Saturday, 28 December 2019

Festive Desserts

I made two desserts for the Christmas period, as something chocolate is obligatory, but my daughter had also asked for a repeat of Dan Lepard's Mont Blanc Layer Cake.

The Mont Blanc Layer Cake recipe, based on meringue, is far too big for just three of us, particularly as it doesn't keep well, so I made a meringue roulade with only 3 egg whites, filled it with a half quantity of the chestnut and ricotta cream and drizzled melted chocolate over the top.

We decided, on trying the dessert, that although it was delicious, we all preferred the crisper meringue of the original recipe, which gives a better textural contrast with the chestnut cream than the soft meringue of the roulade.

For  the chocolate dessert, I made a half-sized quantity of Delia Smith's Chocolate Truffle Torte, which fitted nicely into a 7" (18cm) shallow cake tin. The only departure from the recipe was to use Amaretto liqueur instead of rum.

My daughter also contributed a batch of mince pies, which has become a tradition now. She uses this Mary Berry recipe, which adds dried apricots to the mincemeat and tops the tarts with grated marzipan.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Shortbread Squares (Again!) with Mincemeat and Hazelnuts

I make these shortbread squares so often these days that I feel guilty about writing a blog post about them again!

However they are so delicious and so quick to make that reminding you about them in the run-up to Christmas is probably doing you a favour. Don't bother with pastry and individual mince pies, especially if you're feeding a crowd - make these instead!

The basic shortbread recipe, and general idea, comes from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking'. Over time I have experimented with many fillings based on jam, mincemeat and dried fruits.  This time the filling was mincemeat mixed with apricot jam, and I also added chopped toasted hazelnuts to the portion of dough put aside for the topping.

Dough Ingredients:
170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
30g finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

250g mincemeat and 100g apricot jam, mixed together well (or use all mincemeat).

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Mix the flour and semolina in a large mixing bowl.
Melt the butter and sugar together gently, until the sugar has dissolved, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until well combined.
Take 2/3 of the dough and press firmly and evenly into the base of the baking tin.
Spread the filling over the base, leaving a small margin around the edges.
Mix the chopped hazelnuts into the remaining dough and crumble the mixture over the filling layer. Press down lightly with the palm of the hand.
Bake for 25 minutes, by which time the shortbread should be a light golden brown in colour.

Cut into pieces of the desired size (I make 16 squares) as soon as the tray is removed from the oven, but don't try to take the pieces out of the baking tin until they are completely cold - they are too fragile while warm, and will break up.

The shortbread layers of these squares are perfect - crisp but a little crumbly, and they just melt in the mouth. Curiously,  adding apricot jam seemed to reduce the sweetness of the mincemeat - it must just be down to the natural tartness of apricots because the sugar content of jam and mincemeat are very similar.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Lemon Loaf Cake

Every time I need a lemon I fall into the trap of buying a bag of them - partly because unwaxed lemons don't seem to be sold singly, and partly because each lemon works out cheaper.

However, if I don't use the lemons fairly quickly, it's a false economy, but that's not difficult to do as I love a lemon cake.

Dan Lepard calls this recipe a lemon drizzle cake, but whenever I make it the drizzle sets to a proper glacé icing. This doesn't bother me, as I don't like too much drizzle, but I don't feel happy calling it a drizzle cake, either.

This recipe really is delicious; there's the zest of 2 lemons and 75mls of juice to make it really lemony. Additionally, ground almonds keeps the cake moist and the addition of a little cornflour keeps the crumb really tender and delicate.

I don't deviate from the recipe in any way, but after adding up the weight of the ingredients, I bake it in a 2lb (900g) loaf tin, even though the recipe suggests a small tin should be used.

I'm still using the whole almonds, which were ground with the skins on (which explains the speckly appearance of the cake).

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Cherry Cheesecake Brownies

I've made these Cherry Cheesecake Brownies once before; an attempt which was delicious, but not altogether successful, because the cherry jam sank through the (reduced fat) brownie batter, and ended up in pools on the liner of the baking tin.

