Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

There was only one thing wrong with these bars - their size! The finished traybake was less than 1cm deep - so each bar was not much thicker than a digestive biscuit. The idea was great - a lemon cheesecake filling between two layers of biscuit crumb - and the flavour was fine, but the thin layers meant that the crispness of the biscuit and the softness of the cheesecake blended into one, with not enough differentiation of textures.

I followed this recipe, which was also in one of my cookery books (The Ultimate Cookie Book). The only difference was that I used hazelnuts instead of pecans. The recipe says it makes 18-24 bars, depending on size. It says a lot for portion sizes that I cut the bar into 8 pieces, and still thought them stingy! Smaller bars would be a dainty addition to a tea table, where people want to try a little of everything, but as a dessert I want a decent sized portion!

We're off to Japan for a touring holiday in a few days time, so I'm unlikely to have time to take part in any of my usual baking challenges this month. Hopefully things will get back to normal next month. Last time we were in Japan, we actually lost weight - unheard of when holidaying, usually, but I think the portion sizes in restaurants reflect the fact that the Japanese tend to be much smaller than the average British person. If things go the same this time, at least I won't be worrying about losing the extra weight when I get back!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Not much activity here lately, for two reasons. One is our continuing struggle with excess weight, which means less baking, as carbs are restricted, and the second, more worryingly, is the departure of my baking fairy. I've had a couple of baking disasters recently, which means I've had nothing to post about. One disaster was a silly mistake - picking up plain flour instead of self raising - but the other was trying a new recipe which just didn't work very well on several levels.

I tried this rhubarb self-saucing pudding, after it was published in the "Cook" section of the Guardian newspaper, and it just didn't hit the right buttons. There was very little 'sponge' on top, resulting in far too much sauce, and I didn't like the combination of rhubarb and a creamy, orange flavoured, sauce. I'm not sure if the recipe proportions are wrong, or if I should have cooked the pudding in a more shallow baking dish rather than a deeper casserole dish, but the batter was very thin and had to be poured over the fruit, rather than spooned and spread.

Anyway, to compensate for a less than perfect dessert last weekend, I made a rhubarb crumble this weekend. It worked perfectly, and as a bonus, I think I've found the perfect thickening agent for excess fruit juices in puddings of this sort - ground rice! It mixes easily with the fruit and sugar and you need very little to thicken the juice. I used 2 teaspoons of rice with roughly 500g of fruit, and could have used less, as there was no excess juice after baking. I think rice absorbs much more liquid than cornflour or ground almonds, which are often suggested as thickeners.

My crumble mix, for 4-6 portions, is 100g each of plain flour, sugar (any kind will do, I used white caster this time but often use light muscovado), rolled oats and butter. I put all the ingredients into a bowl, then rub in the butter, which makes a rougher crumble mix than rubbing the butter into the flour before adding the sugar and oats. Sprinkle on top of raw fruit, sweetened to taste, and bake at 180 - 200C until golden brown - around 35 - 50 minutes depending on oven temperature.

Sometimes, you just can't better something as simpler as a fruit crumble! The rhubarb in the top photo was just roasted with a sprinkling of caster sugar, for about 15 minutes at 190C - the best way to ensure the fruit keeps it's shape.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Chocolate & Coconut Bars

 As soon as this month's We Should Cocoa challenge was announced I knew that I wanted to make a layered coconut bar - a chocolate biscuit base with a topping that was mostly coconut. A cake version of a Bounty Bar, perhaps, one of my favourite chocolate bar treats!

I didn't think it would be difficult to find a recipe, but repeated searches, using various combinations of key words, didn't find anything which seemed quite right. These Black-Bottom Coconut Bars, from Martha Stewart, were close but the brownie base looked a bit too rich for me, although I have bookmarked the recipe as a possibility for the future.

The only answer seemed to be to combine two existing recipes, and I turned to my current favourite book (1001 Cupcakes, Cookies and Other Tempting Treats by Susanna Tee) for inspiration. I soon found a simple biscuit base that could be made into a chocolate version by substituting cocoa for some of the flour. The topping was an adaptation of a recipe called Coconut Paradise Slices, although I varied the ingredients to include chocolate. Instead of just using glacé cherries and sultanas, I used a mix of dried apricots, glacé cherries and chopped plain chocolate. I thought apricots paired better with chocolate than sultanas, but left some cherries as they compliment coconut so well.

