Monday, 26 December 2011

Truffle Torte

One of our Christmas traditions is a chocolate dessert, as one of the choices at Christmas lunch. I don't often have a proper Christmas Pudding, as most of the family prefer other things, but this year we gave in to the mass hysteria and bought one of Waitrose's Heston Blumenthal Hidden Orange Puddings. Sometimes you just have to know what the fuss is about! This was deliciously orangey, as it oozed orange syrup, and the candied orange was a lovely texture to eat, but the pudding part itself wasn't anything special.

For anyone who didn't want to try the Christmas Pudding, and for the few days following Christmas, I made a version of Delia Smith's Truffle Torte, something I've been making occasionally over many years. This year I made 2/3 of the truffle mixture, and set it in a 8" diameter springform tin, on a crumb base made using half digestive biscuits and half crisp Amaretti, crushed to fine crumbs and mixed with half their weight of melted butter. I decorated the top with chocolate flutes, getting them to stick to the top of the truffle mix by melting the flat bottoms with  the back of a spoon heated in a gas flame. I then dusted with cocoa and icing sugar.

Delia doesn't warn you about this, but it is very crumbly and difficult to cut while really cold, and needs about 30 minutes out of the fridge to soften up before serving. This makes it a nicer texture for eating, too.  I forgot to do this, of course, and really struggled to get the first slice out. This is a really rich dessert, and can only be eaten in small slices, but it really allows the true flavour of the chocolate you've chosen to shine through, so needs to be made with a good quality chocolate that you enjoy eating.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'm pacing my baking, to stop us all ballooning up over the holiday period. I don't think I'll need a cake until Boxing Day, as there will be leftover desserts from Christmas Lunch, as well as the inevitable presents of biscuits and chocolates. I don't mind leaving some of the cooking until Boxing Day, as coping with The Lunch will take enough of my time and energy.

We do need mincepies though, and these turned out quite well. The sweet shortcrust pastry, which I make with SR flour to increase the crumbliness, is flavoured with orange zest, and the bought mincemeat contained 7% dark chocolate. Another reason for using SR flour at this time of year is that it keeps the pastry soft, so the mincepies last for several days in good condition. Saves baking every day!

The pastry is made by rubbing 125g of lard and 125g unsalted butter into 450g SR flour, 50g icing sugar, a pinch of salt and the zest of a medium orange. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add 1 egg and enough cold water to give a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes before cutting into quarters and  rolling out thinly on a floured board. I find that it's best to deal with the pastry in smaller amounts, then incorporate the trimmings into the next piece of pastry. That way there is always some fresh pastry in each pie, and you don't end up with the last few circles being from pastry that has been re-rolled several times.

Cut out an equal number of bases and lids to fit your mincepie tray, or use seasonal cutters to make pastry shapes for the top, instead of full circles. Fill the base with a good teaspoon of mincemeat and fix on the lids by brushing the undersides with water and pressing together where the lid meets the base. Brush the tops with water and sprinkle over some granulated sugar. Bake at 200C until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Cool the pies in the tins for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if desired.

Although delicious, the chocolate mincemeat was quite sweet, and not very spicy; we all decided that we preferred the Cranberry and Port Mincemeat that I used in the Bramley and Mincemeat Pasties last weekend.

I'd like to wish all my internet friends a
very Merry Christmas
and everything they wish for
in the New Year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Gingerbread with Lemon and Ginger Buttercream

The smell of gingerbread baking is another seasonal scent which is really uplifting - one of my favourite Christmasssy smells.

This was going to be an unfrosted plain gingerbread, but the first bite told me that would it be a mistake to leave the cake as it came out of the baking tin! The molasses was so overwhelming that the cake was quite bitter. Add to this the fact that there wasn't enough ginger in the recipe and the flavour of the cake was quite disappointing. However, the addition of a lemon and ginger buttercream perked it up a lot and counteracted the bitterness. I found the recipe here, while trawling the internet looking for a recipe using oil.

I made the buttercream by beating 70g of unsalted butter and 40g full fat cream cheese with 200g icing sugar, the zest of a lemon and 2 tablespoons of syrup from a jar of preserved ginger. I then folded in three nuggets of preserved ginger, finely chopped.

