Sunday, 17 December 2017

Fig, Ginger and Chocolate Loaf Cake

This is a simple, small loaf cake, made by the rubbing-in method, so you don't even have to think far enough ahead to allow time for your butter to soften. It can be in the oven within a few minutes of gathering the ingredients together. You can add any combination of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, spices and other flavourings to the basic cake recipe; I chose some of my seasonal favourites - dried figs, crystallised ginger and dark chocolate.

This recipe makes a fairly robust cake, but as long as the batter isn't too loose, it will support quite chunky pieces of fruit and nuts. This means that it's possibly to taste all the individual additions. The combination of figs, ginger and chocolate worked really well together, although a touch of spice and orange zest would have made it even more festive.

Ingredients
200g SR flour
100g butter or hard baking fat (such as Stork)
80g caster sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
milk to mix
*100-150g 'add-ins'
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (optional)

*  I used 50g each of dried figs, crystallised ginger and 70% chocolate, all chopped into similar sized pieces

Method
Preheat the oven to 175C and line a small (1lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or use a loaf-tin liner.
Put the flour into a large bowl and rub in the butter, as if making pastry, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Mix in the sugar.
Add the egg, vanilla extract and enough milk to give a fairly soft batter - you'll need at least 5 tablespoons. Just stir the batter briskly - don't beat it!
Fold in your chosen 'add-ins'.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, level the mixture and sprinkle with the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, until a test probe comes out cleanly.
Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.



Saturday, 9 December 2017

Date Shortbread Squares

 - gluten-free, plus dairy-free option

This is an adaptation of my favourite 'shortbread squares' recipe, which comes from 'On Baking' by Sue Lawrence, to make it gluten-free. Instead of wheat flour and semolina, I used a gluten-free flour, ground rice and added a little xanthan gum. It's the shortbread part of the recipe which is so good - quick to make, as it uses melted butter, and very crisp and light after it's baked. Any type of filling can be used, such as mincemeat or re-hydrated and cooked dried apricots - just make sure it's not too wet; for this version I made the filling from dates flavoured with pomegranate molasses, cinnamon and a little rosewater.

Ingredients
Filling:
225g dates - chopped
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon rosewater

Shortbread:
255g gluten-free plain flour
85g ground rice
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
170g butter (or hard vegetable fat such as Stork*)
85g caster sugar

*see note at end of post

Method
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan)

Start by making the filling. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes until the dates are soft. At this stage you can blend the filling until smooth, but I prefer to just mash the dates with a fork, to make a rough purée. You may also need to add a splash more water to make the purée easy to spread, if all the added liquid has been absorbed during cooking.

For the shortbread, mix the gluten-free flour, ground rice and xanthan gum in a bowl.
Warm the butter and sugar together in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved, then pour onto the flour mixture. Stir well to combine thoroughly - the mixture will form a crumbly dough.
Put 2/3 of the dough into a 20cm (8") square shallow tin, lined with baking parchment, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spoon over the date filling, spread evenly, leaving a small margin around the edges.
Use your hands to crumble the remaining shortbread mixture evenly over the dates to cover as much as possible, and press down lightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 30 minutes until pale golden in colour. Cut into squares (16) while still hot, but leave the squares to cool completely before trying to remove them from the tin, as they are fragile when warm.

My only criticism of these is that the added flavourings were a little too subtle - both the cinnamon and the rosewater could have been increased.

* Dairy-free: I made a second batch of these date shortbread squares which were dairy-free as well as gluten-free, using Stork vegetable fat instead of butter. The shortbread was a little more crumbly than when using butter, for some reason, and they didn't taste as rich, but the recipe was largely successful.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Apricot and Lemon Bread and Butter Pudding

I made this 2-portion pudding in individual dishes, but if it was made in one dish it could easily feed three people; I was a little too greedy! The ingredients list is a bit vague, because the only thing I measured accurately was the milk.

