Monday, 27 September 2010

Chocolate Orange Crumb Cake

This could so easily have been a disaster! A last minute panic after a day of indecision about what to cook left me no time to chop chocolate or nuts, no time to bring the butter up to room temperature and no time to faff about with a complicated recipe. So after a short burst of microwaves for the butter, all the ingredients for this cake were thrown into one bowl and beaten until smooth. I also had to bake with the fan on, as I was starting to cook dinner while the cake was baking - I much prefer to bake cakes in a conventional oven.

Fortunately things worked out OK. Thanks to the yogurt, the cake crumb was moist and close textured, but still light. In an ideal world I would have added more chocolate chips to the cake mixture (I only had 50g), but the chocolate crumb topping helped the balance between chocolate and orange flavours.The cake was still warm when the CT ate his first slice, but I told him to think of it as a pudding!

Crumb Topping
Melt 55g butter in a bowl in the microwave, then add 50g caster sugar, 70g plain flour and 20g cocoa. Mix with a fork until all the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Put the following ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. 150g unsalted butter (softened), 150g caster sugar, 3 medium eggs, finely grated zest of 1 large orange, 225g SR flour, 80g natural yogurt. Stir in 50-100g plain chocolate chips.

Transfer the cake batter to an 8"(20cm) prepared springform tin, level the top then use your fingers to break the topping mix into crumbs and scatter it evenly over the surface. Bake at 180C(160C fan) for 60-65 minutes or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Chocolate Ginger Torte

This is not a pretty dessert, so not easy to photograph. You can tart it up with ganache or a fudgey frosting, but we find it so rich that it only needs a spoonful of whipped vanilla cream as an accompaniment - and perhaps a few berries, if you have any which compliment chocolate. You can make it look much more elegant with careful plating up and presentation, so I find it a useful dessert when we have guests for meals. This type of torte is sometimes called a baked mousse, as it has the texture of a dense, rich, truffle-like mousse, and I think it's even easier to make than the classic mousse which only uses eggs and chocolate.

I first came across this recipe many years ago, on one of the first internet communities I joined. It was posted by someone called Judy, and was an instant hit. It became known as Judy's Gooey Chocolate Cake. That website has recently gone into a decline, and I'm not sure how much longer it will remain online, but I will give the link to the original recipe, and hope that it's available for a while. I'll also write out the recipe fully, in case the link disappears.

I usually make this unflavoured, but decided to add some very finely chopped preserved stem ginger, and some of the ginger syrup, this time. It made me realise that the recipe could take any number of variations - a little liqueur, various spices (maybe even chilli), ground nuts instead of flour. I toyed with the idea of baking it on a crumb base made with crushed Oreos, but decided to leave that this time, although I think it might work well.

350g plain chocolate - see note
140g unsalted butter
140g caster sugar
5 large eggs - separated
50g plain flour
3 balls of preserved stem ginger
2 tablespoons of syrup from the ginger jar

Note - I think this is one occasion where you don't need a chocolate with really high cocoa solids. I usually use under 70%, but this time used  72%, and saw signs of the chocolate mixture thickening too much after melting. Between 60 and 70% would be best, when you also take into account the relatively low amount of sugar.

Pre-heat the oven to 175C and prepare a 22cm (9") round springform tin.
Chop the stem ginger really finely - I used a mini food processor.
Melt the chocolate, sugar, butter and ginger syrup together in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cool the chocolate mixture a little if necessary, so that it's about blood heat, then mix in the beaten egg yolks, flour and chopped stem ginger.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin and bake for 30-35 minutes. It's important not to overbake this as you want it to still be moist after it cools. A probe should show a few moist crumbs still clinging to it.
Cool in the tin. I always leave this on the springform base for serving, so I'm not sure how easy it is to remove from the tin completely.

The ginger flavour of this is quite mild - I think you could easily use more for a stronger flavour. The torte is dense and moist and has the 'melt in the mouth' texture that mousses and truffles have. One of my favourite chocolate desserts and really quick and easy to make. I'd go so far as to call it foolproof! I broke one of the egg yolks this time, so put one whole egg into the mixture with the yolks, and only whisked four egg whites, but the end result was still good!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Upside-down Pear and Blueberry Cake

I've been given some windfall Conference pears which, although bruised in places, are still so hard that they are never going to ripen for eating. Fortunately, I love pears in any form and both Hubs and CT will eat them cooked. I toyed with the ideas of a chocolate or gingerbread upside down cake, but decided in the end to be a little more subtle; I flavoured the cake batter with orange zest, and added some dried blueberries soaked in orange juice, too.

