Saturday, 27 December 2014

Limoncello Tart with Amaretti Crumb Base

This dessert was one of  several available over the Christmas period. I made it for Christmas Eve and only two portions were eaten at that meal, so it reappeared on the dinner table for the next couple of days too. I'd been looking for ages for a suitable dessert incorporating some of the limoncello I brought back from Italy in the Autumn, and this proved to be an excellent use for it.

I used this recipe from Proud Italian Cook, as the tart filling seemed particularly easy compared to some I'd found, and I liked the idea of using Amaretti crumbs in the base. I bought a 250g pack of crunchy Amaretti biscuits and used all but the 4 I tried for quality control purposes (!) in the base. I used 125g melted butter, as I would for other biscuit crumb bases, then followed the recipe exactly as written for the filling and cooking instructions.

Once chilled I gave the tart some festive decoration with crystallised lemon zest chopped really finely and some sugar snowflakes. The decoration was meant to form a large star on top of the tart, but this was a little ill-defined, as I couldn't lay the stencil directly on top of the tart because it was too delicate and stuck to anything that touched it, even briefly. I found that out when I tried to cover it with cling-film, which was the reason I needed the decoration in the centre of the tart - I'd originally intended to add a border of the decorations.

The tart filling was wonderful - soft, creamy and quite delicious - almost like lemon curd straight from the jar. I usually prefer my lemon tarts to be sharper than was the case here, but the balance of the lemon flavour and the creamy texture, against the almost bitter Amaretti biscuits in the crunchy crumb crust was just right.

I'm not sure how much extra flavour the limoncello added, compared to using more lemon juice; and I'm not sure if the alcohol would have cooked out in such a short baking time, but I'll definitely be using this part of the recipe again.

Unfortunately, although the crumb crust tasted good, the crumbs hadn't absorbed all the butter and a lot had leaked out during cooking. It also made the texture of the crust a little greasy, although this wasn't bad enough to spoil the overall experience. I think in future I might try using part Amaretti biscuits and part a more absorbent biscuit such as digestives or oat biscuits, and also cutting down on the butter a little. It would also be a good filling to use with a pastry or almond shortbread crust.

The second of my Christmas desserts isn't worth a separate post, as I wasn't able to get any good photographs. I made a pavlova case which I filled with some of this olive-oil based chocolate mousse, then topped with a half quantity of the chestnut and ricotta cream from this Dan Lepard recipe. I was trying to make a more chocolatey, but smaller, version of Dan's Mont Blanc Gateau, and although it was delicious, it failed miserably in the looks department. I filled the pavlova case just before serving, and with hindsight, I should have used a piping bag for the chestnut cream. As there was no natural light by that time, it wouldn't have improved the photographs, but it might have made the dish little more presentable. The pavlova was a little overbaked too, so was pale brown instead of snowy white.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mince Pies with Hazelnut Crumble Topping


I made sweetened enriched shortcrust pastry with 300g SR flour, 75g butter, 75g lard, 50g icing sugar and 2 egg yolks, plus enough cold water to make a firm dough. This was enough for bases for 24 standard mince pies and 6 mini-tarts (9cm in diameter). Commercial mincemeat for the filling and a crumble topping made from 50g plain flour, 50g porridge oats, 40g light muscovado sugar, 50g butter and 40g chopped hazelnuts. Once assembled, bake for around 15 minutes at 200C.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Spiced Chocolate Bundt Cake

 - with a little pre-Christmas sparkle!

I noticed this cake in the January 2015 issue of Sainsbury's Magazine; the recipe wasn't in the magazine, but the pointer to the online recipe looked quite appealing.

I used the cake recipe exactly as written, even though I knew my bundt tin was too large, because I think a decorated ring cake can look more festive than a round cake. However, I used a different icing recipe, as I didn't have any cream to make a ganache. I used my old standby (from Mary Berry) for a dark fudge frosting; this consists of 175g plain chocolate melted with 30g butter, which is then removed from the heat and 2 tablespoons of syrup and 3 tablespoons of milk beaten in until smooth.  I usually use golden syrup, but for this recipe I used syrup from a jar of stem ginger.

