Monday, 16 April 2018

Emergency Brownies with Pistachio Nuts and Chilli Chocolate

I've used Nigella Lawson's recipe for Emergency Brownies, from her latest book 'At My Table', several times now; not because I have frequent emergencies, but because the recipe is just the right size for someone living on their own, who tries hard not to overindulge on cake.

As I said before, it's not the best recipe for brownies that I've ever made, but it's pretty good! This time, I used pistachio nuts left over from Easter baking, and chilli-flavoured chocolate (that was a bit of an emergency - my chocolate stocks were very low!)

The recipe is online now, here on the BBC Food website. I'd advise you to save a copy, as experience has taught me that the BBC doesn't keep celebrity chefs' recipes for ever! Next time you need it, it'll probably be gone! I find that 20 minutes baking leaves the brownies still slightly gooey in the centre, but I think my tin size is a little smaller than the one Nigella suggests, making the brownies a little deeper.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pistachio and Marzipan Palmiers

I have to admit that this was more of an assembly job than a real baking session, but these puff pastry biscuits were a lovely treat over the Easter weekend. I also have to admit that I chose the recipe to use the last of the Christmas marzipan, which had been stored, well wrapped, in the fridge since I made these Mincemeat and Marzipan Squares a month ago.

The recipe was in this feature on Easter baking, in the Guardian newspaper. There are a few points to note when it comes to assembly - the nut mixture needs to be firmly embedded into the pastry (I found it best to press down with the rolling pin rather than roll), and I felt that a longer chilling time would have made the roll of dough easier to cut. Unfortunately I didn't have more time at that stage as I needed the oven for the joint of lamb we were having for dinner. I baked the palmiers at 180C fan (200C conventional) as the temperature given in the recipe seemed a bit low for cooking puff pastry in a conventional oven. The palmiers still took the full 20 minutes to bake to a light golden colour, so my decision to raise the oven temperature seemed correct.

These are best eaten the day they are baked; the pastry wasn't quite so crisp the next day. Comparing my photos to the illustration with the recipe, it looks as though I should have processed the nuts and marzipan to a finer texture, but I liked the crunch of some larger pieces of nuts.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Blondies with a Hazelnut Butter and Cocoa Filling

I bought a jar of hazelnut butter flavoured with cocoa. My thinking was that it would be a healthier treat than Nutella, as it only had a little added sugar (10% honey) and it was also safe to have around when my daughter visited, as she has a peanut allergy, and worries about cross-contamination if she sees I have any peanut butter in the house. The problem was that I didn't really like it. Although the hazelnut flavour was very good, the texture was grainy and it just wasn't sweet enough for me when eaten on plain biscuits - I guess I'm a Nutella girl at heart!

Never one to throw away food if it can be used somehow, I decided that it would be ideal cooked into something sweet, so decided to use it as a layer in the middle of some blondies instead of adding chocolate chips. The plan worked very well, although the blondie recipe I chose was more like cookie dough than blondie batter. The hazelnut flavour came through strongly, and the blondies looked quite attractive too. If I made them again, I think I would add some small chocolate chips too, to increase the chocolate flavour. The hazelnut butter alone didn't have enough chocolate-ness.

Ingredients
125g butter
200g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
125g hazelnut butter with added cocoa (the brand I used was Meridian, which had a little honey and coconut added too)

Method
Line a 20cm(8") square shallow baking tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C(160 fan).
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extrat together until well blended and creamy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour.
Sift in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and beat until well mixed.
Spread 2/3 of the mixture into the baking tin - it helps to wet the back of a metal spoon to spread the thick dough more easily.
Spread the hazelnut butter over the dough, to within 1cm of the edges.
Drop teaspoonsful of the rest of the dough evenly over the surface, then use a wet spoon to flatten and spread the dough as much as possible - it isn't necessary to completely cover the hazelnut butter layer.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until the blondie dough is risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin, then cut into fingers or squares.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Plum and Cinnamon Loaf

This cake was going to be a half-sized attempt at Dan Lepard's tried and tested Stone Fruit Yogurt Cake, until I realised that I was lacking the necessary semolina. Not one to be easily thwarted, I used polenta instead and carried on!

