Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Coffee, Walnut and Chocolate Chip Cake

I've had a high proportion of baking failures recently, as well as cakes I wasn't entirely happy with. I think I've pinned it down to changing to a discount supermarket brand of baking powder, as all the bakes using my usual brand of SR flour have been fine, but those using plain flour and baking powder have been more problematic, although not all have been failures, oddly!

Anyway, to avoid another failure, as I was trying out a base recipe for a cake to take to a Clandestine Cake Club meeting in early March, I used SR flour in this cake. I used a cake batter with a slightly higher proportion of flour than a sponge cake - more like a Madeira Cake - and included some ground almonds for moistness and a little cornflour for a more tender crumb.

225g SR flour
25g cornflour
50g ground almonds
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons instant coffee, dissolved in 3 tablespoons milk
100g chopped walnuts
100g plain chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 170C (150C fan). Prepare a 20cm (8") round cake tin.
Sift flours together, then mix in the ground almonds.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, along with a tablespoon of the measured flour mixture, each time.
Fold in the rest of the flour and the coffee-flavoured milk. When the batter is well mixed, fold in the chopped nuts and chocolate.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, smooth the top, then bake for around 65 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean and dry.
Cool the cake in the tin for 20 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

This cake tasted exactly as you'd expect - coffee and walnut with the added bonus of chocolate chips. The crumb was moist and tender, with a close texture. The batter recipe looks good enough to use for my CCC cake next week, which was my main purpose in making this cake; it will have different 'add-ins' obviously, but that will be revealed in the future. Meanwhile, I'm out to buy some better baking powder!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Pistachio and Cranberry Loaf Cake

The first thing I'm going to say about this cake is that the flavour is amazing! I knew it was going to be something special when I scraped the last of the raw batter from the mixing bowl, just to get an idea of what it tasted like. The name of the cake doesn't do enough justice to the flavours within - as well as pistachios and dried cranberries there was lime, fennel seeds, cardamom and vanilla, which combined to make something unlike any of the constituent parts - I love it when that happens!

The recipe wasn't perfect and there are things I would change next time, but I thought I'd get the praise in first, as the nitpicking doesn't detract from what a great cake it was. I didn't realise when I decided to make the cake, that it was a recipe from Honey & Co, who specialise in Middle Eastern cooking. I can't find the recipe anywhere online - although if you have a subscription to the online Financial Times, I believe it was published there - but there is a book 'Honey & Co: The Baking Book', which is now on my 'must have' list, even if it doesn't contain this particular recipe!

200g SR flour
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
5 cardamom pods - ground to a powder with the pods
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
100g whole pistachios, peeled
150g dried cranberries
zest of 2 limes
150g butter
150g caster sugar (the recipe specified golden)
2 eggs (I used large)
100g jam (the recipe specified a red jam such as raspberry or cherry)
the juice of 1 lime
about a tablespoon of demerara sugar to sprinkle on top (I used crushed raw sugar cubes)

The cake is made by the traditional method of creaming the softened butter and sugar together, with the lime zest and vanilla, then slowly adding the eggs. All other dry ingredients are added to the flour, then folded into the batter, then finally the juice of the lime and the jam is folded in. After the batter is levelled in the baking tin, the surface is scattered with demerara sugar, then the cake is baked at 160C in a large (1kg/2lb) loaf tin, for about 60 minutes, turning halfway through cooking so that it bakes evenly. Cool in the tin.

I baked at 160C in a conventional oven, and the cake took over 90 minutes to bake, so I think the temperature given must be for a fan oven ie 180C in a conventional oven. Things I did differently: I used the pistachios as they came from the pack (do they really need peeling?) and chopped them roughly rather than leaving them whole, and because I didn't check my storecupboard properly, I had to use apricot jam. Things I'd do differently next time - take the pods away from the cardamom seeds - they didn't grind to a powder very well in my spice grinder and left little bits of husk in the mixture; add the juice of the second lime, as the batter was quite thick, and the limes were small.

The cake was a little crumbly the first day it was made, but settled down overnight to something a bit firmer. The extra lime juice might have made it a bit less inclined to crumble, and a little more moist - the slight dryness is the only criticism I have (apart from the lack of clarity over the baking temperature).

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Brownies with Salted Chocolate Chunks and Caramelised Biscuit Spread Swirl

Choclette, at Tin and Thyme, has set us the task of baking with chocolate and butter in this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. Whilst I've always been a firm believer in baking with butter, I have had occasion to use substitutes - I experimented quite a lot with oils, when my son was still living at home and on a low-saturated fat diet, and I've used Pure sunflower spread and coconut oil for non-dairy baking. I would say that, in general, substituting baking spreads for butter, or using oil in recipes, works very well, especially in sponge-type cakes, where oils, in particular, make very moist cakes.

