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.

Ingredients
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)

Method
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.

Ingredients
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

Method
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.

Ingredients
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

Method
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!).


Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Rose Blondies

with pistachios and cocoa nibs

This recipe is appearing a little late for St. Valentine's Day, but it was made for my local Cake Club meeting, which didn't take place until after that date. Roses and chocolate are synonymous with St. Valentine's celebrations, so it seemed natural to use them together to flavour my bake. I  chose to make blondies rather than brownies so that the full effect of the colourful additions of rose petals, chopped pistachios and cocoa nibs could be seen.

This is a recipe which I've used once before, back in 2011, when it was very much an experiment. I made a bigger batch this time, doubling up the basic recipe but not all the add-ins. I also decorated the blondies to fit in with the Valentine's theme - something I wouldn't usually do.

Ingredients
150g plain flour
pinch salt
scant 1 teaspoon baking powder
60g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
2 tablespoons milk
200g white chocolate
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater*
80g pistachios, chopped
30g cocoa nibs
1 tablespoon rose petals (optional)

* Different brands of rosewater vary a lot in strength. I used Neilsen-Massey, which is very strong. Add to taste, according to what you have experienced with your particular brand, remembering that too strong a flavour can be off-putting.

Method
Preheat oven to 160C and line a 20cm square shallow baking tin with parchment.
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.
In a large pan, melt the butter, sugar and milk together on a low heat. When the butter has melted add the white chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat.
Beat in the eggs and rosewater, then sieve in the flour mixture and fold in, followed by the nuts, cocoa nibs and rose petals, if using.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until an inserted probe comes out just dry.
Cool in the tin then cut into bars or squares for serving.

I used a glacé icing coloured with 'hot pink' gel, and some bought chocolate hearts to finish off the decoration.

These blondies were dense and chewy, as they should be, but a little on the dry side. Most people trying them agreed that the rose flavour was just about right.


Friday, 1 February 2019

Mincemeat and Orange Cake

With this cake I surprised myself by finishing off my mincemeat before the end of January; it's not unusual for me to be baking with the remnants from a jar at Easter. I've used this recipe before, adding my own touches to the ingredients, as you can see here.

As I had two jars of mincemeat open, one of which had orange flavour notes, I added the zest of an orange to the cake, and soaked the rather wizened sultanas I was using in the juice of the orange for a couple of hours, before draining off the excess. I was lucky that there was just about 400g of mincemeat when the contents of both jars were combined. I also added a sprinkling of demerara sugar as a topping, before baking.

I cooked the cake in a smaller tin - 20cm in diameter - as I prefer a deeper cake, but this didn't affect the cooking time, it was still done in 75 minutes.

It looks, in the photo as if the fruit sank, but that's just the randomness of that particular slice - it was  much more evenly distributed in reality! Adding the orange definitely perked up the cake - the usual spiciness and tartness of mincemeat is muted when it's spread though cake batter, giving a much more gentle flavour.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Mincemeat Shortbread Bars

There's always mincemeat to use up after Christmas, but even with an opened jar in the fridge, I couldn't resist a 'reduced to clear' jar of Bitter Orange and Juniper Mincemeat in Waitrose. So I rolled out my favourite shortbread slice recipe yet again! I've made mincemeat versions of this with various embellishments - marzipan or chopped hazelnuts in the topping, cranberry sauce mixed with the mincemeat - but decided that this time I'd use the mincemeat just as it was, to allow the orange and juniper flavours to shine through. I used about 300g of mincemeat for the filling, but it wouldn't have hurt to add a bit more.

Although the recipe was as good as usual, with crisp, melt in the mouth shortbread layers, I was a little disappointed that the advertised flavours of the mincemeat - bitter orange and juniper - weren't really very strong at all. It didn't seem much different to the basic mincemeat I'd used for my mincepies at Christmas, and in the past I've added better orange flavour by adding freshly grated orange zest to mincemeat.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Salted Caramel Brownies

My second festive bake, aiming to be more versatile. These are great warm, with cream or ice cream, as a dessert, but are also good for coffee breaks and tea times. I was lucky in my choice of salted caramel sauce -  from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range - as it stayed soft and gooey after baking, even when the brownies were cold. It added an extra touch of decadence to have the caramel oozing out!

I used my usual recipe for the brownies - Melt 140g butter and 140g of 70% plain chocolate together. This can be done in a microwave, but I prefer to do it in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool a little if necessary, as you don't want to scramble the eggs, then add 300g light muscovado sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Next, add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beating each one in to give a smooth batter. Sift 160g plain flour and 3 tablespoons of cocoa into the bowl and fold in.

Set aside about 3 tablespoons of the batter, and transfer the rest to a 20cm square shallow tin, lined with baking parchment. Warm 250g salted caramel sauce, if necessary, so that it flows easily, and spread it over the surface of the batter. Dot the reserved batter, a teaspoon at a time, over the caramel then swirl the caramel and brownie mixture together, without going to deeply into the batter.

Bake at 180C for 40 minutes. It's difficult to do a skewer test as the caramel stays liquid and becomes very hot and bubbly, but as the brownies cool, everything settles down. When the brownies are cold, cut into bars or squares. I usually cut into 16 squares.