Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mincemeat Flapjacks

I'd planned to make mincemeat shortbread from Sue Lawrence's book 'On Baking', but we were suffering from an unscheduled cut in our water supply, which meant I couldn't do anything which was going to make my hands really sticky - such as rubbing fat into flour, or handling biscuit dough. Luckily I found a recipe for mincemeat flapjacks a bit further on in the book, and decided I could make the recipe without touching any of the ingredients in a way which would need me to wash my hands. Just a quick wipe with a hand sanitiser afterwards and all was well. The flapjacks were made in one saucepan too, which minimised the washing up - useful when you can't actually wash-up at all!

225g mincemeat
170g butter
285g golden syrup
the grated zest of 1 orange
425g porridge oats

Pre-heat oven to 180C and line a baking tin roughly 20 x 30cm (8 x 12") with baking parchment, using one piece big enough to come up the sides of the tin too.
Melt the mincemeat, butter and golden syrup together in a large pan, over a low heat, stirring often.
When the butter has melted remove the pan from the heat and add the orange zest and oats. Mix everything together thoroughly.
Transfer the oat mixture to the baking tin and spread evenly, pressing down firmly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Mark into pieces while still warm, but cool completely before removing from tin.

The smell while these flapjacks were baking was fantastic, and they tasted pretty good too. There wasn't a large amount of mincemeat in the recipe but it was enough to give quite a strong flavour. The mincemeat I used was quite citrussy, so it was complemented by the added orange zest. My usual flapjack recipe uses more sugar than golden syrup, whereas this recipe uses mainly golden syrup plus the sugar in the mincemeat. The end result was very similar, as these flapjacks were also nice and chewy - they were perhaps just a little softer than those I usually make.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Chocolate Tart

gluten- and lactose-free

I have a favourite recipe for a baked filling for a chocolate tart, which is naturally gluten-free, but unfortunately it didn't work well when I tried to make it lactose-free too. Using a vegetable fat instead of butter and lactose-free cream instead of creme fraiche lead to the filling separating during baking to give a thin layer of egg custard on the base with a thicker chocolate layer on top. It was still edible and quite tasty but not really good enough to serve to guests.

Searching through my file of recipes cut from magazines, I eventually found a recipe for a filling for a chocolate tart which looked suitable. It contained a much smaller amount of butter than the previously tried recipe and cream rather than creme fraiche, so I hoped it would adapt better to lactose-free alternatives.

23cm (9") pre-baked shortcrust pastry case (gluten and dairy-free, if necessary)
50g hard vegetable fat (eg Stork)
250g 70% dark chocolate, dairy-free
3 large eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
6 tablespoons lactose-free double cream
1 tablespoon finely ground fresh coffee

Pre-heat oven to 200C.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water. Cool slightly.
Whisk egg whites to very soft peak stage.
Whisk yolks and sugar in a large bowl, until just combined and slightly frothy. Stir in the coffee and cream.
Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture, and fold in gently, along with the egg whites.
Spoon the chocolate mixture into the pastry case, and level using a hot, wet palette knife to give a smooth surface.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are firm and the centre is just set.
Cool to room temperature before serving.

This recipe worked perfectly. The chocolate filling was dense and fudgy, but not too sweet. Although I don't need either gluten-, dairy- or lactose-free baking for family cooking it is nice to have 'free-from' alternatives when needed for guests. Now that I'm happy with the gluten-and dairy-free pastry recipe I use, a chocolate tart is a useful addition to my repertoire.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Date and Ginger Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Biscuits aren't one of my favourite things to make; in general there's too much faffing about to make them worth the effort. They might look more decorative but you can usually get the same amount of eating pleasure from a traybake cut into squares or bars, with lots less work for the cook. However, put the name Dan Lepard to a biscuit recipe, and it's one I'll look at twice, and by the second time I'll probably be eagerly searching the storecupboard, to check I've got all the ingredients. It's no coincidence that this is my second biscuit bake this year (see here), and they are both Dan's recipes - previously I hadn't made any biscuits since July last year!

I think it must be the (sometimes unusual) combinations of flavours that Dan uses, and that he tries to maximise the impact of those flavours, which makes his recipes so appealing to me. In this case, I love the combination of dates with chocolate, and ginger with chocolate, as well as dates and ginger, but the only time I've ever used the three ingredients together is in another Dan Lepard recipe - Chocolate Passion Cake, where the dates were used as an egg replacement rather than a flavouring ingredient.

These Date and Ginger Chocolate Chip Biscuits, published on the Good Food, Australia site, were relatively quick and easy to make, as the method is based on melting butter and sugar together, before mixing in the other ingredients. I used cocoa, rather than carob, and dark muscovado sugar but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.

