Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Tamarind Date Cake

I love Dan Lepard's baking recipes from the Guardian newspaper, but it's not often I get the happy coincidence of him writing a recipe for something the Chief Tester will eat and having all the ingredients in stock, so that I can make it almost before the ink has dried on the newspaper. That came about last weekend (if we don't count using pecans instead of walnuts) with this recipe for a cake packed with dates and walnuts (or pecans) and flavoured with tamarind paste and dark brown sugar.

The recipe itself was plain sailing, even if the method was a little unusual; cakes mixed in a saucepan have the added bonus of reducing the washing up load, which can be considerable after a typical baking session. My only concern was what exactly was meant by Tamarind Paste - the commercial pastes on the market can vary in strength and often have salt and sugar added, so I decided to make a paste from a block of pulp. I weighed 50g of pulp and added 100mls of boiling water. After stirring frequently during cooling to separate out all the fibres and seeds, I passed the mixture through a seive and weighed out 50g of the resulting paste.

My only real problem was the cake tin. When Dan says deep he means really deep! My 18cm (7") tin was 7cm deep but wouldn't take all the batter, so I had to hurriedly line a 20cm tin and transfer over the cake mixture. Even then the batter came to within an inch of the top, so I was anxiously watching it rise in the oven and expecting an overflow (which happily didn't come).

When cut within a few hours of baking the cake was very crumbly, which was a big concern, but it had firmed up a lot by the next day. I'd really recommend leaving the cake a day before even attempting to cut it.

The cake crumb itself was surprisingly light, but managed to hold all the dates and nuts in an even distribution throughout. The flavour of tamarind didn't come through as strongly as I'd expected; I've bake with tamarind before and it's given a lemony note to the cake which wasn't evident here. Here the tamarind seems to counterbalance the sweetness, making the addition of a glacé icing a lovely contrast, not a sickly, unnecessary extra. I didn't think the cardamom in the icing added much to the flavour either, but my pods may have been a little too old! However, the cake was still well flavoured, moist and so much lighter than many similar fruit and nut cakes; I'm sure I'll be making this one again!

After this recipe was published on Dan Lepard's web-site, with a photograph, I've realised that he intended it to be made in a square tin. An 18cm square tin is equivalent in volume to the 20cm round tin which I eventually I used (guided by the photo in the Guardian), so there's no problem with the quantities of ingredients given in the recipe.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Choc Full o' Chocolate Blondies

We've been to Paris for a spring break, so have been eating fine French Patisserie for a few days, but before we left, I made sure The Chief Tester had something to eat while we were away. I thank Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for her butterscotch bar recipe, and apologise unreservedly for doubting her and adding another egg to the batter - it's supposed to be quite solid! I used 100g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped, 100g dark chocolate chips (39% cocoa), 75g of 85% chocolate and 85g of 74% chocolate instead of just (just!!) the 360g chocolate in Celia's recipe, as we have no problem with nut consumption. I cut the 8" square cake into 16 pieces, as the CT has a large appetite!

I think I cut the bars before they were completely cold, as the photo shows blurs of chocolate rather than solid pieces, but that didn't affect the taste! I didn't get to try these until I got back from my short holiday, and had one from the part of the batch which had been frozen, but they were still in good condition and very chocolatey. So chocolatey in fact, that it was hard to believe there was any plain cake mixture there!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

First Rhubarb of the Year

Considering how hard the past winter has been, and what a late spring we are having, I think it's amazing that my rhubarb is ready to start picking. It seems earlier this year, rather than later than usual.

I will be making a rhubarb crumble with this first batch, but I don't think you'll need either a recipe or a photo of that!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Coffee and Pecan Marble Cake

It's so hard trying to think of new flavours that the Chief Tester will like - he was a fussy child, and is still quite fussy compared to his parents and sister. He doesn't like a lot of fresh fruit, either raw, cooked into cakes or as hot desserts such as crumbles and pies. He's just starting (at almost 30 years old!) to accept apples and pears baked into cakes and spongy desserts. He doesn't like dried fruit in huge quantities, although dates in sticky toffee pudding are OK because they are practically a purée, and I can get away with a little dried fruit in things like cookies which also have lots of chocolate and nuts in them.

