Monday, 31 January 2011

Black Bottom Cupcakes

I'm more excited about my new plate than I am about these cupcakes. Do you like it? I'm always on the look-out for pretty plates for my photographs but I don't very often see individual plates - even the charity shops usually sell sets, or part sets, which they don't want to split. So I was quite excited to find this Doulton tea plate from the 1930s, looking forlorn on a shelf, surrounded by unrelated bric-a-brac - not a matching cup in sight! I just couldn't leave it there, could I?

The cupcakes are a different matter. One look at the online recipe and photograph will pinpoint the main problem - the recipe says scoop out the cheesecake mixture; mine was pourable! In consequence, instead of the chocolate sponge rising round the cheesecake blob, the cheesecake spread over the top, and looked like a frosting when baked. The recipe is from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and it's the second recipe I've tried which has been disappointing.

The second potential problem, for me, was that the chocolate sponge base was one of those eggless mixtures, raised by the action of bicarbonate of soda on vinegar. I didn't realise this until I'd reached a point of no turning back, and I was quite worried, as the last time I made one of this type of cake it was so awful we had to throw it away! Happily, this batter rose nicely and didn't taste too bad - just a few random air-pockets to spoil a photograph!

Like Choclette, I had a problem with the consistency of the chocolate batter and had to add more water - about 30mls, which is quite a lot extra on 125mls. I also didn't bother with the frosting - it doesn't  really fit in with lowering the fat content of things!

Although CT was happy to eat these, Hubs didn't like them, and I don't think I'll be making them again - or not from this recipe at least. I still like the idea of these, but would like to find a recipe which works better, and a reason why my cheesecake mixture turned liquid.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mincemeat and Marzipan Teabread

Another recipe to use up the Christmas leftovers, but not a speck of chocolate to be found, so no good for a 'We Should Cocoa' challenge! No good for CT either, as it contains butter, but as he's not keen on dried fruit, I don't think he'll worry too much about not being able to eat any.

A simple recipe, and one that is going to vary, depending on the flavours in your mincemeat. Mine was a standard, no frills mincemeat, and the spices were the predominant flavour once the cake was cooked. Criticism from daughter - marzipan chunks were too small - so that's noted for next time. I think I'd add a little more marzipan too - at least 4oz (110g) in total. The loaf is a teabread, so a little on the solid side. It can be buttered before serving, but I didn't think that was necessary - it wasn't too dry to be eaten as it is.

The recipe comes from  Good Food, but isn't available online at the Good Food website, only from a useful, pocket-sized, book titled "101 Cakes and Bakes". A good book for those starting out in baking - I bought it for my daughter when she started showing an interest in cake baking!

200g SR flour
100g butter
85g light muscovado sugar
85g marzipan, cut into small cubes
2 eggs
300g mincemeat
demerara sugar (or two tablespoons flaked almonds) for sprinkling on top.
icing sugar - optional

Line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment, pre-heat oven to 180C.
In a large bowl, rub fat into flour, then stir in the sugar and marzipan cubes.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then mix in the mincemeat to loosen it.
When the mincemeat is well distributed into the eggs, add this mixture to the flour mix and stir until evenly combined.
Transfer to the loaf tin and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar or flaked almonds.
Bake for an hour, or until a probe comes out clean. If you used almonds on top, then you can sift some icing sugar over the cake while it is still hot.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Chocolate Sponge

This recipe used to be one of my favourites when the children were small. It's foolproof (at least, I've never known it fail!) and in my opinion, is better than a chocolate Victoria Sandwich cake if you want a light sponge.  The only reason I don't make it more often is that I prefer sturdier everyday cakes which last a bit longer - for some reason people always take larger slices from a sponge cake!

The basic recipe uses oil and milk instead of butter, and then a variable addition to give colour and/or improve flavour and texture. In some recipes it's a tablespoon of  black treacle or golden syrup, but here it's two tablespoons of caramelised condensed milk.

