Saturday, 28 February 2015

Banana and Date Loaf

Having bananas that need to be used up is something that hardly ever happens in this household. Although I don't eat them, my husband eats one for breakfast, every day, without fail, but no more than that. So I know I need seven bananas a week and that is what I buy, every week. Except for last week, when I was tempted by a large bag of single ripe bananas at half price. There were two bananas left by the end of the week, so banana bread beckoned me. After looking at several recipes, and finding I didn't have any walnuts in the store cupboard, I decided to make a banana and date loaf.

I based my recipe on this one, found at Cake Recipe, although I made a few minor changes. My bananas weren't quite as big as those stipulated in the recipe, so I added 50g sour cream; I used sunflower oil instead of melted butter; added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and left out the walnuts. My cake took about 10 minutes longer to bake than the recipe suggested, but that could have been down to a differently shaped loaf tin - some are short and deep, some longer and shallower - or the changes I made to the recipe.

Ingredients - 350g bananas (weighed with skins on); 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 300g SR flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 125g caster sugar; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 125ml sunflower oil; 2 large eggs; 50g sour cream; 175g chopped dried dates, crushed brown sugar cubes for topping.

The method is standard - mash bananas with lemon juice; mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another; combine the two bowls of ingredients, and the bananas, without over-mixing, then fold in the chopped dates. Transfer to 2lb loaf tin, sprinkle sugar over surface and bake at 160C for about 70 minutes.

This was a lovely textured loaf, moist but not dense. The pieces of dates had a chewy, toffee-like quality, and added most of the flavour to the cake. My husband complained that it didn't taste of bananas, but I don't think banana cakes ever really do.

It was nice to butter the slices of cake, but they were moist enough to be eaten without added butter, if calories are a big consideration.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cornbread with Green Chillies

Although I've liked the flavour of cornbread that I've made in the past, I've never been really happy with it - the dry crumbly texture can make it  faintly unpleasant to eat sometimes. Nearly all the recipes I've looked at use a very similar proportion of liquids to dry ingredients, so perhaps that's the way cornbread is supposed to be, but I wanted to make something with a softer, more cakey texture.

I wasn't having much luck until I came across a reference in Felicity Cloake's 'How to Cook the Perfect Cornbread' article in the Guardian. She wrote " writer Ben Mims, also Mississippi-born, uses equal parts of flour and cornmeal in a recipe judged by the Southern Living test kitchen, no less, as 'perfect'.", although she went on to say that she preferred a denser, more crumbly cornbread. When I checked the recipe, not only did this recipe use half wheat flour, it also had a higher proportion of liquids than most other recipes I'd seen. This seemed worth a try.

During several attempts at cornbread, based on Ben Mims' recipe, I made a few changes - some out of necessity, some just because of a whim! The nearest thing I could find to coarse cornmeal was polenta. Even though Felicity Cloake's article warned against instant polenta and my packet said it was 100% pre-cooked, which made it sound instant, I decided it would have to do. I used a mixture of full fat natural yogurt and semi-skimmed milk instead of buttermilk (and a slightly lower proportion of liquid to dry ingredients), and a mix of chilli-infused oil and butter instead of all butter. The butter was only melted, rather than browned, but was still poured into the batter while hot. Finally, I add a finely chopped, de-seeded, green chilli.

As I was only cooking for two, I halved the recipe, and cooked it in a six-hole silicone shallow bun tray. I do have a small skillet, but I calculated it would be too small - after seeing how much the cornbread rises, I think it would be OK to use, and should give a better crust, as the batter is best poured into a hot pan.

So, I used 105g polenta, 45g plain flour, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 1 finely chopped green chilli, mixed together in a large bowl. In a measuring jug, I mixed 150ml full fat natural yogurt, 50mls semi-skimmed milk, 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon of chilli-infused oil.

The wet ingredients were mixed quickly into the dry mix, followed by 45g melted butter (still hot). The batter was divided between six moulds and baked at 220C, until risen and firm - about 15 minutes.

