Sunday, 17 December 2017

Fig, Ginger and Chocolate Loaf Cake

This is a simple, small loaf cake, made by the rubbing-in method, so you don't even have to think far enough ahead to allow time for your butter to soften. It can be in the oven within a few minutes of gathering the ingredients together. You can add any combination of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, spices and other flavourings to the basic cake recipe; I chose some of my seasonal favourites - dried figs, crystallised ginger and dark chocolate.

This recipe makes a fairly robust cake, but as long as the batter isn't too loose, it will support quite chunky pieces of fruit and nuts. This means that it's possibly to taste all the individual additions. The combination of figs, ginger and chocolate worked really well together, although a touch of spice and orange zest would have made it even more festive.

Ingredients
200g SR flour
100g butter or hard baking fat (such as Stork)
80g caster sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
milk to mix
*100-150g 'add-ins'
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (optional)

*  I used 50g each of dried figs, crystallised ginger and 70% chocolate, all chopped into similar sized pieces

Method
Preheat the oven to 175C and line a small (1lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or use a loaf-tin liner.
Put the flour into a large bowl and rub in the butter, as if making pastry, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Mix in the sugar.
Add the egg, vanilla extract and enough milk to give a fairly soft batter - you'll need at least 5 tablespoons. Just stir the batter briskly - don't beat it!
Fold in your chosen 'add-ins'.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin, level the mixture and sprinkle with the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, until a test probe comes out cleanly.
Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.



Saturday, 9 December 2017

Date Shortbread Squares

 - gluten-free, plus dairy-free option

This is an adaptation of my favourite 'shortbread squares' recipe, which comes from 'On Baking' by Sue Lawrence, to make it gluten-free. Instead of wheat flour and semolina, I used a gluten-free flour, ground rice and added a little xanthan gum. It's the shortbread part of the recipe which is so good - quick to make, as it uses melted butter, and very crisp and light after it's baked. Any type of filling can be used, such as mincemeat or re-hydrated and cooked dried apricots - just make sure it's not too wet; for this version I made the filling from dates flavoured with pomegranate molasses, cinnamon and a little rosewater.

Ingredients
Filling:
225g dates - chopped
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon rosewater

Shortbread:
255g gluten-free plain flour
85g ground rice
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
170g butter (or hard vegetable fat such as Stork*)
85g caster sugar

*see note at end of post

Method
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan)

Start by making the filling. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes until the dates are soft. At this stage you can blend the filling until smooth, but I prefer to just mash the dates with a fork, to make a rough purée. You may also need to add a splash more water to make the purée easy to spread, if all the added liquid has been absorbed during cooking.

For the shortbread, mix the gluten-free flour, ground rice and xanthan gum in a bowl.
Warm the butter and sugar together in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved, then pour onto the flour mixture. Stir well to combine thoroughly - the mixture will form a crumbly dough.
Put 2/3 of the dough into a 20cm (8") square shallow tin, lined with baking parchment, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spoon over the date filling, spread evenly, leaving a small margin around the edges.
Use your hands to crumble the remaining shortbread mixture evenly over the dates to cover as much as possible, and press down lightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 30 minutes until pale golden in colour. Cut into squares (16) while still hot, but leave the squares to cool completely before trying to remove them from the tin, as they are fragile when warm.

My only criticism of these is that the added flavourings were a little too subtle - both the cinnamon and the rosewater could have been increased.

* Dairy-free: I made a second batch of these date shortbread squares which were dairy-free as well as gluten-free, using Stork vegetable fat instead of butter. The shortbread was a little more crumbly than when using butter, for some reason, and they didn't taste as rich, but the recipe was largely successful.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Apricot and Lemon Bread and Butter Pudding

I made this 2-portion pudding in individual dishes, but if it was made in one dish it could easily feed three people; I was a little too greedy! The ingredients list is a bit vague, because the only thing I measured accurately was the milk.