Leaving aside the flavour, this was a really well textured cake, and won't need much adjustment to make it worth repeating - I'll try replacing half of the molasses with golden syrup, and at least tripling the amount of ginger. I think a flavourless oil such as sunflower would be better too, as the other flavours are so strong - any flavour inherent in the olive oil is lost.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Bramley and Mincemeat Pasties

Another recipe from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet, although it was Nigel Slater who reminded me of them a couple of weeks ago. The recipe has also been published in Dan's column in the Guardian Weekend magazine. The thought of making my own puff pastry, even rough puff, has always been offputting, but FB wanted to try these, and was willing to put in the work while I pottered around the kitchen giving advice (!!).

We made one major mistake, by not following the folding and rolling instructions properly, so spoiling the first half batch of pasties, but once we realised the fault we corrected it with the second batch, which came out much better. Our misreading of the instructions meant that we only built up half the number of layers in the pastry, which didn't incorporate the butter properly, resulting in much of it running out of the pasties onto the oven floor! By re-folding and rolling the second half of the pastry before using it, we got a much better result, although I think we were still short of a few layers. Still, it's a good learning experience, and means the mistake won't be repeated!

One gripe I have with the recipe is that you can't cut a 30 x30cm square into 6 even squares - you need a more rectangular shape to be able to do that - and you do need squares to get a neat triangular pasty. We rolled the dough to a rectangle which was roughly 24 x 36cm, giving 6 squares that were 12 x 12cm. There was also far more apple than we could get into the pasties - one apple would have been enough! We couldn't work out how to fold the pasty edges to seal them properly, either - I need to find a video of someone making a Cornish pasty, I think.

As always, the success of a mince pie  or pasty depends on the mincemeat, and we used a Cranberry and Port mincemeat which was very strongly flavoured. It still allowed the flavour of the apple in the filling to come through, but masked the ginger in the pastry, I think. The tart Bramley apple lessened the sweetness of the pasty - I often add grated apple to a jar of mincemeat for this reason.

These were really tasty, and well worth the time spent making the pastry. It wasn't really difficult, just time consuming, and really needs attempting when you won't get distracted by other chores.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dan Lepard's Stollen Bars - A Tea Time Treat

Tea Time Treats is a new challenge jointly hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. Obviously the baking side of treats for tea time is what appeals to me, but anything that could possibly be eaten at tea time can be entered into the challenge, which gives a pretty wide remit. Each month there will be a theme for the challenge and in December what better theme could this month's host, Kate, pick than Christmas?

The recipe for these Orange and Pistachio Stollen Bars, by Dan Lepard, was published in the Guardian Weekend Magazine a few weeks ago, in the Christmas Party Food Supplement  and had instant appeal for me, as I love Stollen but am rubbish at yeast doughs - even Dan's recipes! This unusual take on the traditional recipe is raised with baking powder and contains large lumps of marzipan throughout the mixture - utter bliss! As Stollen is usually only eaten around Christmas time, these bars seem ideal for the Tea Time Treat challenge.

Although I liked all the flavouring ingredients in the bars, I was tempted to swap the sultanas for dried cranberries, as they seem more festive and seasonal. In the end I decided to stick by my view that unless something serious like an allergy forces a change, every recipe should be tried as the cook has written it, at least for the first time.

The recipe was straightforward and quick to follow, so within an hour of starting to assemble the ingredients, I had a fragrant tray of stollen cooling on the counter, ready for brushing with melted butter. The only forethought required is to get the butter, cream cheese and egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. As I didn't expect to have to keep the bars a long time, I only used about 25g of butter to
brush on top - this seemed to me to give a generous coating anyway.

When it came to cutting and tasting, I was glad I had kept in the sultanas, as the flavours of orange and pistachio are very delicate and would have been overwhelmed by dried cranberries. I loved finding such large pieces of marzipan nestled within the bars. The texture of the bars is hard to describe - it's somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, doughy like a bread but quite light and open textured too. After a night's sleep I realised that what it most reminded me of was biscotti dough before the second baking!

