Monday, 28 February 2011

Taking a Break

I won't be posting here for the next month, as tomorrow we are off for a three week tour of New Zealand, with stopovers in Singapore on each end of the holiday. The holiday is in a bit of disarray at the moment because of the earthquake in Christchurch, but I'm sure that whatever new arrangements are made we will have a great time. We really loved the whole country on our last visit, and are looking forward to seeing some different areas this time.

I'll be missing the March 'We Should Cocoa' challenge, but I look forward to seeing what the rest of you come up with. A month away from the kitchen should give me renewed energy to start again in April with lighter summer baking.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Blond Marbled Brownies

The best of both worlds - blondies and brownies marbled together! Could it get better? For me, yes - these fantastic brownies are made with oil, so they are low in saturated fat too. The recipe isn't perfect, but it's close and won't need much adjusting to get it nearer.

My inspiration came from Bakeaholic, but the recipe can be traced back another couple of steps by following links on each site. As I didn't follow the recipe quantities exactly, and  plan to make more changes next time, I'm going to write out the whole recipe.

The biggest problem was the huge difference in stiffness between the chocolate batter and the plain half. The blondie batter was quite runny, but the chocolate batter was almost like cookie dough and very difficult to spread - it will need loosening up next time!

150g sunflower oil
450g light muscovado sugar
330g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
100g plain chocolate chips
50g chopped hazelnuts
35g cocoa
50g 74% plain chocolate, melted.

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 12 x 8" (30 x 20cm) baking tin with baking parchment. The tin needs to be at least 1.5"+ (4cm) deep.

Mix the oil and sugar until smooth, making sure there are no lumps in the sugar.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and stir into the batter.

Divide the batter into two fairly equal halves and stir the chocolate chips and nuts into one half. To the other half, add the cocoa and melted chocolate and mix until well blended. (This results in a really stiff batter, I think if I were doing this again I would add a little milk to thin it down a bit.)

Place alternate blobs of batter into the baking tin - using the thickest batter first, if there is a difference, and allowing the thinner batter to spread between these blobs. Use a knife or spoon handle to swirl the blobs together to create a marbled effect.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a probe comes out with damp crumbs clinging to it. (I underbaked mine - the blondie mixture was too gooey in centre pieces after cooking, as you can see in the photo above! I would add another 5 minutes and bake for 40 minutes next time.)

Cool in the tin then cut into the desired size - I cut into 24 small squares.

The brownies rose during cooking, but sank back when cooled to give the right degree of fudgy chewiness. Despite the large amount of sugar they did not taste oversweet. The chocolate chips and nuts gave a texture contrast, but the overall flavour depended on the variations of the amount of blondie or brownie you got in each piece!

This is definitely a recipe to keep and make again, if I can sort out the chocolate batter stiffness, although it doesn't appear to have affected the final outcome. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Thanks to Joanna at Zeb Bakes, I've found a new pastime on the computer - making word clouds at Wordle. The picture above is what I made when I put in my blog address, and played around with the settings to get something aesthetically pleasing. I like the way the whole cloud stands on a chocolate stem - it sums up my baking philosophy, I think!

The picture below is from words associated with chocolate cake:

It took a while to find out how to publish them here. Long story short - screen capture, save in Paint Shop Pro, crop off unwanted bits, convert to a .jpg file.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Chocolate Brownie Cookies

This looks like a simple recipe for chocolate brownie cookies. It comes from the book and TV series Economy Gastronomy, by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett, although I can't see any economy in a recipe using 250g chocolate at the current prices for chocolate! The series was meant to show families with huge weekly food bills that cooking more from scratch, and planned use of the leftovers, would save them money, but I can't imagine that these cookies were cheaper than buying a packet off the supermarket shelf.

