Thursday, 31 October 2013

Spiced Date Crunchies

The  recipe for these Spiced Date Crunchies is taken from Delia Smith's Book of Cakes, an old book I rescued when clearing my mother's house earlier this year. I love dates, especially as the filling in chunky, chewy oat slices. This recipe looked similar, but Delia promised the use of semolina would make the bars crisp rather than chewy.

The date filling was made from 225g chopped dates simmered with a tablespoon of dark brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of cinnamon, until the dates were amalgamated into a soft spreadable mixture.

The biscuit dough was made by melting 175g butter with 75g Demerara sugar, and mixing this into 175g SR flour and 175g semolina.

Half the dough was pressed evenly into a 30 x 20 cm baking tin, lined with parchment, and the date filling was carefully spread over this (tip - don't let the date mix get too cold, and if it's very thick, stir in a splash more water). The remaining dough was crumbled over the filling and spread evenly with a fork. Cook at 190C for 30 minutes, then cool in the tin before cutting into bars.

These date bars were crisp, as promised, but also very thin and delicate. Although this made them the right sort of biscuit to put on the tea table, I think I prefer the chunkiness of an oat based slice. It would be interesting to use the same quantity of ingredients in a smaller baking tin, say 20 x 20cm, and seeing how things turned out. They would probably need baking for longer, at a lower temperature.

The flavour was just right - neither the dough nor the date filling had much extra sugar added, so all the sweetness came from the dates - and there was just a hint of cinnamon.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ginger Brownies

 We don't see or hear much from CT these days. He's never been very communicative. Weekly emails while he was at university usually received the reply 'All is well.' and things are much the same now that he's away from home again. Having said that, he often didn't say much more while he was living at home!

However, he doesn't drive, so dear old Dad is still useful for things like keeping hospital appointments. After his last appointment, he had dinner with us, and I made these Ginger Brownies for dessert. He took the remainders home with him, of course!

I used this recipe for Marmalade Brownies, using ginger preserves instead of marmalade, and adding two teaspoons of ground ginger with the flour. They were quite light, cakey brownies but with a good chocolate flavour; I used a mix of 1 part 85% and 2 parts 74% chocolate. There was a pleasant tingle from the ginger, with soft pieces of ginger from the preserves to bite into, and a nice crunch from the walnuts.

I managed to get a few hasty photos, in poor light, before I had to wrap the brownies for transport.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Date, Apple and Walnut Loaf

 After the success of Nigel Slater's cake recipe recently, which was loosely based on traditional proportions of fat, sugar and flour, I decided that maybe I've been too experimental recently and that a return to more traditional cakes would ensure better results.

This was also partly prompted by re-finding an old Delia Smith book - Book of Cakes - which I'd dropped into the bottom of a crate while clearing out my mother's house. I've just got round to emptying out the crate here, four months later! Looking through the book, which I think was published in 1988, I found several recipes which I've bookmarked to try, but all required some additional ingredients before I could bake.

However, I did have all the ingredients for the Date, Apple and Walnut Loaf featured in Delia's Complete Cookery Course (p600 of the 1982 edition). This Apricot, Apple and Pecan Loaf recipe from her website is similar, except that a small apple, 110g walnuts and 75g dates are used instead of the larger quantities of apricots, pecans and apple - the old recipe is much more frugal with it's additions. There is also no cinnamon in the Date Loaf, and no sugar topping - I said it was frugal! The old recipe also uses soft margarine, but I substituted very soft butter - there are limits!

The plainer Date Loaf cooks in an hour, but as I divided the batter between two small loaf tins, they were cooked in 50 minutes. I used some very lush sticky dates, which, with the apple, made the cake moist and chewy and also gave it a spicy toffee flavour. This seasonal cake was a real treat of old fashioned flavours which are often overlooked these days.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Apple, Guinness and Cheese Soda Bread

How could I have been so stupid as to make this recipe, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall without reading any of the comments attached to the published online recipe? On both the River Cottage site and the C4 site there are comments stating that there is too much liquid in the recipe as printed and that it should be 250mls of Guinness or buttermilk, not 250mls of each, and several bloggers who have also made it picked up on the published error.

Anyway - this idiot used both, and ended up with a sloppy batter which couldn't be shaped by hand. I scraped it into a large casserole dish lined with scrunched up baking parchment and got a decently shaped cob-like loaf out of it. However it didn't cook properly, even after more than an hour in a very hot oven, and the cut loaf showed both a dense, too moist texture and a line of under-baked dough at the bottom of the loaf.

