Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Lunch

The desserts for Christmas lunch were a bit of a mixed bag! The Mocha Torte was a great success - due in part to a topping of popping candy, which provided much merriment. My mincepies were fine, although one or two were a bit heavy on pastry, due to my inability to roll pastry evenly. The disaster was the the Clementine and Saffron Cake - nothing wrong with the flavour but the texture was dense and heavy. I've no idea what went wrong, as I've made this sort of cake  - with whole boiled fruit - very successfully in the past!

I've no idea where the recipe for the Mocha Torte came from - it was passed to me by a friend, and I changed it slightly, so I think it's OK to pass it on unattributed. It consists of a light gelatine based mousse (no cream) on a biscuit base, with a topping of shards of chocolate covered popping candy. Sorry about the rough photo - I forgot to take one until it had been served!

Mocha Torte

200g plain chocolate digestive biscuits
100g melted butter

150g plain chocolate - at least 70% 
4 large eggs
4 fl oz (just over 100mls) strong black coffee, made with 2 teaspoons instant coffee, still hot
1 fl oz (about 2 tablespoons) Tia Maria
100g caster sugar
6 sheets of leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water to soften
4 fl oz (just over 100mls)just boiled water to dissolve gelatine after soaking

Chocolate Covered Popping Candy
100g plain chocolate - see link
25ml flavourless oil
50g popping candy

Crush biscuits and add the melted butter, mix well and press firmly into a 23cm (9") round deep springform tin. Refrigerate to cool.

Melt chocolate carefully over a bowl of hot water.
Beat egg yolks and sugar in processor (or with a hand mixer) until pale and smooth.

Pour in hot coffee and Tia Maria and re process, while whizzing slowly pour in dissolved gelatine.

Blend in the melted chocolate and allow mixture to cool for 20- 30 mins.

Whisk egg whites until quite stiff then fold into the chocolate mixture.

Pour on top of biscuit base and leave to cool and set.

Decorate with chocolate covered popping candy made following this method from Heston Blumenthal. I made it without the spices, which I didn't think would compliment the coffee flavour.

I'll skip over the Clementine, Saffron and Polenta Cake, except to say that I was following this recipe from Waitrose. I think my mistake was to try to make it nut free. I used SR flour instead of ground almonds. I did look at various recipes online, and found several of this sort which used flour, so I didn't expect it to turn out so badly. It was just about edible - most people tried a sliver out of politeness and my mother took home half of what was leftover to eat warm with custard!

The mincepies were made with my standard  sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, with the addition of the finely grated zest of an orange. Here's the pastry recipe, but I don't think there's any need to tell you how to make mincepies. This amount of pastry, plus one standard jar of mincemeat makes 24 mincepies, for me, but obviously the size of your mincepie moulds and how thinly you roll the pastry will make a difference.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry: 500g SR flour; 250g butter, or a mixture of butter and lard; 75g icing sugar; zest of one medium orange; 1 large egg; cold water to mix. Rub the fat into the flour, sift in the icing sugar and mix in the orange zest. Add the egg and enough cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead briefly, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes before use. The use of SR flour and some lard makes the pastry soft and crumbly.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Black Beer Gingerbread

This is Nigella Lawson's recipe, which I saw her cook this week on her current TV Series, 'Kitchen'. The Black Beer refers to stout such as Guinness, of course. She cut the gingerbread into small cubes, piled it haphazardly on a platter and stuck on a few Christmas cake decorations of small plastic fir trees and deer, before giving it a liberal dusting of icing sugar. The result suggested a rugged, wintry wasteland - but somehow it was still Christmassy.

I'm not sure whether I will go that far for my Christmas table (I'm not even sure I have any cake decorations), but this seemed an ideal cake to have around over Christmas. Gingerbread gets better with time and will easily last the whole week, if it's not eaten sooner.

I could only find the recipe online with cup measurements, so I'll list the metric 'translation' too:

150g butter
300g golden syrup
200g dark muscovado sugar
250ml stout - I used Murphy's
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
300g plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
300mls sour cream
2 large eggs

The recipe was simple to follow and everything was mixed in the saucepan used to melt the butter and sugars together, so it was easy on washing up too. I used an 11 inch square pan, as I didn't have the exact size specified in the recipe, and cut the gingerbread into 36 very small squares. I think I would cut it into larger pieces if it wasn't going to be part of a Christmas feast, when many people like small tastes of everything.

To be honest, I found the finished product slightly disappointing. It wasn't as dark as my usual gingerbread recipe, which uses a large proportion of black treacle as well as golden syrup. The beatings at each stage of mixing gave the surface of the cake a very strange holey appearance, almost as if excess gas was trying to escape. The recipe I usually use stresses not to beat the mixture; now I know why! The flavour was complex, and not too sweet, with the sour cream and stout countering the sweetness of the large amounts of sugar and syrup; I liked that result! The texture was quite light, but the cake had a slightly layered appearance, getting denser towards the bottom, as if that escaping gas was what should have been contributing to the light texture, but too much got away!

