Thursday, 27 April 2017

Chocolate Marmalade Brownies

When I first made this recipe, for Chocolate Marmalade Brownies, almost seven years ago, I thought the recipe was a keeper. Making them again, only recently, I'm not quite sure what I saw in them in the first place. They were pleasant enough, but more like cake than a brownie, and the one word in their name that is meant to describe the added flavour is the thing I couldn't taste at all! The walnuts, cayenne and ginger (an extra addition, part of the chocolate used) were all much more prominent flavours than the marmalade.

The only changes I made to the recipe were to bake in a slightly smaller tin (20 x 30cm), which added five minutes to the baking time, and to use chopped dark chocolate containing crystallised ginger instead of plain chocolate chips.

Really, the only thing to recommend this recipe is that the brownie batter is made with cocoa rather than chocolate, which could be useful if you were short of chocolate. However, if you're the sort of person who regularly bakes brownies, I can't see you being the sort of person who runs short of chocolate - I get twitchy if there's ever less than 500g in the house!

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mincemeat and Apple Cake

Another outing for the cake I often make when I want a dessert with fresh fruit, but can't be bothered to fuss around with pastry. Because I hadn't checked supplies and found myself short of flour, I used a proportion of spelt flour in the recipe this time - it seemed to make the cake a little more crumbly.

Anything with mincemeat in it smells wonderful when it is baking; in this case the flavour was pretty good too. Adding the apples and orange zest cut back on the sweetness of the filling a little without changing the flavour much, as the mincemeat had it's own citrus notes. The dough has a texture somewhere between pastry and scone - what I imagine the old-fashioned American shortbread cakes to be like.

I'm pleased to say that this cake used the last of my winter mincemeat stocks!

Ingredients
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
*100g SR flour
*200g white spelt flour
*1 teaspoon baking powder
250g mincemeat
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
grated zest of 1 orange

* you can use 300g SR flour, in which case you won't need the baking powder

Method
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and base-line a 20cm (8") springform cake tin.
Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave - it doesn't need to be very hot, just liquid. Stir in the sugar, then beat in the egg.
Add both flours and the baking powder and mix to a soft dough. Put 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin and spread out into an even layer with your fingers, building up a little wall around the sides of the tin.
Mix together the mincemeat, chopped apples and orange zest and spread onto the cake base.
Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the filling and press down lightly, spreading the dough as you do - it should more or less cover the top, but any small gaps will fill as the dough rises and spreads during baking.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is firm and golden. Cool for about 15 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the tin, in case any fruit juices have leaked from the cake and are sticking to the sides of the tin - this can sometimes happen with mincemeat.
Dust with icing sugar before serving, either warm or at room temperature. This cake can be quite fragile, so I always leave it on the springform base.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Golden Simnel Cake

My family's festive celebrations have never included traditional fruit cakes - we're more of a mini chocolate appreciation society -  so I was surprised when my daughter asked me to make a Simnel Cake for Easter this year. I'm not averse to traditional recipes but I still wanted to put a spin on this cake to make it more personal, so I decided to make a golden fruit cake.

After looking at several recipes, I thought that Felicity Cloake's recipe from her 'How to Cook the Perfect.....' series in The Guardian would be the best one to adapt to what I wanted. I particularly liked the idea of adding saffron to help the golden colour of the cake I was planning.

I used the same quantities of all ingredients, although I used caster sugar instead of light brown sugar, to keep the crumb colour as pale as possible. Instead of using 400g of the fruit Felicity suggested (sultanas, currants and glacé cherries) I used 115g of each of sultanas, golden raisins and chopped apricots and 55g chopped dried peaches. I left the mixed peel in the recipe but took out the chopped almonds, as my daughter doesn't always like chewing on pieces of nuts, even though she loves the flavour of almonds. I used shop-bought white marzipan instead of yellow - just a personal preference!

It's a pity I didn't cross reference Felicity's decision making processes with the sources she used, or I would have discovered that her oven temperature was for a fan setting, not a conventional oven - after 2 hours at the quoted temperature the cake batter was still raw. It took another hour with the oven turned up another 20C for the cake to cook. Anyone with any experience of fruit cakes would have noticed the error straight away, but I've hardly ever made a rich fruit cake, even in 40 + years of cooking!

