Sunday, 29 January 2012

Chocolate Chip and Orange Cake

Reading my list of posts for January, it looks as if it's ages since I made chocolate cake for CT. In fact, the recipes I've posted have been interspersed with batches of brownies made with mayonnaise, about which I've already posted.

However, it's about time a chocolate cake crept back into the cake tin; this time I returned to the basic oil/yogurt recipe which I've used several times before. It started as this Ina Garten recipe, although it's had so many tweaks that it doesn't look much like it now. The main tweak has been to reduce the liquid by leaving out the volume provided by lemon juice in the original. I like this recipe because it's quick to mix and get into the oven. All I do is mix the basic dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another, and whisk the liquid into the flour until no patches of flour show. Then any lumpy ingredients such as chocolate, in this case, or fruit and nuts, are folded in. The slowest part of making this cake was chopping the chocolate!

The ingredients were: 200g plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 200g caster sugar, the zest of a medium orange, 250mls yogurt, 3 large eggs, 115g oil (I used sunflower), 1 teaspoon orange extract, 150g chopped plain chocolate (I used 70%).

The batter is put into a prepared 20cm round tin and baked at 180C for around 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean. Cool in tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

It's hard to tell on the basis of cutting just a couple of slices, but it looks as if the larger pieces of chocolate sank as the cake baked, although I don't think this is a major issue - there are plenty of smaller pieces in the upper half of the cake.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Pear, Pecan and Ginger Cake

I can't put my finger on what was wrong with this cake, but I didn't really enjoy it. Perhaps there was nothing wrong with it, and it's just my taste buds which weren't satisfied. To me there was strange aftertaste to the cake, but I'm not sure it was because of the pecans or the fresh ginger - perhaps I shouldn't have used the ginger, but it seemed a good flavour combination in my head! On the other hand, the ginger couldn't really be tasted, although I could feel it as a warmth at the back of the mouth. CT didn't realise it was there at all until I told him!

The recipe originates from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook, but I found it here, on Rolling Pin Tales, complete with a translation to British weights and measurements! The only change I made to the cake batter was to add a large 'thumb' of fresh, grated ginger. I didn't add any frosting at all - just a dusting of icing sugar.

The cake was quite dense and heavy, although the pear chunks kept it moist. The crust of the cake was really hard too, and split during baking, so that the cake rose with a peculiar ridge around the top, as if a lid was being opened up. The hard crust made it difficult to slice the cake neatly as it cracked when a knife was inserted. 

I think the cake needed something more than just the pears and pecans, to boost the flavour but perhaps ginger didn't fulfill that need. I have seen versions of this recipe which add lemon zest to the batter, or perhaps some cinnamon would have worked better. I'm not sure this will be a recipe I try again.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake

This is another adaptation of this fabulous Annie Bell recipe, which is turning out to be very adaptable and versatile, as I'd hoped. The fact that I can take out flour and substitute desiccated coconut, without affecting how well the recipe works is very encouraging.

This flavour combination was delicious, very light and delicate, and the texture of the cake was light too, quite unusual for coconut cakes, which often turn out quite stodgy. I kept the topping simple - just a dusting of sugar on top of the lime drizzle - but a lime flavoured glacé icing and some shreds of toasted coconut would have made the cake more interesting if it was being used for a special occasion, rather than an everyday cake.

180ml sunflower oil
270g caster sugar
3 eggs
zest of 2 limes (reserve the juice for topping)
100ml milk
250g plain flour
50g desiccated coconut
2 teaspoons baking powder

Topping - 2 tablespoons golden syrup, juice of 2 limes, granulated sugar for sprinkling

Prepare a 23cm(9") square baking tin and preheat the oven to 190C.
Whisk the oil, sugar, eggs, lime zest and milk together in a large bowl, until the oil appears amalgamated.
Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the coconut and whisk until smoothly blended.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, blend the golden syrup and lime juice together.
Prick the hot cake all over with a fine probe, such as a cocktail stick, and drizzle over the lime juice mixture. When any puddles of juice have been absorbed, sprinkle over a little granulated sugar, and leave the cake to cool in the tin.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Pineapple and Blackberry Crumble

This crumble was inspired by one of the dishes made in the third heat of the Celebrity Sport Relief Bake Off Challenge, shown on TV last week. TV presenter Anita Rani, who went on to be the overall winner, made a Pineapple and Blackberry Crumble with the coconut added to the crumble topping. No recipe was given for this, but it wasn't difficult to figure out a recipe which at least featured the same flavours in the dish. Anita added (I think) cinnamon and vanilla to her pineapple, and flamed it with rum while it was cooking. She then mixed in raw blackberries before adding the topping.