The delicious flavour just about redeems this recipe and makes it one to make again, although I think I'll go a little lighter on the whisking next time!

In fairness to Nigella, the surface of the cake looked better the next day, and most of the holes had disappeared, although the top to bottom texture still looked a little uneven. I don't think this shows on the photograph, though.

I've still got mincepies and two desserts to make, but those results won't be posted until after Christmas Day. In the meantime.....

......I wish you all a very Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not everyone likes mince pies, and the other traditional Christmas goodies. We always have two desserts for Christmas  lunch - one is chocolate and the other something fruity and fresh tasting - no Christmas puddings here, although I adore them! I make sure both desserts can be made in advance and that they will keep for a few days if not eaten straight away. More about them later!

However, for those who won't even look at a mince pie or a slice of fruit cake, I've baked some Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies to sit alongside the Biscotti I made a few days ago. I used my favourite Dan Lepard recipe, changing it slightly to use vanilla extract instead of almond and spelt flour instead of wholemeal. This was the first time I've used spelt flour on it's own and it gave a really interesting flavour - hard to describe it really - nutty, perhaps? It certainly made the cookies an unusual colour too!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Flapjacks with Apricots and Sultanas

This was probably the last routine baking session before Christmas - something to keep the cake tin full - and I chose something that could be prepared and mixed up in less than 5 minutes, and cooked while I was working on other things in the kitchen. Flapjack is so quick to make and satisfying to eat - I think the only reason I don't make it more often is that it is packed with butter and sugar and seems less healthy than other  baked goods. This is probably a fallacy though - this recipe is 50% fat and sugar by weight, which is no different to a standard Victoria Sandwich cake, before you fill it with buttercream or jam. Plus, it has oats in, which may reduce cholesterol levels, and you can add a healthy selection of dried fruit and seeds of your choice.

So - don't feel guilty about flapjacks - sounds like a good New Year's resolution to me!


250g salted butter
100g golden syrup
150g light muscovado sugar
350g rolled or porridge oats
150g dried fruit, seeds, or nuts of your choice - in this batch I used 55g dried apricots, 50g sultanas, 25g pumpkin seeds and 20g sesame seeds - chop any large fruit to the size of sultanas


Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 12 x 8 x 1" deep (30 x 20 x 2.5cm deep) baking tray with one piece of baking parchment, folding it into the corners, so that it comes up the sides of the tin. (You don't want any of the flapjack mix in contact with the tin.)

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together, either in a large microwaveable bowl or a saucepan on the hob. Once the butter has melted, stop heating and mix together until the sugar has dissolved.

Tip in all the other ingredients and mix together thoroughly. When there are no dry patches of oats, transfer everything to the baking tray and press down firmly into an even layer.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the flapjack is just turning golden. This makes a chewy flapjack - if you like it crisper, bake for a few minutes longer until a deep golden in colour.

Cool for 10 minutes, then mark the flapjack into squares. Cool completely before trying to remove from the tin.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Biscotti with Chocolate, Nuts and Cranberries

I've only made biscotti once before; the recipe was such a disaster that it put me off trying again, as I didn't know how to judge a good recipe. Now that I've been blogging a while, I know there are bloggers I can trust; if they use a particular recipe and get good results, then I can be fairly confident the recipe will work as well for me. So when Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial posted her biscotti recipe recently, I knew I had to try it! Before I had a chance to get round to it, Celia posted about another batch of biscotti, with festive flavours, which made me even more determined to get round to making them. I've gambled that we are now close enough to Christmas for the biscotti to keep well until then!

Fortunately Celia usually gives metric weights as well as cup measurements for her recipes, and often shows stages of a recipe in great detail - all very helpful to a novice. I followed her recipe exactly, except that as I was gathering the dough into a ball it still seemed very wet, so I sprinkled an extra handful of flour over it - about a tablespoon more.

I used a 80g of coarsely chopped roasted pistachios and 60g of more finely chopped toasted hazelnuts to make up the 140g of nuts, and for the extra additions I used 100g 72% plain chocolate and 80g dried sweetened cranberries. Instead of demerara sugar I used Barbados Amber Sugar, an unrefined cane sugar which has similar sized crystals, but is a little lighter in colour. For the second bake, I only baked the slices for 20 minutes - this was enough to turn them golden brown.

The recipe worked very well, and I was really pleased with the outcome in terms of shape, flavour and texture - the biscotti were well shaped and evenly baked, and the Barbados Amber Sugar made a crunchy topping to the slices. The inclusions gave a good flavour, with the right balance of crunchy nuts to softer fruit and chocolate.