I was quite impressed with the look of the finished cake, although if I ever make another I will use more marzipan so that I can put thicker layers inside and on the top. The size of the 11 decorative balls, at 15g each, was about right, however. When cut, the colour of the crumb was just right for a golden cake.

I liked the flavour of the cake - a delicious subtle balance between spice and citrus, with all the fruits working in harmony, so that none stood out more than others. The soft inner layer of melted marzipan added a note of bitter almonds to the cake, although it hadn't stayed level in the cake, possibly a result of the error in cooking temperature.

There were other faults too, which might have been caused by the same error - the fruit wasn't evenly distributed in each layer, and although the cake was really moist, it was also crumbly and didn't cut cleanly. However, these faults were outweighed by the lovely flavour; all it really meant was that it was difficult to get a good photograph. I will have to try the recipe again, and cook it properly next time!


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Rhubarb, Marzipan and Citrus Cake

I've been harvesting our homegrown rhubarb since the middle of March, and this traybake recipe is perfect for the beginning of the season when there are some thin stalks to pick. If you can only get thick sticks, then I suggest you cut them into fairly thin slices, both to distribute the rhubarb evenly through the cake, and make sure it cooks properly.

I picked this Rhubarb, Marzipan and Citrus Cake recipe because I wanted something portable to take to my daughter, who was cooking a Mother's Day dinner, and also because I know she loves marzipan.

I followed the recipe exactly, although I used the zest from the whole lemon and orange, as I didn't see the point of leaving half grated fruit - this turned out to be a good move, as the citrus flavour wasn't very pronounced, even with the extra zest. I also used fine cornmeal rather than polenta, as I can only get the quick-cook sort which is relatively coarse.

What the recipe doesn't mention is that initially the cake batter seems too stiff, and although it does slacken a little when the fruit is added, it never gets to the 'dropping' stage. Resist the temptation to add more liquid -  more juices will be released from the fruit during baking.

We all loved this dessert - there were subtle citrus notes amongst the tang of the rhubarb, and the marzipan gave concentrated pockets of the sort of almond flavour you don't get from ground almonds alone. My husband reckoned it would come a close second to rhubarb crumble in his 'favourites' list!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Fudge Squares

I found myself with half a tin of caramelised condensed milk, and no idea what to make with it. One thing that kept coming up, however inventively I worded my internet searches, was Millionaires' Shortbread, and similar bakes. The problem with many ready-made caramel products is that they often aren't thick enough to work really well in things like Millionaires Shortbread - I hate cutting into something only to see the caramel squidge out all over the plate.

However, the recipes made me wonder if mixing the caramel with melted chocolate would mean that it set more solidly after baking, and decided that it couldn't hurt to try. I then decided to pair the chocolate-caramel mixture with my favourite, really easy, shortbread recipe - from Sue Lawrence's 'On Baking' - and ended up with the components of a Millionaires' Shortbread with much less work. I also added some salt flakes and some hazelnuts for extra flavour.

Ingredients
170g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
170g SR flour
170g semolina
60g coarsely chopped hazelnuts
pinch salt flakes

filling - 200g caramelised condensed milk, at room temperature
100g of plain chocolate (the darker the better - I used Willie's Chef's Drops; although they are just 70% cocoa solids they are quite bitter when eaten on their own, so ideal for adding to caramel)
1/2 teaspoon salt flakes

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 190C and line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with baking parchment, using one piece of paper to come up the sides of the tin too.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and allow  to cool a little, if necessary, to around 40C (blood heat). Mix in the caramelised condensed milk and the salt.
Melt the butter and sugar together, either in a large bowl in the microwave, or a large pan on the hob. Add the flour and the semolina and mix everything together to give a crumbly rubble.
Put 2/3 of the mixture into the baking tin and spread evenly, pressing down firmly so that it looks like a sheet of dough rather than rubble.
Spread on the chocolate mixture, stopping just short of the edges.
Mix the hazelnuts into the remaining dough, and sprinkle this over the contents of the baking tin, this time only pressing down lightly.
Sprinkle over a pinch more salt, then bake for 30 minutes until the topping is firm and golden.
Leave for 30 minutes to give the chocolate layer time to set a bit, then mark into squares. Leave in the baking tin until completely cold, as the squares are too fragile to move while hot.

