Friday, 10 August 2018

Tropicana Banana Cake

This banana cake with tropical flavours is another Dan Lepard recipe which I've used, and written about, before. As the years go by, the flavour of this cake varies according to whatever semi-dried exotic fruits I can get hold of - this year I used apricots, pineapple and mango - as fashion in dried fruit seems to change quite quickly. I bought dried mandarins, intending to add them too, but although I loved the taste, their texture didn't seem right for a cake.

As well as exotic fruit, the other flavours added to this cake are coconut and orange, and some ground  almonds are used too, to keep the cake moist. The method for making the cake is a little tricky, and this is one time when it pays off to be well organised and have all the ingredients prepared and laid out in a logical arrangement before you start mixing.

As I've noted previously, the cake takes quite a bit longer to bake than suggested in the recipe - I added at least another 20 minutes before I was happy that the cake was fully cooked. The raw batter also almost fills a standard 2lb (900g) loaf tin, so if you've something slightly larger, it might be less worrisome to use that - I kept checking the oven, expecting to see the rising batter overflowing the tin.

Because I was taking this cake to a meeting of my local Cake Club (a replacement for the active branch of the Clandestine Cake Club, which now only exists on Facebook) I decided to pretty it up with a very light drizzle of orange glacé icing, made with icing sugar and some of the juice from the orange which provided the zest for the cake.

Everyone loved this cake - the blend of flavours worked really well with the dominant flavour being the coconut (although it wasn't overwhelming), the fruit was soft and chewy and the texture of the crumb was tender and moist.

There was one other banana loaf cake at the cake club - this one had added raspberries and chocolate chunks - along with several cakes based on lemon, a chocolate and vanilla marble cake, a custard slice and an apple and pecan cake. Now that the rules of the Clandestine Cake club don't apply, and we're not limited to large cakes, we hope to get more variety at future meetings, as pastries, biscuits and small cakes can be made - anything edible really!










Monday, 30 July 2018

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Cake

To be honest, this Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Cake is nothing more than an assembly job, consisting of just creme fraiche, bought meringues and lemon curd on a sponge cake base.  However, it's been a useful dessert to have in the freezer, especially during the sort of summer we're having at the moment. It slices easily from frozen, and only needs a few minutes to soften enough to eat. I found that the meringue pieces become less noticeable with time, but it still tastes good.


If you want to make it more complicated, you can make your own cake layer for the base - and I have done this in the past - but a good bought madeira (or even ginger) cake is perfectly acceptable. Another good addition, if you're only feeding adults, is a little limoncello sprinkled on the base, and stirred into the lemon curd. Homemade lemon curd would, of course, vastly improve the dessert too!


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Chocolate Tart - free from gluten and lactose

I've used this recipe before, when I needed a gluten- and lactose-free chocolate tart. I really liked it the first time I made it, and didn't want to play around finding a different recipe, as we were are in the middle of a heat-wave and having too much cake/dessert around isn't good for me at all, especially with no-one to help me eat it!

I find gluten- and dairy-free pastry shrinks more than usual when baked blind, but the recipe I use makes a sweet shortcrust pastry case which doesn't stick to the baking tin, doesn't seem to suffer from soggy bottoms and has a good 'short' texture which doesn't become too hard, which seems a good trade-off to me. The dough starts out stickier, and needs careful handling - you can find the details here. Instead of adding the tart filling to a raw pastry case, as in that particular recipe, the pastry case is baked blind once the clingfilm is removed.

When baking blind, the only thing I do differently, compared to regular shortcrust pastry, is to dry out the pastry case for a little longer than usual, at a lower temperature. I initially bake the case, lined with baking parchment and filled with baking beans, at 200C for about 12-15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160C, remove the parchment and beans and return the empty pastry case to the oven for about 20 minutes.

The filling for this tart is dense and fudgy, but as you don't add much extra sugar, it allows the flavour of the chocolate to dominate, so you need to choose a chocolate that you are happy  to eat on its own. The addition of the coffee is to further bring out the chocolate flavour, but I can't see any reason why other flavours couldn't be used too, such as orange zest. And, of course, if you don't need dairy/lactose-free, make it with butter and regular double cream.