He likes spices, chocolate, coffee, nuts and citrus flavours (although not the whole fruits). Normally this wouldn't matter too much - I'd bake something he liked, and something different for us - but as we are watching our waistlines expand, I'm trying not to bake anything that he won't eat too.

This marble cake was thought up as a change from chocolate, mainly for us - I don't think it would bother the Chief Tester if all cakes contained chocolate! I used my standard Madeira cake mixture, and baked it in a 25cm ring tin, although the batter would have been just as happy in a smaller tin. I just wanted to try the tin again, as the first time I used it, I broke the cake getting it out of the tin. That's why the slice of cake in the photo looks a peculiar proportion - it is too shallow, as the tin really needs more batter.

225g softened butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g SR flour
milk, as necessary (about 5 tablespoons, perhaps)
50g finely chopped pecans
2 teaspoons instant coffee, dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water
1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (to deepen the colour - black treacle or molasses would work as well)
Coffee Glacé Icing:
75-100g icing sugar made into a smooth paste with a heaped teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water, plus more water as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 170C, and prepare a tin as usual. (I just greased this ring tin, as it seemed very non-stick the first time I used it.)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, with a little of the weighed flour to prevent curdling. Add the vanilla extract with the first egg.

Fold in the flour, with enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.

Divide the batter into equal halves, and fold the nuts, spices, coffee and molasses into one half, mixing until evenly blended.

Evenly spread half the plain batter into the base of the prepared tin. Using half the coffee batter and the rest of the plain batter place alternate blobs of mixture round the ring. Use the back of a spoon to squidge down the blobs to make a fairly even layer, then spread the remaining coffee batter on top.

Insert something like a chopstick or teaspoon handle into the batter, not quite to the base, and drag it twice around the circle, making the rings a few centimetres apart, to marble the batter a little.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (A cake baked in a smaller, or a round tin, rather than a ring, might take a little longer.)

Cool the cake in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully remove onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

When completely cold, decorate as liked with the coffee glacé icing. (I spooned the icing into a small freezer bag, and snipped off a corner to give a simple piping bag, which gives a more controllable drizzle when using glacé icing)

This is a moist, close-textured cake. The molasses and spices added subtle hints of flavour without overwhelming the main coffee and pecan flavours.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Double Dose of Cookies

I whipped up a batch of cookies for the Chief Tester this afternoon, just to keep the cake tin filled. Cookies are something I can take or leave, so hopefully I won't be too tempted to eat them. I used a recipe for cookies which I've had hanging around for many years - I used to make them for my children's Primary School teachers at the end of term! The recipe is for a basic dough, which you can vary to taste, adding dried fruit, nuts, spices and chocolate, to make different flavoured cookies.

While I had the scales and the mixer, and all the ingredients out, I thought it would be just as easy to make a double batch of dough and try some of the cookie dough with added granola - using some of the Dorset Cereal Chocolate Granola with Macadamia Nuts which I won recently. Flapjacks made with the granola were very successful, so I had high hopes for the cookies too.

Basic cookie dough:
225g butter, softened
225g sugar (I used 150g light muscovado sugar and 75g caster sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
330g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 190C. Sift the flour with the salt and bicarbonate of soda. Make the dough by beating the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs and vanilla, with a little flour from the weighed amount. Mix in the rest of the flour with a spoon to give a soft sticky dough. Divide the dough in half, to make two differently flavoured cookies.

Add your chosen additions to each half, and mix in to distribute evenly. Use two spoons to portion out the dough onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or silicon; place them well apart to allow for spreading during baking. I get 14 cookies out of each batch of dough, using a heaped dessertspoon - not very scientific, I know, but I don't have the dough scoops which seem common in the US.

