Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Wholemeal Pear and Ginger Cake

A while ago, I made a wholemeal apple, marmalade and cranberry cake from this Nigel Slater recipe, and speculated that a pear and ginger version, made with ginger preserves instead of marmalade might work well. I can now report that it worked very well indeed!

I followed the basic recipe exactly, using ground ginger instead of cinnamon, ginger preserve instead of orange marmalade, lemon zest instead of orange zest and three diced 'fun-sized' pears instead of chopped apples.

Once again, I was surprised at how light a cake made from all wholemeal flour turned out, especially as there wasn't a great deal of baking powder in the recipe. The ginger made it's presence felt, without being overwhelming, which is just as well, as pears are quite a delicate flavour.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Chocolate Supreme Cookie Bars

This recipe comes from an Australian chef called Aaron Maree. No - I wouldn't have heard of him either, if I hadn't picked up one of his books, called "Biscuits, Pastries and Cookies of the World", from one of the local charity shops

The ingredients make these cookies seem typically Australian, although if there is anything similar online, it's going by another name. Basically it's a shortbread-type base which is baked, and then covered with a mixture of chocolate chips, desiccated coconut, macadamia nuts and condensed milk. This is then baked again until the milk is lightly caramelised  - when cooled this then sets and holds everything together.

For a 20x 30cm pan, the base was made from 135g flour, 75g butter, 55g icing sugar and an egg yolk, made into a shortbread-type dough. This just about covers the base, with a lot of hard work spreading it to the edges with fingers!  I think half as much dough again would have been an improvement - easier to work with and giving a more substantial base. The dough is then baked at 160C for 15 minutes until set and beginning to colour.

The topping is a whole 400g can of condensed milk, 60g desiccated coconut, 60g chopped macadamia nuts and 200g chopped plain chocolate, or chocolate chips if you would prefer a more uniform looking topping. Half the milk is poured fairly evenly over the cooked shortbread base, then the nuts, coconut and chocolate are scattered over. The rest of the milk is then poured over. After baking for 45 minutes at 145C, the cookie sheet must be left to cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into 24 bars - I had to put it in the fridge for 10 minutes as the whole thing was still quite sticky after 2 hours.

As you can imagine, the topping was very rich and sweet, which is another reason I think a thicker cookie base would be an improvement, as it would give a better balance of sweet topping and plainer base. It was also one occasion when I wouldn't recommend cutting into larger bars - I had a houseful of guests for tea and no-one ate more than one, although everyone thought they were delicious!

I'm entering these into this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. As you probably know, WSC is a challenge originally started by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog and Chele at Chocolate Teapot. This month the challenge is hosted by BakeNQuilt, and the theme is cookies.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Apple Cake with an 'Eccles' filling

Despite the Good Food website taking liberties with the name of this cake, I really don't think I can bear to call it an Eccles Cake. The term Eccles Cake conjures up only one thing - a puff pastry  shell completely encasing a spicy currant filling; it's one of those traditional, iconic British things, like Bakewell Tarts, Cornish Pasties and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, that shouldn't be messed with.

However, despite my misgivings over the name, this recipe made an exceedingly good cake - two layers of apple-studded cake enclosing a spicy
layer of dried fruits (sultanas, currants and candied peel). The cake layers were moist, but tender and light, and tasting slightly of caramel due to the use of brown sugar. The apple pieces kept their shape during cooking, adding to the range of textures in the whole cake. The dried fruit layer was spicy, sweet and buttery, with the flavour of the ground cloves and candied peel really standing out. Having said that, I know that many people do not like these particular flavours, but I think the cake would be just as good without them - perhaps adding something like cranberries instead of the peel, to keep the weight of filling correct.

The only changes I made to the cake recipe was to use sultanas instead of raisins, and to bake the cake in a 23cm tin rather than a 20cm one - the comments on the website, about the cake, suggested a larger tin would make a better proportioned cake - and I think I agree with them. The use of sultanas was purely to take advantage of what was in the storecupboard, but I did buy the currants especially for the recipe - currants are essential for a real Eccles Cake filling. I simplified the decoration by just using a drizzle of lemon glacé icing, although I have to confess that this was partly due to not reading the recipe properly, and having neither sugar cubes to crush nor an extra lemon to take zest from!.

I am entering this recipe into this month's Tea Time Treats baking challenge. The remit this month, in the run-up to Christmas, is to use dried fruits when producing something suitable for the tea table. This cake fits the bill quite nicely, as it is full of seasonal flavours and ingredients, and I think it would make a lovely Christmas cake for anyone not completely sold on the idea of a traditional fruit cake. 

Tea Time Treats is hosted alternately by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and Kate at What Kate Baked - Karen is hosting this month and, as usual, will present a round-up post at the end of the month.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Blueberry Almond Bars

These tasty fruit-topped bars, made using this recipe from Dan Lepard, are a good way of stretching a little fruit to feed several people.

The recipe, although simple enough to follow, is quite time consuming and uses a lot of equipment - a saucepan for each of the two upper layers plus a bowl for the base, as well as mixing and weighing utensils.

The results were delicious, but rather fragile. The base was quite crumbly and the almond topping stayed soft and sticky. Although this gave some lovely contrasts of texture, it made the bars difficult to cut and handle, and they needed eating with a fork.

The almond layer was very sweet and tasted of caramel, but this sweetness was offset by the tartness of the fruit and the plainness of the bottom layer, which was a cross between a shortbread and a cake.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Blackberry-glazed Apple and Hazelnut Cake

The inspiration for this cake came from watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new TV series, River Cottage to the Core, in which he is trying to get us to eat more fruit, particularly in savoury dishes. He hasn't entirely converted me yet, although the pear, spinach and blue cheese pizza looked delicious. However, he also made this lovely looking cake to reward his little blackberry pickers, and I thought the idea of a fruit purée topping was very effective.

H F-W topped a plain sponge cake with blackberry purée, but I decided to go a step further and pair the blackberries with one of their natural partners - apples. I also decided to add ground hazelnuts to the cake batter to bump up the flavour and make the cake as seasonal as possible.

For the cake, I made an all-in-one batter, using 150g each softened butter, caster sugar and SR flour, 50g ground hazelnuts,  3 eggs, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and two tablespoons of milk. To this I added a large apple, peeled, cored and sliced. I used one of my home-grown apples which are suitable for cooking and eating - you need an apple which keeps it's shape when cooked, which are usually eating apples. I cut the peeled apple into 8 wedges, then sliced these across to give pieces about 2 cm square and 3mm thick.

I cooked the batter in a 18cm (7") tin, lined with a paper case. I started the cake at 180C but lowered the heat half way through as the cake was browning too quickly; I also covered the cake with foil at this point. Altogether the cake was in the oven for 75 minutes - the batter was quite deep in a 18cm tin. I followed the usual advice to cook until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean - no wet crumbs adhering to it.

While the cake was cooking, I made a smooth fruit purée from 250g blackberries and 50g sugar, cooked briefly and sieved to remove pips. When the cake came out of the oven, I made holes all over the surface with a skewer and slowly spooned on as much of the still-hot purée as I could get on, then cooled the cake still in the tin. Despite quite large holes being made, the purée didn't really soak in very far, but it still looked very striking. The cake itself was very light, and both the apple and hazelnut flavours came through well. The tart blackberry purée was a good contrast to the sweet, tender cake, and the pieces of apple added to the texture.

I used the cake as a dessert, served with natural Greek yogurt and more blackberry purée.