Thursday 31 December 2009

Highlights of 2009

2009, my first full year of blogging! I thought I'd round up a few of my highlights over the past year. I don't think I can say that I have a favourite recipe overall, but there are a few contenders. The first must be the stone fruit yogurt cake above - the texture is soft and moist and the recipe adaptable to lots of different incarnations. I've already tried it with tart cranberries and can imagine it'll be a go-to recipe for a basic cake.

Other sweet delights this year were the treacle and ginger flapjacks pictured below - a really good combination and proof to myself that you don't always have to stick to the tried and tested simplicity of the basic recipe. On the other hand, this chocolate chip cake was a nice, simple recipe to provide a quick dessert served with juicy summer fruit. And one of the most searched for recipes this year was the Sweet and Simple bakes vanilla buttercream cupcakes, leading by a fair way, but also popular were these butterfly cakes.
Other highlights were my first (and successful!) baked cheesecake, here, my favourite gingerbread recipe, here, and a recipe that was my own invention, and which I was really pleased with - moist and more-ish and visually appealing too, this chocolate orange and vanilla marble cake was definitely an early success of 2009.

I think 2009 also represents a massive improvement in my bread baking skills. I've now got a couple of recipes I make over and over again, not least this apricot wholemeal/white hybrid bread which is perfect for breakfast. Joining Fresh from the Oven should inspire me to bake more too, although apologies to the group members for missing December's bake - I ran out of time and motivation as I can't actually eat Stollen myself and wanting to eat something is always an incentive for making it! One of breads baked by the group is the white tin loaf you see below, and has become my standard white loaf, tasting fabulous with a great texture and flavour.

I also learnt to be slightly more adventurous with my baking, highlights being the tomato and basil rolls shown above and black pepper rye bread, which is definitely on the to be baked again list! I also successfully baked hot cross buns this year, which is a first - previously they've always been burnt, so I was really pleased with this year's batch.
It appears that my obsession with Dan Lepard's recipes has continued without faltering this year, so let's hope that continues - I'm sure it will, as a large proportion of my 'to-bake' list has origins with his recipes. So I'll give a link to one of my most used resources over the past year, Dan Lepard's fabulous forums. (And no, I'm not on commission, just wanting to share his passion for baking with other enthusiasts!) And perhaps this year I'll manage to get a sourdough starter going, who knows!

Monday 28 December 2009

Gingerbread two ways

It was this post by Johanna over at Green Gourmet Giraffe that inspired me to make gingerbread. Although looking at the date of her original post and the fact that I am only just writing them up now goes to show just how quickly the year has flown by (either that or I'm just very, very disorganised - I like to think that it's a combination of the two). Anyway, who could possibly resist those gorgeous bush buddies that Johanna made? Unfortunately I don't have such lovely cutters, but I did see this rather amazing cutter in Lakeland, and decided that even though I don't have any small children to admire it's amazing shape, I had to buy it anyway! Well, I think the dinosaurs it makes are cute anyway, and I'm sure that if you have little boys (or girls!) they'd love these biscuits.

The recipe I chose was Delia Smith's gingerbread recipe, because it seemed really straightforward and she notes that the dough is easy to work with and very forgiving, plus the recipe was already in weight rather than cup measures - sorry Johanna, I prefer to weigh my ingredients!

The first time round, for the dinosaurs, I made the recipe as stated, minus the orange peel, and using light muscovado sugar. The second time, for the mini Christmas tree you see at the top of the post, I used 2tbsp treacle and 1 tbsp golden syrup, and dark muscovado sugar for a darker, stronger more Christmassy flavour. I also went easier on the cloves the second time, it's a very strong flavour and I slightly overdid it the first time round!

One thing to note when decorating the dinosaurs is that mini Smarties (now with no artificial flavourings or colourings) are rubbish for baking with - all of the colours (which are much dimmer than they used to be when I was young and colourings weren't the work of the devil....) fade to a sort of monotonous green/brown after baking. The decorations you see above are using Silver Spoon baking beans. Clearly still using artificial (and therefore heat stable!!!) colourings. You see, spirulina extract isn't all it's made out to be, Nestle!!