Although both recipes were designed for a 9" square tin, I used one which was 8" square, so the layers were slightly deeper. The biscuit layer came out lovely and crisp, but I think it might have been a little too fragile if made in a larger tin. Here's my recipe adaptations to make Chocolate and Coconut Bars:

Base layer - Rub 80g butter into 175g  plain flour, then stir in 40g of light muscovado sugar and 25g cocoa. Sprinkle these crumbs evenly into a parchment-lined 8" square baking tin, press down firmly and bake at 190C for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 180C.

Topping layer - cream 100g butter and 200g caster sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in two large eggs, then stir in 200g desiccated coconut, 75g halved glacé cherries, 75g dried apricots (chopped into pieces about the same size as the cherry halves, and 75g coarsely chopped plain chocolate. Spread this over the biscuit base, and bake for another 30 minutes until the coconut mixture is set and golden brown on top. Cool thoroughly before cutting into bars. I made 12 bars, but cutting into 15 pieces would still have given bars of a good size.

These bars were perfect (and it's not often I say that!). The top layer had a chewy macaroon-like texture and the intense coconut flavour was just what I wanted. The added chocolate and fruit gave just the right balance of flavours and the crisp biscuit base finished the whole thing off with a good contrast of textures. I wouldn't change a thing!

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is the brainchild of Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. She alternates hosting duties with guest hosts, and this month it was Laura from I'd Much Rather Bake Than.... who chose coconut as the ingredient to be used with some form of chocolate to make delicious treats. Laura will be posting a round-up of entries at the end of the month, and I'm looking forward to seeing them, as I really love coconut!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

I chose this recipe from a recently bought cookbook (1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats - by Susanna Tee), and didn't realise until I had completely filled a 20 x 30cm shallow tin to the brim, just how big it was. For about the first time ever, I cut this bake into more portions than recommended, and still daren't even guess at the calories in each piece. Fortunately, CT was the recipient of 2/3 of the pieces, and we were left with just 4 pieces each, to eat over four days!

This traybake is divided into three layers; the base layer contains basic cookie ingredients plus oats and nuts and is mixed to a dough with egg. The middle layer is condensed milk mixed with peanut butter and the top layer is part of the base mixture left as a crumble and mixed with chopped milk chocolate. The top streusel layer is held in place by the condensed milk as the traybake cooks.

The individual layers can just about be seen in the photographs but the whole thing comes together as a sweet, sticky, chewy treat when eaten. Despite the 350g of sugar, a whole tin of condensed milk and 300g of milk chocolate, these squares were not excessively sweet! My only criticism would be not really tasting the peanut butter, but I'm not sure if adding more to the condensed milk would affect how the recipe works.

Base and top layers - rub 225g butter into 350g plain flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Mix in 350g light brown muscovado sugar, 175g rolled oats and 70g chopped nuts (I used almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios). Set aside 1/4 of the mixture and mix an egg into the larger portion (it will still be crumbly). Spread this part of the mixture evenly into a 20 x 30cm x 3cm deep baking tin and press down to bind. Bake at 180C for 15 minutes. Meanwhile mix 300g chopped milk chocolate into the reserved oat and nut mixture.
Middle layer - mix 70g chunky peanut butter into a 400g tin of condensed milk.

When the base is cooked, pour over the condensed milk mix and spread evenly. Sprinkle the reserved crumb and chocolate mix over this, trying to place the chocolate chunks evenly, and press down lightly. Bake for another 20 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into 20 - 24 pieces (leave as long as possible - chocolate stays soft for a surprisingly long time!)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake Pots

This simple recipe for a set lemon cheesecake is quick and easy to make. It's a great stand-by dessert for when time is short, as if decorated carefully, it can look like the sort of dessert you've spent hours over! The only time consuming thing is setting it properly in the fridge - it needs at least 6 hours.