This time I went back to my favourite brownie recipe, made with butter. It's the one I've been using for more than 20 years, with a small reduction in sugar being the only modification I've made to the recipe in that time.

This time the recipe worked perfectly! The swirls of tart cherry jam balanced the sweetness of the cheesecake and both were a good contrast to the dense, chewy brownie.

Which makes it all the more annoying that I didn't get any photographs before some of the brownies were eaten, and the rest distributed between my children, for them to take home after dinner. I was left with this one portion for myself - a remarkable feat of restraint on my part!

Brownies: 140g butter
140g plain chocolate - about 70% cocoa solids
300g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
Cheesecake: 180g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Plus: 125g cherry jam

Line a 20cm(8") square baking tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C fan.

To make the brownie batter: Melt together the butter and chocolate in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Cool to around 40C if necessary (so that the eggs don't start to cook) then mix in the sugar and vanilla extract, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Finally sift in the flour and cocoa, and fold in until thoroughly mixed. Put 3/4 of this batter into the baking tin, reserving the rest for the swirls in the topping.

For the topping: Beat together the cream cheese, caster sugar, vanilla extract and egg until smooth. It will be quite runny. Pour this over the brownie layer in the baking tin. Dot the cherry jam over the surface, about a teaspoon at a time, then do the same with the reserved brownie batter, putting the blobs between the areas of jam. Use the handle of a teaspoon, or something like a chopstick, to swirl the jam and brownie batter blobs into the cheesecake mixture - you get a better pattern if you swirl deep enough to get into the lower brownie layer just a bit.

Bake for 40 minutes until just firm, then cool in the pan before cutting into the desired sizes. I cut into 16 squares, but less greedy people might prefer smaller bars.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

'Pastry Scraps' Oat Biscuits

 - with cranberries and hazelnuts.

I always err on the side of caution when making pastry, having been caught out several times trying to stretch the amount quoted in a recipe further than it wants to go. Perhaps I just can't roll it as thin as a professional pastry chef, but I'd rather have a bit more than I need, than dough which has to be stretched to fit the tin, then shrinks unevenly when baked, or even worse, tears as you try to move it.

And since I found this recipe for using leftover pastry I don't have to worry about waste either (although I usually rolled out any scraps, baked them and then crumbled for wild bird food).

I had 200g of leftover shortcrust pastry, so added 200g of rolled oats, 100g butter100g of light muscovado sugar and half a teaspoon cinnamon. I left everything in a large bowl to allow the pastry to warm up a bit from the fridge, then kneaded everything together until no trace of any lumps of pastry could be seen. Then I mixed in 35g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 35g of dried cranberries which had been chopped into smaller pieces.

After  rolling out the dough, I used a 6cm cutter to cut out circles, then baked at 180C for about 15 minutes - a little longer than suggested in the recipe.

This recipe makes great biscuits which are not too sweet, but the sugar can be left out altogether to make savoury oat biscuits. I imagine that you could add dried herbs or seeds to flavour savoury biscuits but I haven't tried that yet.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Autumn Fruit Frangipane Tarts

It's a measure of how little baking I do these days, that it's over three weeks since I last posted. When I do bake anything, however small, half of it usually ends up in the freezer, meaning there's always cake there if needed, but as a result I don't need to bake as often. My waistline doesn't need cake every day, either!

When making this tart I realised that I hadn't made any pastry since the festive baking at the end of 2018 - an indication that calorific desserts are also becoming something for special occasions; I usually just have fresh fruit and yogurt!

These Autumn Fruit Frangipane Tarts had plum jam in the base and fresh blackberries and pieces of eating apple embedded in the frangipane mixture. I made two small tarts instead of one big one, as I was taking one to my local Cake Club. The frangipane comes from this Jamie Oliver recipe, but I made half as much again, after seeing the amount the original ingredients gave.

I made sweet shortcrust pastry to this recipe, but this made enough for the two tart cases with quite a lot leftover: 300g plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 150g butter, 50g icing sugar, 1 medium egg, water as necessary to bind. If you reduce the quantities you could use just an egg yolk instead of a whole egg.

