Friday, 29 July 2016

Apple and Berry Crumble Cake

I've still got blackberries from last year, and also found a small container of frozen blueberries while assessing the space in the freezer, prior to this year's gooseberry harvest. I'd also got a couple of Bramley apples to use up, so something using all three seemed a good idea.

This recipe, for an Apple and Berry Crumble Cake, which I found on the Good to Know site, was quick to put together, as part of the base mixture was put aside for the crumble topping, rather than needing to make two separate mixtures. I used 300g total weight of mixed blackberries and blueberries as I had less than 100g of blueberries in my little pot in the freezer. I didn't bother thawing the berries ahead of use, either! In place of the mixed nuts in the topping, I used toasted chopped hazelnuts, but apart from these minor changes, I followed the recipe exactly. I didn't need to cover the cake while it was baking - even after the full cooking time it was only lightly browned.

I was worried that the combination of Bramley apples and frozen fruit would make the cake too wet but this wasn't the case, if anything the crumble topping was too dry and powdery. I think this would have made the cake quite unpleasant to eat on it's own, but it was fine as a dessert with vanilla yogurt. The fruit didn't have any extra sugar added to it, so it made a nice sharp layer between the sponge and the crumble.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Two 'Everyday' Fruit Loaves

(i) Sultana and Orange and (ii) Coconut and Cranberry

Here are two quick mid-week cakes I've made recently, using mostly storecupboard ingredients, and the same basic recipe.

Sultana and Orange Loaf
225g SR flour
110g butter
85g caster sugar
1 egg
milk to mix - up to 6 tablespoons

demerara sugar to top (optional)

Sultana and Orange - add the grated zest of a large orange and 150g sultanas.

Coconut and Cranberry - reduce the flour by 25g, and add 50g desiccated coconut, 75g dried cranberries and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Coconut and Cranberry Loaf
Preheat the oven to 175C and line a small (1lb/450g) loaf tin.
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the sugar and the dry ingredients of your choice.
Add the egg, vanilla extract (if using) and enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
Transfer the batter to the loaf tin, level the top and sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of demerara sugar, if liked.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Chocolate Biscuits with White Chocolate Buttercream Filling

I mentioned in my last post that there was some white chocolate buttercream left over after making my birthday cake, so I decided to use it to sandwich together some chocolate flavoured biscuits.

This also gave me the chance to try out my new embossed rolling pin - a lovely birthday present from my daughter.

I chose a recipe which I've been using for many years, as I knew it didn't spread in the oven, but to be on the safe side, I also left out the small amount of baking powder which is usually added, as the instructions with the rolling pin stressed that recipes without leavening agents should be used. It was only a small batch of dough, but this was just a trial to see if the recipe worked. The amount of dough in the recipe below made 12 x 6cm diameter biscuits.

To make the biscuit dough, rub 50g butter into 75g plain flour, 25g cornflour and a pinch of salt. (1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder is usually added at this stage). Add 50g caster sugar and a level tablespoon cocoa. Add a teaspoon of coffee essence and enough milk (I used about 50ml of milk with a teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in it) to make a stiff dough. Knead lightly and roll out on a floured surface with a plain rolling pin, to about 0.5cm in thickness, then roll over once with the embossed rolling pin. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment. Try not to handle the surface at this stage. Bake at 180C for 10-12 minutes, then cool on a wire tray. Sandwich with chosen filling.

It took a while to work out how hard I needed to press with the rolling pin, and some of the first biscuits didn't hold the pattern well, but I got enough well-defined biscuits to use as the top layer. I think my dough was a little too sticky initially, as the re-rollings, after flour had been sprinkled about, were the best.

The white chocolate and mascarpone buttercream was very rich, and overwhelmed the flavour of the biscuits somewhat, but that didn't really matter - I got to practice with my rolling pin!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate and Mascarpone Buttercream

My son and I both have July birthdays, and we are both chocoholics, which makes decisions on birthday cakes very easy. What's not so easy is finding something new and 'special' to make each year. I was in the process of looking for this year's cake when this recipe from Dan Lepard popped up on my Facebook page. I still miss Dan's weekly column in the Guardian newspaper, so the fact that he has new recipes appearing occasionally on Australian Good Food is very exciting for me. Even though I'm not a big fan of white chocolate (neither eating it nor using it), this cake seemed just what I was looking for, so I was prepared to try white chocolate once more.

