Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Chewy Ginger, Orange and Dark Chocolate Cookies

I tend to view Ruby Tandoh's column in The Guardian's 'Cook' supplement with a little wariness after the disappointment of her Fig, Orange and Star Anise Tealoaf, but my husband was drooling over the idea of these Ginger, Orange and Dark Chocolate Cookies, made with golden syrup to keep them chewy.

The basic cookie dough couldn't be simpler - mix the wet ingredients with the sugar, stir in the flour, then mix in any additional chunks of flavouring ingredients - and as the dough is divided with a spoon rather than any more complicated rolling or shaping, a batch can be in the oven really quickly.

The flavour combination of dark chocolate, ginger and orange was delicious, but this is also a good basic cookie dough to take your own favourite combinations of fruit, nuts and chocolate. The recipe made 22 small cookies, about 7cm in diameter, the way I divided the dough, but I'd like to try making slightly larger cookies too.

The only downside to the recipe, which I noticed after storing the cookies overnight, is that they aren't rigid - their chewiness means they are supple and bendy, so layering the cookies in an airtight box meant the top biscuits had flopped a bit. I think a piece of baking parchment between the layers will rectify this, so it's not a huge problem.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Carrot and Earl Grey Tea Loaf

This recipe was in the November issue of Sainsbury's Magazine, nestled in an article about Kenyan tea. I eventually found my way to the magazine's website, and the recipe is available there, too, although you can see I baked the cake in a loaf shape rather than as a round cake, and didn't add such a fancy decoration. 

I didn't have any Kenyan tea, but did have Earl Grey, and I thought the citrus-y flavour of that would go well with carrot, as oranges are often used in carrot cakes. Once the carrots were grated, the cake was quick and easy to put together, and took around 45 minutes to bake in my long, shallow loaf tin.

I liked the fact that the cake was quite low in added sugar, when I read the recipe, but felt on tasting it, that the cake really needed more sugar to overcome the bitter notes of the tea. The flavour was quite bland too; the small amount of cinnamon didn't add much flavour, and none of the other ingredients improved things. On the plus side, the texture was quite moist but still light. This cake would have benefitted from some of the more traditional carrot cake ingredients - orange zest, chopped nuts, sultanas or more spice. It certainly wasn't memorable enough to make again as it is!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Chestnut and Hazelnut Cake - Gluten- and Dairy-free

 I needed an autumnal cake or dessert which was both gluten- and dairy-free, for a forthcoming lunch for friends. Although I like to cook new recipes on these occasions, I prefer to try them at least once before cooking for guests, so planning meals often starts a few weeks ahead.  I also wanted to use some of the hazelnuts we foraged last month, which have a very intense flavour now that they've matured in the shell.

On top of all that I was looking for baked desserts with an Italian theme, and chestnuts frequently cropped up in my searches. I did actually try to buy chestnut flour while on holiday in Italy recently, but we didn't find any good food shops - only small delicatessens selling pre-packed goods for tourists to bring home. We were on a busy touring schedule, so didn't have the time or means to go looking for  shops which might have stocked it - I could only try those we passed while sightseeing. However, chestnut purée is readily available here, so I decided to use that instead.

I found two recipes that looked good; this one from Betty's Cookery School, even though it wasn't gluten-free, because it used hazelnuts, and this one from Azélia's Kitchen, because it was free from dairy and gluten, used more chestnut purée and added a little fat. I decided to use the recipe from Azélia's Kitchen, but use half ground hazelnuts and add some chopped hazelnuts too. I also left out the lemon zest, because I didn't have any, and really just wanted to know how well the recipe worked, rather than get exactly the same flavour. I used sunflower oil instead of melted butter.


The recipe was easy to follow, thanks to the very comprehensive instructions on the Azélia's Kitchen website. The most time consuming factor was shelling enough hazelnuts to get 150g, toasting them and then working to get the skins off. This process took as long as mixing and baking the cake! Where Azélia used 200g ground almonds, I used 100g ground almonds, 100g ground hazelnuts and 50g of chopped hazelnuts.

The volume of cake batter was huge - almost filling a 20cm round, 7cm deep cake tin - but the cake didn't rise much during cooking; it was more like a mousse setting to a soft, moist texture than a cake baking. I tested the cake for 'doneness' with a colour-changing probe, as Azélia mentioned that a test probe would come out clean even when the batter was still undercooked; the tip of the probe changes colour from black to red when the cake is done. When the cake came out of the oven, I ran a knife between the cake and the tin to loosen it, as I've seen that recommended in recipes where the cake is likely to sink while cooling. It's supposed to stop the centre sinking more than the edges, but that still happened to some extent. I think this is because the edges are more solid than the centre due to the crust formed during baking. I've seen this type of cake baked in a bain marie, but I guess that would add a lot to the cooking time.

We both really liked this cake, although it was definitely more of a desert than a tea-time cake. The texture was very moist but light and mousse-like, although this doesn't really come through in the photos. My foraged hazelnuts gave the cake it's dominant flavour, and overwhelmed any evidence of the chestnuts, but I'd expected this as chestnut purée is easily lost in stronger flavours. Azélia covered the cake with a chocolate frosting, and I think I will do this next time, both for a contrast in flavours and an improved look, but we just ate the cake plain this time. It would also be good to add some whipped cream or crème fraiche, but that's not for everyday eating either!

I didn't get many good photos of this cake, due to the usual problems with making a brown lump look interesting, so you'll have to believe that it tasted much, much better than it looked!

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..