Bake for about 12 minutes (depending on size). The cookies should just be colouring at the edges, but will still be soft when you take them out of the oven. Allow them to harden for 2-3 minutes, then carefully move to a wire rack.
I decided to make Stem Ginger and Chocolate Chip Cookies for my son, so added 100g plain chocolate chips and 8 nuggets of stem ginger chopped into small pieces to one batch of dough:

To make the Chocolate Granola Cookies, I added 150g chocolate granola with macadamia nuts to the other half of the dough:

Although both batches of cookies were quite tasty, those containing granola didn't taste strongly of anything in particular. Obviously the granola was not enough on it's own to make a big enough impact on the cookie mix. The Stem Ginger and Chocolate Chip cookies would have been better with more chocolate and a little ground ginger in the dough.
This recipe seemed very good thirty years ago, when we didn't often see really good American-style cookies in this country (a packet of Maryland Cookies was the standard to go by), but now I think it's a pretty ordinary recipe, and a little disappointing. This is obviously another area where I need to look for better recipes.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Marbled Brownies

These are what I call cakey brownies, rather than the dense, chewy sort. There's a place for both, but I really prefer the dense, chewy, chocolate-laden ones.

Having decided on Peanut Butter Brownies, I chose this recipe from Kitchen Travels, after spending quite a long time searching for recipes online. I think it was the gorgeous photos which won me over, as well as the fact that many of the other recipes used chocolate chips in a peanutty cake. I wondered about adding melted chocolate to the chocolate portion of the batter, but decided that anything too chocolatey might overwhelm the peanut butter flavour. The only change I made in the end was to use only white flour, as that's all I had. I needed to add a little milk to the chocolate batter to make it spreadable, but the peanut batter didn't need any extra liquid.

The end result was a good balance of flavours between chocolate and peanut butter, and a well textured moist cake.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sour Cream Bundt Cake

with chocolate, pecan and cinnamon streusel layers.

This is a huge cake, just right for Easter celebrations, but it will be the last large cake for quite a while, as our expanding waistlines must be reigned in! Future bakes will be smaller, and aimed at The Chief Tester (my son) rather than being something OH and I want to eat.

If I made this again, I would try to get the two streusel layers further apart. It was something of an experiment, as I was using a crumb cake recipe in a bundt tin, and didn't want a crumb layer as either the first or last layer in the tin.

I used Ina Garten's Sour Cream Coffee Cake as the basic recipe, but used some cocoa in place of some of the flour in the streusel, and added 100g of chocolate chips to a portion of the cake batter, as well as arranging the layers differently. I also used pecans instead of walnuts. As we don't have cake flour available in the UK, I substituted just under half a cup of cornflour (50g) for some of the flour. Once the cake was cool, I added a chocolate glacé icing.

175g unsalted butter
300g sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
300mls soured cream
275g plain flour
50g cornflour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt
100g plain chocolate chips
50g light muscovado sugar
50g plain flour
20g cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
40g cold unsalted butter
50g finely chopped pecans
Glacé Icing
50g icing sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
warm water as required

Preheat the oven to 170C and butter and flour a 10-cup bundt pan.
Make the streusel by rubbing the butter into the flour, sugar, cocoa and cinnamon, then mixing in the nuts. Set aside.

To make the cake batter, first mix the salt and raising agents into the two flours, then sift together to distribute everything evenly. Cream the softened butter and sugar together until well mixed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour mixture. On a low mixer speed add the soured cream and flour mix in alternate portions, also adding the vanilla extract at this stage. Use a spatula at the end of mixing to make sure everything is well mixed and there are no traces of flour remaining.

To layer the cake: Put roughly a quarter of the batter into the bundt tin, dropping small amounts evenly around the ring, and spreading with the back of a spoon, being careful not to disturb the flour lining the mould. Sprinkle half the streusel mix over the cake batter. Next spread half the remaining cake batter into the tin, followed by the rest of the streusel mixture. Stir the chocolate chips into the remaining portion of batter and spread evenly into the tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing the cake from the tin. finish cooling the cake on the rack.

When completely cold, make the chocolate glacé icing by sifting the icing sugar and cocoa together and mixing to a thick paste with warm water. Drizzle this over the cake with a spoon or icing bag, then carefully move the cake to a serving plate. I found it best to build up the icing in layers.

This cake is as delicious as it looks. The sour cream helps to give a moist tender crumb which is not too sweet while the layers of streusel add more sweetness, an intense chocolate flavour, a touch of spice and some crunch from the nuts.