Friday, 13 January 2017

Chocolate-orange Brownies

At this time of year we are bombarded with recipes for using up Christmas leftovers. In my opinion, there's no such thing as leftover chocolate - after all, it's not like fresh food that must be used quickly. However, in the aftermath of Christmas, and with stores wanting to sell off excess seasonal stock to make room for Easter eggs, there's often an opportunity to pick up something you wouldn't usually buy, at a really good price. I got two 125g bags of Terry's Chocolate Orange Minis with Toffee Crunch for less than £1, and bought them with the intention of using them in a batch of brownies (after a taste test, of course!).

I made my usual recipe but scaled it up to a larger tin, so that there were enough brownies for everyone to take some home with them after a New Year's Eve family meal. Adding milk chocolate pieces made the brownies a lot sweeter than those I usually make but I love the orange flavour that Terry's use in Chocolate Oranges, so I thought they were delicious! The toffee crunch which was quite noticeable when eating the chocolate pieces didn't really stand up to being baked - perhaps it melted - but as I was only intent on getting the orange flavour, it didn't really matter.

Ingredients
200g butter
200g plain chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids)
450g light muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
200g milk chocolate-orange pieces, roughly chopped

Method
Pre-heat oven to 180C and line a 12 x 8" baking tin (30 x 20cm ) with parchment.
Melt the butter and sugar together in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and if necessary allow to cool to lukewarm.
Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the vanilla extract.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Sift in the flour and cocoa and fold in, then fold in the chocolate pieces.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, spread evenly and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, depending on how squidgy you like your brownies to be. (I usually bake until a test probe comes out with a few damp crumbs sticking to it, but I think I over-baked this batch a little!)
Cool in the tin before cutting into however many pieces you prefer - I usually cut this size tin of brownies into 24 squares.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Mincemeat and Cranberry Shortbread Squares

Another outing for the traybake recipe that I consider one of the best I've tried. It's from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking'. I regard the dough for this recipe as perfect because it is light and crisp, keeps well and is easily made. The same dough is used for the base and the topping too which is an extra bonus. I haven't tried it with a fresh fruit filling yet, but it's worked really well with the variations of dried fruit fillings that I've tried.

This time I made the filling with a mix of two different mincemeats (it's too long an explanation as to why I had two jars open), and the remains of a small jar of cranberry sauce which had been opened for the Christmas turkey. Because one of the mincemeats was quite sloppy, and I wasn't sure how the cranberry sauce would react to heat, I added half a teaspoon of ground rice to thicken any excess liquid.

Ingredients
Filling:
270g mincemeat
80g cranberry sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground rice

Shortbread dough:
170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 190C and line a 8"(20cm) square shallow baking tin with baking parchment, bringing the parchment up the sides of the tin too.
Mix the filling ingredients together.
In a small pan, melt the butter and sugar together, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the warmed mixture onto the flour and semolina, in a large bowl, and mix in thoroughly with a fork.
Once all the ingredients are well blended, put 2/3 of the crumbly dough into the baking tin. Spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spread  the filling over the base, leaving a small margin around the edges. Crumble the rest of the dough over the top - you don't need to get full coverage, a few gaps are attractive - and press down lightly.
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the top is becoming golden brown around the edges.
Mark into squares or fingers while still warm, but cool completely before removing from tin - the squares are very fragile while warm.

Obviously, the flavour of these squares will depend to some extent on the mincemeat used (whether it had alcohol, nuts, lots of spice, unusual ingredients etc). I found that the taste of the cranberry sauce dominated my mincemeat, which made the squares quite tart and fruity.

This recipe is a really quick way of getting something very similar to mincepies, with a lot less work! Leave out the cranberry sauce if you don't have any and increase the mincemeat, or try adding marmalade instead.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Chocolate Tart

This is an early Jamie Oliver recipe, from The Naked Chef, which I think was published in 1999. It's fairly heavy on sugar, but doesn't taste too sweet because of the large amount of cocoa in the chocolate filling. Adding golden syrup helps the filling bake to a rich fudgy texture, similar to a very rich brownie.

You need a pre-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell, a maximum of 25cm(10") in diameter. I make my own sweet shortcrust pastry and use a 23cm (9") fluted shallow tart tin, but a bought pastry case is OK too.

Filling Ingredients
140g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
8 tablespoons cocoa
pinch salt
4 large eggs
200g caster sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
3 heaped tablespoons sour cream/creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 150C or 130C fan
Melt the butter, chocolate, cocoa and salt together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir to mix thoroughly. Remove from heat.
In a separate large bowl, mix the eggs and sugar until thick and creamy, then stir in the golden syrup and cream.
Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until well blended, then carefully pour the batter into the pastry case, filling the case as full as possible.

