Monday, 26 October 2015

Orange and Ginger Jammy Oat Squares

For someone who always declares that there is no point in making jam, as it rarely gets eaten by anyone in the house, I seem to have accumulated a lot of half-eaten jars of the stuff - each bought for a specific baking purpose, rather than jam-on-toast type treats.

In order to use up some of these remnants, I decided to make a jam-filled oaty traybake, rather than the flapjacks I'd been thinking about. I followed this recipe, and was halfway through rubbing the butter into the other ingredients when I realised that it wasn't a lot different to my standard mix for fruit crumbles. This worried me a little, as I then began to doubt that the crumbs would stick together to make a solid base, even after being firmly pressed.

For the jammy middle layer, I used a mixture of equal quantities of coarse-cut orange marmalade and ginger preserves, which contained small cubes of ginger.

I baked in a slightly smaller tin (20cm (8") square) as past experience has shown that many American recipes for traybakes produce something far too shallow. The cooking time was the same.

Metric conversion of ingredients - 130g plain flour, 100g rolled oats, 140g light muscovado sugar, 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 115g butter, 300g jam for filling. Reserve 170g of the mixture for the topping.

These oat squares were really delicious, although the jam in the middle soaked into the base, rather than staying in a separate layer - but that might have been all that held the oaty crumbs together! The combination of sharp orange marmalade and fiery ginger preserves was particularly good! They made a nice change from flapjacks, and were just as quick to make and bake, but I've used nicer oat mixtures in other bakes, so probably won't use this recipe again.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Date and Walnut Sponge Pudding

Dairy-free and gluten-free

The recipe I adapted for this gluten- and dairy-free  dessert calls itself a healthier version of a sticky toffee pudding. It comes from the Hemsley sisters who are well known for healthy eating recipes and I found it on the Vogue website. That's not a website that I would think to look at for recipes but it came up in a Google search for recipes using coconut flour.

While I'm all for healthy eating, that wasn't the aspect of the recipe that really interested me. What I wanted was a gluten-free recipe that could be adapted to be dairy-free as well. In this recipe the flour is replaced by ground almonds and coconut flour. The recipe also cuts out added refined sugar, relying on just the dates for natural sweetness. I wasn't convinced this would be sweet enough for those more used to normal puddings, so I added 75g of light muscovado sugar. I replaced the butter with coconut oil and added 75g chopped walnuts for texture and flavour (and also so that this dessert could be my contribution to this month's AlphaBakes challenge).

250g dried dates, roughly chopped*
1 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
200ml boiling water
100g coconut oil
75g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs (mine happened to be large)
200g ground almonds
pinch of ground cloves
20g coconut flour
75g walnut pieces

* I used a semi-dry date which was still quite moist and sticky. I cut each date crossways into three pieces with scissors - this ensures there are no pits left in any of them.

(I don't have a large food processor, so adapted the method in the original recipe to use a hand (stick) blender.)
Soak the dates in the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda for 10 minutes. While still warm, use a hand blender to purée the dates, and their liquid, with the coconut oil. If you can leave a few pieces of dates in the mixture it gives more texture to the pudding, so don't blend too much.
Transfer the date mixture to a large bowl and stir in the sugar, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Stir in the ground almonds and cloves, then sift over the coconut flour and fold in quickly. Lastly, fold in the walnut pieces.
Transfer to a baking dish (I used one roughly 20cm square), greased with coconut oil, and bake at 170C for around 45 minutes, until firm. You might need to cover the pudding towards the end of the cooking time, if it's getting too dark.
Cut into portions to serve while still warm - it should serve 8-12 people depending on appetite.

The resulting dessert was delicious but not really dark and sticky enough to call itself a 'sticky toffee' pudding in my opinion, so I've just called it a sponge pudding. It was surprisingly light, considering it was just raised by the bicarbonate of soda. Adding 75g of sugar seemed to make the pudding just about right to me, in terms of sweetness, so I'm not sure how enjoyable the original version would have been. However, it's certainly worth a try if so-called 'sugar-free' baking appeals to you - but remember that dried fruit such as dates contain a lot of natural sugar, so you're not cutting out all sugar!

Adding the walnuts, and leaving some pieces of dates in the blended mixture made the texture of the pudding more interesting - the walnuts added crunch and the pieces of dates added bursts of sweet caramel flavour. If you don't like nuts, adding some plumped up raisins or sultanas would keep some textural variations - I would soak them in orange juice or something similar, so that they didn't absorb too much moisture from the cake batter, as coconut flour needs all the moisture it can get to avoid making things really dry and stodgy. I didn't make the suggested sauce to serve with the dessert, as I needed to stay dairy-free, but it was very good with a little maple syrup poured over it, and served with natural yogurt.

