Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Yuzu and Green Tea Madeira Cake

The Formula 1 Foods challenge, over at Caroline Makes, invites us to produce something that is either typical of the cuisine of the country where the latest round of the F1 GP is taking place, or is inspired by some aspect of life in that country. Baking for the Japanese race, held last weekend, proved quite difficult as bread, cakes and desserts do not play a large part in traditional Japanese cuisine.

However, Western foods are making a growing impression on the Japanese. They both adapt products to their own tastes - witness green tea or cherry blossom flavoured KitKats - and embrace a concept whole-heartedly and excel at producing it themselves. The range of bread and pastries available in department store food halls and specialist shops, ranging from baguettes, through almond croissants to tartes aux fruit and chocolate gateaux is some of the best I've seen (and tasted) outside France.

As I couldn't bake something Japanese, I decided to reverse the concept again, and bring popular Japanese flavours into something quintessentially British - the Madeira cake! I followed the traditional Madeira recipe - 175g each of butter and caster sugar, 3 eggs and 250g SR flour - and added 3 tablespoons of yuzu juice. Then I removed about 1/3 of the batter and stirred in 2 teaspoons matcha (green tea powder), to give a quite vividly coloured batter.

The two batters were layered into a 2lb loaf tin, starting and ending with the plain coloured batter, The cake was baked at 170C for 55 minutes, or until a test probe came out clean.
After the cake was cool, I made a thick glacé icing with icing sugar and 1 tablespoon yuzu juice, and drizzled it over the cake.

I made a few miscalculations about how much batter to use when building up the layers and ended up with a large green layer near the top of the cake, I also expected the two colours of batter to swirl naturally as the cake baked to make a classic marble cake, but this didn't happen, so the cut cake looks a little strange. All I needed to do was run a chopstick through the batter to swirl it myself - I'll know better next time!

The flavour of the cake was quite delicate, as befits a Madeira cake, which is usually only flavoured with a hint of lemon, and the slight bitterness of the green tea was a good contrast to the sweetness of the rest of the cake, especially the icing, where the flavour of yuzu was much stronger.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Gluten-free Cornbread

We both really like cornbread, as an occasional alternative to rice, with a chilli, but I've yet to find the perfect recipe. The biggest problem is the bread being too crumbly, then there are recipes that are too sweet and recipes that are too bland. Flavours can easily be worked on, but it's getting the right balance of dry to wet ingredients which is proving elusive (although I have to admit that this recipe, from Ben Mims seemed pretty good the first time I tried it - I just forgot about it until now!). Add into the mix, the desire for a gluten-free cornbread and things get complicated.

It's fairly widely recognised that adding some wheat flour is better than 100% cornmeal, if a light cornbread is required, but this can't be used in gluten-free baking. This recipe, found on Jamie Oliver's website, uses equal volumes of a gluten-free flour mix and cornmeal, and allows for the use of non-dairy milk, if required. The only thing I didn't like, at first glance, was the amount of sugar added, so I cut this down from  80g to 50g. I added half a teaspoon of xanthan gum, just because I had it to hand, and it's meant to replicate the effects of gluten in wheat flour ie  cuts down on the crumbliness of baked products. I also used a mix of 50% polenta and 50% fine cornmeal instead of all cornmeal.

Converted to metric weights, I used: 200g gluten-free flour, 220g cormeal/polenta mix; 50g sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, 2 large eggs, 360mls milk, 75g melted butter + another 10g to grease the skillet.

The method is fairly standard - mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another, melt butter. Add wet ingredients and melted butter to dry ingredients and mix until just combined (don't overmix!). Pour into a pre-heated and well-greased skillet and bake in a hot oven. I used a fan oven at 160C and found that the cornbread was cooked in 25 minutes, rather than the 30-35 minutes suggested in the recipe.

The texture of this cornbread was good, but still a little crumbly. The Ben Mims recipe uses a much higher proportion of liquid, so it shouldn't spoil this recipe to increase the amount used, although it might need an extra egg too. I thought there was still a touch too much sugar in the recipe, so will cut it down even more in future. My next attempt will be to try a version of this recipe which is dairy-free too.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Jam-swirled Crumb Cake

Being away on holiday for most of the first half of the month has limited my entries to the various cooking challenges which I try to participate in regularly - I got an early entry into Belleau Kitchen's Simply Eggcellent, and the first of Caroline Makes' Formula 1 Foods, but the challenge from We Should Cocoa to use blackberries and chocolate together has fallen by the wayside due to lack of time.