The texture of these were just right - soft, still moist but not too dense but I still need to work on the seasoning, as the flavour was a little bland. Although I picked a recipe which didn't use any sugar, I think a small amount, say a tablespoon or so, might have improved things, and a bit more salt is probably needed too.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Viennese Hazelnut Bars

First of all, I'm going to admit that this entry for the AlphaBakes challenge is a bit of a cheat. This recipe appears in the book 'Biscuits, Pastries and Cookies of the World' (by Australian chef Aaron Maree) as Weiner Wafflen. I think there's two spelling mistakes in those two words - as nothing shows up on Google - and what he really meant was Wiener Waffeln, which translates as Viennese waffles or wafers. I can find a few German references to recipes which produce a similar biscuit to this, but the majority of references are to what most British people call wafer biscuits.

To be on the safe side, and to enable me to use them for this month's AlphaBakes challenge, I'm re-naming these as 'Viennese hazelnuts bars'. In case you haven't realised yet, the AlphaBakes challenge was to use the letter V, for either a Valentine's themed bake, or something with a name or principle ingredient beginning with V.

These bars consist of two layers of hazelnut biscuit/shortbread dough, with redcurrant jelly sandwiched between them before being baked. After cooling, the sheet of biscuits is glazed with apricot jam and a thin layer of glacé icing, before being cut into fingers. The biscuit dough is flavoured with lemon and cinnamon, as well as the hazelnuts, and is very similar to the pastry used for many Linzertorte recipes. It is very short and crumbly, making the bars very delicate. The filling and topping add both moisture and flavour to the bars, but the shortbread dough trimmings were also delicious when used to make plain heart-shaped biscuits (and also when sandwiched with Nutella!)

The hazelnut dough was made by creaming together 270g  softened unsalted butter and 180g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Then two large egg yolks, the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon was beaten in. The food mixer was then turned to it's lowest speed, and used to mix in 150g ground toasted hazelnuts and 360g plain flour. Once a dough had formed it was wrapped in cling film and refrigerated for an hour.

The chilled dough was kneaded lightly, then divided into halves. Each half was rolled out, to about 5mm in thickness, then trimmed to a rectangle 25 x 20 cm (10 x 8"). One layer  of dough was fitted into a baking tin of the same size, base-lined with parchment, then spread with 100g redcurrant jelly. The top layer was then put on, being careful not to trap any air between the two layers of dough, and pressed down firmly. The cookie sheet was then baked at 175C (165C fan) for 20-25 minutes until firm and just beginning to colour around the edges.

After cooling in the tin the cookie sheet was glazed with warmed, sieved apricot jam, then, when this was set, with a thin layer of glacé icing. When the icing had set the cookie sheet was removed from the baking tin and cut into 18 fingers.

I re-rolled the trimming from the dough, and cut out heart shapes which were baked for 15 minutes, at the same temperature, until firm and golden. These were then sandwiched in pairs with Nutella spread, as a nod to Valentine's Day.

It would be worth making the hazelnut dough just for this reason, as it is delicious, and didn't spread during baking. If making a large batch of sandwich biscuits, I would make a different chocolate filling, as Nutella is a bit too runny at room temperature (or maybe it was just my supermarket 'own brand' spread at fault!).  I'd probably pretty them up with a drizzle of icing on top, too!

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a monthly baking challenge hosted alternately by Caroline at Caroline Makes and Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker. This month, Caroline has chosen the letter V. Entries to the challenge have to use the chosen letter as the beginning letter for either the name of the bake, or one of the significant ingredients. This month, V for Valentine's Day was allowed, which widens the scope of the challenge a bit, as V isn't an easy letter to use.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Chocolate Brownies with Coconut and Matcha Cream Cheese Swirl

When the theme of this month's We Should Cocoa challenge was set, by Katie at Recipe for Perfection, to be brownies, I thought I'd better rise to the occasion and do something out of the ordinary. I wanted something which would both look and taste different to a plain brownie. Don't get me wrong - there's not much that can beat the best dense, fudgy, rich, sweet, chocolate-laden brownie for flavour, but if you've made and photographed as many brown squares as I have over the years, you want to make something which will stand out in a baking challenge.

And nothing stands out as much as something green, when it comes to cake! Blue and green are supposed to be the worst food colours to use, to persuade people to eat something, particularly if the food is unfamiliar, or it's an unexpected colour to be used in that context.  Whereas green used to suggest only mint flavour, today it's just as likely to be green tea (matcha) providing the flavour, as with these brownies.

