Thursday, 29 December 2016

Carrot and Ginger Loaf Cake

I loved this cake! It was lighter in texture than the gingerbread recipe I usually use, but the carrot added moistness and texture, and the cake was delicious. I can only find one criticism to make, and that was that it needed a little more ground ginger for my tastes. I found the recipe, on the Good Food site, when I was looking for something to make from storecupboard ingredients, so while I could rustle up some carrots, I didn't have any oranges or lemons in the house. I almost left out the two citrus elements altogether, but in the end used the zest of a clementine and a few drops of lemon extract. I'm glad I did add them, as the freshness of the citrus really lifted the flavour.

Another bonus point was that the cake was really quick and easy to make, using only a saucepan, a spoon and two bowls to weigh the flour and carrots. I think it was in the oven within 10 minutes of starting to assemble the ingredients.

As usual, I didn't add the frosting - it probably would have added a tasty extra citrus note to the cake, but it was fine without it, in my opinion.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Mincemeat Frangipane Tart

gluten- and dairy-free

The highlight of this recipe, for me, was making a really good gluten- and dairy-free pastry. I'd read that it wasn't easy, so it felt quite an achievement  to come up with a recipe which worked well first time (and was repeatable - I made this dessert twice!). After looking at many recipes and reading about gluten-free pastry, I based this recipe on my usual wheatflour sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, but added both a little xanthan gum for strength and baking powder for lightness. I'd read that gluten-free pastry needs more liquid than wheatflour pastry, so I made the dough wetter than usual.

There are reservations about this apparent success though - the pastry dough was very sticky and hard to handle, and I'm not sure I would have had as much success in other situations, for instance if the pastry needed baking blind, or if I was trying to make a pastry top crust too. This may have only worked because the filling was put straight onto raw chilled pastry, and the mincemeat and frangipane layers completely filled the pastry case, holding the sides in place until the pastry had set during baking and leaving no chance of any collapse. Obviously I need to try out the pastry in other situations before declaring it a total success.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:
200g Dove's gluten-free plain flour
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
100g hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork)
50g icing sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water

250g mincemeat (check it's gluten- and dairy-free, if this is important)

100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dairy-free baking spread
1 tablespoon ground rice
2 large eggs
a few drops almond extract
flaked almonds for topping

Sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl and add the xanthan gum and baking powder.
Cut the baking fat into small cubes and add to the bowl. I find that Stork is not as hard as cold butter, so can usually be used straight from the fridge.
Rub or cut the fat into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then mix in the egg and water to make a smooth sticky dough. Only knead enough to incorporate everything into an even dough. Put the ball of dough onto a large piece of clingfilm, wrap loosely and flatten the dough into a 3cm thick disc. Chill for 20 minutes.
Unwrap the dough, but leave it in the centre of the clingfilm, then cover with another large piece of film. Roll out the dough evenly, between the pieces of film, until it is about 30cm (12") in diameter and will fit into a shallow fluted flan tin, about 23cm (9") in diameter.
Remove the top piece of clingfilm carefully - the dough will still be sticky - and invert the circle of dough into the flan tin, so that the bottom piece of film is now on top. While this piece of clingfilm is still in place, ease the dough into place in the corners and flutes of the tin. Chill the pastry case again.
Remove the pastry case from the fridge, gently ease off the clingfilm and trim the dough around the top of the tin to give a neat edge. Any small holes can now be patched with small pieces of the dough trimmings, if necessary - just smooth a small piece into place with your finger.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and put a baking tray onto a middle shelf to heat.
Spread the mincemeat into the base of the pastry case.
Put all the ingredients for the frangipane, except the flaked almonds, into a bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth. This is easily done with a spoon, but you can use a hand-held mixer too, if you prefer.
Pour the frangipane over the mincemeat to fill the pastry case, and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Put onto the baking tray and cook for 40-45 minutes until frangipane is firm and golden brown.
Cool in the tin.

I was really pleased with this. I've made frangipane mincemeat tarts before, but never a gluten-and dairy-free version. I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference as the strong flavours of mincemeat (I used a gluten-free variety with added cranberries) and almonds covers any deficiencies through not using butter in the pastry. The pastry was light and crisp too, and kept well over the three days it took to eat the tart.

