Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Chocolate, Rye and Hazelnut Brownies

It's chocolate season, in case you haven't noticed! There are even articles in such places as the Guardian, suggesting recipes to use up leftover Easter Eggs, as if chocolate was something that has to be used up quickly, while it's still fresh!

This Easter, I chose this Diana Henry recipe  which I'd seen in the Telegraph only recently, for brownies made with rye flour and studded with chocolate chunks and hazelnuts. It wasn't the main dessert, but it would have caused an uproar if there wasn't something containing chocolate available after our Easter dinner. As it happened, the brownies weren't eaten at the meal, but both children were happy to take some home with them.

The recipe differs slightly from the usual method of making brownies, where the butter and chocolate are melted together before stirring in the sugar and eggs, then the flour and any other ingredients. This recipe is more like a standard cake recipe - the butter and sugar are whisked together until light, then the eggs are beaten in before the melted chocolate is added, followed by the rest of the ingredients being folded in. The only change I made to the recipe was that I only used 50g of hazelnuts - forgot to check the storecupboard! I used a 20cm square tin, and wouldn't advise using anything larger, despite what the recipe says, unless you like really thin brownies.

Aide memoir, in case the recipe disappears:
200g plain chocolate, half melted, half chopped
150g softened butter
275g light muscovado sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100g rye flour, sifted with 2 tablespoons cocoa
75g toasted hazelnuts, halved or roughly chopped.
Bake - 180C for 30 minutes.

The whole batch of brownies only contained 100g of melted chocolate, but they were surprisingly dense and fudgy. The extra chocolate chips and coarsely chopped hazelnuts added texture, and the brownies had that nice papery crust that all good brownies should have! I'm not sure that I could taste the rye flour as a specific flavour, but I'm guessing it contributed to the dense texture! Definitely a recipe to use again.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Apple Cake with Lemon and Chocolate Flecks

After being so impressed with a Honey & Co cake recipe I tried recently, I managed to borrow a copy of their baking book (called Honey & Co. The Baking Book) from the local library. The recipes looked every bit as appetising as I'd expected, and there are quite a lot that I'd like to try, so this book is definitely going onto my wish list.

This cake was first recipe I tried from the book, mainly because I had all the ingredients to hand. It was another amalgamation of flavours that you wouldn't necessarily think to put together  - I've never been convinced that lemon and dark chocolate works well together, let alone with apples in the mix. As before, the clever addition of unusual spices really made the cake something special, although I thought it might have had an even better flavour without the chocolate - and it's not often that I think chocolate is an ingredient too far! Technically, the cake wasn't a complete success either - it was a very liquid batter, which meant the apple pieces sank, and it was just a little too moist. It might have been more successful baked as a more shallow cake and served warm as a dessert!

2 tablespoons whiskey
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 apples (200g once diced, skin on) - Pink Lady recommended, but I used Jazz, and only needed 1 1/2 apples.
40g plain (70% cocoa solids) chocolate
2 large eggs
160g caster sugar
120g/130ml vegetable oil - I used sunflower
150g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg - about 1/3 of a whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon fennel seeds - ground in a pestle and mortar
a pinch of table salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a 2lb/900ml loaf tin.
Mix the whiskey with the lemon juice and zest. Cut the apples into 1cm cubes, leaving the skin on, and toss them in the whiskey mixture to stop them discolouring.
Chop the chocolate into slivers - I shaved pieces off the block with a heavy knife to get flecks of chocolate - and put in the fridge to chill.
In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy, then slowly whisk in the oil to make an emulsion.
Fold in the flour, baking powder, spices and salt with a spoon, then stir in the apple mixture (with the liquid) and finally the chocolate flecks.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin and bake for about 55 minutes, turning after 35 minutes to give an even bake.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Chocolate Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding

The We Should Cocoa cooking link-up, hosted this month by Linzi at Lancashire Food, (WSC is the brainchild of Choclette, at Tin and Thyme, who usually hosts the link-up on alternate months) has the seasonal theme of eggs. The challenge of putting eggs and chocolate together isn't difficult, but I wanted to bake something that relied on eggs for it's substance rather than just choosing a cake with the usual eggs in.

As it was a cold weekend I decided to treat us to a hot dessert rather than make a cake, and the proliferation of Hot Cross Buns in the shops in the run-up to Easter gave me the idea of making a bread and butter pudding with them. This fitted in well with the theme of eggs, as egg custard is an essential component, and adding chocolate to B & B pudding didn't seem a step too far!

The most challenging part of the dessert was slicing the buns thinly! I wanted to retain the crosses on the six buns for the top of the pudding, and still slice the remaining bun in half. Once that was done, I sandwiched the bun slices with butter and ginger jam, cut them in half crossways, and packed the little sandwiches into a buttered baking dish, as you would for a regular bread and butter pudding. I then scattered 50g of chopped dried apricots amongst the buns and placed the slices of bun with the crosses flatly on top. Finding the right sized baking dish is quite important here, so that the pudding looks right!