Ingredients
*4 thick slices of brioche, each about 10cm square
butter, softened
apricot jam
a handful of soft dried apricots, chopped
a small chunk of glacé lemon peel chopped finely (optional)
2 medium eggs
225mls semi-skimmed milk
zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon caster sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling on top
freshly grated nutmeg

*or use plain white bread from a small loaf  - slightly stale bread can be used for this sort of pudding

Method
Thickly butter two individual baking dishes, which have roughly 350mls capacity each (or use one larger dish).
Mix the apricots and peel together, if using.
Use more butter and some apricot jam (fairly thinly spread), to make two sandwiches with the brioche.
Cut the sandwiches into suitably sized pieces to fit into your chosen dishes - I cut mine into 8 tiny triangles to get a tight fit.
Share half the pieces of sandwich between each dish and sprinkle with 2/3 of the fruit.
Arrange the rest of sandwiches on top, trying to keep the top fairly level and sprinkle over the rest of the fruit.
Mix the eggs, milk, lemon zest and caster sugar together in a jug and divide equally between the two dishes. Leave to stand for up to an hour to allow the custard mixture to soak into the bread.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan). Sprinkle a little more sugar over each pudding and then grate over some nutmeg.
Cook for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp on top. One large pudding might take a few minutes longer.

This was a tasty version of the standard B & B pudding - the touch of lemon, and the tartness of the dried apricots, cut through the sweetness added by the jam.

I apologise for the awful photo - I wanted to get the puddings fresh from the oven, as they deflate as they cool and don't look so attractive, so had to use flash.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Carrot and Feta Loaf

 I have a great fondness for savoury cakes - in the summer they make a good addition to a meal based on salad, and in the winter they are great with vegetable soups and even hearty meat stews, if you are careful about using complimenting flavours. This delicious Carrot and Feta Loaf, from this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (last recipe of the three), fed me for four days, without any need to cook extra carbohydrates for my evening meals. It was good with both a potato and leek soup and a vegetable chilli, amongst other things. Hugh suggests that savoury cakes make good pre-dinner nibbles with the first glass of wine, and these recipes can also be cooked in muffin tins, making them suitable for lunch boxes.

I followed the recipe exactly, although the loaf need another 10 minutes on the baking time, before I was satisfied that it was completely cooked through (I was using a colour-changing probe to test). The only thing I would do differently, in the future, would be to bake it in a smaller tin, to get a better loaf shape. The recipe specified a 1.5litre loaf tin, but I think a standard 900ml (2lb) tin would have been better, or the 20cm tin mentioned at the top of the recipe. As you can see from my photos, I got a very shallow loaf from my baking tin, which was 30cm long and 10cm wide.


The cumin in the loaf came through quite strongly, but blended well with the dill and cheese to give a well-balanced flavour overall - both the onions and the carrots were there as background, rather than principle, flavours. The loaf was quite close textured but didn't seem too stodgy; this is definitely something to repeat.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Spelt Flour Gingerbread

I've alluded to health problems within the family in a few of my recent posts, which have cut down on my free time and resulted in very little baking taking place. I'm sad to say that I'm now entering a new phase of my life - living on my own for the first time ever. My husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June, after becoming ill while on holiday in France; an operation failed to halt its aggressive growth and he passed away last week, just 4 months after diagnosis.

I'm not sure what this will mean in terms of this blog - I love baking, but a small cake suitable for two to eat over a few days is too much for me to get through, especially as I'm prone to gaining weight easily. I could bake things suitable for freezing, but if I'm taking slices of cake, or rolls of biscuit dough, out of the freezer, that still means fewer opportunities to try new recipes. We'll have to see how things work out!

This gingerbread was baked when I was expecting family to visit over the weekend; what wasn't eaten was taken home by my children. It is as good as a traditional gingerbread, which gets a sticky top over time, but uses oil instead of butter. My original recipe uses plain flour, but this time I used a mixture of plain wheat flour and spelt flour - only because I haven't managed to keep my storecupboard well stocked lately, and didn't have enough plain flour. Because of the strong flavours of the spices and treacle in the gingerbread, I don't think the flavour of the spelt was evident at all, but it's nice to know the recipe worked with one of the more 'fashionable' grains.