My first problem, after reading the recipe, was finding solid-based deep sponge tins. After finding only one brand in my local cookware shop, at £10 a tin, I went for a cheap supermarket brand. I bought 3 tins for less than £10 - my thinking, which proved correct, was that they weren't very deep, so I would probably need to make three layers, rather than two. Incidentally, another surprise, while shopping, was to notice that silicone bakeware has almost disappeared from the marketplace. I've never been a big fan of silicone for large cakes as the early examples were too flexible, and bulged in the wrong places, but  I thought those problems had been overcome. I didn't realise the trend had passed altogether!

The second problem was that the three cakes didn't rise very evenly, probably due to uneven heating. Although I was using the fan oven to cook all three cakes at the same time, two of the cakes were on the same shelf and quite near to the walls of the oven. These irregularities were overcome, when assembling the cake, by slicing an off-centre bulge off one cake, carefully positioning the bottom two cakes so that the overall effect was level, and choosing the best cake for the top layer.

Apart from that everything went smoothly, even though it was quite an unconventional recipe. I decided to use sunflower oil rather than olive oil, but that was the only change I made to the ingredients. Once the cake batter was made and divided between three tins, using scales for accuracy, they only needed 25 minutes in the oven.

I was really careful when melting the white chocolate for the buttercream, as I've always had problems in the past. I used Green and Black's White Cooking Chocolate, as it had the highest levels of cocoa solids of all the brands I could find. I put the bowl of chocolate over a pan of just boiled water and removed it when the chocolate was about 2/3 melted, so that it didn't overheat. I was also careful not to overbeat the mixture when adding the mascarpone and white chocolate to the basic buttercream, as mentioned in the recipe. The recipe made more than enough buttercream to fill and top the three cakes - I still had leftovers, even with the additional layer! Just to finish off, I topped the cake with a dusting of grated 100% cacao

I was very pleased with this cake; the cake layers were dark, rich, tender and very moist - everything you want in a special occasion chocolate cake! The buttercream didn't seem as sweet as I expected, possibly because of the addition of the mascarpone, and complimented the bitter notes of the cake very well. Green and Black's White Cooking Chocolate contains quite a lot of vanilla, and this additional flavour worked well in the buttercream too.

I'm sending this cake to July's We Should Cocoa event, hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme. Choclette also has a July birthday, as do many of her friends and family, so wants participants in this long-running event to just celebrate July with chocolate! Anything goes, as far as a theme is concerned, as long as it's celebratory, so my birthday cake should fit in well!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Rhubarb and Pecan Crumble Cake

We're coming to the end of the rhubarb season now, and many of the stalks are too tough to use, so I'm always on the lookout for recipes which use smaller quantities of fruit. That means I can pick the few tender stems and leave the rest of the leaves to pass goodness back to the crown, to feed the plant for next year's growth.

This recipe, for a simple rhubarb and crumble topped sponge cake, which I found on the Tesco website, looked easy enough, and only used 250g of fruit,  but I ended up using four mixing bowls, which is more than I like to use unless I'm cooking for a special occasion. I followed the recipe exactly (except for using pecans instead of walnuts), but made the cake in a 22cm (9") springform tin. The only thing that didn't go according to plan was that it took an hour in the oven before I was satisfied that it was properly cooked - that was a bit of a surprise, as it was quite a hot oven too!

The cake was quite tasty  but I didn't think the rhubarb, which should have been the star of the show, really came through in the flavour. The rhubarb was sandwiched between two substantial layers of crumble, and while the bottom layer soaked up the juices from the raw fruit, so that the sponge cake didn't become soggy, the brown sugar in the crumble gave a toffee flavour which overwhelmed the rhubarb.

Overall, probably not worth the effort!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Peanut Butter Brownies

Although I love late spring and early summer, when I can use the seasonal fruit I grow, occasionally the chocolate urge gets the better of me.

I'm still waiting for my gooseberries to ripen, but in between rhubarb cakes and crumbles, I made these peanut butter brownies, from I didn't have crunchy peanut butter, so added 30g finely chopped roasted peanuts (not salted) to 170g smooth peanut butter. I also warmed the peanut butter a little, so that the chopped nuts could be mixed in easily; this also made it easier to swirl the PB through the brownie batter.

The recipe used a slightly unusual, but easy, method of making the brownies. Although quite a lot of excess fat soaked into the baking parchment lining the baking tin, during cooking, the brownies themselves didn't seem greasy. Some of the comments on the recipe thought there was too much PB, but we both liked the fact that the peanut flavour was really strong. My only complaint was that the brownies were a bit thin.

I've previously used my favourite recipe for brownies, and combined it with peanut butter and jam (jelly) to make these brownies, and I think that if I want to make peanut butter brownies in the future I will go back to using that recipe for the chocolate base, as it makes brownies that are just the right thickness and just the right fudginess for my taste. Why tinker with perfection?