I think this will be my last post before Christmas, so I'm fortunate it's a festive one. I'm not planning to cook anything new over the Christmas period, just old favourites. It's also hard to get photographs in the chaos of cooking and the bad light at this time of year, so I'll be back soon with something new.

Season's Greetings to you all!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 2

gluten- and dairy-free.

After my earlier, not entirely successful, experimentation with chestnut flour (see previous post), I looked back over all my brownie recipes to see which one might be best adapted to use chestnut flour in place of flour containing gluten. I soon found this Diana Henry recipe for brownies made with rye flour, which is lower in gluten than wheat flour. This made me think the recipe might work as well with a gluten-free flour, so I tried a straight swap of flours, using chestnut flour instead of rye, and also added 3 chopped marrons glacé instead of the nuts suggested (you could add more, but they are very expensive!). I also used a hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork) instead of butter, as I was still trying to make the brownies both gluten- and dairy-free

The batter was a lot stiffer than I remembered it being in the original recipe, and really difficult to spread, so I was worried that the brownies might be too solid. However, the baked brownies were fine - quite delicious, in fact. They were dense, chewy and fudgy - everything a good brownie should be. They also tasted as if they had a lot more chocolate in them than they actually did, but without being too rich, as in my last recipe. The little pieces of candied chestnuts added an extra dimension to both the flavour and the texture.

I suspected that the stiff batter was down to the chestnut flour absorbing more moisture than rye flour, although none of the baking recipes using chestnut flour that I've looked at suggest that any adjustment is necessary. So I tried the recipe for a second time, adding 2 tablespoons of water to the batter, which made it easier to spread in the tin, but also made the brownies a little less fudgy and added a few minutes to the baking time.

My only slight disappointment with both batches of chestnut brownies was that I didn't really pick up any flavour components that I could attribute to the chestnut flour. Yes, the brownies were delicious, but would they have been any less delicious if made with spelt or rye flour? As chestnut flour is so expensive, I don't think it's something that I'll bother to keep in stock, unless I find a recipe which showcases it's flavour.

I'm sending these brownies to Choclette's 'We Should Cocoa' link-up for December, over at Tin and Thyme. Chocolate is always associated with Christmas, but adding chestnuts to these brownies makes them even more seasonal.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 1

gluten- and dairy-free

Chestnut flour is something that I've been meaning to try for a long time, but I've only ever seen it for sale online, where minimum order charges or postage charges haven't made it economical. So when we were on holiday in Italy in September, and found ourselves passing a wholefood supermarket I had to see if they had any. I think I probably paid as much per kg as I would have in this country, but I got organic flour, and didn't have to buy anything extra to make up an order.

Once I'd got the flour, I decided to keep it for Christmas baking, but couldn't resist trying these brownies from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which only needed 40g of flour, when I wanted to try something different in the way of gluten- and dairy- free baking. I had to adapt the recipe to make it dairy-free, and to allow for the fact that I only had 70% plain chocolate available, but Celia's recipe was certainly the inspiration. In this post Celia warns of the pitfalls of trying to use chocolate with too high a percentage of cocoa solids in this recipe, so although I didn't have any problems, you might want to stick to the original recipe.

100g hard dairy-free baking fat - I used Stork
200g 70% plain chocolate
175g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
40g chestnut flour
130g 70% plain chocolate, chopped coarsely

NB - check that the chocolate is dairy-free if this factor is important.

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 20cm (8") square brownie tin.
Melt the chocolate and baking fat together in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and sugar.
Cool, if necessary, until the mixture is only lukewarm, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Sift in the flour and stir vigourously until  the flour is incorporated and the mixture 'snaps' (as Celia describes it). This is the point at which the texture of the batter stiffens and comes cleanly away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
Fold in the chopped chocolate, transfer the batter to the baking tin, spread evenly and bake for 25 minutes until just form.
Cool completely in the tin before cutting into pieces. I recommend small pieces, as these brownies are very, very rich. The pieces in the photographs were only about 2.5cm square!