AlphaBakes is a monthly challenge hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker. The idea of the challenge is to use a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet as the first letter of a prominent ingredient, or a word in the name of the dish made. This month, Caroline is the host, the letter is W, and I used Walnuts.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownies

Two of baking challenges that I like to take part in have the theme of  'America' this month. We Should Cocoa, which is guest hosted by It's Not Easy Being Greedy, wants participants to make something with an American theme, containing chocolate and the Formula 1 Foods challenge at Caroline Makes has reached the American leg of the F1GP circuit, so is inviting entries of any American inspired cooking.

On the face of it, American inspired baking, containing chocolate, is easy - I imagine almost everyone would suggest brownies at this point, but Devil's Food Cake and Mississippi Mud Pie spring to mind too. Once I'd decided to go with brownies (as they fitted in with my baking plans), I wanted produce a brownie with flavours that couldn't have come from anywhere else but America, which is why I ended up with the idea of adding peanut butter and jelly (jam) - a delicious combination which is rarely seen in Britain.

I looked at a few recipes online, and found various suggestions, such as making a batter with added peanut butter, or mixing it with cream cheese. I couldn't decide on the best approach until I found a blog post which said - take your favourite brownie recipe, and ripple in half a cup of peanut butter and half a cup of jam. Simple! So that's what I did.

My favourite brownie recipe involves melting 140g each of butter and dark chocolate, stirring in 300g of light muscovado sugar, three eggs and a dash of vanilla extract, then folding in 160g plain flour and 3 tablespoons cocoa. Once the batter was made, I put roughly 3/4 of it into a 20cm(8") square baking tin (lined with baking parchment). Then I dotted teaspoonsful of smooth peanut butter and 'cherries and berries' jam onto the batter, using about 125g of each. The remaining brownie batter was drizzled over the surface, covering some of the peanut butter and jam, but not all of it. Lastly, I used the handle of a teaspoon to mix the peanut butter, jam and top layer of batter together in random swirls, and scattered over 30g of chopped roasted salted peanuts. The brownie tray was cooked at 180C until firm but not too dry. The end point was difficult to  determine as a probe hitting peanut butter or jam made the mixture seem underdone. I think, having given it 40 minutes, that I over-baked this batch slightly. Next time I'll try a few minutes less.

Over-baking aside, these brownies were really good. Using the peanut butter undiluted by cake batter or cream cheese meant that the flavour was still strong, and the cherries and berries jam added little bursts of tart fruitiness. The crunchy topping of salted peanuts added another layer to the complexities of flavour and texture.

I was particularly keen to try peanut butter and chocolate together, as I recently tried a pack of peanut butter flavoured Oreo biscuits. I've seen these cropping up in a lot of blog posts recently, so was intrigued enough to try them when I saw them in stock in my local supermarket. What a disappointment! I couldn't taste the peanut butter at all, so it was no surprise to read the ingredient list and find there were no real peanuts in the biscuit filling - only 'flavouring'!

It's also been National Chocolate Week this week, so my post is just in time to celebrate that, although chocolate is part of my everyday life - I don't need a special week to celebrate it!

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is the brainchild of Choclette, who writes the Tin and Thyme blog, although she often has guest hosts to share the duties of taking in the entries and compiling the end of month round up.

Caroline, at Caroline Makes, started the Formula 1 Food challenge at the start of this season, because her boyfriend is an avid motor racing fan. It hasn't gained a huge following, but I've had a lot of fun trying to find foods from the various countries where the races have taken place. It's sometimes been difficult to find something which I feel competent enough to tackle. The last three races of the season are in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, the last of which sounds particularly challenging.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Date Gingerbread

More seasonal baking! Something dark and spicy this time. This recipe comes from one of my oldest baking recipes book, which was published in 1974, the year I got married.  It's so old that the weights and measures are just in ounces and pints (although it does provide American cup volumes too!), and the oven temperatures in Fahrenheit!

I'd usually translate to metric weights, but I was feeling lazy, so I switched my scales to 'lbs and oz' instead. The book gives the basic cake recipe, then suggests variations; I wanted to try the fig and walnut version, but couldn't find any figs in my slightly ramshackle storage system, so made the date version instead. I increased the ground ginger to 3 teaspoons instead of 2, and added an extra 2oz of crystallised ginger pieces too, to ramp up the ginger levels.

4oz butter
2oz light muscovado sugar
6oz black treacle
2oz golden syrup
1/4 pint milk
2 eggs
8oz plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 teaspoons ground ginger
4oz chopped dates
2oz crystallised ginger, in small pieces.