Despite needing to lose the holiday weight, and get my diet back on track, I found time to make a simple crumb cake for the AlphaBakes challenge this month, which is to use the letter J, either for the first letter of a main ingredient, or the first letter of part of the name of the dish (eg J for Jalapeno or J for Jalousie). See the full set of rules here, for a complete explanation.

My J was for Jam - I swirled some reduced sugar 'cherries and berries' jam into the top half of a crumb cake batter, hoping the result would be colourful and add extra flavour to a fairly plain cake. My recipe is a slight adaptation of this one, found on the blog Bake or Break, which I've been reading for several years. I reduced the sugar a little, altered the topping to accommodate what I had available, and baked the cake in a 20cm (8") round tin.


210g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
115g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
120mls milk
1/3 cup jam

50g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground almonds
25g cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts

Pre-heat the oven to 175C, and base line a 20cm springform tin.
Make the topping by putting the sugar, flour, almonds and cinnamon into a small bowl, then rubbing in the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the hazelnuts, then set aside at room temperature.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugars unril light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, with a tablespoon of the flour mix. Then fold in the rest of the flour, alternately with portions of the milk, to make a stiff cake batter.
Spread about 2/3 of the batter into the cake tin, then spread on the jam, leaving a border of batter around the edge of the tin. Carefully spread on the remaining batter, then use a teaspoon handle to swirl through the cake batter, trying to keep in the top half of the mixture.
Sprinkle the topping over evenly, squeezing it together in your fingers to make it a little clumpier, rather than powdery.
Bake for 35 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160C and bake until a tester comes out clean - about another 15 minutes (45-50 minutes in total). Cool in the tin.

Sadly, the finished cake didn't look as good as I'd hoped. It rose unevenly, sank back badly during cooling and when cut, it revealed that the jam layer had sunk during baking and lost a lot of it's vibrant colour. The hoped for swirls of colour in the top of the cake just didn't materialise! The crumb crust hadn't really adhered to the cake batter either, which made the cake difficult to cut and serve. It tasted fine though - the topping was sweet and nutty and the jam added a good fruity flavour to the cake. Overall, something that needs a little more work, but could be a good store-cupboard recipe!

The AlphaBakes Challenge is hosted alternately by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, at The More Than Occasional Baker. Ros is this month's host, and will post a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Wholemeal Apple Cake with Orange and Cranberries

 - an Au-tummy cake for my second Clandestine Cake Club meeting.

My local branch of the Clandestine Cake Club has a new organiser, so I didn't want to miss the first event that she arranged, with the theme of 'Au-tummy cakes' (Autumn/tummy filling - geddit?). Unfortunately the date of the meeting was the day after I would be arriving home from our Spanish holiday, after 14 hours of travelling up through France, then through the Channel Tunnel, on trains and coaches. I knew I would probably be tired, and wouldn't have time for shopping before cooking, so I chose a foolproof recipe from my list of favorites, which can be made with just storecupboard ingredients plus fresh apples, and made sure I left apples in the fridge before going away.

This cake is a slight adaptation of this Nigel Slater recipe, (also published in 'Tender - Volume II') substituting 75g dried orange-flavoured cranberries, and 25g diced candied citrus peel for the sultanas or raisins suggested in the recipe. I happened to arrive home with a mandarin orange left over from our travelling rations, so a little fresh zest gave the cake a nice boost, but I was prepared to just leave out the zest, as the cranberries were orange-flavoured (left over from last Christmas's festive goodies from Aldi), and the marmalade had a high fruit content too.

I really like this cake, because it is moist and unexpectedly light, considering it's made with wholemeal flour. Many apple cakes are too dense and stodgy, because of the moisture from the fruit, but this cake is perfect! It can also be varied by changing the dried fruits used, and also swapping the marmalade for different flavoured jams or jellies (I have used smooth cranberry sauce quite successfully). Pears also work well instead of apples, as in this pear and ginger preserve variation.

