Saturday, 5 August 2017

Blueberry and Lemon Polenta Cake


We planted two blueberry bushes earlier this year, but we weren't sure whether or not they would bear fruit straight away. Fortunately they did, although the fruit doesn't all ripen at once, so I'm picking 100-150g every five days or so. I've also found out that I really prefer cooked blueberries to raw, so I've made blueberry sauce for some cheesecake pots, and added some to baked rhubarb.

I decided to put the latest pickings into a cake, but had to find a recipe using a small amount. I also had some lemons that needed using, so a blueberry and lemon cake seemed in order. I soon found this Sainsbury's recipe for a lemon and blueberry polenta cake, which only used 100g of fruit. I had to adapt the recipe a little, using vanilla yogurt instead of natural. As I was using a yogurt with a separate topping of toasted oat flakes (about a tablespoonful), I sprinkled them on top of the cake too.

This was a deliciously light cake, although I think it could have taken another 50g of fruit, as the blueberries were very thinly spread. The zest of another lemon would have improved the flavour from my point of view but I do like a tart lemon cake - others might appreciate the subtlety of a milder flavour.

It's also nice to add another gluten-free cake to my repertoire.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Chocolate Chip and Orange Cookie Bars

 Despite knowing that recipes existed for baking cookie dough in a tray, it seemed quite difficult to find a suitable recipe, even on blogs and websites well-known for cookie recipes. Perhaps I was using the wrong search words, as it wasn't until I looked at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial that the word 'slab' cropped up! Or perhaps I was just being fussy - I needed a recipe to suit my store-cupboard ingredients, as I didn't have an opportunity to shop.

I used half quantities of Celia's recipe, (also here for ingredients, and method for making individual cookies) and baked in a 20cm(8") square tin. I made a couple of minor changes - I used 180g plain chocolate, roughly chopped, and added the finely grated zest of an orange. A classic flavour combination that's hard to beat!

Cookie Bars don't have the aesthetic appeal of individually baked cookies, but, boy, are they quicker to make! These were particularly tender, with a 'melt-in-the mouth' texture, so I'm sure I'll be using the recipe again.

200g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
large pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 orange
110g light muscovado sugar
50g caster sugar
125g softened butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
180g 70% chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 150C fan setting, and line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Whisk flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and orange zest together in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl cream the sugars and butter together, then add the vanilla extract, egg and a tablespoon of flour (to prevent curdling) and mix until just combined.
With the mixer on a low speed, add the rest of the flour mix, and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate pieces by hand.
Transfer the dough to the baking tin and spread evenly, using damp fingers, or the back of a large metal spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes, until firm and just beginning to colour. Cool in the tin, then cut into bars.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Red Gooseberry and Orange Crumble

I wouldn't normally add a post about what is essentially my usual crumble recipe, but I haven't baked anything for over two months now, so need to keep the blog alive! 'Not-baking' started with a need for both of us to lose a little weight before going away to France, so that the inevitable excesses of holiday eating didn't have too great an impact. Unfortunately, we then returned from holiday to face a family health crisis, which hasn't left me with any time to bake.

But, however little time you have, the garden continues to demand attention - this weekend it was the red gooseberries which needed harvesting. There was only 300g of fruit on  the bush, not quite the amount I usually use, so I added a chopped up orange segments to the gooseberries, and the zest of the orange to the crumble mix. It added an interesting dimension to the flavour.

80g plain flour
80g porridge oats
80g light muscovado sugar
80g butter, in small cubes
1 orange
300g prepared gooseberries
50g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground rice (to thicken the fruit juices)

Put the flour, oats, muscovado sugar and butter into a large bowl, and add the finely grated zest of the orange. Rub in the butter to make the crumble mix.
Cut the peel and pith from the orange, over the dish in which you are going to bake the crumble to save any juice. Cut the orange into small pieces, then mix with the gooseberries, caster sugar and ground rice, in the baking dish.
Scatter over the crumble mix and press down lightly.
Bake at 200C (180C fan), for about 45 minutes, until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbling.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Peanut Butter and Honeycomb Biscuits

I regularly visit some of the Australian food websites, such as Australian Good Food, and the Australian Women's Weekly website (Food to Love), and it was on Food to Love that I noticed this recipe for Peanut Butter and Honeycomb Biscuits. I assumed - perhaps incorrectly - that Violet Crumble Bars were the same as our Crunchie Bars, and made a batch of biscuits as soon as I'd acquired the Crunchie Bars.