I'm usually reluctant to use non-dairy fats in place of butter, but in this recipe the chocolate hit was so powerful that any adverse flavour from the Stork baking fat was completely masked. I very rarely say things like this, but I think this recipe made something that was too rich to be thought of as a brownie. Even after cutting into tiny squares, it was difficult to eat more than one - it was like eating semi-solid chocolate, not any sort of cake. We had to eat the brownies as an after-dinner chocolate treat rather than a dessert. They were absolutely delicious, but not what I was looking for in terms of a gluten- and dairy-free dessert.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Orange and Cranberry Cake

with apricots and macadamia nuts

This loaf cake is based on the proportions of a madeira cake, rather than a sponge - equal quantities of butter, sugar and eggs, but a larger amount of flour. This makes the cake softer and richer than the more basic fruit loaf recipe I sometimes use, and the extra flour helps prevent any added fruits and nuts from sinking. I usually make these little loaves as an all-in-one mixture, to save time. For this cake, I was using up oddments from the storecupboard, including the remnanats of a pack of mixed macadamia nuts and dried cranberries, plus some extra cranberries from another pack, so I'm not sure of the exact weight of each individual ingredient, although there were more cranberries than anything else - as long as the total weight is around 150g the cake will be OK

100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
zest of an orange, finely grated
milk to mix, if needed
150g of a mixture of dried cranberries, dried apricots and macadamia nuts

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a small (450g/1lb) loaf tin.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and orange zest into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is well blended and smooth. Add a little milk if necessary to give a dropping consistency.
Fold in the dried fruit and nuts with a spoon, then transfer the mixture to the prepared tin.
Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.

As I said a few posts back, cranberries and apricots is one of my favourite combinations of dried fruits. Here, the orange zest adds a freshness to the cake and the macadamia nuts give a contrasting texture.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Chocolate Slice with Macaroon Topping

I found this recipe for a Chocolate Slice with Macaroon Topping while looking for a way of using up three egg whites. I knew I wanted a chocolate element in the recipe, as part of the traybake was being given to my son, who is a chocoholic like me, and I think the idea of almond macaroons was floating in my subconsciousness as I'd recently made a frangipane topped tart. If I hadn't found this recipe, I would eventually have combined parts of other recipes I've used in the past to make something very similar - perhaps with a chocolate shortbread base.

I made a few adaptations to the recipe, both to cater for what was in the store cupboard and to avoid using more than one extra egg, which would then create more leftovers. This meant that I cracked one more egg to get 4 egg whites, then used the yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk in the chocolate layer, instead of a whole egg. I also used less jam between the chocolate base and the macaroon topping, and missed out the white chocolate chips altogether. Obviously I haven't tasted the original recipe, but I don't think this slice suffered from losing the sometimes sickly sweetness that white chocolate brings to already sweet enough recipes.

for the base:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g plain flour
pinch salt
3 tablespoons cocoa
60g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g apricot or raspberry jam, warmed slightly
( I had to use a mixture of apricot jam and marmalade to get this amount of jam, and sieved the mixture after warming to remove pieces of apricot and orange peel)

for macaroon topping
4 egg whites
150g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
a few drops of almond extract
flaked almonds for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 20cm(8") shallow square baking tin with parchment, making sure the paper covers the sides of the tin too.
Place all the ingredients for the base, except the jam, into a bowl, sifting in the flour, cocoa and icing sugar to avoid clumps. Beat with an electric mixer until smoothly combined, then spread the batter evenly into the baking tin. Bake for 15 minutes until firm.
Cool for 5 minutes, then spread with the jam.
Increase the oven temperature to 180C.
Make the topping by whisking the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then fold in the ground almonds, sugar and almond extract.
Pour this mixture over the base and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is golden and firm.
Cool in the tin before cutting into bars.

This was really delicious; definitely something to make again! The chocolate base was somewhere between a cake and a biscuit in texture. It wasn't very sweet either, which provided a good contrast to the sweet, chewy macaroon topping, and the jam between the layers.

Unfortunately, the slice was cut, wrapped and delivered to my children before I had time to look at the photographs, so I've only got good photographs of one of the two pieces I kept, so that we could taste it too.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Date and Walnut Squares

The recipe for the base and topping layers of these squares is perfect - the top is crisp, the bottom layer holds together well but is still very light, and it's really quick to make as the butter and sugar are melted together before being poured onto the flour mixture.

I've used the recipe before, for these Date and Ginger Squares, but wasn't entirely happy with the filling that time. This time, I used just dates, leaving out the currants, and added finely chopped walnuts instead of ginger. This combination was really tasty, but this is one of those recipes where I can imagine a wide variety of fillings working as well - at this time of year, mincemeat springs to mind, but dried apricots cooked in orange juice, or even a thick apple purée would be worth trying too!