I basically followed this recipe from Nigel Slater, although I quartered the pears before cooking, as there were so many bruises to cut away. I needed to use 4 pears to get enough quarters to fill the base of the cake tin. I made the cake batter by the all-in-one method, using SR flour and just beating all the ingredients together, adding the grated zest of a medium orange, plus 50g of dried blueberries which had soaked in orange juice for 2 hours. I used the unabsorbed orange juice instead of the tablespoon of milk in the recipe.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of using a springform tin, and most of the honey flavoured sauce, which should have formed round the pears, ended up on the oven floor. Despite that, the cake was still very tasty, with just the slightest hint of honey still being noticeable, and the orange flavour complimenting the pears and blueberries very well. The pear juices made the sponge very moist although it still seemed quite light; this is definitely a dessert type of cake, best served with whipped cream or a spoonful of natural yogurt.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and it's certainly true that you only need to look at this picture for an explanation of why I don't often bother with making cupcakes - what a mess! That's also the reason why I was going to ignore National Cupcake Week, but I had this flavour idea going around in my head which I thought would only work well as a cupcake. So, in the sprit of cupcake cameraderie, here are my

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Cupcakes - makes 12
130g SR flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
90g unsalted butter - softened
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
 90g smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons natural Greek yogurt
25g each plain chocolate and butterscotch chips

70g unsalted butter - softened
140g icing sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon hot water
50g plain 70% chocolate - melted

Preheat oven to 180C, place 12 muffin cases into the holes in a muffin tin.
Sift flour together with salt and bicarbonate of soda.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of flour to prevent curdling.
Next, beat in the peanut butter, yogurt and vanilla extract.
Fold in the rest of the flour, followed by the chocolate and butterscotch chips.
Divide the mixture equally between the paper cases, then bake for about 20-25 minutes until risen and firm.
Cool on a wire rack.
Make the frosting by beating the butter with the sifted icing sugar and cocoa, and the water until light and fluffy. Then beat in the melted chcolate. Spread or pipe the frosting over the cooled cupcakes. (If you want to pipe a thick swirl you will need more frosting than this - probably double the amount!)

The caramel flavour of the butterscotch chips really enhances the peanut butter flavour, while the chocolate frosting adds a creamy richness that you don't get from the light sponge of the cupcakes.

This recipe was inspired, in part, by Martha Stewart's recipe for Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting and Jelly

ps -  the winning cupcakes on the National Cupcake Day link look fabulous! Shows how much difference a piping bag makes!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Swedish Apple Cake

Fate did not want me to succeed with this dessert. Switching on the oven tripped the mains switch, although I didn't notice for 10 minutes. Once that was sorted, I threw a joint of pork into the cold fan oven and got on with the batter for the cake. When I opened the oven door 30 minutes later to put in the cake, the oven was still cold. So it had to go into my small top oven and cook from cold while plans for a traditional Sunday dinner were abandoned. We later determined that it was just the fan element which had blown - the oven can still be used conventionally, but on that setting I can only cook one thing at a time.

I used Allegra McEvedy's for Swedish Apple Cake, previously published in the Guardian. I followed the recipe exactly, except for the problems with cooking - it had an hour starting in a cold oven. In addition to the sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top (I used demerara) I  added some maple sugar too. I only had two Bramley cooking apples so used an eating apple to make up the numbers.

The finished 'cake' had the dense texture of a thick batter rather than cake, what I imagine a clafoutis to be like, and although a pleasant enough flavour, was quite bland. I felt it needed more flavour in the batter - citrus zest perhaps, or even just vanilla extract. It was definitely improved by eating it with a creamy acompaniment, as suggested. I didn't have any cream, so served it with appple and elderflower flavoured yogurt. I imagine it might be quite heavy to eat cold - I will warm it in the m/wave before serving the leftovers. Although not a bad dessert, I don't somehow think it will be making a regular appearance on the table - I want something more than just 'pleasant'.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Nutella Cake with Cinnamon Crumble

An open jar of Nutella is a dangerous thing! The only way to prevent me eating it a spoonful at a time is to cook with it, to make sure the others share it. This cake was inspired by several online, including the 'self frosting' cake here, but I've taken elements from several and made something unique, I think. If I make it again I will increase the base layer by half as much again, to make a deeper cake.