However, there are, for me, two categories of baked goods where butter cannot be substituted so successfully. One is flapjacks, where you need a hard fat to get final texture right and where butter is much better for flavour once you go down the route of using saturated fat. The second category is brownies, especially if you like dense fudgy brownies, as I do. With growing evidence that butter is healthier than spreads and baking products based on hardened vegetable oils, there's really no reason not to use butter when baking these types of things. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that it is the amount of sugar that we should be worrying about - whether it's refined cane or beet sugar or sugar from more 'natural' sources, such as honey, maple syrup, or fruit molasses.

Anyway - back to brownies! In the past I've tried brownies made with vegetable oil, mayonnaise and puréed fruit and vegetables in an effort to reduce saturated fat levels, and while the results were usually acceptable, these substitutes made brownies that were lighter and cakier than brownies made with butter. Other than butter, coconut oil gives the best result, but that is because it is an oil with high levels of saturated fat, which makes it my choice for non-dairy brownies,

Having decided to make brownies for this buttery challenge, I looked for ways to make my basic recipe more exciting. I had some  Lotus brand Caramelised Biscuit Spread leftover from Christmas, which I thought would make a good addition to brownies, especially if I could swirl it across the top of them. Because this spread is very sweet, I decided to add some salt to the brownies to offset the sweetness a little. I used a bar of sea-salted milk chocolate, chopped into chunks, in the main part of the batter, and sprinkled a little vanilla/sea-salt mixture on top too.

140g plain chocolate - at least 60% cocoa solids (I used 70%)
140g unsalted butter
300g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
100g milk chocolate with added sea-salt (I used Green and Black's)
200g caramelised biscuit spread
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes*

*I used vanilla sea-salt, made by adding a split vanilla pod to a cup of flaked sea-salt, in a jar, and leaving it for a couple of weeks, shaking occasionally. The vanilla seeds come out into the salt.

Line a shallow 20cm(8") baking tin with parchment and pre-heat oven to 180C.
Melt the chocolate and butter together, in a large mixing bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove the bowl from the heat.
Stir in the sugar, until there are no lumps and the mixture is quite smooth.
If the mixture is more than lukewarm at this stage, let it cool a little more, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour and cocoa into the chocolate mixture and fold in.
Weigh 150g of batter into a small bowl, and stir the chocolate chunks into the larger portion of batter.
Spread the larger amount of batter into the prepared baking tin.
Weigh the biscuit spread into a microwave-proof bowl and heat for 25 seconds on full power to melt. I got the idea of melting the spread from this recipe on the Biscoff site. (This could probably be done in a small pan over a low heat, if a m/wave isn't available.)
Drizzle the melted biscuit spread over the surface of the brownie batter, letting it spread out naturally to cover as much of the surface as possible.
Pour the remaining brownie batter, in three stripes, across the surface of the biscuit spread, then use the end of a spoon to mix the chocolate batter and biscuit spread into swirls, without going too deep into the main brownie mixture. Using a small amount of the brownie batter on top of the biscuit spread layer in this way makes it easier to swirl the two mixtures together.
Sprinkle the sea-salt flakes over the surface, then bake for about 30 minutes until the brownie mixture has set, and a probe comes out with just a few damp crumbs adhering to it. The biscuit spread will crust over but still be liquid at this point, so don't confuse that with wet batter!
Leave until completely cold before cutting into pieces - the biscuit spread stays liquid for a surprisingly long time!

These brownies were delicious! The salted chocolate chunks, and the small amount of salt sprinkled over the top of the brownies was just enough to subdue the sweetness of the biscuit spread, without the brownies becoming overwhelmingly salty. The biscuit spread itself, as it was in such a thin layer,  was delicately flavoured with cinnamon and caramel, adding just a hint of extra flavour to the brownies. This variation on my basic brownie recipe is definitely something worth repeating!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Morning Glory Yogurt Loaf

an Anna Olson recipe

I'd never heard of Morning Glory Bread, until I started looking for a recipe for a loaf-shaped cake using yogurt in the batter. It seems that it's a quick breakfast 'bread', of the type popular in America and Canada - the sort of thing that's often called a tea-bread over here, as we haven't really embraced the habit of eating what seems like cake for breakfast, yet! It's raised with baking powder rather than yeast, and is packed full of whatever the cook has available in the way of fruit and nuts. This Anna Olson recipe adds tinned pineapple (or fresh peaches), raisins, coconut and orange zest, but on further investigation I found recipes adding things such as bananas, walnuts and even grated carrots too.

