Saturday, 27 May 2017

Smoky Vegetable Slice


This is a dish based on the classic Australian recipe for Zucchini (Courgette) Slice, which I first saw on the blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I've used Celia's version several times, so usually follow her guidelines for quantities of ingredients and cooking instructions, although a bit more or less of any of the vegetables doesn't make much difference. The Zucchini Slice is very similar to a frittata, but the addition of SR flour and oil makes it sturdier and more filling. It's excellent when eaten as a main meal with salads, or as a picnic food.

I made this version in an attempt to use up some vegetables which were lingering uneaten in the fridge. A sudden rise in temperature, after a spell of wet, cold weather meant that we couldn't face hot meals for a few days. Instead of courgettes (or a mix of courgettes and carrots, as Celia uses), I used equal quantities of grated sweet potato and broccoli.

Ingredients
150g sweet potato, peeled then coarsely grated
150g broccoli
1 small onion
100g smoked cheddar, grated
100g smoked bacon pieces
5 eggs
125ml sunflower oil
130g SR flour
plenty of black pepper to season, plus a little salt if desired (both the cheese and bacon will be salty)

Method
Preheat oven to 190C, 175 fan, and line a 23cm(92) round baking tin, or a 20cm (8") square one, with baking paper.
Fry the bacon pieces gently until just cooked through.
Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain, rinse in cold water and allow to dry off. Slice the stems thinly and chop the florets into small pieces.
Finely chop the onion.
Put all the vegetables into a large bowl, add the cheese and bacon.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, then make a well in the centre and break in the eggs and add the oil.
Mix everything together until no dry flour is visible, adding pepper and salt (if using) as you do so.
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin, level the surface and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and firm.
Best served at room temperature. You'll get 4-8 portions, depending on what else you are serving.

This was a really tasty version of a vegetable slice. The cheese and bacon added a subtle smoky flavour which we both really liked, and the sweet potato and broccoli made a good combination of vegetables.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Coconut Chai Traybake

I'd had this recipe, from BBC Good Food, bookmarked to try for quite a while before I finally got round to baking the cake. It was only remembering to put full-fat coconut milk onto the shopping list which stopped me making it sooner, as all the other ingredients are usually in my storecupboard.

I followed the cake recipe exactly, and also added the icing drizzle, which I topped with chopped stem ginger and a little extra desiccated coconut, rather than coconut shreds and pistachios. I thought the recipe made too much icing - by the time I used most of it, there was hardly  any cake showing, which isn't really the point of a drizzled icing! Other than that everything seemed fine.

I really loved this particular combination of spices, which worked very well with the coconut, but the texture of the cake was a bit strange. Although the middle was light, there was a stodgy layer at the bottom which seemed uncooked (or maybe the batter had separated before it was fully cooked), and the top was very moist where the ginger syrup had soaked in. The stodgy bottom made the cake unpleasant to eat, despite the delicious flavours.

I think it's worth remembering this flavour combination, and trying to get it into a cake with a better texture, but I won't be making this recipe again.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Rhubarb Vanilla Yogurt Cake

I happened upon this recipe, on the Riverford Organic Farmers website, by chance, while looking for new recipe for a rhubarb cake. I wanted one which didn't use a lot of fruit, as my crowns aren't doing well this year (I think it was the lack of a prolonged cold spell during last winter).

All I can say is that I'm thrilled to have found this recipe; it made a perfect cake! As an added bonus, it couldn't be simpler to make - dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another then combine the two and mix briefly. The rhubarb was even mixed with the dry ingredients, reducing the steps needed to mix the batter even more, as fruit is often folded in separately at the end. I think it's probably quite important to keep the rhubarb pieces small, so that they don't sink through the cake during baking, but the raw cake batter was thicker than normal, which also helps.