These were really tasty! The centre was rich and fudgy, but because it was a thin layer it didn't seem over-sweet. The shortbread layers were, as usual, crisp, but with a 'melt-in the mouth' delicacy. The added salt was just the right amount and the hazelnuts added to both the texture and flavour. 

These weren't quite successful as replacement for Millionaires' Shortbread, with it's separate layer of caramel, as the caramel flavour wasn't really strong when mixed with the chocolate, but what this means is that these could probably be made with basic condensed milk to give the same fudgy filling, without much loss of flavour.

I'm adding these to April's We Should Cocoa link-up, over at Tin and Thyme. Choclette doesn't set a theme for this link-up - any recipe, using any form of chocolate is welcome.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Goat's Cheese Soufflé Tart

This is the second time I've written about this recipe, for a Goat's Cheese Soufflé Tart, which is given extra flavour with a layer of onion chutney in the base, but the first was several years ago, so it was definitely time revisit the recipe!

I had a lot of cheese left after a meal with friends, including a large piece of soft goat's cheese, which wasn't going to keep for long. I was in two minds as to which kind of tart to make - this recipe or a more conventional leek and goat's cheese quiche with an egg and cream custard filling. In the end, I decided to make this soufflé-style tart again, as it was such a success the first time.

It's a little more fiddly to make than a traditional quiche, but from my previous experience, more likely to be successful, as the semi-solid, meringue-like, soufflé filling prevents any possibility of a soggy pastry bottom when the tart is cooked. I made my own pastry from 200g plain flour, 100g butter, 25g grated parmesan cheese plus water to mix, and used it to line a 22cm (9") deep fluted flan tin, which was then baked blind. I then followed the recipe closely for the soufflé filling, except for using finely chopped rosemary instead of thyme.

Once again, this was a resounding success! The onion chutney I had chosen was flavoured with a little chilli, nigella seeds and cumin, so added an extra piquancy to the layer between the pastry and goat's cheese filling. The souffléed filling was moist and creamy - completely different to the custard filling of a conventional quiche - and the pastry was light and crisp. The goat's cheese which was crumbled over the surface of the tart didn't brown much during cooking, so the tart looked pale and interesting rather than well-cooked, but this didn't affect the flavour. My goat's cheese was quite strongly flavoured and this came through well in the tart.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mincemeat Flapjacks

I'd planned to make mincemeat shortbread from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking', but we were suffering from an unscheduled cut in our water supply, which meant I couldn't do anything which was going to make my hands really sticky - such as rubbing fat into flour, or handling biscuit dough. Luckily I found a recipe for mincemeat flapjacks a bit further on in the book, and decided I could make the recipe without touching any of the ingredients in a way which would need me to wash my hands. Just a quick wipe with a hand sanitiser afterwards and all was well. The flapjacks were made in one saucepan too, which minimised the washing up - useful when you can't actually wash-up at all!

Ingredients
225g mincemeat
170g butter
285g golden syrup
the grated zest of 1 orange
425g porridge oats

Method
Pre-heat oven to 180C and line a baking tin roughly 20 x 30cm (8 x 12") with baking parchment, using one piece big enough to come up the sides of the tin too.
Melt the mincemeat, butter and golden syrup together in a large pan, over a low heat, stirring often.
When the butter has melted remove the pan from the heat and add the orange zest and oats. Mix everything together thoroughly.
Transfer the oat mixture to the baking tin and spread evenly, pressing down firmly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Mark into pieces while still warm, but cool completely before removing from tin.