I wouldn't usually buy fresh plums at this time of year, as they have been trekked halfway round the world, but the checkout till at Waitrose kindly printed out a coupon for a pack of 6 'Perfectly Ripe' plums at half price. This recipe used three plums - they were quite large, weighing about 80g each, I seem to remember.

One of my baking books tells me that a 20cm round deep cake tin is equivalent to a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, so I hoped that half the quantities in Dan's recipe would be OK in a 450g(1lb) loaf tin. It was a near thing - the batter filled more of the tin than I was happy with, but fortunately the cake didn't rise too much. I made a couple of slight alterations to the recipe, but nothing that altered it substantially from the original.

Ingredients
90g caster sugar + 2 teaspoons extra
90g softened butter +15g extra
3 large ripe plums
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
80g full-fat Greek-style natural yogurt
40g polenta
85g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder

Method
Line a 450g loaf tin with foil, pressing it well into the corners without tearing it, and grease with a little of the extra butter. Dot the remainder of the extra butter over the base, and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of caster sugar.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Halve and de-stone the plums, and cut each half into 4 slices. Arrange about 2/3 of the plum slices in the base of the loaf tin, and sprinkle over another teaspoon of sugar. Chop the remaining slices of fruit into small pieces.
Mix the flour, polenta, cinnamon and baking powder together in a small bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract, adding a spoonful of the flour mix to prevent curdling.
With the mixer on it's slowest speed, stir in the yogurt, followed by the rest of the flour mix.
Fold in the remaining chopped plums with a spoon, then transfer the batter to the baking tin.
Bake for about 60 minutes, covering for the last 15-20 minutes if the cake seems to be browning too quickly. A test probe should come out clean of cake batter, although you might hit a piece of fruit which will make the probe look damp.
Leave for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate and carefully peel away the foil. If any of the fruit topping becomes dislodged, it can be gently put back into place. Cool before serving.

The slices of plums on top of the loaf were a really pretty pink colour - it was lovely to photograph something which wasn't brown! There was just enough cinnamon to taste, without it overwhelming the plums, which were both sweet and sharp and gave the cake a fresh taste which I've been missing all winter!

Incidentally, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the plums were, but I think I still prefer to buy fruit as locally and seasonally as possible.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Mincemeat and Marzipan Shortbread Squares

Another variation on my favourite filled shortbread traybake, using one of my favourite seasonal flavour combinations - mincemeat and marzipan. This recipe is so quick to put together that it could easily be made instead of mincepies at any time over the festive season, but I made it to use up the Christmas leftovers.

The original recipe, from Sue Lawrence's 'On Baking' used dates, currants and ginger in the filling, but I've made several versions in the past, keeping the shortbread part of the recipe the same and varying the filling. The butter and sugar in the recipe are melted together before being added to flour and semolina, and the resulting crumbly dough is just scattered and then pressed into the baking tin. Using prepared mincemeat, rather than cooking the filling, means the whole recipe can be assembled and into the oven in about 5 minutes - much faster than messing around with pastry, or even traditional shortbread.


Ingredients
170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
300g mincemeat
100g marzipan, cut into cubes of half a cm

Method
Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan. Line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Weigh the flour and semolina into a large bowl.
In a small pan, melt the butter and sugar over a low heat, just enough to dissolve the sugar. Add to the flour mix and stir together until evenly combined.
Scatter 2/3 of the dough over the base of the tin and press down firmly to give an even layer. Smooth the surface, using fingers or a spatula.
Spread the mincemeat over the dough, leaving a margin of 1cm around the edges. Sprinkle over the cubes of marzipan.
Cover with the remaining dough mixture - the easiest way to do this is to crumble the shortbread over the surface, using fingers, then press down lightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut into squares as soon as the tin is removed from the oven, but cool completely before lifting the shortbread from the tin.