As you can see, I served this tart with raspberries and there was also raspberry coulis and cream available.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Seeded Flapjack

made with caramelised condensed milk

After making the salted caramel and chocolate shortbread squares, I had half a tin of caramelised condensed milk to use up (this seems to be a constant refrain whenever I use condensed milk!). I wanted to make flapjacks, and decided to search for a new recipe, even though I have several recipes for flapjacks made with either condensed milk, or caramelised condensed milk already. I eventually found this one on a blog called Salutation Recipes; the photos attracted me initially, because the flapjacks looked dense and chewy, and when I read the description of 'fudgy', I knew I'd found what I was looking for! I didn't think substituting caramelised condensed milk for ordinary condensed milk would have any adverse affect on the recipe - if anything it would increase the fudginess (if that's even a word!).

To salve my conscience slightly, I decided to add 100g of mixed seeds - a mix of pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed. I used light muscovado sugar instead of golden caster, and also left out the vanilla extract - it seemed like a waste of an expensive ingredient in this sort of thing.

The recipe is a bit vague about exact amounts and the cooking time, but these are the weights of the ingredients that I used - 125g butter, 100g golden syrup, 90g light muscovado sugar,  200g caramelised condensed milk, 280g rolled oats, 100g mixed seeds. After melting the butter, syrup and sugar together, I stirred in the caramel until smoothly blended, then added the oats and seeds to the saucepan (off the heat) and mixed thoroughly. After transferring the mixture to a lined 20cm square baking tin and spreading evenly and firmly, I baked for my usual flapjack time of 25 minutes at 180C (160C fan), and allowed the tray to cool for 10 minutes before marking into 16 squares.

The flapjacks seemed very crumbly at this stage, which was a little worrying, but once they were completely cold they had set into exactly what I was hoping for - dense, chewy, fudgy flapjacks. Almost perfect - they were still a little crumbly around the edges, but within acceptable limits!

I think all flapjacks benefit from some add-ins to counteract the uniformity of the oat base. In this case the seeds added some crunch to contrast with the chewiness, and also some extra flavour.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Salted Caramel, Chocolate and Hazelnut Shortbread Squares

With the demise of the Clandestine Cake Club - which I think is continuing as just a Facebook page - a few of the local members decided to try and keep a group going on our own. For our first meeting I decided to stick to a familiar recipe rather than experiment. Now that we are no longer bound by CCC rules of large cakes only, and as the attendance wasn't going to be huge, I decided to make a traybake of shortbread squares filled with a fudgy layer of salted caramel and chocolate, following  this recipe which I have used before. Using this recipe also meant that any leftovers would keep for longer than a cake would - I already have too much cake in the freezer!



I followed the recipe exactly as written in the link above, so no need to write it out again. In the end, there were only a few pieces left for me to bring home, but they were as delicious as the first time round!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Courgette Slice, with Bacon and Herbs

I make this recipe more often than I write about it, as it's become a staple warm weather dish; it makes an excellent meal when accompanied by salads. Depending on how filling the salad selection is, it will feed 4-6 people. The added flour also makes it sturdier than a frittata, so it's ideal for carrying to picnics, and of course, with no pastry, it's quicker and easier to make than a quiche.

This time, I was starting with bacon, so there was an extra step involved to fry the bacon until crisp and drain off the excess fat. If ready-cooked ham is used, it's just a matter of chopping and grating the vegetables and mixing everything together. The resulting mixture is then baked in a 23cm/9" parchment lined round baking dish at 195C (175C fan) for about 50 minutes, until firm and golden. I find that it's best eaten at room temperature, or even slightly chilled, rather than warm.

Ingredients:
300g coarsely grated/sliced vegetables (I used 200g grated courgettes, 70g grated carrots and half a red pepper, which I sliced very finely)
1 large onion, finely chopped
100g grated cheddar cheese
200g smoked bacon lardons, fried until crisp, then drained of fat (or 150g ham, cut into small strips)
A small bunch of fresh mixed herbs, finely chopped (I used sage, winter savory and lemon thyme)
5 large eggs
125mls sunflower oil
130g SR flour
Seasoning to taste - a little salt and plenty of pepper, plus a few chilli flakes, if liked


Monday, 28 May 2018

Hazelnut, Lemon and Elderflower Cake

Although I didn't pay much attention to the recent Royal Wedding, I must have been subconsciously influenced by the talk of a lemon and elderflower wedding cake, as I suddenly felt that that was the cake I really I wanted to eat.