The smell while these flapjacks were baking was fantastic, and they tasted pretty good too. There wasn't a large amount of mincemeat in the recipe but it was enough to give quite a strong flavour. The mincemeat I used was quite citrussy, so it was complemented by the added orange zest. My usual flapjack recipe uses more sugar than golden syrup, whereas this recipe uses mainly golden syrup plus the sugar in the mincemeat. The end result was very similar, as these flapjacks were also nice and chewy - they were perhaps just a little softer than those I usually make.



Monday, 20 March 2017

Chocolate Tart

gluten- and lactose-free

I have a favourite recipe for a baked filling for a chocolate tart, which is naturally gluten-free, but unfortunately it didn't work well when I tried to make it lactose-free too. Using a vegetable fat instead of butter and lactose-free cream instead of creme fraiche lead to the filling separating during baking to give a thin layer of egg custard on the base with a thicker chocolate layer on top. It was still edible and quite tasty but not really good enough to serve to guests.

Searching through my file of recipes cut from magazines, I eventually found a recipe for a filling for a chocolate tart which looked suitable. It contained a much smaller amount of butter than the previously tried recipe and cream rather than creme fraiche, so I hoped it would adapt better to lactose-free alternatives.

Ingredients
23cm (9") pre-baked shortcrust pastry case (gluten and dairy-free, if necessary)
50g hard vegetable fat (eg Stork)
250g 70% dark chocolate, dairy-free
3 large eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
6 tablespoons lactose-free double cream
1 tablespoon finely ground fresh coffee

Method
Pre-heat oven to 200C.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Cool slightly.
Whisk egg whites to very soft peak stage.
Whisk yolks and sugar in a large bowl, until just combined and slightly frothy. Stir in the coffee and cream.
Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture, and fold in gently, along with the egg whites.
Spoon the chocolate mixture into the pastry case, and level using a hot, wet palette knife to give a smooth surface.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are firm and the centre is just set.
Cool to room temperature before serving.

This recipe worked perfectly. The chocolate filling was dense and fudgy, but not too sweet. Although I don't need either gluten-, dairy- or lactose-free baking for family cooking it is nice to have 'free-from' alternatives when needed for guests. Now that I'm happy with the gluten-and dairy-free pastry recipe I use, a chocolate tart is a useful addition to my repertoire.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Date and Ginger Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Biscuits aren't one of my favourite things to make; in general there's too much faffing about to make them worth the effort. They might look more decorative but you can usually get the same amount of eating pleasure from a traybake cut into squares or bars, with lots less work for the cook. However, put the name Dan Lepard to a biscuit recipe, and it's one I'll look at twice, and by the second time I'll probably be eagerly searching the storecupboard, to check I've got all the ingredients. It's no coincidence that this is my second biscuit bake this year (see here), and they are both Dan's recipes - previously I hadn't made any biscuits since July last year!

I think it must be the (sometimes unusual) combinations of flavours that Dan uses, and that he tries to maximise the impact of those flavours, which makes his recipes so appealing to me. In this case, I love the combination of dates with chocolate, and ginger with chocolate, as well as dates and ginger, but the only time I've ever used the three ingredients together is in another Dan Lepard recipe - Chocolate Passion Cake, where the dates were used as an egg replacement rather than a flavouring ingredient.

These Date and Ginger Chocolate Chip Biscuits, published on the Good Food, Australia site, were relatively quick and easy to make, as the method is based on melting butter and sugar together, before mixing in the other ingredients. I used cocoa, rather than carob, and dark muscovado sugar but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.

I portioned out the biscuit dough using scales, and got 21 biscuits out of the mix, not the 24 suggested in the recipe. As I was using the fan oven, so that I could put in two trays of biscuits together, I cooked for the minimum time suggested.

These biscuits were as delicious as I expected. Rich in chocolate flavour, with large chunks of fiery ginger which were a delight to chew on. I find dates quite neutral in flavour (which is why they're often used as a sugar replacement these days) but I think that they really enhance the impact of chocolate and they certainly contributed to the chewiness of these biscuits.