The recipe wasn't as simple as it looked though - my cookie batter was very thin and produced cookies which were very flat. FB recommended the recipe and said that her cookies were double the thickness of mine, when she made them. I may have not let the chocolate and butter mix cool for long enough.  I thought I had followed the recipe exactly, apart from using plain chocolate instead of white, and toasted hazelnuts instead of macadamias (another extravagance!), but too hot chocolate is the only reason I can think of for  my limited success. I also used too much batter for each cookie, as I didn't get 20 biscuits out of the batch, only 15.

Is it possible for something to be too chocolatey? I wouldn't have thought so, but that's what I felt about these cookies! They were light and insubstantial and tasted of nothing but too sweet chocolate. Perhaps if I'd made thicker cookies the texture might have been different and I'd have liked them more.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rye, Apple and Date Syrup Cake

Having acquired a bottle of date syrup, I needed to find a recipe in which to use it. I needed something which used enough syrup to notice the flavour, but not one which used the whole bottle in one go. After a lot of fruitless searching, I went back over the Guardian recipes on Dan Lepard's site and found this recipe for Rye Apple Cake. I'd already tried the recipe once, before I started blogging, so knew it was a tasty cake, and this also made me feel comfortable about adapting the recipe a little to suit my needs.

I used date syrup instead of golden syrup, sunflower oil instead of butter and left out the almonds altogether, replacing those in the cake batter with plain white flour, and just sprinkling demerara sugar on top. This is quite a low fat recipe anyway, producing a loaf which is more like a teabread than a cake, but as the butter is melted with the sugar and syrup, I thought changing it for oil wouldn't alter the recipe too drastically. I left out the ground almonds because FB has a severe peanut allergy and prefers to avoid other nuts as much as possible - large amounts can produce mild allergy symptoms, and allergic reactions can get worse with repeated exposure, so it pays to play it safe from her point of view!

None of the changes appeared to have a detrimental effect on the recipe - the resultant loaf was dark and moist, studded with little pieces of cinnamon-y apple. I'm not sure I could notice the date syrup as a separate flavour, but it combined with the rye and dark sugar to give rich, distinctive but not oversweet flavour. The apple pieces collapsed a little during cooking, leaving small holes above each piece, but this wasn't a huge problem.

Here's my revised recipe, with thanks to Dan Lepard for the original!

1 large eating apple - I used a Cox
1 teaspoon cinnamon
150g rye flour
50g plain white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
60g sunflower oil
50g date syrup
100g dark muscovado sugar
75mls milk
1 large egg
Demerara sugar for topping

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin and pre-heat the oven to 170C (same temperature for fan ovens).
Peel, core and dice the apple into 1cm cubes or smaller. Toss with the cinnamon to coat the apple pieces.
Mix the two flours and the baking powder in a bowl.
In a large saucepan, gently heat the oil, syrup and sugar, until the sugar is dissolved. Do not bring to boiling point.
Remove from the heat and beat in the milk and egg.
Stir in the flour mix until evenly blended, then fold in the apple pieces.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the surface, and sprinkle heavily with demerara sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a test probe is clean. Cool in the tin.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yet another variation of this Dan Lepard recipe. These cookies are really quick and simple to make and, as the recipe uses wholemeal flour and oats, you can at least pretend that it's healthy. These were made to go into lunchboxes, so I didn't feel the need to be too extravagent with the chocolate - I used a standard bag of plain chocolate chips from the baking section of the supermarket. I've decided I really don't like almond extract unless it's enhancing the flavour of almonds, so I went back to vanilla extract in this recipe.

So, to summarise - I added 100g chocolate chips, 150g dried cranberries and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the basic dough recipe and made 20 cookies from one batch of dough. These cookies are quite substantial and nicely chewy, excellent either as part of a nourishing packed lunch or as a snack with a mug of coffee or tea.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Chocolate and Nut Yogurt Cake

I think this basic, highly adaptable, yogurt cake is becoming one of my 'everyday' staple recipes.

Because it uses oil and yogurt, making it is simply a matter of mixing the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients in another and combining the two! Even allowing a few minutes for lining the cake tin, weighing ingredients and chopping chocolate, this cake was ready for the oven in under 10 minutes. In fact, you need to think a little further ahead to get the oven up to temperature before the cake goes in.