I didn't want to go over the top with a frosting, so halved the recipe and just filled the sponge layers. The chocolate and condensed milk made a lovely fudgy mixture - I'm sure it would have made a great frosting!

The frosting/filling can be varied to suit the occasion - black cherry jam and fresh cream would make a nice gateau for a special occasion, although the sponge is very light, so may not take a really heavy filling well. I don't think the caramel made much difference to the flavour of the cake, so if you want to try the sponge without opening a tin or jar of caramel, try it with the black treacle, or molasses, instead.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Chocolate Chunk and Orange Cake

This is a variation on the Lemon Yogurt Cake recipe which wasn't so successful the last time I tried it with added blueberries and apple. I wondered then if the problem wasn't the extra rich yogurt I was using, with around 10% fat levels, so this time I used 100g buttermilk, 100g of the same yogurt as last time and 50g semi-skimmed milk to make up the volume needed (250mls). I also used only 100g oil, as I realised that weighing out 125g was probably giving me more than the 125mls called for in the recipe. This time I baked the cake in a 8" (20cm) round tin, and it cooked in 55 minutes.

The result was a much more acceptable texture - more open and cake-like than before, and quite moist, although light too. Not perfect, and there were a few random large air bubbles which I'd prefer not to see, but much better than before.

The basic cake batter: 200g plain flour, 2tsp baking powder, 1/2 teaspn salt, 200g caster sugar, 250g natural wholemilk yogurt, 3 eggs, 100g sunflower oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. To this I added the finely grated zest of a large orange and 150g of chopped plain (74%) chocolate,

The method is simple - sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. I added the orange zest to the flour mix after sifting and whisked it in. Whisk the sugar, yogurt, eggs, vanilla and oil together until smooth, then fold in the flour mixture. Finally fold in any solid additions - in this case the chocolate chunks.

Bake at 180C, until a test probe comes out clean - around 50 minutes. Cool for about 20 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack until completely cold.

I look forward to trying other flavour variations of this cake in future, and maybe even trying fresh fruit again, now that the 'yogurt question' seems to be answered.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Buttermilk Maple Spice Cake

So, I found a recipe to use up most of the buttermilk I bought, just to use 2 tablespoons in the previous batch of brownies. This Buttermilk Maple Spice Cake also used oil, so fitted into my current baking criteria.

There's not a lot to say about this cake. The recipe was simple - mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, the dry ingredients in another and combine the two. I used spelt flour instead of wholemeal, and black treacle instead of molasses. The only other thing to mention is that it cooked a little faster than suggested in the recipe, but I did have the fan on, as I was baking something else at the same time.

The combination of spices used gave a very good flavour and the texture was pleasingly light and fluffy too. My only criticisms are that it was not quite sweet enough, and that the spices hid the flavour of the maple syrup. It might be better made with a sweeter syrup such as honey or golden syrup. Like a traditional gingerbread, it seems to be getting stickier with age.

Overall it was a pleasant, but not memorable cake - I will probably only come back to it if I can't find anything better in the 'spicy' category of low saturated fat cakes.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

More Low-fat Brownies

These probably aren't as low  in saturated fat as the previous batch I made, as they contain chocolate as well as cocoa, but they are so much better in flavour. In fact they are so good that the first thing I'm going to say is - double the recipe; this small batch won't be enough!

This recipe for Chocolate Brownies comes from the ever reliable Good Food site, and in this instance most of the fat in the recipe is provided by mayonnaise. Yes, you read that right - mayonnaise! The recipe is described as the ultimate makeover, to produce a lower fat version, and I think the description is probably correct - while CT is on his low saturated fat diet, I don't see the need to look for a better brownie recipe.

I didn't have a pan which was exactly the right size, so used my adjustable pan set to 7 x 8" (roughly 17 x 20cm). I lined this with baking paper rather than oiling the sides. The only other change to the recipe was to use white caster sugar instead of golden. I think golden caster sugar has run it's course - you don't really see it on the supermarket shelves anymore. I found they cooked a little faster than specified - I took mine out of the oven after 25 minutes.

