Monday, 14 May 2018

Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake

I'm so glad I decided to bake this Molasses and Coconut Rum Cake, even though it was too big for me, and I had to freeze half of it in slices. It's the best cake I've tasted for a long time!

The recipe, from the ever reliable and inventive Dan Lepard, popped up on my Facebook feed recently, as I follow the Australian Good Food site. A lot of the recipes there aren't immediately relevant, as the seasons are reversed, but a lot of cake recipes, like this one, aren't seasonal anyway.

As is often the case with Dan, the recipe has a slightly unusual method - it wasn't difficult, but there were one or two points worth remembering for next time. The recipe says to heat the sugar and molasses (I used black treacle) together until any lumps of sugar have softened, but not to boil the mixture. The butter is then melted in the warm sugar. I don't think I heated the sugar enough, as when it was tipped into my mixing bowl a layer set on the bottom, which was really difficult to mix back in, and the butter, which I had cut into small cubes, only just melted. Better to have a little more heat, I think, then wait for the sugar and butter mixture to cool a little, if necessary, before going on to the next stage of adding the eggs, so that the excess heat doesn't cook the eggs.

I used a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, which made a more shallow cake than the one shown with the recipe, but a 450g (1lb) tin would have been too small, and we don't have an in-between size in the UK, as far as I'm aware.

I added about 3 tablespoons of rum to the cake - all there was left in the bottle - and it soaked in easily. I'd probably add a bit more next time, as the flavour wasn't as strong as I'd expected.

Because I was going to freeze part of the cake, I didn't make the frosting. I don't often add frostings to everyday cakes, but I think I'd add one if I made this for a special occasion - and the cake is certainly good enough for that!

There was a relatively large amount of desiccated coconut in this recipe, compared to traditional British coconut cake recipes, but it was almost overwhelmed by the stronger flavours of the black treacle and the spices. The texture of the cake was soft but not too sponge-like; in some ways it was more like a gingerbread than a coconut cake, although it didn't get a sticky top when stored.

This is definitely a recipe to repeat!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Date and Tahini Brownies

This recipe from Jill Dupleix, for Tahini and Date Brownies, made a fantastic chocolate cake, but I couldn't really relate it to the sort of thing I expect from a brownie recipe - it was far too light! Using puréed dates gave a lovely soft, but rich, texture, as well as cutting down on the amount of refined sugar and fat usually used in a recipe of this size, but did stop the brownies being dense and fudgy.

The amount of tahini in the recipe didn't make much of an impact on the flavour either. It's hard to tell unless I made the same recipe without the tahini, but we certainly didn't bite into a brownie and say 'Oooh! Good sesame flavour there!'

I puréed the dates with a stick blender, which was pretty hard going, as the purée was so thick. A blender attached to a food processor would probably given a smoother purée, but that wasn't possible for me. To those who profess to not like the flavour of dates, I would say, if you get a really smooth purée, you wouldn't even know the dates were there! However, I liked the odd little nubble of date left in my purée, just to remind me what was in the brownie.

If you are worried about the amount of refined sugar your family is eating, you would probably enjoy this recipe. I think it would make a good rich chocolate layer cake too - I'm pretty sure it would fit into 2 x 18cm (7") sandwich tins.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Emergency Brownies with Pistachio Nuts and Chilli Chocolate

I've used Nigella Lawson's recipe for Emergency Brownies, from her latest book 'At My Table', several times now; not because I have frequent emergencies, but because the recipe is just the right size for someone living on their own, who tries hard not to overindulge on cake.

As I said before, it's not the best recipe for brownies that I've ever made, but it's pretty good! This time, I used pistachio nuts left over from Easter baking, and chilli-flavoured chocolate (that was a bit of an emergency - my chocolate stocks were very low!)

The recipe is online now, here on the BBC Food website. I'd advise you to save a copy, as experience has taught me that the BBC doesn't keep celebrity chefs' recipes for ever! Next time you need it, it'll probably be gone! I find that 20 minutes baking leaves the brownies still slightly gooey in the centre, but I think my tin size is a little smaller than the one Nigella suggests, making the brownies a little deeper.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pistachio and Marzipan Palmiers

I have to admit that this was more of an assembly job than a real baking session, but these puff pastry biscuits were a lovely treat over the Easter weekend. I also have to admit that I chose the recipe to use the last of the Christmas marzipan, which had been stored, well wrapped, in the fridge since I made these Mincemeat and Marzipan Squares a month ago.

The recipe was in this feature on Easter baking, in the Guardian newspaper. There are a few points to note when it comes to assembly - the nut mixture needs to be firmly embedded into the pastry (I found it best to press down with the rolling pin rather than roll), and I felt that a longer chilling time would have made the roll of dough easier to cut. Unfortunately I didn't have more time at that stage as I needed the oven for the joint of lamb we were having for dinner. I baked the palmiers at 180C fan (200C conventional) as the temperature given in the recipe seemed a bit low for cooking puff pastry in a conventional oven. The palmiers still took the full 20 minutes to bake to a light golden colour, so my decision to raise the oven temperature seemed correct.

These are best eaten the day they are baked; the pastry wasn't quite so crisp the next day. Comparing my photos to the illustration with the recipe, it looks as though I should have processed the nuts and marzipan to a finer texture, but I liked the crunch of some larger pieces of nuts.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Blondies with a Hazelnut Butter and Cocoa Filling

I bought a jar of hazelnut butter flavoured with cocoa. My thinking was that it would be a healthier treat than Nutella, as it only had a little added sugar (10% honey) and it was also safe to have around when my daughter visited, as she has a peanut allergy, and worries about cross-contamination if she sees I have any peanut butter in the house. The problem was that I didn't really like it. Although the hazelnut flavour was very good, the texture was grainy and it just wasn't sweet enough for me when eaten on plain biscuits - I guess I'm a Nutella girl at heart!

