Thursday, 6 December 2018

Banana and Coconut Flapjacks

Just occasionally, I need a mid-morning snack before going out to do something energetic, such as a long walk or a session of lifting and carrying crates of food at the local Food Bank, where I do some volunteer work. In my normal daily routine, I'm quite happy to go without breakfast and have a early lunch at noon, but if I'm using extra energy I need food beforehand. I usually have a banana topped with a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt, a sprinkling of granola and a drizzle of date syrup.

As I don't eat bananas at any other time, I sometimes end up with one that needs using up, which is what happened here. It's difficult to find recipes using one banana - banana breads, cakes and muffins seem to need a minimum of two - so I decided to add it to a batch of flapjacks. I followed my usual recipe but reduced both the butter and sugar slightly to allow for the banana although I wouldn't claim it made the flapjacks any healthier!

Ingredients
125g unsalted butter
50g golden syrup
80g caster sugar
200g rolled oats
50g desiccated coconut
100g golden raisins
1 ripe banana, mashed

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, golden syrup and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved - the mixture will feel smooth under the spoon with no grittiness from the sugar - and the mixture is just beginning to bubble.
Meanwhile, weigh the oats, coconut and raisins in to a large bowl.
Tip the hot butter mix over the oats and mix together thoroughly, then stir in the mashed banana.
Transfer the oat mixture to the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Cool for 10 minutes then mark into bars or squares while still warm. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

These were delicious, with a good balance of flavours between the banana and coconut. My only criticism would be that although 25 minutes is the right time to bake my usual flapjack recipe, these were underbaked and a little too soft. Another 5 minutes, to compensate for the additional moisture from the banana, would have made them a little firmer but still chewy. If you like crisper flapjacks you might need 35-40 minutes baking time, but watch they don't get too brown.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Cookie Bars

I've been really busy lately, helping my son clean and redecorate his new flat before he moved in. I made these cookie bars in a quiet moment - probably waiting for paint to dry before I could do anything else. I found this recipe, which originally came from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog, a while back, and it's really useful for cookies in a hurry.

Because I didn't want to add to my store cupboard of cooking ingredients, I bought a 120g pack of ready-mixed 'add-in' morsels marketed by Whitworth's. It was a mix of 35%  cranberries infused with cherry juice, 25% dark chocolate, 20% cherry infused apple and 20% raisins, called Dark Choc Cherry mix 'n' bake. I added 30g chopped roasted hazelnuts to add a bit more flavour and crunch. I used these in place of the chocolate and the orange zest in the recipe.

Although it was quick and easy to use a pre-packed mix of chocolate and fruit, infusing cranberries and apple pieces with cherry juice didn't give the same intense flavour that using dried cherries would have done, and there wasn't really enough chocolate in the cookie bars to satisfy a chocoholic! Not a bad idea for a speedy bake, though, particularly if you don't want to accumulate lots of opened bags of dried fruit and nuts.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars

It's over eight years since I last wrote about these Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars, but I can't believe that I haven't made them in the intervening period. It's possible, of course - daughter has a peanut allergy, so I wouldn't have baked them while she was living here, and I cut down on the amount of baking I've been doing when my son first moved out in 2012.

Either way, they popped into my mind again when trying to decide what to make for the weekend. I wanted something that would get me through the start of the week too, when I don't have time to bake. These seemed ideal as the 30 x 20cm traybake cuts into around 24 pieces. I use a baking tin that is slightly smaller than specified in the American recipe (8 x 12" instead of 9 x 13") as that's the size of tray I have; I think standard sizes are slightly different in the USA. I added another 5 minutes to the baking time to compensate for a deeper mixture.

The only other change I make to the recipe is to use plain chocolate - about 70% - as it does cut through the sweetness of the cookie bars and gives a stronger chocolate flavour. In this blog post I've 'translated' the cup volumes to metric weights, with 150g of chocolate going into the bars, and 200g being used for the topping.

Unfortunately, I must have covered the bars before they were completely cold - when I went back the next morning to photograph them, the top was covered with little pock marks, which I can only assume was condensation dripping from the aluminium foil covering the tray overnight. It didn't affect the flavour, but did spoil the photos a bit.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Almond and Orange Cake, with Chocolate Chips

At the moment, I'm baking more frequently; my son is staying with me for a few weeks, as he had to sell his flat before he could complete on his new purchase, so that he didn't lose his buyer. He could eat cake several times a day, and not have to worry about putting on weight.

This recipe is based on the proportions of a Madeira Cake - more flour than butter and sugar - which makes a sturdier but more satisfying cake, which keeps well. I added ground almonds for moistness, and a little almond extract to make sure there was a good almond flavour. Classic flavours which work well together!