I did make one change to the recipe - I only had vanilla yogurt available, rather than plain, but as I wasn't adding an additional flavour, only a little more sugar, I decided to go ahead anyway. The resulting cake was light but moist, with a really tender crumb, and it wasn't too sweet either (even when using a sweetened yogurt), allowing the tart flavours of the rhubarb and orange zest to show through. It was fantastic while still warm, as a dessert, and almost as good when it was completely cold, eaten as a cake. This is definitely a cake to make again!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Zebra Cheesecake

I decided on cheesecake for an Easter dessert; more specifically, chocolate cheesecake, as I think the family would feel cheated if chocolate didn't make an appearance at Easter! A few weeks ago I saw a link to a recipe for a Zebra Cheesecake in an excerpt from Lorraine Pascale's latest book "Bake: 125 Showstopping Recipes, Made Simple" which looked ideal.

The recipe was simple to follow, and involved layering measured quantities of vanilla and chocolate cheesecake mixture onto a biscuit base. As the layers build, the cheesecake mixture gradually spreads to the edges of the baking tin, and this forms an attractive pattern in the baked cheesecake.

That's the theory! In practice it didn't work quite that way.

Firstly, the cheesecake mixture was very reluctant to spread, even with quite vigorous tin tapping. Although I did manage to get the mixture to the edges of the tin eventually, it was still domed in the centre when it went into the oven. Fortunately it levelled out before it set (with a little extra shaking).

Secondly, after 35 minutes baking - the time suggested in the recipe - the cheesecake still looked as raw and wobbly as when it went into the oven. It took well over an hour until I was satisfied that the cheesecake was cooked - set at the edges but still wobbly in the middle.

Thirdly, my cut cheesecake didn't look much like the photo accompanying the recipe. I followed the instructions, making each layer with about 2 tablespoons of mixture; this gave me, as far as I can make out from my photos, 14 or 15 alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate. I'm not sure why the layers in my cheesecake look so much thinner than those in the published photo, if that cheesecake was made following the same recipe exactly. Fewer layers - perhaps 8, using a quarter of each mixture in each layer - would give a more attractive result, I think.

After all that, this cheesecake wouldn't feature amongst the best I've ever made in terms of eating quality either! It tasted pleasant enough but it was very solid and quite dry in texture.

On the positive side - the pattern does look zebra-ish, and the cheesecake didn't crack during cooking or cooling. You can see from the photos that I made one slight departure from the recipe - I made the base using 200g plain chocolate digestive biscuits and only 80g butter. I've found that using half the quantity of butter to the weight of biscuits can make the base too solid and difficult to cut - I prefer the biscuit layer to be a little looser and crumblier.

I was disappointed that the cheesecake didn't look as attractive inside as the recipe suggested it would but even more disappointed that the baking time was so inaccurate and that the recipe didn't make a better cheesecake. This is the first recipe from Lorraine Pascale that I've tried, and it doesn't give me much confidence to try others!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Chocolate Marmalade Brownies

When I first made this recipe, for Chocolate Marmalade Brownies, almost seven years ago, I thought the recipe was a keeper. Making them again, only recently, I'm not quite sure what I saw in them in the first place. They were pleasant enough, but more like cake than a brownie, and the one word in their name that is meant to describe the added flavour is the thing I couldn't taste at all! The walnuts, cayenne and ginger (an extra addition, part of the chocolate used) were all much more prominent flavours than the marmalade.

The only changes I made to the recipe were to bake in a slightly smaller tin (20 x 30cm), which added five minutes to the baking time, and to use chopped dark chocolate containing crystallised ginger instead of plain chocolate chips.

Really, the only thing to recommend this recipe is that the brownie batter is made with cocoa rather than chocolate, which could be useful if you were short of chocolate. However, if you're the sort of person who regularly bakes brownies, I can't see you being the sort of person who runs short of chocolate - I get twitchy if there's ever less than 500g in the house!

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mincemeat and Apple Cake

Another outing for the cake I often make when I want a dessert with fresh fruit, but can't be bothered to fuss around with pastry. Because I hadn't checked supplies and found myself short of flour, I used a proportion of spelt flour in the recipe this time - it seemed to make the cake a little more crumbly.