The shortbread was crisp and buttery, but not too sweet, which meant that even with commercial mincemeat and marzipan added, the squares were not over-sweet. My mincemeat contained cranberries which also added to the flavour.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Coconut Cake

Dairy-free

I was tidying my box of baking supplies when I noticed that I had three packs of desiccated coconut - must have been on special offer at some point. They were still within the 'best-before' date, but obviously something had to be done to reduce the coconut mountain before time did run out.

I decided make a plain coconut cake and to use coconut oil, to make it dairy-free. I could have added dried cherries, dried apricots or chocolate chips, all of which are good in combination with coconut, but sometimes something simple really fits the bill!

Ingredients
175g SR flour
40g desiccated coconut
80g coconut oil
80 - 100g caster sugar*
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
water to mix

*(I used 80g, but thought the cake needed to be sweeter)



Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 450ml (1lb) loaf tin, either with baking parchment, or a loaf tin liner.
Put the flour, coconut oil, desiccated coconut and sugar into a large bowl and use a fork to cut in the oil, until it is in very small pieces. (This recipe originally used butter and the rubbing-in method, but you can't really rub-in coconut oil by hand, although it should be OK if you're using a food processor).
Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and mix with a spoon until the batter is smooth, adding water as necessary to give a dropping consistency.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, level the surface and bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out cleanly.


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Salted Caramel Flapjacks, with Chocolate and Hazelnuts

If I'm going to carry on baking regularly, I'm going to have to find recipes for smaller cakes, or experiment with halving some of the recipes I use regularly. Flapjack recipes are easy to divide, because there are no fractions of eggs involved, and the quantities of ingredients aren't critical to the nearest gram - a bit more or less of any of the main ingredients and you end up with a slightly crunchier, or chewier flapjack. Not a disaster, and a lesson for revised quantities next time.

This recipe was inspired by this Annie Bell recipe, which I've used once before, and was chosen to use up an open jar of salted caramel - mainly to stop me just dipping in with a spoon and eating it on its own. I used half quantities of all the ingredients, but rather than drizzle melted chocolate over the baked flapjacks, I added 40g of chopped dark chocolate and 30g of coarsely chopped hazelnuts to the oat mixture.

As I expected, the chocolate melted in the heat of the flapjack mixture, but I was careful to add the chocolate as the last ingredient, and fold it in quickly. This meant that most of the chocolate stayed in discrete areas, giving the flapjacks a marbled appearance. The chopped nuts added an extra texture of crunch to the very chewy flapjacks, as well as flavour.

I baked the oat mixture in a tin measuring 20cm x 12.5cm (8" x 5") - I used a deep adjustable cake tin - but finding the right size baking trays for brownies and other traybakes is proving difficult. Everything I look at is either too big or too small for half-sized recipes, but I'm not sure fiddling around with more complicated calculations is worth the effort!

Ingredients: 120g salted butter; 90g light muscovado sugar; 112g salted caramel*; pinch sea-salt crystals; 175g oats; 30g chopped hazelnuts; 40g chopped 70% chocolate.

*If you only have basic caramel, add a little extra sea-salt

It's the usual flapjack method - melt together the butter, sugar and caramel. Stir in the oats, salt and nuts, then lastly, quickly fold in the chocolate. Spread into a baking tray lined with baking parchment and press down well. Bake for 25 minutes at 180C. Mark into portions while still hot, but cool completely before removing from the tin.