I went to town on the decorations, even though the cake was to be eaten before Christmas, so that I could use this cake as an entry to December's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is for Glitter, Sprinkles, Candles and Shiny Stuff! I used crystallised ginger sprinkles, crunchy chocolate drop sprinkles (dark, milk and white), snowflakes and gold glitter, and I think I succeeded in making something suitably glittery.

The cake, which is a cross between a chocolate cake and gingerbread, is made by melting butter, chocolate, sugar, treacle and golden syrup together, before mixing in eggs and flour. This makes it quick and easy to make with just a bowl and spoon. The cake was very moist, but not too dense with a good crumb texture. The spicing was very subtle and reminiscent of  Lebkuchen, which made the cake very festive and gave the house a lovely smell as it was baking. The addition of tiny pieces of stem ginger, and the slight hint of ginger in the frosting adds an extra note to both the texture and flavour.

I think this cake would make a delicious festive-flavoured alternative to fruit cakes on the Christmas tea-table, particularly if made in the correct sized baking tin, so that it stood higher. Tea Time Treats, hosted jointly by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, and  Jane of The Hedge Combers, is in a suitably festive mood this month, and Karen, as this month's host, will be collating the entries and writing a round up at the end of the month.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Fig, Chocolate and Ginger Panforte

This marks the true start of my Christmas baking, as Panforte is something which keeps for ages if well wrapped or in an airtight container. According to which source of information you choose, it will keep for anything from 2 weeks to several months, which is just as well, as it's so rich that it will only get eaten a sliver at a time. It's the sort of thing that you eat with your evening coffee, or that might appeal to someone who prefers confectionary to desserts.

Although Panforte is something I've been meaning to try for years, what prompted me to make it now was two of this month's cooking challenges. We Should Cocoa wants participants to pair chocolate and figs, and AlphaBakes is using the letter X this month, and will be accepting 'X = Xmas' recipes!

Panforte is an Italian fruit and nut cake, original from Siena, and traditionally only eaten at Christmas. As explained in the link, because the basis of the cake is a boiled syrup made from honey and sugar, the texture of panforte is more like nougat or toffee than what we usually expect from 'cake'. Chocolate is a relatively modern addition, although most recipes nowadays contain at least a little cocoa.

I decided to go for a double chocolate version, and to also add figs and crystallised ginger, as in this recipe. This was one of the first recipes I found when looking for 'fig and chocolate' recipes, but as I researched further, I realised that it might not be the best recipe to use. Many of the more traditional recipes used a variety of old-fashioned spices such as cloves, pepper and nutmeg as well as cinnamon, and most used a much smaller quantity of flour. Panforte is also often baked on a base of edible rice paper (or communion wafers), which would have made it easier to remove from the baking tin before the days of non-stick bakeware.

The problem was, the more I researched, the more confused I got about which recipe to actually use - some cooked the dried fruits in water, or added wine, or boiled the sugar and honey with butter too. Some recipes made huge cakes - suitable for feeding dozens of people for several weeks, and some recipes made something which was more like a refrigerator cake - no cooking at all!

In the end, I decided to base the recipe on the basic ingredients required to make an 8" diameter (20cm) cake, in a recipe from one of my own cookbooks, but to vary the added ingredients according to my instincts in order to make something like the original fig, chocolate and ginger version. I used the spice mix from my basic recipe too, as it seemed in line with several other recipes, although I used nutmeg instead of mace.

The one thing I did differently from almost all the recipes I found was to leave the added chocolate in large chunks; I knew it would melt in the heat of the syrup, but hoped that little pockets of richer chocolate would be left in the finished cake.