Ingredients
150g plain flour
200g spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sunflower oil
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
250mls of roughly equal amounts of golden syrup and black treacle, mixed with 250mls hot water (ie 500mls liquid in total)

Method
Preheat oven to 170C (150C fan), and line a 20cm (8") square deep cake tin with baking parchment.
Put the flours, bicarb, spices and salt into a medium sized bowl and whisk together to distribute the spices evenly.
In a large bowl whisk the oil, egg and sugar to a smooth emulsion.
Add alternate portions of the flour mix and the syrup mixture to the emulsion in the large bowl, stirring just enough to blend the mixture together - no need to beat.
Transfer the batter to the cake tin and bake for 50-55 minutes until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the baking tin.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Date, Apple and Walnut Cake

I bought walnuts for my last bake - Nigella's Emergency Brownies - and I know that they don't keep fresh for long, so decided to use them in this cake too. I added a twist to the traditional British autumnal flavours of dates, apples and walnuts by using date syrup in place of some of the sugar and adding a little rosewater too.

Ingredients
100g softened butter
75g caster sugar
3 tablespoons date syrup
*1 teaspoon rosewater
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
50g chopped soft dates
50g chopped walnuts
1 small eating apple, peeled cored and chopped
a sprinkle of demerara sugar for topping (optional)

*or to taste, depending on the strength of the brand you are using

Method
Preheat oven to 180C (fan 160C) and line a small 450g (1lb) loaf tin. I used a loaf tin liner, but baking parchment can be used too.
Put the butter, sugar, syrup, rosewater, eggs and flour into a large bowl and beat together until the mixture is smooth and light. If the batter seems too thick, add a little milk or water to give a dropping consistency.
Stir in the dates, walnuts and apple pieces.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin, level the surface and sprinkle on the demerara sugar, if using.
Bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Using the date syrup intensified the date flavour, and deepened the colour of the cake crumb, which I was pleased about. I liked the flavour combination of dates, apples and walnuts with rosewater, but it became a summery cake rather than an autumnal one. Probably fitting, as we seem to be having a bit of an Indian summer at the moment, but for a really seasonal cake a little cinnamon or other spice would have been better than the rosewater.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Nigella Lawson's Emergency Brownies

Many people I know are at a stage of their lives where they don't need to cook for large numbers; for whatever reason most of their cooking is done for only one or two people. This is something that makes baking particularly difficult, at least for me - a standard sized cake can take 4 or 5 days for 2 people to eat. I could freeze slices of cake, but my freezer organisation is notoriously bad so I'm sure I'd end up with a drawer full of slices that had dried out and grown ice crystals, so would have to be thrown away in the end.

It seems that Nigella Lawson may have found herself in the position of craving cake and/or chocolate, but being unwilling to bake something large, as her new book, At My Table, contains a recipe for these Emergency Brownies - a recipe based on one egg and making only 4 generously sized brownies (or even fewer if your craving is really strong!).

I can't link to the recipe as it's not online anywhere yet, but I'm sure it will be soon appear once the TV series accompanying the book is shown, and the book is being more vigourously promoted. Suffice to say that butter, sugar and syrup (I used Maple) are melted together gently to dissolve the sugar. Then a mixture of plain flour and cocoa is beaten in, an egg and vanilla extract added, and finally chopped walnuts and chocolate chips added (I used chopped plain chocolate with orange pieces). The batter is baked in a foil tray which is approximately 18 x 11cm (I couldn't find that exact size, but it's roughly the same as a 1lb loaf tin, or this size of container from Lakeland).

20 minutes baking left these brownies still slightly gooey in the centre even when completely cold. They were very rich - I ate two pieces and felt I had reached my limit - and quite heavy; not the best brownies I've ever eaten but a really good small-scale recipe. I'll certainly be using it again. The orange flavour from the chocolate I used was a nice note alongside the walnuts, but I can see this recipe working well with all the flavour variations I use in brownies - different nuts, spices etc

Friday, 22 September 2017

Autumn Glory


I'm really looking forward to harvesting these 4 quince, in about a month's time. My fruit growing book says they should be left on the tree until the end of October.

I think I will peel, core and slice them, then poach until tender and freeze in small batches, so that they can be added to things like pear or apple desserts over the winter.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Raisin and Coconut Flapjack

Various family issues have meant that baking time has gone out of the window at the moment. I haven't really baked much since sometime in Spring, when Hubby said he wanted to cut down on cakes and puddings to lose a bit of weight. Nearly all my posts since April have been clearing a backlog of things which hadn't been written about. However, I did want to make something for the Bank Holiday weekend, as a little indulgence seemed acceptable.