Once I'd decided to use green tea, which pairs very well with dark chocolate, it was difficult to decide on what other flavour to add, if any. I like citrus flavours with green tea, but not in brownies, and ginger might have worked well, but my last cake was a ginger cake. I think I must dream about food, even if I don't remember these dreams, because I woke up one morning thinking of coconut. I hadn't a clue whether the two flavours would work well together, but it seemed worth the risk! To make the green tea stand out against the dark chocolate, it became clear that adding both it and the coconut to a cream cheese swirl was the best way forward.

I used the coconut cream cheese swirl from this recipe, adding a tablespoon of matcha powder. The amount of add depends on the strength of the matcha used - mine doesn't seem especially strong, from previous experience. (I used a 200g pack of full-fat cream cheese and 40g desiccated coconut as a conversion of 1/2 cup.) I decided to adapt my favourite brownie recipe, an 'old-faithful' that I've been using for more than 10 years, although it's hardly recognisable in this form. I made 2/3 of a batch and decided the time was right to try reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe, from 400g to 300g. I used coconut oil instead of butter, and also decided that 2 eggs plus an egg white was a near enough equivalent of 2/3 of 4 eggs (to avoid waste)!

Ingredients - cream cheese layer
200g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
50g caster sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
40g desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon matcha (green tea powder)

 - brownie layer
140g coconut oil
140g 70% plain chocolate
300g  light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus one egg white
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa

Line a 20cm (8") square baking tray, with baking parchment and pre-heat oven to 180C.
In a medium bowl, beat together all the ingredients for the cream cheese swirl, until smooth.
Put the coconut oil and chocolate into a large bowl, and melt together over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and vanilla, stirring until well mixed and smooth.
Beat in the whole eggs and the egg white, one at a time.
Sift in the flour and cocoa and fold in.

Spread 3/4 of the brownie batter into the prepared tin, then top with the cream cheese mixture, which should spread almost to the edges of the tin. Put blobs (7-9) of the remaining brownie batter over the surface, then use the end of a teaspoon, or something similar to swirl the batter into the cream cheese layer below.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until an inserted probe comes out with just a few damp crumbs sticking to it. Cool in the tin, then cut into 16 pieces.

I think these brownies were a great success; they looked attractive, without the green colour being too lurid and off-putting, and the sweet coconut and cream cheese balanced out the sometimes bitter edge of the matcha flavour well. The brownies were dense and fudgy, with a slight taste of coconut from the oil.

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is a chocolate baking challenge started by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog. She shares her hosting duties with other chocolate-loving bloggers, and this month has handed over to Katie, at Recipe for Perfection, who has chose brownies as the theme, and will post a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Carrot and Ginger Loaf

I've just seen on Facebook that today is National Carrot Cake Day (although that may be only in the USA)! It's just a coincidence that I have a carrot cake recipe to write about, as I didn't know this important day was imminent when I made the cake. If these special days are to be truly celebrated we really need advance warning that they are happening!

I chose this carrot and ginger loaf recipe as a change from my usual carrot cake recipe, and I was very pleased with it. This is really a gingerbread with added carrots, as the method shows - melting sugar, syrups and butter together is traditional for gingerbread - and the ginger flavour was warm and comforting, and well balanced against the citrus zest added. 

I used a bit less zest than specified in the recipe, as I only had half an orange and had cut about 1/3 off the lemon for other purposes, but this was still enough to be noticeable, particularly in the frosting.  I decided that I didn't want to frost the whole loaf, as in the recipe, so cut down the glacé icing by 1/3, and just covered the top of the loaf.

The use of chopped stem ginger rather than nuts or dried vine fruits also contributed to the feeling that this was a gingerbread, rather than a carrot cake, although the finely grated carrots made the texture of the loaf lighter than a traditional gingerbread.

