Monday, 30 May 2016

Date and Ginger Shortbread Squares

After trying many different recipes for layered bars with a filling of jam or softened dried fruit, I think I've at last found the perfect recipe for the dough layers. This recipe for Date and Ginger Squares, from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking' uses an easy shortbread dough made from equal parts of SR flour and semolina, which makes a really crisp, but melt-in-the-mouth biscuit. I adapted the recipe slightly by adding a little lemon zest to the filling, and adding the stem ginger in pieces, rather than blending it with the rest of the filling.

Filling - 175g dates, roughly chopped to check there are no stones left in
60g currants
1 tablespoon of ginger syrup from a jar of stem ginger
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of half a lemon
good pinch of ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons water
2 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped

Dough - 175g SR flour
175g semolina
175g butter
85g caster sugar

For the filling, place all the ingredients except the stem ginger into a small pan and simmer together, for about 10 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the dates soft. Purée with a stick blender or in a food processor, then stir in the chopped stem ginger.

For the shortbread dough, melt the butter and sugar together on a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, then  tip it over the flour and semolina, and combine well. The mixture will be crumbly, not a smooth dough. Put 2/3 of this mixture into a 8" square shallow baking tin lined with baking parchment, spread evenly and press down firmly.

Spread the filling over the base, leaving a small margin around the edges. Crumble the rest of the  shortbread mixture over the filling, then press down lightly with the palm of your hand. There may still be a few gaps where the filling shows through, but this is fine!

Bake at 190C for 25 minutes, until the shortbread is golden brown. Cut into 16 squares as soon as the  tin comes out of the oven, but cool completely in the tin before trying to move the squares - they will be too fragile while still warm.

Although the biscuit dough for these squares was perfect, and the filling was very tasty, these squares didn't really live up to the name of 'Date and Ginger'. There certainly wasn't enough ginger in the recipe and I'm not sure the currants added anything to the taste experience. Next time I will try several things to increase the ginger flavour - more stem ginger, some ground ginger as well as cinnamon, and more ginger syrup instead of honey. I will also leave out the currants and increase the amount of dates.

I'll also be using the shortbread recipe in other types of bars - it would be interesting to see how the crisp biscuit stands up to using fresh fruit in the filling, which often produces a 'soggy bottom' result.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Marmalade and Spice Cake

Opinions were divided about this cake. Although we both agreed that the cake crumb was too dry, I liked the subtle blend of orange (from marmalade) and mixed spice in the body of the cake. Hubby, on the other hand, didn't like much about the cake at all - he thought the marmalade glaze and glacé icing drizzle was the only redeeming feature.

I used this recipe from Waitrose's website, substituting mixed spice for the cinnamon and nutmeg used in the recipe. You can see from the proportion of flour to other ingredients that it's not supposed to be a rich cake, but a plain cake needn't be as dry as this was. I think, with a little more butter, and another egg in place of 50mls of the milk, this could be a very good cake. The aim would be to get the texture of a good Madeira cake - denser than a sponge cake but still tender and moist. If that could be achieved I think the flavour of the cake would seem much better.

The cake didn't go to waste though; I roasted some rhubarb to serve with it and drizzled the slices with the cooking syrup from the rhubarb. With vanilla yogurt on the side, this made a tasty dessert. The spiced orange flavour complimented the rhubarb very well.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chocolate Toffee Oaty Squares

This recipe, which featured in Sainsbury's 'The Magazine' in August 1996 is so decadent that I only make it once in a blue moon. One good thing about 20 year old recipes is that they don't come with a nutritional analysis to scare you off completely, but you don't have to be a genius to realise that a traybake containing 200g plain chocolate, 240g Mars bars, 150g butter, 150g sugar and 150ml of double cream is going to contain a lot of calories per piece - and that most of the calories are from fat and sugar.

One thing had to be checked before starting the recipe; my husband has been complaining for ages that one of his favourite chocolate bars - Mars bars - seems smaller these days. He was right! In the 1990s a standard Mars bar weighed around 65g; today the bars in a multi-pack weigh a tad less than 40g. So the 4 bars in the recipe had to be replaced by 6 of today's bars.

The only change I made to the original recipe was to use plain chocolate as the first layer of the filling, rather than milk chocolate. It reduces the sweetness a bit, and increases the contrast between the chocolate and the 'toffee' layers. I cut the squares into a variety of sizes - some large pieces for my son to take home, and smaller pieces for us to eat - but I reckon you should get a minimum of 24 pieces out of the tray, although the recipe recommends 32.

Unless you don't like chocolate, you couldn't fail to enjoy these bars. The oat mixture makes a crisp base, the chocolate layer sets hard and the fudgy toffee layer, which is made from melted Mars bars and cream whisked together, stays melt-in-the-mouth soft - almost like a sauce on top, although it just holds it's shape.

225g plain flour
110g porridge oats
150g light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium egg, beaten (I used the smallest from a box of large eggs)
225g deluxe milk chocolate, roughly chopped (I used 70% plain)
150ml double cream
Enough large Mars bars to give close to 240g (don't use mini bars or snack-sized as the proportion of chocolate to filling will be wrong)

The recipe is made in a 9" x 13" (23 x 32cm) shallow tin. The nearest I could get to this, using an adjustable tin, was 10 x 12", which is a tiny bit larger. I lined the tin with baking parchment.

The dough can be made in a food processor, but I made it by hand, by rubbing the butter into the flour, oats, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then mixing in the egg until the dough held together when squeezed. If using a processor, pulse to cut in the butter, then again to blend in the egg. 3/4 of the dough was spread evenly into the baking tin, and pressed down firmly with the back of a metal spoon.

