Sunday, 30 September 2012

Condensed Milk Flapjacks

AKA, on the Carnation website, as Cherry Berry Fruit Bars

I recently noticed a part-used can of condensed milk lurking at the back of the fridge. It's a real bore picking recipes which use part of a can, because a) you don't want to bake another recipe using it too soon after the first and b) you can never find a recipe which uses the exact amount you have left over!

Searching for something which used about 2/3 of a can, I came across this recipe on the Carnation web-site. The whole recipe uses a full can, but I figured if I cut it down in size I could get away with what I had. Calculations of baking tin sizes made me realise I couldn't get away with 2/3 of all the ingredients, but could use 4/5 of everything in a 8" sqaure tin. This left me a little short of condensed milk, so I added an extra heaped tablespoon of golden syrup to compensate.

This recipe was absolutely packed with dried fruit and seeds. My usual flapjack recipe uses much less, and I've always wondered how much more it would take, and still hold together. Judging by this I could add a lot more to offset the butter and sugars! I used dried fruit from a pack of Cherries and Berries, rather than just cherries and cranberries, but  other than that I used dried apricots, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, as suggested.

The condensed milk gave a lovely gooey, chewy texture to the flapjacks and combined with the brown sugar and syrup to give a toffee flavour, but I felt the amount of fruit and seeds overwhelmed all of this. I actually prefer a flapjack recipe with less add-ins and more of the flavour of oats and golden syrup. So although this was a delicious fruit-loaded bar, I don't think it will replace my usual recipe when I want flapjacks.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Pistachio Brownies

Brownies are the ideal store-cupboard bake, as long as you are one of those people who keep chocolate in store - and I know some people don't! My favourite brownie recipe doesn't even need you to have butter, as it uses oil to reduce the saturated fat content.

So when I needed a quick cake at the weekend, and didn't have natural yogurt in the fridge to make any of my usual recipes for low saturated fat cakes, I turned to the trusty brownie recipe. I knew the storage box of cake add-ins was getting low on nuts, but I did have a pack of pistachios, so to this batch of brownies I added 50g of chopped pistachios and 70g plain chocolate chips.

I got distracted and slightly over-baked this batch, but they were still moist enough and rich in flavour, despite the lack of butter - I think the large amount of chocolate, sugar and eggs, compared to flour, ensures a rich fudgy texture.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Cake Salé - Courgette and Feta Loaf

I've been interested in savoury cakes for a while now, but never seem to have the opportunity to make one. As I'm attempting to lose weight, following CT's departure (although not related to it, except that I don't need to bake as much now), the time has come to think about eating less sugar. FB has been worrying about eating too much sugary food at work too, so any new direction in baking will benefit her too, by making her lunch boxes healthier.

Cake Salé has been growing in popularity in France for a few years now, and although the classic combination of flavours is Ham and Olives, there are dozens of delicious sounding combinations around in recipes on the internet. Anything you have, as long as it's not too wet, can be baked into a savoury cake! A slice of Cake Salé served with a salad makes a light summer lunch, or serve alongside a robust soup with complimentary flavours as a more filling winter meal.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests thin slices as pre-dinner nibbles and it also seems an ideal transportable food to me, either to summer picnics or warmly spiced and served as you stand around the the bonfire, watching fireworks and celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. If you like savoury food for breakfast, then these cakes should go down well then too as they are so versatile; I just had a small slice with my evening coffee!