Once the pastry is mixed, rest in the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out as thinly as possible to line 2 x  20cm (8") tart tins (or one 23cm tin if you're following the recipe). Refrigerate again while you make the filling - there's no need to blind bake with a frangipane.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan) and put a baking sheet in to heat up too.

Put all the frangipane ingredients into a bowl and beat until well combined. I added just a few drops of almond extract, to give a better flavour, instead of the lemon zest in the recipe. Then prepare the fruit.

(I used one large eating apple, which I peeled and chopped into quite thin pieces, about 1cm square, and put into acidulated water so that the pieces didn't turn brown. I also used fresh blackberries, as I was worried that frozen would release too much juice and spoil the colour of the frangipane - I didn't weigh the amount I used but the quantity give in Jamie's recipe sounds about right.)

Spread a couple of tablespoons of plum jam (or whatever red jam you prefer) into the base of each pastry case. Divide the frangipane mixture between the two tarts, working from the edge inwards, and trying to get a good seal between the frangipane and the pastry, so that the jam doesn't boil out around the edge. Spread evenly and then dot the drained and dried apple pieces and blackberries over the surface, pressing down gently to embed them in the frangipane. Sprinkle over a handful of flaked almonds, then a little extra caster sugar.

Transfer to the heated baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes until the frangipane is a good golden colour and feels firm. Cool on a wire rack.

I decorated the tart which I was taking to Cake Club with a drizzle of glacé icing, but it's not really necessary, and the icing soon dissolved where it was in contact with the pieces of fruit, so didn't really give the desired effect by the time it was eaten.

Adding fruit to a frangipane tart is a tasty bonus, although in this case the plum jam had a stronger flavour than the apples and blackberries - I should have looked for a blackberry jam, I think.

My tart looks darker than most frangipane because I was using almonds which had been ground with the skins still on; the jury is still out on whether this really gives a good look.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Date and Ginger Flapjacks

Another roll out of an old favourite - flapjacks are really quick to mix and bake so are ideal for occasions when you don't have much time, or just want to make something from store-cupboard ingredients. I think I overdid the ginger here, so the flavour of the dates didn't come through strongly, but their chewiness added to the texture. The recipe is really simple, and can be made in one bowl or saucepan, depending on how you want to melt the butter, syrup and sugar together.

As long as you don't exceed 150g, you can use any combination of dried fruit, nuts or seeds that you have in stock, or know you family likes, adding appropriate spices or other flavouring, such as citrus zest.

For a 20cm (8") square tin, melt together 160g butter, 70g of golden syrup and 100g of light muscovado sugar. I do this in a large bowl in the microwave, but it can also be done in a saucepan on the hob. When all the butter has melted add in 240g porridge oats, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 80g of chopped dates and 50g crystallised or glacé ginger,  both chopped quite finely. Mix until well combined then transfer to the baking tin, which should be lined with baking parchment. Press down firmly to give an even layer, then bake at 180C for about 25 minutes, to give a chewy flapjack. If you like a slightly crisper finish, bake for a few minutes longer. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then mark into bars or squares, but leave in the tin until completely cold.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Marmalade Shortbread Squares

I was tempted by a jar of marmalade in one of our local independent delicatessens  - blood orange, lime and chilli - but was quite disappointed when I tried it.

The fruit content wasn't very high (I know I should have checked before buying, but for what I paid I expected more) and the peel had been diced rather than shredded. On top of that the chilli flavour wasn't really noticeable either. However, it was too expensive to waste, so I decided to incorporate it into one of my favourite cookie bar recipes.

These shortbread squares are as near perfection as it's possible to get, I think. They are buttery, melt-in-the-mouth crumbly, yet still crisp (and they stay crisp, even after several days, which is quite a feat with a moist filling).

The original recipe is from Sue Lawrence's 'On Baking' , and used a filling of dates and currants cooked with ginger, honey and lemon juice to give a thick pulpy filling. I kept the shortbread layers exactly as they are in the recipe, and used 250g of marmalade for the filling.