For the custard, I heated 350mls of semi-skimmed milk to about 60C, so that it would melt 50g plain chocolate when it was added. I then poured the chocolate milk onto 3 eggs and 2 tablespoons caster sugar and whisked together to mix evenly and dissolve the sugar. The custard mix was then poured over the buns in the baking dish and left to stand for an hour or so, to let the eggy mixture soak into the bread.

The pudding was baked for 45 minutes at 180C (160C, fan) and then cooled for about 20 minutes before serving.

This was a tasty dessert, with just enough chocolate to compliment the added ingredients and the fruit and spices already in the Hot Cross Buns without overwhelming them and becoming the dominant flavour. Using ginger jam was a good step, as it contained quite large pieces of preserved ginger to add to the bun spice. Unfortunately, it wasn't very pretty to look at, and I was also photographing it in bad light, so you'll just have to believe me that it tasted better than it looked!

Over a Belleau Kitchen, Dom's Simply Eggcellent link-up this month is a celebration of eggs with a focus on seasonal dishes, including those suitable for Easter. As Easter is early this year and it looks as if it might not be good weather, this hot pudding certainly fits the bill.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Lemon, Coconut and Cherry Loaf Cake

 - dairy-free!

Butter was on my shopping list; it's not my fault I forgot to pick it up - my husband distracted me by asking if we needed any cheese. By the time I'd explained, as I do every week, that if I needed something, it would be on my list, we had moved away from the butter shelf!

So, I would need to bake a cake with oil. As I also needed a cake to enter into this month's AlphaBakes challenge, which is the letter C, I decided to make a coconut cake, using both desiccated coconut and coconut oil. For added flavour, I decided to use a lemon that was languishing in the fridge, and some dried cherries which were near the 'best-before' date.

100g dried cherries, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional)
150g SR flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75g desiccated coconut
200g caster sugar
160g coconut oil
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
lemon juice, as required

Soak the cherries in the Kirsch, if using, for a few hours beforehand, if you are organised enough. If you haven't got much time, or don't want to use alcohol,  soak the cherries in boiling water for a few minutes, then drain well.
Line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment and pre-heat oven to 180C.
Mix the flour, baking powder and desiccated coconut.
Beat the coconut oil, caster sugar and lemon zest until well blended.
Add the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour mixture, and beat in slowly.
Fold in the rest of the flour mixture, the cherries, and enough lemon juice to give a soft dropping consistency - I only needed a tablespoon of extra liquid.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the top and bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out dry and clean. If necessary, cover the cake after 30 minutes to prevent over-browning.
Cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then transfer the cake to a wire rack to finish cooling.

As the cake rose with a fairly flat top, I decided to turn it upside down and top with a lemon glacé icing made with a icing sugar and some of the leftover lemon juice.

You can see from the photos that the cherries sank to the bottom of the cake. To try to prevent this, I should have tossed them with a little of the measured flour. As I had turned the cake upside down to serve, this didn't look as bad as it could have done, but it was a stupid mistake to make! Fortunately it didn't affect the flavour, which was a good balance between the lemon, coconut and cherries. The texture was moist but a little heavy - I think it might have been better to beat the eggs and sugar together, then warm the oil slightly, to add it as a liquid.

AlphaBakes is a monthly challenge co-hosted by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional Baker. The idea is to bake something with a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet as the initial letter of either a major ingredient, or the name of the recipe. This month the host is Ros at TMTOB, and the letter chosen is C - in this case there's a double dose of Coconut and Cherries.

PS - this is my 600th blog post. How typical that it should be about something that wasn't entirely successful!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Tropical Granola Flapjacks

These little brown squares of sweet, sticky cereal don't look very photogenic, but using a tropical fruit granola in my usual flapjack recipe, to replace the 'add-ins' and some of some of the oats, made an interesting variation. The flapjacks were crisper and lighter than usual, as the cereal in the granola has already been baked once. They were also quite a lot sweeter, as there was a significant amount of sugar already in the granola, both in the cereal clusters and used in the preparation of the dried fruits - I should have taken account of this and reduced the sugar I used a little. The granola I used contained dried banana chips, papaya, pineapple and coconut, which gave a sweet tropical flavour to the flapjacks.

Melt 160g of butter with 70g light muscovado sugar and 100g of golden syrup, in a large saucepan. When melted and just coming to the boil, turn off the heat and add 200g rolled oats and 200g of granola cereal, mixing well to coat all the cereal and oats with the wet mixture. Line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with baking parchment, and tip in the flapjack mixture. Spread evenly, pressing down firmly, then bake for 25 minutes at 180C. Mark into squares or bars while still hot, but leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Lemon and Elderflower Drizzle Cake

Although this household doesn't celebrate Mother's Day, which is a commercialised parody of the true meaning of Mothering Sunday, it's difficult to avoid noticing that the day is upon us again, earlier than usual this year, as it's tied into the date of Easter.