I'm sure these will be repeated, although I already have two bought Stollens stashed away for Christmas and New Year. Hubs liked them, but he didn't think they matched up to a traditional stollen so I might need to call them something different next time. I thought they were comparable, in texture, to some of the stollens I've bought in the past, but not as good as a slice of stollen with a really big piece of marzipan in the centre, which is what Hubs missed most too, I think! However, for a homemade treat, these are quick, unlike yeast dough, and successful, unlike most of my attempts at yeast dough.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Muffins

What could be more seasonal than the smells and flavours of oranges, cranberries, chocolate and cinnamon? All are present in abundance in these muffins, which would make a tasty light breakfast on Christmas Day morning. These muffins may be my entry to December's We Should Cocoa Challenge, but for the moment I want to hold them in reserve; I have other plans using orange and chocolate together, but at this time of year, my plans are often greater than my achievements! If I run out of time or energy, these will be a worthy entrant to the challenge.

I've used this recipe for Orange and Blueberry Muffins, from Dom at Belleau Kitchen, as the base recipe as it's one of the most successful muffin recipes I've tried. It isn't oversweet and the use of oats and oil give more than a passing illusion of healthiness! Instead of fresh blueberries I used dried cranberries presoaked in orange juice, and plain chocolate.

125g dried cranberries
roughly 300ml orange juice (I used juice from a carton; see method for explanation of amount)
100g rolled oats
375g plain flour
200g caster sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (reduced from original recipe)
250ml sunflower oil
3 beaten eggs
1 egg white*
225g blueberries
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange, separated
100g plain chocolate, finely chopped

Topping, mix together - 70g turbinado (or demerara) sugar
50g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon

* the extra egg white was just to use up one that was lurking in my eye-line in the fridge!

Put the cranberries into a small bowl and cover with orange  juice. Soak for at least 4 hours.
Drain the berries, reserving any juice not absorbed. Measure the juice into a jug or cup and make up to 250ml with the fresh orange juice and more juice from the carton if necessary. (I found I needed only about another 30ml of carton juice)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C, 180C fan
Mix the rolled oats into the orange juice and set aside while you mix the batter.
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Make a well in the centre and add the oat mixture, eggs + extra white and oil, and mix until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate.
Fill muffin cases 3/4 full and sprinkle the top of each with just under a teaspoon of the topping mixture.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a test probe is clean (mine took 22 minutes this time, perhaps due to the extra egg white).

I made 22 muffins from this mixture.

These muffins don't appear to rise a lot, but they still have a good light, but moist, texture. All the separate flavour elements in these muffins could be tasted, and the turbinado sugar and hazelnuts gave a lovely crunchy contrast to the soft crumb and chewy cranberries. The only improvement I could see was perhaps a little more cinnamon in the topping - perhaps another 1/2 teaspoon.

Note Added 18th Dec - I'm pretty sure now that I'm going to run out of time. The next Chocolate/Orange combination I bake will be my Christmas Cake, which will be made on Christmas Eve. Even after it's finished, I probably won't have time to post about it by the We Should Cocoa deadline. So this is now officially my entry to the December Challenge, which was to use orange in combination with chocolate. This month's challenge is hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, and you can also find the rules on her Blog if you want to join in with future challenges.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cake

Yet another reworking of the basic cake recipe made with yogurt and oil. It really is a versatile recipe for a general everyday cake. For this one, I substituted 50g of the flour with ground almonds to keep the cake moist, and added 50g each of plain, milk and white chocolate, all three varieties chopped from a bar, rather than chips.

This cake didn't rise as much as usual but it was still  light and moist. I changed the method slightly and mixed the sugar with the yogurt, eggs and oil, before sifting in the flour. I usually mix the sugar with the flour and then stir in the whisked together eggs, oil and yogurt, and I think the second method gives a better result. In both cases, any solid ingredients such as chopped chocolate are folded in after everything else is mixed together.

For the record, the ingredients were 150g plain flour, 50g ground almonds, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 200g caster sugar, 250ml low-fat yogurt, 3 eggs, 110g sunflower oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 50g each of chopped plain, milk and white chocolate. The cake was baked in a 20cm round tin, at 180C for 50-60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.