This shows how the chocolate melted and tried to escape!
My only slight disappointment with the biscuits was that any chocolate chunks on the outside of the dough ball melted during baking, leaving a lot of melted chocolate on the baking paper, and on top of some of the biscuits. This might be down to my choice of chocolate, but as these biscuits were really only chunks of chocolate, dates, and ginger held together with the minimum amount of dough, it would be difficult to make them without any chocolate chips on the surface. I've not looked into bake-stable chocolate in detail, as I've never really needed it, but my impression is that it's quite expensive - possibly only for perfectionists, which I'm not!


I'm sending these to Choclette's We Should Cocoa link-up for March, over at Tin and Thyme. There is no theme to the link-up, any recipe, using any form of chocolate, is welcome.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Chocolate Chip and Hazelnut Loaf Cake

This little loaf cake was baked for my son to take home with him after a visit - I didn't even get to see what it looked like inside, let alone taste it, but chocolate and hazelnut is a tried and tested combination, so I can't imagine anything going wrong. I would have liked to taste it as I used Willie's Chef's Drops  - 71% sambirano  (Madagascan) chocolate - which tasted quite bitter on their own. I can imagine them making a cake taste quite special. I'll have to make a cake for us using the drops, soon.


I used the all-in-one mixing method, usually used for sponge cakes, but increasing the amount of flour and adding a little milk to give a dropping consistency. This makes a cake which is slightly sturdier than a sponge, although still moist, with a close crumb texture.

This is what you do - in a large bowl, beat together 100g softened butter, 100g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 150g SR flour, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. Add a little milk or water if necessary to give a dropping consistency, then fold in 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 50g dark chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate. Transfer the batter to a small (1lb/450g) loaf tin, level the top and bake at 180C for about 50 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Coconut Tart

gluten- and dairy-free

The main aim of this baking session was to see how well my recipe for gluten-and dairy-free pastry behaved during blind-baking (see this post for details of the pastry). It shrank rather more than I'd expect from using my usual pastry techniques, and browned slightly too much during the drying out period. My main fear was that, as the pastry is so soft and pliable, the edges would collapse during baking, but I pressed the baking parchment quite firmly against the pastry wall and made sure the baking beans went well up the sides. The over-browning can be easily rectified by lowering the oven temperature during the drying out phase, so overall I was pleased with the result.

When it came to a filling, I wanted something different to the tarts I've baked recently, so that ruled out chocolate, lemon and frangipane. I've got a recipe book called The Book of Old Tarts, and came across a recipe for Cumbrian Tart in there - a coconut macaroon-type mixture on top of raspberry jam. I don't know how authentically Cumbrian this recipe is, as I couldn't find any online references, but  it sounded tasty, and was simple to make.

I didn't have raspberry jam, and although I was briefly tempted by the leftovers of a jar of mincemeat, I decided that marmalade would probably give a good sharp contrast to the sweet coconut topping - and it did!

Ingredients
1 shallow pre-baked 23cm(9") pastry case (gluten and dairy-free if necessary)
200g marmalade (I used fine shred orange and tangarine)
2 tablespoons golden syrup
25g caster sugar
55g butter (or hard baking fat, eg Stork, if dairy-free)
140g desiccated coconut
1 egg

Method
Pre-heat oven to 190C.
Spread the marmalade in the base of the pastry case.
Warm the golden syrup, sugar and butter together, in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved.
Remove from the heat and mix in the coconut and egg.
Spread the coconut mixture over the marmalade, making sure to seal the edges where the filling joins the pastry.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown (mine was cooked to dark brown in 23 minutes).

If you search for coconut tart recipes, there are several similar recipes, but they often use a lot more sugar and fat in the filling, and more complicated methods of preparation. The simplicity of this recipe, together with quite low levels of sugar, meant that the flavour of the coconut dominated, and the filling, while nice and chewy, wasn't too sweet and contrasted nicely with the crisp pastry.

The second time I made the recipe I used a seedless raspberry jam in the base, and also reduced the oven temperature, from 200C to 180C, while drying out the pastry case for 10 minutes after blind baking.

