Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Best Gingerbread Yet!

When I cook a new recipe which I'm not entirely happy about, I often speculate as to what it needs to make it better, but rarely get round to going back and trying the recipe again with the 'improvements'. This time I have gone back to a gingerbread recipe which I tried a couple of months ago, and made the changes that I suggested at the time.

I used half black treacle and half golden syrup, to reduce the bitterness, and increased the ground ginger from 1 teaspoon to three. I also used sunflower oil rather than olive oil, as I thought the expense of olive oil was wasted on such a strong flavoured cake.

For my future reference, I'm going to list the metric ingredients:

350g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
90mls (6 tablespoons) sunflower oil
150g caster sugar
1 egg
250mls of equal parts golden syrup and black treacle and 250mls hot water (mixed together in a measuring jug).

It's another simple cake to mix - the spices are mixed into the flour, and the oil, sugar and egg are whisked together in a bowl. Portions of the flour mixture and the diluted syrups are then mixed alternately into the egg mixture, without overmixing. Baking takes 50-55 minutes at 170C, in an 8"(20cm) deep square tin.

The changes were exactly what is needed. I now have a recipe for an 'old-fashioned' gingerbread which uses oil instead of butter. It's dark and delicious and has enough ginger to produce a tingle on the tongue. It also has the right sort of surface - one that gets stickier with time. I hesitate to say it's perfect, as the batter is too wet to take any additions such as chopped stem ginger - I'm sure they would sink - but it's the best low-saturated fat gingerbread I've made so far!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Chocolate Mousse - A Rescue Mission

What can you do with a bowful of ganache, intended for truffles, which is rock hard at room temperature, crumbly, and showing signs of seizing? Some might throw it into the bin, but I'm a thrifty, frugal cook, and it goes against my nature to throw away 350g of chocolate and double cream (even if FB paid for it, and it was her attempt at truffles which went wrong!)

At first, I thought I could rescue the mixture, and still make truffles, but when I tried to re-melt the chocolate and add more ingredients to make it a softer set, it split terribly, and I ended up with a lump of warm soft chocolate-like goo in a huge puddle of oil. I had added 2 tablespoons of Amaretto Liqueur and 50g of white chocolate in an effort to improve the truffle mix, but once it split so badly, it seemed doomed.

By now, I was thinking of possibly a chocolate sauce, if the mixture could be persuaded to recombine. As a last resort, I tried something which has worked for me before, when making cake frostings, but which is never mentioned as an orthodox remedy for split ganache. I beat the mixture with an electric whisk, while dribbling in cold semi-skimmed milk. After several dribbles of milk (about 4 or 5 tablespoons) I had a lovely bowl of soft ganache, without a hint of splitting.

It seemed a shame to dilute it further to make a sauce, but I wasn't sure it would ever set hard enough for trufles after so much milk had been added, so instead I quickly beat in two egg yolks, and then folded in the stiffly beaten egg whites, to make a mousse. It was still a bit of a gamble as to how well it would set, but I'm pleased to say it made a very light, soft mousse. Because the original chocolate was 85% cocoa solids, and the only added sugar was in the white chocolate and amaretto, it still tasted rich and delicious, although not as deeply chocolatey as a traditional mousse using just eggs and chocolate.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Olive Oil Brownies

Although I'm really happy with the brownies that I make with mayonnaise, as a way of reducing the amount of butter used, they do come out with a cakey texture, so I've been on the look-out for recipes which give a chewier, fudgier result.

These Olive Oil Brownies from Cookie Madness come closer to the sort of thing I like - they are chewy but still not quite as dense and fudgy as I like. Definitely a step in the right direction, though, and they do have that lovely papery surface that good brownies have.

This recipe is quicker and less fiddly to make than the mayonnaise brownies, so will be the one I use, in future, when in a hurry. I used a really good grassy Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and I do think it contributed something to the flavour. My only gripe, as with many brownie recipes, is that the brownies were too shallow - 50% more batter in the same sized tin would have been better.

I only had finely chopped toasted hazelnuts to add to the brownie mixture - it would have been better to use more coarsely chopped nuts.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Savoury Apple Crumble

This recipe, from Nigel Slater, is fast becoming a family favourite. It sounds strange, and it sounds as if it shouldn't work, but it makes a really tasty accompaniment to sausages.

The recipe comes from Nigel's most recent TV series, Simple Cooking and sums up the philosophy of the series, by using seasonal ingredients and not fussing too much about complicated recipes - just experiment with what you have available, and don't be afraid to try new flavour combinations.

I make quite a bit of adjustment to the recipe, to make this for three of us. I reduce the apples to four  or five, depending on their size, but reduce the crumble recipe by half. The first time I made it according to the recipe and it felt unbalanced - far too much crumble mixture.