It was a really simple dough to mix, and the biscuits were quick to cook. My biscuits were slightly larger than they should have been, as I only got 24 out of a batch of dough, rather than 30, but they were about the size I'd expect a biscuit to be, so I wasn't too worried about that. The longest wait, as usual, was for the drizzle of melted chocolate to set, so that the biscuits could be packed into an airtight container.

The biscuits were tasty and had an interesting texture, neither crisp nor chewy - more melt in the mouth crumbly. However, I was disappointed that the Crunchie pieces had melted to become little pockets of chewy sugar, rather than retaining the crisp honeycomb texture. I'd half expected this, but it does seem a waste to add the honeycomb when this happens during baking. The recipe would have been just as good - perhaps better - with small pieces of chocolate fudge or soft toffees used instead.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Apricot, Date and Ginger Flapjack

Flapjacks are often my 'go to' recipe, when I need something quick to mix and bake. In this case it was after an afternoon working in the garden, so that the flapjacks could bake while I was getting dinner ready. Once you have melted the butter and sugars together, it only takes a few more minutes to get the tray into the oven. The other good thing about flapjacks is they are ideal for using up the last remnants of bags of dried fruit, to stop them building up in the store cupboard.

60g dried apricots
40g dried dates
30g crystallised ginger
160g butter
70g golden syrup
100g light muscovado sugar
240g porridge oats

Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and line a 20cm (8") square shallow baking tin with a single piece of baking parchment, folding it into the corners, so that the sides of the tin are lined too.
Chop the dried fruit and ginger into pieces about the size of a sultana.
Melt the butter,  golden syrup and sugar together - I find it easiest to use a mixing bowl in the microwave, but a saucepan on the hob is fine too.
Add the oats, dried fruit and ginger and mix together thoroughly. Tip into the baking tin and spread evenly, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden. This baking time gives a chewy flapjack; if you like yours crisp, then add a few more minutes.
Cut into squares or fingers while still hot, but cool completely in the tin before removing.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Smoky Vegetable Slice

This is a dish based on the classic Australian recipe for Zucchini (Courgette) Slice, which I first saw on the blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I've used Celia's version several times, so usually follow her guidelines for quantities of ingredients and cooking instructions, although a bit more or less of any of the vegetables doesn't make much difference. The Zucchini Slice is very similar to a frittata, but the addition of SR flour and oil makes it sturdier and more filling. It's excellent when eaten as a main meal with salads, or as a picnic food.

I made this version in an attempt to use up some vegetables which were lingering uneaten in the fridge. A sudden rise in temperature, after a spell of wet, cold weather meant that we couldn't face hot meals for a few days. Instead of courgettes (or a mix of courgettes and carrots, as Celia uses), I used equal quantities of grated sweet potato and broccoli.

150g sweet potato, peeled then coarsely grated
150g broccoli
1 small onion
100g smoked cheddar, grated
100g smoked bacon pieces
5 eggs
125ml sunflower oil
130g SR flour
plenty of black pepper to season, plus a little salt if desired (both the cheese and bacon will be salty)

Preheat oven to 190C, 175C fan, and line a 23cm (9") round baking tin, or a 20cm (8") square one, with baking paper.
Fry the bacon pieces gently until just cooked through.
Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain, rinse in cold water and allow to dry off. Slice the stems thinly and chop the florets into small pieces.
Finely chop the onion.
Put all the vegetables into a large bowl, add the cheese and bacon.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, then make a well in the centre and break in the eggs and add the oil.
Mix everything together until no dry flour is visible, adding pepper and salt (if using) as you do so.
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin, level the surface and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and firm.
Best served at room temperature. You'll get 4-8 portions, depending on what else you are serving.

This was a really tasty version of a vegetable slice. The cheese and bacon added a subtle smoky flavour which we both really liked, and the sweet potato and broccoli made a good combination of vegetables.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Coconut Chai Traybake

I'd had this recipe, from BBC Good Food, bookmarked to try for quite a while before I finally got round to baking the cake. It was only remembering to put full-fat coconut milk onto the shopping list which stopped me making it sooner, as all the other ingredients are usually in my storecupboard.