(If you've used a case which is less than 25cm in diameter you will have some chocolate mixture left over, but this can be poured into two or three shallow ramekins and baked alongside the tart.)

Bake for 35 - 45 minutes until the mixture feels firm in the centre. My 23cm tart cooked in 35 minutes, but the recipe suggests a bit longer for the bigger size.
Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving. I serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar. There's no need to refrigerate any leftovers.


Thursday, 29 December 2016

Carrot and Ginger Loaf Cake

I loved this cake! It was lighter in texture than the gingerbread recipe I usually use, but the carrot added moistness and texture, and the cake was delicious. I can only find one criticism to make, and that was that it needed a little more ground ginger for my tastes. I found the recipe, on the Good Food site, when I was looking for something to make from storecupboard ingredients, so while I could rustle up some carrots, I didn't have any oranges or lemons in the house. I almost left out the two citrus elements altogether, but in the end used the zest of a clementine and a few drops of lemon extract. I'm glad I did add them, as the freshness of the citrus really lifted the flavour.


Another bonus point was that the cake was really quick and easy to make, using only a saucepan, a spoon and two bowls to weigh the flour and carrots. I think it was in the oven within 10 minutes of starting to assemble the ingredients.

As usual, I didn't add the frosting - it probably would have added a tasty extra citrus note to the cake, but it was fine without it, in my opinion.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Mincemeat Frangipane Tart

gluten- and dairy-free

The highlight of this recipe, for me, was making a really good gluten- and dairy-free pastry. I'd read that it wasn't easy, so it felt quite an achievement  to come up with a recipe which worked well first time (and was repeatable - I made this dessert twice!). After looking at many recipes and reading about gluten-free pastry, I based this recipe on my usual wheatflour sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, but added both a little xanthan gum for strength and baking powder for lightness. I'd read that gluten-free pastry needs more liquid than wheatflour pastry, so I made the dough wetter than usual.

There are reservations about this apparent success though - the pastry dough was very sticky and hard to handle, and I'm not sure I would have had as much success in other situations, for instance if the pastry needed baking blind, or if I was trying to make a pastry top crust too. This may have only worked because the filling was put straight onto raw chilled pastry, and the mincemeat and frangipane layers completely filled the pastry case, holding the sides in place until the pastry had set during baking and leaving no chance of any collapse. Obviously I need to try out the pastry in other situations before declaring it a total success.

Ingredients:
Sweet shortcrust pastry:
200g Dove's gluten-free plain flour
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
100g hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork)
50g icing sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water

250g mincemeat (check it's gluten- and dairy-free, if this is important)

Frangipane:
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dairy-free baking spread
1 tablespoon ground rice
2 large eggs
a few drops almond extract
flaked almonds for topping

Method
Sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl and add the xanthan gum and baking powder.
Cut the baking fat into small cubes and add to the bowl. I find that Stork is not as hard as cold butter, so can usually be used straight from the fridge.
Rub or cut the fat into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then mix in the egg and water to make a smooth sticky dough. Only knead enough to incorporate everything into an even dough. Put the ball of dough onto a large piece of clingfilm, wrap loosely and flatten the dough into a 3cm thick disc. Chill for 20 minutes.
Unwrap the dough, but leave it in the centre of the clingfilm, then cover with another large piece of film. Roll out the dough evenly, between the pieces of film, until it is about 30cm (12") in diameter and will fit into a shallow fluted flan tin, about 23cm (9") in diameter.
Remove the top piece of clingfilm carefully - the dough will still be sticky - and invert the circle of dough into the flan tin, so that the bottom piece of film is now on top. While this piece of clingfilm is still in place, ease the dough into place in the corners and flutes of the tin. Chill the pastry case again.
Remove the pastry case from the fridge, gently ease off the clingfilm and trim the dough around the top of the tin to give a neat edge. Any small holes can now be patched with small pieces of the dough trimmings, if necessary - just smooth a small piece into place with your finger.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and put a baking tray onto a middle shelf to heat.
Spread the mincemeat into the base of the pastry case.
Put all the ingredients for the frangipane, except the flaked almonds, into a bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth. This is easily done with a spoon, but you can use a hand-held mixer too, if you prefer.
Pour the frangipane over the mincemeat to fill the pastry case, and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Put onto the baking tray and cook for 40-45 minutes until frangipane is firm and golden brown.
Cool in the tin.

I was really pleased with this. I've made frangipane mincemeat tarts before, but never a gluten-and dairy-free version. I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference as the strong flavours of mincemeat (I used a gluten-free variety with added cranberries) and almonds covers any deficiencies through not using butter in the pastry. The pastry was light and crisp too, and kept well over the three days it took to eat the tart.

