Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Date and Walnut Squares

The recipe for the base and topping layers of these squares is perfect - the top is crisp, the bottom layer holds together well but is still very light, and it's really quick to make as the butter and sugar are melted together before being poured onto the flour mixture.

I've used the recipe before, for these Date and Ginger Squares, but wasn't entirely happy with the filling that time. This time, I used just dates, leaving out the currants, and added finely chopped walnuts instead of ginger. This combination was really tasty, but this is one of those recipes where I can imagine a wide variety of fillings working as well - at this time of year, mincemeat springs to mind, but dried apricots cooked in orange juice, or even a thick apple purée would be worth trying too!

Ingredients
250g pack of chopped dates
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
75g finely chopped walnuts
175g SR flour
175g semolina (I used 50:50 mix of semolina and ground rice, as I didn't have enough semolina)
175g butter
85g caster sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 190C, and line a 20cm(8") square baking tin with parchment.
Put the dates into a small saucepan with the honey, water and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, cover the pan, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed - 10 minutes at the most, so keep an eye on it! Turn off the heat.

In another small pan, melt the butter and sugar together and stir until the sugar has mostly dissolved. Tip this onto the flour and semolina mix and stir in with a spoon. It will make a crumbly mixture which looks as if it might hold together if you kneaded it, but there's no need to do this!
Put 2/3 of the dough mix into the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spread the date filling on top of the dough base, leaving a very small margin around the edge of the tin.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top, as evenly as possible, and press down lightly with your hand. Don't worry if there are gaps where the filling shows through.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Mark into squares or fingers as soon as the bake is removed from the oven, but leave in the tin until completely cold - they are very fragile while warm.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Gingerbread with Macadamia Nuts and Cranberries

This is a traditional gingerbread recipe - one of those cakes where the top gets sticky over time! I added some chopped macadamia nuts and dried cranberries to use up supplies approaching the 'best-before' date. I'm happy to use dried fruit past it's best, but nuts can go stale quite quickly. I've been using this recipe for over 40 years know, but haven't found anything better. The amount of black treacle can be reduced to make a lighter cake, without the characteristic bitterness, as long as it is replaced by the same weight of golden syrup. The total weight of the two syrups must be 230g

Ingredients
110g butter
60g light muscovado sugar
170g black treacle
60g golden syrup
150mls milk
2 eggs
220g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
50g dried cranberries

Method
Preheat oven to 150C and line a deep 20cm(8") square cake tin with baking parchment.
In a large saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, and syrups until the fat has melted. Remove from the heat, add the milk and cool until lukewarm.
Beat the eggs and blend into the melted mixture.
Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and add the liquid. Stir briskly to combine, but do not beat. Lastly stir in the fruit and nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin and preferably leave for a day before cutting.

I don't think the addition of fruit and nuts contributed much to the flavour, as the spiciness of  the gingerbread and the bitterness of treacle is so strong, but the nuts added a nice crunch to the texture.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Coconut, Apricot and Cranberry Cake

This was a small loaf cake, quickly put together from storecupboard ingredients. I used coconut oil, but a slightly larger quantity of butter could be used instead.

Ingredients
200g SR flour
40g desiccated coconut
100g caster sugar
100g coconut oil (or 115g butter, cut into small cubes)
1 large egg
60g dried cranberries
60g dried apricots, chopped into pieces of similar size to the cranberries
about 100mls semi-skimmed milk to mix

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a small 1lb/450g) loaf tin.
Put the flour into a large bowl. Cut in the coconut oil with a table knife or a fork, until the coconut oil is in very small pieces and well mixed in (if using butter, rub in as if making pastry).
Add the desiccated coconut, sugar and dried fruit.
Mix in the egg and enough milk to make a fairly stiff batter.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the surface and sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara sugar,
Bake for about 60 minutes, until golden and firm, and a test probe comes out dry.

Cranberries and apricots is one of my favourite combinations of dried fruit, and the coconut flavour in the cake worked well with this pairing. It's sheer bad luck that the slice of cake I took for the photograph shows such a weird uneven distribution of the two fruits at that point; it wasn't like that right through the cake!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Chocolate, Date and Walnut Bars

 Looking back over my blog posts I can see that it's been well over six years since I last made these. For me, that's one of the downsides of blogging - if you're usually trying to bake something new to write about, a lot of very good things often fall by the wayside.

These bars fit somewhere between a brownie and a cake; they are dense and chewy, but with a lot of the bulk being provided by dates, rather than butter and sugar, they are not as rich and guilt-inducing as brownies. The recipe comes from 'Wicked Chocolate' by Jane Suthering, and originally used 50:50 orange juice and water to soften the dates, but I couldn't taste the orange in the final cake, so decided it was a waste to use it. There is also a chocolate and yogurt frosting in the recipe (see my original post), but I'm not keen on the extra calories in frostings on things that are perfectly good enough without.

Ingredients

225g stoneless dates (chopped in halves widthways to check for stones - I always find at least one!)
250mls water
170g plain chocolate, around 70%, chopped roughly
115g softened butter
115g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
170g SR flour
115g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan. Line a 30 x 20cm(12 x 8") baking tin with baking parchment.
Put the dates and water into a small pan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 5 minutes to soften the dates, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate. (Note - not all the water is absorbed during the softening process.) Stir until the chocolate has melted.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the weighed flour.
Fold in the rest of the flour, followed by the chocolate mixture and lastly, the nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and spread evenly, then bake for around 20 minutes, until risen and firm.
Cool in the tin.
Cut into bars when cold. The original recipe suggests 24 pieces but I cut the cake into 18 bars.