250g pack of chopped dates
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
75g finely chopped walnuts
170g SR flour
170g semolina (I used 50:50 mix of semolina and ground rice, as I didn't have enough semolina)
170g butter
85g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C, and line a 20cm(8") square baking tin with parchment.
Put the dates into a small saucepan with the honey, water and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, cover the pan, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed - 10 minutes at the most, so keep an eye on it! Turn off the heat.

In another small pan, melt the butter and sugar together and stir until the sugar has mostly dissolved. Tip this onto the flour and semolina mix and stir in with a spoon. It will make a crumbly mixture which looks as if it might hold together if you kneaded it, but there's no need to do this!
Put 2/3 of the dough mix into the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spread the date filling on top of the dough base, leaving a very small margin around the edge of the tin.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top, as evenly as possible, and press down lightly with your hand. Don't worry if there are gaps where the filling shows through.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Mark into squares or fingers as soon as the bake is removed from the oven, but leave in the tin until completely cold - they are very fragile while warm.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Gingerbread with Macadamia Nuts and Cranberries

This is a traditional gingerbread recipe - one of those cakes where the top gets sticky over time! I added some chopped macadamia nuts and dried cranberries to use up supplies approaching the 'best-before' date. I'm happy to use dried fruit past it's best, but nuts can go stale quite quickly. I've been using this recipe for over 40 years know, but haven't found anything better. The amount of black treacle can be reduced to make a lighter cake, without the characteristic bitterness, as long as it is replaced by the same weight of golden syrup. The total weight of the two syrups must be 230g

110g butter
60g light muscovado sugar
170g black treacle
60g golden syrup
150mls milk
2 eggs
220g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
50g dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 150C and line a deep 20cm(8") square cake tin with baking parchment.
In a large saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, and syrups until the fat has melted. Remove from the heat, add the milk and cool until lukewarm.
Beat the eggs and blend into the melted mixture.
Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and add the liquid. Stir briskly to combine, but do not beat. Lastly stir in the fruit and nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin and preferably leave for a day before cutting.

I don't think the addition of fruit and nuts contributed much to the flavour, as the spiciness of  the gingerbread and the bitterness of treacle is so strong, but the nuts added a nice crunch to the texture.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Coconut, Apricot and Cranberry Cake

This was a small loaf cake, quickly put together from storecupboard ingredients. I used coconut oil, but a slightly larger quantity of butter could be used instead.

200g SR flour
40g desiccated coconut
100g caster sugar
100g coconut oil (or 115g butter, cut into small cubes)
1 large egg
60g dried cranberries
60g dried apricots, chopped into pieces of similar size to the cranberries
about 100mls semi-skimmed milk to mix

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a small 1lb/450g) loaf tin.
Put the flour into a large bowl. Cut in the coconut oil with a table knife or a fork, until the coconut oil is in very small pieces and well mixed in (if using butter, rub in as if making pastry).
Add the desiccated coconut, sugar and dried fruit.
Mix in the egg and enough milk to make a fairly stiff batter.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the surface and sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara sugar,
Bake for about 60 minutes, until golden and firm, and a test probe comes out dry.

Cranberries and apricots is one of my favourite combinations of dried fruit, and the coconut flavour in the cake worked well with this pairing. It's sheer bad luck that the slice of cake I took for the photograph shows such a weird uneven distribution of the two fruits at that point; it wasn't like that right through the cake!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Chocolate, Date and Walnut Bars

 Looking back over my blog posts I can see that it's been well over six years since I last made these. For me, that's one of the downsides of blogging - if you're usually trying to bake something new to write about, a lot of very good things often fall by the wayside.

These bars fit somewhere between a brownie and a cake; they are dense and chewy, but with a lot of the bulk being provided by dates, rather than butter and sugar, they are not as rich and guilt-inducing as brownies. The recipe comes from 'Wicked Chocolate' by Jane Suthering, and originally used 50:50 orange juice and water to soften the dates, but I couldn't taste the orange in the final cake, so decided it was a waste to use it. There is also a chocolate and yogurt frosting in the recipe (see my original post), but I'm not keen on the extra calories in frostings on things that are perfectly good enough without.