200g blanched almonds
200g dried, but soft, figs
60g crystallised ginger
100g plain chocolate
50g plain flour
50g cocoa
zest of one small orange
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100g runny honey
100g caster sugar
Rice paper - optional

First toast the almonds lightly in a 180C oven for 10 minutes, then cool and chop coarsely. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C
Grease a loose-bottomed 8" sandwich tin, and line the sides with baking parchment. Then cut a sheet of rice paper to fit the base (or use more baking parchment).
Cut the figs and ginger into pieces about the same size as the chopped nuts.
Mix the flour, cocoa, orange zest and spices in a bowl, the add the figs, ginger, almonds and coarsely chopped chocolate. Mix to evenly coat the fruit and nuts in the flour mixture.
Gently heat the sugar and honey in a medium sized pan, until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to the boil and heat until the temperature reaches 115-120C on a sugar thermometer. Many recipes say boil for three minutes, so without a sugar thermometer, this is what I'd suggest.
Remove the pan from the heat and add all the other ingredients; you'll need to work quickly to mix everything together and will look initially as if there isn't enough syrup, but it will eventually come together. When everything is evenly mixed, tip the ball of ingredients into the centre of the baking tin. Use the back of a wet spoon to spread out the dough evenly to the edges of the tin.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Cool in the tin, then remove the baking parchment and store in an airtight tin, wrapped in foil.
Sift over icing sugar before serving. I have the feeling that this stage will need repeating at intervals, as the sugar dissolves.

The smell of spices, chocolate and orange, as this baked, was amazing. Once it was cold, I cut out the small sliver shown in the photograph, for research purposes, and it was very chewy, reminiscent of nougat. The chocolate and spices blended well with the figs and nuts but the best part was getting a nugget of crystallised ginger to chew on, which gave an extra burst of flavour in the mouth. Looking at the photo, I may have been successful in getting separate areas of chocolate too - there's definitely a darker patch in the middle!

We Should Cocoa (rules here) is hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog; she often has guest hosts, but this month is running the challenge herself.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is hosted alternately by Caroline, of Caroline Makes, and Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker. Caroline is this month's host, choosing X, to make things easier for us during the rest of the year!.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Maple Syrup Gingerbread

Although this is one of the low-saturated fat recipes I tweaked into something good a couple of years ago, when CT was at home and needed a low fat diet, I've carried on using it as it produces a light, but moist and sticky, gingerbread. The surface of the cake goes on getting stickier with time, as should all good gingerbreads!

This time, I didn't have the golden syrup I expected to find in the store cupboard, so I used maple syrup instead. This is a cake strongly flavoured with ginger, cloves and black treacle, so I think the maple syrup was somewhat overwhelmed, but it did mean I could get on and make the cake I'd planned - comfort eating for cold weather!

The recipe can be found on this post, and it's simply a matter of mixing the syrups and the flour mixture into the beaten egg, sugar and oil, in alternate portions. I've never had it fail before! This time, however it ended up with a huge dip in the centre. Strangely, even with the dip, the texture seemed uniform throughout the cake, so I'm not sure what happened to produce it. It certainly wasn't undercooking, but may have been over mixing or mis-measuring the raising agent.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Pineapple Mincemeat Tart

with coconut crumble topping.

I might have gone a step too far here, in a bid to make something different for Christmas, but at least I've tried it out on just the two of us, rather than jumping straight in and making it for guests.

It started with the idea that a crumble topping would speed up the process of making a large quantity of mince pies - half the rolling out, less fiddle with putting tops and bottoms together etc. Then I thought about the fact that I usually add extra apples, oranges or cranberries to bought mincemeat to make it less sweet and a more personal recipe. Adding  chopped nuts to the crumble topping would add an interesting texture too. While I was playing around with ideas, I remembered the fresh pineapple which needed eating - why not try a tropical variation of a mince pie, with pineapple in the mincemeat and coconut in the topping?

I decided to try out the concept in one big tart, rather than fiddle about with individual pies - mainly for speed of getting things done. The base was basic shortcrust pastry with no sweetening, used to line a shallow 22cm diameter flan tin. The filling was 250g mincemeat, 150g of finely chopped fresh pineapple and a teaspoon of ground rice (to absorb any excess fruit juice), spread straight onto the raw pastry. The topping was a crumble mix made by rubbing 50g coconut oil into a mix of 50g plain flour, 50g porridge oats and 35g caster sugar. I intended to add desiccated coconut to the topping, but only had flaked coconut available, so tried to break the flakes up a little as I added 25g to the crumble mix. This was sprinkled evenly over the tart filling. 