170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
250g marmalade of choice

Pre-heat the oven to 190C (170C fan), and line a 20cm square baking tin with a piece of baking parchment.
Put the flour and semolina into a bowl. Warm the butter and sugar together in a small saucepan until the butter has melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour onto the flour mixture and combine thoroughly to give a wet sticky dough.
Warm the marmalade slightly, so that it is spreadable (I  put it in a small bowl in the microwave, for just a few seconds).
Put 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin and spread evenly over the base, pressing down firmly. Spread over the marmalade, leaving a 1cm margin around the edges.
Crumble the rest of the dough over the top, aiming for a fairly even distribution, and press down lightly just to make sure it sticks. There won't be enough to completely cover the surface but that doesn't matter - it will spread as it bakes, and a few gaps look attractive anyway.
Bake for 25 minutes, by which time it should be golden brown. Cut into squares immediately, but leave in the tin to get completely cold before removing - the shortbreads are too fragile to move while warm.

These were delicious! This shortbread recipe isn't over-sweet, so the biscuit layers were a nice contrast to the amount of sugar in the marmalade. The marmalade, although heavy in sugar, also had a pleasing sharpness to it's flavour so the whole thing was nicely balanced.

The possible variations on this recipe are as wide as your imagination - I've used jam, mincemeat, chocolate spread (with and without added caramel) other dried fruits (chopped and cooked with a little liquid until soft and pulpy) and have added chopped nuts and marzipan to the top layer of shortbread. I haven't tried fresh fruit yet - I think many fruits would be too wet for the shortbread to stay crisp, but pre-cooked and drained apples or pears might work.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Dark Banana Ginger Cake

I feel as if I should apologise for three consecutive posts featuring loaves, but they are so practical now that I'm only baking for myself. Even with a small loaf cake, I often freeze part of it - mainly to save my waistline, not because I couldn't eat it all. Loaf shaped cakes are easy to portion and stack tidily in the freezer. In this case, I was able to bake this full-sized recipe (the second on the page) from the ever reliable Dan Lepard, but split it between two small loaf tins rather than bake it as one large 20cm (8") square cake. The cooking time for the smaller loaves was still 50 minutes.

I made a few changes to the recipe, some of which seemed inconsequential to how well the recipe worked - I used white bread flour, crystallised ginger instead of glacé, and added some ground spices to the recipe (1 teaspoon ginger and 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice). The final change was a bit more worrying - I only had two large bananas, which I was reasonably sure would weigh enough, but when the peel was off there was only 200g of flesh, not the 300g asked for in the recipe.

It was too late to back out at that stage so I went ahead, wondering if I needed to add anything to replace the missing 100g of banana. If the batter had been really thick, I might have added a tablespoon or two of natural yogurt, but it was very liquid, so I decided to go ahead with nothing else added.  I noticed afterwards that Dan says in the introduction to the recipe that the bran in wholemeal flour soaks up the liquid from the mashed banana, so maybe losing the bran and using less banana cancelled each other out!

I really liked this cake, it was firm and close textured but not heavy, and it still smelled and tasted of banana. I think adding a little extra spice was a good idea as even though I was using fiery crystallised ginger pieces it was nice to have some spice flavour in the cake crumb too.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake, with Hazelnuts, Raspberries and Lime

Although chocolate, raspberries, hazelnuts and lime sounded a very tasty combination of ingredients, this was a case where the sum total was less than its parts. I think the problem was that none of the ingredients stood out, so that, although these were pleasant cakes, overall the flavour was too non-descript. This could probably be easily remedied by more lime zest, more raspberries, a chocolate with more cocoa solids, or some chopped hazelnuts as well as the ground nuts, depending on which added ingredient you wanted to accentuate.

It was a double disappointment as these two cakes were to mark my and my son's birthdays in the middle of July, and I would have liked to make something a bit more memorable.

I made a double batch of what has become my 'go to' recipe for small loaf cakes, and divided it between two tins. This time, instead of chopping a bar of chocolate I bought dark chocolate chips as I thought the regularity would look better - perhaps it did, but I think the flavour would have been better with a bar of chocolate, as I usually use one with higher cocoa solids than in the bought chips.