This is a moist, quite dense cake, with the hazelnuts and Toblerone giving it a crunchy texture. It's not richly chocolatey, as the Toblerone is milk chocolate, but it's a pleasant cake for everyday eating.

Here's the recipe:
170g plain flour
30g cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g caster sugar

Measure the above ingredients into a large bowl, and whisk together with a ballon whisk. You can sift the flour and cocoa if you prefer, but I don't find it necessary.

250g wholemilk natural yogurt*
100g sunflower oil*
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*I find it simpler to weigh the oil and yogurt, rather than move them in and out of measuring jugs.
Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl or jug, then pour onto the flour  mixture, and beat for a couple of minutes until the batter is smooth and well blended. Fold in the chosen flavouring ingredients, in this case:

100g Toblerone (milk with honeycomb crisp), chopped quite small
50g finely chopped hazelnuts

Transfer the batter to a prepared 20cm diameter springform cake tin, base lined with baking parchment, and bake at 180C for about 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.

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

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Cornbread, with chillies and cheese

I've never eaten cornbread before, but I'd bought a pack of finely ground yellow cornmeal from the supermarket - just because it was there - and had no idea what to do with it! I often buy new products on the spur of the moment, on the grounds that they might not be in stock for long, especially if there's no demand for it - I've read that supermarkets sometimes only trial new products for two or three weeks before deciding whether to stock it permanently.

A planned meal of chilli con carne seemed an ideal opportunity to use the cornmeal and try cornbread. The first problem was the wide diversity of recipes online. Which is more traditional? Which do I already have the ingredients for? How sweet  do I want it be (The answer is 'not very'!!)? How large a batch do I want to make? And, most importantly - whose recipe could I trust?

I had just settled for a very simple cornbread from Martha Stewart, which used only storecupboard ingredients (no need to shop especially for yogurt or buttermilk), when I read a reply to the post I'd put on one of the messageboards I frequent, which recommended this recipe. This was similar to the Martha Stewart recipe in it's proportions, but added a little fat. So I decided to add some oil to Martha's recipe; then things got out of control, and I added some chopped hot chillies from a jar of preserved chillies and some grated strong cheddar cheese.

I'd also read that cornbread gets a crisp crust if the batter is poured into a pre-heated and greased skillet, so I used a 24cm (9.5") non-stick skillet pan, which I heated on the hob with about 25g of butter, before pouring in the batter.

By this time I felt as if I'd got a recipe to call my own, so here it is!

130g plain flour
130g fine cornmeal
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
250mls semi-skimmed milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
50g strong cheddar cheese, finely grated*
4 small preserved hot chillies (fresh would also be good), seeds removed and finely chopped*
25g unsalted butter

*in my opinion, more of both of these additions are needed to get a good flavour - I will double both next time, with due regard to the varying heat of chillies..

Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan).
Put the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whick together to mix evenly.
Measure out the milk into a jug, add the eggs and oil and whisk together.
Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mix and stir quickly to amalgamate. As with muffins, don't bother too much if it looks lumpy.
Heat the butter in a 24cm skillet, until it is hot and foaming.
While this is happening, quickly mix the grated cheese and the chopped chillies into the batter, then pour it onto the foaming butter.
Turn off the heat and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden, and a cocktail stick comes out clean.
Serve immediately, cut into wedges.

The reaction to this cornbread was mixed. Hubs and I ate it as the only accompaniment to the chilli con carne, and he preferred it to having our usual rice. I thought it was a little dry and bland, so the recipe needs more work, but liked having it as a change to rice. I can't say I preferred it, though; it was strange eating the chilli on it's own, without some rice with every spoonful. I can imagine cornbread being a better accompaniment to soups. CT and new taster, FB (first born daughter, living at home for a while) both liked it, but thought it was strange eating it alongside chilli and rice, although they didn't want to do without the rice! Overall, I can see this being on the menu occasionally, but not as a permanent replacement for rice with a chilli!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Caramel Brownies (Low Saturated Fat)

AKA the brownies that were so good I made them again!