I portioned out the biscuit dough using scales, and got 21 biscuits out of the mix, not the 24 suggested in the recipe. As I was using the fan oven, so that I could put in two trays of biscuits together, I cooked for the minimum time suggested.

These biscuits were as delicious as I expected. Rich in chocolate flavour, with large chunks of fiery ginger which were a delight to chew on. I find dates quite neutral in flavour (which is why they're often used as a sugar replacement these days) but I think that they really enhance the impact of chocolate and they certainly contributed to the chewiness of these biscuits.

This shows how the chocolate melted and tried to escape!
My only slight disappointment with the biscuits was that any chocolate chunks on the outside of the dough ball melted during baking, leaving a lot of melted chocolate on the baking paper, and on top of some of the biscuits. This might be down to my choice of chocolate, but as these biscuits were really only chunks of chocolate, dates, and ginger held together with the minimum amount of dough, it would be difficult to make them without any chocolate chips on the surface. I've not looked into bake-stable chocolate in detail, as I've never really needed it, but my impression is that it's quite expensive - possibly only for perfectionists, which I'm not!

I'm sending these to Choclette's We Should Cocoa link-up for March, over at Tin and Thyme. There is no theme to the link-up, any recipe, using any form of chocolate, is welcome.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Chocolate Chip and Hazelnut Loaf Cake

This little loaf cake was baked for my son to take home with him after a visit - I didn't even get to see what it looked like inside, let alone taste it, but chocolate and hazelnut is a tried and tested combination, so I can't imagine anything going wrong. I would have liked to taste it as I used Willie's Chef's Drops  - 71% sambirano  (Madagascan) chocolate - which tasted quite bitter on their own. I can imagine them making a cake taste quite special. I'll have to make a cake for us using the drops, soon.

I used the all-in-one mixing method, usually used for sponge cakes, but increasing the amount of flour and adding a little milk to give a dropping consistency. This makes a cake which is slightly sturdier than a sponge, although still moist, with a close crumb texture.

This is what you do - in a large bowl, beat together 100g softened butter, 100g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 150g SR flour, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. Add a little milk or water if necessary to give a dropping consistency, then fold in 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 50g dark chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate. Transfer the batter to a small (1lb/450g) loaf tin, level the top and bake at 180C for about 50 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Coconut Tart

gluten- and dairy-free

The main aim of this baking session was to see how well my recipe for gluten-and dairy-free pastry behaved during blind-baking (see this post for details of the pastry). It shrank rather more than I'd expect from using my usual pastry techniques, and browned slightly too much during the drying out period. My main fear was that, as the pastry is so soft and pliable, the edges would collapse during baking, but I pressed the baking parchment quite firmly against the pastry wall and made sure the baking beans went well up the sides. The over-browning can be easily rectified by lowering the oven temperature during the drying out phase, so overall I was pleased with the result.

When it came to a filling, I wanted something different to the tarts I've baked recently, so that ruled out chocolate, lemon and frangipane. I've got a recipe book called The Book of Old Tarts, and came across a recipe for Cumbrian Tart in there - a coconut macaroon-type mixture on top of raspberry jam. I don't know how authentically Cumbrian this recipe is, as I couldn't find any online references, but  it sounded tasty, and was simple to make.

I didn't have raspberry jam, and although I was briefly tempted by the leftovers of a jar of mincemeat, I decided that marmalade would probably give a good sharp contrast to the sweet coconut topping - and it did!

1 shallow pre-baked 23cm(9") pastry case (gluten and dairy-free if necessary)
200g marmalade (I used fine shred orange and tangarine)
2 tablespoons golden syrup
25g caster sugar
55g butter (or hard baking fat, eg Stork, if dairy-free)
140g desiccated coconut
1 egg

Pre-heat oven to 190C.
Spread the marmalade in the base of the pastry case.
Warm the golden syrup, sugar and butter together, in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved.
Remove from the heat and mix in the coconut and egg.
Spread the coconut mixture over the marmalade, making sure to seal the edges where the filling joins the pastry.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown (mine was cooked to dark brown in 23 minutes).

If you search for coconut tart recipes, there are several similar recipes, but they often use a lot more sugar and fat in the filling, and more complicated methods of preparation. The simplicity of this recipe, together with quite low levels of sugar, meant that the flavour of the coconut dominated, and the filling, while nice and chewy, wasn't too sweet and contrasted nicely with the crisp pastry.

The second time I made the recipe I used a seedless raspberry jam in the base, and also reduced the oven temperature, from 200C to 180C, while drying out the pastry case for 10 minutes after blind baking.