I enjoyed these biscuits and smiled every time I looked at the dinosaur shapes. Colleagues enjoyed the gingerbread too, but weren't bowled over by the shapes. Well, we can't all be children at heart can we! I enjoyed the darker incarnation very much and the recipient of the Christmas tree looked pleased too!!!

Saturday 26 December 2009

Vanilla butter biscuits

I'm not generally that successful with cookies, they need a soft texture that I often don't manage to achieve, but biscuits are usually ok, so perhaps I should bake biscuits more often! This is certainly a good recipe for a beginner, and the Caked Crusader reminded me how easy they are, so I decided to treat colleagues to a little festive cheer before we all headed off for Christmas. Thankfully, unlike the CC, I wasn't cooking for anyone with vanilla aversion, so I added the vanilla to the recipe, and I think that they do benefit from the flavour.

Luckily I managed to locate the Christmas shaped biscuit cutters that I'd bought in the sale last year and put in a 'safe place' relatively quickly (I'm liable to buy things far too much in advance, put them somewhere safe and then spend the best part of a morning looking for them!) so I made snowmen, snowflakes, christmas trees, little men and my favourite, the reindeer you can see above. I just think they're so adorable.

I know I'm late posting this, but this recipe will definitely be a keeper in this house - they were really easy to make, the dough was well behaved and easy to roll out, cooked easily and they tasted really good too! Definitely not one to confine to Christmas time, any shaped cutters will do - I think I'll be on the lookout for other shapes just so I can make these at other times of the year! The decorations were done with bought writing icing, and I have to admit that I could have taken a little more care with them, but I was running out of time in the Christmas rush, and they had to make it into work in one piece. You can see below that a couple of the snowmen didn't fare so well - there's an eye missing, and some slippage..... ah well, I clearly need more practice!

Vanilla Butter Biscuits
I halved the original recipe, and have given the half quantities below. I still got about 45-50 biscuits - perhaps my cutters were on the small side!
90g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Baking sheets, greased or lined. I used parchment paper to line mine and had no problems.

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and then beat in the egg and vanilla.
- Add the flour and baking powder to the egg mixture and keep stirring until the dough comes together. It seems quite dry, as if it won't meld, but it does eventually, just keep pushing the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.
- Form into a flat blob, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour or so.
- Flour your worksurface and, working with 1/3 -1/2 of the dough at a time, roll out to about 1/2 cm thick. Cut out shapes, flouring the cutters as you go. Place the shapes on the baking tray - these don't expand much, so you can put them fairly close together.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes until pale golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
- As the first batch cook, carry on cutting out and placing on another baking tray - this is where it's handy to have two trays. Keep going until all the dough is used up. I always end up with a blob at the end where I've re-rolled the dough many times. This time I baked the blob, and decided to pipe 'Merry Christmas' onto it - cook's treat!
- When cool, decorate as you wish, you could be much more gaudy than me, mine were quite understated!

My colleagues enjoyed these, after I'd repeated that they were edible, yes, and not just for decoration!!! Vanilla-ry, crisp and delicious.

Thursday 17 December 2009

No Croutons Required - Festive Photo

Every month I mean to get round to entering 'No Croutons Required', the monthly vegetarian soup/salad event hosted by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, and every month I somehow fail. However, this month, Jacqueline has asked for festive photos rather than a soup or salad, given how busy everyone seems to be at this time of year, and this is my entry. It ought to be one of my new year's resolutions to take part more regularly!!! This photo was taken in my local park, just as the frost began to melt at this chilly time of year.

Keep warm everyone, and enjoy the festive season.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Lime and raspberry crumble cake

A little break from the spiced cakes and seasonal bakes of late. I present something entirely out of season, but delicious all the same! I was fed up of opening the freezer and trying to cram the latest item into it whilst cartons of raspberries bought at the height of the late summer/early autumn season stared back accusingly at me, languishing in their frozen home, just waiting for a fitting end. Because these ones were still in the carton (unlike those transfered to plastic freezer bags in a vain attempt to maximise space) they had held their shape and seemed ideal for a cake. The lime was hiding in the fridge, bought with no particular purpose in mind, so also found its way into this cake.