I baked the tart for 20 minutes at 200C, then lowered the temperature to 180C and baked for another 20 minutes, covering the tart loosely when I lowered the temperature, as the coconut flakes were browning too quickly.

Although I liked the coconut in the crumble topping, I didn't think the pineapple added enough flavour to be worth using - it was overwhelmed by the spices in the mincemeat. I could just have easily have added a chopped apple for the same result, which was to give the mincemeat a fresher, more tart flavour, but not a noticeably pineapple one. So, I'll  be sticking to more traditional ingredients when it's time for Christmas baking, but I will be using a crumble topping in some form this year.

I've just noticed that this is my 500th blog post - I suppose that's a good enough time as any to be a little experimental!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Date, Maple and Pecan Loaf

I've talked before about the difficulty of finding recipes which use enough maple syrup to justify putting the ingredient name into the title, especially if you're looking for a plain, everyday kind of cake. There are plenty of gateau-type cakes, with maple flavoured frosting, and plenty of cakes which use only a tablespoon of maple syrup, yet still thinks this is enough to add a maple flavour. It isn't, believe me!

Eventually, I found a suitable looking recipe for a Pecan Maple Loaf, and adapted it a little to make this Date, Maple and Pecan Loaf. I did a very rough conversion of the ingredients to metric weights, then rounded up to produce a recipe which looked right to my experienced eyes. I also added 100g of roughly chopped dried dates.

200g SR flour
180g softened butter or baking spread (see note)
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
75mls maple syrup
100g roughly chopped dried dates
50g roughly chopped pecan nuts

Note - I used non-dairy spread, suitable for baking, as I had a tub to use up. I also left the tablespoon of milk out of the recipe to make this suitable for a dairy-free diet - the batter was very loose, so I couldn't see the point of adding the milk. Interestingly, I watched a TV programme (The Icing on the Cake - Nigel Slater) earlier this week, where the food scientist Peter Barham explained that baking spreads often make better risen cakes than butter because the water content is higher than that of butter. This turns to steam during baking and helps give a bigger rise to the cake, as it is trapped within the setting batter.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin. (I lined the base and long sides of a non-stick tin with baking parchment). Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
Rub the fat into the flour and stir in the sugar.
Whisk together the eggs, maple syrup and lemon zest. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mix, but do not over-mix.
Fold in the dates and pecans.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 70 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean. Cover with foil if the cake seems to be browning too quickly (mine needed covering after 45 minutes).
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

The optional frosting would probably have been very nice, but I didn't want to add extra sugar to an everyday cake, and it was fine without!

This was a delicious and light-textured cake, although the raw batter was very wet, and I worried needlessly that the dates and nuts would sink during baking. The maple syrup and lemon together gave a lovely flavour and was a good background flavour to the dates and pecans. The crumb texture wasn't super-fine, but I think that came from the rubbing-in method, which left little lumps of fat in the batter. A creaming method might have given a tighter texture.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Salt Caramel Flapjacks

A few days ago, I opened a tin of ready made caramel to make a toffee apple and pecan cake, which needed just 200g of the caramel. It turned out to be a waste of caramel, because although the cake was just about edible, it took twice as long to cook as the recipe stated, and was very dense and stodgy, and not particularly well-flavoured, as the added ingredients of apples and pecans were in quite small quantities.

As I was so disappointed with the cake, I decided not to even write a blog post about it, but you can follow the link above, if you want to know what to avoid!

That left me with roughly half a tin of caramel to use, and I also had some really good quality Sainsbury's gluten-free rolled oats that I wanted to compare with ALDI porridge oats and Tesco everyday value oats. Obviously, finding a recipe for caramel flapjacks was a priority, but it had to be a recipe that used the amount of caramel available.

It didn't take long to find this Annie Bell recipe for Salt Caramel Flapjacks. I was a little flabbergasted by the amount of butter, but I've cooked enough of Annie's recipes to trust her, especially as I was a little short on the amount of caramel needed. I had to use unsalted butter for the recipe, so added extra salt, in the form of 1 teaspoon of vanilla flavoured salt I happened to have in the store cupboard.

