a much lower proportion of fat compared to pastry. I think I could have left the pastry a little thicker, and next time I will bake on a pre-heated baking sheet to try and get a crisper bottom.

The pastry was thicker on the small round tart, and this made it soft rather than crisp - reminiscent of eating a danish pastry. The sweetness of the marzipan, together with the almond flavour, made this tart much richer than the plainer one.

Both tarts are best eaten fresh as the sugar topping draws juices out of the fruit over time.

I didn't choose this recipe at random - this month's AlphaBakes challenge is the letter Z! This challenge is hosted alternately by Caroline, at Caroline Makes (who is the host this month), and Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker. The randomly chosen letter must be used as part of the name of the dish or as the start letter of a main ingredient - full rules here. I'm entering the oblong plum tart into the challenge; the round one isn't a traditional Zwetschgendatschi.

While thinking about the challenge I picked up several interesting recipes for various types of zucchini cake, so there might be a second entry this month, if I don't run out of time!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Baking with Coconut Flour: 3 - More Brownies

Although I was pleased enough with the previous batch of brownies I made with coconut flour, they were a little on the cakey side, rather than dense and chewy. The brownies I usually make are dense and chewy - my definition of a perfect brownie - so I wanted to see if I could adapt that recipe to use coconut flour.

My usual recipe contains both melted chocolate and cocoa for great depth of flavour, and butter. I decided to make my trial recipe dairy-free, as well as using the gluten-free coconut flour. To achieve this I used coconut oil rather than a vegetable oil. Although it is a more saturated fat, I like the results of using coconut oil better than using vegetable oils - it's similar to the results when baking with butter.

I was working mainly on instinct, combined with my limited experience of cooking with coconut flour, as well as what I'd read about baking with coconut flour. This is how I changed the recipe:

Original:                                                                   Coconut flour recipe:
140g plain chocolate (around 70%)                            140g plain chocolate
140g butter                                                                100g coconut oil
300g light muscovado sugar                                       300g light muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract                                        2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs                                                               4 large eggs
160g plain flour                                                         40g coconut flour
3 tablespoons cocoa                                                  3 tablespoons cocoa

(If it's important that the recipe is completely dairy-free, then remember to check the ingredients in the chocolate that you choose.)

In both cases the method was the same - melt the chocolate and fat together, stir in the sugar and vanilla extract, then beat the eggs in, one at a time. Sift in the flour and cocoa, and fold into the wet mixture. Spread into a 8 x 8" square tin, lined with baking parchment, and bake at 180C. The original recipe takes 30-35 minutes to bake, depending on how gooey you like your brownies, but the coconut flour brownies were cooked in 25 minutes.  Cut into bars or squares while still warm but cool completely before removing from tin.

I was really pleased with these  brownies. Using melted chocolate and more sugar made the brownies moister and more chewy (less cakey) than the first recipe, as I'd hoped, although they were still quite light. I think this lightness is a feature of any baking with coconut flour as you need so little compared with wheat flour. The use of coconut oil, as well as coconut flour, added a touch more coconut to the flavour, but nothing too overwhelming.

What made it more pleasing to adapt my own recipe successfully was that only a few days previously I'd tried an online recipe for chocolate chip bars with coconut flour and had produced something so disastrous that it had to be thrown away - and things have to be really awful before I bin them, as I'm reluctant to waste food if it's at all edible!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Fig Flapjacks

Isn't it strange that sometimes you spend ages thinking about flavour combinations before you cook, and still things don't work out well, and at other times you throw things together with almost no thought, and make something really delicious? The latter scenario is what happened with this batch of flapjacks.

I wanted to use a pack of partially re-hydrated figs, which was getting near the use-by date. The figs were really soft and sticky and when I looked through my 'add-ins' storage box to find something else to use, to balance both their sweetness and softness, I came across a tub of candied citrus peel. Then I opened a cupboard to get out the golden syrup and had to move a bottle of pomegranate molasses, and thought 'why not?'

The slightly sour note from the pomegranate molasses and the citrus notes really worked well to offset the sweetness of the figs and sugars, and this was one of the tastiest batches of flapjacks I've ever made.

Melt together 160g butter, 40g golden syrup, 30g pomegranate molasses and 100g light muscovado sugar. This can be done in a pan on the hob or in a large bowl in the microwave. It doesn't need to get very hot - you just want the butter to melt. Stir to blend everything together then mix in 230g rolled oats, 70g chopped dried figs and 30g candied citrus peel. Tip the mixture into a 20 x 20cm  (8" x 8") baking tin, lined with baking parchment, spread and level, and press down firmly. Bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Mark into bars while still warm, but cool completely before removing from the tin.