225g stoneless dates (chopped in halves widthways to check for stones - I always find at least one!)
250mls water
170g plain chocolate, around 70%, chopped roughly
115g softened butter
115g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
170g SR flour
115g walnuts, coarsely chopped


Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan. Line a 30 x 20cm(12 x 8") baking tin with baking parchment.
Put the dates and water into a small pan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 5 minutes to soften the dates, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate. (Note - not all the water is absorbed during the softening process.) Stir until the chocolate has melted.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the weighed flour.
Fold in the rest of the flour, followed by the chocolate mixture and lastly, the nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and spread evenly, then bake for around 20 minutes, until risen and firm.
Cool in the tin.
Cut into bars when cold. The original recipe suggests 24 pieces but I cut the cake into 18 bars.

Leaving the dates in quite large pieces means that there are noticeable chunks of them in the bars. If you wanted the bulk of the dates without the texture and flavour, I'd suggest chopping them more finely before cooking them, to make a coarse purée which then 'disappears' into the cake batter, as in a sticky toffee pudding.

As this is the only chocolate recipe I've made this month, I'm sending this to November's We Should Cocoa link-up at Tin and Thyme. Choclette has changed We Should Cocoa recently, so that any recipes including chocolate can be added; there is no longer a theme to follow.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Almond and Mocha Bundt

According to Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club, November 15th is National Bundt Cake Day. I don't know if this is just  a themed  'day' that's imported from America, but I thought it would be nice to bake a small bundt cake anyway. So here's a picture for Bundt Day.

I'm not going to share the recipe yet, as it still needs some work; it was an almond flavoured cake batter, containing crushed slivers of almonds for texture, layered with a mocha flavoured portion. I'd hoped the mixture would swirl during baking but the portion of the batter I'd flavoured with cocoa and coffee was too dense. Tasted good though!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Apple, Date and Ginger Cake

I often fall back on this recipe when what I'd really like is a fruit pie, but either I haven't got time to make pastry, or it just seems too much effort. The fruit filling is infinitely variable, depending on season and availability - this time I used the last of the small eating apples from our own trees, a handful of dates and a couple of tablespoons of ginger preserves. Once the fruit is prepared the dough can be made, and the cake assembled, in about 10 minutes.The only time things get less simple is if the fruit produces a lot of juice when cooked - then it really needs cooking in advance, draining and cooling.

peeled cored and sliced eating apples - about 400g after preparation
50-100g chopped dried dates (or sultanas)
100g ginger preserves
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
300g SR flour

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Prepare a 20cm(8") springform tin - I grease the tin, then line the base with baking parchment.
Mix the fruit and preserves in a small bowl and set aside. (I usually stand the sliced apples in acidulated water for a few minutes during preparation, then drain well before mixing in the dried fruit and preserves.)
Melt the butter, either in the microwave or in a pan on the hob. It doesn't need to be hot - just liquified. Transfer to a large mixing bowl if necessary, then mix in the caster sugar, followed by the egg. When these are mixed to a smooth paste, sift in the flour and stir in thoroughly to make a soft dough - it will be softer than pastry, and still quite sticky.
Put 2/3 of the dough into the base of the springform tin and spread evenly, using fingers.  At the edge of the tin raise the dough to make a small wall about 2cm high - this will help to enclose any fruit juices.
Spread the prepared fruit over the dough.
Break small pieces from the remaining dough and place on top of the fruit, trying to get a fairly even coverage. Flatten the pieces of dough, to get them to join up - they may not completely cover the fruit, but the dough will spread during baking. There's a picture here of a similar cake, during assembly, to illustrate things.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden and the cake feels firm. Cool in the pan before removing the sides.
Dust with icing sugar before serving, if liked.

I seem to have posted a lot of apple recipes this autumn, but my store of home-grown apples is finished now, so this is probably the last apple-y bake for a while!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Malted Apple Cake

At first glance, this recipe, from Country Living, doesn't look much different to most apple cake recipes, but the addition of just two tablespoons of malt extract makes a huge difference to the character of the cake. The flavour becomes more complex and the sweetness has a bitter edge to it. In addition, using wholemeal flour and muscovado sugar makes the cake look dark and mysterious - you just know that it's going to taste different! If you have a favourite apple cake recipe, try replacing some of the sugar (say 50g) with malt extract to see for yourself.