The recipe was simple to follow and quick to put together and cook. I cut the finished flapjacks into 16 portions - 25 seemed ridiculously small, although they would have been less calorific per portion! The results were absolutely delicious; my only criticism of the flavour was that I couldn't taste the salt. If (or, more likely, when) I make them again I will increase the amount of salt added. The flapjack was chewy and fudgy flavoured, and very rich. They were perhaps slightly on the crumbly side, but I think a few minutes extra baking will take care of that.

As for the oats - the gluten-free oats were miles ahead in quality - they were whole grains rolled flat, to make large crisp flakes. The Tesco everyday value oats were next in quality, with smaller, less crisp flakes ( I have to say that I've been using these for baking for years, with no complaints about the results). The ALDI porridge oats were very small pieces of flake, which probably make great porridge, but were too fine to give a good result if used on their own in baked goods. I think in future I will use a mixture of the Tesco everyday value and the gluten-free oats to improve the texture of things such as biscuits and flapjacks. But for things like cakes, where the coarser texture isn't as important, and perhaps not even necessary, I'll continue with just the Tesco oats.

I'm just in time to submit this recipe to this month's Tea Time Treats challenge, which is to produce food suitable for a bonfire night party. TTT is a cooking challenge hosted alternately by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, and Jane of The Hedge Combers, who is this month's host.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Hazelnut and White Chocolate Brownies

I whipped up a quick batch of brownies for CT to take home with him after he had dinner with us recently. I used my usual oil-based recipe, this time using sunflower oil and adding 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 50g of white chocolate chips, instead of all chocolate. 
They were as good as they always are - dense, moist and chewy, as a good brownie should be!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake

 - from a recipe by Harry Eastwood.

This cake was made specifically for the AlphaBakes challenge, where this month's randomly chosen letter is H.

My baking books were surprisingly short of recipes containing ingredients beginning with H - hazelnuts featured heavily, but I've used them a lot lately, and wanted to avoid them if possible. Honey was the only other frequently used ingredient, so I set myself the task of finding a recipe for a fruit cake sweetened only by honey.  So many recipes are called 'honey (something or other)', only to feature a tablespoon or two of honey, supposedly added for flavour, in addition to the usual high amount of sugar found in most cakes and biscuits.

I'm not going down the route of claiming that a cake sweetened with honey is any healthier than a cake sweetened by standard sugar (they are both types of carbohydrates not really needed for nutrition), but I do think that if you are using honey for it's flavour, you need a fair amount of it in a cake!

However, Harry Eastwood's baking recipes (ooooh! an extra H there!) are special for being a little bit healthier than most. She uses added vegetables a lot, and tries to cut down on the amount of sugar and fat in her recipes. This cake, called a Honey Breakfast Fruit Cake, uses finely grated butternut squash to replace much of the fat  - the only fat comes from nuts and eggs - and the squash also has a natural sweetness which means less needs to be added in the form of honey. The cake batter is made from half flour and half ground almonds and is packed with dried fruit and chopped nuts. In fact, for the size of cake made, it's really fruit and nuts held together with a little cake batter!

I followed the basic recipe, but as I'm trying to finish some of the half-used packets of dried fruits and nuts in the storecupboard, I altered what I used from what was suggested in the recipe. Instead of raisins and cranberries, I used sultanas, cranberries and sour cherries, and instead of chopped almonds I used a mixture of almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and peanuts. I also sprinkled some flaked almonds on top of the cake before baking.

This was a really delicious cake; the almond flavour was predominant, as you'd expect with the use of almond extract, but the lemon zest and the honey both made a noticeable contribution. Obviously, the cake will vary in flavour depending on what type of honey is used - I used a Fairtrade Guatemalan honey which wasn't produced from any specific flowers, and was just a generic 'honey' flavour.

The big surprise was that the absence of fat wasn't noticed, nor was the addition of  quite a large amount of grated butternut squash. The recipe stated to grate the squash finely, so I used a finer grater than I would have used if grating carrots for a carrot cake, and this made the vegetable vanish into the cake batter, only adding moisture to the texture.

I'm not sure this would convince me that it's good to eat cake for breakfast, but it is certainly a cake that's good to eat, and will go on my list of things worth repeating.