My savoury cake was made primarily to help demolish the courgette mountain - because we let a few grow large while we were away, we can't seem to catch up and get back to the point where we can pick small courgettes. I based my recipe loosely on this one from The Kitchn, which in turn was adapted from an article and recipe in the NY Times. I made a few more adaptations to suit the ingredients I had in the store cupboard, and to give a fuller flavour. I also 'translated' the ingredients to metric weights:

225g coarsely grated courgette (skin on), salted with 1 teaspoon salt and left to drain while the batter is prepared.
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
plenty of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 large eggs
80ml milk
80mls extra virgin olive oil
50g crumbled feta cheese
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
5 garlic-stuffed green olives, halved and sliced
about 50g pinenuts to scatter on top

After mixing the flour, baking powder, pepper and oregano in a large bowl, the eggs were beaten with the oil and milk until amalgamated. The wet ingredients were mixed into the dry, then the cheese, olives and thyme leaves were folded in. Lastly the drained courgette was stirred in, after pressing well to remove as much moisture as possible. The batter was transferred to a 2lb loaf tin lined with baking parchment, levelled and sprinkled with pinenuts. The loaf was baked at 180C for about 1 hr - the original recipe suggested 45 minutes, but my loaf tin is broad and deep so cooking took a bit longer!

I really enjoyed this savoury cake. The feta cheese gave a salty tang, but the over-riding flavour was from the garlicky olives and the very green and grassy extra virgin olive oil - one occasion when a good oil makes a huge contribution. As with the sweet courgette muffins I made recently, the flavour of the courgette was negligable, but they add moistness and contribute to the appearance with the green flecks from the skin. I'm looking forward to trying some more flavour combinations in the future! As Hugh F-W says in his Guardian article - stick to the same proportions of flour, eggs, fat and liquid, and play around as much as you like with the other additons!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Chocolate Dessert for We Should Cocoa

Is it a mousse? Is it a trifle? It could be a trousse or a moufle, but it is definitely a delicious dessert, whatever you call it! This dessert was made in response to this month's We Should Cocoa theme, which is to make something chocolate flavoured, inspired by cocktails.

Whenever I think of cocktails, in addition to more than one type of alcohol, I think of layers and fruit, so a trifle-type of layered dessert soon dominated my thoughts on the subject. After ideas of terrines and layered cakes were rejected, I decided to build up layers of flavour in a glass, so that the dessert looked cocktail-like too.

Here we have poached pears and cubes of flourless chocolate hazelnut cake mixed with Disaronno liqueur (Amaretto), covered with a light chocolate mousse flavoured with coffee liquid and liqueur, topped with chantilly cream and finished off with grated 100% cacao.

The cake, which incidently, is delicious on it's own with chantilly cream, was made from this Fiona Cairns recipe, without the ganache topping. It's a little fragile but very rich and moist. The mousse was inspired by this recipe on Nigella Lawson's website, although I changed the proportions of cream to chocolate to give a lighter mousse, and replaced the orange flavour with a tablespoon of Tia Maria and a tablespoon of strong coffee. I used 100g of chocolate and 150mls double cream. I found this method of making a chocolate mousse with cream much easier than others I've tried.

The rest of the recipe is a bit vague. I divided 3 small  poached pears, about a third of the cake and the mousse into 6 small portions, but you could make 4 larger portions or one dessert in a trifle bowl with similar amounts, or vary the proportions to use up more of the cake. Each individual dessert got a teaspoon of Disoronno over the cake and chopped pears in the bottom of the glass. The chantilly cream was just double cream whipped with vanilla extract and a little caster sugar.

Each element of this dessert was delicious, and blended together to give a glorious effect overall. The only change I would make in future would be to use more coffee in the mousse to get a stronger coffee flavour. If I were naming this as a cocktail, I think I would call it 'Autumn Dream', because of the pears and hazelnuts used.

The We Should Cocoa Challenge (rules here) is hosted jointly by Chele from Chocolate Teapot and Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. This month's challenge, to be inspired by cocktails, was set by Choclette to celebrate two years of the We Should Cocoa blogging event. The round-up of entries will be on Chocolate Log Blog at the end of the month.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Thumbprint Cookies - for Random Tea Time Treats

I'm not usually a contributor to Dom's Random Recipes, over at Belleau Kitchen. It's often difficult to fit a randomly picked recipe into my cooking plans and the blog theme, without a lot of cheating fiddling which takes away the genuine randomness. This month, however, Dom has paired up with Tea Time Treats, which is more my cup of tea (pardon the pun!). The idea is to pick a random book containing recipes suitable for tea time goodies, then a random recipe from that book. For me, this turned up Bea's Thumprint Cookies, on page 66 of Green and Black's Chocolate Recipes (Unwrapped). I was pleased with this as Thumbprint Cookies were on my to-do list, but I keep setting them aside as too fiddly!