The flavour combination of cheese and apple should have been great, but the loaf had a bitter after-taste which neither of us found pleasant to eat. Guinness is notorious for bitterness but I don't usually find it a problem, so I'm wondering if there was a weird interaction between the Guinness and the buttermilk.

There's a lot of potential in this soda bread so I really want to try it again, with just one of the suggested liquids, but can't really find an occasion to do so, as neither of us are eating bread at the moment, except for Saturday lunch, when I don't think Hubs would give up his crusty baguette.

I was going to enter this quick soda bread into this month's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is for breads, but as the recipe was a failure, and we didn't even like the flavour of the finished loaf, it hardly seems right to do so!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wholemeal Apple, Marmalade and Cranberry cake

This gorgeous cake is a slight adaptation of a Nigel Slater recipe, taken from his book Tender (Volume 2 - Fruit), but also published here, in his Observer column. I have quite a few tart apples, from my own tree, stored for baking and wanted a cake with autumnal flavours.

I almost made the cake with white flour and sugar, as I didn't want another heavy cake, after the previous bake, but in the end I stuck to the recipe and went with light muscovado sugar and wholemeal flour, and the cake was still really light and tender.

The changes I did make were a) use dried cranberries instead of golden raisins b) leave out the orange zest and c) use orange marmalade flavoured with whisky, which probably made up for having no orange zest. I also sprinkled the cake with crushed raw sugar cubes rather than Demerara, which gave a better finish, as Demerara often dissolves into the surface. This way, there were still small lumps of sugar left on the surface, as well as a crisp crust where some of the sugar had dissolved.

The cake was cut while still warm, and the first slices were rather crumbly, but the cake firmed up as it finished cooling. Both the orange (with whisky) and cinnamon  flavours were quite subtle, bringing out the apple and cranberry flavours, rather than masking them. Although it was a light cake, it was still moist, and the tart fruits stopped the cake from being too sweet with the added marmalade.

Definitely a cake to make again; I'd like to try it with ginger preserves and pears, with perhaps a few nuts thrown in. And, as usual, apologies for rough photos of brown cake!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Sweet Potato and White Chocolate Cake

 I don't know if Jibber Jabber, the host of this month's We Should Cocoa challenge had a premonition of what was to come on Week 8 of The Great British Bake Off, but after a week of magnificent 3-D vegetable cakes which were also non-dairy, I'm sure that anything containing vegetables that I can bake will be an anti-climax. Fortunately I don't have to make a non-dairy cake or turn it into a novelty cake, and even more fortunately, I must include chocolate in some form to take part in We Should Cocoa. I've gone for substance over style (unlike Ruth) but this cake really was a little too substantial. I could be like Christine, and claim that the 'bread-pudding like' texture was intentional, but I really don't think that's how it should have been.

I scoured the internet for recipes which went beyond the usual carrots, courgettes or beetroot and in the end decided to use sweet potato. I also decided to use white chocolate, as most dark chocolate vegetable cakes I've tried lose the vegetables under the intensity of the chocolate flavour. I really wanted to get the full effect from the sweet potato. I used this recipe from The Good Food Channel, adding the zest of an orange, as suggested in the 'Tips' part of the recipe.

I know I've said in the past that I was never again going to make a recipe which melted white chocolate, but here the chocolate was melted with the oil, so what could go wrong? It didn't go drastically wrong, but the white chocolate still didn't melt easily and I really had to work hard to amalgamate it with the oil. The only other change I made was to finely grate the sweet potato, as I don't have a food processor which would reduce raw vegetables to a purée

The cake rose well in the oven and I tested it with a heat sensitive probe at the end of cooking time, and it appeared cooked. However, once out of the oven it collapsed quite a bit, to the extent that the sides of the cake collapsed inwards too. I'm not sure if it was undercooked or if there was too much liquid or raising agent, or whether it was just the addition of the chocolate, but the collapse made the cooled cake quite dense and pudding-y. Luckily, the flavour was excellent, although very sweet for our taste, so after the first taste I added a drizzle of 85% chocolate over the top of the cake. The flavour was predominantly of the orange zest; as usual the white chocolate added vanilla notes and the sweet potato seemed to add colour and texture rather than much flavour.