Having decided which recipe to use, I realised that I didn't have any ground almonds, so used hazelnuts instead. I love using ground hazelnuts in cakes, as they actually add flavour, as well as keeping the cake moist - so often the flavour of almonds is lost, unless you are using a lot, or add almond extract too.

I chose to adapt this BBC Good Food recipe for a Lighter Lemon Drizzle Cake, as it is a reduced fat recipe, and uses oil instead of butter. I've always found it reliable, producing a light, moist cake with a good crumb texture. As I've mentioned, I used ground hazelnuts instead of almonds, and also used sunflower oil instead of rapeseed, as that's what I always have available. Instead of a lemon drizzle, I reduced 150mls of elderflower cordial by half, and drizzled that over the cooked cake, while still hot, then sprinkled the cake lightly with caster sugar.

This was a subtly flavoured cake - none of the three flavours dominated, although I would have liked to taste more of the elderflower; I think I was just unlucky that the brand of elderflower cordial that I bought was very delicate. Despite that, it was a very good cake for a warm spring weekend.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake

I'm so glad I decided to bake this Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake, even though it was too big for me, and I had to freeze half of it in slices. It's the best cake I've tasted for a long time!

The recipe, from the ever reliable and inventive Dan Lepard, popped up on my Facebook feed recently, as I follow the Australian Good Food site. A lot of the recipes there aren't immediately relevant, as the seasons are reversed, but a lot of cake recipes, like this one, aren't seasonal anyway.

As is often the case with Dan, the recipe has a slightly unusual method - it wasn't difficult, but there were one or two points worth remembering for next time. The recipe says to heat the sugar and molasses (I used black treacle) together until any lumps of sugar have softened, but not to boil the mixture. The butter is then melted in the warm sugar. I don't think I heated the sugar enough, as when it was tipped into my mixing bowl a layer set on the bottom, which was really difficult to mix back in, and the butter, which I had cut into small cubes, only just melted. Better to have a little more heat, I think, then wait for the sugar and butter mixture to cool a little, if necessary, before going on to the next stage of adding the eggs, so that the excess heat doesn't cook the eggs.

I used a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, which made a more shallow cake than the one shown with the recipe, but a 450g (1lb) tin would have been too small, and we don't have an in-between size in the UK, as far as I'm aware.

I added about 3 tablespoons of rum to the cake - all there was left in the bottle - and it soaked in easily. I'd probably add a bit more next time, as the flavour wasn't as strong as I'd expected.

Because I was going to freeze part of the cake, I didn't make the frosting. I don't often add frostings to everyday cakes, but I think I'd add one if I made this for a special occasion - and the cake is certainly good enough for that!

There was a relatively large amount of desiccated coconut in this recipe, compared to traditional British coconut cake recipes, but it was almost overwhelmed by the stronger flavours of the black treacle and the spices. The texture of the cake was soft but not too sponge-like; in some ways it was more like a gingerbread than a coconut cake, although it didn't get a sticky top when stored.

This is definitely a recipe to repeat!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Date and Tahini Brownies

This recipe from Jill Dupleix, for Tahini and Date Brownies, made a fantastic chocolate cake, but I couldn't really relate it to the sort of thing I expect from a brownie recipe - it was far too light! Using puréed dates gave a lovely soft, but rich, texture, as well as cutting down on the amount of refined sugar and fat usually used in a recipe of this size, but did stop the brownies being dense and fudgy.

The amount of tahini in the recipe didn't make much of an impact on the flavour either. It's hard to tell unless I made the same recipe without the tahini, but we certainly didn't bite into a brownie and say 'Oooh! Good sesame flavour there!'

I puréed the dates with a stick blender, which was pretty hard going, as the purée was so thick. A blender attached to a food processor would probably given a smoother purée, but that wasn't possible for me. To those who profess to not like the flavour of dates, I would say, if you get a really smooth purée, you wouldn't even know the dates were there! However, I liked the odd little nubble of date left in my purée, just to remind me what was in the brownie.

If you are worried about the amount of refined sugar your family is eating, you would probably enjoy this recipe. I think it would make a good rich chocolate layer cake too - I'm pretty sure it would fit into 2 x 18cm (7") sandwich tins.

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.