A very basic sponge recipe with a crumble topping.

Lime and raspberry crumble cake
2 large eggs
140g self raising flour
120g butter, softenend
120g golden caster sugar
zest and juice 1 lime

170g punnet frozen raspberries (I used mine from frozen)

For the crumble
40g plain flour
20g butter
20g caster sugar

- Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Grease and line with baking parchement a 7" square tin
- Make the crumble by rubbing the butter into the flour, then stirring in the sugar. Set aside
- Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the flour and eggs and beat well until combined.
- Stir in the lime zest and juice (I find that if I add this earlier, the zest all gets caught on the electric mixer beaters and therefore doesn't get distributed very well in the cake.)
- Spoon into the prepared tin and level off. Scatter over the raspberries and then the crumble mixture.
- Place in preheated oven and cook for around 50min-1hour. I had initially thought that this cake wouldn't take longer than about 40 minutes, but it did for me. Keep checking! The cake is done when it springs back to the touch and a wooden toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.

Best eaten on the day of making, as the raspberries tend to sink back after baking. This went very quickly indeed at work, which was most gratifying. The lime taste was good with the raspberries and the crumble topping provided a good contrasting crunch. It wasn't the lightest cake I've ever made or tasted, but it was good all the same and at least those raspberries aren't staring at me reproachfully every time I open the freezer.

Well, I had to have something seasonal in this post!!! I saw this lovely little dog and just couldn't resist - some things never change!

Saturday 5 December 2009

Treacle and ginger flapjack

I've been on a bit of a spice kick lately - it started with this parkin, and continued with this lovely cinnamon apple cake and a couple of other as yet unblogged about items. I was still craving warming spices and ginger in particular and my sweet tooth wanted not just simple sweetness, but depth and richness too. So treacle and ginger flapjack fitted my desires perfectly. This was so easy to throw together, but then flapjack always is! Melt the ingredients together, add oats, put into lined tin and bake.

I was really pleased with the way these came out - buttery and chewy with a hint of treacle. Biting into a nugget of crystallised stem ginger was delicious, I really, really love crystallised stem ginger!!! Colleagues were pleased too, at least there was very little left by the end of the day, which is always a good sign!

The recipe I used is the same as last time, except that I used half and half black treacle and golden syrup and used 100g chopped crystallised stem ginger instead of chocolate.

175g butter
120g light brown soft sugar
100g golden syrup
100g black treacle
350g rolled oats
100g chopped crystallised stem ginger (although you could add more if you want to!)

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line an 8" x 12" (20 x 30 cm) baking tin. Please use parchment paper, greaseproof paper may well stick to your delicious flapjacks rendering them sadly inedible (I speak from experience - not mine, but J's!!!).
- Melt the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup over a low heat.
- When melted add the oats and mix well until everything is coated.
- Add the chopped ginger and mix briefly to distribute the ginger.
- Spoon into the prepared tin and roughly level out. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes until deliciously light golden brown.
- Mark into pieces while still warm (this is much easier than waiting until they are completely cold - believe me!) and allow to cool completely in the tin.
- Store in an airtight container. They should keep for a few days. Unless you just can't resist them, which may well be the case!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Snow-flecked chocolate brownies

Happy December everyone! We had our first real frost here this morning, and boy was it chilly, so these rich, decadent brownies suddenly seem very appropriate for the weather and the festive time of the year!

Maria chose Nigella Lawson's snow-flecked chocolate brownies for this month's sweet and simple bake, you'll be able to see everyone else's brownies over at the sweet and simple bakes blog so pop across and see what you think. You can find the recipe here, so I won't repeat it on my blog (especially as I'm so late in posting this anyway!). I made half of the given quantity and baked it in an 8x8" tin. Although the recipe states 25 minutes, I cooked mine for 35 and they were still quite squidgy (isn't that a great word!) in the centre. I cut them into 12 pieces, which seemed about right.

