Thursday, 14 August 2014

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

with coconut and lime sponge.

I only wanted a small dessert, for the two of us, so the sponge layer was a two-egg all-in-one mixture. As the coconut oil was fairly liquid, this could easily be made with just a spoon and bowl - no need to get out any electric appliance:

100g coconut oil
100g caster sugar
90g SR flour
50g desiccated coconut
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lime.

I used a metal non-stick pie dish, as I thought the sloping sides might look quite attractive on the inverted cake. I creamed together 50g unsalted butter, 20g golden syrup and 30g light muscovado sugar and spread this in the base of the tin to make the traditional sticky topping. On top of this I then arranged slices of cored fresh pineapple  - about 1cm thick. I put a whole slice in the centre, but had to halve the other three slices to get them to fit into the dish. Into the spaces left in the arrangement of pineapple slices I put some glacé cherry halves.

I spread the cake batter gently over the fruit, so that it wasn't dislodged, and then the cake was baked for about 35 minutes at 180C until the sponge was firm and golden. After cooling for 10 minutes the cake was turned out onto a plate to finish cooling, revealing the neat pattern of pineapple slices.

The mix of pineapple with coconut and lime gave a nice tropical flavour to this dessert, and made a pleasant change from the traditional plain sponge base. Although I used fresh pineapple, once the fruit was cooked it didn't seem very different from using tinned pineapple in the same way, so don't think that fresh fruit is really essential.

I'm entering this cake into this month's AlphaBakes Challenge (rules here), a blog challenge co-hosted by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional BakerThis month the challenge is hosted by Caroline, at Caroline Makes, who has chosen the letter P. In this case, P is for pineapple, obviously!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Double Cheese and Onion Soufflé Tart

This soufflé tart filling was a revelation! Good-bye soggy bottoms, farewell rubbery egg custard! I know that it is possible to make perfect pastry, blind bake to the exact point needed, get the custard into the case without spilling any, not have any cracks in the pastry for the custard to leak through, get the dish into the oven without any custard overflowing and get the exact set needed for the filling to be creamy rather than rubbery (and not soak into the pastry to give the dreaded soggy bottom) - but how often do they all come together to produce the perfect quiche?

I found the recipe on the Good Food website, and even though I've never made a soufflé, I found the idea of a soufflé filling for a savoury tart quite intriguing. In practice it was even better than I imagined - because the filling was quite solid (like a stiff meringue mix rather than cream), there was no liquid to soak into the pastry, or find the smallest crack to leak through. The pastry case could be filled to the brim without fear of overflow and the filling baked to a light springy texture, rather like a good baked cheesecake. The pastry case also released off the base  of the tin like a dream - something that has never happened when I make a quiche - and it stayed crisp for the three days it took to finish eating the tart.

Although I followed the recipe for the filling exactly, I made my own shortcrust cheese pastry, using 250g SR flour, 125g butter, 50g parmesan cheese and a little cold water. I used the pastry to line a deep 22cm loose-bottomed flan tin, and baked blind following the times and temperature in the recipe. The filling rose above the pastry during baking, and here was the only problem I encountered during making this tart - it was difficult to judge the end point of cooking. To be sure the soufflé was properly cooked, I turned off the oven after the time stated and left the tart in the cooling oven. This worked very well - the filling was cooked all the way through but still moist and creamy in texture. Once cooled, like all soufflés, it fell back to it's original level, but thankfully didn't sink in the middle, which was what I was fearing if it was undercooked.

The flavours in this quiche all worked well together - the sweet yet piquant caramelised onion chutney offset the richness of the soufflé filling, and the crisp pastry was a good contrast to the soft filling. I had picked a mild goat cheese, yet it was still evident that it was goat cheese being used - the flavour wasn't overwhelmed by any of the other ingredients. I'm not sure if this method could be adapted to make tarts with more solid pieces in the filling, such as bacon or vegetables, but  for a straightforward cheese tart this is so much better than a traditional quiche, and not that much more complicated to make.

The tart case only used 2/3 of the pastry, so there was plenty remaining to make some pesto pinwheels with the leftovers - the pastry was rolled to a rectangle, spread with a couple of tablespoons of pesto, rolled up like a swiss roll, chilled, then cut into 2cm slices and baked alongside the pastry case at 200C for about 20 minutes. (See the photo above.)

I'm sending this tart to Tea Time Treats (rules here), a baking challenge hosted jointly by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedge Combers. This month, Karen at Lavender and Lovage has asked us to produce something suitable for a picnic tea, and this tart certainly fits the bill - it would be easy to transport while still in the baking tin, and once cut is sturdy enough to be eaten by hand. It is also very tasty when eaten cold.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars

using Lotus Caramelised Biscuit Spread

Lotus brand Caramelised Biscuit Spread (also known as Biscoff spread) has been available for a few years now, but for some reason sales have suddenly surged in the UK. It could be because some reviews describe it as 'crack in a jar' as it's apparently so addictive - if you've ever eaten Nutella or peanut butter by the spoonful in a darkened kitchen, you'll know that feeling! It's basically Lotus brand caramelised biscuits which have been made into a spread with the addition of more oil and sugar. The biscuits themselves are a mass market version of speculoos, and are lightly flavoured with cinnamon.