As usual, with this sort of thing, my recipe is a bit 'thrown together' as I don't weigh the fruit. I know that if I half-fill my large Pyrex dish with fruit and top it with a crumble mix made from 80-100g of each ingredient, I'm going to get 4-6 portions depending on appetite. I also took the opportunity to use more of the Light at Heart sugar/stevia mix that I've been given to try. The added stevia reduces the calories by half as you only need to use half as much sugar as usual.

So, this is roughly what I did!

Peeled, cored and chopped 2/3 of a standard sized supermarket pineapple into chunks.
Thawed a roughly equal volume of blackberries.
Melted about 40g unsalted butter in a frying pan and added the pineapple. As it started to cook I added 1 tablepoon of brown Light at Heart (or 2 tablespoons light muscovado sugar), a half teaspoon cinnamon and a teaspoon vanilla extract. I then poured on two tablespoons of rum which I mixed in and then flamed. I then turned up the heat and reduced the pan juices to a sticky caramel. The fruit was then cooled.
For the crumble mix, I rubbed 80g unsalted butter into 80g plain flour, 80g whole rolled oats and 40g white Light at Heart (use 80g regular white sugar). I then stirred in 20g desiccated coconut. I think it's important not to make the mixture too fine - leaving a few lumps of butter and some clumps of crumble adds to the texture.
The cooled pineapple was mixed with the blackberries, and 1 tablespoon of cornflour, to thicken any juices. The fruit was put into a deep casserole dish with a 1litre capacity, and the crumble mix was sprinkle evenly on top and pressed down lightly.
The crumble was baked until the top was golden brown and the fruit bubbling. I usually do this at 180C for about 45 minutes, but I started at a much higher temperature with this dish because I was cooking something else in the oven too. It had the first 10 minutes at 220C which didn't seem to do it any harm. It then finished off at 180C, with about 25 minutes cooking overall.

This was a really good combination of flavours - the pineapple, cinnamon, vanilla and hint of rum gave a tropical flavour, and fantastic smell, when added to the coconut in the topping. I'm not sure I'd have recognised the blackberries in a blind tasting but they added another taste dimension and a lovely colour to the dish. Coconut in the crumble topping is definitely an innovation I'll be using again with suitable fruit! Using the Light at Heart sugar in this context was fine too - I didn't notice anything different in the volume, taste or texture of the crumble mix.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Orange Layer Cake

I used the two cakes I made yesterday to make this Orange Layer Cake. 

As it seemed the flatter of the two, I used the cake made with Light at Heart as the bottom layer. It was a little lopsided so I attempted to level the bottom by shaving off a little of the cake. I then sandwiched the cakes with half a jar of orange curd, and made a glacé icing with icing sugar, two heaped teaspoons of orange curd and a few drops of water. The result was a very well flavoured cake, but it threw up a couple of questions:

1) Why can't I level off cakes properly? This was still lopsided and I was contemplating pushing in cocktail sticks to stop the top layer sliding off!

2) Why didn't I know that orange curd isn't suitable for a cake filling? I'm sure I've seen recipes which fill cakes with fruit curd, but as soon as I set the top layer in place, it just pushed the lemon curd out at the sides.

This cake wouldn't win any prizes for appearance, but it was very tasty, and as yet another adaptation of this Annie Bell recipe, it convinced me that this is a really useful recipe.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Baking with Light at Heart

I think we all know that it's difficult to reconcile a love of cakes, pastries, cookies and chocolate with healthy eating and even more difficult for some of us to keep a steady weight, let alone lose weight while eating these regularly. There are things we can do to make baked goods a little healthier - reduce saturated fat, use wholemeal flour, add fresh fruit and vegetables, and so on, but these tweaks don't really address the issue of calorie intake.

Now Tate and Lyle have introduced a new product called Light at Heart which may be able to help - it's a mix of sugar and stevia. Stevia is a plant extract which is so sweet that even though only only 1% is added to ordinary sugar, it makes it so sweet that only half as much is needed, thus cutting the calories contributed by sugar by half too. It is available in brown and white varieties, and Tate and Lyle claim it can be used in baking, as well as a substitute for sugar in things like drinks and on cereals. I think it's ingenious of Tate and Lyle to adjust the use of stevia so that exactly half the usual amount of sugar is needed - easy to remember!