I followed the cake recipe exactly, and also added the icing drizzle, which I topped with chopped stem ginger and a little extra desiccated coconut, rather than coconut shreds and pistachios. I thought the recipe made too much icing - by the time I used most of it, there was hardly  any cake showing, which isn't really the point of a drizzled icing! Other than that everything seemed fine.

I really loved this particular combination of spices, which worked very well with the coconut, but the texture of the cake was a bit strange. Although the middle was light, there was a stodgy layer at the bottom which seemed uncooked (or maybe the batter had separated before it was fully cooked), and the top was very moist where the ginger syrup had soaked in. The stodgy bottom made the cake unpleasant to eat, despite the delicious flavours.

I think it's worth remembering this flavour combination, and trying to get it into a cake with a better texture, but I won't be making this recipe again.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Rhubarb Vanilla Yogurt Cake

I happened upon this recipe, on the Riverford Organic Farmers website, by chance, while looking for new recipe for a rhubarb cake. I wanted one which didn't use a lot of fruit, as my crowns aren't doing well this year (I think it was the lack of a prolonged cold spell during last winter).

All I can say is that I'm thrilled to have found this recipe; it made a perfect cake! As an added bonus, it couldn't be simpler to make - dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another then combine the two and mix briefly. The rhubarb was even mixed with the dry ingredients, reducing the steps needed to mix the batter even more, as fruit is often folded in separately at the end. I think it's probably quite important to keep the rhubarb pieces small, so that they don't sink through the cake during baking, but the raw cake batter was thicker than normal, which also helps.

I did make one change to the recipe - I only had vanilla yogurt available, rather than plain, but as I wasn't adding an additional flavour, only a little more sugar, I decided to go ahead anyway. The resulting cake was light but moist, with a really tender crumb, and it wasn't too sweet either (even when using a sweetened yogurt), allowing the tart flavours of the rhubarb and orange zest to show through. It was fantastic while still warm, as a dessert, and almost as good when it was completely cold, eaten as a cake. This is definitely a cake to make again!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Zebra Cheesecake

I decided on cheesecake for an Easter dessert; more specifically, chocolate cheesecake, as I think the family would feel cheated if chocolate didn't make an appearance at Easter! A few weeks ago I saw a link to a recipe for a Zebra Cheesecake in an excerpt from Lorraine Pascale's latest book "Bake: 125 Showstopping Recipes, Made Simple" which looked ideal.

The recipe was simple to follow, and involved layering measured quantities of vanilla and chocolate cheesecake mixture onto a biscuit base. As the layers build, the cheesecake mixture gradually spreads to the edges of the baking tin, and this forms an attractive pattern in the baked cheesecake.

That's the theory! In practice it didn't work quite that way.

Firstly, the cheesecake mixture was very reluctant to spread, even with quite vigorous tin tapping. Although I did manage to get the mixture to the edges of the tin eventually, it was still domed in the centre when it went into the oven. Fortunately it levelled out before it set (with a little extra shaking).

Secondly, after 35 minutes baking - the time suggested in the recipe - the cheesecake still looked as raw and wobbly as when it went into the oven. It took well over an hour until I was satisfied that the cheesecake was cooked - set at the edges but still wobbly in the middle.

Thirdly, my cut cheesecake didn't look much like the photo accompanying the recipe. I followed the instructions, making each layer with about 2 tablespoons of mixture; this gave me, as far as I can make out from my photos, 14 or 15 alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate. I'm not sure why the layers in my cheesecake look so much thinner than those in the published photo, if that cheesecake was made following the same recipe exactly. Fewer layers - perhaps 8, using a quarter of each mixture in each layer - would give a more attractive result, I think.

After all that, this cheesecake wouldn't feature amongst the best I've ever made in terms of eating quality either! It tasted pleasant enough but it was very solid and quite dry in texture.

On the positive side - the pattern does look zebra-ish, and the cheesecake didn't crack during cooking or cooling. You can see from the photos that I made one slight departure from the recipe - I made the base using 200g plain chocolate digestive biscuits and only 80g butter. I've found that using half the quantity of butter to the weight of biscuits can make the base too solid and difficult to cut - I prefer the biscuit layer to be a little looser and crumblier.

I was disappointed that the cheesecake didn't look as attractive inside as the recipe suggested it would but even more disappointed that the baking time was so inaccurate and that the recipe didn't make a better cheesecake. This is the first recipe from Lorraine Pascale that I've tried, and it doesn't give me much confidence to try others!

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!

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

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.

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

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!

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

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.

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

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.