Saturday, 27 February 2010

Pear and Marzipan Torte

This is one ugly cake! LOL! In addition, the lack of any variation of colour has made it very difficult to photograph. It is an adaptation of a recipe given by a poster on the BBC Food Messageboards, which originally used plums. She wrote that the recipe originally came from the Good Housekeeping (50th Anniversary Edition) Cookbook, and was called Plum and Marzipan Kuchen.

The basics of the recipe are a shortcake/scone-like dough base, a layer of marzipan, a layer of fruit and a streusel topping. From the description given by the original poster, I expected the results to be slightly different - she described the base and marzipan puffing up around the fruit, and the top becoming golden and crunchy. This just didn't happen for me! Part of the problem might have been my misreading of the instructions - I just mixed the egg into the dough ingredients instead of beating it in, which might have made it more cakey in texture. There wasn't much juice from the fruit either, so the final torte was on the dry side - it really needed the accompanying whipped chantilly cream to help it down.

160g SR flour
125g butter
finely grated zest of two lemons
50g light muscovado sugar
50g ground almonds
1 large egg
175g marzipan - I used golden but white might be better.
25g flaked almonds - crushed slightly between your fingers to break up the flakes a bit
3 large ripe pears - such as Williams or Comice


Preheat the oven to 180C and line the base of a 9"(23cm) diameter springform or loose-based tin with baking paper or silicone sheet.

Rub the butter into the flour, then mix in the lemon zest, sugar and ground almonds. Weigh 50g of this mixture into a small bowl and add the flaked almonds.

Beat the egg into the large portion of flour mix, then spread the resulting dough into an even layer in the base of the prepared tin.

Roll the marzipan into a circle slightly smaller than the tin and place it on the dough base. Peel, core and slice each pear into 8 pieces, and arrange neatly on the marzipan.

Sprinkle the set aside streusel and almond mix evenly over the fruit, then bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the base layer is fully cooked (I tested with a probe which changed colour when the cake was baked). Cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing sides. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Although this wasn't unpleasant to eat, it was slightly on the dry and heavy side, and the dominant flavour was the lemon zest in the dough, rather than the pears or marzipan (even though I used high quality marzipan with 60% almonds). The light streusel topping also allowed the pear slices to dry out during cooking. It wasn't a patch on the pear and almond cake I made recently; sadly, not a keeper.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Rocky Road Brownies

I feel this is something everyone needs to try at least once in their life, and this in my 'once'!

I won't be making it again unless someone else requests it. There's nothing wrong with the recipe, which I took from Joy of Baking; in fact the brownie base was excellent - dark, rich, fudgey and a little bitter because of the chocolate I chose to use (I used chocolate with 85% cocoa solids as I didn't have any unsweetened). I just didn't like how sweet it got with marshmallows on top - the sweetness overwhelmed everything, even the bitterness of the base, and the only thing which came through was the flavour of too sweet chocolate and the crunch of the nuts.

So it's a personal thing - I'd certainly recommend the recipe to anyone who wanted to try them, but the final result wasn't to my taste.

The only change I made was to increase the weight of chocolate chips to 120g, but I used half chocolate and half fudge chips. The nuts I used were a mix of large pieces of macadamias and finely chopped hazelnuts.

My one mistake was to leave the topped brownie in the oven a minute or two too long - my rocky road looks like melted tarmac!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Wholemeal Apple and Orange Cake

This is a Nigel Slater recipe, published recently in The Observer, and is one of his hearty, rustic cakes. I was a little worried how it would come out, as I only had wholemeal bread flour. I used half white plain flour, in an attempt to reduce the higher gluten of the bread flour, although I didn't really know if it would have any effect on the cake batter. I also made the mistake of actually melting the butter, when trying to soften it in the microwave, so I was also concerned that this would also have an adverse effect, as I couldn't beat in air when creaming.