This particular recipe was for a plain cookie filled with Nutella, or a similar chocolate hazelnut spread. The only change I made to the recipe was to add some vanilla extract to the cookie dough. I also refrigerated the dough for the suggested 1 hour resting time, although the recipe didn't ask for this. The instructions in the recipe said to roll the rested dough into balls, then flatten before making an indentation to fill with Nutella. I did this but wasn't happy with how far the cookies then spread during baking - they became quite flat, with the later cookies spreading even further than the first ones shaped, perhaps because the dough was warming up by then.

I've since read other recipes and none of them flattened the balls of dough before making the hole and adding the filling, so this is an obvious change needed if I made the recipe again. I think I would also re-chill the cookies after shaping and filling, before baking them, in an effort to stop them spreading and give them a better shape.

The cookies took almost twice as long to bake as suggested in the recipe (20 minutes instead of 12), but part of that could be down to my failing oven - I've lost the fan function, and the instructions say that I should only use one tray at a time if using conventional cooking. Of course, I put in both trays of cookies and hoped that swapping positions at half time would be good enough - it wasn't!

However, there was nothing wrong with the flavour, which everyone enjoyed, although there were comments that more filling would be better! Again, I think this would be possible with the different shaping method. Now that I've tried these, I want to give them another go, with the shaping modifications, to see if I can improve the outcome, but otherwise they are a pretty fiddly way of making biscuits!

You can follow the links above to find out about Random Recipes; the other part of the challenge is Tea Time Treats, which is a monthly baking challenge to provide goodies for the tea table, hosted alternately by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked. This month it is a joint venture with Random Recipes, as explained previously.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Courgette and Lime Muffins

with added peach - a variation for AlphaBakes.

We came back from a few days in Normandy to find the garden running riot in the unexpected warmth of a late summer. I don't mind excess runner beans, as they can be frozen, but courgettes which are almost marrow-sized need a bit of lateral thinking to use them up. Time for courgettes in a bake, I thought - something I've been meaning to try for ages.

After searching around, and realising that nearly all the recipes were just variations of carrot cake - with similar additions and flavourings - I settled on this recipe, from,  for courgette and lime muffins, which sounded fresh and summery and different to most of the recipes I'd looked at. I decided I wouldn't add the frosting - it seems superfluous for muffins!

At this point I thought of the blogging baking challenges that I usually take part in every month - could these muffins somehow be used for one of them? Fresh, summery flavours spoke to me of fresh fruit, and I just happened to have a bowl of French peaches which were rapidly ripening. I decided to add a slice of peach to some of the muffins, and enter them into the AlphaBakes challenge, which this month is featuring the letter P. I cut a peach into 8 wedges and added a slice to the top of 8 of the 12 muffins, before baking. As my courgettes were so large, I quartered one lengthways and removed the centre seedy area, before grating. Other than this, I followed the recipe exactly.

These were really pretty and tasted good too! The lime zest and green skin from the courgettes flecked the crumb with green, although the courgettes didn't seem to add anything to the flavour. In the muffins with added peach slices, the flavours of peach and lime blended together surprisingly well. The muffins with the peach slices didn't rise as evenly as the plain muffins, but it was good to eat a large chunk of peach in the muffin - and I think adding small chunks of fruit might have made the batter too wet. I was also impressed by how light these muffins were - either I'm getting better at making muffins, or better at choosing recipes!

The AlphaBakes Challenge is a monthly baking challenge to make something  featuring a randomly chosen letter - this can be part of the name of the product or one of the major ingredients. It is hosted jointly by Caroline, from Caroline Makes, and Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker, who take turns to generate a random letter and collate the entries. This month Caroline picked the letter P.