I preferred the marmalade version which I thought gave the coconut filling a tropical twist as well as a certain tartness, but my husband preferred the more traditional raspberry. I found the raspberry version too sweet, although the contrasting colour does  make the tart look more interesting.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Date, Orange and Cardamom Cake

dairy-free

This is a recipe from one of Waitrose's monthly recipe cards  (also online here). I didn't pick it because it was dairy-free, but because I liked the sound of the other ingredients when put together - dates, orange, almonds and cardamom. I just happened to have some dairy-free spread to use up too, which was an added bonus. It's a strange recipe - it uses only bicarbonate of soda as a raising agent and is cooked at a very low temperature; the dates, sugar and orange are all acidic, so I presumed these ingredients would interact enough with the bicarbonate to raise the cake.

I had to use a slightly smaller baking tin, 20cm in diameter rather than 21cm, but the cake still cooked in the time given in the recipe. There was a slight dip in the centre, which spoiled the appearance of the cake a little - no idea why that happened, unless it was using the smaller tin! This time I added the drizzle of orange frosting suggested, just to alleviate the brownness of the cake, but it wasn't really necessary for flavour.

The cake was, surprisingly, as it contained wholemeal spelt flour, very light and moist. Both the orange and cardamom flavours were quite subtle, but I don't think that's always a bad thing - sometimes you just want all the ingredients to blend into something unique which is delicious but unidentifiable. You don't always want to be hit over the head with several, or even just one, big flavour, and that's what happened here. Because of this, and because the cake wasn't too sweet, I think this was a cake where the flavour of the spelt flour was noticeable too.

This is definitely a recipe to put in the 'repeat' file.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Norwegian Spiced Chocolate Cake

for Clandestine Cake Club

The theme for a recent meeting of my local Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) was 'How to Hygge', which seems appropriate for mid-winter, as Hygge cooking concentrates on warming spicy flavours and 'comfort' food. Even though Hygge is a Danish word, the Swedes and Norwegians have the same concept of warmth and cosiness, particularly during the long dark winters. This meant I didn't feel constrained to search for only Danish recipes, fortunately. The problem with Scandinavian baking, from a CCC point of view, is that Scandinavians seem to be hotter on the types of baking that can't be taken to CCC - yeasted buns, small pastries, biscuits and tarts etc.

I have The Nordic Bakery Cookbook, and tried out the basic cake recipe in there, making a ginger cake, and although it was delicious, I felt that it was too dry and plain for a CCC meeting. Finding no relevant recipe books in the local library, I resorted to what I could find online - which was mostly recipes from The Nordic Bakery or Scandilicious. Signe Johansen's recipe for Spiced Chocolate Cake, from Scandilicious, soon caught my eye, but I was disappointed that the recipe made a very stodgy cake when I tried it (see photo, above) The batter was difficult to marble too, as it was so shallow - I hoped the layers would swirl more as they cooked.

At that point I was running out of time to try other recipes, so decided to embrace the concept of this Spiced Chocolate Cake (also known as Tropisk Aroma), by keeping the flavourings used in Johansen's recipe, which I'd really liked, but using an ordinary sponge cake recipe as a base. I also decided to make the three layers as a sandwich cake, as in this recipe, rather than layer the batters into one pan, and swirl them before baking, as in the original recipe, pictured here. While I was making changes, I also decided to use a rich chocolate fudge frosting and filling, rather than buttercream, which I find is sometimes too sickly.

Ingredients
225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g SR flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

50g melted plain chocolate, cooled to lukewarm
2 tablespoons cocoa

extra milk, as necessary

*Frosting: 200g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids), 35g butter, 50mls milk, 2 generous tablespoons golden syrup.

Method
Prepare 2 x 20cm (8") sandwich tins, at least 4cm (about 1 1/2") deep, and preheat oven to 180C, fan 160C.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, coffee-flavoured milk, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended and aerated. Add a little extra milk if necessary, to give a dropping consistency.
Weigh 500g of this batter into one of the sandwich tins and spread evenly.
Beat the melted chocolate and cocoa into the remaining portion of batter, again adding milk if necessary.
Spread this chocolate batter into the second sandwich tin.
Bake both cakes for 25-30 minutes, until risen and firm.
Cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.
Make the frosting by melting the chocolate and butter together, either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a thick bottomed pan directly over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and  beat in the milk and golden syrup. Cool until the fudgy frosting holds it's shape.
Split the coffee sponge layer in two horizontally, and place the bottom layer on a serving plate.
Using roughly 1/4 of the frosting each time, sandwich the chocolate layer between the two thinner coffee layers.
Spread the rest of the frosting on top of the assembled cake and decorate as you wish - a dusting of cocoa seems to be traditional, but I just marked a pattern using a fork.