Anything with mincemeat in it smells wonderful when it is baking; in this case the flavour was pretty good too. Adding the apples and orange zest cut back on the sweetness of the filling a little without changing the flavour much, as the mincemeat had it's own citrus notes. The dough has a texture somewhere between pastry and scone - what I imagine the old-fashioned American shortbread cakes to be like.

I'm pleased to say that this cake used the last of my winter mincemeat stocks!

Ingredients
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
*100g SR flour
*200g white spelt flour
*1 teaspoon baking powder
250g mincemeat
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
grated zest of 1 orange

* you can use 300g SR flour, in which case you won't need the baking powder

Method
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and base-line a 20cm (8") springform cake tin.
Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave - it doesn't need to be very hot, just liquid. Stir in the sugar, then beat in the egg.
Add both flours and the baking powder and mix to a soft dough. Put 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin and spread out into an even layer with your fingers, building up a little wall around the sides of the tin.
Mix together the mincemeat, chopped apples and orange zest and spread onto the cake base.
Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the filling and press down lightly, spreading the dough as you do - it should more or less cover the top, but any small gaps will fill as the dough rises and spreads during baking.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is firm and golden. Cool for about 15 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the tin, in case any fruit juices have leaked from the cake and are sticking to the sides of the tin - this can sometimes happen with mincemeat.
Dust with icing sugar before serving, either warm or at room temperature. This cake can be quite fragile, so I always leave it on the springform base.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Golden Simnel Cake

My family's festive celebrations have never included traditional fruit cakes - we're more of a mini chocolate appreciation society -  so I was surprised when my daughter asked me to make a Simnel Cake for Easter this year. I'm not averse to traditional recipes but I still wanted to put a spin on this cake to make it more personal, so I decided to make a golden fruit cake.

After looking at several recipes, I thought that Felicity Cloake's recipe from her 'How to Cook the Perfect.....' series in The Guardian would be the best one to adapt to what I wanted. I particularly liked the idea of adding saffron to help the golden colour of the cake I was planning.

I used the same quantities of all ingredients, although I used caster sugar instead of light brown sugar, to keep the crumb colour as pale as possible. Instead of using 400g of the fruit Felicity suggested (sultanas, currants and glacé cherries) I used 115g of each of sultanas, golden raisins and chopped apricots and 55g chopped dried peaches. I left the mixed peel in the recipe but took out the chopped almonds, as my daughter doesn't always like chewing on pieces of nuts, even though she loves the flavour of almonds. I used shop-bought white marzipan instead of yellow - just a personal preference!

It's a pity I didn't cross reference Felicity's decision making processes with the sources she used, or I would have discovered that her oven temperature was for a fan setting, not a conventional oven - after 2 hours at the quoted temperature the cake batter was still raw. It took another hour with the oven turned up another 20C for the cake to cook. Anyone with any experience of fruit cakes would have noticed the error straight away, but I've hardly ever made a rich fruit cake, even in 40 + years of cooking!

I was quite impressed with the look of the finished cake, although if I ever make another I will use more marzipan so that I can put thicker layers inside and on the top. The size of the 11 decorative balls, at 15g each, was about right, however. When cut, the colour of the crumb was just right for a golden cake.

I liked the flavour of the cake - a delicious subtle balance between spice and citrus, with all the fruits working in harmony, so that none stood out more than others. The soft inner layer of melted marzipan added a note of bitter almonds to the cake, although it hadn't stayed level in the cake, possibly a result of the error in cooking temperature.

There were other faults too, which might have been caused by the same error - the fruit wasn't evenly distributed in each layer, and although the cake was really moist, it was also crumbly and didn't cut cleanly. However, these faults were outweighed by the lovely flavour; all it really meant was that it was difficult to get a good photograph. I will have to try the recipe again, and cook it properly next time!