I was less pleased with the way the inclusions looked - the dried cranberries were really bright red in the packet but darkened during baking, and pistachios never look as green as you hope for! This meant that I didn't get the hoped for festive effect of red and green together. The chocolate also smeared in places when the logs were sliced which looked a bit messy - not sure how to overcome this except leave the logs to cool for longer. Would this be OK, or would the logs then be difficult to slice, I wonder?

Overall though, I think the recipe is great - no need to look any further for variations. Thank you, Celia! I don't think I'll need more for this Christmas, but I'll hopefully make a better choice of ingredients next time, so that they look as good as they taste.

PS - Celia forgot to mention the cook's perks - the ends of the logs, which wouldn't lie flat for the second baking. That's how I know how good they taste! ;)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

We Should Cocoa - December Challenge

Date, Chocolate and Orange Festive Tarts

The December 'We Should Cocoa' challenge was set by Choclette, at Chocolate Log Blog. She chose dates as the added ingredient to use in our chocolate product, in a bid to give the challenge a festive feel.

For anyone who would like to join in this monthly challenge, the rules are also on Choclette's blog, here.

I love the combination of dried dates and chocolate, but one of the drawbacks of the texture of cooked dates is that they can disappear into the background and not really be noticed in the final product. The flavours of chocolate and dates can blend too, so that it's difficult to tell where dates end and chocolate begins. For instance, I've used dates in these Chocolate, Date and Walnut Squares, and in Sticky Toffee Pudding, and it would be difficult to identify them as an ingredient, if you didn't know they were there. I wanted to make sure they stood out as an ingredient for this challenge. Happily, I think I succeeded!

Pastry (this makes a bit more than you need if you don't make full lids for the tarts; I hate trying to stretch pastry further than it wants to go! Pun intended! ;)):
200g SR flour
50g salted butter
50g lard
cold water to mix

200g dried dates
1 medium orange
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
60g plain chocolate, chopped finely - I used 66%
cocoa solids

To finish - a little icing sugar

First make the filling; chop the dates into two or three pieces (this is a useful way of checking there are no stones left), and place in a small saucepan. Add the zest of the orange, plus the juice and any fleshy pieces of fruit that end up in the juice. Add the water and bring the pan rapidly to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. When cold, add the cinnamon and the chopped chocolate.

Next, make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way - the use of some lard, and SR flour, makes the pastry crumbly(short) and soft. Rest for 20 minutes in the fridge, then roll out thinly and cut into 12 circles to line a mincepie pan. Re-roll the trimmings and cut a few festive shapes to decorate the tops of the tarts. Alternatively, you should have enough pastry to make full lids, as you would for mincepies.

Divide the filling between the pastry cases and level with the back of a teaspoon. Decorate with the pastry cutouts and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden. Cool for a few minutes in the baking pan, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. When cold, sieve over a little icing sugar.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Although the surface of the date filling dried out a little while cooking (which is why you might prefer to make full lids, and turn these into pies instead of tarts), underneath it was moist and richly flavoured. There was still enough texture in the dates to prevent them from being a bland purée, and by adding the chocolate only when the dates were cold, it stayed in discrete pieces rather than blending into the mixture. The cinnamon and orange added just the right festive notes, without either flavour overwhelming the chocolate and dates.

A good alternative to mincepies, I think, which is exactly what I'd been hoping for!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pear and Blueberry Cupcakes with Hazelnut Crumb Topping

These are big cupcakes, bursting out of muffin cases! This recipe came about as a result of having only 80g of blueberries left over from another recipe. Not enough for blueberry muffins, or any other sort of cake where blueberries were the main feature, but with added flavours there should be enough to taste.

I quite liked the pairing of pears with blueberries, in a cake I made a while ago, so decided to repeat that combination, adding some hazelnuts to a crumble topping for added crunch and flavour.

100g salted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
50g full-fat Greek style yogurt
1 pear, peeled cored and chopped into small pieces
80g blueberries

for the topping:
55g salted butter
70g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
25g finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

First make the topping by melting the butter in a small bowl(microwave) or pan(hob), then stirring in the other ingredients. This gives a soft dough, which you will be able to crumble, once it is cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C and put muffin cases into a 12-hole muffin pan

To make the cupcake batter, put all the ingredients, except the pears and blueberries, into a bowl and beat until well mixed and smooth. Fold in the chopped pears.

Distribute the batter evenly between the muffin cases, filling each one to just over halfway. I got 9 cakes out of this amount of batter. Divide the blueberries between the cupcakes, sprinkling them on the surface and pressing down lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten the mixture and embed the blueberries.