* most versions of this cake that I've seen online completely cover the cake in a thick layer of chocolate buttercream. To do that with this frosting recipe I think you would need twice the amount I've given here!

I really liked the combination of flavours here! Chocolate and coffee always work well together but the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon added a very subtle warm spiciness. If I made this again I think I'd increase the spices to 2 teaspoons of each - the flavour was perhaps a little too subtle!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Mincemeat and Marzipan Tea Loaf

This is a great cake recipe for using Christmas leftovers, but also good enough to buy mincemeat and marzipan especially to make it (as long as you could find a use for the leftovers!). I was using brandy marzipan, brought from the 'reduced to clear' shelf, and a standard nut-free mincemeat.

The recipe comes from Good Food, although it isn't on their website. I originally found it in one of their cookbooks - 101 Cakes and Bakes - and there are plenty of blogs which have given the recipe. I wrote out the recipe when I first used it, six years ago (here's the link!) so there's not much point is writing it again. This time I needed to add a couple of tablespoons of milk to loosen the cake batter - it was a very stiff mincemeat - and it needed a few minutes longer baking time as a result. I also increased the marzipan from 85g to 110g, as I suggested in the linked post, although I kept the pieces small as I read on one blog that large pieces of marzipan had sunk to the bottom of the cake during baking. This time I sprinkled a handful of flaked almonds on top before baking.

The mincemeat I used was quite basic, so the almond flavour of the marzipan was the strongest element of the cake. I think adding a little more spice, or even the grated zest of an orange, would have been an improvement, but it's difficult to know in advance how the mincemeat will influence the flavour of the cake. My husband thought it tasted like Stollen, so he really liked it!



Monday, 6 February 2017

Ginger Cake

This highly spiced cake, from The Nordic Bakery Cookbook (recipe here except that you only need 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, not 16!), might be called a 'ginger' cake, but the spices that dominated were cardamom and cloves - spices that aren't to everyone's taste. I really liked the mix of spices - cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom - but would probably swap the amounts of ginger and cardamom if I made it again - just to make it more 'gingery'.

I found that following the recipe exactly made a very stiff batter, but went ahead and baked it anyway, despite my misgivings. I used a 20cm (8") springform tin, after putting the batter into the suggested tin size and worrying that it would overflow; the baking time was still the same. Even the larger tin made a very high cake, so I wouldn't try it in the smaller tin in the future; what I would do is add a few tablespoons of milk to the batter to loosen it and try and make the cake a little moister. The cake had a lovely close texture and wasn't too sweet, but it was a little on the dry side. This made it a good cake for everyday use - perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, but not the sort of thing you'd produce for special occasions. This is not a bad thing - you certainly don't want fancy baking all the time!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Lemon Tart

I've not been having much luck with lemon recipes recently; after the Spelt, Lemon and Maple Drizzle Cake, which failed twice, I had another technical failure with a Lemon Tart.

I chose this particular Lemon Tart recipe, from Good Food, to see if reducing the fat levels still made an acceptably tasty dessert - this recipe claims to be half the fat of a classic tart.

I liked the reduced fat pastry, which was unexpected, and really loved both the flavour and texture of the filling, which was light and silky smooth and just about sharp enough for my tastes. However, my tart cracked like crazy paving as it cooled. I don't think it was overcooked, as it was still wobbly in the centre, but I did leave it in the oven, with the door slightly open, to cool, so that might have been the problem, although slow cooling is usually advised to avoid cracks. The cracks didn't really spoil the tart from the point of view of eating it, but I usually only make desserts like this on special occasions, and wouldn't want to serve this to guests.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chestnut Ginger Biscuits

How often do I complain that there isn't enough ginger in a recipe? It's probably more than 50% of the time, with recipes where ginger is supposed to be the main flavor. No such problem with this biscuit recipe from Dan Lepard, which used six teaspoons of ground ginger - the flavour was so fierce there was an afterburn (in a very good way!).