These really were extremely easy to make - I think lining the tin was the longest and most involved part of the recipe. And because the butter is melted, not softened, I didn't even need to remember to remove it from the fridge! Always a bonus!

I'm afraid I do have a small confession to make though.... I don't really like making brownies all that much. I think it's a combination of not really enjoying eating them, and not knowing when they're cooked, but they just aren't my favourite thing. These brownies also suffered the 'I don't know if they're done - I'll leave them in the oven a little longer' fate, but they don't seem to have suffered too much and were certainly well received at work. I don't think I'd make them again unless specifically requested, but I'm sure they tasted great - how can that amount of chocolate, sugar and butter not taste great!!! And T will be pleased to know that provided I remember to take it with me at Christmas, there is a piece residing in my freezer for him.....

Sunday 29 November 2009

Fresh from the oven - White tin loaf

Firstly, apologies for the lateness of this post, I've been rather disorganised recently and despite having a whole month to bake this, did it right at the last minute. No, I'll probably never learn! Hence the slightly dodgy photo too!

However, I really wanted to post this because I was very excited to find out what the baking challenge for this month's Fresh from the oven group was when it was revealed. Our host for this month is Linda from With knife and fork and she has chosen white tin loaf, a very British plain loaf, but no less delicious for that. However the thing that excited me most was the method she wanted us to use to make it. Regular readers of the blog will know that Dan Lepard is my favourite baker - his recipes for cakes and breads are innovative and inspiring and his bread kneading technique has certainly revolutionised my bread making. I had never really consistently had success with bread making until I tried his kneading technique, which is explained below (reproduced from the original at with knife and fork). Essentially you do very little kneading (which being lazy suits me well!) and you don't knead on a floured surface, but an oiled one. This is the key and while it might sound odd, please, please give it a try - it's the one thing that made dough, even relatively soft/wet dough manageable for me. (Although I'm not claiming to be an expert in bread dough by any stretch of the imagination, and doughs I feel are wet are probably childs play to a seasoned baker!)

I scaled the given recipe slightly as I have found in the past that 500g flour makes slightly too much dough for my 2lb loaf tin, so I scaled to 450g and altered the liquids accordingly. The other change I made was to bring my milk to the boil before using it. The reasons for this are explained in this recipe, published later than the one which inspired our recipe this month, I guess life is a learning process and since what Dan says makes good sense I decided to follow it. I therefore used cold tap water to cool the milk down, which worked well.

My altered quantities are:
180g semi-skimmed milk, scalded
135g cold water
1tsp dried yeast
150g plain flour
300g bread flour
1tsp salt

I baked the loaf at Gas 7 for 5 minutes, followed by 30 minutes at Gas 6, then 5-10 minutes upside down at Gas 6, worked out from experience of my oven! This dough wasn't as active as some I've worked with, but it was quite cool in my kitchen when I was making it, and it has given a beautifully shaped loaf (you're lucky you don't get to see some of my day-to-day thank-goodness-it's-only-me-eating-it type loaves!!!). It doesn't taste at all milky, but has a lovely crumb, quite close and eminently suitable for sandwiches. I'll continue to use a proportion of milk in my doughs if I have spare in the fridge because I was really pleased with this loaf.

Check out everyone else's loaves at the Fresh from the oven blog!

Dan Lepard
says he developed this when he was working full time in commercial kitchens (that made artisan hand kneaded bread) because there wasn’t time for full 10 minute knead of all the different bread batches so he switched to short kneads spaced out and found it works just as well, part of the development of a good gluten structure is dependent on the time elapsed not the vigorous kneading. I liked the idea because I’d not been getting good textures with either a machine or a normal hand knead. I am now a wholesale convert.

You must use oil not flour on the kneading surface and your hands. Something like vegetable oil is good.

The dough must be quite sticky and soft to start with. It will firm up when kneaded and as time progresses.

Once you have soft sticky dough leave it covered in the bowl for 10 minutes.

Now oil your kneading surface and hands and tip the dough out.

Knead for about 12 seconds by folding in the edges to the centre, a bit like shaping a round loaf, rotate the dough as you go.