Never one to throw away food if it can be used somehow, I decided that it would be ideal cooked into something sweet, so decided to use it as a layer in the middle of some blondies instead of adding chocolate chips. The plan worked very well, although the blondie recipe I chose was more like cookie dough than blondie batter. The hazelnut flavour came through strongly, and the blondies looked quite attractive too. If I made them again, I think I would add some small chocolate chips too, to increase the chocolate flavour. The hazelnut butter alone didn't have enough chocolate-ness.

Ingredients
125g butter
200g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
125g hazelnut butter with added cocoa (the brand I used was Meridian, which had a little honey and coconut added too)

Method
Line a 20cm(8") square shallow baking tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C(160 fan).
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extrat together until well blended and creamy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour.
Sift in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and beat until well mixed.
Spread 2/3 of the mixture into the baking tin - it helps to wet the back of a metal spoon to spread the thick dough more easily.
Spread the hazelnut butter over the dough, to within 1cm of the edges.
Drop teaspoonsful of the rest of the dough evenly over the surface, then use a wet spoon to flatten and spread the dough as much as possible - it isn't necessary to completely cover the hazelnut butter layer.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until the blondie dough is risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin, then cut into fingers or squares.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Plum and Cinnamon Loaf

This cake was going to be a half-sized attempt at Dan Lepard's tried and tested Stone Fruit Yogurt Cake, until I realised that I was lacking the necessary semolina. Not one to be easily thwarted, I used polenta instead and carried on!

I wouldn't usually buy fresh plums at this time of year, as they have been trekked halfway round the world, but the checkout till at Waitrose kindly printed out a coupon for a pack of 6 'Perfectly Ripe' plums at half price. This recipe used three plums - they were quite large, weighing about 80g each, I seem to remember.

One of my baking books tells me that a 20cm round deep cake tin is equivalent to a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, so I hoped that half the quantities in Dan's recipe would be OK in a 450g(1lb) loaf tin. It was a near thing - the batter filled more of the tin than I was happy with, but fortunately the cake didn't rise too much. I made a couple of slight alterations to the recipe, but nothing that altered it substantially from the original.

Ingredients
90g caster sugar + 2 teaspoons extra
90g softened butter +15g extra
3 large ripe plums
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
80g full-fat Greek-style natural yogurt
40g polenta
85g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder

Method
Line a 450g loaf tin with foil, pressing it well into the corners without tearing it, and grease with a little of the extra butter. Dot the remainder of the extra butter over the base, and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of caster sugar.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Halve and de-stone the plums, and cut each half into 4 slices. Arrange about 2/3 of the plum slices in the base of the loaf tin, and sprinkle over another teaspoon of sugar. Chop the remaining slices of fruit into small pieces.
Mix the flour, polenta, cinnamon and baking powder together in a small bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract, adding a spoonful of the flour mix to prevent curdling.
With the mixer on it's slowest speed, stir in the yogurt, followed by the rest of the flour mix.
Fold in the remaining chopped plums with a spoon, then transfer the batter to the baking tin.
Bake for about 60 minutes, covering for the last 15-20 minutes if the cake seems to be browning too quickly. A test probe should come out clean of cake batter, although you might hit a piece of fruit which will make the probe look damp.
Leave for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate and carefully peel away the foil. If any of the fruit topping becomes dislodged, it can be gently put back into place. Cool before serving.

The slices of plums on top of the loaf were a really pretty pink colour - it was lovely to photograph something which wasn't brown! There was just enough cinnamon to taste, without it overwhelming the plums, which were both sweet and sharp and gave the cake a fresh taste which I've been missing all winter!

Incidentally, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the plums were, but I think I still prefer to buy fruit as locally and seasonally as possible.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Mincemeat and Marzipan Shortbread Squares

Another variation on my favourite filled shortbread traybake, using one of my favourite seasonal flavour combinations - mincemeat and marzipan. This recipe is so quick to put together that it could easily be made instead of mincepies at any time over the festive season, but I made it to use up the Christmas leftovers.

The original recipe, from Sue Lawrence's 'On Baking' used dates, currants and ginger in the filling, but I've made several versions in the past, keeping the shortbread part of the recipe the same and varying the filling. The butter and sugar in the recipe are melted together before being added to flour and semolina, and the resulting crumbly dough is just scattered and then pressed into the baking tin. Using prepared mincemeat, rather than cooking the filling, means the whole recipe can be assembled and into the oven in about 5 minutes - much faster than messing around with pastry, or even traditional shortbread.


Ingredients
170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
300g mincemeat
100g marzipan, cut into cubes of half a cm

Method
Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan. Line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Weigh the flour and semolina into a large bowl.
In a small pan, melt the butter and sugar over a low heat, just enough to dissolve the sugar. Add to the flour mix and stir together until evenly combined.
Scatter 2/3 of the dough over the base of the tin and press down firmly to give an even layer. Smooth the surface, using fingers or a spatula.
Spread the mincemeat over the dough, leaving a margin of 1cm around the edges. Sprinkle over the cubes of marzipan.
Cover with the remaining dough mixture - the easiest way to do this is to crumble the shortbread over the surface, using fingers, then press down lightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut into squares as soon as the tin is removed from the oven, but cool completely before lifting the shortbread from the tin.

The shortbread was crisp and buttery, but not too sweet, which meant that even with commercial mincemeat and marzipan added, the squares were not over-sweet. My mincemeat contained cranberries which also added to the flavour.