With a theme of Autumn, there were several other apple-based cakes brought along to the Cake Club meeting, along with cakes containing plums, pears and blackberries. My cake was a little crumbly when cut - in an ideal world it would have been made the day before, so that it had time to rest properly - but so were some of the others, so I didn't feel too bad about it! I'm really happy to be moving into Autumn - possibly my favorite season for baking.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Almond, Raspberry and Rose Polenta Cake

- both gluten and dairy free

This was my second attempt at this recipe; the first being this cake, where I changed both the nuts and fruit used. The outcome was delicious, but the fruit sank and spoiled the look of the cake. This time, I made even more adaptations (naughty me!) because I wanted the cake to be dairy-free as well as gluten-free, and I also didn't want to use any citrus fruit. While I was making changes, I decided to replace half the polenta with fine cornmeal, to reduce the graininess of the texture

225g dairy-free spread (I used Pure sunflower spread)
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs
60g fine cornmeal (not cornflour)
65g polenta (the instant kind is all I can get)
125g ground almonds
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rose water (or more, depending on strength*)
a few drops of almond extract*
50mls water*
200g raspberries

* The rose water, almond extract and water replaces the citrus juice and zest in the original recipe. 50mls is less than the juice of 2 lemons, but I felt the batter was too sloppy the first time I made this cake. 

I only used 1 teaspoon of rose water as the brand I use is quite concentrated. I often see recipes using a lot more, so the strength must vary from brand to brand. I once made the mistake of adding more of the Neilsen-Massey rose water, and the result was inedible because of the overpowering rose flavour.

Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform tin. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
Cream together the spread and sugar, in a large bowl, until light and fluffy.
In another bowl, mix together the cornmeal, polenta, almonds, baking powder and salt.
Add the rose water and almond extract to the fat and sugar mix, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the dry ingredients with each egg.
Fold in the rest of the dry ingredients, in portions, alternating with a splodge of the water, until all ingredients are added.
Let the batter stand for 5 minutes (I was distracted by a phone call at this point, and the batter thickened a little while I was away - I think this may be an advantage, so I'll be adding this stage to the recipe in future!).
Spread half the batter in the baking tin, then sprinkle with half the raspberries (I used the small and broken fruit in the middle). Gently spread over the remaining batter, then arrange the rest of the raspberries on top, spacing them evenly.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and just firm in the centre (I use a colour-changing cake tester, as a probe isn't always reliable when there's fresh fruit in  a cake).
Cool the cake in the tin, and if desired, dust with icing sugar before serving.

I think this cake is one of the best gluten and dairy free cakes I've ever made, and possibly the most delicious seasonal fresh fruit cake I've eaten this summer! That's really saying something, because, as you know, I'm quite critical of my baking and can usually find something wrong.

Unfortunately, I was taking this cake to a friend's house for lunch, and only managed to photograph the cake still in it's baking tin, and the leftovers, so for such a great cake, I'm not showing it at it's best! As you can see, though, the fruit didn't all sink (hooray - main objective achieved!).

The rose flavour was subtle and well balanced against that of the raspberries and almonds. The addition of a few drops of almond extract really brought out the flavour of the nuts - sometimes ground almonds on their own don't have a very strong flavour, which is OK if you're just interested in adding moisture and texture, but not good enough if you want a cake to taste of almonds. The texture was good too - moist, but still quite light, with an even close crumb, and not too gritty from the polenta. I think the only improvement I could make would be to add another 50g of fruit - 200g in such a large cake is quite sparsely distributed.

Late decision - rather than miss the next round of Formula 1 Foods, run by Caroline, from Caroline Makes, because I will be on holiday for most of the first half of September, I will enter this cake. The next F1 GP race takes place in Italy, during the first weekend in September. Almonds and polenta seem to crop up frequently in Italian cake recipes, so this could be said to be an Italian inspired cake, although I'm not sure raspberries and rose flavour really fits the bill! It's this or nothing, Caroline!

Another late decision - as this is by far the best cake I've made for ages, I'm also adding it to the Simply Eggcellent link-up over at Belleau Kitchen. Dom's theme this month is cakes, so I'm looking forward to seeing all the entries and getting some new ideas!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Carrot and Pineapple Cake

I decided to make this cake to finish off a tin of pineapple chunks, which had been opened to eke out the remains of a fresh fruit salad. I can't remember ever having made a carrot cake with added pineapple before, although I was aware of their existence, of course - I knew I hadn't invented something new! To be honest, until I started looking for recipes, I thought I would be making a Hummingbird Cake, but soon realised that was a banana cake with added pineapple!

I also quickly realised that many carrot cake recipes make huge cakes! Is this because they are traditionally used as celebration cakes in the USA? After a bit of searching I found this recipe from Anna Olson, the Canadian TV cook, which seemed to make a cake of a sensible size for two people. It caught my attention because it used maple syrup and fresh ginger in the cake - two flavours I like, but didn't expect to find in a carrot cake. It also used just the amount of pineapple that I had available!

