Monday, 29 August 2011

My 7 Links

Kavey at 'Kavey Eats' has nominated me to take part in the '7 links' project, which started on the travel blog Tripbase. The idea, as explained by Tripbase, is "to unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavour to share lessons learned and create a bank of forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again." Obviously the idea grew among the travel blogging community first, but as bloggers nominate other bloggers from within their wider range of interests, it is spreading into other areas.

We are asked to share posts from our own blog, giving a link to one post for each of 7 categories. Then we nominate 5 more bloggers to do the same. The categories are ~your most beautiful post, ~your most popular post, ~your most controversial post, ~your most helpful post, ~a post whose success surprised you, ~a post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved, and finally, the post that you are most proud of.

My blog is quite specialised, really only looking at the products of my baking sessions, and I haven't got so many followers that I get a lot of comments about most of my posts, so it was quite difficult to decide which posts to use in each category. In the end, the only way which worked for me was to choose the posts on the basis of the product in them, and relate why I thought they fitted that particular category.

My Most Beautiful Post - Chocolate Ripple Pound Cake

I don't often set out to make cakes which look beautiful on the outside - I'm not a cake decorator. I'm much more interested in the flavours and textures in the cake and if they look good when they are cut that is an unintended benefit. The exceptions to this are 'marble' and 'ripple' cakes, where perhaps fairly plain flavours are made more interesting by presenting them in two or more differently coloured batters. For me, part of the beauty of the ripple cake is the unpredictablity of the outcome - it's never exactly the same twice, as slight variations in the thickness of the layers of batter and the currents within the cake as it cooks will produce different patterns. It's like the natural beauty of frost patterns on a window pane, or the refraction of light from spilt oil on a puddle.

My Most Popular Post - Sticky Toffee Pudding

This was chosen as one of my posts with the largest amount of comments, not counting my replies to other peoples' comments! What's not to like about sticky toffee pudding - even people who don't like dates will usually eat this pudding, and I've never known it to be turned down! This version has a touch of black treacle in the recipe, to cut down the sickliness which comes from something being too sweet!

My Most Controversial Post - Phanouropita

In all honesty, none of my posts are really controversial! How can you argue about baking? At the most, you can discuss things such as flavour combinations you don't like, or whether plain flour and baking powder is better than SR flour, but in the end, I respect other peoples' views as it always comes down to personal tastes rather than something that is right or wrong. The controversy in this case was a personal one of whether or not one can make a decent cake without eggs. Up until this point I've always maintained that you can't, but this cake proved me wrong. It lacked the rich flavour that you get with butter and eggs, but it was light and well risen, and the flavours of the nuts and spices really stood out.

My Most Helpful Post - Apple Tart 'Maman Blanc'

I chose this post about Raymond Blanc's recipe for his mother's apple tart because the detailed instructions for shaping, rolling and resting the pastry gave absolutely perfect results - lovely short  pastry with minimal shrinkage and a crisp base. I've followed this method faithfully on other occasions and get equally good results, but it's very time consuming to do from start to finish, even if some of the time is only waiting time! So - this post could help you make perfect pastry!

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me -  Chocolate Brownies made with Mayonnaise.

This recipe was found in response to my son needing to follow a diet low in saturated fat, to reduce his cholesterol levels. By the time he had cut out bacon, butter, paté and cheese, and reduced his consumption of red meat, it hardly seemed fair to tell him he couldn't eat cakes and biscuits either, so I started to look for recipes lower in saturated fat, including those which used oil instead of butter. Although there have been one or two less successful attempts, on the whole I'm very pleased with this baking adventure, and I've found a few basic recipes which I can produce quickly, and be sure of success. This recipe, which uses mayonnaise instead of butter, was a surprise success, as the end result was better than some brownie recipes I've tried which had no claim to being healthy!

A Post Which Deserves More Attention - Rhubarb, Almond and Orange Cake

It's inevitable that posts during the early days of my blog have attracted less attention than later posts, when the number of followers has grown, and I've got more involved with the blogging community. This is one that deserves more attention as, quite simply, it is one of the best rhubarb desserts I have ever made! I'd usually choose a crumble as my favourite dessert, but crumbles aren't as good reheated or eaten cold, whereas this is perfect either warm or at room temperature, so will still be good for a couple of days.

The Post I'm Most Proud Of - Hazelnut Meringue Roulade

I'm not a brave baker - I'd rather ignore the things I can't do than keep trying to get them right. Part of this is a certain inborn thriftiness - I hate wasting food, so don't like trying things if the results are going to be inedible. However, joining the We Should Cocoa Challenge has persuaded me to test my limitations on occasion - using ingredients I wouldn't usually cook with, or techniques I'm not familiar with. The challenge for last May was to make a roulade using some form of chocolate as one of the ingredients. This coincided with needing to make lunch for a friend whose diet is gluten- and dairy-free, so I decided to make a meringue roulade. This was a real challenge, as I haven't tackled either meringue or a roulade for many, many years. It wouldn't surprise me if my last roulade was a Swiss roll in school cookery lessons! As an added bonus in the challenge stakes, I made a chocolate mousse with olive oil, for the roulade filling, to keep the dessert dairy-free. After successful baking the meringue, and rolling it up, I was really proud of the result.