AlphaBakes (rules here) is a blogging challenge hosted on alternate months by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes. This month's randomly chosen letter H was picked by Ros, who will post a roundup of entries at the end of the month.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Gooseberry Crumble

 I'm a great believer in seasonal eating, but it's getting ever more difficult to stick to  eating just what is traditionally in season. Growing crops in poly tunnels means that even British fruit such as raspberries are available for 9 months of the year, and that's before you even consider imports from abroad. Another factor is the use of the freezer to preserve fruit and vegetables. Rather than throw away excess from a glut, or eat it for weeks ad nauseam, it can often be frozen for out of season use.

This is what happens to my gooseberries and green beans, most years; I know our forbearers bottled fruit and salted beans, but some of the original freshness was missing when these were used. If you choose your fruit well, there is no loss of quality on thawing and cooking - blackberries, gooseberries and plums in particular freeze well, but rhubarb is less successful in my opinion, so that is still a truly seasonal fruit for me. Consequently, however much I might like to stick to seasonal fruit in Autumn and Winter desserts, there are always these fruits calling to me from the freezer .

You don't really want a recipe for fruit crumble - I'm sure you all have your favourite recipes - but I thought it was worth noting that I made a successful gluten- and dairy-free crumble using a proprietary brand of gluten-free flour and pure oats (labelled as wheat, dairy and gluten free), and coconut oil instead of butter.

I used my usual recipe of 100g each of flour, oats, fat and sugar (caster in this case) to make 4-6 portions. I rub the fat into all the other ingredients, which seems to give a better texture after baking. When I'm using coconut oil, I chill the crumble mixture for 30 minutes before putting it on the fruit and baking; I do this because I was worried about the coconut oil becoming too liquid while being rubbed in (even though I handled it a little as possible to get it more or less rubbed in), and wanted to keep the effect of using a solid fat.

If I'm using a fruit which I expect to make a lot of juice when it cooks, such as gooseberries or rhubarb, as well as sweetening it, I add just a level teaspoon of ground rice for every 300g fruit. This seems to thicken the juices perfectly, without adding any unwanted flavour, and with not much change in texture. Beware of using too much though - ground rice absorbs much more liquid than other thickeners such as flour or ground almonds.

I was really pleased that the texture and flavour of the gluten- and dairy-free crumble were comparable to my usual recipe, and I was really pleased with the 'free-from' oats, from Sainsbury's, which were a lot sturdier than the usual 'value' rolled oats I use. They gave a slightly crisper finish to the baked crumble, but of course, I did pay a price premium for them!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Black-Bottom Coconut Bars with Chilli

Back in March this year, the theme for the We Should Cocoa challenge was coconut. I made these coconut and cherry bars with a chocolate biscuit base, by combining two recipes that I found in my cook books, but while I was searching online for something suitable, I found this similar recipe from Martha Stewart,  which I bookmarked for future use.

When this month's WSC challenge  theme was announced as chilli, I had a sudden urge to try chilli, chocolate and coconut together, and remembered the Martha Stewart recipe. The black-bottom layer for her tray bake is a thin layer of brownie mixture, and is topped with a vanilla flavoured coconut macaroon mixture which doesn't contain any added fat.

I followed the recipe exactly, adding half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (pure ground chilli) to the brownie batter, but baking in an 8" square tin, rather than a 9" tin. This turned out to be a good move - as I had anticipated from experience with other US recipes, the brownie base would have been impossibly thin in a larger tin.

These bars were delicious, proving that the combination of chilli, chocolate and coconut is a winner (Bounty bar manufacturer - take note!). The amount of cayenne I used left a noticeable warm aftertaste of chilli, without being overwhelming, although more could be added for a bit more kick! I cut the tray bake into 12 decent sized bars - trying to cut into 24 pieces, as suggested in the recipe, would only mean eating two at a time!

However, although the flavour was spot on, eating the bars wasn't the great experience it should have been. The weight of the coconut macaroon compressed the brownie layer a lot, making it dense and chewy, and the coconut topping was heavy and dry. I much preferred my previous combination of biscuit base and a macaroon mixture with some butter in it - the combination of  crisp biscuit and moister chewy macaroon seemed lighter and was much more pleasant to eat.