When I was offered free samples of Light at Heart, I was only too happy to try them, even though it's not the sort of product I would usually consider buying. However, I had doubts that it would be suitable for every baking situation, as much of the success of a cake depends on the amount of sugar used. Sugar contributes to moistness, texture and volume when used in cakes, as well as sweetness, and I've read that you can only reduce the sugar by 20-25% before these are affected. Cutting it by 50% seemed a big step to take!

Left-hand cake baked with Light at Heart
I decided the best way of comparing the use of sugar and Light at Heart was to do a side by side bake of two cakes, where the only difference was whether sugar or Light at Heart was used. I picked an oil-based sponge recipe which is simple and quick to mix. This enabled the cakes to be mixed side by side in just a few minutes. Each was then baked in a 10 x 5" rectangle - two halves of a 10" square tin.

There were no other factors affecting the cakes apart from the use of either sugar or Light at Heart.

Each cake was made by whisking 120ml sunflower oil, 2 eggs, 70ml semi-skimmed milk, the zest of half an orange and 1 teaspoon of orange extract together with either 180g caster sugar or 90g Light at Heart, until well amalgamated. Then 180g plain flour and 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder was sifted in and whisked just enough to give a smooth mixture with no flour showing. The cakes were baked at 190C for 30 minutes, when a test probe came out clean.

Left-hand cake baked with Light at Heart
It was obvious as soon as the cakes were baked that there was a significant difference between the two. The cake using Light at Heart didn't rise as much and was paler, with a speckled unevenly coloured surface. When the cold cakes were cut, there didn't seem much visible difference between the two, apart from the volume, but the cake made with Light at Heart seemed a little drier when eaten. The speckling was due to the Light at Heart having larger crystals than caster sugar - it was more like granulated sugar, which I don't usually use in baking.

These differences aren't great, and if you really want to reduce calorie intake and still eat cakes, then you might be able to overlook them and be happy with cakes baked with Light at Heart. I'm not sure you'll be able to overlook the price difference though - Light at Heart costs around £2.50 for 500g which makes it about 4 times more expensive than sugar.

Left-hand cake baked with Light at Heart
I'm going to try Light at Heart in other baking situations, where I think it might be more succesful. The issue of volume and texture isn't as important in things like pastry and crumble toppings, where sugar is used mainly for it's sweetness. I'm hoping that using Light in Heart in cookies will be successful too. However, I don't think I'll be using Light at Heart in cakes where lightness, moistness and volume are important.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Cinnamon Buns - A Tea Time Treat

Tea Time Treats is a monthly challenge set in turn by Kate at What Kate Baked, and Karen at Lavender and Lovage; the rules can be found here. This month it was Karen who challenged us to bake a sweet Tea Time Treat based on either bread or pastry. This caused a dilemma for me - I'm not very good at yeast cookery, but pastry doesn't really fit into our low saturated fat diet. I decided to have another go at yeast dough, as that would at least present me with a challenge, and hopefully I could keep the fat levels down too.

There are two types of baked treats for tea time - small items which look highly decorative, and sit on a cake stand for afternoon tea, and the less dainty items which are just grabbed from the cake tin when you need something sweet with your afternoon cuppa. Buns definitely fall into the second category - there's nothing dainty or refined about a cinnamon bun - just sweetness and spice and a feeling of contentment after it's finished.

Although I haven't had consistent success with yeast baking, I have had the best results from Dan Lepard's recipes, so his recipes were my first port of call. I really liked the look of the Lemon and Almond Buns, published in both the Guardian and his recent book, Short and Sweet, but in the end chose the Cinnamon Buns recipe from his column in the Guardian. I think one reason I chose it was because of the incredulity of the commentators on the recipe, about including Ryvita crumbs in the filling! It made me want to reassure myself that of course Dan knows what he's talking about! There was also less butter in the cinnamon bun dough, and I could be cautious about how much I added to the filling. Another reason for using Dan's bread recipes is that his almost 'no knead' method suits my old arthritic joints - if I overdo any physical activity, it's quite likely that any joints involved will be immobile the next day; hands that don't work are not a good thing!