It was a pretty straightforward cake, once I'd translated the ingredients to metric weights. After being drawn to the recipe for it's use of maple syrup, I found my tin was emptier than I thought - I could only get a couple of tablespoons out of it, so made up the volume with pomegranate molasses. Obviously, this had an effect on the final flavour, but as the recipe only needed 60mls of syrup in total, I don't think the maple syrup would have been the dominant flavour in the cake, anyway. The only other point to note was that the cake cooked in only 65 minutes, rather than the 75-90 minutes suggested in the recipe. I guess there's a lot of leeway with cakes containing ingredients which can be variable in moisture content, such as grated carrots and crushed pineapple.

For the sake of our waistlines, I left off the cream cheese frosting, and made a glacé icing using some of the juices from the canned pineapple. Which brings me to the current controversy about Tate and Lyle adding maize starch to icing sugar instead of the previous E-number anticaking agent. Like other users, I found it harder work than usual to get the icing sugar through a sieve, and initially it clumped badly when liquid was added although it did become smooth eventually. I can't understand why change was really needed - I've never had a pack of icing sugar 'clump' no matter how long it's been stored.

The cake sunk a little, as it cooled, leaving a lip around the edge, which contained the glacé icing, but could have been covered up if I'd used a cream cheese frosting.

This cake was more moist and denser than the carrot cake I usually make. This didn't make it better or worse, just different! What was a disappointment was how bland it was. Considering the ingredients, I expected it to have far more depth of flavour, but there wasn't enough of either the fresh ginger or the cinnamon, and the pineapple wasn't noticeable in the taste of the cake. I'm also used to carrot cakes with either sultanas or nuts in, to add to the texture, and this was an element sorely missing here - perhaps if I'd left the pineapple in larger pieces that might have been  an improvement in that respect. A touch of citrus to lift the flavour wouldn't have come amiss either - another ingredient often found in carrot cakes, obviously for good reason! It wasn't an unpleasant cake, just not memorable enough to add to the 'cook again' list!

Note: (added 31/08/15) Silver Spoon and Aldi own brand icing sugar don't have maize starch added, so  icing sugar that is easier to work with isn't going to be difficult to find. Tate and Lyle will be losing out bigtime, I suspect!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ham and Courgette Slice

This savoury bake is ideal for summer, especially when the forecast is for weather so hot that you wouldn't want the oven on, and you have enough warning and time to bake ahead. It's also good for when the courgettes are producing fruit faster than you can harvest them, or there's a glut on the market. We're not quite at the over-production stage, but I'm determined not to allow things to get out of hand this year - I don't want any marrows!

My inspiration comes from this recipe on Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which I've written about before. This time I used two thick slices of smoked ham instead of the bacon, and added a sliced chilli and some shredded sage leaves for extra flavour.

This is what I used, but it seems a very versatile recipe, so a little more or less of any of the flavouring ingredients probably won't make a lot of difference, as long as you keep the batter the same (the eggs, flour and oil). I guess it would also be OK to add things like leftover cooked vegetables to the mixture too, as part of the total weight of vegetables.

300g coarsely grated vegetables (I used roughly 220g courgettes with 80g carrots for colour contrast)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
about a dozen sage leaves, finely shredded
100g grated cheese (I used 60g strong cheddar and 40g parmesan)
100-150g smoked ham, cut into small strips
5 large eggs
125mls light olive oil
130g SR flour
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix everything together, pour into a parchment-lined baking dish (I used a 23cm (9") cast iron pan) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175C (fan) for around 50 minutes until firm and golden brown. The baking time depends on the depth of mixture which is determined by the size of the dish you use. A 20 x 20cm (8 x 8") square dish would be a similar size - anything smaller will give a deeper mixture which takes longer to cook.

This is best eaten warm or at room temperature. It's probably OK hot too, but I haven't tried that - I'd still let it rest for about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven.

Although this is very similar to a quiche filling, or a frittata, the SR flour makes it a little sturdier, whilst still keeping it light because of the raising agent, and the oil keeps the texture moist. The added bonus over a quiche (besides not making pastry, thus avoiding a soggy bottom) is that the onion doesn't need pre-cooking - any moisture given out during cooking is absorbed by the batter, which doesn't happen with a quiche filling.

I'm sending this to Belleau Kitchen's Simply Eggcellent bloggers' link-up. Dom is allowing us free reign this month saying that 'anything goes'! This dish makes a quick and easy main course, could easily be made vegetarian  and is robust enough to hold up in a lunch box or picnic basket, making it a useful recipe during the holiday season.