So, those are my 7 links! I'd like to nominate these 5 blogs to take part in this project, if they are interested:
  • Cake, Crumbs and Cooking
  • Kates Cakes and Bakes
  • Belleau Kitchen
  • Foodycat
  • Cookbooks Galore
All you need to do to participate is write a post with your own 7 links, using the categories listed above.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sweet Potato Brownies

Don't stop reading yet! The name isn't exactly inspiring, but these brownies are really, really good!

This is a Dan Lepard recipe for brownies with a lower fat and sugar content than usual. Some of the butter and sugar is replaced by sweet potato purée, which helps bind the mixture, add moisture and keep the fat and sugar emulsified, as Dan explains in his Guardian column.

They aren't totally suitable for the low saturated fat diet which CT is following, but they certainly make a great treat for him, without overloading on butter. They are really aimed at someone trying to cut down their calorie intake, particularly from excessive fat and the empty calories from sugar.

This is a more fiddly recipe than usual, as I had to plan ahead and bake a sweet potato. I did this in the oven, as I wasn't sure if a microwaved potato would be the same - I assumed the potato would lose some moisture as it cooked in the oven, but might not lose as much in the m/wave. I started with a potato weighing around 400g and used about 2/3 of it in the recipe. The only change I made to the recipe was to use toasted hazelnuts instead of pecans, so that FB could eat the brownies.

After following the recipe exactly, I found it took a few minutes longer than stated to cook the tray of brownie batter -  it was liquid in the centre at 25 minutes, but by 30 minutes I was worried that it was overcooked, as it seemed so solid. So the correct end point is something to watch for closely.

The brownie was moist and dense and had just the texture that I like in a good brownie. There is no way that you would guess that it contained sweet potato, or that it was lower in fat and sugar. There were a few holes in the cooked brownie, rather than an even texture, but this doesn't spoil the flavour!

These will be made again, but only as an occasional treat for CT - he needs to stick to the oil based cakes.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Chocolate and Ginger Yogurt Cake

This is another version of the Lemon Yogurt Anything cake, first seen on Smitten Kitchen. This, in turn, was originally an Ina Garten recipe for a lemon cake with no fruit. My version reduces the amount of liquid slightly, as I don't add the lemon juice, but it has turned into a really good basic cake which is highly adaptable to make many differently flavoured versions. I had a similarly versatile cake recipe using butter, which I could mix up and get into the oven in a very short time, so I'm very pleased to have found a lower saturated fat version. They are really useful recipes when all you have available are store cupboard ingredients.

170g plain flour
30g cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
200g caster sugar
250g low fat yogurt*
110g sunflower oil
3 large eggs
150g chopped plain chocolate
4 balls of preserved stem ginger, finely chopped.

*I used 125g fat-free vanilla yogurt and 125g low fat natural yogurt, as I was short of  enough natural yogurt.

Prepare a 20cm (8") round springform cake tin, and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Put the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, powdered ginger and sugar into a large bowl and mix with a ballon whisk.
In a large jug, mix together the eggs, yogurt and oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the flour mix and stir briskly (but don't beat) until thoroughly combined.
Fold in the chopped chocolate and stem ginger.
Spread evenly in the prepared tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

For a simple 'everyday' cake this turned out really well. The texture was light and moist and there was just the right amount of ginger to be noticeable, but not overpower the chocolate flavour. Another successful variation - these sort of cakes are different everytime I make them as the 'add-in' ingredients vary according to what's available, but I will remember how good this one was!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rose and Pistachio Blondies - We Should Cocoa; August

August's We Should Cocoa challenge was set by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog. Carrying on with the seasonal theme, she challenged us to use roses in some form, in our chocolate based product. I have to admit that I wasn't very excited by this challenge, perhaps because roses suggests something more delicate than the things I usually bake. It's also a flavour that I haven't used before, so I was unsure how a rose flavoured product would be received by other family members.

By the time I got round to baking these, I'd already had two attempts to make rose sugar, which hadn't really worked, so I bought some rose water and dried the petals of a deep red rose for this recipe.

After some thought I decided that the flavour of the rosewater would probably be overwhelmed by dark chocolate, and that if I wanted the roses to be visible in the final product I would have to use white chocolate again. Blondies were my first thought, even though I made blondies for June's challenge. To contrast with the sweetness of this I decided to add cocoa nibs. The final decision was to add pistachio nuts for a pleasing colour combination of pink, black and pale green.

Because of my concerns about using rose flavour, I only made a small batch of these blondies. The recipe could easily be doubled and cooked in a 20cm square tin for a few minutes longer.