If there were any negative ramifications of these mistakes and changes, then all I can say is that the cake would be superb when made properly, as it was very good as it was. The flavour was very subtle, and not strongly orangey - perhaps because the marmalade I used was shredless, and quite mild in flavour. A darker, richer marmalade, with chunks of peel, would have a more pronounced effect on the flavour. My only criticism was that most of the sprinkling of demerara sugar on the top dissolved into the batter - I'll try adding more next time.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Butterscotch Blondies - take 2

This was a much better result than my first attempt a few weeks ago, but it still isn't quite what I'm looking for. I based the recipe on this recipe for White Chocolate Blondies, using more butter and some soft toffees instead of the melted white chocolate. The recipe was very tasty, but too light and cakey to match my expectations of a blondie. I'd like something more like a dense brownie in texture. Fortunately, since baking these, I've found several good looking blondie recipes on Stephanie's Ice Cream Before Dinner, so I think I'll try out some of those next.

In the meantime, if you want a tasty butterscotch flavoured cake, here is the recipe:

115g unsalted butter
115g soft toffees or vanilla fudge (I used Werther's Original Chewy Toffees)
100g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
130g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
80g white chocolate, chopped roughly
80g macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped roughly

Pre-heat the oven to 160C, line an 8" square baking tin with baking parchment. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together.

In a large saucepan, gently heat the butter, toffees, brown sugar and water until the toffees have completely melted. Stir well, to give a smooth amalgamated mixture. Allow the mixture to cool until it is barely more than hand-hot (otherwise you will scramble the eggs).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the flour mix, followed by the nuts and white chocolate.

Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until done when tested.

Cool in the tin, and cut into 12-16 pieces when completely cold.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Chocolate Croissant Pudding

It's only coincidental that I post a luscious hot chocolate dessert on Valentine's Day. The occasion has never figured large in our long married life and I don't expect anything to change in the future. We are all chocoholics here, so chocolate features heavily in my cooking, as you might have noticed!

This dessert really needs some planning ahead as it needs 24-48 hours refrigeration after the initial preparation and before baking.

I used Delia Smith's recipe for Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, from her Winter Collection, using 13 baked from frozen mini-croissants instead of bread. This was the only change I made to the recipe. There were 15 croissants in the pack, but we had to have some Quality Control testing! They were very light, and it was difficult to get them to soak up the chocolate custard mixture as you can see from the photo, but I don't think that detracted too much from the dessert. The croissants which I cut to fit in the gaps in the dish soaked up more custard, so it might have been better to slice them all in half first.

The only problem with the pudding was that it took much longer to cook than the recipe suggested. I gave up waiting for the centre to set after 45 minutes; I took three portions from around the edge and returned the dish to the oven for another 10 minutes. I put it into the oven straight from the fridge; in future I will bring it up to room temperature several hours before baking.

When hot, the custard was creamy and gooey, the soaked croissants soft but their exposed tops fairly crisp, which was all a good contrast in textures. The flavour was rich and not too sweet, as I used chocolate with 85% cocoa solids. When cold the custard set more solidly, but it was still good to eat. I haven't yet decided whether I prefer to eat the pudding hot or cold.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Cake

This cake is made from my generic cake recipe, which is basically a Madeira cake. It lends itself to all sorts of additions and variations, and is a sturdy, reliable cake-tin filler. The flavour combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is one of the Chief Tester's favourites, and I can't believe I haven't made this cake since I started writing the blog.

The use of a little brown sugar and cocoa adds some colour to the cake batter, as well as enhancing the flavour of the hazelnuts; the ground nuts help keep the cake moist. I prefer to use a chopped bar of chocolate rather than chips, as I like the appearance of randomly shaped chunks in the cake.

175g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
190g SR flour
60g ground hazelnuts
1/2 tablespoon cocoa
3 large eggs
a little milk, as necessary
40g chopped toasted hazelnuts
75g plain chocolate, coarsely chopped or in chips - I used 85% cocoa solids

Notes - I would usually add more chopped nuts, but these were already very finely chopped and 40g looked enough when I was weighing out the ingredients. The amount of chocolate can be increased too - I often add up to 150g, depending on what I have available, and of course it's OK to use chocolate with less cocoa solids. I was feeling frugal after some recent extravagances! The cocoa is to enhance the nut flavour, not to make the batter chocolate flavoured (a Dan Lepard tip!).

Preheat the oven to 170C, prepare an 8" diameter round tin. [I base-line a springform tin with a circle of silicone liner.]