110g unsalted butter
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g ground hazelnuts or almonds
100g SR flour
50g dark chocolate chips

roughly 100g Nutella

55g unsalted butter
50g demerara sugar
70g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make the crumb topping first - melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the other ingredients with a fork. Allow to cool while making the cake batter.
Prepare a 20cm(8") diameter springform cake tin, and preheat the oven to 180C.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, with a teaspoon of the flour and the vanilla extract. Lightly fold in the rest of the flour and ground nuts, then the chocolate chips.
Transfer the batter to the cake tin and level the surface.
Arrange heaped teaspoonsful of Nutella on top of the cake batter - I used six blobs around the sides and one in the middle - using roughly 100g of the spread (I weighed the jar before and after use). Use a skewer or cocktail stick to swirl the Nutella into the surface of the cake, trying not to go too deep into the batter.
Use your fingers to break up the topping into smaller pieces and crumble it over the surface of the cake.
Bake for 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the cake batter is dry and cooked when tested with a probe.

This is a really good cake - moist base studded with chocolate chips, still gooey patches of Nutella peeking through the crumb topping, and a crunchy cinnamon flavoured topping. The Nutella rightly contributes the strongest flavour to the cake; the cinnamon is an added hint of flavour - just the right amount.

As I said earlier, my only change would be to make a deeper  base cake.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Blueberry Choc-Chip Cookies

This is the second time I've tackled this recipe from Dan Lepard in less than a month. The first time I didn't have dried blueberries, so made a cherry version instead. The cookies were a great success, so I vowed to try the recipe as written, as soon as possible. I soon found dried blueberries on special offer in the supermarket - £15 per kilo instead of £20. Doesn't it sound awfully extravagant when you say it like that? It's certainly more than I pay for most of the chocolate I buy for baking!

The blueberry version, with the addition of almond extract was just as delicious, but I wasn't entirely happy with the flavour of the extract. Although I bought a natural extract it still tasted artificial compared to the delicate flavour of real almonds - I think one teaspoonful was too much for my taste. Dried blueberries worked better than dried cherries in one respect - they are much smaller, so were better distributed throughout the dough. This time I used chopped eating chocolate - 100g of 74% and 50g of 60% - but still had the problem of some of it melting during cooking. Doesn't matter though - it doesn't affect the flavour!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Maple Syrup Gingerbread

As I brought two tins of maple syrup back from Canada, bought for a fraction of the cost of maple syrup in the supermarkets in the UK, it seemed an ideal opportunity to find a recipe which used maple syrup in large quantities. I finally settled on this Maple Syrup Gingerbread recipe, although I made a few adjustments to fit in with the ingredients I had available - butter instead of shortening, and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. I also left out the candied peel altogether.

My usual gingerbread recipe is dark, dense and moist - the sort that keeps well and gets stickier with time. This cake is lighter in both colour and texture, but moist and fragrant with a variety of spices. I'm not sure the maple syrup makes much of an impact on the flavour, as there are so many spices, but as it's not as thick and sticky as golden syrup or treacle(molasses), I'm sure it contributes towards the lighter texture.

Unfortunately a large part of the cake was stuck in my ring tin after I turned it out. You can see in the photo that the back of the cake looks a bit lumpy and misshapen, where I tried to reassemble the pieces. Next time, and there will be a next time while I still have the Canadian maple syrup to use up, I will bake it in a square tin lined with parchment.

Apart from that it was a simple recipe to follow - beat eggs until light and fluffy, beat in sugar and wet ingredients, then beat in the flour sifted with the spices and raising agents.

I topped the cake with a simple glacé icing made from roughly 150g icing sugar mixed with alternating dessertspoons of maple syrup and water until the correct thickness was achieved.

Here are the ingredients converted to metric weights and measures:
2 eggs
250mls maple syrup
100g light muscovado sugar
250g natural Greek yogurt
115 melted butter
280g plain flour
1 teaspoon each of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
goodly amount of freshly ground nutmeg (approx 1/2 teaspoon).

The cake had a really good moist, light texture and was strongly spiced. I found the amount of ground cloves used overwhelmed the other spices a little, so will cut that by half next time. This makes a really good alternative to the traditional dark sticky gingerbread.