Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas Desserts

- Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake and Key Lime Pie

No-one in the family is keen on traditional Christmas pudding, and I also wanted to make things which would keep for a day or two, in case no-one even wanted dessert after Christmas Lunch.

I made my first choice quickly, as something chocolatey is a tradition with us. I decided to splash out on a block of Willie Harcourt-Cooze's Venezuelan Black Cacao and use his recipe for Cloud Forest Cake. Of the three varieties of cacao available, I chose the Rio Caribe Superior, which is described as having 'a zesty note of citrus fruit'.

Although some comments after the recipe suggest that it's not an easy recipe, I've made it twice now with no problems - the most difficult, and time consuming, part is grating the 100% cacao, as the blocks are very hard. Even with a large microplane, it took me 15 minutes (the first time with a smaller microplane, it took me 30 minutes!). I found I needed to cook the cake for about 10 minutes longer to ensure it was cooked to the centre.

The cacao has a very distinctive flavour which is carried through to the cooked dessert. The cake has a dense close texture, and has just the right amount of sugar to make it palatable, but still retain the intensity and bitterness of the cacao.

The cake is so rich that double cream, sweetened slightly and whipped with vanilla extract, actually lightens it!

If you are a chocoholic, but haven't yet tried coooking with 100% cacao, I recommend you try it once - the results are worlds away from cooking with standard supermarket 70% chocolate bars.

For my second dessert, I wanted something sweeter and lighter, as a counterbalance to the chocolate dessert. When I was making a decision about desserts, I planned to bake a Christmas cake with lemon in, and another cake with orange as the predominant flavour. In the event, the orange cake didn't get made, but my original plans kept me away from choosing either lemon or orange as the basis for dessert.

However, I did decide that citrus would be good balance against the rich chocolate, so finally opted for a Key Lime Pie. Never having made it before, choosing the right recipe wasn't simple.

Deciding to go with a cook I can trust, I looked at Foodycat's blog entry here, and realised the recipe she recommended was almost identical to Delia Smith's, which sounded promising, as Delia may not be exciting, but she is reliable!

Again, this was a very simple recipe to follow - the only change I made was not to use grape nuts in the pie crust - just 200g crushed digestive biscuits and 100g melted butter. I sprinkle the baked dessert with more lime zest, and served whipped cream separately. My limes were very small - it took 8 limes to give 150mls juice, and four of them to give enough finely grated zest.

Despite not having real Key Limes, this was still a well-flavoured dessert and made a good counterpoint to all the rich food at the Christmas lunch.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

'Christmas' Cake

Not a traditional cake, but a new favourite - Squidgy Lemon-Ginger Cake from Good Food. The first time I baked it, I commented that it reminded me of Christmas cake, without all the dried fruit. Fresh ginger, lemon, dates and muscovado sugar seem to magically combine to give the right spicy warm smell! I decorated it with drizzled white chocolate, chopped stem ginger and fondant icing snowflakes.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Mince Pies

We don't eat many mince pies, so it's not worth making my own mincemeat. This year, I used a Cranberry and Port Mincemeat from Waitrose; a pretty dark red colour and plenty of flavour.

I use my own pastry recipe, a combination of how my mother makes all her pastry and a sweet shortcrust. My mother uses SR flour all the time - it makes the pastry short and crumbly, and prevents it hardening after a few days, as regular shortcrust pastry can, especially if you're not an expert, and are a bit heavy handed with the water. I find using SR flour especially useful with mince pies which you want to keep for quite a while. This amount of pastry should make about 2 dozen pies.

500g SR flour, 250g salted butter, rubbed in. Sift in about 75g icing sugar, and mix to a dough with a whole egg and as much cold water as necessary. The dough should be a smooth paste which holds together well but isn't too wet, or crumbly around the edges - unfortunately only experience can help you with this! Knead lightly and chill for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into quarters, for ease of use. Roll out one portion and cut out an equal number of pie bottoms and lids to fit your moulds. Add the trimmings to the next portion when rolling those out. Assemble pies as usual and bake at 200C until golden - could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size of pie and thickness of pastry.

My mother always brushes the pastry lid with water and sprinkles over some granulated sugar before baking, and this is a tradition I carry on - I like a sparkly finish better than a loose dusting of icing sugar afterwards. I only had caster sugar available this year, which doesn't work quite as well, because of the smaller crystals.

Friday, 18 December 2009

My First Bundt Tin

Same cake - different cake tin! This is my favourite Chocolate and Orange Marble Cake, with an orange glacé icing, made in my new bundt tin.

It was a bit of an experiment, as I didn't really know how much cake batter I was going to need to fill the tin, or how efficient the non-stick surface of the tin was going to be. I decided that starting from a known cake would help me decide which cake recipes could be used in my tin in future.

As it turned out, this cake was too small by at least 50% - half as much batter again would probably have filled the tin to the top when baked. However, it was good to know that the finished cake still looked reasonably attractive, because the design of the tin isn't different around the base.

I greased and floured the tin carefully and the cake fell out easily, so hopefully sticking is not going to be a problem.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I didn't have all the ingredients to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, which seems to get consistently good reviews, so I decided to tackle Delia Smith's recipe instead.