Flip the dough over, leave it on the surface and cover with a cloth. Wash out the bowl and then oil it lightly. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover.

Leave for 10-15 minutes and then do another 12 second knead. You will notice the dough is already less sticky and firmer.

Leave for 20 -30 mins and repeat the fast knead. You are aiming to have kneaded the dough 3 times in the first hour.

Leave covered to rise until at least 50% larger but not more than double in size (kneading once per hour if it takes more than hour to increase in size).

Tip out onto the oil surface and press the air out of the dough using the tips of your fingers so its square-ish in shape. Repeat the fast knead process (or fold in to thirds then rotate through 90, flatten again and fold into 3rds again).

Shape the dough as required for the particular loaf you are making. Put it in a tin, or supported in a floured cloth in a bowl.

Leave to rise until at least 50% larger and preferably almost double in size.
Slash top and bake as per your recipe.

White Tin Loaf (based on Dan Lepard’s Quick White Loaf, p63 of the
Handmade Loaf

2lb loaf tin greased and floured or lined with baking parchment (no need to line the short ends just oil them).

Oven to be pre-heated to its maximum setting (R10/250C) and with a tray of water in the bottom to create steam.

200g semi skimmed milk at room temp (Dan uses whole milk but semi skimmed seems to work fine)
150g water at room temp (remember 1g = 1ml but its easier to be accurate weighing fluids)
1 tsp fast action yeast (or 2 tsp fresh yeast crumbled)
200g plain white flour
300g strong white bread flour
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt


Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the water and milk together in a separate bowl and whisk in the yeast.

Add the liquid to the flour and mix with the fingers of one hand to a soft sticky rough dough. You may need to add a little more liquid do this a teaspoon at a time until you have a soft sticky dough.

Follow the kneading instructions above.

The first rise will probably take about an hour from the last knead.

To shape for a tin loaf, flatten the dough to a square about the same width as your tin. Roll the dough into a cylinder and press the seam firmly, fold under the two short ends and place in the tin seam side down.

Allow to rise (covered) to 1 ½ to 2 times volume i.e. to the top of the tin.

Slash the top of the loaf along it length and put it straight into the oven for 10 minutes at maximum temperature. After 10 minutes check how it’s browning and drop the temperature as follows (these baking guidelines are from the River Cottage Bread Book):
R6/200C if the crust is pale
R4/180C if crust is noticeably browning
R3/170C if crust is browning quickly
And cook for a further 40-50 minutes.
I usually check again part way through this time and either adjust temperature again or cover the top with foil if it’s brown enough. Also note that with a traditional gas oven (i.e. one without a fan) the top may brown far too quickly on the side near the heat at the initial temperature so you might want to start at a lower setting of R8/9 for the first 10 minutes. Adapt the setting for what you know about your oven and how things usually bake.

When it’s cooked turn it out of the tin and allow to cool.

Then when it’s cooled cut a big huge doorstop of a slice, toast it and slather with lashing of butter. Yum.

The recipe also works well with a mix of 50:50 wholemeal and white bread flours. You’ll probably need 2-3 tbps extra water.

Friday 20 November 2009

Cinnamon apple cake

This is a Dan Lepard inspired recipe. Well, it's more than that really - it's his recipe, but with my substitutions for ingredients that were unavailable. The original recipe was for rye apple cake, and can be found here, on Dan's forums. As you can see, it's receiving rave reviews (and rightly so if this incarnation is anything to go by) and so I really, really wanted to make it. Apples are perfect right now, and a touch of spice is just right for the miserable rainy, windy, chilly weather we're having here at the moment.

Before I went shopping, I checked my cupboards and was sure I had rye flour. On my return and closer inspection, I didn't have rye flour, so I had to substitute normal plain white flour. I was also obliged to substitute the ground almonds. I do sometimes wonder why I end up wanting to make recipes that require ground almonds when I clearly can't eat them and there are so many recipes out there without nuts in!!! Almonds are much higher in fat than flour, and have a different texture and various other properties, so it's not necessarily just a case of a straight swap for flour. I'm never sure what the best substitute is but in this instance I spotted some semolina that I thought might add a little of the texture of the almonds (although not the fat or the flavour) so I used that instead. I was hoping that these changes didn't mean that the apple chunks would sink..... and fortunately they didn't! If you don't have nut allergies to contend with, use the almonds, I'm sure they're delicious!