I think this will be my last post before Christmas, so I'm fortunate it's a festive one. I'm not planning to cook anything new over the Christmas period, just old favourites. It's also hard to get photographs in the chaos of cooking and the bad light at this time of year, so I'll be back soon with something new.

Season's Greetings to you all!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 2

gluten- and dairy-free.

After my earlier, not entirely successful, experimentation with chestnut flour (see previous post), I looked back over all my brownie recipes to see which one might be best adapted to use chestnut flour in place of flour containing gluten. I soon found this Diana Henry recipe for brownies made with rye flour, which is lower in gluten than wheat flour. This made me think the recipe might work as well with a gluten-free flour, so I tried a straight swap of flours, using chestnut flour instead of rye, and also added 3 chopped marrons glacé instead of the nuts suggested (you could add more, but they are very expensive!). I also used a hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork) instead of butter, as I was still trying to make the brownies both gluten- and dairy-free

The batter was a lot stiffer than I remembered it being in the original recipe, and really difficult to spread, so I was worried that the brownies might be too solid. However, the baked brownies were fine - quite delicious, in fact. They were dense, chewy and fudgy - everything a good brownie should be. They also tasted as if they had a lot more chocolate in them than they actually did, but without being too rich, as in my last recipe. The little pieces of candied chestnuts added an extra dimension to both the flavour and the texture.

I suspected that the stiff batter was down to the chestnut flour absorbing more moisture than rye flour, although none of the baking recipes using chestnut flour that I've looked at suggest that any adjustment is necessary. So I tried the recipe for a second time, adding 2 tablespoons of water to the batter, which made it easier to spread in the tin, but also made the brownies a little less fudgy and added a few minutes to the baking time.

My only slight disappointment with both batches of chestnut brownies was that I didn't really pick up any flavour components that I could attribute to the chestnut flour. Yes, the brownies were delicious, but would they have been any less delicious if made with spelt or rye flour? As chestnut flour is so expensive, I don't think it's something that I'll bother to keep in stock, unless I find a recipe which showcases it's flavour.

I'm sending these brownies to Choclette's 'We Should Cocoa' link-up for December, over at Tin and Thyme. Chocolate is always associated with Christmas, but adding chestnuts to these brownies makes them even more seasonal.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 1

gluten- and dairy-free

Chestnut flour is something that I've been meaning to try for a long time, but I've only ever seen it for sale online, where minimum order charges or postage charges haven't made it economical. So when we were on holiday in Italy in September, and found ourselves passing a wholefood supermarket I had to see if they had any. I think I probably paid as much per kg as I would have in this country, but I got organic flour, and didn't have to buy anything extra to make up an order.

Once I'd got the flour, I decided to keep it for Christmas baking, but couldn't resist trying these brownies from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which only needed 40g of flour, when I wanted to try something different in the way of gluten- and dairy- free baking. I had to adapt the recipe to make it dairy-free, and to allow for the fact that I only had 70% plain chocolate available, but Celia's recipe was certainly the inspiration. In this post Celia warns of the pitfalls of trying to use chocolate with too high a percentage of cocoa solids in this recipe, so although I didn't have any problems, you might want to stick to the original recipe.

Ingredients
100g hard dairy-free baking fat - I used Stork
200g 70% plain chocolate
175g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
40g chestnut flour
130g 70% plain chocolate, chopped coarsely

NB - check that the chocolate is dairy-free if this factor is important.

Method
Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 20cm (8") square brownie tin.
Melt the chocolate and baking fat together in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and sugar.
Cool, if necessary, until the mixture is only lukewarm, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Sift in the flour and stir vigourously until  the flour is incorporated and the mixture 'snaps' (as Celia describes it). This is the point at which the texture of the batter stiffens and comes cleanly away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
Fold in the chopped chocolate, transfer the batter to the baking tin, spread evenly and bake for 25 minutes until just form.
Cool completely in the tin before cutting into pieces. I recommend small pieces, as these brownies are very, very rich. The pieces in the photographs were only about 2.5cm square!

I'm usually reluctant to use non-dairy fats in place of butter, but in this recipe the chocolate hit was so powerful that any adverse flavour from the Stork baking fat was completely masked. I very rarely say things like this, but I think this recipe made something that was too rich to be thought of as a brownie. Even after cutting into tiny squares, it was difficult to eat more than one - it was like eating semi-solid chocolate, not any sort of cake. We had to eat the brownies as an after-dinner chocolate treat rather than a dessert. They were absolutely delicious, but not what I was looking for in terms of a gluten- and dairy-free dessert.