I don't have madeira in the storecupboard, but I've found that adding a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to  the apples enriches the flavour. I also make sure one of the apples I use is a Bramley cooking apple, so that the apple mixture is not too sweet. Today's apples were the Bramley, a Braeburn, a Jazz and two small Coxes. This time, I only had ordinary thyme to add, but it still tasted fine.

As well as this crumble, we ate broccoli and sweet potato wedges with our sausages. A lovely plate of comfort food!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Savoury Goat Cheese and Chocolate Canapés - We Should Cocoa

This month's We Should Cocoa challenge has been just that - a real challenge, requiring several days of thought. Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog, who is a joint host with Chele from Chocolate Teapot, asked us to make something savoury and vegetarian for the February challenge - and chose the month with the fewest days to give us the hardest challenge, too! For those still unfamiliar with We Should Cocoa, each month we are asked to make something containing chocolate using the special nominated ingredient or method. The full rules can be found here on Choclette's blog.

My only previous experience of using chocolate in savoury cooking has been to add a few squares of dark chocolate to a chilli con carne. Although I could have taken the easy way out and done the same with a vegetarian chilli, I wanted to get into the spirit of the challenge and to make something original, which fitted the main theme of this blog - baking.

I decided to use chocolate pastry, and after a lot of thought, was convinced that nothing large scale was going to work here - small is beautiful, especially if the flavours don't quite work, which is always a worry when breaking new ground. Something which could go on a canapé tray and be eaten in one mouthful was the way to go - all the flavours at once, and no need to eat any more if it didn't suit your taste!

The first task was to think of savoury flavours which went well together, and also which might work with chocolate. Beetroot was an obvious choice as it is quite a sweet vegetable and is often used with chocolate in cakes and brownies. Goat cheese and beetroot are a good savoury pairing, and so is beetroot and horseradish. Right up until the moment I started to mix the filling, I intended to use goat cheese, beetroot and horseradish together but at the last moment I remembered a bar of chocolate containing pink peppercorns which we ate recently, and how deliciously spicy it was. The crunch of the pepper gave an extra textural contrast too. Out went the horseradish and in came a few coarsely crushed pink peppercorns.

There isn't really a recipe for what I did - but here's an outline of how these Goat Cheese and Chocolate Canapés were put together.

The pastry was standard shortcrust, made with plain flour and butter containing sea-salt crystals. I added 1 tablespoon of cocoa to 100g flour and 50g butter, and a few grindings of black pepper to make the pastry really savoury. I don't have any mini-tart moulds, but I do have some speciality Czech moulds, designed for sweet making. They look like little spoons, so I cut out circles of pastry, fitted each circle between two greased moulds, to prevent the pastry rising when cooked, and trimmed the pastry to the shape of the mould. These were then baked at 200C for 15 minutes. Luckily the moulds slipped away from the pastry quite easily.

The filling was an equal quantity of soft goat cheese and full fat cream cheese (about 30g of each for the 8 canapés I made), mixed with a half-teaspoon of coarsely crushed pink peppercorns. A small ball of this mixture was put into each pastry spoon - I think it would look very attractive if it was piped in, but I wasn't working with large enough quantities. The cheese was topped with a cube of cooked beetroot, a tiny parsley leaf and a grating of 100% cacao (Willie's Peruvian Black).

To be honest, the chocolate wasn't a predominant flavour, but I'm not sure the canapé would have been very pleasant if it had tasted strongly of chocolate. All the flavours blended together really well, with the spiciness of the peppercorns leaving the strongest impression after the mouthful was chewed and swallowed. The sweetness of the beetroot was also a major taste factor, although it didn't hide the fact that this was a savoury morsel.

This was an interesting challenge, but I don't think savoury chocolate recipes will feature regularly on my baking itinerary, unless someone else taking part comes up with something irresistible. I'm really looking forward to seeing the round-up for this challenge! Karen at Lavender and Lovage also used goat cheese and beetroot in her entry, and although I had already made my decision to use them, it was good to have it confirmed that these two ingredients would work well with chocolate!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Orange, Ginger and Fudge Chip Cake

A simple everyday cake; again, made with yogurt and oil. The added flavours were very subtle and blended together well, without any of them overpowering the others. The fudge chips, from Waitrose, were very small and more or less disappeared into the cake - I think the brown-lined holes in the photograph of the cake are where a fudge chip has melted!

The method is very simple - dry ingredients mixed in one bowl, wet ingredients beaten together until amalgamated, then stirred into the dry mix. Bake in an 8"(20cm) springform tin for 50-60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.