You can see the lovely soft apple surrounded by a layer of cinnamon in the picture below. I guess that the apple lost moisture as it baked and that's why the apple pieces appear to be sitting in their own little holes. I was really impressed that the apple pieces stayed suspended so well in the mixture, I had worried that they would sink, but they were evenly distributed. And I didn't just pick a good slice to photograph - it was like this through the whole cake! Some people noted that it took longer than stated to cook - mine was fine at about 40 minutes from what I remember.

I'd love to make this again with the rye flour and see how it changes the taste and texture of the cake, and how it complements the apple and cinnamon, but this cake is delicious in its own right, and I'm certainly glad that I didn't let having no rye flour put me off trying the recipe!

This was gorgeous - the cinnamon-y warmth and the soft apple in a lovely moist cake. I didn't put flaked almonds on mine before baking but added a (very) generous sprinkling of demerara sugar before baking (my hand didn't slip, honest!!!) and this provided a lovely sweet crunchy top to the cake. Didn't last long at work and received appreciative comments.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Chocolate pear cake

Perhaps not the most attractive photograph, but certainly a delicious cake. I had a desire for a basic chocolate cake, but also wanted to use some of the seasonal fruit around at the moment and pears and chocolate seemed like a good combination. Based on a recipe in 'Mix', a compilation cookbook from the Australian Women's Weekly (a recent payday cookbook purchase....) I had bookmarked this one a while ago to try. It didn't disappoint and I will be making it again.

The recipe is for a plain chocolate cake with a chocolate icing and I decided to peel and thinly slice a large-ish pear and place it on the top of the mixture before baking, in the (rough) shape of spokes of a wheel. I had sort of hoped that the pear would stay on the top, but it largely didn't, sinking mostly without trace into the mixture as it cooked - you can see a piece of sunken pear in the picture at the top. One piece did stay up though, and with hindsight it's perhaps best that most of the pear sank because the piece remaining started to discolour quite quickly - a cake best eaten on the day of making.

The cake has quite a high proportion of sugar, but doesn't taste too sweet, instead it seems to have a moist dense but not heavy crumb, sort of tending towards brownie. Delicious in other words! The pear worked well with the chocolate, and there's something about the grainy texture of cooked pear that I really like - it's a similar texture to tinned pear, which I also like!

Chocolate pear cake
1 medium to large pear, peeled and thinly sliced (I used quite a ripe conference pear for this)
125g butter, softened
1tsp vanilla extract
275g caster sugar
2 eggs
150g self-raising flour
50g semolina (the original recipe said 200g self raising flour)
50g cocoa powder
160ml water

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a deep 20cm/8" round cake tin and line with baking parchment.
- Beat butter, extract and sugar together until well combined. Add eggs, sifted flour, semolina and cocoa and the water and mix on a low speed until combined. Increase the speed of your mixer and beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and paler in colour.
- Spread mixture into cake tin. Arrange the pear around the cake in a spoke design. Bake for about 1 hour, although mine took about 1 hour 10-15 mins.
- Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

This would make a really delicious warm dessert with some vanilla icecream, but was equally as good cold with a cup of tea.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Buttermilk raisin cake revisited

Oh, this is just such a delicious cake that even though I've already posted about it once here, I want to sing its praises all over again. Last time I made it, I can't say the experience was a total success, but the flavour was so amazing that I needed to attempt it again and seeing the last piece in the freezer from last year (what can I say - my freezer is full enough that I could lose anything in there!!!) was all the prompt I needed to dig out the recipe.