The 225g of chocolate was melted in a bowl over simmering water, then spread over the base, leaving a 1cm margin all round. The tray was then chilled until the chocolate was set - about 30 minutes in the fridge, or 10 minutes in the freezer.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Bring the double cream to the boil in a small heavy-based pan, then reduce the heat to a minimum and add the chopped Mars bars. Stir until the Mars bars have melted, then whisk until creamy. Pour this over the chocolate layer and spread evenly, leaving a small margin all round the edges, as before.

Crumble the remaining dough mixture over the top, as evenly as possible - there won't be enough to completely cover the surface.

Place the baking tin on a  baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, then cool in the tin until the toffee has set - at least 2 hours. Cut into small squares.

I decided to push the boat out with these Chocolate Toffee Oaty Squares after Choclette, at Tin and Thyme, chose oats as the additional ingredient for this month's We Should Cocoa link-up. Each month either Choclette or a guest host chooses an ingredient, which must be used with some form of chocolate, to produce a tasty treat. I thought about making one of my chocolate flapjack recipes, but decided that a We Should Cocoa entry needed something a bit more out of the ordinary

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Chocolate Cake

Gluten-free and Dairy-free

This was a test cake, in my quest to find a 'tea-time' chocolate cake which was both gluten and dairy free. I've got several dessert recipes for rich, dense chocolate tortes which are both, but wanted something lighter and 'cakey-er'. 

Because I was just testing the recipe, I decided not to make a filling or frosting for the cake, adding just a dusting of icing sugar to make it slightly more photogenic. 

The recipe, another from the Waitrose website, worked out very well. I had expected the 200g of chocolate in the cake to make it quite dense but it rose well and was as light as a sponge-cake - just what I wanted. The cake wasn't too rich, either, considering the amount of chocolate it contained, but I think it really needed a fudgy frosting (or the ganache from the recipe) to elevate it from a 'plain' cake to something a bit more special.

We both really liked this cake, so I don't think I need to look any further for a good chocolate cake recipe that is both gluten- and dairy-free.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Chunky Fig, Apricot and Prune Cake

I know! It's the middle of May; we ought to be well into lighter Spring flavours, but when I made this cake it was snowing in northern England! Anyway, I quite like fruit cakes at any time of the year, as they keep better than sponges and cakes with fresh fruit, which is a good thing when you are only baking for two people.

Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker, has announced that as AlphaBakes has reached the end of the alphabet again, she and co-host, Caroline, at Caroline Makes, have decided to end the monthly challenge after this month's recipe link-up. It's understandable - life has moved on for both of them and they have different priorities now, but I will miss the monthly ritual of stretching my imagination and/or culinary skills.

As the last AlphaBakes Challenge, and the last letter of this second run through the alphabet, this month's entries  need to feature an ingredient or recipe name beginning with F. I found the recipe for this Chunky Fig, Apricot and Prune Cake, on the River Cottage site, while I was looking for a cake with dried figs in. It sounded ideal - not too heavy with fruit, lightly spiced and flavoured with citrus.

The recipe was simple to follow, although it's slightly unnerving to add large pieces of dried fruit, sticky with a marmalade coating, at the last stage of the recipe. Surely disaster would follow, with sinking fruit? The recipe does warn of the possibility, and I was prepared to add a little extra flour, if necessary, to make sure the batter was quite stiff (especially as I was using large eggs). However, extra flour (I was using spelt) wasn't needed, and the fruit didn't sink, so all was well!

All was well with the flavour too. Because the pieces of dried fruit were larger than usual, each could be individually tasted, and the background flavours of mixed spice and citrus (from both orange and lemon zest, and marmalade) added an extra dimension. The texture of the crumb was moist but not heavy, and sweetness levels were about right too, overall. Definitely one to repeat!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Date, Banana and Rum Loaf

Gluten-free and dairy-free.

This Date, Banana and Rum Loaf, found on the BBC Good Food website, could be considered a healthy cake, as it has no added fat or sugar. The natural sweetness comes from almost 800g of fresh and dried fruit packed into the loaf, and the only significant fat is that which is contained in the nuts - 100g of pecans.

I was a little worried about making the cake, as some of the comments on the Good Food website said the cake was quite crumbly, but I needn't have worried. I followed the basic cake recipe closely and made a dense, very moist fruit cake, which even survived being dropped (in it's cake box); quite frankly I was amazed that just the puréed fruit, 100g of fine cornmeal and 2 egg whites made a batter that actually held everything together! In a slight departure from the recipe, I added 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum, as it's easy to get hold of now, although it wasn't when this recipe first appeared in 2008; I don't know if it made any difference but it couldn't have done any harm!

One other thing I did, not mentioned in the recipe, was to cut each date in half, cross-ways, before cooking them. I found two stones while doing this, so it's well worth the extra time spent, as unnoticed stones could damage food processor blades.  When I drained the cooked dates I didn't get enough liquid, so I added water to get to the 100mls needed for the recipe. I varied the topping, as I don't really like banana chips - I used the remaining pecans, chopped coarsely, and 4 crushed brown sugar cubes (optional if you don't want to add sugar).

I really enjoyed this cake, but I would leave the sugar off the topping next time. It only added a crunch when the cake was fresh, and quickly dissolved in the moisture from the cake. Unlike a lot of other recipes that rely on the natural sweetness of the ingredients, rather than adding any additional sugar, this cake did taste sweet enough. This is definitely a recipe I'll be using again!

One small criticism - sultanas and raisins are very similar in looks and taste; the cake might have been more attractive and even tastier if a different mix of dried fruit was used. Cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots and/or golden raisins could be used to replace some of the 400g of raisins and sultanas used in the loaf.