When I saw the spread on special offer at the supermarket, I thought it was time to do a little research and find out what the fuss was about. I found, to my surprise, that there is a limit to the amount of sweetness I will tolerate - I liked the cinnamon flavour but there's no way I could eat this as a spread on toast or in sandwiches, as suggested. It's described as an alternative to peanut butter or Nutella, but a quick look at the ingredients shows it has even less claim to any form of nutrition than those products. Do you really need a biscuit sandwich for breakfast?

Anyway, to avoid wasting the jar, I looked for recipes to use it up. What I soon realised was that it could be used as a direct substitute for peanut butter in any recipe,  so I decided to try it in my favourite peanut butter recipe - Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars. I reduced all the quantities to 2/3, to bake in an 8" square tin, and reduced the sugar even more to allow for the sugar in the biscuit spread. I also used plain chocolate, to counteract the amount of sugar in the cake batter.

So, the ingredients were: 160g caramelised biscuit spread, 60g softened butter, 175g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 90g plain flour, a pinch of salt and 250g plain chocolate, roughly chopped and divided in half (half for the batter and half for the topping). I followed the method described in the recipe link.

The bars had a lovely texture - somewhere between a cake and a cookie - and a subtle caramel flavour. However, the cinnamon flavour noticeable in the biscuit spread had been diluted too far - I would recommend adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake batter, to get back to the flavour of the spread.

These are still packed with calories, but if you cut into small enough bars, and exercise some restraint, I don't think you'll come to too much harm - they're certainly not addictive!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Courgette and Bacon Gratin

If there's one over-riding reason why I don't post many savoury recipes, it's because I don't often follow a recipe when I make something for dinner. Obviously there's a general template to follow to produce something like a lasagne, or a sausage pie, and I'm often inspired by recipes I've read, but I don't make things exactly the same every time, and I don't often take note of the quantities I use, particularly when I add things to adjust the flavour and seasoning as I go along. Generally, cooking of this sort is a lot more forgiving than baking cakes, where more precision is usually needed.

I did take a bit more notice while I was making this gratin, partly because Hubs has accused me of thwarting his efforts to lose weight by making too many cakes and desserts, so I might have less to post unless I write about my savoury cooking. As I say, I took a bit more notice, but it's still a fairly loose recipe - a little more or less of anything would probably have worked just as well, and it could easily be made a vegetarian recipe by leaving out the bacon and choosing a vegetarian-compatible cheese. I used this recipe by Ina Garten as inspiration.

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
half an onion, finely chopped
100g smoked bacon or pancetta pieces
3 medium courgettes - around 500g - cut into 0.5cm slices
1 clove garlic, crushed
12 sage leaves, finely shredded
1 tablespoon plain flour
milk, as necessary - roughly 200mls
salt and pepper to taste
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon pine nuts

Heat the oil on a medium heat, in a large frying pan, and fry the bacon pieces and onion until the bacon is beginning to brown. Lower the heat a little and add the courgettes and garlic, and continue frying, turning occasionally, until the courgettes are beginning to soften.

Add the sage leaves, then stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the milk gradually, allowing the sauce to thicken between additions. There will be more liquid coming out of the courgettes as the gratin bakes in the oven, so you want a very thick coating sauce at this stage, otherwise there will be too much thin sauce at the end of cooking. Season to taste - I didn't need any extra salt because of the bacon. Put this mixture into an ovenproof dish.

Mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, and scatter in an even layer over the courgette mixture. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and golden and the courgettes are really soft.

We  really enjoyed this accompanied by a mixture of runner beans and mange tout peas. Hubs doesn't really like completely vegetarian meals, so adding the bacon made it tastier for him. I was also trying to keep this meal relatively low in carbohydrates; for a more filling dish cooked pasta or potatoes could be added, but then I think the sauce would need to be a little thinner, as pasta goes on absorbing moisture during baking.

Looking at the photographs, I feel I ought to explain the idiosyncrasy of cutting mange tout peas in half. Hubs is basically lazy, so eats with just a fork where possible (although just a spoon is even better!). Mange tout peas sometimes have a long stringy bit along one side - if you haven't got a knife handy, this can make them unpleasant to eat whole, as well as difficult to fit into your mouth!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Whipped Cream Cake

Whipped cream cake is a bit of a misnomer to be honest, as my 'cream', which was a mixture of 300mls extra thick double cream and 75mls of semi-skimmed milk, didn't bulk up when whipped. I'd done a rough calculation which suggested the mixture would have roughly the same fat content as the cream needed in the recipe, but obviously that's not the only factor involved in whether cream will whip, or not. I wasn't too worried, as I was only trying the cake as a better alternative to throwing the cream away at the end of it's shelf life, which is something I would be have been very reluctant to do.