Buns before proving

After proving
I followed the recipe quite closely, and only made one change to the ingredients. I didn't want the buns to be too dark, so used a 50:50 mixture of light and dark muscovado sugar for the filling. When it came to dabbing a little butter over the dough, I used as little as possible, about another 50g. I think that either my yeast wasn't in the best condition, or my kitchen was very cold, because it took well over an hour for the shaped buns to rise enough before cooking. They also took 25 minutes to cook to a rich golden colour.

I'm really happy with the way these turned out, although I think they would have been a little lighter with a new batch of yeast. Hubs thought they were too large, so that's something to consider if I make them again.

The lemon and cardamom flavours were noticable in the plain dough, and the Ryvita crumbs gave some texture to the spicy filling. In a world where there were no worries about fat consumption, I might have added twice as much butter to the filling, to make it richer and stickier, but these were perfectly adequate for an everyday Tea Time Treat.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Mocha Swirl Bundt Cake - We Should Cocoa

As we all recover from the excesses of Christmas, Chele at Chocolate Teapot has set an apt challenge for this month's We Should Cocoa - to make a something healthy using chocolate in some form. The full rules for the We Should Cocoa challenge can be found on Chocolate Log Blog, the blog written by Chele's co-host Choclette.

Of course, 'healthy' has different meanings to everyone, often based on their own health issues. For us, or at least three of the four people that I cook for, reducing our intake of saturated fat is the main aim, as both Hubs and I take medication for high cholesterol, and my son, CT, is controlling raised cholesterol by diet. Since I started reducing the saturated fat in my baking, both Hubs and I have seen reduced cholesterol levels, and CT, who has made other dietary changes too, has brought his cholesterol down to acceptable levels.

So this challenge has been relatively easy for me; I am entering a variation of one of my favourite cakes made with oil instead of butter. Another way of making cakes made with chocolate even healthier is to use cocoa rather than chocolate, as cocoa is lower in fat than the same weight of chocolate, and in most cases less cocoa is required to give an acceptable chocolate flavour. This recipe uses 4 1/2 tablespoons, which is less than 50g.

I usually make this bundt cake as a chocolate, orange and chilli cake, but this time I have made a mocha version - flavouring the cake layers with coffee and cocoa. The original recipe is from Alice Medrich, but I have reduced it in size to fit my bundt tin, and converted the ingredients from cup volumes to weights.

As always, this cake had a lovely close, moist texture. The coffee and chocolate flavours were quite subtle, and I think the cake may have been even better made with a flavourless oil, rather than olive oil - on this occasion I thought the flavour of olive oil was too much for the flavours of the cake.


4 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
4 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
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
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules, dissolved in the milk


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 mixture 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.
Using 1/3 of each batter at a time, layer them alternately into the bundt tin, starting with the light coloured coffee 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 a mix of cocoa and icing sugar before serving.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake

One last decadent dessert, before returning to my usual style of baking, with lowered saturated fat content. This was made to use up the cream cheese bought 'in case' before Christmas. I chose this recipe because it suited the amounts of cream cheese and sour cream I had in the fridge. One change I made was to use gingernut biscuits and 2 teaspoons of cocoa for the crumb crust, instead of the Australian biscuits specified. The other change was a mistake - I inadvertently picked up half-fat sour cream, which was a bit of a worry when I realised (as I was pouring it on top of the cream cheese!).

Chocolate wouldn't be my first choice for flavouring a cheesecake, but when I asked FB what she would like, chocolate is what she chose! I was considering a refreshing lemon, or even a tongue-tingling ginger, but it was not to be.

This is the first time I've made a cheesecake in a full crumb case, rather than just on a base, and I'm pleased at how well it turned out, although I only just built up the sides high enough. The crumb crust was very thin, and it wouldn't hurt to use a few more biscuits - another 50g, perhaps - but a thin crust is easy to cut and keeps the calories down a little.

Another thing I need to learn is to recognise the end-point when cooking a cheesecake. When I opened the oven door at 1 hour, the mixture was still very wobbly, and 7 minutes later it was still wobbling a lot! However, after another 5 minutes the cheesecake was solid, which inevitably lead to cracking as it cooled, so the mid-point is where I should have stopped cooking and turned off the heat.

This overcooking, and the use of half-fat sour cream, didn't seem to affect the texture too badly - the cheesecake was still soft and creamy, with enough chocolate to give it a good flavour.