220g caster sugar
220g softened butter
4 eggs
230g SR flour
50g ground hazelnuts
zest of 2 limes (reserve juice for icing)
10g dried raspberry pieces
100g dark chocolate chips
a little milk if necessary

Topping -  50g icing sugar, lime juice

Put all the cake ingredients except the raspberry pieces and chocolate chips into a large bowl and beat until smooth and fluffy, adding a little milk if necessary to give a dropping consistency. Fold in the raspberries and chocolate. Divide the mixture between two small (1lb) loaf tins, lined with parchment or a pre-formed liner, and bake at 180C (160C fan) for about 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.

When cool, make the icing by sifting the sugar and adding the lime juice a teaspoon at a time to give a thick, just-pourable consistency. I find it easiest to drizzle this over a cake by putting the icing into a small freezer bag, and snipping off one corner.

When the first slice was cut from the cake I thought the chocolate chips had sunk, but this was just the bad luck of random distribution - I took this photo of a slice further into the cake, just to prove they hadn't!

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake

Another small loaf cake, inspired by this recipe on the Waitrose website. I intended to make the large cake but forgot to buy the extra eggs I needed, so had to aim for a half-sized loaf. I also increased the proportion of flour in the recipe to give a slightly sturdier cake - more like a Madeira than a sponge cake.

100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
80g SR flour
40g desiccated cocomut
30g ground almonds/almond flour*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
zest of 2 limes
2 large eggs
a little milk, if necessary
30g caster sugar
juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons demerara sugar

* I used a USA brand of superfine almond flour made from almonds ground with the skins still on, which explains why the cake is slightly darker in colour than you might expect.

I made the cake by the all-in-one method, so all the cake ingredients, except the milk, were put into a large bowl and beaten until well mixed and fluffy. I needed to add about 1 tablespoon of milk to give a dropping consistency. The batter was transferred to a small (1lb) loaf tin lined with a pre-formed liner, levelled off, and baked at 180C for 55-60 minutes, or until a test probe came out clean and dry.
When the cake was almost ready I heated the lime juice and caster sugar together to dissolve the sugar. After taking the cake out of the oven, while it was still in the tin, I used a cake tester to pierce holes all over the cake. I drizzled over half the lime syrup, then sprinkled the demerara sugar over the top of the cake before adding the rest of the syrup - this ensured that the sugar stuck to the top of the cake and gave a crunchy topping.

The cake tasted as expected - a tangy mix of lime and coconut, with the almonds keeping the crumb of the cake moist and tender. The amount of lime juice from two limes gave just the right amount of drizzle for my tastes - I don't like drizzle cakes to be too wet!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

This isn't a new recipe to me, but I wanted something quick to put together and bake, to take to the local Cake Club meeting. Whatever I made also needed to fit in with the theme of 'Summer', and as the recent heavy rain has given my rhubarb patch a late surge in growth, using some of that seemed the most obvious way to go.

I followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen almost to the letter - the only changes I made were to use all white flour, rather than some wholemeal, and just demerara sugar in the crumble topping, for an extra bit of crunch.

The muffins were light, not too sweet and very subtly spiced. I used 200g of diced rhubarb but I think the recipe could have taken a little more, although you do have to be wary of the amount of fruit juice produced when the rhubarb cooks, which could make the muffins too damp and heavy.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Double Chocolate Brownies

Gluten, dairy and nut free.

Looking back over my brownie recipes, I was surprised to see that I've never made a basic gluten and dairy free brownie. I've made one using coconut flour and oil but wanted a recipe just using the standard sort of baking ingredients which most cooks would have available. The only 'speciality' ingredient is a commercial gluten-free flour mix - I use Dove's Farm.

I decided on one of my favourite recipes, which uses oil instead of butter and substituted the gluten-free flour mix  for the flour in the recipe. I would usually add a flavoured chocolate, or nuts to this recipe, but as I wanted to be sure it was allergen friendly, I stuck to adding more of the same 70% chocolate which I'd melted for the brownie batter - making sure it was dairy-free.