Pre-heat the oven to 150C and line a deep 8" (20cm) square cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the butter, sugar and syrups in a pan over a low heat, just until the butter has melted. Add the milk and cool.
Beat the eggs and add to the melted mixture.
Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl, then add the liquid and stir just enough to combine the ingredients - check there are no pockets of unmixed flour. Do not beat!
Fold in the chopped dates and crystallised ginger.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 75-90 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean. Cool in the baking tin, and leave for a day before cutting, to allow the top to become sticky.

Note - my cake cooked in only 60 minutes - I suspect modern ovens are more efficient than most of those around in the 1970s!

This cake was moist and spicy - sometimes the old traditional recipes can't be beaten! The little pieces of dates added a chewy caramel note and the crystallised ginger added extra heat.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

A Russian-inspired Meal

This weekend's challenge for Formula 1 Foods, over at Caroline Makes, is to produce food inspired by the cuisine or culture of Russia, to coincide with the Russian leg of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. I wanted to cook something which would fit in with my meal plans and not be too fiddly, or involve the expense of buying special ingredients, and I was pretty sure that I could find something in Russian traditional cooking to fit the bill. In the end, after discounting cakes with 15 layers, recipes which used whole jars of honey, and anything based on yeast dough,  I found two suitable recipes, both of which used simple everyday ingredients and methods. One was a savoury potato and cheese dish called Kartoshnik and the other was Sharlotka, sliced apples cooked in a sweetened egg-rich batter to make a cake or pudding. I decided to cook them both and have a meal inspired by Russia.

To be honest, I have my doubts that Kartoshnik is a traditional Russian dish. It's mentioned frequently on recipe websites, but there only seems to be one recipe in circulation. Usually traditional dishes get tweaked by generations of cooks, or regional variations in ingredients, so just one recipe, with no variations, suggests an invention by one cook, which has just spread by online repetition. However, it was surprisingly tasty, so if it hasn't been eaten  by past generations of Russians, it deserves to be enjoyed by those in the future.

Kartoshnik is a dish meant to accompany a meat dish, but in view of the amount of eggs and cheese used, I decided to treat it as a vegetarian main meal. Cooked mashed potato is mixed with eggs, onion, cheese and a little cream, with some baking powder added to lighten the mixture. When baked it becomes something like a quiche filling, both in taste and texture, so it was quite good as a main course. According to the recipe it is traditionally served with sour cream and chopped green(spring) onions, but I served mine with cabbage cooked with onions, apples and caraway seeds, which felt quite Eastern European to me.

Following this online recipe, I mixed 4 eggs, 75g grated Cheddar cheese, 75g mature Gouda cheese (in place of swiss cheese), 80mls double cream, a grated small onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 teaspoons baking powder, then stirred in 450g cooked and mashed potatoes (weighed after peeling). This mixture was spread into a 9" square greased baking dish and baked at 200C(fan) for about 30 minutes until golden brown and set. As the dish was removed from the oven, I brushed the top with a knob of melted butter, rather than serve with the larger amount of butter suggested.

For dessert, I followed this recipe for Sharlotka, which baked the batter in a pudding dish. This wasn't entirely successful, as the depth of my baking dish meant that the dish took over an hour to cook properly. With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to use a larger, shallower cake tin, and serve the Sharlotka as a cake. Considering that the batter ingredients were just plain flour, sugar and eggs (with a 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, as suggested by some other recipes I looked at), I had no idea what the texture of the cake was going to be like. A sponge? a clafouti? a pancake? In fact, it was most like a dense sponge in texture, quite sweet but very plain and a good carrier for the sharp eating apples used in the recipe. When first baked, it had a crisp sugary crust, but this softened with time. I served the cooled cake with vanilla yogurt.

Although both these dishes are quite high in carbohydrates, neither of them seemed very heavy, so it didn't seem too much to serve them both as part of the same meal. The leftovers from the Kartoshnik were eaten with a chilli the following day, and suited that quite well too.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Pear, Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake

The recipe for this seasonal cake was inspired by this one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage. I left out the orange zest (because I didn't have an orange handy), used hazelnuts instead of almonds and added 100g coarsely chopped dark chocolate. At this time of year we are foraging for hazelnuts and also had some pears from our neighbour's tree, so this cake really was a reflection of Autumn flavours.

Inevitably, the batter shrank away from the pears as the cake cooled after baking. This detracted a bit from the looks, but not the taste of the cake. I'm glad I added the extra chocolate chunks - it really boosted the chocolate content (25g of cocoa in this amount of cake batter is not a lot) and flavour.

The cooking juices from the pears must be cooked down to only a few tablespoons; any more and I think it would have created problems with too much liquid on top of the cake - as it was, it made me worry that the cake wasn't going to set properly, as the top looked very gloopy right up to the end of the cooking time. Using the juice didn't seem to much to the flavour - I guess that's where using the orange zest would have made a difference. Noted for next time!