I have to confess that I didn't use Bramley apples, so my cake was probably a little sweeter than the recipe intended, as eating apples are naturally sweeter than Bramleys, but it certainly wasn't oversweet. I wanted to use eating apples as Bramley pieces have a habit of collapsing when baked into cakes, and just leaving little holes to show where they've been. I've also got a lot of small apples from the trees in my garden, which are really only useful for cooking, so I've been searching for new recipes to use them up.

The recipe wasn't completely trustworthy - I needed to add more than 2 tablespoons of milk to get a soft enough batter, the cake needed more like 75 minutes in the oven rather than the 45-60 minutes suggested, and I only sliced one apple for the topping and still had too many slices to use them all - perhaps my idea of a thin slice is different to Country Living's cook! When it came to cutting the cake, I found out why the apples used on the top needed to be peeled! I left the peel on to be sure the slices held together, but then couldn't cut through the apple to get neat slices of cake.

I realised, when I checked the recipe while writing this post, that I had used plain wholemeal flour instead of self-raising. If I'd read the recipe properly during baking, I'd have added extra baking powder, which would have made the cake a little lighter, although I didn't think it was too heavy as it was!

The photo of the cake, still in it's tin, isn't very good; there was no natural light by the time the cake came out of the oven, but I still wanted to photograph the cake before it was cut.

I think this cake recipe would also make a good traybake for a Bonfire party, topped with neat rows of apple slices - it would bake faster in a shallower tin, but it's pretty easy to check during baking so as not to overbake.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Chai Swirl Loaf Cake

My local branch of The Clandestine Cake Club held it's most recent meeting to coincide with the Great British Bake-Off final. I think it was an inspired idea from our organiser as it was fun to watch the final in the company of other enthusiastic bakers.  A very brief video of our meeting was even shown on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show the following day, during her tribute to GBBO and it's demise from the BBC.

For me, the final was a bit of an anti-climax, as it lacked the tensions of the previous weeks. Without an elaborate show-stopper which required assembly, there were no nail-biting moments when collapse looked imminent, and after the picnic finale, it seemed to me that Candice won more because of the others' soggy pastry than anything really outstanding on her part, which isn't how it should be.

Our brief for taking a cake to the Clandestine Cake Club meeting was any recipe from any of the GBBO contestants over the 7 years of competition. I have to admit that I don't own any books by any of the contestants (although I would like Chetna Makan's book), so I had to trawl the internet to see what I could find. I wanted something unusual in flavour, but not so fancy or complicated that I wouldn't enjoy baking it.

Because of her time as a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, there were a lot of Ruby Tandoh's recipes available. I made one of the recipes she published during that time and wasn't very impressed with the result, which rather put me off trying any more, but when I couldn't find anything else suitable from other contestants I had another look and found this recipe for a Chai Swirl Loaf Cake. It's based on the classic sponge cake proportions, and has a swirl of marbling made by adding brown sugar, and the spices traditionally used to flavour chai, to a portion of the batter. The recipe adds a cream cheese frosting, but I didn't use that for the trial bake.

For the trial I simplified the recipe by making an all-in-one sponge with SR flour and an extra half teaspoon of baking powder. Experience has shown that for simple cakes the all-in-one method works as well as the traditional creaming method, as long as the butter is very soft. I decided to add an extra tablespoon of milk to slacken the batter slightly, so that it would spread more easily in the cake tin.

The recipe suggested dolloping alternate spoonfuls of batter into the cake tin, and running a knife through to marble the two mixtures together, but the accompanying photo showed a cake produced by layering the batters alternately and letting the convection currents within the batter swirl the mixture as it cooked. I prefer this method which gives a much smarter appearance. So, starting with the plain batter, I layered up four layers of batter alternately with three layers of flavoured batter. Each layer was roughly two heaped tablespoons of batter, and needed to be eased towards the sides of the tin, although the weight of each successive layer helps spread those beneath.

The spices used in the flavoured portion of batter were cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper and they came together with the extra sugar to make a really unique mixture - warm, mellow, and sweet, with a slight mouth-tingling kick. I didn't think the cake really needed any frosting, as it was light and tender, but I did add a cream cheese frosting to the cake I make for the CCC meeting, although not Ruby's recipe, as I have a very reliable recipe from Dan Lepard. As usual, baking a cake for others didn't go as smoothly as the trial bake - for one thing, the cake stuck to my baking parchment liner - how could that have happened? - and the swirls weren't as well defined, but those who tried it really liked the unusual flavour.