Ingredients - Dry: 200g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 200g caster sugar, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, grated rind of a small orange, 50g finely chopped preserved ginger, 50g finely chopped candied orange peel, 50g fudge chips.
Wet: 250g natural yogurt (standard full fat works better than low-fat, fat-free or higher-fat Greek style), 115g sunflower oil, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon orange extract.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Tea Time Treats - Almond and Cranberry Shortbread with Rose Frosting

I don't do romance. It's not just the cynicism of increasing age - Hubs has never made a romantic gesture, or given a gift just for the sake of romance and we have never taken any notice of Valentine's Day. The last time I got excited about Valentine's Day was as a teenager at an all-girl's school - and I was never the one getting the anonymous cards! So, to bake a Tea Time Treat with the theme of Romance brings out all the clichés of what others say is romantic - hearts and roses and pink colouring!

Tea Time Treats is a Monthly Baking Challenge run jointly by Kate at What Kate Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. This month's theme of romance has been chosen by Kate. My contribution is these heart-shaped Almond and Cranberry Shortbreads with Rose Flavoured Frosting.

These biscuits are not true shortbreads, as the dough contains an egg yolk, but I was looking for a recipe which could be rolled and cut out, and wouldn't spread during cooking. The resulting recipe was an amalgamation of several recipes, as the basic recipe I found for almond shortbread had no additons and didn't seem sweet enough. I also only had enough icing sugar for the frosting, not to add to the shortbread dough as well. As I don't have a large food processor, the method had to be adapted a little too.


300g plain flour
100g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
225g slightly salted butter, cubed, a little above fridge temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
50g dried cranberries, chopped

Frosting - 75g icing sugar
1 teaspoon liquid glucose
1 teaspoon rose water
red food colouring paste


Put the flour, sugar and butter into a bowl and rub in the butter as if making pastry. Stir in the almonds, cranberries and two extracts. Mix in the egg yolk with a table knife, then use hands to gather the dough into a ball and knead lightly until smooth.

Roll out to about 1cm thick, cut out the desired shapes. Knead trimmings together and re-roll. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes until just beginning to colour.

Cool, then mix the icing sugar, glucose and rosewater with enough water to make a thick paste. Add enough food colouring to give the colour you prefer. Spoon into a strong plastic bag - a small freezer bag is ideal - then snip off the corner of the bag and drizzle a random pattern over the biscuits. Allow to dry before storing in an airtight tin or box.

The tip about adding glucose to water icing comes from Dan Lepard's book, Short and Sweet - he says it helps the icing to set well and keeps it glossy. He adds it at the rate of 25g to 225g icing sugar.

These biscuits have a good shortbread texture, and the cranberries cut through the sweetness well. I don't usually chop cranberries into smaller pieces, but it was the right thing to do for these biscuits. The rose flavour in the frosting was just a subtle hint of flavour which is what I wanted - I find the flowery flavours can easily overwhelm other things. I should have added more colour to the frosting - it looked dark enough in the bowl, but barely pink once it was drizzled onto the biscuits.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dan Lepard's Ginger Root Cake

CT has claimed not to like carrot cake from childhood, but FB loves it. Whenever I baked a carrot cake for her, CT steadfastly refused to eat any - he's not one to let his prejudices go easily. So it was with a little trepidation that I decided to bake this cake; I guess I hoped that the ginger flavour and dark colour of the batter would at least hide the vegetable until CT had tasted it without knowing what was there. That idea would have worked better if I hadn't teased him about a secret ingredient which I would reveal after he had tasted it - his first guess, even before tasting, was 'some sort of vegetable' so I had to tell him it contained parsnips. To his credit, as he doesn't even eat parsnips as a vegetable, he tried the cake and fortunately he liked it!

As I expected, this was a ginger cake with added root vegetables, not a carrot cake with other root vegetables as a substitute. The cake was moist and dark - just how a gingerbread should be - and there were no visible signs of the grated vegetable. It was also surprisingly light, considering I used strong wholemeal flour! The recipe, published in the Guardian, but also in Dan Lepard's recently published book 'Short and Sweet', suggests that parsnips, swede or turnips can be used, and that each vegetable will give a characteristic flavour. I chose parsnips, as that was already available (and needed using up) - this recipe used one large parsnip. I'm not sure I would have described the flavour as reminiscent of hazelnuts though!

The recipe was quite straightforward to follow. One tip, which you probably all know anyway, is if the recipe calls for beaten egg whites, do that first, as you can then beat the rest of the cake without washing the beaters. If you beat the cake batter first, you have to be scrupulous about cleaning the beaters before you can tackle the egg whites.

My only mistake was to use a cake tin bigger than the one stipulated in the recipe - I just picked it out of the cupboard without thinking enough, and it was a 9" tin rather than an 8" one. I  didn't even realise until the cake was halfway through cooking and I noticed it didn't seem to be rising much! Being a shallower cake, it cooked in the minimum time rather than needing the full time suggested.