I'm quite disappointed that the vegetable cakes I've made recently have been heavy. I use a carrot cake recipe which always produces a light cake, so perhaps I should just vary the vegetables in that, rather than trying to find different recipes.

We Should Cocoa was started by Chele from Chocolate Teapot and Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, and the rules can be found here. This month, the theme of pairing chocolate with vegetables was chosen by guest host, Jibber Jabber, who is accepting entries by Linky this month, and will do the usual round up at the end of the month.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Apple, Pear and Maple Crumble

Producing a fruit crumble is nothing to boast about, but I just wanted to keep a note of the flavour combination, as it worked so well. 

I  briefly sizzled the chopped fruit, a mixture of three apples and three small conference pears (still very hard), in 30g of butter. When the fruit showed signs of softening I added a heaped tablespoon of cornflour and 3 tablespoons of maple syrup. I left the fruit to cool while I made the crumble.

I reduced the sugar in the crumble, and added two tablespoons of maple syrup after rubbing in the butter; this made the crumble a little lumpy, but that's a good thing - several recipes I've seen lately advocate adding a little liquid to improve the texture! The crumble recipe was 100g plain flour, 70g light muscovado sugar, 100g rolled oats, 100g butter, 50g chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Sprinkle the crumble over the fruit and bake for about 40 minutes at 180C, until golden and the fruit juices are bubbling.

I was aiming for a maple toffee flavour to the crumble and think it worked quite well. Using pecan nuts would have been better than walnuts, but I didn't have any.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Green Tea, Apricot and Cocoa Nib Biscuits

I've wanted to bake with Matcha Powder for years, but have always been put off by the price, particularly when mail order 'post and package' costs are added, as I've never (knowingly) been anywhere near a shop selling it. However, I was lucky enough to spot some while wandering around the Public Market on Granville Island in Vancouver BC, Canada. $13.95 (Canadian) seemed a reasonable price to pay for 50g (a bit less than £10), and the small tin could be easily fitted into our suitcase. Fitting in two 500ml tins of maple syrup bought from another vendor was a bit trickier, but I always try to under-pack to keep a little of the weight allowance for souvenirs. Hopefully, I'll soon get round to using some of the maple syrup in a baking recipe.

I had the idea that biscuits would showcase the green tea flavour better than a cake, and I was looking for recipe ideas when the AlphaBakes October Challenge (to use an ingredient beginning with C) popped up. One of the things I was considering adding as a flavouring ingredient was cocoa nibs, so everything seemed to be falling into place. After reading this beautifully photographed blog post, I decided to add some finely chopped dried apricots too.

The recipe I used gives a similar result to shortbread recipes, but the addition of an egg yolk makes the dough easier to handle, and more suitable for cut-out biscuits, as the dough can be rolled out more easily and doesn't spread while baking.

300g plain flour
100g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
225g unsalted butter, cubed, a little above fridge temperature
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Matcha (green tea powder)
60g dried apricots, chopped finely
40g cocoa nibs

Put the flour, sugar and butter into a bowl and rub in the butter as if making pastry. Stir in the green tea, apricots and cocoa nibs. Mix in the egg yolk with a table knife, then use hands to gather the dough into a ball and knead lightly until smooth. A food processor can be used to make the dough if preferred.

Roll out portions of the dough to about 0.5cm thick, cut into 2.5cm circles with a plain cookie cutter. Knead trimmings together and re-roll. Place the biscuits on baking sheets lined with parchment and bake at 180C for 12-15 minutes until just beginning to colour.

Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. I made 26 cookies from this amount of dough.

I considered decorating the biscuits with a drizzle of glacé icing, but we dived in to start eating them before I had the chance to do so, and the idea just went away somehow!

The biscuits were a little crumblier than those usually produced by this recipe, so perhaps the green tea powder absorbs a lot of liquid. The apricots and cocoa nibs added contrasting chewy and crunchy textures, but all the flavours were very subtle. A little more green tea would not have gone amiss, but was unsure of how strong the flavour would be, so used it cautiously this first time. I'm not sure a deeper green colour would have been very attractive, either!

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a challenge based on a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet. The dish made must feature something beginning with that letter as one of the main ingredients or part of the name. It is hosted jointly by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline Makes. Ros is the host this month, with the letter C, and as usual will post a round-up of entries at the end of the month.