This cake may not have been a show-stopper in appearance, but it was certainly a star when it came to flavour!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Blackberry and Coconut Crumble Cake

This cake is based on this recipe, although I made a few minor changes along the way. For a start, I didn't have enough butter in the house, so I decided to use coconut oil instead. As I reduced the amount of fat used in the recipe, to compensate for coconut oil being 100% fat, I thought I would need more liquid in the cake batter, but I only needed about half the volume of milk suggested in the recipe (and a couple of tablespoons of rum), to give a good dropping consistency. If I'd used the amount of liquid originally suggested, I'm not sure the blackberries would have stayed on the surface.

These are the ingredients I used to make the sponge base, which was spread into a 22cm springform tin: 160g coconut oil, 170g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla paste, 2 tablespoons rum, 150g SR flour, 150g plain flour, enough milk to give a dropping consistency (about 100mls). On top of this I spread 230g blackberries in a single layer, then topped with a crumble mix made from 75g plain flour, 50g butter, 55g light muscovado sugar and 45g desiccated coconut. This was baked at 180C for 85 minutes, covered with foil after an hour.

I wasn't expecting a light sponge, as there was double the amount of flour to fat and sugar, and half of it was plain flour, but this really was a dense cake! It was very tasty though, as it wasn't over-sweet and the tang of the blackberries was still evident. The coconut in the crumble added a good flavour and texture, and it was nice to use blackberries with something other than apples.

Because of the denseness of the sponge, this would probably have been better as a warm dessert, with custard, as suggested. I think if I made it again as a cake, I would use all SR flour to try to make it a little lighter.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Apple Pie Flapjacks

Although these flapjacks, containing fresh apple, certainly filled the kitchen with the smell of apple pie while they were baking, to me, with the texture given by the oats, they were more evocative of apple crumble, as I always use oats in my crumble mixes.

I have to admit that I was dubious about this recipe. Would adding such a large amount of grated apple put too much moisture into the mix? Would it hold together? Would the flapjacks be crisp, chewy or just a soggy mess? The oat mixture made a good thick layer in the baking tin, which was a promising start, as thin flapjacks can become too crisp.

In fact, the flapjacks were fine, while they were fresh, but they didn't keep that well, becoming progressively more moist until they were much too soft for my taste. I like my flapjacks chewy, rather than biscuit-crisp, but I don't like them flabby. The flavour was excellent though, so if the flapjacks are going to be eaten all in one go, soon after baking - at a Hallowe'en or Bonfire party, for instance - then I'd say go for it!

Adding fresh apple reduced the 'almost too much' sweetness that you can get with flapjacks too, as well as making them seem more healthy, and the flavour of apples and cinnamon came through well. If there was any criticism it would be that 50g of walnuts wasn't enough to make a real impact.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Orange and Ginger Brownies

an extra post for Chocolate Week

I wasn't going to post this recipe, as it was a hurriedly made treat for my son to take home with him after having dinner with us, and I wasn't sure I'd get time for any photographs, but I've been reminded several times on Facebook that it's Chocolate Week this week. Nearly every week is chocolate week here, but I hadn't planned a post based on baking with chocolate.

This was my basic brownie recipe, which is dense and fudgy, with the zest of an orange and some  crystallised ginger added. Delicious!

Melt together 140g butter and 140g plain chocolate. Add 300g light muscovado sugar and the finely grated zest of an orange, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. If necessary, cool this mixture a little before the next stage, so that the mixture isn't too hot to take the eggs. Add three eggs, one at a time and beat in. Sieve in 160g plain flour and 3 tablespoons of cocoa and fold in. Lastly fold in 50g (or more if you have it, I was using the last of a pack!) of crystallised ginger, chopped as coarsely or finely as you like. Transfer the batter to a 20cm (8") square tin, lined with baking parchment, and bake at 180C for about 30 minutes until just set. Cool in the tin.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Apple and Orange Fruit Loaf

When I'm short of inspiration, I sometimes look back over my blog posts to find cakes I thought were worth making again. I first tried this recipe back in October 2012, so it's taken me a while to get back to it, but it was worth making again!