I carried on with Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe (found here, on Martha Stewart's site), regardless, after beating the cream failed. In  this particular recipe the cream is used as a complete substitute for any other form of fat or oil, rather than an additional source of fat and moisture, as in many other recipes which look similar at first glance. It's a cake which is very easy to make with a stand mixer, and I think it would be good baked as a sandwich cake, rather than a bundt cake, if preferred.

I think the loss of the extra air, which would have been held in properly whipped cream, made the cake a little denser than it should have been, but it was still relatively light and very moist. The plain vanilla flavour made this cake an ideal accompaniment to summer fruit, for a dessert, but I think if I make it again I would like to try some additional flavour - citrus zest, rose extract or almond extract perhaps. I would like to make it at least once again, with the right cream to see if I could get an improvement in texture.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Rhubarb or Gooseberries? A Difficult Choice!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, our rhubarb is enjoying a late spurt of growth. I believe there is an old wives' tale that rhubarb shouldn't be harvested after the end of June, but I've never taken any notice of that; I just make sure there are enough stems left on each crown to put some goodness back in for next season's growth. Then I can harvest until the stems either get too thick or start to wilt and die back.

2.5kg of gooseberries, ready for topping and tailing
Last weekend I took off the netting cage which was protecting the ripening gooseberries from the hungry birds. I lost my whole crop the first year I grew gooseberries, so have devised some form of protection since then, which goes on as soon as the fruit starts to ripen. Once it is removed all of the gooseberries have to be picked at once, as it's too difficult to put the netting back round the bushes. I was only just in time with the large bush of green fruit - over-ripe fruit had already fallen off the bush. The red-fruited bush, however, could have been left a little longer; although the fruit that caught the sun at the front of the bush was ripe, there was a lot of unripe fruit at the back.

Red gooseberry crumble
It's hard to resist any fruit straight from the garden, so I made a small gooseberry crumble with most of the red fruit, although hubs complained that I hadn't added my usual oats to the crumble mixture. I added some crushed amaretti biscuits to the flour and butter mixture instead of sugar, which added enough sweetness and some crunch, but the lack of oats made the crumble a bit dry and powdery.

Freeform rhubarb pie
Earlier in the week, I'd made a small freeform rhubarb pie with some shortcrust pastry left over after making a sausage pie. This meant we had two high-carbohydrate desserts in the space of a week, which is almost unheard of these days, but it helped me to decide what to do with the bulk of the gooseberry crop. I'm quite happy eating cooked rhubarb with yogurt, as a healthier dessert, but gooseberries really need to be cooked into a pie, crumble or cake. So, somewhat reluctantly, the gooseberries went into the freezer, saved for future baking sessions, and we'll go on enjoying the rhubarb, picked as required, for a little longer.

Of course, blackberries will soon be ready to harvest, and it looks as if it will be a bumper crop this year!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Chocolate and Cherry Flapjack

I hate to waste food, a trait probably handed down from my mother, who started her married life just after WWII, so had to deal with rationing and food shortages. Over the years I've become quite good at not buying more perishable food than we will need before the next shopping trip, and I've been known to decide what to cook for dinner on the basis of half a tin of tomatoes which needs using up. I'm also not a slave to 'use-by' dates unless it's on something potentially dangerous such as shellfish or chicken - old cheese will have the edges cut off, and yogurt will be eaten until it begins to fizz.

So 100mls of chocolate fudge sauce, made mostly of chocolate, with a touch of butter, milk and golden syrup, had to be used somehow. I considered rippling it through vanilla cake batter, or spreading it over a pastry tart base and topping it with a frangipane mixture, but in the end decided to make a small batch of flapjack, using the sauce in place of some of the butter and sweeteners. I added 100g dried cherries for flavour and texture, and ended up with a really tasty version of my usual flapjack recipe. It was a little softer than usual, but a few more minutes in the oven would have remedied that!

My usual recipe would be to melt 160g butter, 65g golden syrup and 100g light brown muscovado sugar together, before stirring in 240g rolled oats and 100g dried fruit and nuts.

I reduced the butter to 120g, the syrup to 50g and the sugar to 50g, and added the chocolate sauce at the melting stage. After the oats and cherries were added, the mixture was transferred to a 20cm (8") square tin, lined with baking parchment, and baked at 180c for 25 minutes. The flapjack was marked into bars while still warm, but cooled completely in the tin before removal.