The recipe was originally from the Caked Crusader, and I haven't really made any changes to the proportions of the cake, just to the overall size. As mentioned last time, the cake took far longer to cook than I expected, resulting in an overcooked edge. To recify this I decided to keep the tin size the same but to make 2/3 of the recipe. This worked admirably, and the cake cooked in around an hour at the same temperature. Perfect. I was really pleased with the texture of the crumb and the edge wasn't too thick or dark this time. I served it au naturel, but if you want to gild the lily, I suggest you hop over to the Caked Crusaders blog for her custard buttercream recipe to serve with it, which sounds rather divine!

I can't explain the flavour of this cake well enough to do it justice, but it's sweet yet not too sweet and the raisins and buttermilk combine beautifully - the sum is so much greater than the parts and I urge you to try it even if you're not the world's greatest raisin fan.

I used the following quantities this time round, but followed the same method as last time, found on the Caked Crusader's blog.

Buttermilk raisin cake170g butter, softened; 170g caster sugar; 2 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 200g raisins; 250g plain flour; 1 tsp baking powder; 115ml buttermilk. You will need an 8" square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment.

Monday 9 November 2009

A different Parkin for Bonfire night

Yep, it's that time of year again, and although I'm a couple of days late, I'm going to post this anyway. I wrote about making Parkin last year, so you can read that post for some more of my thoughts on this rather delicious treat. This year, I decided to try a different recipe, just for a change, and to see if I could lose the rather burnt looking top from the other recipe (I'll just reiterate that although it always looks burnt, it never seems to taste it). I debated making the other recipe but only doing 2/3 so that it cooked more quickly, but was browsing through the forums over on Dan Lepard's website (bet you never saw that one coming did you!) and found his recipe for 100 year old parkin. Well, it'd be 102 year old parkin now, but what's two years among friends?!?

Anyway, the recipe is here and as I stuck to it pretty closely I'll not reproduce it, but will leave you to find it yourselves! The only changes I made were to use salted butter and omit the salt, use 100ml milk (rather than 50ml, a change suggested by Dan later in the thread) and to substitute crystallised stem ginger for the mixed peel. I quite like mixed peel if it's the stuff you cut up yourself, but I wanted to go with the overall gingeriness (is that a word?) of the parkin.

I was really pleased with how this turned out - it's delicious. Nubbly and oaty and gingery and biting into a piece of crystallised stem ginger is particularly good - I might add more next time. You really do want to leave this to mature after you've made it. I left mine wrapped up for 5 days before cutting it, and it continued to improve for a few days after that, getting stickier on top (and then it was all gone....). I hate to say it, but I think J's recipe from the Cordon Bleu cookery course may have been ousted in favour of this one. Thanks Dan.

And you can see that the top isn't burnt either - woo-hoo!!! Success all round. Colleagues were really pleased when this arrived at work - ooooh, Parkin!

Saturday 7 November 2009

Oven dried tomato and basil rolls

These rolls are what happened to the rest of the dough that I used to make the bread bowls and foccacia here. You can find the recipe in that post, so I'll just outline how I made these here.

I had some cherry tomatoes in the fridge crying out to be used up, so I decided to roast them with a little dried thyme and a drizzle of olive oil. I used a 250g punnet of tomatoes, halved them and roasted fairly slowly, probably on a medium heat (although I can't quite remember, about Gas 4 ish) for a while (oh, this is so precise isn't it!!!) until they looked shrivelled but not cremated. Probably around an hour, but start checking earlier and keep checking. I had other things in the oven at the same time, so I'm not sure exactly how long they took. Remove and allow to cool.

When the dough was ready for shaping, I patted it out into a rectangle, and spread the roasted tomatoes (I probably used about half of the punnet) over the dough, and add a liberal amount of fresh basil. Roll into a sausage and cut 6 slices. I then pinched one side of the slices together to stop the tomatoes escaping from inside, and turned the rolls onto that sealed side, so that the open side faced upwards, see below.

I allowed the rolls to prove for around 40 minutes (I think, again these were a side line to various other things going in and out of the oven) and then baked at 200C/Gas 6 for around 30 minutes - again check to make sure they're not burning.

