Friday, 28 February 2014

Coconut and Yuzu Cake

This is a very simple cake, with only two ingredients for flavour, but sometimes that's all we need. It can get tiresome trying to decide if we can identify every different flavour element suggested by the name of a dish, not to mention other ingredients added to enhance a dish, but not mentioned by name.

This cake was made to use up about 20mls of Yuzu juice leftover after making the frosting for this Green Tea Cake; it was just enough to give a subtle citrus flavour to the cake without dominating the coconut. The beauty of Yuzu is that although it is obviously a citrus flavour, it's not easy to define any more accurately than that - it's lemony, but not as sour, is perhaps the nearest description. A sweet grapefruit might be nearer the mark, although grapefruit isn't a strong flavour and I've never used it in baking. However you describe it, it hit the right note here, adding just enough of a zing to lift the cake from just being a coconut cake.

I went back to a basic cake recipe I've been using for almost 40 years. It makes a plain cake which is denser than a sponge cake and is a good carrier for either just added flavours or solid ingredients such as dried fruit or chopped chocolate. As the fat is rubbed into the flour, it is quick to make too - from weighing the ingredients to getting the cake into the oven is only a matter of a few minutes.

Rub 150g butter (at room temperature) into 250g SR flour, then mix in 150g caster sugar and 80g desiccated coconut. Make a well in the centre of the ingredients and add 3 eggs and 20mls yuzu juice;  mix well, adding enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency. Transfer to a 7"(18cm) diameter round tin or a 2lb loaf tin, level the top, and bake at 180C for around 75 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.

I left the cake undecorated, but a drizzle of glacé icing and a few shreds of toasted coconut strips would be good for a smarter occasion.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Apricot (and Chocolate) Linzer Torte

The theme for the Tea Time Treats Challenge this month is chocolate - not a difficult challenge for me, as a lot of my baking is based on chocolate (although less so now that I'm not baking regularly for CT). Although I've baked twice with chocolate already this month, I didn't think either of them were worthy enough to be a challenge entry, so I looked around for something a bit different.

This Linzer Torte recipe is based on a Mary Berry recipe from a book called 'Desserts and Confections' published in 1991, well before she became a TV celebrity. Surprisingly, I can only find one online reference to the recipe, here at Scandi Home; I made a few changes to the recipe - one out of necessity, one out of laziness,  one to increase the flavours in the pastry, and one to boost the chocolate content.

The pastry dough is made by mixing everything together in a food mixer - really easy for me now with my new Kenwood Chef mixer. I departed from the recipe and used 60g of ground hazelnuts and 60g of ground almonds (instead of all almonds), 265g plain flour, 200g caster sugar, 175g softened butter, 30g cocoa, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and the finely grated zest of a lemon. When everything is well blended, the ball of dough is halved. One half is used to line a shallow flan tin, by spreading and pressing into place using fingers. The recipe called for a 28cm tin, but mine was a little smaller - it was all I had!

The first step, however, before making the dough, is to make the apricot filling as it needs time to cool. 350g chopped dried apricots were simmered with 500ml of water and 100g caster sugar until the liquid was all absorbed or evaporated. The recipe used 250mls orange juice as part of the liquid, but I didn't have any to hand - I don't think it would have made a lot of difference to the final flavour, as dried apricots have a very concentrated flavour. The original recipe also sieved the cooked apricots to make a smooth purée, but I skipped this in favour of just mashing the fruit and having a coarser texture.

Before spreading the apricot filling over the pastry, I spread a layer of grated 100% cacao over the base; I estimated I used only about 30g, but it was very finely grated and went a long way! I hoped this would noticeably boost the chocolate flavour (it did!) and cut through what seemed an awful lot of sugar in both the pastry and the filling.

The last step is to make a lattice topping out of the second portion of dough. I had intended to make a real interwoven lattice, but the dough was too fragile, so I had to follow Mary's instructions to lay down a bottom row of strips, then a top row on the diagonal, pressing down the top row lightly to give the look of a lattice.

The torte was baked for 10 minutes at 200C then another 30 minutes at 180C - I baked it for a little longer than the recipe stipulated, as I thought the base dough would be thicker because of using a smaller tin. After cooling in the tin, the torte was dusted with icing sugar before serving.

The dough was short and crumbly - more like a biscuit than pastry; the apricot filling was sticky and strongly flavoured and the layer of chocolate really made the whole tart taste of rich chocolate. On the whole though, I think I prefer the traditional non-chocolate versions as the flavours of nuts and spices in the dough stand out more.

Tea Time Treats (rules here) is a monthly baking challenge hosted alternately by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Jane from the Hedgecombers. The idea is to bake something suitable for the tea table, following the theme chosen by the host. This month's host is Karen, who will post a roundup at the end of the month.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake - Doubled!

What can you do to improve one of your favourite flavour combinations for cakes? Double them, of course! This simple little cake contains both ground and chopped, toasted hazelnuts, and there is also cocoa in the cake batter, as well as chopped plain chocolate pieces.

I was considering tripling the flavours with a Nutella frosting, but to be honest, we can't take the extra calories! For anyone not worried about such things, a frosting and a few chopped hazelnuts scattered around would top things off nicely.