I speeded up proceedings even more, the last time I made it, by just pounding 6 gingernut biscuits to crumbs and sprinkling them evenly into the bottom of 3 individual dishes; I usually make the traditional firm biscuit crumb base by adding melted butter to crumbs, but as these cheesecakes were in individual dishes that didn't seem necessary.

The cheesecake mixture was made by beating 200g full fat cream cheese, 3 tablespoons caster sugar and the rind and juice of 1 lemon until smooth. Then 150mls of softly whipped double cream was folded in. By the time the cream is folded into the cheese, the mixture is already beginning to thicken through the action of the lemon juice.

This amount of cheesecake made enough to fill three x 200ml dishes. You need to take a little care filling the dishes, so that the crumb base is not disturbed. I decorated the top with thin slices from a ball of stem ginger, which were washed and dried to remove the syrup. To give the cheesecake a stronger ginger flavour, a little finely chopped stem ginger could be mixed into the cheesecake.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Upside-down Toffee Apple Squares

Alphabakes, a monthly challenge to bake something based on a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet, has reached the end of it's first run through the alphabet. This month's letter is U, and although I've managed some imaginative entries for other difficult letters, I can't come up with anything better than 'Upside-down' cake this time.

However, I have found a recipe which is a departure from the more common pineapple cake, although my very favourite upside-down cake is Dan Lepard's 'Stone fruit yogurt cake'. This recipe, for upside-down toffee apple squares, appears in my recipe book as a brownie recipe, but I can't bring myself to call something without chocolate, a Brownie! There is a mistake in the ingredients list of the linked recipe - it should read 175g light muscovado sugar for the cake batter, not 15g. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice instead of the spices listed there, and also added 85g chopped hazelnuts, as per my recipe.

Containing two grated apples, this cake batter makes a moist light cake and is chock full of chopped hazelnuts for added flavour and texture. The fact that the squares of cake are so light also mitigates against calling these brownies. I really liked the cake on it's own, but the topping (base, before baking) of slices of apple and a butter and sugar mixture, which set as a really good toffee mixture after baking, made it even more special. I had a problem cutting through the cooked slices of apple neatly, which spoiled the appearance of some of the squares, but that's just a small niggle.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a challenge based on a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet. The dish made must feature something beginning with that letter as one of the main ingredients or part of the name. It is hosted jointly by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline MakesRos is this month's host with the letter U, and will feature a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Coconut and Yuzu Cake

This is a very simple cake, with only two ingredients for flavour, but sometimes that's all we need. It can get tiresome trying to decide if we can identify every different flavour element suggested by the name of a dish, not to mention other ingredients added to enhance a dish, but not mentioned by name.

This cake was made to use up about 20mls of Yuzu juice leftover after making the frosting for this Green Tea Cake; it was just enough to give a subtle citrus flavour to the cake without dominating the coconut. The beauty of Yuzu is that although it is obviously a citrus flavour, it's not easy to define any more accurately than that - it's lemony, but not as sour, is perhaps the nearest description. A sweet grapefruit might be nearer the mark, although grapefruit isn't a strong flavour and I've never used it in baking. However you describe it, it hit the right note here, adding just enough of a zing to lift the cake from just being a coconut cake.

I went back to a basic cake recipe I've been using for almost 40 years. It makes a plain cake which is denser than a sponge cake and is a good carrier for either just added flavours or solid ingredients such as dried fruit or chopped chocolate. As the fat is rubbed into the flour, it is quick to make too - from weighing the ingredients to getting the cake into the oven is only a matter of a few minutes.

Rub 150g butter (at room temperature) into 250g SR flour, then mix in 150g caster sugar and 80g desiccated coconut. Make a well in the centre of the ingredients and add 3 eggs and 20mls yuzu juice;  mix well, adding enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency. Transfer to a 7"(18cm) diameter round tin or a 2lb loaf tin, level the top, and bake at 180C for around 75 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.

I left the cake undecorated, but a drizzle of glacé icing and a few shreds of toasted coconut strips would be good for a smarter occasion.