I preferred the marmalade version which I thought gave the coconut filling a tropical twist as well as a certain tartness, but my husband preferred the more traditional raspberry. I found the raspberry version too sweet, although the contrasting colour does  make the tart look more interesting.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Date, Orange and Cardamom Cake


This is a recipe from one of Waitrose's monthly recipe cards  (also online here). I didn't pick it because it was dairy-free, but because I liked the sound of the other ingredients when put together - dates, orange, almonds and cardamom. I just happened to have some dairy-free spread to use up too, which was an added bonus. It's a strange recipe - it uses only bicarbonate of soda as a raising agent and is cooked at a very low temperature; the dates, sugar and orange are all acidic, so I presumed these ingredients would interact enough with the bicarbonate to raise the cake.

I had to use a slightly smaller baking tin, 20cm in diameter rather than 21cm, but the cake still cooked in the time given in the recipe. There was a slight dip in the centre, which spoiled the appearance of the cake a little - no idea why that happened, unless it was using the smaller tin! This time I added the drizzle of orange frosting suggested, just to alleviate the brownness of the cake, but it wasn't really necessary for flavour.

The cake was, surprisingly, as it contained wholemeal spelt flour, very light and moist. Both the orange and cardamom flavours were quite subtle, but I don't think that's always a bad thing - sometimes you just want all the ingredients to blend into something unique which is delicious but unidentifiable. You don't always want to be hit over the head with several, or even just one, big flavour, and that's what happened here. Because of this, and because the cake wasn't too sweet, I think this was a cake where the flavour of the spelt flour was noticeable too.

This is definitely a recipe to put in the 'repeat' file.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Norwegian Spiced Chocolate Cake

for Clandestine Cake Club

The theme for a recent meeting of my local Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) was 'How to Hygge', which seems appropriate for mid-winter, as Hygge cooking concentrates on warming spicy flavours and 'comfort' food. Even though Hygge is a Danish word, the Swedes and Norwegians have the same concept of warmth and cosiness, particularly during the long dark winters. This meant I didn't feel constrained to search for only Danish recipes, fortunately. The problem with Scandinavian baking, from a CCC point of view, is that Scandinavians seem to be hotter on the types of baking that can't be taken to CCC - yeasted buns, small pastries, biscuits and tarts etc.

I have The Nordic Bakery Cookbook, and tried out the basic cake recipe in there, making a ginger cake, and although it was delicious, I felt that it was too dry and plain for a CCC meeting. Finding no relevant recipe books in the local library, I resorted to what I could find online - which was mostly recipes from The Nordic Bakery or Scandilicious. Signe Johansen's recipe for Spiced Chocolate Cake, from Scandilicious, soon caught my eye, but I was disappointed that the recipe made a very stodgy cake when I tried it (see photo, above) The batter was difficult to marble too, as it was so shallow - I hoped the layers would swirl more as they cooked.

At that point I was running out of time to try other recipes, so decided to embrace the concept of this Spiced Chocolate Cake (also known as Tropisk Aroma), by keeping the flavourings used in Johansen's recipe, which I'd really liked, but using an ordinary sponge cake recipe as a base. I also decided to make the three layers as a sandwich cake, as in this recipe, rather than layer the batters into one pan, and swirl them before baking, as in the original recipe, pictured here. While I was making changes, I also decided to use a rich chocolate fudge frosting and filling, rather than buttercream, which I find is sometimes too sickly.

225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g SR flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

50g melted plain chocolate, cooled to lukewarm
2 tablespoons cocoa

extra milk, as necessary

*Frosting: 200g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids), 35g butter, 50mls milk, 2 generous tablespoons golden syrup.

Prepare 2 x 20cm (8") sandwich tins, at least 4cm (about 1 1/2") deep, and preheat oven to 180C, fan 160C.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, coffee-flavoured milk, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended and aerated. Add a little extra milk if necessary, to give a dropping consistency.
Weigh 500g of this batter into one of the sandwich tins and spread evenly.
Beat the melted chocolate and cocoa into the remaining portion of batter, again adding milk if necessary.
Spread this chocolate batter into the second sandwich tin.
Bake both cakes for 25-30 minutes, until risen and firm.
Cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.
Make the frosting by melting the chocolate and butter together, either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a thick bottomed pan directly over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and  beat in the milk and golden syrup. Cool until the fudgy frosting holds it's shape.
Split the coffee sponge layer in two horizontally, and place the bottom layer on a serving plate.
Using roughly 1/4 of the frosting each time, sandwich the chocolate layer between the two thinner coffee layers.
Spread the rest of the frosting on top of the assembled cake and decorate as you wish - a dusting of cocoa seems to be traditional, but I just marked a pattern using a fork.

* most versions of this cake that I've seen online completely cover the cake in a thick layer of chocolate buttercream. To do that with this frosting recipe I think you would need twice the amount I've given here!

I really liked the combination of flavours here! Chocolate and coffee always work well together but the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon added a very subtle warm spiciness. If I made this again I think I'd increase the spices to 2 teaspoons of each - the flavour was perhaps a little too subtle!