This is definitely one to add to the 'worth repeating' list of cakes!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Chocolate Flapjack with Cherries and Coconut

I've made a sort of resolution to use up all the odds and ends in my baking store cupboard before I buy anything new. You know the sort of thing - half used packets of nuts, packs of dried fruit bought on special offer, but now approaching the 'best-before' date, and things bought on a whim but never used. I don't expect the resolution to last long if I really feel the need to make something for which I don't have the right ingredients, but for the moment, there's a ban on new purchases.

This flapjack is a perfect example of the sort of baking I should be doing - it used oats from a source which I won't use again, as the flakes are too small, chocolate which was past it's 'best-before' date (but still in good condition), and a whole pack of dried cherries which had been in the store cupboard for ages.

I adapted my usual flapjack recipe, reducing it to 2/3, so that I could make a smaller batch. I reduced the butter and added melted chocolate, and also added some desiccated coconut along with the oats, as the total (increased) amount of butter and chocolate would take a larger amount of absorbent ingredients.

100g chocolate (I used 30g of 100% cacao and 70g of 85% plain chocolate)
100g unsalted butter
65g golden syrup
100g light muscovado sugar
240g rolled oats
100g dried cherries - roughly chopped
50g desiccated coconut

Pre-heat oven to 180C and line a 20cm (8") square shallow tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate, butter, golden syrup and sugar together in a large saucepan, stirring until smooth and hot, but not allowing to boil.
Stir in the remaining dry ingredients and mix well to distribute the fruit and coconut evenly. Tip the mixture into the baking tin and spread to an even layer, pressing down well with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes, then cool slightly before marking into 16 squares with a sharp knife. Cool completely before removing from tin.

These flapjacks tasted really good - using such dark, bitter chocolate cut through the sweetness of the sugar and syrup, and the dried cherries were quite tart too. The flapjacks were just the way I like them - chewy and not too crisp. If you prefer crisp flapjacks, then a few minutes longer baking time usually works.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Apple and Apricot Cake

I got carried away by the success of the Cranberry-Date Crumble Squares, and tried another baking recipe, using cooked red lentils, from the same website. Unfortunately, this time I produced something with the density and appearance of a house brick, which was even rejected by the garden birds, and ended up in the food waste recycling.

After that disaster, I needed a fast, fool proof recipe to restore my confidence - this cake is very fast to put together, although it does need quite a long baking time - plus I've been making it for years and it never fails. It was ideal for fitting into a day when I hadn't planned any baking time.

150g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar - divided 150/50
1 large egg
300g SR flour
30g chopped toasted hazelnuts
80g soft dried apricots, cut into slices with scissors
2 or 3 apples - I used 2 small coxes and a Bramley cooking apple - peeled, cored and sliced.
icing sugar to serve - about 1 teaspoon

Preheat oven to 180C, and grease and base-line a 20cm springform tin.

Melt the butter  in a large bowl in the microwave. If it becomes really hot, leave to cool until it's not much hotter than hand-hot.
Mix in the 150g portion of sugar and the egg, stirring until well mixed.
Add the flour and mix to a soft smooth dough.
Put 1/3 of the dough into a separate bowl and mix in the chopped hazelnuts.
Place the larger plain portion of dough into the baking tin and spread evenly over the base and also creating a small wall of dough around the edge, to hold in any fruit juices.

In a small bowl, mix the apples, dried apricots and remaining 50g sugar. Put the fruit in an even layer over the dough base.

The remaining dough, with the added nuts, needs to be crumbled and spread  over the fruit to make a thin topping layer. It may not be possible to fill all the gaps, but it's best not to leave any large gaps around the edges.  (See this photo from a previous recipe) The dough spreads as it bakes, but gaps around the edge may leak fruit juice and cause the cake to stick in the tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake is golden brown and feels solid. Cool in the tin, then remove and dust with icing sugar to serve

The cake dough for this recipe bakes to something between pastry and a cookie. It's also a little scone-like and is what I imagine an American Strawberry Shortcake recipe to be like. This makes the cake crumb quite dense and dry, and not oversweet, but the cake is kept moist by the layer of fresh fruit in the centre. The combination of apples, dried apricots and hazelnuts was very tasty.

This cake makes a good dessert, as well as a tea-time cake, and almost any fruit can be used in the centre, although you might want to add a little ground rice or cornflour to any fruit which produces a lot of juice as it cooks.