I had already decided to make a coconut flavoured loaf, as that was just about all I had in my store of cake 'add-ins', and had found a couple of possible recipes, but when I came across this recipe, with it's extra flavour elements, I knew I had to try it. Luckily I also had the remains of a bag of sultanas, that I could use instead of raisins, and there was a tin of pineapple rings in the larder, which I could blitz to turn into crushed pineapple. I used unsweetened desiccated coconut; I didn't think it would make too much difference as there was quite a lot of sugar in the loaf.

Most yogurt cakes use oil instead of butter, so are made by simply mixing wet ingredients in one bowl, dry in another and combining the two. Because this recipe used butter there was the added stage of creaming it with the sugar before adding the wet ingredients,  but it was still an easy recipe to follow.

The only problem I had was one of baking time - I've no idea how long the loaf spent in the oven, as I gave up keeping note after 90 minutes. I eventually took it out when my digital thermometer read 94C as I thought that was as near to 100C as the cake was going to get, and I needed the oven at a different temperature by then! The huge discrepancy between the recipe and my experience may have been down to a differently proportioned loaf tin (mine was short and deep), or the moisture in the tinned pineapple.

This was a very moist, close-textured loaf, because of the juicy pineapple. Although it was packed with fruit, and hadn't risen much it still seemed quite a light cake. The flavours of the pineapple and coconut were the most dominant, with the orange and touch of cinnamon providing subtle background notes. I treated this loaf as a cake, but it would also have made a good dessert, perhaps heating slices in a griddle pan and serving with poached fruit and yogurt.

The reason I wanted to bake a cake containing yogurt was that this month's AlphaBakes challenge is the letter Y. My imagination failed to come up with anything out of the ordinary for either an ingredient or a recipe name beginning with Y, so yogurt will have to do! AlphaBakes is hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker, and it is Caroline who is hosting this month's challenge.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Beetroot Cake

It's a measure of changing tastes that it's almost impossible to find a reliable recipe for a simple beetroot cake; the first 16 pages of Google search  results showed almost exclusively chocolate and beetroot cake recipes, and most of those without chocolate were paleo or so-called  'healthy'! I knew Nigel Slater had a recipe, but didn't want that one. In the end I searched through my store of pages torn from food magazines to go back to Nigella Lawson's recipe for 'Ruby Red Loaf Cake' and adapted it to suit the ingredients I wanted to use; the biggest adaptation, and worry about how well it would work, was using cooked beetroot instead of raw.

The recipe was published in Sainsbury's magazine in 2001, but I have no idea which book it was published in. My recollection of it was that the cake batter stayed pink when it baked, but I didn't manage to achieve that this time - possibly because I cut out the juice of half a lemon, or because I used already cooked beet rather than raw. I really should do some scientific research into this, to find out what keeps the colour in the beet as it cooks - a pink cake is so much more attractive!

200g cooked beetroot
250g butter at room temperature
200g light brown sugar
the zest of an orange, finely grated
3 large eggs
150g dried fruit (I used 40g dried sour cherries cut in half, 60g dried cranberries and 50g sultanas)
1 teaspoon cinnamon or mixed spice
150g SR flour
150g spelt flour
60 mls milk, to mix, plus more if necessary

50g icing sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
the liquid from the drained beetroot - see method

Finely grate the beetroot and leave in a sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes, to allow excess liquid to drain off. Reserve this liquid if you want to frost the cake.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare a deep 8" square cake tin.
Beat the butter sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy, then slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour each time.
Fold in the dried fruit, grated beetroot and spice, followed by half the flour, the milk, then the rest of the flour. If necessary add a little more milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
Transfer the batter to the cake tin and spread evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a test probe comes out cleanly.
Cool in the tin, on a wire rack, for at least 30 minutes before taking the cake out of the tin.

If desired, frost the cold cake using the sifted icing sugar mixed with the lemon juice and enough of the drained-off beet liquid to give a deep pink colour. I put the glacé icing into a plastic bag and snipped off the corner so that I could drizzle just a little icing over the cake.

This was a pleasant cake, very similar to a carrot cake. The beetroot couldn't be tasted, so the flavour was from the orange zest, spice and dried fruit. I'd have been happier with the cake if the beetroot had been more visible, but even the flecks of grated beet seemed to lose the pink colour during baking.