Leaving the dates in quite large pieces means that there are noticeable chunks of them in the bars. If you wanted the bulk of the dates without the texture and flavour, I'd suggest chopping them more finely before cooking them, to make a coarse purée which then 'disappears' into the cake batter, as in a sticky toffee pudding.

As this is the only chocolate recipe I've made this month, I'm sending this to November's We Should Cocoa link-up at Tin and Thyme. Choclette has changed We Should Cocoa recently, so that any recipes including chocolate can be added; there is no longer a theme to follow.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Almond and Mocha Bundt

According to Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club, November 15th is National Bundt Cake Day. I don't know if this is just  a themed  'day' that's imported from America, but I thought it would be nice to bake a small bundt cake anyway. So here's a picture for Bundt Day.


I'm not going to share the recipe yet, as it still needs some work; it was an almond flavoured cake batter, containing crushed slivers of almonds for texture, layered with a mocha flavoured portion. I'd hoped the mixture would swirl during baking but the portion of the batter I'd flavoured with cocoa and coffee was too dense. Tasted good though!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Apple, Date and Ginger Cake

I often fall back on this recipe when what I'd really like is a fruit pie, but either I haven't got time to make pastry, or it just seems too much effort. The fruit filling is infinitely variable, depending on season and availability - this time I used the last of the small eating apples from our own trees, a handful of dates and a couple of tablespoons of ginger preserves. Once the fruit is prepared the dough can be made, and the cake assembled, in about 10 minutes.The only time things get less simple is if the fruit produces a lot of juice when cooked - then it really needs cooking in advance, draining and cooling.

Ingredients
peeled cored and sliced eating apples - about 400g after preparation
50-100g chopped dried dates (or sultanas)
100g ginger preserves
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
300g SR flour

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Prepare a 20cm(8") springform tin - I grease the tin, then line the base with baking parchment.
Mix the fruit and preserves in a small bowl and set aside. (I usually stand the sliced apples in acidulated water for a few minutes during preparation, then drain well before mixing in the dried fruit and preserves.)
Melt the butter, either in the microwave or in a pan on the hob. It doesn't need to be hot - just liquified. Transfer to a large mixing bowl if necessary, then mix in the caster sugar, followed by the egg. When these are mixed to a smooth paste, sift in the flour and stir in thoroughly to make a soft dough - it will be softer than pastry, and still quite sticky.
Put 2/3 of the dough into the base of the springform tin and spread evenly, using fingers.  At the edge of the tin raise the dough to make a small wall about 2cm high - this will help to enclose any fruit juices.
Spread the prepared fruit over the dough.
Break small pieces from the remaining dough and place on top of the fruit, trying to get a fairly even coverage. Flatten the pieces of dough, to get them to join up - they may not completely cover the fruit, but the dough will spread during baking. There's a picture here of a similar cake, during assembly, to illustrate things.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden and the cake feels firm. Cool in the pan before removing the sides.
Dust with icing sugar before serving, if liked.

I seem to have posted a lot of apple recipes this autumn, but my store of home-grown apples is finished now, so this is probably the last apple-y bake for a while!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Malted Apple Cake


At first glance, this recipe, from Country Living, doesn't look much different to most apple cake recipes, but the addition of just two tablespoons of malt extract makes a huge difference to the character of the cake. The flavour becomes more complex and the sweetness has a bitter edge to it. In addition, using wholemeal flour and muscovado sugar makes the cake look dark and mysterious - you just know that it's going to taste different! If you have a favourite apple cake recipe, try replacing some of the sugar (say 50g) with malt extract to see for yourself.

I have to confess that I didn't use Bramley apples, so my cake was probably a little sweeter than the recipe intended, as eating apples are naturally sweeter than Bramleys, but it certainly wasn't oversweet. I wanted to use eating apples as Bramley pieces have a habit of collapsing when baked into cakes, and just leaving little holes to show where they've been. I've also got a lot of small apples from the trees in my garden, which are really only useful for cooking, so I've been searching for new recipes to use them up.

The recipe wasn't completely trustworthy - I needed to add more than 2 tablespoons of milk to get a soft enough batter, the cake needed more like 75 minutes in the oven rather than the 45-60 minutes suggested, and I only sliced one apple for the topping and still had too many slices to use them all - perhaps my idea of a thin slice is different to Country Living's cook! When it came to cutting the cake, I found out why the apples used on the top needed to be peeled! I left the peel on to be sure the slices held together, but then couldn't cut through the apple to get neat slices of cake.

I realised, when I checked the recipe while writing this post, that I had used plain wholemeal flour instead of self-raising. If I'd read the recipe properly during baking, I'd have added extra baking powder, which would have made the cake a little lighter, although I didn't think it was too heavy as it was!

The photo of the cake, still in it's tin, isn't very good; there was no natural light by the time the cake came out of the oven, but I still wanted to photograph the cake before it was cut.

I think this cake recipe would also make a good traybake for a Bonfire party, topped with neat rows of apple slices - it would bake faster in a shallower tin, but it's pretty easy to check during baking so as not to overbake.