We Should Cocoa is the brainchild of Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, who alternates host duties with guests. This month the theme of chilli was chosen by Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen, and as Shaheen is vegetarian, she also asked that any entries submitted also be suitable for vegetarians.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wholemeal Apple and Cranberry Cake

It's time for another cake with delicious Autumnal flavours!

This Nigel Slater recipe is proving to be remarkably adaptable. The original, from his weekly Observer column, used marmalade, sultanas and orange zest to add flavour to an apple cake made with wholemeal flour, and I've previously made versions using apples and cranberries and pears and ginger preserves.

This time I kept the apples and added dried cranberries flavoured with orange, and some smooth cranberry jelly instead of marmalade.

This was a really well-flavoured cake - the cranberries flavoured with orange were very intense - and moist yet light in texture. After making so many variations of this cake, I should stop being surprised by how light it is for a wholemeal cake, but I'm not yet!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Chewy Ginger, Orange and Dark Chocolate Cookies

I tend to view Ruby Tandoh's column in The Guardian's 'Cook' supplement with a little wariness after the disappointment of her Fig, Orange and Star Anise Tealoaf, but my husband was drooling over the idea of these Ginger, Orange and Dark Chocolate Cookies, made with golden syrup to keep them chewy.

The basic cookie dough couldn't be simpler - mix the wet ingredients with the sugar, stir in the flour, then mix in any additional chunks of flavouring ingredients - and as the dough is divided with a spoon rather than any more complicated rolling or shaping, a batch can be in the oven really quickly.

The flavour combination of dark chocolate, ginger and orange was delicious, but this is also a good basic cookie dough to take your own favourite combinations of fruit, nuts and chocolate. The recipe made 22 small cookies, about 7cm in diameter, the way I divided the dough, but I'd like to try making slightly larger cookies too.

The only downside to the recipe, which I noticed after storing the cookies overnight, is that they aren't rigid - their chewiness means they are supple and bendy, so layering the cookies in an airtight box meant the top biscuits had flopped a bit. I think a piece of baking parchment between the layers will rectify this, so it's not a huge problem.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Carrot and Earl Grey Tea Loaf

This recipe was in the November issue of Sainsbury's Magazine, nestled in an article about Kenyan tea. I eventually found my way to the magazine's website, and the recipe is available there, too, although you can see I baked the cake in a loaf shape rather than as a round cake, and didn't add such a fancy decoration. 

I didn't have any Kenyan tea, but did have Earl Grey, and I thought the citrus-y flavour of that would go well with carrot, as oranges are often used in carrot cakes. Once the carrots were grated, the cake was quick and easy to put together, and took around 45 minutes to bake in my long, shallow loaf tin.

I liked the fact that the cake was quite low in added sugar, when I read the recipe, but felt on tasting it, that the cake really needed more sugar to overcome the bitter notes of the tea. The flavour was quite bland too; the small amount of cinnamon didn't add much flavour, and none of the other ingredients improved things. On the plus side, the texture was quite moist but still light. This cake would have benefitted from some of the more traditional carrot cake ingredients - orange zest, chopped nuts, sultanas or more spice. It certainly wasn't memorable enough to make again as it is!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Chestnut and Hazelnut Cake - Gluten- and Dairy-free

 I needed an autumnal cake or dessert which was both gluten- and dairy-free, for a forthcoming lunch for friends. Although I like to cook new recipes on these occasions, I prefer to try them at least once before cooking for guests, so planning meals often starts a few weeks ahead.  I also wanted to use some of the hazelnuts we foraged last month, which have a very intense flavour now that they've matured in the shell.

On top of all that I was looking for baked desserts with an Italian theme, and chestnuts frequently cropped up in my searches. I did actually try to buy chestnut flour while on holiday in Italy recently, but we didn't find any good food shops - only small delicatessens selling pre-packed goods for tourists to bring home. We were on a busy touring schedule, so didn't have the time or means to go looking for  shops which might have stocked it - I could only try those we passed while sightseeing. However, chestnut purée is readily available here, so I decided to use that instead.