I've said before that flapjacks are a really good way of using up ends of packets in the baking storecupboard, and this sometimes leads to exciting flavour combinations that work really well. This time I also had a pack of granola breakfast cereal that needed using up - it was just a basic granola containing raisins and almonds, so I added some golden raisins and desiccated coconut to up the flavour a bit. Granola already contains quite a lot of sugar, and often some fat too, so my basic flapjack recipe had to be adjusted a little to compensate for this.

Ingredients
140g butter
50g golden syrup
80g light muscovado sugar
165g granola breakfast cereal
100g porridge oats
35g golden raisins
35g desiccated coconut

Method
Line a 20cm (8") square shallow baking tin with parchment, folding it so that the sides of the tin are lined too. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together. I usually do this in a large mixing bowl in the microwave, but a saucepan on the hob is fine too. The mixture doesn't have to boil, just get hot enough for the sugar to dissolve.
Stir in the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Transfer to the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Bake for 25 minutes, until just turning golden brown. This timing gives a chewy flapjack - if you like it crunchy, then bake for a little longer.
Cool for a few minutes, then cut into fingers or squares, but don't remove from the tin until completely cold.
 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Blueberry and Lemon Polenta Cake

gluten-free

We planted two blueberry bushes earlier this year, but we weren't sure whether or not they would bear fruit straight away. Fortunately they did, although the fruit doesn't all ripen at once, so I'm picking 100-150g every five days or so. I've also found out that I really prefer cooked blueberries to raw, so I've made blueberry sauce for some cheesecake pots, and added some to baked rhubarb.

I decided to put the latest pickings into a cake, but had to find a recipe using a small amount. I also had some lemons that needed using, so a blueberry and lemon cake seemed in order. I soon found this Sainsbury's recipe for a lemon and blueberry polenta cake, which only used 100g of fruit. I had to adapt the recipe a little, using vanilla yogurt instead of natural. As I was using a yogurt with a separate topping of toasted oat flakes (about a tablespoonful), I sprinkled them on top of the cake too.

This was a deliciously light cake, although I think it could have taken another 50g of fruit, as the blueberries were very thinly spread. The zest of another lemon would have improved the flavour from my point of view but I do like a tart lemon cake - others might appreciate the subtlety of a milder flavour.

It's also nice to add another gluten-free cake to my repertoire.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Chocolate Chip and Orange Cookie Bars

 Despite knowing that recipes existed for baking cookie dough in a tray, it seemed quite difficult to find a suitable recipe, even on blogs and websites well-known for cookie recipes. Perhaps I was using the wrong search words, as it wasn't until I looked at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial that the word 'slab' cropped up! Or perhaps I was just being fussy - I needed a recipe to suit my store-cupboard ingredients, as I didn't have an opportunity to shop.

I used half quantities of Celia's recipe, (also here for ingredients, and method for making individual cookies) and baked in a 20cm(8") square tin. I made a couple of minor changes - I used 180g plain chocolate, roughly chopped, and added the finely grated zest of an orange. A classic flavour combination that's hard to beat!

Cookie Bars don't have the aesthetic appeal of individually baked cookies, but, boy, are they quicker to make! These were particularly tender, with a 'melt-in-the mouth' texture, so I'm sure I'll be using the recipe again.

Ingredients
200g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
large pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 orange
110g light muscovado sugar
50g caster sugar
125g softened butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
180g 70% chocolate, roughly chopped

Method
Preheat the oven to 150C fan setting, and line a 20cm (8") square baking tin with parchment.
Whisk flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and orange zest together in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl cream the sugars and butter together, then add the vanilla extract, egg and a tablespoon of flour (to prevent curdling) and mix until just combined.
With the mixer on a low speed, add the rest of the flour mix, and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate pieces by hand.
Transfer the dough to the baking tin and spread evenly, using damp fingers, or the back of a large metal spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes, until firm and just beginning to colour. Cool in the tin, then cut into bars.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Red Gooseberry and Orange Crumble

I wouldn't normally add a post about what is essentially my usual crumble recipe, but I haven't baked anything for over two months now, so need to keep the blog alive! 'Not-baking' started with a need for both of us to lose a little weight before going away to France, so that the inevitable excesses of holiday eating didn't have too great an impact. Unfortunately, we then returned from holiday to face a family health crisis, which hasn't left me with any time to bake.

