Saturday, 18 October 2014

Iraqi Date-filled Pastries - Klaicha

I only had one reason for making these cookies, but I'm really glad I did. The reason was that the letter I had come around again in this month's AlphaBakes challenge, and it's a really difficult letter to use  - not many ingredients begin with it and not many recipe names start with it, so, like the last time, I looked for traditional recipes from a country beginning with I, and found these little date filled pastries from Iraq.
I followed the recipe carefully, but ended up with a very soft dough which I found quite difficult to work with (my conversion of 3 cups of flour to 400g might have been a little off). By the time I realised I wasn't going to be able to shape the cookies in a mould, and they wouldn't hold the marks from fork tines, it was too late to have a go at the alternative shape of logs which would be sliced after baking (see the bottom photo in the link above; it's taken from the book I was using - The Complete Middle East Cookbook, by Tess Mallos). Instead, I flattened the filled balls of dough slightly, and used a tiny cookie cutter to make a light impression on top.
My only other deviation from the recipe was to add a few tablespoons of water to the chopped dates while they were cooking as they had become very dry in storage, and wouldn't soften with just the butter.
These unassuming little cookies were actually quite delicious; I used rose water in the pastry which complimented the date flavour very well, as well as giving the cookies a wonderful aroma. One complaint from my husband was that he thought the pastry was too thick in relation to the amount of filling, but as the pastry was crumbly, sweet and flavoursome, this wasn't a huge problem.

AlphaBakes is a monthly baking challenge jointly hosted by Caroline, of Caroline Makes and Ros The More Than Occasional Baker. The host (it's Caroline this month) introduces a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet, and then publishes a roundup of entries at the end of the month. Entrants must use the chosen letter as a significant ingredient or part of the name of the recipe they bake. For example, B could be for Banana or Bakewell Tart.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Beetroot and Chilli Brownies

I was shown this gluten-free brownie recipe a while back, and knew straight away that I wanted to make it. Flour is replaced with ground almonds in this recipe, and I find this type of gluten-free baking often works better for me than substituting gluten-free flour into my usual recipes. Using puréed cooked beetroot also means that the recipe can get away with using less butter whilst still remaining moist. Beetroot is naturally sweet too, so the added sugar can also be reduced slightly.

Once I'd made the brownies, I was surprised by how moist they were, but it was only some time later that I realised that I might have used too much beetroot. I just picked up a supermarket pack, assuming it was the right size, but it could have been up to double the amount I actually needed. I can't remember where I bought it, as it could have been any of the 3 supermarkets I regularly use, so can't easily check.

Apart from the excessive moistness these brownies were good to eat. The amount of cayenne pepper used was just enough to leave a warm after-taste in the mouth, without being overwhelming. Because the beetroot was puréed, it wasn't noticeable as an ingredient, either in the flavour or texture, but adding it does make one feel less guilty when eating a piece! The overall texture was a bit lighter than I like in a brownie - I prefer a dense chewy texture - but I'm happy to have another successful gluten-free recipe to add to my collection.

This month the Tea Time Treats challenge is to use vegetables when cooking for the tea table. Brownies are a relatively modern treat, but I suspect that nowadays  most people would expect one to turn up in the cake selection at tea time, so I'm happy to be able to submit this entry. Karen of Lavender and Lovage alternates hosting this challenge with Jane of The Hedge Combers, and as this month's host, will post a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Fig, Orange and Star Anise Tea Loaf

This recipe comes from Ruby Tandoh's first book 'Crumb' which has just been published. Ruby was a finalist in last year's Great British Bake Off TV programme, and now writes a regular baking column for the Guardian newspaper, which appears in the Saturday 'Cook' section. This extract of recipes was published recently in their Weekend magazine.

I'm not totally enamoured of her style, and she's certainly no replacement for the much missed Dan Lepard, but the odd recipe catches my eye, and this was one of them. I think it was the unusual mix of flavours, something that Dan specialised in, that attracted me, and the use of dried figs, which I love, but rarely see recipes for.

In the event, I didn't have enough figs in the store cupboard, so used 2/3 figs and 1/3 dried pears, but I don't think this affected the final flavour much, as figs have a very strong flavour whereas pears are quite bland when used in a cake.