I found two recipes that looked good; this one from Betty's Cookery School, even though it wasn't gluten-free, because it used hazelnuts, and this one from Azélia's Kitchen, because it was free from dairy and gluten, used more chestnut purée and added a little fat. I decided to use the recipe from Azélia's Kitchen, but use half ground hazelnuts and add some chopped hazelnuts too. I also left out the lemon zest, because I didn't have any, and really just wanted to know how well the recipe worked, rather than get exactly the same flavour. I used sunflower oil instead of melted butter.

The recipe was easy to follow, thanks to the very comprehensive instructions on the Azélia's Kitchen website. The most time consuming factor was shelling enough hazelnuts to get 150g, toasting them and then working to get the skins off. This process took as long as mixing and baking the cake! Where Azélia used 200g ground almonds, I used 100g ground almonds, 100g ground hazelnuts and 50g of chopped hazelnuts.

The volume of cake batter was huge - almost filling a 20cm round, 7cm deep cake tin - but the cake didn't rise much during cooking; it was more like a mousse setting to a soft, moist texture than a cake baking. I tested the cake for 'doneness' with a colour-changing probe, as Azélia mentioned that a test probe would come out clean even when the batter was still undercooked; the tip of the probe changes colour from black to red when the cake is done. When the cake came out of the oven, I ran a knife between the cake and the tin to loosen it, as I've seen that recommended in recipes where the cake is likely to sink while cooling. It's supposed to stop the centre sinking more than the edges, but that still happened to some extent. I think this is because the edges are more solid than the centre due to the crust formed during baking. I've seen this type of cake baked in a bain marie, but I guess that would add a lot to the cooking time.

We both really liked this cake, although it was definitely more of a desert than a tea-time cake. The texture was very moist but light and mousse-like, although this doesn't really come through in the photos. My foraged hazelnuts gave the cake it's dominant flavour, and overwhelmed any evidence of the chestnuts, but I'd expected this as chestnut purée is easily lost in stronger flavours. Azélia covered the cake with a chocolate frosting, and I think I will do this next time, both for a contrast in flavours and an improved look, but we just ate the cake plain this time. It would also be good to add some whipped cream or crème fraiche, but that's not for everyday eating either!

I didn't get many good photos of this cake, due to the usual problems with making a brown lump look interesting, so you'll have to believe that it tasted much, much better than it looked!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Iraqi Date-filled Pastries - Klaicha

I only had one reason for making these cookies, but I'm really glad I did. The reason was that the letter I had come around again in this month's AlphaBakes challenge, and it's a really difficult letter to use  - not many ingredients begin with it and not many recipe names start with it, so, like the last time, I looked for traditional recipes from a country beginning with I, and found these little date filled pastries from Iraq.
I followed the recipe carefully, but ended up with a very soft dough which I found quite difficult to work with (my conversion of 3 cups of flour to 400g might have been a little off). By the time I realised I wasn't going to be able to shape the cookies in a mould, and they wouldn't hold the marks from fork tines, it was too late to have a go at the alternative shape of logs which would be sliced after baking (see the bottom photo in the link above; it's taken from the book I was using - The Complete Middle East Cookbook, by Tess Mallos). Instead, I flattened the filled balls of dough slightly, and used a tiny cookie cutter to make a light impression on top.
My only other deviation from the recipe was to add a few tablespoons of water to the chopped dates while they were cooking as they had become very dry in storage, and wouldn't soften with just the butter.
These unassuming little cookies were actually quite delicious; I used rose water in the pastry which complimented the date flavour very well, as well as giving the cookies a wonderful aroma. One complaint from my husband was that he thought the pastry was too thick in relation to the amount of filling, but as the pastry was crumbly, sweet and flavoursome, this wasn't a huge problem.

AlphaBakes is a monthly baking challenge jointly hosted by Caroline, of Caroline Makes and Ros The More Than Occasional Baker. The host (it's Caroline this month) introduces a randomly chosen letter of the alphabet, and then publishes a roundup of entries at the end of the month. Entrants must use the chosen letter as a significant ingredient or part of the name of the recipe they bake. For example, B could be for Banana or Bakewell Tart.