When the cake was cooled, I finished off with a drizzle of lemon water icing, made with lemon zest and juice. This proved to be the only cause of dissension - Hubs would have liked a full coating of lemon icing, as he didn't think the flavour was strong enough, but FB didn't like the acidity of the topping. I'll definitely be making this again, perhaps trying the swede version next time, but I think in future, I might make a frosting using some syrup from the preserved ginger jar instead of lemon.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

I think I've cracked the puzzle of how to make good looking Cheesecake Swirl Brownies. Previous attempts have foundered on the problem of how to get a quite thin cheesecake batter to stay in blobs on the surface of the brownie batter, and then be mixed into it in artistic swirls. The disparity between the thicknesses of the two mixtures makes this really difficult!

This time I got around the problem by putting only 3/4 of the brownie mx into the baking tin, then putting the cheesecake mix on top and allowing it to flow over the whole surface. Then the last of the brownie batter was added in 9 blobs and swirled into the cheesecake mix. This worked much better and allowed me to make some attractive looking swirls at my own pace, rather than struggling to control a cheesecake batter which just wants to run everywhere!

For the brownie part of the recipe I followed my favourite low saturated fat recipe from Good Food, for brownies made with mayonnaise. For the cheesecake part, I beat together 200g of full fat cream cheese, 50g caster sugar, 1 egg and a few drops of vanilla extract. I used a 20cm(8") square tin - slightly larger than specified in the recipe. Even with the extra cheesecake mixture, the brownies still cooked in 30 minutes.

I've been using this brownie recipe for so long now, that I've almost forgotten that I really prefer a denser chewier brownie. These taste quite rich and chocolatey, and have a lovely moist texture, but they are also quite light. However, in this case, that really suited the addition of the cheesecake mixture, as it is quite light too.

The addition of cream cheese makes these brownies little higher in in saturated fat than usual, but they are still low saturated fat in comparison to other cheesecake brownies.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Chocolate Chip, Marzipan and Cranberry Muffins

As you probably know, muffins aren't my favourite type of baked treat. There are times, though, when they are really useful - good portion control, quick to mix and quick to bake too. They are even good if you need to eat them while still warm - most cakes are not happy if you try to cut them while they are warm!

This recipe, from, proved to be a good basic recipe, although I didn't get 12 muffins from it. It was incredibly easy to mix - whisk the wet ingredients together, mix the dry ingredients in another bowl and stir the dry into the wet. The muffins were also light enough to pass muster with CT, who usually prefers shop bought muffins(!!).

I left off the sugar topping, and instead of 125g of chocolate chips I used 85g chopped plain chocolate, 85g marzipan cut into small cubes and 50g of dried cranberries. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The mixture made 10 muffins, with the cases filled about 3/4 with the muffin batter.

The basic muffin batter was not over-sweet, and I used 70% chocolate, so the sweetness of the marzipan and dried sweetened cranberries stood out well.

Unfortunately, they were eaten before I could get a picture of the inside of one of them! The only complaint, from FB, was not enough marzipan.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cinnamon Cake with Chocolate and Hazelnut Streusel

I know that I am my own harshest critic; much of what I see as bad about my baking probably wouldn't be noticed by anyone other than another perfectionist! That's why it makes me unreasonably happy to say that the outcome of this recipe, for a cinnamon flavoured cake with chocolate and hazelnuts in the streusel topping, really pleased me - it was much better than I expected!

I used this recipe from CD Kitchen, adding a couple of modifications to the streusel to give the topping more flavour. This was one of the few recipes I found which used oil instead of butter in both the cake and the streusel - in fact the same base mixture was used for both, which made mixing the cake that much easier.

At the point where the flour mixture was divided into the cake and topping, I added 2 tablespoons of cocoa, 50g of finely chopped 70% chocolate and 50g finely chopped toasted hazelnuts, instead of the walnuts stipulated in the recipe.

The unusual steps of mixing the oil into the dry flour and sugar mix, and allowing the raising agents to start to work in the liquid, gave a really light, well-textured cake. The batter was quite thin, and I was worried that the streusel crumbs wouldn't stay on the surface, but that was an unfounded fear! The cake took quite a lot longer to cook than I expected, but the recipe is a little ambiguous on timing - I'm not sure whether it meant 45 minutes after the initial 10 minutes at a higher temperature, or 45 minutes in total. It didn't help that I didn't notice the initial time at a higher temperature until I'd had the cake in the oven for 30 minutes at the low temperature, either!

My only criticism was that the volume of streusel crumbs was a bit too much, although I may have been a little too generous taking out 3/4 of a cup from the basic mixture. After baking, some of the crumbs were still loose on the surface - next time I will make a little less, or perhaps try putting half the crumbs in a layer inside the cake.

Sorry about the bad photos - a dull brown cake with a dark brown topping isn't easy to make look attractive!