This is another adaptation of my one of my now basic 'made with oil' cake recipes, taken from the BBC Good Food website. For this cake I left out the lemon elements, replaced 25g of flour with cocoa, the ground almonds with ground hazelnuts and folded 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts and 80g chopped 70% chocolate into the batter. I also used sunflower oil, as I don't keep rapeseed oil in stock. I baked the cake in two small loaf tins, so that one could go into the freezer.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Cheese Scones with Za'atar

The AlphaBakes baking challenge has reached one of the more difficult letters of the alphabet this month - the letter Z! I could have gone the easy route, with a zebra cake, or used a zucchini, but I wanted something a bit more unusual. I often get inspiration from my spice cupboard, when looking for unusual flavour combinations, so was happy to come across a jar of Za'atar spice mix hiding at the back.

Za'ater is a variable mix of herbs, spices and sesame seeds (mine contains wild majoram, sumac and sesame seeds - some varieties use thyme and/or oregano) and is quite bitter, so isn't really suitable for sweet baking. After some experimentation, which is best forgotten, I finally decided on the savoury option of cheese scones filled with a swirl of the za'atar mix.

I made a standard scone mix of 50g of butter rubbed into 200g SR flour, to which I added 50g of grated cheese - a mixture of mature dry cheddar and parmesan. I mixed in half a teaspoon each of dry mustard powder, white pepper and cayenne powder for flavour, then added half a beaten egg and enough milk to make a soft dough. After a brief knead, I patted out the dough, on a floured board, to make a square about 1cm deep. I sprinkled about 2 tablespoons of za'atar over the dough, leaving a cm margin along one edge, which was wetted with milk. The dough was then rolled up tightly from the edge opposite the wet edge, so that the wet edge stuck and held the roll in place. The roll of dough was cut into pieces 2.5cm long and the pieces were placed on a baking tray with the swirl of za'atar facing upwards. The top of each scone was brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking at 220C for about 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.

The bitter flavour of za'atar means it needs to be used with caution - I think these scones might have been better with a bit less za'atar mix, as the flavour quite overwhelmed that of the cheese and other spices used. I also think a scone might not be the best vehicle for the za'atar - small cocktail biscuits or puff pastry whirls which could be eaten in just a mouthful might have been more suitable. However it was an interesting way of getting to use the za'atar, which had been lingering unused in my cupboard for far too long.

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. Caroline is this month's host, with the letter Z, and will feature a round-up of entries at the end of the month.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cider Crumble Cake

 A strange cake, this! On first appearances, a very plain, almost dry, base topped with a layer of plum jam, then a crumble topping flavoured with cinnamon and walnuts. In fact, all the layers combined together to make eating the cake a very interesting experience. The jam was sweet and sticky, the topping crunchy and spicy and the cake was studded with pieces of chopped date. The use of cider in the cake batter gave the cake a subtle apple-y flavour too.

I choose this cake from 'Cakes and Cake Decorating' by Zoe Leigh, a 1974 publication that used to be one of my 'go-to' books for cake recipes. Despite owning the book for almost 40 years, this is one recipe I hadn't tried before. I was attracted to it now because the cake part was fatless and quite low in sugar - in keeping with my efforts to eat more healthily. As you can see, the recipe is so old it still uses Imperial weights and measures, and oven temperatures in Fahrenheit! According to the blog The Vintage Cake Spot, this was originally one of Marguerite Patten's recipes; this might explain the austerity of the recipe, which uses small quantities of strongly flavoured ingredients in the topping to give most of the flavour and texture.

This was a very quick and easy cake to make - the dry ingredients were mixed together, then the wet ingredients were mixed in. The only complicated bit was measuring 3 tablespoons of black treacle and dissolving it in the cider. The cake was baked to just past the half-way point before the jam layer and the crumble topping were added. This gave the batter time to set so that the jam could be spread easily, although I did warm it in the microwave to make this even easier. The crumble then stuck to the jam when it was sprinkled on. Because the cake batter was set, the jam didn't soak in completely and stayed as a sticky layer between the cake and the crumble, adding to the contrasting textures.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Buccaneer Shortbread

Another tasty twist on the more traditional Millionaire's Shortbread, from Shivi Ramoutar of The Rum Kitchen restaurants, via The Guardian's "Cook" supplement (scroll down to the fourth recipe). This time there are spices and coconut in the shortbread to increase the flavour components, and the caramel and chocolate layers are lightly salted too.

This is quite a rich recipe, and makes a big batch, but I felt justified in making it, as CT was coming to dinner and could take half home with him, to remove temptation. I had trouble making the caramel, which split as it was simmering, but
I rescued it with this tip about adding hot water.

All the layers were very thin, and I think it would have been better made in a slightly smaller tin. This would make the bars less fragile to handle after cutting too - the crumbliness of the shortbread and the gooiness of the caramel, combined with hard set chocolate did not make neat, photogenic bars!

All that aside, these were delicious! The spices and salt cut through the sweetness a little, and the coconut was definitely a good flavour to add to the shortbread base.