Not much to write about here. We really enjoyed the Ultimate Makeover: Chocolate Brownies from Good Food, so I used the same recipe again. The only difference this time was that, after putting half the brownie batter into an 8" square tin, I dotted roughly 200g of caramelised condensed milk over the surface, before spreading over the remaining batter.

This did have an effect on the brownies - they didn't rise as much as before, but this was compensated by the gooey pockets of caramel in the finished brownie. It's the first time I've succeeded with this type of recipe - previously the caramel has been absorbed by the brownie batter.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Tea Cream Sandwich Biscuits (We Should Cocoa)

This is my entry for February's 'We Should Cocoa', which is monthly cookery challenge to use a nominated extra ingredient in some form of chocolate product. This month's challenge was set by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, and her choice of added ingredient was TEA!

Tea is something I've never used in any form of cooking, let alone when baking with chocolate, and I did quite a bit of internet research before coming to a decision about what to cook. My first thought was green tea, but it's invariably partnered with white chocolate, which I don't really like much, and also seems to be becoming a bit of a baking cliché. More investigation was needed to find something using good old fashioned brown tea!

I had almost decided on these little thumbprint cookies when I read the comments about the original recipe on the Martha Stewart site, and decided there was too much risk of faliure with these! I really liked the idea of the Earl Grey tea flavoured filling, though, so decided to keep that and use it to sandwich some crisp biscuits.

I decided to keep the chocolate element subtle and to make some rich buttery biscuits, containing cocoa nibs and ground almonds. At this stage I had no real idea what the Earl Grey ganache would taste like, but I had a feeling that it wouldn't be a very strong flavour, and I didn't want to overwhelm it with a lot of other bigger  flavours.

This turned out to be a good decision, as the tea flavour in the ganache was very mild once the tea infused cream was mixed with the white chocolate. This was a bit disappointing, as the tea infusion itself was quite strong with a definite bitter edge, but it was all overwhelmed by the sweetness of the white chocolate. Overall, the ganache wasn't very successful - besides drowning the tea flavour, it barely set, so that it was really difficult to sandwich the biscuits together without the ganache being squeezed out. Eating them was a bit of a trial too! The tea flavour came through better when the filled biscuits were chilled, as this took the edge off the sweetness of the ganache, but who wants to eat chilled biscuits?

The biscuits themselves were delicious, with an excellent texture, but not well enough flavoured - too light a hand with the added ingredients. If making these again I would add more almonds in place of some of the flour, and more almond extract and cocoa nibs!


115g salted butter, at room temperature
50g caster sugar
1 egg
200g plain flour
30g cornflour
1 tablespoon ground almonds
few drops almond extract
25g cocoa nibs


Sift the flour and cornflour together, the stir in the ground almonds.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and the almond extract, together with a tablespoon of the flour mix.

Add the rest of the flour mix and the cocoa nibs, stirring to begin with, but using your hands as the mixture becomes stiffer. When all the flour is incorporated knead briefly to make a soft smooth dough.

Pat this into a thick circle, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Roll the dough out to 3mm thick and cut out plain circles of dough with a 5.5cm cutter. Re-roll trimmings and cut more circles. Place onto baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes until just beginning to turn a pale golden colour.

Cool on the trays for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. When cold sandwich two biscuits together with the Earl Grey White Chocolate Ganache.

Ganache - I made the ganache by bringing 100mls double cream to boiling point, removing from the heat, and dropping in 5 Earl Grey teabags. With a bit of encouragement (pressing with the back of a spoon), the tea flavour infused into the cream. When it tasted quite strong, I squeezed as much liquid as possible from the teabags before discarding them, then re-measured the cream, adding more to bring it back up to 100mls. I brought this back to boiling point in a small pan, then added 100g of chopped white chocolate, and immediately took the pan off the heat. After a few minutes, I stirred the mixture until the chocolate was completely melted and the ganache was smooth. Then I waited for it to cool and set... and waited.... and waited! I found something online which suggested 24 hours was needed to set white chocolate ganache properly, so I put the biscuits in a tin, covered the ganache and left them until the following day.