250g plain 70% chocolate
120ml sunflower oil
3 eggs
130g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
105g plain gluten free flour

Pre-heat the oven to 180C, fan 160C and line a 20cm (8") square brownie pan with non-stick baking paper.
Melt 150g of the chocolate in a medium sized bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Chop the remaining 100g, as finely as you like, and set aside - I like to keep about half the chocolate in quite big pieces.
When the chocolate has melted remove from the heat and whisk in the oil.
Beat the eggs, both sugars and vanilla extract together, in a large bowl, until lighter in colour and increased in volume - depending on the power of your whisk this could take from 3 to 5 minutes.
Fold in the chocolate and oil mixture.
Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in, then fold in the chopped chocolate.
Transfer the batter to the baking pan and bake for 25 minutes - a test probe should still have a few damp crumbs sticking to it.
Cool completely before cutting into pieces of your chosen size.

I think my opinion about these brownies was influenced by the fact that I don't need to eat gluten or dairy free. I could definitely taste the difference between gluten-free flour and regular wheat flour - it wasn't unpleasant, just not as good - but if you've no choice, it's something you obviously learn to live with. (My gluten and dairy-free friend had no complaints!) My biggest gripe was that although the brownies looked moist and fudgy when freshly cut, they dried out around the edges after a couple of days. This obviously isn't a problem if they're eaten fresh, but not so good if you're expecting a batch to last a few days for a smaller family, or just one person in the household. They were actually better eaten warm, as a dessert, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - not something I treat myself to very often!

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Date and Banana Loaf

With a wet afternoon ahead of me, and some over-ripe bananas in the kitchen, I was looking for a recipe which I could make using just my storecupboard ingredients. This recipe for Easy Date and Banana Loaf, on the Waitrose website looked promising, and used my favourite storecupboard sweetener - date syrup - which was an added bonus.

Following the recipe exactly didn't quite work out, as I didn't have Medjool dates or enough butter and SR flour, but my substitutes worked well, producing a well-flavoured moist loaf with a firm but not heavy texture. I used cream cheese in place of the missing amount of butter, light spelt flour and some extra baking powder in place of some of the flour, and basic soft dried dates instead of Medjool dates.

100g butter, softened
75g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
100g SR flour
100g light spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
3 tablespoons date syrup (plus extra for drizzling)
2 large ripe bananas, mashed roughly
100g chopped soft dried dates
demerara sugar for topping (optional)

Line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or a pre-formed liner. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
Put all the ingredients except the bananas, dates and demerara sugar into a large bowl and beat until smooth, then beat in the bananas. Finally, fold in the dates.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the surface and sprinkle over the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for about 75 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and drizzle with a little more date syrup.

The resulting loaf was moist enough to eat as a cake, although butter spread on this sort of loaf is always an option worth considering. The subtle spicing enhanced the overall flavour of the cake, but it was the dates which stood out as the strongest flavour.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

This is a really good cheesecake recipe, in so many respects, that it's a pity the topping lets it down a little. The base has just the right proportions of plain chocolate digestive biscuits and butter, so that it isn't too crumbly nor does it set too hard to cut. The cheesecake mixture is light and delicate in texture and flavour, and doesn't crack while cooling (although I did run a knife around the edge as soon as it came out of the oven to help prevent that).

The idea of the topping, which is a mixture of orange flavoured chocolate, and chocolate with almonds in it, is lovely, and it tasted delicious, but the chopped (or grated) chocolate melted on the hot cheesecake, then set to a crisp brittle layer, which made it difficult to cut and serve neatly. What is even more annoying, is that this didn't happen the first time I made the cheesecake - then the tiny pieces of chopped chocolate stayed as a 'rubble' across the top and didn't hamper cutting it at all. I suppose I must have used a different brand of chocolate this time.

I didn't experience any problems with the recipe for this Chocolate and Orange Cheesecake, apart from the issue with the topping. I don't have a large food processor, so mixed with a hand-held electric beater, on a slow setting, after the eggs has been whisked thoroughly. As usual, even a double layer of foil failed to prevent a little water getting between the foil and the springform tin - perhaps it was condensation, as I was using extra-strong foil, which shouldn't have got holes in it with my careful handling.