The brownies were moist, fairly dense and felt satisfyingly rich in the mouth - all marks of a good brownie. They weren't the really chewy texture that I like in a brownie, but I've made brownies with no claims to be healthy which weren't as nice as these, so I'm not complaining about a tiny imperfection.

Several of the reviews of the recipe said that the brownies were still good using the 'light' versions of mayonnaise, but as I'm only trying to reduce saturated fat, not fat in general, I don't think I need to go that far. Now - what can I make with a tub of buttermilk with only two tablespoons taken out (recipes which do this really annoy me!)?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Blueberry and Apple Loaf

This was a better attempt at baking without butter, but although the flavour was vey good, the texture still wasn't quite right - it was quite dense and flabby, rather than moist and crumbly. I think this may be because I used a Greek style yougurt, which, ironically, has higher fat levels than most full-fat natural yogurts.

On the recommendation of a poster on one of the messageboards I visit, I tried this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, although I didn't use the lemon juice syrup drizzle, as CT doen't like flavours which are too sharp. I only had 150g blueberries, which was about 1 cupful, so I added a small Cox eating apple, peeled and chopped into pieces about the same size as the blueberries. The moisture from the apples may also have contributed to making the texture denser than I'd hoped it would be. I think my loaf tin has different dimensions to the one recommended in the recipe - shorter and deeper - as the cake took 75 minutes to cook properly.

Although I wasn't completely satisfied with the texture, I think this is a recipe worth repeating. Smitten Kitchen suggests several possible variations, and I'd be interested in trying a loaf without fresh fruit - possibly with chocolate chips or nuts, using a lower fat yogurt or perhaps buttermilk.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Baking without Butter

My baking is either going to become very dull, or more interesting, over the next few months, and I'm not sure which direction it's travelling in yet.

CT (Chief Tester, my son) has discovered that he has raised cholesterol levels. He's far too young to be tested as a routine event, but it's suspected that Hubs has the inherited form of high cholesterol levels, so his doctor advised that our children should be checked too. CT has no other risk factors for strokes or heart attacks - he's thin, doesn't smoke at all or drink a lot - so instead of starting on lifelong medication while still in his 20s, his doctor wants him to try a diet containing less saturated fat, for three months initially.

This doesn't mean a lot in terms of everyday meals - they can easily be adapted where necessary, and we eat fairly healthily anyway. CT's downfalls are a love of cheese, a tendency to eat a lot of meat (even at breakfast), and not being very fond of fresh fruit. I can do something about the first two, if not the last!

Baking is the major problem, of course - CT expects a piece of cake or a few homemade cookies as dessert every evening and perhaps more during the day at weekends. Obviously I can't carry on using massive amounts of butter in things I am cooking primarily for him, but it doesn't seem fair to expect him to cut out baked goodies altogether.

So the search is on for adequate replacements for butter. Olive or vegetable oil is the most obvious substitute, and the place where I chose to start. Finding recipes using oil isn't hard - knowing which sources I can trust may prove more difficult!

I started with this recipe for Fudgy Brownies from; brownies are one of CT's favourite cakes/desserts and this recipe had lots of good reviews - far outweighing the bad ones. It also used cocoa instead of chocolate, so would be even lower in saturated fat. The recipe was simple to follow and was mixed in just one bowl, so it was easy on the washing up too. I cooked the batter in a slightly smaller pan (8 x 12"), but it was still cooked in the recommended time, and made brownies which were the perfect height for me.

It's hard to define what was wrong with these, but they were a little below the 'very good' mark. The crust was fragile and very sugary; the flavour was OK, but had no depth - I think that a recipe using chocolate might give better results. The texture was the biggest problem I think -  it looked moist and fudgy but didn't feel that way in the mouth - in fact it was crumbly and on the dry side rather than fudgy. Also the texture wasn't firm and dense as you'd expect with a good brownie - they felt quite fragile when handled - as if a hard squeeze would collapse them to  nothingness. Overall, a worthy attempt, but I'm sure I can find better recipes.