When I originally made this Orange Frosted Apple Cake, I left out the nuts and just used an orange glacé icing on top. This time I made a few more changes: I used spelt flour instead of wholemeal, sunflower oil rather than rapeseed, walnuts instead of pecans, and a mix of dried vine fruits, berries and cherries. Instead of frosting the cooked cake, I sprinkled some crushed raw sugar cubes over the batter before baking to give a crunchy topping - I find the extra fat and sugar in frostings unnecessary in many cases, unless the cake is for a special occasion.

The grated apple and yogurt used in the cake add moistness, and mean that less fat - in this case, sunflower oil - can be used. Adding the apple also cuts down on the sugar needed, so this is a relatively healthy cake, especially without the frosting! The apple doesn't add much to the flavour of the cake, so in this case the walnuts and spices were the predominant flavours, with a subtle orange background note.

I really don't know why I waited so long to make this cake again, as it's a really good light fruit cake and can be varied according to which dried fruits and nuts are available.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Fudgy Chocolate and Pistachio Slice

I intended to bake this recipe, for mocha brownies on a shortbread base, but when I found myself with half a packet of digestive biscuits which needed to be used up, I decided to put the fudgy topping from the recipe onto a biscuit crumb base instead.

I think I used about 150g of biscuits and 75g melted butter to make the crumb base, which I pressed into the base of a 20cm ( 8") square baking tin, and chilled while I made the topping. The mixture for the topping was very easy to put together, as it is based on a can of condensed milk.

To a 400g can of condensed milk add: 30g plain flour, 1 large egg, 65g cocoa, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 2 teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water. When this is evenly combined, fold in 75g of chopped nuts - in this case I used pistachios. Spread the mixture over the crumb base and bake at 180C for about 25 minutes until the centre is set. Cool in the tin and cut into squares or fingers when cold.

These little treats were delicious. The topping is like a really fudgy sweet brownie, as you'd expect from using a can of condensed milk. My only criticism was that the amount of crumb base wasn't enough. I used the amount of biscuits I had available, but if I made these again I would use more biscuits and butter to make a thicker base.

I'm sending this to October's We Should Cocoa link-up, hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme. Any recipe containing some form of chocolate is welcome to be added.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Courgette and Apricot Cake

This was a last ditch attempt to make a light and sponge-like courgette cake. After the numerous attempts I've made, I've always said that I wanted a cake which was as light as the 'Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake' (I can't bear that name!) on the Good Food site, and that each particular version I tried wasn't quite right!

Finally the light dawned - why not use that recipe, with courgettes instead of carrots?

As I've often thought that the problems with courgette cakes are down to courgettes being a much more watery vegetable than carrots, I grated about 30% more courgettes than the recipe required and squeezed out as much excess water as possible, using a clean tea-towel, before weighing the 140g needed. I replaced the raisins with chopped dried apricots and used 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg as the only spice, leaving out the cinnamon. Everything else followed the recipe!

Surprise, surprise - it worked! I'm sure that part of the reason this recipe was more technically successful was that it used a smaller proportion of courgettes than other recipes I've tried, and the other part was probably down to squeezing out excess water. The flavour of the cake was less successful -  I didn't feel that the dried apricots and nutmeg worked well together - but that's easily remedied in the future.

I'm happy to find a courgette cake recipe which gives me what I've been looking for, although it isn't one that will make a huge dent in the usual summer glut!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Spiced Chocolate Gingerbread

This Spiced Chocolate Gingerbread made a welcome change from the delicate summer cakes made with seasonal fresh fruit. I always look forward to the more robust flavours of Autumn baking - apples, blackberries, pears and even quince if I'm lucky enough to find any - and the feeling that dried fruit and spices are seasonal ingredients once again.

This gingerbread, an adaptation of this Green and Black's recipe, contains spices and chopped prunes as well as chocolate. I didn't have any Maya Gold chocolate, so used plain dark chocolate and added orange zest and mixed spice, instead of cinnamon to try to replicate the flavour as near as possible.

Although the method followed that of a classic recipe for gingerbread, the flavour of the chocolate was strong, and the use of black treacle gave a good bitter edge to the cake. It made me wonder why the  melting method and similar ingredients (without the spices) is never used to make a plain chocolate cake - it's something I'm going to try soon!