The following day, the ganache was a little thicker but still seemed to become more liquid with handling, so although I sandwiched a few pairs of biscuits  successfully, the ganache was beginning to ooze by the sixth pair! I quickly took a few photographs and stuck the filled biscuits into the fridge.

I think this could be the beginnings of a quite successful recipe, but the ganache filling definitely needs more work. More chocolate? Less cream? Some way of getting more flavour into the cream, without wasting too much. Perhaps a different type of filling altogether. I've read that the flavour can be extracted from tea by steeping it in hot butter, so perhaps a buttercream filling would be easier.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread

I really like finding recipes which have obviously used oil right from the start, rather than recipes which have been adapted by replacing butter. I can be more optimistic that they are going to work well and give results as good as a recipe using butter, rather than something which is a compromise. I can't say this recipe, from Epicurious, was perfect, but the flavour and texture were really very good. The amount of ground ginger looks alarming, but it wasn't too much for what is quite a large cake.

I made a few changes to the recipe - some planned, but one inadvertent - but nothing major which might affect how the recipe worked. I used an ale rather than a stout beer (Abbott Ale from Greene King) as I'd used half a 500ml can in a casserole the day before. I didn't add cardamom, as Hubs doesn't like it, and in my haste, forgot to add the nutmeg. As I'm in the UK, I used black treacle instead of molasses.

After reading some of the more recent of the 200+ comments on the recipe I also added half a teaspoon of salt; there's something in a corner of my mind which says that American flours often have added salt! In addition, I dusted the greased bundt pan with cocoa - that seems an excellent tip for dark cakes, to avoid those white patches of dry cooked flour that sometimes appear on cakes - and was really generous with the butter, in an effort to avoid the common problem of sticking.

I still had a little sticking around the very bottom of the pan, but it only pulled away a very shallow layer of the cake - just the sticky 'skin' really. I was going to add some icing to hide this, but before I could do this, or photograph the cake, nearly half of it had been eaten. Adding a frosting doesn't seem worth the effort now, just for a prettier photograph, although it might have alleviated the problems, also mentioned by C at Cake, Crumbs and Cooking, of photographing plain brown cakes!

The cake initially rose well, but by the time it was cooked - at 60 minutes, rather than the 50 suggested in the recipe - it was beginning to shrink back and looked oddly wrinkled on top. Fortunately, with  a bundt cake, the top isn't seen when it's turned out!

This gingerbread is so dark that it's almost black, and is one of those which gets sticky with time. It's moist and close-textured, but is surprisingly light. It contains a frightening amount of sugar, but needs the ordinary sugar to counteract the bitterness of the black treacle(molasses). The balance of spices (allowing for me not using the nutmeg and cardamom) seems very good - but I'll try to remember the nutmeg next time!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies (made with olive oil)

This is another recipe which needs a bit of work on it to perfect it, but it's broadening the range of things I can bake without using butter or other saturated fats. The only problem with this recipe was that the mixture was a bit sloppy, so spread too far during baking. It shouldn't take much adjustment to put that right.

I took the recipe from Cookie Madness, but made a few changes to accommodate what I had in the store cupboard, and the various dislikes of some family members. I used spelt instead of wholewheat flour, and medium oatmeal instead of rolled oats. I also took out the pecans and added dried sweetened cranberries instead.

The dough was too soft to shape by hand, so was spooned out onto a baking sheet; this may have been because of the changes I made to the flour and oats, as the recipe suggests the dough is stiff. The cookies spread  quite a bit during baking, so were quite thin when cooked, but still with a good chewy texture and that unique indescribable flavour that comes from spelt.