This is a tea loaf which doesn't use any fat, but I think it would have benefitted from adding some. The blend of flavours worked really well (Ruby describes the flavour as "floral, citrus, liquorice, spice and caramel, and yet not definitely any one of those things"), and the fragrance was amazing, but the loaf was let down by the texture of the crumb. It was quite dense and stodgy, although the dried figs kept the overall texture moist enough.

I'll definitely be trying this combination of ingredients in a cake batter soon, in a bid to improve the eating quality!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Kentish Cobnut Cake - for AlphaBakes

We're on the second run through the alphabet for the AlphaBakes challenge, and this month's choice of the letter K is just as difficult a letter to use the second time round. Few ingredients that I would want to bake with begin with the letter K, and named recipes beginning with K are thin on the ground too.

Last time I made a Kentish Pudding Pie, and I make no apologies for going back to the same county for this Kentish Cobnut Cake, as I had a load of foraged cobnuts to use. Cobnuts are traditionally associated with the English county of Kent; they are a form of hazelnut which takes well to being grown commercially, and are available as fresh nuts for only a few weeks at the beginning of September. They are often paired with apples, another traditional product from Kent, in recipes. It's quite acceptable to use hazelnuts instead of cobnuts, if they aren't available.

I don't know how ginger crept into a traditional English recipe, although spices have been imported for over 500 years, so I guess that's long enough to create a tradition out of it's use. Either way, it added a welcome extra flavour to an otherwise quite bland and dry cake. There are recipes online which look as if they've been adapted to modern tastes, but I wanted to try one that claimed to be traditional. The recipe warned that the cake mixture would be dry and crumbly before baking, so it's no surprise that the cake was quite dry, although I may have overbaked it, as I didn't like the idea of taking it out of the oven while still wet inside.

The cake wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't anything exceptionally good either. The texture was short and crumbly, but didn't rise much. Perhaps the cake mix was more suited to being made into biscuits - the texture was reminiscent of a soft shortbread.

The AlphaBakes challenge is jointly hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, and Ros, from The More Than Occasional Baker. Ros is the host this month, and has picked the letter K at random. The rules for the challenge can be found here, and Ros will be posting a round up of entries at the end of the month..

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Yotam Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake

Yotam Ottolenghi is a chef I admire greatly; his recipes often have Mediterranean or middle Eastern influences and he's perhaps best known for recipes based on vegetables - perhaps not 100% vegetarian, but where vegetables take the starring role.

This cauliflower recipe, which comes from his new book 'Plenty More'; is called a cake, but the texture is more like a frittata; flour and baking powder are added to a lot of eggs to give a lighter, but somehow also sturdier, texture than the traditional frittata.

The picture of the cake, which was published in the Guardian Weekend magazine, along with a few others from the book, instantly attracted both of us. My husband liked the pattern of onion rings on the top and I liked the description of something more appealing than a cauliflower cheese! I followed the recipe exactly, although I was slightly short of basil - the plant on the patio didn't really recover from the last harvesting; I suspect it hasn't had enough sun this year. The tin I used was slightly larger than the tin specified - I had the choice of using either a larger tin or a smaller one, and went with the larger one - but the cake still needed the full cooking time to get enough colour on top.

There are lots of big flavours in this cake - cheese, rosemary, onion, basil, sesame and kalonji seeds - and they do rather overwhelm the cauliflower, but nevertheless this is a really delicious and unusual way to use the vegetable. This makes a good dish to eat at room temperature, with a salad or hot vegetables, but is also something suitable for a picnic or buffet table. It's sturdy enough to withstand transportation, especially if it's left in the tin until required, and can be eaten as a finger food.

I can't resist adding this last photo - just to prove that this recipe turned out looking as it should!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hazelnut, Apricot and Chocolate Tart

It might not look like it, but the inspiration for this tart was the Bakewell tart. The first step in a gradual change was to add cocoa to the usual frangipane filling to make a chocolate version. After a while, I changed the jam used, because apricot seemed to be a better partner for the chocolate and almond combination than the traditional raspberry. That version, sometimes topped with flaked almonds, and sometimes with a glacé icing, has been a family favourite for many years, and has also helped to stock many fund-raising cake stalls, when made in small foil cases.