I've been trying to think of a different way to top the cheesecake. Piped and set chocolate shapes or a thin layer of ganache, left to drip down the sides, are two options to keep the chocolate flavour. Another possibility is orange curd swirled into lightly whipped double cream or mascarpone. Overall, though, this is a recipe worth repeating.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Easter Shortbread Squares

Another outing for my favourite 'biscuit bar' recipe - what could be better than a crisp, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread filled with a luscious fruity filling? The original recipe is from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking' and has a date and ginger filling. I stick to her recipe for the shortbread layers but have experimented with many different fillings.

This time I was aiming to get the flavours of  the traditional Simnel cake (marzipan, dried fruit, spices) into the little shortbread squares. As I was using some mincemeat left over from Christmas to get the fruit and spice into the filling I added the tang of citrus flavours (in the form of marmalade) to brighten the flavour and make it feel fresher and more Spring-like. For the final step, I grated marzipan into the topping.

170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar

250g mincemeat
100g marmalade (I used three-fruit marmalade for a sharper flavour)

100g white marzipan

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan. Line a 20cm (8") square tin with parchment.
Weigh the flour and semolina into a large bowl. Mix the mincemeat and marmalade in a small bowl.
Put the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved.
Pour this mixture onto the flour mixture and mix well to combine.
Put 2/3 of the dough into the prepared baking tin and spread evenly. Press down firmly as you level the mixture and smooth the surface.
Spread the mincemeat mixture over the dough, leaving a small margin around the edges.
Break up the remaining portion of dough into crumbs, still in the bowl, and coarsely grate the marzipan into the bowl. Gently mix the marzipan and dough crumbs together, then sprinkle them evenly over the filling. Press the topping down very lightly.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Rest for 5 minutes, then cut into 16 squares while still hot. Cool completely in the tin - they will fall apart if you try to move them while still hot.

Mixing marmalade and mincemeat for the filling worked really well. The marmalade added the fresh zing that I wanted and also muted the level of the spicing in the mincemeat, so that it didn't taste as if I was eating a Christmas mince pie. The marzipan flavour in the topping didn't come through as strongly as I had hoped for, but I'm not sure how I could remedy that. Introducing almond extract would be difficult in this particular recipe, without flavouring all of the shortbread dough. Altogether it was an harmonious blend of flavours and textures.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Apricot, Prune and Almond Cake

This was a small loaf cake, using just store-cupboard ingredients. I've been trying to avoid home-baking as there's so much pressure to 'eat up' before the cake gets stale, but if there's no cake I find myself eating chocolate and biscuits anyway!

A friend gave me a pack of ground whole almonds, which hadn't had the skins removed before they were ground. They were much darker in colour, but not much different in flavour, so I still added a few drops of almond extract, to make sure the almond flavour came through properly. I also had the remains of a bag of dried apricots, and some prunes bought for breakfast when my sister was staying a while back.

I used the 'all-in-one' method, which is absolutely fine for even these type of loaves, which have a higher proportion of flour than sponge cakes. For speed, the butter can be softened (gently) in the microwave, or you can use baking spread.

100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
100g SR flour
50g ground almonds
2 large eggs
a few drops almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50g soft dried apricots, *chopped into small pieces
50g soft dried prunes, *chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons flaked almonds

*easiest to do with scissors

Preheat oven to 180C and prepare a small (1lb, 450ml) loaf tin - I used a pre-formed non-stick liner.
Put all the ingredients, except the dried fruit and flaked almonds, into a bowl and beat until well mixed and smooth. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of milk or water to get a dropping consistency.
Stir in the dried fruit and transfer the batter to the prepared loaf tin.
Level the top and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container when completely cold.

The ground whole almonds made the cake much darker in colour, and to be honest, I didn't find that very attractive - I think the rest of the almonds will be saved for things like gingerbread and chocolate cakes, where the colour doesn't matter. The cake tasted fine, though - the little pieces of dried fruit kept the cake moist, and gave a good blend of flavours with the almonds.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Chocolate Swirl Blondies

Have you ever been cleaning up after baking, and found an important ingredient underneath a tea-towel, or behind a packet of flour? Well, that's what happened here. These blondies were supposed to be flavoured with coffee, but I took the little dish of instant coffee over to the draining board to add the boiling water, so as not to spill any water on my work area - and that's where the little dish stayed!

