Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake

 - from a recipe by Harry Eastwood.

This cake was made specifically for the AlphaBakes challenge, where this month's randomly chosen letter is H.

My baking books were surprisingly short of recipes containing ingredients beginning with H - hazelnuts featured heavily, but I've used them a lot lately, and wanted to avoid them if possible. Honey was the only other frequently used ingredient, so I set myself the task of finding a recipe for a fruit cake sweetened only by honey.  So many recipes are called 'honey (something or other)', only to feature a tablespoon or two of honey, supposedly added for flavour, in addition to the usual high amount of sugar found in most cakes and biscuits.

I'm not going down the route of claiming that a cake sweetened with honey is any healthier than a cake sweetened by standard sugar (they are both types of carbohydrates not really needed for nutrition), but I do think that if you are using honey for it's flavour, you need a fair amount of it in a cake!

However, Harry Eastwood's baking recipes (ooooh! an extra H there!) are special for being a little bit healthier than most. She uses added vegetables a lot, and tries to cut down on the amount of sugar and fat in her recipes. This cake, called a Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake, uses finely grated butternut squash to replace much of the fat  - the only fat comes from nuts and eggs - and the squash also has a natural sweetness which means less needs to be added in the form of honey. The cake batter is made from half flour and half ground almonds and is packed with dried fruit and chopped nuts. In fact, for the size of cake made, it's really fruit and nuts held together with a little cake batter!

I followed the basic recipe, but as I'm trying to finish some of the half-used packets of dried fruits and nuts in the storecupboard, I altered what I used from what was suggested in the recipe. Instead of raisins and cranberries, I used sultanas, cranberries and sour cherries, and instead of chopped almonds I used a mixture of almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and peanuts. I also sprinkled some flaked almonds on top of the cake before baking.

This was a really delicious cake; the almond flavour was predominant, as you'd expect with the use of almond extract, but the lemon zest and the honey both made a noticeable contribution. Obviously, the cake will vary in flavour depending on what type of honey is used - I used a Fairtrade Guatemalan honey which wasn't produced from any specific flowers, and was just a generic 'honey' flavour.

The big surprise was that the absence of fat wasn't noticed, nor was the addition of  quite a large amount of grated butternut squash. The recipe stated to grate the squash finely, so I used a finer grater than I would have used if grating carrots for a carrot cake, and this made the vegetable vanish into the cake batter, only adding moisture to the texture.

I'm not sure this would convince me that it's good to eat cake for breakfast, but it is certainly a cake that's good to eat, and will go on my list of things worth repeating.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a blogging challenge hosted on alternate months by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes. This month's randomly chosen letter H was picked by Ros, who will post a roundup of entries at the end of the month.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Gooseberry Crumble

 I'm a great believer in seasonal eating, but it's getting ever more difficult to stick to  eating just what is traditionally in season. Growing crops in poly tunnels means that even British fruit such as raspberries are available for 9 months of the year, and that's before you even consider imports from abroad. Another factor is the use of the freezer to preserve fruit and vegetables. Rather than throw away excess from a glut, or eat it for weeks ad nauseam, it can often be frozen for out of season use.

This is what happens to my gooseberries and green beans, most years; I know our forbearers bottled fruit and salted beans, but some of the original freshness was missing when these were used. If you choose your fruit well, there is no loss of quality on thawing and cooking - blackberries, gooseberries and plums in particular freeze well, but rhubarb is less successful in my opinion, so that is still a truly seasonal fruit for me. Consequently, however much I might like to stick to seasonal fruit in Autumn and Winter desserts, there are always these fruits calling to me from the freezer .

You don't really want a recipe for fruit crumble - I'm sure you all have your favourite recipes - but I thought it was worth noting that I made a successful gluten- and dairy-free crumble using a proprietary brand of gluten-free flour and pure oats (labelled as wheat, dairy and gluten free), and coconut oil instead of butter.

I used my usual recipe of 100g each of flour, oats, fat and sugar (caster in this case) to make 4-6 portions. I rub the fat into all the other ingredients, which seems to give a better texture after baking. When I'm using coconut oil, I chill the crumble mixture for 30 minutes before putting it on the fruit and baking; I do this because I was worried about the coconut oil becoming too liquid while being rubbed in (even though I handled it a little as possible to get it more or less rubbed in), and wanted to keep the effect of using a solid fat.

If I'm using a fruit which I expect to make a lot of juice when it cooks, such as gooseberries or rhubarb, as well as sweetening it, I add just a level teaspoon of ground rice for every 300g fruit. This seems to thicken the juices perfectly, without adding any unwanted flavour, and with not much change in texture. Beware of using too much though - ground rice absorbs much more liquid than other thickeners such as flour or ground almonds.

I was really pleased that the texture and flavour of the gluten- and dairy-free crumble were comparable to my usual recipe, and I was really pleased with the 'free-from' oats, from Sainsbury's, which were a lot sturdier than the usual 'value' rolled oats I use. They gave a slightly crisper finish to the baked crumble, but of course, I did pay a price premium for them!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Black-Bottom Coconut Bars with Chilli

Back in March this year, the theme for the We Should Cocoa challenge was coconut. I made these coconut and cherry bars with a chocolate biscuit base, by combining two recipes that I found in my cook books, but while I was searching online for something suitable, I found this similar recipe from Martha Stewart,  which I bookmarked for future use.

When this month's WSC challenge  theme was announced as chilli, I had a sudden urge to try chilli, chocolate and coconut together, and remembered the Martha Stewart recipe. The black-bottom layer for her tray bake is a thin layer of brownie mixture, and is topped with a vanilla flavoured coconut macaroon mixture which doesn't contain any added fat.

I followed the recipe exactly, adding half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (pure ground chilli) to the brownie batter, but baking in an 8" square tin, rather than a 9" tin. This turned out to be a good move - as I had anticipated from experience with other US recipes, the brownie base would have been impossibly thin in a larger tin.

These bars were delicious, proving that the combination of chilli, chocolate and coconut is a winner (Bounty bar manufacturer - take note!). The amount of cayenne I used left a noticeable warm aftertaste of chilli, without being overwhelming, although more could be added for a bit more kick! I cut the tray bake into 12 decent sized bars - trying to cut into 24 pieces, as suggested in the recipe, would only mean eating two at a time!

However, although the flavour was spot on, eating the bars wasn't the great experience it should have been. The weight of the coconut macaroon compressed the brownie layer a lot, making it dense and chewy, and the coconut topping was heavy and dry. I much preferred my previous combination of biscuit base and a macaroon mixture with some butter in it - the combination of  crisp biscuit and moister chewy macaroon seemed lighter and was much more pleasant to eat.


We Should Cocoa is the brainchild of Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, who alternates host duties with guests. This month the theme of chilli was chosen by Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen, and as Shaheen is vegetarian, she also asked that any entries submitted also be suitable for vegetarians.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wholemeal Apple and Cranberry Cake

It's time for another cake with delicious Autumnal flavours!

This Nigel Slater recipe is proving to be remarkably adaptable. The original, from his weekly Observer column, used marmalade, sultanas and orange zest to add flavour to an apple cake made with wholemeal flour, and I've previously made versions using apples and cranberries and pears and ginger preserves.

This time I kept the apples and added dried cranberries flavoured with orange, and some smooth cranberry jelly instead of marmalade.

This was a really well-flavoured cake - the cranberries flavoured with orange were very intense - and moist yet light in texture. After making so many variations of this cake, I should stop being surprised by how light it is for a wholemeal cake, but I'm not yet!

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!