There was a lot of butter bubbling on the surface of the flapjack when it was removed from the oven, but it was all absorbed back in as the mixture cooled. It does make me think that the amount of butter in the recipe could be cut back a little, though.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Apple and Raisin Muffins


Although I've lost a lot of weight over the last 5 years, I'm still a few kilograms short of getting into the 'healthy' BMI range, and I know that keeping weight off is going to be a lifelong struggle for me. Acknowledging that I'm always going to have to be careful about how much I eat means I'm still interested in TV programmes about weight loss, especially if cooking and providing recipes is involved. I'm watching Tom Kerridge's  current series (Lose Weight for Good) with interest, as he's also dealing, to some extent, with the psychological barriers to losing weight, as well as claiming to produce tastier low calorie recipes, using his knowledge and experience as a Michelin starred chef.

In view of all that, I really expected to like these Apple and Raisin Muffins, even though, in general, I don't like using low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar. In his recipe, Tom reduces the sugar and fat content by using just a little honey, low-calorie sweetener and mashed bananas. He briefly cooks the apples in caramelised honey and adds spices and roasted sesame oil to give a boost to the flavour.

As I've used it in the past, and was relatively happy with it, I decided to buy Truvia (a no-calorie sweetener made from Stevia) to use as a sweetener, as it seems more natural to me than the other forms of sweetener available. Guided by the information on the pack, I used two teaspoons of Truvia, equivalent to 6 teaspoons of sugar. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. One point to note about the recipe is that you need to cook the apples in the honey ahead of any other preparation, as they take a while to cool down. Apart from this stage, the recipe is fairly standard and simple to follow. The muffins produced rose well and looked really good.

Unfortunately the looks promised much more than the muffins actually delivered! I found the texture quite stodgy, and the muffins stuck really firmly to the paper cases, to the extent that quite a bit of the muffin was lost (unless you want to scrape the case for every last crumb). I could have overlooked this if the flavour had been better, but I found the muffins quite bland; I couldn't taste the spices at all, even though I could still smell them in the baked muffin. In addition to that, the presence of the sesame oil was more of a scent than a flavour - after the first mouthful, I didn't really notice it. The pieces of apple were well flavoured, but didn't make up for the blandness of the crumb.

It's difficult to assess the claim that these are low calorie - 190 calories per muffin - as it's generally only muffins that claim to be healthy (and often found on diet and healthy eating websites) that give a calorie count. The nearest basic apple muffin recipe I could find, with no claims to reduced fat or sugar, contained 250 calories per muffin, but I'm afraid, even with a 20% reduction in calorie content, these disappointing muffins weren't worth the calories. 190 calories is quite a big chunk out of a restricted calorie diet, although I think Tom was suggesting eating them for breakfast, not as an extra treat. If you do want a treat there are a lot of tastier ways of using that number of calories - most involving chocolate, I have to say!


Monday, 1 January 2018

Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Loaf

I think hazelnuts are my favourite nut to use in cakes, especially when paired with chocolate.They have a much deeper flavour than almonds, which often need almond extract added to get a really nutty taste. Chopped nuts are a good addition to cake batters, but replacing a small proportion of the flour with ground nuts adds both flavour and moistness. For many years I bought ready ground hazelnuts while on holiday in France, as they weren't readily available in the supermarkets here. The alternative, grinding your own nuts, can pose problems, as hazelnuts can become a greasy paste if overworked. So you can imagine that I was really pleased to see ground hazelnuts in Sainsbury's a few weeks ago.

This cake was made to have something fairly simple, and not too rich, on hand during the week between Christmas and New Year, for the mid-morning coffee breaks, when dipping into the leftover desserts or the chocolate boxes didn't seem quite appropriate. There's always the mince pie haters to consider, too!

Ingredients
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
2 eggs (+ a little milk, if needed)
120g SR flour
30g ground hazelnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75g chopped plain chocolate (or chocolate chips)
30g chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (optional)

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C. Line a small (1lb) loaf tin.
This is an all-in-one mix, so put everything except the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts and the demerara sugar, into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mix until the batter is smooth and evenly blended, adding a little milk if necessary, to give a dropping consistency.
Fold in the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts, then transfer the batter to the prepared loaf tin.
Smooth the top and sprinkle with the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.