But, however little time you have, the garden continues to demand attention - this weekend it was the red gooseberries which needed harvesting. There was only 300g of fruit on  the bush, not quite the amount I usually use, so I added a chopped up orange segments to the gooseberries, and the zest of the orange to the crumble mix. It added an interesting dimension to the flavour.

Ingredients
80g plain flour
80g porridge oats
80g light muscovado sugar
80g butter, in small cubes
1 orange
300g prepared gooseberries
50g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground rice (to thicken the fruit juices)

Method
Put the flour, oats, muscovado sugar and butter into a large bowl, and add the finely grated zest of the orange. Rub in the butter to make the crumble mix.
Cut the peel and pith from the orange, over the dish in which you are going to bake the crumble to save any juice. Cut the orange into small pieces, then mix with the gooseberries, caster sugar and ground rice, in the baking dish.
Scatter over the crumble mix and press down lightly.
Bake at 200C (180C fan), for about 45 minutes, until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbling.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Peanut Butter and Honeycomb Biscuits

I regularly visit some of the Australian food websites, such as Australian Good Food, and the Australian Women's Weekly website (Food to Love), and it was on Food to Love that I noticed this recipe for Peanut Butter and Honeycomb Biscuits. I assumed - perhaps incorrectly - that Violet Crumble Bars were the same as our Crunchie Bars, and made a batch of biscuits as soon as I'd acquired the Crunchie Bars.

It was a really simple dough to mix, and the biscuits were quick to cook. My biscuits were slightly larger than they should have been, as I only got 24 out of a batch of dough, rather than 30, but they were about the size I'd expect a biscuit to be, so I wasn't too worried about that. The longest wait, as usual, was for the drizzle of melted chocolate to set, so that the biscuits could be packed into an airtight container.

The biscuits were tasty and had an interesting texture, neither crisp nor chewy - more melt in the mouth crumbly. However, I was disappointed that the Crunchie pieces had melted to become little pockets of chewy sugar, rather than retaining the crisp honeycomb texture. I'd half expected this, but it does seem a waste to add the honeycomb when this happens during baking. The recipe would have been just as good - perhaps better - with small pieces of chocolate fudge or soft toffees used instead.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Apricot, Date and Ginger Flapjack

Flapjacks are often my 'go to' recipe, when I need something quick to mix and bake. In this case it was after an afternoon working in the garden, so that the flapjacks could bake while I was getting dinner ready. Once you have melted the butter and sugars together, it only takes a few more minutes to get the tray into the oven. The other good thing about flapjacks is they are ideal for using up the last remnants of bags of dried fruit, to stop them building up in the store cupboard.

Ingredients
60g dried apricots
40g dried dates
30g crystallised ginger
160g butter
70g golden syrup
100g light muscovado sugar
240g porridge oats

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and line a 20cm (8") square shallow baking tin with a single piece of baking parchment, folding it into the corners, so that the sides of the tin are lined too.
Chop the dried fruit and ginger into pieces about the size of a sultana.
Melt the butter,  golden syrup and sugar together - I find it easiest to use a mixing bowl in the microwave, but a saucepan on the hob is fine too.
Add the oats, dried fruit and ginger and mix together thoroughly. Tip into the baking tin and spread evenly, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden. This baking time gives a chewy flapjack; if you like yours crisp, then add a few more minutes.
Cut into squares or fingers while still hot, but cool completely in the tin before removing.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Smoky Vegetable Slice


This is a dish based on the classic Australian recipe for Zucchini (Courgette) Slice, which I first saw on the blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I've used Celia's version several times, so usually follow her guidelines for quantities of ingredients and cooking instructions, although a bit more or less of any of the vegetables doesn't make much difference. The Zucchini Slice is very similar to a frittata, but the addition of SR flour and oil makes it sturdier and more filling. It's excellent when eaten as a main meal with salads, or as a picnic food.

I made this version in an attempt to use up some vegetables which were lingering uneaten in the fridge. A sudden rise in temperature, after a spell of wet, cold weather meant that we couldn't face hot meals for a few days. Instead of courgettes (or a mix of courgettes and carrots, as Celia uses), I used equal quantities of grated sweet potato and broccoli.