Adverts for ideas on how to treat your mother with a thoughtful gift abound in the weeks leading up to the day itself, although I'm not sure how many mothers would be thrilled with a joint of beef, unless a special meal was also cooked for them by the gift-giver!

So, my concession to the date was to chose a cake for the weekend that I particularly wanted to try, rather than thinking about what anyone else might like. I chose to make a lemon cake drizzled after baking with a lemon and elderflower syrup. I took this recipe as a starting point, but made a few changes. I substituted 50g of the flour with 50g ground almonds, used the zest of two lemons, and baked in a tin which was slightly smaller than 20cm, to make a nice deep cake. The cake took a little longer to bake because of this.

I don't like drizzle cakes which are too wet, but the amount of syrup added to this cake was just right. The flavour of  elderflower cordial and lemon together was pleasant but I think they cancelled each other out a bit - neither flavour came through really strongly, even though I had increased the amount of lemon zest in the cake. The texture of the cake was very good - moist from the syrup and almonds but still light - and the crunchy topping of granulated sugar was a nice finishing touch. This was a simple, plain cake which would also make a good dessert served with cream  or yogurt.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Rose and Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cake

It's not often that I turn my hand to fancy cake decorating - I'm usually happy with a dusting of icing sugar or a drizzle of glacé icing. However, the challenge of producing a cake on the theme of 'In Bloom!' for a Clandestine Cake Club meeting spurred me on to decorate the cake too. I used fondant icing and gel colouring to produce a simple ribbon effect, and added a few dried rose petals and chopped pistachio nuts for added visual appeal. I think, later in the year, crystallised fresh rose petals would look very pretty, and for the more artistic sugarcrafters, flowers made from fondant icing could be added.

I used the basic Madeira Cake style recipe I made recently, and added 2 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey rose water, 50g chopped pistachio nuts, 100g chopped dark chocolate flavoured with raspberry and 10g of freeze dried raspberry pieces (a whole tube of supermarket own brand).

I was a little disappointed that the cake was a bit dry and crumbly when cut, but the it tasted just right. Rose was the predominant flavour, which was what I wanted, but the other ingredients were all noticeable. It looked quite pretty too, with the little flecks of pink from the raspberries contrasting with the green pistachios and dark chocolate. Ideally, larger pieces of dried raspberry, and more of them, would have been better, but I hadn't planned well enough ahead to get hold of any by mail order and had to make do with what was stocked locally.

Using floral essences in baking is difficult - too much and the perfume overwhelms the flavour and makes the cake taste of Granny's toiletries, too little and the subtleness of the floral notes is lost. I was happy with the level of rose flavour in my cake, but I know that different brands of rose water differ in strength, so it's something that each baker needs to judge for themselves if trying a similar cake.

At the Clandestine Cake club meeting there were several other cakes also flavoured with rose, the most ambitious of which was a layer cake with Turkish delight flavours - lemon, rose, pistachio and vanilla layers with lemon cream filling and rose frosting. This was delicious, but very rich! One of the more unusual cakes was a chocolate cake with a cream filling flavoured with parma violets - an interesting combination! Lavender and elderflower flavours were also used in cakes, and some cake-makers chose to interpret the theme visually - decorating cakes with flowers, or to look like a flower pot with buds beginning to show through, in the case of one ambitious baker!

The raspberry chocolate I used in the cake was from the Divine range of Fairtrade chocolate. It's currently Fairtrade Fortnight, and this year the campaign is focusing on Breakfast. This cake isn't breakfast food, but using Fairtrade chocolate does give me an excuse to mention the organisation! Read about the aims of the Fairtrade foundation here.

This is the sort of cake which probably should be promoted for a celebration of  Mother's Day tomorrow, but as I made it myself, and what was left for us to eat after Cake Club has long gone, it's not being used as such here. Let's call it a celebration of the coming Spring!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Mincemeat Squares

I thought it was about time to use the last of an opened jar of mincemeat, still sitting in the fridge. Hopefully, there will be warmer weather soon, and thoughts will turn to lighter flavours rather than the spices and dried fruits we like so much in winter.

Once the jar was scraped out, I managed to get 200g of mincemeat, so added 25g of dried cranberries to give the amount needed for this Delia Smith recipe.

Even though I made the recipe in a slightly smaller 20cm (8") square baking tin, the  mincemeat squares were very thin. I was hoping for something like a flapjack, but these were really more like biscuits; because they were so thin they really crisped up in the hot oven. (I have a feeling I've used other versions of this recipe before, and have thought the same thing.)

The recipe was very quick and easy to put together and baked quickly too - I think from getting the scales out, to taking the baked squares out of the oven only took 35 minutes. The only changes I made to the recipe was to use half wholemeal flour and half spelt flour, and butter instead of the vegetable margarine that Delia specifies. I also heated the mincemeat in the microwave for a few seconds - just enough to take the chill off,  as it had been in the fridge - this made it easier to spread over the bottom layer of dough.