This time, I decided to use some of the foraged hazelnuts, instead of almonds, and to up the chocolate content by adding 100% cacao to the filling, as well as cocoa powder. This gave the filling extra richness and depth of flavour which contrasted well with the sweet, yet tart, apricot jam. I was fortunate that although my choice of jam (Aldi's own brand conserve) had quite a soft set, it contained large pieces of fruit which improved the texture.

I'm entering this tart into this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, which is to use jam and chocolate together. We Should Cocoa was the brainchild of Choclette, over at Chocolate Log Blog, and the rules for the challenge can be found on this link. Choclette alternates her hosting duties with guest hosts, but it is fitting that she should be the host for this month's challenge, as it is entering it's 5th year. I think that's a fine testament to the universal appeal of chocolate!

A loose-bottomed flan dish (about 20-22cm in diameter) lined with shortcrust pastry (no need to bake blind).

200g apricot jam

Filling: 60g ground hazelnuts, 40g SR flour, 100g caster sugar, 100g baking spread or softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 large eggs, 25g cocoa, 25g 100% cacao (finely grated), milk to mix.

To finish: 50g coarsely chopped hazelnuts, blanched if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 200C and put in a baking sheet to heat, too.
Spread the jam into the pastry case, and chill while making the filling.
Put all the filling ingredients, except the milk, into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is well blended. Add a little milk, if necessary, to give a soft dropping consistency - you shouldn't need more than a couple of tablespoons.
Fold in half of the chopped hazelnuts, then spread the batter into the pastry case, being careful not to leave any gaps around the edge where the jam might bubble up during cooking. Scatter over the remaining hazelnuts.
Put the tart on the heated baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180C and cook until the filling is firm - roughly another 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Courgette and Hazelnut Loaf

This is another recipe suitable for the unseasonable dull weather that has characterised most of August - this cake, from the BBC Good Food website, made from an over-grown courgette and some foraged fresh hazelnuts, has warmth from nutmeg and cinnamon, and sweetness from sultanas rather than a lot of sugar.

I haven't had a particularly good year in the vegetable garden. What was once a triangle of land which received sunlight in the afternoon is now a dark and cold corner of the garden which receives much less light, as our neighbours trees are getting so large. However, the courgettes have produced enough fruit to keep us well supplied, although it's nowhere near the excess we've had in previous years. The courgette I used for this recipe is one which hid under a leaf until it was too big to be called a courgette. After taking out the seeds and wringing out any excess moisture in a tea-towel there was just the right amount needed for the recipe (350g).

Fresh Cobnuts

Hazelnut Thief!
Although I moan about the shade from our neighbours trees, and blame them for our poor harvest, they have provided some of the hazelnuts used in this recipe. We also managed to get a few from the small twisted hazel tree in our garden, before this squirrel took them all, and my husband has been coming back from his morning walk with pockets full of what look like cobnuts, found in a local park.

Shelled Fresh Nuts
One advantage of really fresh hazelnuts is that they don't have the thick brown skin which needs removing before use. Once I'd shelled the nuts for the recipe, I chopped them roughly, then roasted them for 10 minutes to accentuate the flavour. I then used them in place of the walnuts in the recipe. This was the only change I made, apart from squeezing out some of the moisture from the coarsely grated courgettes. Even after this, I found the cake took 75 minutes to cook, rather than the hour suggested in the recipe.

Any cake containing grated fresh fruit or vegetables runs the risk of turning out too dense and very close-textured because of the extra moisture, but this cake turned out very well. It wasn't as light as the Courgette and Lemon Cake I made back in May, but I think it's the next best attempt at getting a light-textured cake, so far. The cake crumb still had a springy texture, and the fruit and nuts were well dispersed. Green flecks from the courgette skin could still be seen in places, which I always like to see! I also liked the large pieces of hazelnut - I usually chop nuts a little finer than this, but here the crunch was a good contrast to the chewy sultanas.