Ingredients
150g sweet potato, peeled then coarsely grated
150g broccoli
1 small onion
100g smoked cheddar, grated
100g smoked bacon pieces
5 eggs
125ml sunflower oil
130g SR flour
plenty of black pepper to season, plus a little salt if desired (both the cheese and bacon will be salty)

Method
Preheat oven to 190C, 175C fan, and line a 23cm (9") round baking tin, or a 20cm (8") square one, with baking paper.
Fry the bacon pieces gently until just cooked through.
Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain, rinse in cold water and allow to dry off. Slice the stems thinly and chop the florets into small pieces.
Finely chop the onion.
Put all the vegetables into a large bowl, add the cheese and bacon.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, then make a well in the centre and break in the eggs and add the oil.
Mix everything together until no dry flour is visible, adding pepper and salt (if using) as you do so.
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin, level the surface and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and firm.
Best served at room temperature. You'll get 4-8 portions, depending on what else you are serving.

This was a really tasty version of a vegetable slice. The cheese and bacon added a subtle smoky flavour which we both really liked, and the sweet potato and broccoli made a good combination of vegetables.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Coconut Chai Traybake

I'd had this recipe, from BBC Good Food, bookmarked to try for quite a while before I finally got round to baking the cake. It was only remembering to put full-fat coconut milk onto the shopping list which stopped me making it sooner, as all the other ingredients are usually in my storecupboard.

I followed the cake recipe exactly, and also added the icing drizzle, which I topped with chopped stem ginger and a little extra desiccated coconut, rather than coconut shreds and pistachios. I thought the recipe made too much icing - by the time I used most of it, there was hardly  any cake showing, which isn't really the point of a drizzled icing! Other than that everything seemed fine.

I really loved this particular combination of spices, which worked very well with the coconut, but the texture of the cake was a bit strange. Although the middle was light, there was a stodgy layer at the bottom which seemed uncooked (or maybe the batter had separated before it was fully cooked), and the top was very moist where the ginger syrup had soaked in. The stodgy bottom made the cake unpleasant to eat, despite the delicious flavours.

I think it's worth remembering this flavour combination, and trying to get it into a cake with a better texture, but I won't be making this recipe again.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Rhubarb Vanilla Yogurt Cake

I happened upon this recipe, on the Riverford Organic Farmers website, by chance, while looking for new recipe for a rhubarb cake. I wanted one which didn't use a lot of fruit, as my crowns aren't doing well this year (I think it was the lack of a prolonged cold spell during last winter).

All I can say is that I'm thrilled to have found this recipe; it made a perfect cake! As an added bonus, it couldn't be simpler to make - dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another then combine the two and mix briefly. The rhubarb was even mixed with the dry ingredients, reducing the steps needed to mix the batter even more, as fruit is often folded in separately at the end. I think it's probably quite important to keep the rhubarb pieces small, so that they don't sink through the cake during baking, but the raw cake batter was thicker than normal, which also helps.

I did make one change to the recipe - I only had vanilla yogurt available, rather than plain, but as I wasn't adding an additional flavour, only a little more sugar, I decided to go ahead anyway. The resulting cake was light but moist, with a really tender crumb, and it wasn't too sweet either (even when using a sweetened yogurt), allowing the tart flavours of the rhubarb and orange zest to show through. It was fantastic while still warm, as a dessert, and almost as good when it was completely cold, eaten as a cake. This is definitely a cake to make again!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Zebra Cheesecake

I decided on cheesecake for an Easter dessert; more specifically, chocolate cheesecake, as I think the family would feel cheated if chocolate didn't make an appearance at Easter! A few weeks ago I saw a link to a recipe for a Zebra Cheesecake in an excerpt from Lorraine Pascale's latest book "Bake: 125 Showstopping Recipes, Made Simple" which looked ideal.

The recipe was simple to follow, and involved layering measured quantities of vanilla and chocolate cheesecake mixture onto a biscuit base. As the layers build, the cheesecake mixture gradually spreads to the edges of the baking tin, and this forms an attractive pattern in the baked cheesecake.

That's the theory! In practice it didn't work quite that way.

Firstly, the cheesecake mixture was very reluctant to spread, even with quite vigorous tin tapping. Although I did manage to get the mixture to the edges of the tin eventually, it was still domed in the centre when it went into the oven. Fortunately it levelled out before it set (with a little extra shaking).