Ingredients
*4 thick slices of brioche, each about 10cm square
butter, softened
apricot jam
a handful of soft dried apricots, chopped
a small chunk of glacé lemon peel chopped finely (optional)
2 medium eggs
225mls semi-skimmed milk
zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon caster sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling on top
freshly grated nutmeg

*or use plain white bread from a small loaf  - slightly stale bread can be used for this sort of pudding

Method
Thickly butter two individual baking dishes, which have roughly 350mls capacity each (or use one larger dish).
Mix the apricots and peel together, if using.
Use more butter and some apricot jam (fairly thinly spread), to make two sandwiches with the brioche.
Cut the sandwiches into suitably sized pieces to fit into your chosen dishes - I cut mine into 8 tiny triangles to get a tight fit.
Share half the pieces of sandwich between each dish and sprinkle with 2/3 of the fruit.
Arrange the rest of sandwiches on top, trying to keep the top fairly level and sprinkle over the rest of the fruit.
Mix the eggs, milk, lemon zest and caster sugar together in a jug and divide equally between the two dishes. Leave to stand for up to an hour to allow the custard mixture to soak into the bread.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan). Sprinkle a little more sugar over each pudding and then grate over some nutmeg.
Cook for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp on top. One large pudding might take a few minutes longer.

This was a tasty version of the standard B & B pudding - the touch of lemon, and the tartness of the dried apricots, cut through the sweetness added by the jam.

I apologise for the awful photo - I wanted to get the puddings fresh from the oven, as they deflate as they cool and don't look so attractive, so had to use flash.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Carrot and Feta Loaf

 I have a great fondness for savoury cakes - in the summer they make a good addition to a meal based on salad, and in the winter they are great with vegetable soups and even hearty meat stews, if you are careful about using complimenting flavours. This delicious Carrot and Feta Loaf, from this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (last recipe of the three), fed me for four days, without any need to cook extra carbohydrates for my evening meals. It was good with both a potato and leek soup and a vegetable chilli, amongst other things. Hugh suggests that savoury cakes make good pre-dinner nibbles with the first glass of wine, and these recipes can also be cooked in muffin tins, making them suitable for lunch boxes.

I followed the recipe exactly, although the loaf need another 10 minutes on the baking time, before I was satisfied that it was completely cooked through (I was using a colour-changing probe to test). The only thing I would do differently, in the future, would be to bake it in a smaller tin, to get a better loaf shape. The recipe specified a 1.5litre loaf tin, but I think a standard 900ml (2lb) tin would have been better, or the 20cm tin mentioned at the top of the recipe. As you can see from my photos, I got a very shallow loaf from my baking tin, which was 30cm long and 10cm wide.


The cumin in the loaf came through quite strongly, but blended well with the dill and cheese to give a well-balanced flavour overall - both the onions and the carrots were there as background, rather than principle, flavours. The loaf was quite close textured but didn't seem too stodgy; this is definitely something to repeat.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Spelt Flour Gingerbread

I've alluded to health problems within the family in a few of my recent posts, which have cut down on my free time and resulted in very little baking taking place. I'm sad to say that I'm now entering a new phase of my life - living on my own for the first time ever. My husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June, after becoming ill while on holiday in France; an operation failed to halt its aggressive growth and he passed away last week, just 4 months after diagnosis.

I'm not sure what this will mean in terms of this blog - I love baking, but a small cake suitable for two to eat over a few days is too much for me to get through, especially as I'm prone to gaining weight easily. I could bake things suitable for freezing, but if I'm taking slices of cake, or rolls of biscuit dough, out of the freezer, that still means fewer opportunities to try new recipes. We'll have to see how things work out!

This gingerbread was baked when I was expecting family to visit over the weekend; what wasn't eaten was taken home by my children. It is as good as a traditional gingerbread, which gets a sticky top over time, but uses oil instead of butter. My original recipe uses plain flour, but this time I used a mixture of plain wheat flour and spelt flour - only because I haven't managed to keep my storecupboard well stocked lately, and didn't have enough plain flour. Because of the strong flavours of the spices and treacle in the gingerbread, I don't think the flavour of the spelt was evident at all, but it's nice to know the recipe worked with one of the more 'fashionable' grains.