If you have any tried and tested baking recipes with a low saturated fat content, which CT might like - remembering how fussy he is (not carrot cake, nor too much dried fruit) - please leave a comment and link, or contact me via my gmail address. Ideally I'm looking for recipes which will keep a few days, rather than things like fat-free sponges which need eating quickly.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Chocolate and Marzipan Biscuits

This is my entry for the January 'We Should Cocoa' challenge, set this month by Chele at Chocolate Teapot. The challenge was to use something left over from Christmas cooking, and although I had mincemeat, candied peel and chestnuts left over, I also had a block of white marzipan which was crying out to be paired with chocolate in some way.

These biscuits were quite fiddly to make and I don't think I'd have bothered with the recipe without the challenge to fulfill, so I have something to thank Chele and Choclette for. They are making me put more effort into my baking, so that I can produce a worthy entrant each month!

This recipe comes from a book called 'The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate' which is part recipes and part an explanation of the history, production, processing and uses of chocolate.

200g salted butter, softened
200g light muscovado sugar
1 large egg
300g plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
200g white marzipan (you may not need it all)
100g white chocolate, or a little glacé icing (for decoration)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy, then beat in the egg.
Sift in the flour and cocoa, and mix in, using a wooden spoon first, then your hands to give a smooth, fairly soft dough.
Divide the dough into 4 portions for easy handling, then, on a lightly floured board, roll out 1 portion to 5mm thickness. Using a 2" plain or fluted cutter, plus one slightly larger, cut out pairs of circles, one of each size.

(Note - the original recipe used a 2" cutter for both the base and the 'lid' but I found it too difficult to fix on the top layer without breaking the dough, so I used a slightly larger cutter for the top biscuit, which then didn't have to be stretched to fit. Using the same size biscuit round for both layers should give 36 pairs of cookies, but I only got 26, which is why you might have leftover marzipan)

Cut the marzipan into 36 equal sized pieces, roll into balls and flatten slightly. Place a ball onto the centre of a small biscuit round, then use a wet finger to dampen the underside of a large biscuit round. Place this, wet side down, over the marzipan and press to seal the marzipan between the two circles of dough.

When you've made all the pairs from the first portion of dough, add the trimmings of dough to the next portion, knead in lightly and repeat. Continue until all the dough is used, placing each complete biscuit sandwich onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. They can be placed quite close together, as they don't spread during baking.

Bake at 190C for 12 minutes. Cool on the tray for 3 minutes, then move to a wire rack. When cold decorate with a drizzle of white chocolate - the original recipe used a zig-zag pattern over the biscuit.

I ran into trouble here - the white chocolate I bought wouldn't melt properly, got overheated and had to be thrown away, so I used a delicate drizzle of vanilla flavoured glacé icing instead.

These little biscuits were crisp and had quite a strong chocolate flavour, and the little nugget of marzipan in the centre really made them special.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

Hooray! I've baked a cheesecake which didn't crack as it cooled. I used the cheesecake mixture from this Gordon Ramsay recipe, although I made my own biscuit crumb base from 150g crushed HobNob biscuits and 60g unsalted butter, which I chilled instead of baking.

The cheesecake took 45 minutes to cook, but the difference might have been because I poured the mixture into a chilled tin, which wouldn't have happened if I'd baked the base, as in the original recipe. It still looked quite wobbly at that stage, but I often overcook cheesecakes, so decided to risk it and switch off the oven! It was the right decision - the cooled and chilled cheesecake had a really good texture - light and creamy without that mouth-gumming texture that some baked cheesecakes have.

As you can see from the photo, there wasn't much swirling of the chocolate - 75g  of melted chocolate almost covered the surface, and however much I tried I couldn't get it to swirl into the cheesecake mixture - it stayed stubbornly on the surface. It might have been better to mix the chocolate with some of the cheesecake mixture, but that would probably alter the texture of the cheesecake, which I wouldn't want to do. Perhaps the chocolate was still too warm and liquid - if it was cooler and thicker it might not have spread so far, and allowed a more swirly effect to be achieved.