Ingredients
175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
a few drops of almond extract
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
200g SR flour
50g ground almonds
a little milk, if necessary
100g dark chocolate chips or 70% cocoa solids chocolate, roughly chopped*
a sprinkling of flaked almonds for topping, optional

* I prefer to chop a bar of chocolate as I like the mix of large and small pieces of chocolate, plus the tiny speckles which splinter off, in this type of cake

Method
Preheat the oven to 170C, and prepare a 20cm(8") round deep cake tin. I use non-stick springform tins with a parchment base liner.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the weighed amount of flour. Beat in on a slower speed, if you are using a hand-held mixer.
Fold in the flour, almonds, almond extract and orange zest, adding a little milk, if needed, to give a soft dropping consistency. Finally, fold in the chocolate.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin, level the top, and sprinkle over the flaked almonds, if using.
Bake for about 60-70 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.
Cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to complete the cooling.

This cake would be easy to remove from the base of the cake tin, as it's quite sturdy. I just leave it on the base for convenience - it makes it easy to move in and out of the storage container.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Brownies with Caramel Flavoured Biscuit 'Nibbles'


I admit it - I only bought McVitie's 'Caramel Flavoured' Digestive Nibbles to make this batch of brownies more interesting for my blog post. I was scanning the biscuit and confectionery shelves in the supermarket, thinking that adding Oreos or Maltesers was no longer original enough, when I noticed Nibbles - little chocolate covered balls of biscuit a little smaller than Maltesers. This Caramel flavoured version also had a layer of caramel cream between the biscuit and the chocolate coating.

After tasting a few (for quality control purposes only, of course!), I just added the rest of the pack of biscuit pieces (around 110g) to my favourite brownie recipe:

For a 20cm (8") square tin: Melt 140g of butter and 140g of dark chocolate together in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool if necessary, so that you can add the eggs without cooking them. Add 300g light muscovado sugar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Next, add three eggs, one at a time, and beat in to give a smooth batter. Sift 160g plain flour and 3 tablespoons of cocoa into the bowl, and fold in, followed by the biscuit pieces. Transfer to the parchment-lined baking tin, level the surface, and bake at 180C for around 30 minutes. Cool in the tin, then cut into fingers or squares, whatever size you like.

What surprised, and pleased, me was that the two layers of coating around each little ball of biscuit kept their integrity during baking, so that you could both see and taste that the caramel flavour was part of the biscuit pieces, and not in the brownie mixture.  When I realised each 'Nibble' had the caramel flavour in a coating, I had expected it to melt away during baking, and just give a mild caramel flavour to the whole traybake.

I was also happy that the biscuits kept their crunch for the three days that the brownies lasted; I expect this was also down to the coatings not melting away, thus protecting the biscuit pieces from the moister cake surrounding them. The caramel flavour was quite mild, but noticeable, and when combined with the crunch of biscuit, certainly elevated this batch of brownies from basic to interesting.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Chocolate Spice Gingerbread

This is a really light gingerbread cake, flavoured with Green and Black's Maya Gold Chocolate, which contains spices, orange and vanilla. More spices and chopped prunes are added, along with more dark chocolate to increase the depth of the chocolate flavour.

Even though other spices are added, the unique taste of Maya Gold is still the predominant flavour. I have tried this recipe with orange zest and extra spice, instead of Maya Gold, and although it's still very good, it's not the same!

I made two of these delicious cakes, one to keep and one to donate to a Macmillan Coffee Morning event. Fortuitously the recipe used half a pack of prunes, half a bar of Maya Gold chocolate, and just a tad over half a pot of buttermilk (I just added a tablespoon of natural yogurt to the second cake to give the right volume) so it was good to make the second cake instead of having leftovers to worry about, particularly as Maya Gold chocolate isn't one of my favourite 'eating' chocolates.

Personally, I prefer a heavier, denser gingerbread (the sort which grows a sticky top over time), but as an amalgamation between gingerbread and chocolate cake, this particular recipe is hard to beat.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Wholemeal Pear and Ginger Cake


My local Cake Club (set up following the demise of The Clandestine Cake Club, which now only has a Facebook presence) set the theme of Autumn for the most recent meeting. I was torn between this recipe or a courgette cake, but went with this Pear and Ginger Cake because it has been a more reliable recipe over the years.

This is one of those cakes where the basic recipe can be altered by using different fresh fruit, dried fruit and jam - the original cake, a Nigel Slater recipe (scroll down the page), used apples, sultanas and orange marmalade, and I've also successfully made it with apples, dried cranberries and cranberry jelly and in this version, pears, golden raisins and ginger preserves. There were slight adjustments to the other flavours too - I used lemon zest instead of orange and added extra spice (half a teaspoon of mixed spice and two teaspoons of ground ginger in addition to the cinnamon).

I  don't usually decorate this sort of cake, but because this was for a special occasion, I used poached pear slices and slices of stem ginger on top of the cake, plus a dusting of icing sugar, just to relieve the brownness. I was disappointed that, even with poaching in acidulated water, the pears discoloured so badly!

Despite using wholemeal flour, and adding fresh fruit, this is a very light cake, with a soft texture. The ginger preserves and added spices give a gentle warmth which doesn't overwhelm the delicate flavour of the pear. The photo of the cut cake isn't pretty, but it does show the good texture!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Jalapeno Cornbread

I was in a baking mood, but couldn't really justify baking a cake when I'd got a dozen or more individual portions of cake from previous bakes laying in the freezer. Cornbread to accompany my planned batch of chilli seemed a good idea - I could satisfy my urge to bake and sort out several evening meals in one go without feeling guilty; some sort of carbohydrate was needed and it would be a tasty change from rice.