I had no problems with following the recipe; the only change I made was to use all treacle instead of part golden syrup. This was suggested as an alternative, to increase the liquorice-ness of the treacle flavour. I chilled the soft dough for about 3 hours before forming it into balls - which I did using scales to ensure uniformity. If my memory is correct, I got 25 biscuits out of the dough, and after baking they stayed soft like cookies rather than being crisp like gingernuts. I'd been expecting them to be crisp, so this was a surprise, but not really a disappointment.

There wasn't much to complain about with these delicious biscuits, although my husband suggested they would be better without being rolled in sugar. Once again, I felt that the chestnut flour was overwhelmed by the other flavours in the recipe; treacle, ginger and ground cloves all have unique and striking flavours. After my past experiences it wasn't a surprise that I couldn't distinguish the flavour of the chestnut flour, but I had just a little left to use up so thought the recipe worth trying. (I'm really talking myself into not buying chestnut flour again, unless someone can recommend a recipe where it can be tasted!)

PS - the second attempt at the Spelt, Lemon and Maple Drizzle Cake wasn't any better than the first. I managed to find white spelt flour and added half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the batter, but the cake still sank, this time even before the cooking time was up. Two attempts is enough - there are plenty of other cake recipes out there!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Spelt, Lemon and Maple Drizzle Cake

This is a recipe from January's Waitrose Food magazine, and can be found online here. There were so many things wrong with this cake that I almost didn't bother doing a post about it! However, it's flavour was wonderful, which almost made up for all the things which went wrong. I say 'almost' because, if  I can't work out what went wrong, I won't be making it again, as it was quite an expensive cake to make.

So, what went wrong?
  • the cake took 10 minutes longer to cook than the longest time that the recipe suggested
  • it didn't rise much
  • although it eventually tested as properly cooked, the cake sank in the middle as it cooled; however the area immediately beneath the dip didn't really look under-baked, just a little moist from the drizzle used
  • the texture was stodgy, rather than just moist, perhaps because the cake hadn't risen properly
  • despite seeming stodgy, the cake was also quite fragile - slices crumbled easily when handled
I have to confess that I made one change to the recipe - I didn't have white spelt flour so used a 50:50 mix of wholemeal spelt and plain wheat flour. 

The cake ingredients were:
190g unsalted butter
190g white spelt flour
2 large eggs
2tsp baking powder
3 lemons - zest of all 3 and juice of 1
180ml maple syrup

After beating the butter until it is soft and creamy, all the other ingredients are beaten in until well blended. The batter is then transferred to a large (900g/2lb) loaf tin and the cake is baked for 35-40 minutes at 180C/Gas 4. (Or 50 minutes, in my case!)

When the cake is cooked, and while it is still hot, it is pricked with a skewer and drizzled with 70g of caster sugar mixed with the juice and zest of 1 lemon. The cake is then cooled completely in the tin. The magazine recipe also makes candied lemon slices to decorate the top, but I didn't get to that stage.

So, why did things go wrong? I'm not sure under-baking was a factor, as the central part of the cake, under the dip, didn't look or taste as if it wasn't cooked. I think what might have happened is that the acidity of the lemon and the maple syrup affected the efficiency of the baking powder, possibly causing the carbon dioxide to be released too quickly. This could perhaps be overcome by adding a little more alkali, in the form of baking soda, to balance the acidity. This theory seems to be borne out by the fact that three recipes I found online, all using a large amount of maple syrup, added half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda along with the baking powder.

I'm going to give this cake one more attempt, trying to get hold of white spelt flour and adding bicarbonate of soda, as the combination of lemon and maple syrup gave such a great flavour. If that doesn't solve the problems I'll have to give up - a cake using 180ml maple syrup is too expensive to keep experimenting with!