Secondly, after 35 minutes baking - the time suggested in the recipe - the cheesecake still looked as raw and wobbly as when it went into the oven. It took well over an hour until I was satisfied that the cheesecake was cooked - set at the edges but still wobbly in the middle.

Thirdly, my cut cheesecake didn't look much like the photo accompanying the recipe. I followed the instructions, making each layer with about 2 tablespoons of mixture; this gave me, as far as I can make out from my photos, 14 or 15 alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate. I'm not sure why the layers in my cheesecake look so much thinner than those in the published photo, if that cheesecake was made following the same recipe exactly. Fewer layers - perhaps 8, using a quarter of each mixture in each layer - would give a more attractive result, I think.

After all that, this cheesecake wouldn't feature amongst the best I've ever made in terms of eating quality either! It tasted pleasant enough but it was very solid and quite dry in texture.

On the positive side - the pattern does look zebra-ish, and the cheesecake didn't crack during cooking or cooling. You can see from the photos that I made one slight departure from the recipe - I made the base using 200g plain chocolate digestive biscuits and only 80g butter. I've found that using half the quantity of butter to the weight of biscuits can make the base too solid and difficult to cut - I prefer the biscuit layer to be a little looser and crumblier.

I was disappointed that the cheesecake didn't look as attractive inside as the recipe suggested it would but even more disappointed that the baking time was so inaccurate and that the recipe didn't make a better cheesecake. This is the first recipe from Lorraine Pascale that I've tried, and it doesn't give me much confidence to try others!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Chocolate Marmalade Brownies

When I first made this recipe, for Chocolate Marmalade Brownies, almost seven years ago, I thought the recipe was a keeper. Making them again, only recently, I'm not quite sure what I saw in them in the first place. They were pleasant enough, but more like cake than a brownie, and the one word in their name that is meant to describe the added flavour is the thing I couldn't taste at all! The walnuts, cayenne and ginger (an extra addition, part of the chocolate used) were all much more prominent flavours than the marmalade.

The only changes I made to the recipe were to bake in a slightly smaller tin (20 x 30cm), which added five minutes to the baking time, and to use chopped dark chocolate containing crystallised ginger instead of plain chocolate chips.

Really, the only thing to recommend this recipe is that the brownie batter is made with cocoa rather than chocolate, which could be useful if you were short of chocolate. However, if you're the sort of person who regularly bakes brownies, I can't see you being the sort of person who runs short of chocolate - I get twitchy if there's ever less than 500g in the house!

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mincemeat and Apple Cake

Another outing for the cake I often make when I want a dessert with fresh fruit, but can't be bothered to fuss around with pastry. Because I hadn't checked supplies and found myself short of flour, I used a proportion of spelt flour in the recipe this time - it seemed to make the cake a little more crumbly.

Anything with mincemeat in it smells wonderful when it is baking; in this case the flavour was pretty good too. Adding the apples and orange zest cut back on the sweetness of the filling a little without changing the flavour much, as the mincemeat had it's own citrus notes. The dough has a texture somewhere between pastry and scone - what I imagine the old-fashioned American shortbread cakes to be like.

I'm pleased to say that this cake used the last of my winter mincemeat stocks!

Ingredients
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
*100g SR flour
*200g white spelt flour
*1 teaspoon baking powder
250g mincemeat
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
grated zest of 1 orange

* you can use 300g SR flour, in which case you won't need the baking powder

Method
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and base-line a 20cm (8") springform cake tin.
Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave - it doesn't need to be very hot, just liquid. Stir in the sugar, then beat in the egg.
Add both flours and the baking powder and mix to a soft dough. Put 2/3 of the dough into the baking tin and spread out into an even layer with your fingers, building up a little wall around the sides of the tin.
Mix together the mincemeat, chopped apples and orange zest and spread onto the cake base.
Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the filling and press down lightly, spreading the dough as you do - it should more or less cover the top, but any small gaps will fill as the dough rises and spreads during baking.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is firm and golden. Cool for about 15 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the tin, in case any fruit juices have leaked from the cake and are sticking to the sides of the tin - this can sometimes happen with mincemeat.
Dust with icing sugar before serving, either warm or at room temperature. This cake can be quite fragile, so I always leave it on the springform base.