Use your fingers to crumble the topping dough over the cupcakes, as equally and evenly as possible.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm and golden brown. A probe will come out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes then move the cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

This recipe worked very well - the pear stayed evenly distributed throughout the batter, and putting the blueberries between the batter and the topping meant they didn't sink, and also gave some colour to the cupcakes. The crumble topping worked well, as it always does, adding a contrast in texture and some extra flavour to the cake. I've previously only used this recipe with added chocolate, and without it the cupcakes weren't quite sweet enough. In future I'll add an extra 25g sugar to the batter.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Chilli-Orange Chocolate Cake, again.

After my last baking session turned out a less than successful result, I had to quickly whip up something for the family to eat instead. No time for experimentation, but a return to a cake which I know is always successful - Sam Stern's Chilli-Orange Chocolate Cake - and one for which I already had all the ingredients. The only slight change from the recipe is that I use all the zest from the orange, and a second tablespoon of orange juice instead of rum. I don't add the marmalade glaze and use my own frosting recipe too.

As I've said before, this cake is near perfection - a moist close texture, but not too dense, and just the right balance of flavours. The chilli is evident, but not overwhelming. I wouldn't want to change a thing about it.

After eating it, daughter wondered if a Tequila, Lime and Chilli version would work, as she's a big fan of Montezuma's Revenge Truffles, flavoured with those three ingredients.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Marmalade and Poppy Seed Cake

This cake, which was made following this recipe for Bitter Orange & Poppy Seed Cake, was a disaster on so many levels!  It just shows that even a trusted source of recipes gives an occasional dud!

So what went wrong? Althought the cake rose well during baking, and a probe test came out clean, the cake sank dramatically as it cooled - that was an ominous start. When I took it out of the baking pan it had dropped so much that the sides were beginning to cave inwards. When I cut it, there was a really dense stodgy layer at the bottom - it would have been impossible to  notice this with the usual probe test for being properly cooked., my online bible, says the reason for this could be too much liquid or too many eggs - so a basic fault in the recipe.

The final problem was that the cake tasted of nothing in particular - it wasn't sweet enough and I couldn't taste the orange zest or the marmalade (I used a good quality marmalade, but a 'three fruit' flavour rather than orange, so perhaps that's my fault - an orange marmalade might have built up the orange flavour more). The poppy seed flavour wasn't very noticeable either, although they added their characteristic grittiness to the texture.

This cake will get eaten, as I can't abide waste - I think if it's warmed through in the microwave and served with some natural yogurt it might make a passable pudding - but I won't be trying the recipe again!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Cheesecake Brownies

What is the point of a recipe which leaves a single egg white lurking forgotten in the fridge? I can understand a recipe using say, 6 egg yolks - at least then you have a decent amount of whites to use up in a different recipe. But one egg white hangs around until you finally throw it out three days later, or find it at the back of the freezer a year later, along with all the other single egg whites you froze, intending to use eventually. By then, they are so old that you still throw them out!

It was this annoyance which made me adjust the quantities of ingredients in David Lebovitz's recipe for Cheesecake Brownies, to incorporate what would be a leftover egg white (from the cheesecake mix) into the brownie batter. It worked really well too! The unintended change to the recipe was finding the packet of chocolate chips still under my oven gloves, while I was clearing up!! I chose this particular recipe because David Lebovitz uses metric measurements as well as cups, in his recipes. There are plenty of other Cheesecake Brownie recipes around - all very similar.

So, this is how I made Cheesecake Brownies

For the Brownie batter:
90g unsalted butter
125g dark chocolate - I used 75g of 85% chocolate and 50g of 72% chocolate
140g caster sugar
2 whole large eggs plus one egg white
80g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the Cheesecake mixture:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
75g caster sugar
a few drops vanilla extract

Line a 8"(20cm) square cake pan with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then beat in the sugar, followed by the eggs.
Fold in the flour, cocoa, vanilla extract and salt. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin. (The original recipe added 80g of chocolate chips to the batter.)
Beat together all the cheesecake ingredients until smooth.
Spoon the cheesecake mixture, in 9 blobs, onto the brownie batter. Use a blunt knife to swirl the cheesecake into the chocolate mix.
Bake for around 35 minutes, until the centre is just set. Cool in tin, then cut into portions - I cut into 12 generous pieces.

This looked really alarming when it came out of the oven, as the cheesecake mixture had risen well above the surface of the brownie. Fortunately, everything settled down to the same level as it cooled. There were one or two cracks in the surface where the cheesecake and brownie should have fused together, but nothing too disastrous. The brownie had a smooth fudgy texture and the cheesecake mixture added a clean, almost lemony flavour, to the brownie - a great contrast to the rich brownie. I'm not sure they really needed the chocolate chips!

Naughty, naughty - no eating and drinking at the computer!