Sift the SR flour and cocoa together and whisk in the ground hazelnuts to distribute evenly.

Cream the butter with both sugars until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour mix to prevent curdling.

Fold in the flour, in three batches, adding a little milk if necessary to give a soft dropping consistency.

Stir in the chopped hazelnuts and chocolate and spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. Level the surface. Bake for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake is done when tested.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to complete the cooling.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Blondies

Surprisingly, there only seem to be two recipes for these in general use. One based on an Emeril Lagasse recipe, and the one I used, found here, which I chose over the Emeril recipe because it melts a large proportion of the white chocolate into the cake batter. Some variations of this second recipe use more butter. I baked in an 8" square tin, and got a tray of blondies of a reasonable depth, which could be cut into 16 pieces.

The texture was much better than those of the Butterscotch Blondies which I made earlier in the week, but my Chief Tester thought they were lacking in any defined flavour, other than vanilla, and I think I agree with him. Even the macadamia nuts, although they added a good crunch to the texture, lost their flavour in the overwhelming vanilla blandness.

He much preferred the flavour of the Butterscotch Blondies, so I am now on a quest for something with the texture of these but the flavour of a blondie made with brown sugar. I may have to do some experimenting with amalgamated recipes, unless anyone has any suggestions.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Butterscotch Blondies

After a lot of research into the subject of blondies, which I've been meaning to try for a long time, I selected this recipe for Butterscotch Blondies from Cookie Madness, which in turn was a Richard Sax recipe published on Joy of Baking. I added 50g fudge chips and 65g chopped toasted and salted Macadamia nuts, instead of the additions suggested in the recipe.

I haven't been as disappointed with a recipe for a long time. It's the closest I've been to throwing something away for a long time, too.

I don't know whether something went wrong with the recipe, or if I just don't like blondies. The first disappointment was the depth of the blondies when cooked. It's difficult to see from the photo, but the bars were only around 1cm (less than half an inch) deep - more like a biscuit than a brownie.

From the more risen edges, visible on the photo, it looks as if the blondies rose more initially but then collapsed. The texture was like a fallen meringue - chewy and sugary in a very unpleasant way.

The only redeeming feature, and what stopped me from binning them, was the macadamia nuts. I'd love to use them more in baking but they are soooo expensive! My son hasn't tasted them yet - if he doesn't like them, they may still end up feeding the birds!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Quick Store-cupboard Desserts

Here are two recommendations for quickly made hot desserts, using ingredients which are likely to be in most store cupboards and fridges, or which can be bought and kept in reserve for when you need a quick pudding idea.

I found this first recipe, for Stem Ginger Sponge and Sticky Orange Syrup while looking for a recipe to use up half a tin of condensed milk, leftover from making the Almost-Candy Bars. I was slightly perturbed by making a sponge with no sugar, but once the syrup had soaked in the sweetness was just right. The cake was dense and puddingy, but there's nothing wrong with that occasionally! The ginger and orange flavours combined together well, but I think you could also make a delicious Orange dessert by leaving out the ginger, adding the orange zest, grated, to the sponge mix and using more marmalade in the syrup instead of the ginger syrup.

No photograph for this next dessert, as it was all eaten straight from the oven; the classic Lemon Surprise Pudding. The version I use is from Delia Smith's Cookery Course, which is a smaller version of her online recipe for Hot Citrus Pudding, made using two large lemons instead of a mixture of oranges, lemons and limes. For the smaller lemon pudding use 2 eggs, 50g butter, 110g caster sugar, 2 large lemons, 50g flour and 150ml milk.

If you Google for Lemon Surprise Pudding, there seems to be a lot of criticism of this sort of recipe not working very well. Occasionally, when I've made the recipe it han't made a lot of sauce, but I think the recipe only works well with a lot of lemon juice - if you're not sure your lemons are 'large', then err on the side of excess and use three! It's one of those recipes where the amount of juice really should be given as a volume rather than a number of lemons.

For an interesting experimental variation, this time, I poured the pudding batter over a chopped ripe mango, which worked very well. The pieces of mango stayed in the puddle of lemon sauce beneath the spongey topping.