You'll see, when you compare my photo with the one shown with the recipe, what was wrong with the cake - it didn't rise well and the quantities given for the frosting and filling were very sparse. It was also a crumbly but sticky cake (how is that possible?), so it was difficult to turn out of the sandwich tins. I added the chopped walnuts to the filling, but decided not to use them on top.

The texture was moist and dense, and the flavour was fine, although nothing special, and the frosting was not as richly chocolatey as I'd expected, considering the high proportion of chocolate added. Sometimes I think that cocoa gives a better flavour in frostings.

I'm not sure I'd bother to make this again, but if I did, I think I'd try making it in 7" sandwich tins to give a deeper cake and the illusion of more filling and frosting.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


A while back I made these Fig and Pumpkin Seed Bars. Although I really liked the flavour, I didn't like the basic bar recipe. I eventually got around to trying the mixture of dried figs, sour cherries, pumpkin seeds and walnuts in my usual flapjack recipe. This was a big improvement, as my flapjacks are perfect (in my eyes!) - thick and chewy, as I like them. I would like to incorporate some maple syrup in future, although I know from experience that this alters the texture of the flapjack.

This is my basic flapjack recipe, which produces a thick chewy flapjack which isn't at all crumbly.

For these flapjacks I used 90g dried figs, 70g dried sour cherries, 40g pumpkin seeds and 50g walnuts. I chopped the figs, walnuts and dried cherries into smaller pieces, adding the pumpkin seeeds at the end so that only a few were chopped and most remained whole. This could be done in a processor, with brief pulses, but I used a mezzaluna.


250g butter
100g golden syrup
150g light muscovado sugar
350g rolled (porridge) oats
150g dried fruit, nuts and seeds of choice - chopped where necessary


Fully line a 30 x 20cm x 2.5cm deep (12" x 8" x 1" deep) baking tin with parchment, ensuring that the parchment comes up the sides of the tin, so that none of the flapjack mix will touch the tin. I do this with one piece of paper, pressed and folded into the corners.

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together, either in a large bowl in the microwave, or in a large saucepan on the hob, on a low heat.

Stir in the oats and dried fruit mix. Mix well until the wet mix is evenly distributed.

Press the mixture into the tin as evenly as possible, then bake at 180C for 25 - 30 minutes until just turning golden. If you prefer a crisper flapjack, bake for a few minutes more.

Remove from oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes then mark into bars. Allow to cool completely before removing bars from the tin.

To make smaller batches, use 2/3 of the quantities given in a 20cm (8") square tin, or half quantities in a 18cm (7") tin.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Peanut Butter Marble Cake

It's a pity that the original name for this flavour-packed cake is such an ugly mouthful - Chocolate Mocha Peanut Butter Marble Cake, although it's hard to convey all the information any other way. The peanut butter runs right through the cake batter, which is then divided in half, and one part flavoured with a mocha mixture, while chocolate chips are added to the other part.

The only change I made to the cake recipe was with the Mocha flavouring. I didn't have any Camp coffee essence, and wanted it to be more chocolatey, so I used a tablespoon of coffee granules and a tablespoon of cocoa mixed to a thick paste with a tablespoon of flour from the recipe quantity and 2 tablespoons of cold water.

I baked the cake in a 9"(22cm) springform tin, as I don't have a bundt tin - it took about 10 minutes longer to cook.

I used plain chocolate with 86% cocoa solids - I prefer using chopped chocolate bars for most cakes as I really like the irregularity of large and small pieces (right down to crumb sized).

I made a small quantitiy of frosting, rather than using the apricot glaze, by mixing about 100g icing sugar, a tablespoon of cocoa and a heaped tablespoon of smooth peanut butter to a paste with warm water, and used a piping bag to drizzle a lattice pattern over the cake.

This is a fairly heavy cake - there isn't a great deal of raising agent in the mixture - but the eggs and peanut butter keep it quite moist, and we prefer this type of cake to those with a really light airy texture, which look more substantial than they really are.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Chilli-chocolate Orange Cake

If you're a regular reader of my posts you will know by now that I am quite critical of what I bake and it's very rare for me to be completely satisfied with a recipe (or of the way it turns out for me!). No such problems here - this Chilli-chocolate Orange Cake is perfect. A moist, close texture, but not too dense; a good balance of all the added flavours, and equally tasty with or without a frosting (and there's a choice of two with this recipe). Of course, you do have to like the chilli-chocolate combination in cakes! The amount in this cake is just right for me, giving enough warmth to be noticable, but no lingering burn.

The recipe is by Sam Stern, who published his first cookery book in his mid-teens. It's the last recipe on this page of chocolate cake recipes on The Guardian website. I used 2 tablespoons of orange juice instead of rum and/or water, and the grated rind of the whole orange, otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.

For a frosting I used a Mary Berry recipe very similar to the bitter chocolate icing suggested in the recipe, but with smaller quantities - 90g plain chocolate, 45g butter and 2 teaspoons golden syrup melted together, then cooled until thick enough to stay on the cake. This amount is just enough for a thin layer on the top of the cake. I sprinkled orange zest over the frosting for an extra finishing touch.