Ingredients
150g plain flour
200g spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sunflower oil
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
250mls of roughly equal amounts of golden syrup and black treacle, mixed with 250mls hot water (ie 500mls liquid in total)

Method
Preheat oven to 170C (150C fan), and line a 20cm (8") square deep cake tin with baking parchment.
Put the flours, bicarb, spices and salt into a medium sized bowl and whisk together to distribute the spices evenly.
In a large bowl whisk the oil, egg and sugar to a smooth emulsion.
Add alternate portions of the flour mix and the syrup mixture to the emulsion in the large bowl, stirring just enough to blend the mixture together - no need to beat.
Transfer the batter to the cake tin and bake for 50-55 minutes until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the baking tin.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Date, Apple and Walnut Cake

I bought walnuts for my last bake - Nigella's Emergency Brownies - and I know that they don't keep fresh for long, so decided to use them in this cake too. I added a twist to the traditional British autumnal flavours of dates, apples and walnuts by using date syrup in place of some of the sugar and adding a little rosewater too.

Ingredients
100g softened butter
75g caster sugar
3 tablespoons date syrup
*1 teaspoon rosewater
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
50g chopped soft dates
50g chopped walnuts
1 small eating apple, peeled cored and chopped
a sprinkle of demerara sugar for topping (optional)

*or to taste, depending on the strength of the brand you are using

Method
Preheat oven to 180C (fan 160C) and line a small 450g (1lb) loaf tin. I used a loaf tin liner, but baking parchment can be used too.
Put the butter, sugar, syrup, rosewater, eggs and flour into a large bowl and beat together until the mixture is smooth and light. If the batter seems too thick, add a little milk or water to give a dropping consistency.
Stir in the dates, walnuts and apple pieces.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin, level the surface and sprinkle on the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Using the date syrup intensified the date flavour, and deepened the colour of the cake crumb, which I was pleased about. I liked the flavour combination of dates, apples and walnuts with rosewater, but it became a summery cake rather than an autumnal one. Probably fitting, as we seem to be having a bit of an Indian summer at the moment, but for a really seasonal cake a little cinnamon or other spice would have been better than the rosewater.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Nigella Lawson's Emergency Brownies

Many people I know are at a stage of their lives where they don't need to cook for large numbers; for whatever reason most of their cooking is done for only one or two people. This is something that makes baking particularly difficult, at least for me - a standard sized cake can take 4 or 5 days for 2 people to eat. I could freeze slices of cake, but my freezer organisation is notoriously bad so I'm sure I'd end up with a drawer full of slices that had dried out and grown ice crystals, so would have to be thrown away in the end.

It seems that Nigella Lawson may have found herself in the position of craving cake and/or chocolate, but being unwilling to bake something large, as her new book, At My Table, contains a recipe for these Emergency Brownies - a recipe based on one egg and making only 4 generously sized brownies (or even fewer if your craving is really strong!).

I can't link to the recipe as it's not online anywhere yet, but I'm sure it will be soon appear once the TV series accompanying the book is shown, and the book is being more vigourously promoted. Suffice to say that butter, sugar and syrup (I used Maple) are melted together gently to dissolve the sugar. Then a mixture of plain flour and cocoa is beaten in, an egg and vanilla extract added, and finally chopped walnuts and chocolate chips added (I used chopped plain chocolate with orange pieces). The batter is baked in a foil tray which is approximately 18 x 11cm (I couldn't find that exact size, but it's roughly the same as a 1lb loaf tin, or this size of container from Lakeland).

20 minutes baking left these brownies still slightly gooey in the centre even when completely cold. They were very rich - I ate two pieces and felt I had reached my limit - and quite heavy; not the best brownies I've ever eaten but a really good small-scale recipe. I'll certainly be using it again. The orange flavour from the chocolate I used was a nice note alongside the walnuts, but I can see this recipe working well with all the flavour variations I use in brownies - different nuts, spices etc