30g butter
50g caster sugar
1 tablespoon water
100g white chocolate
1 egg
1 teaspoon rosewater
75g plain flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
40g chopped pistachio nuts
25g cocoa nibs
dried petals of 1 red rose, shredded

Heat oven to 160C and prepare a loaf tin, or a 22 x 10cm (9 x 4") shallow tin.
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.
Heat the butter, sugar and water in a saucepan until the butter has melted, then add the chopped white chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat.
Beat in the egg, then stir in the rosewater.
Add the flour mix and fold in, then mix in the pistachios, cocoa nibs and rose petals.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a test probe is clean. Cool in tin.
Cut the cake into bars for serving.

I was surprised at how strongly flavoured the rosewater was; I think I could easily have made something with plain chocolate without masking the flavour. I'd expected the scent of roses but these blondies also tasted strongly of Turkish Delight. The pistachios, cocoa nibs and rose petals gave a great multi-coloured speckled look to the bars (thankfully the petals kept a lot of their colour) and the nuts and nibs gave some crunch to the texture.

Overall I was very pleased with these, but I don't think they are likely to become a regular item in my repertoire.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Rose Sugar and other things.......

I'm currently losing about 3 hours a day, as I take time to visit my mother in hospital. This is time that I would normally spend cooking or gardening. Consequently, the garden is over-run with weeds - although we have found time to harvest most of the vegetables that are ready to eat - and our meals are basic, to say the least. I'm not sure if things will improve much when mother is out of hospital, as I can't judge yet how much care she will need.

I have been baking a little, but it's old favourites rather than new recipes - I just don't have time to look for anything new! I've made the mayonnaise-based brownies and Dan Lepard's Marmalade Flapjacks and I've been thinking about this month's We Should Cocoa challenge - to use roses in conjunction with chocolate.

I'm not very inspired by this challenge - I'm certainly not going to spend over £4 on 4 tablespoons of rose water, which probably won't get used again once a few drops are taken out, and any other rose-based products are even less readily available or more expensive, when the postage costs of online buying are factored in! However, I do (or did) intend to attempt the challenge, and to this end, I've been trying to make rose sugar. I've had two attempts so far and neither seem very promising.

Both attempts were made the same way - rub the petals of one large, just opened, rose (either fresh or dried for two days) with 100g of caster sugar and store in a closed container. The sugar made with dried flowers (on the right in the photo) looks good, as it has flecks of dark pink petals throughout, but it smells awful - nothing like roses! The sugar made using fresh rose petals (in the left container) still smells like roses, but the petals have lost their colour and gone a nasty yellowy-brown colour! The sugar is also damp and lumpy, so I can't even sieve out the manky petals with the sugar like this.

I'm not sure what to do next - any suggestions? I'm inclined to use the sugar made with fresh petals and hope the smell survives the cooking process, as neither sugars seem to have taken on any additional flavour from the rose petals!  Perhaps I could sieve out the dry petals from the other sugar and hope the colour of those survives cooking too! But first I have to find time to make something!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Chocolate, Chilli and Orange Ripple Cake

It wasn't until after I'd decided to make this Alice Medrich recipe again that I realised the instructions also contained the 'jinx' phrase 'whisk until pale and thick'. I guess it proves that jinxes are just figments of the imagination - this time the recipe worked really well!

I made this cake about 4 months ago, but decided that it was too large for my bundt tin, and that the flavours were a bit too subtle. This time I reduced everything by about 20% - some ingredients were more accurately recalculated than others - and changed the black pepper for cayenne (chilli) pepper. I also used the grated zest of a whole orange in the plain batter.

Here is the revised recipe:
4 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
4 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons water

320g plain flour
2 scant tsp baking powder
pinch salt
320g caster sugar
200ml light olive oil
4 cold eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200ml cold semi-skimmed milk
finely grated zest of one large orange

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare a 10-cup bundt tin (a tin which is at least 2.4 litres in capacity).
Put the first 4 ingredients into a small bowl and mix until they form a smooth paste; set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, oil and vanilla until well blended and smooth. Whisk in the eggs 1 at a time, then continue whisking until the mixture is thick and pale - about 3 minutes with an electric hand whisk.
Reduce the whisk to a slow speed, then mix in 1/3 portions of the flour alternately with the milk, whisking only as much as necessary to make a smooth batter.
Weigh out  400g of the batter into a bowl and mix in the cocoa paste mix.
Mix the orange zest into the plain portion of the batter.
Using 1/3 of each batter at a time, layer them alternately into the bundt tin, starting with the orange batter.
Bake for about 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean; cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust with icing sugar before serving.

As before, the texture of this cake was really good - moist with a close even crumb. Using cayenne powder instead of black pepper, and more orange zest boosted the flavour just the right amount. The cayenne wasn't overpowering, but by the time you'd eaten a whole slice you were certainly aware of the warmth of the spice. Last time I didn't really notice the black pepper at all.

This is one of the best  pound cake recipes using oil that I've tried. I'll have to try it as a basic pound cake, without the chocolate ripples, to see if it works as well as a plain cake - it will then be more adaptable when wanting to try other flavours. I'm just worried that leaving out the cocoa and extra sugar will affect the balance of the cake too much.