The only reason I'm writing up the recipe is that even unflavoured these blondies were pretty good - they were dense and chewy, something not often found with blondies - so with the added coffee (turning them into Mocha Swirl Blondies) they should be excellent.

The recipe, by GBBO contestant Martha Collison, was in a recent 'Weekend' newspaper given away by Waitrose supermarket. I'm always wary of baking with white chocolate, but  this recipe involved adding it to a mixture of melted butter and sugar, which seemed much safer than trying to melt it on its own. The mixture did separate out as it cooled, but adding the eggs and beating well seemed to remedy that problem. A note for next time - the blondies were well baked after 25 minutes, so need looking at a few minutes sooner.

The small amount of cocoa added to a portion of the batter, to make the swirl, was more for visual effect than flavour, I think, but maybe it would be  different with the coffee added. I'm determined to try these again soon, and do it properly next time.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Flapjacks - and nostalgia

My sister recently spent the week with me, visiting from Spain. We managed to get all four siblings together for the first time in six years, so a lot of 'do you remember?' conversations were inevitable. My memories of our early childhood are very vague, apart from a few stand-out events, but even so it was surprising how much our memories differed!

Although I've always considered that my mother was a basic but uninspired cook (mainly down to family finances and a head of the household who would only eat 'meat and two veg.') her baking drew no complaints. When us girls were allowed to help in the kitchen (never the two boys!) her recipes came mostly from the little booklet of Be-Ro Home Recipes, which I'm sure every housewife owned before cookery books became more affordable (in the 70s?).

I have Mum's booklet now and it's easy to see from the stained pages which were popular recipes, even if my memory had failed to tell me. However, both my sister and I remembered the flapjack recipe - unusual because it contains cornflakes, and is nothing like modern flapjack recipes based on oats. After my sister had gone, leaving half a packet of cornflakes, I decided to try the recipe. Apart from using butter instead of margarine, I followed the recipe as written - even using ounces on my scales. My baking tin was a fraction smaller than the one stipulated in the recipe but nothing to worry about.

Surprisingly, the smell of them baking was what I remembered most. The flavour was right, but I don't remember them being as crisp. I think they were slightly over-baked, as I forgot the advice that I've often given to others - modern ovens cook faster than old ones, so take a few minutes off the baking times.

The flapjacks were very thin too - almost like biscuits. The flavour comes mainly from the desiccated coconut with the cornflakes adding some extra crunch. I'm wondering whether to try the recipe again in a much smaller tin to see if it produces something chewier and more like today's oaty flapjacks.

I think these lived up to my memories, but there are much better modern recipes around!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Date and Apricot Cookies

I didn't intend to bake last weekend, but I had an online discussion with friends about whether a weird sounding recipe that we'd all noticed would actually work. The recipe in question was this one, from former GBBO contestant Tamal Ray, in the Guardian Feast magazine. Not only did the recipe sound strange - so much liquid! - the accompanying picture didn't look particularly attractive either - should a baked cookie still look shiny? As I had all the ingredients to hand, including date syrup, one of my favourite sweeteners, I decided to set my doubts aside and give it a go.

The result was a delicious soft cookie, strongly date flavoured, with nuggets of sweet dried fruit. I can't say the recipe was entirely successful, as the cookie dough was too soft to shape initially, and had to be chilled for 90 minutes before I could roll it into balls. And my cookies didn't look much like the picture in the magazine, either, but for my personal taste, that was an improvement.

Because the dough had been chilled I allowed an extra 3 minutes baking, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly (apart from needing to chill the dough, of course). I didn't have medjool dates, but did have some large soft dates to use instead, and I used the zest of two tangerines instead of an orange - but neither of these changes substantially altered the recipe.

The cookies were quite large - if I make them again I think I would make them a little smaller - and very soft, and both the orange and almond flavours were overwhelmed by the date syrup, but I'm still glad I decided to risk the experiment, and that the recipe worked (with just a little adjustment!).