I used this recipe by Ben Mims, which has been the most successful recipe of several I've tried previously and one that Southern Living calls perfect. As I only wanted a few portions, I halved the recipe and baked it in my small cast iron skillet, which is only 16cm in diameter at the top. From previous attempts I knew that I was happier with a bit more seasoning and a tiny touch of sugar, so I added 10g of caster sugar, a teaspoon of dried oregano, a good twist of black pepper and a tablespoon of finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers.

I think this was the best cornbread I've made so far; the texture was just what I wanted - moist but not too stodgy, but not too crumbly either. The added ingredients stopped it being bland and there were just the right amount of jalapenos to give a spicy kick, without becoming too hot. It went really well with my inauthentic chilli, which contained pork meatballs and a courgette I picked on the edge of turning to a marrow!

Friday, 31 August 2018

Apologies

Apologies to everyone who posted comments over the last few months, but didn't see them published promptly. Blogger stopped sending me emails informing me that there were comments awaiting moderation, and has only just recently asked me if I'd like to carry on receiving notifications. As  the number of comments has dropped off  over the last year or so anyway, it didn't occur to me to check if I'd missed any. Normal service should be resumed now!


I tried ruby chocolate for the first time recently; its supposedly fruity flavour seemed very subtle (too subtle, in fact) to me. In its favour, it wasn't as sickly sweet as white chocolate, but it's too expensive to buy regularly, and I still prefer dark chocolate, with or without added flavours.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

- for the final We Should Cocoa

We Should Cocoa, a monthly link-up for chocolate recipes started 8 years ago, when Tin & Thyme was still Chocolate Log Blog, and Choclette shared her hosting duties with Chele at Chocolate Teapot. Amazingly, I have been participating since the first link-up, although not very regularly recently. According to my records, I've contributed to 65 out of a possible 95 events. This month will be the 96th We Should Cocoa - and Choclette has decided to call a halt.

For many years the link-up had a theme, so I decided to check on the first, in August 2010. It turned out to be raspberries. I made Chocolate Frangipane Tartlettes with chocolate pastry and raspberry jam in the base - a kind of chocolate bakewell tart. At the same time, I made some similar tartlettes, with Nutella in the base, which we preferred. I thought it would be a fitting end to these events to base my entry on the first thing I made, so decided to go with a tart with Nutella in the base and a hazelnut frangipane on top. I also added more chocolate to the filling, so that the final tart had both the chocolate and hazelnut flavours of the Nutella ramped up.

Ingredients
Pastry
150g plain flour
100g butter
25g icing sugar
25g cocoa
1 egg yolk
cold water to mix

Filling
110g softened butter
110g caster sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 tablespoon plain flour
110g ground hazelnuts
150g chocolate hazelnut spread
25g plain chocolate (I used 100% cacao) grated*

to finish - 40g plain chocolate (about 70%)

* 100% cacao is very hard, and when grated on a fine microplane grater, 25g goes a long way. If you are using  70% plain chocolate, or a coarse grater, you might need as much as 50g to get enough grated chocolate to cover the base.


Method
Make the pastry by sifting the icing sugar and cocoa into the flour, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and enough cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough, kneading briefly. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Roll out the dough thinly and  line a 20cm (8") tart tin. Refrigerate again while you make the filling.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put a baking sheet into the oven while it is heating.
Cream the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly beat in the egg, egg white and flour. Fold in the ground hazelnuts.
Warm the chocolate spread slightly (just a few seconds in the microwave, or in a bowl over hot water) and spread over the base of the pastry case, then sprinkle over the grated chocolate. Spoon the hazelnut frangipane filling into the pastry case and spread evenly.
Put the tart onto the preheated baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 180C and bake for a further 25 minutes until the frangipane is set and golden in colour. Cool in the tin.
Finish the tart by melting the 40g of plain chocolate and drizzling it over the cool tart - I put the chocolate into a small plastic bag, then put that into a mug of hot water (seal the bag first, of course). When the chocolate has melted, snip off one corner of the bag to allow the chocolate to dribble out.

This tart was delicious! The extra dark chocolate in the base cut through the sweetness of the chocolate hazelnut spread, and the hazelnut flavour of the frangipane came through strongly. The only thing wrong was that the frangipane appeared to have separated a little as it cooked, leaving a pale set custard-y layer at the bottom. Although this didn't affect the flavour, it did affect the appearance; I have no idea what went wrong.

So, it's the end of an era! I'm sending this recipe to the very last We Should Cocoa link-up. Although I don't bake as much now as I did 8 years ago, I can thank WSC for stretching both my skills and my imagination. Over the years I've used ingredients that I would never have thought to pair with chocolate (some more successfully than others, I must admit) and tackled more complex recipes than I would usually handle. I believe Chocolette intends to keep the WSC archive, and has a Pinterest board, so we can still look there for inspiration.

Thank you for 8 years of fun, Choclette!


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!

Edited to add that this recipe went to June's We Should Cocoa link-up, at Tin and Thyme.

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.