They were delicious - the sweet tartness of the tomato worked really well with the silky soft, smooth olive oil enriched dough, which was moist and very more-ish. I was really pleased with the way these looked and would definitely make them again. Really good with any Italian meal requiring a bread roll, or with soup for winter lunchtimes. Perfect when there's frost on the ground and a nip in the air.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Milk Chocolate and Orange Cookies - Sweet and Simple Bakes

Happy November everyone! Where exactly has this year gone? - I can't believe it's November already and time for the next installment of Sweet and Simple Bakes! Maria has chosen a cookie recipe for us this month, and I have to admit to being a little unsure about cookies. Cakes, yes, cookies, hmmm, maybe. It's not that I don't like eating them, more that I'm just not very good at making them. I have a tendency to over-bake them and they come out too crispy and not as soft as I'm hoping for. Perhaps the cure for this is just to bake lots and lots of cookies! Doesn't seem such an onerous task does it! So let's start with the Sweet and Simple recipe. You can find the recipe here, at the Sweet and Simple recipe blog and be sure to check out the round up, published tomorrow at the Sweet and Simple bakes blog, here.

As with all of the sweet and simple recipes these were easy to put together, once I'd remembered to leave the butter out of the fridge to soften (difficult when my kitchen is so cold that the butter stays hard anyway!). I decided to use milk chocolate, as I sometimes find white chocolate too sweet and I thought milk chocolate would go well with the orange flavour. My absolute preference would have been dark chocolate (70% or so) but I know this isn't that popular at work and didn't want to have to eat the whole batch myself! These really spread a lot during baking, so be sure to leave adequate room between them for expansion. If you don't you'll end up with one ginormous cookie, as shown below.....oops!!!

Cookie sheet!!!

Luckily I was baking in two batches, so managed to get some normal shaped cookies too! So what were they like? Well, they seemed to go pretty well at work, and were very nice. But I feel that I did succumb to my old weakness of cooking them for too long as they were mostly crunch with very little chew. This is a perfectly nice recipe, but my quest for the perfect cookie has just begun. Stay tuned.......

Perfect cookie!

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Fresh from the oven - Edible bread bowls and focaccia

A while ago, Jules over at Domestic Goddess in Training mentioned that the baking group she is part of were looking for new members. I have started to really enjoy making my own bread, as followers of this blog will realise by now! but I wanted something to push me out of my comfort zone (T take note!) and joining a baking group seemed like a good way to do it so I jumped at the chance! I am now a member of Fresh from the Oven.

My first challenge was hosted by Corry of Bake It Off and was to make edible bread bowls, based on a recipe by Richard Bertinet and published in his book 'Dough'. I actually have this book, and have opened it and admired the lovely photography and creative ideas many times but had only baked once from it (a plain white loaf if I recall correctly), so I was really pleased to get another chance using a different recipe. Edible bread bowls sound like a nice idea, but I wasn't honestly sure how well I could get them to work, and my fears were well founded. The dough came together well, and was easy to work. I have a confession to make though, I'm afraid that I have tried Richard Bertinet's method of working dough in the past and found it messy with the dough being sticky and difficult to work, and I didn't find that the dough became smooth and pliable, remaining obstinately sticky when I tried in spite of watching the very helpful DVD that came with the book (and can be found here online - he is making a sweet dough in the video, but the technique is applicable to all dough) so I defaulted to my chosen Dan Lepard technique for the dough, which worked perfectly.

I had difficulty in shaping the dough around the bowls and found that the edge ended up significantly thicker than the base, which is annoying if you're planning to pour soup into it - the base needs to be strong and thick, not thin and weak! I think that resting the dough for a little after knocking the air out of it might help for the future. So my bowls were never graced with soup, I have to admit that I broke them up and used them as chunky croutons, which worked really well! The other problem I encountered was that the insides of the bowl were very pale in comparison to the exterior, as you can see by comparing the photos above and below. I'm not really sure how to recify this though.

I'm sure other people will have made much more successful attempts at this great idea than me though, so check out the round up over at the Fresh From The Oven blog for better pictures and more inspiration.

However, one of the benefits of owning this lovely book was that I could look at the original recipe. The book is divided into four main sections, covering four doughs - white, olive (used for this challenge), brown and rye. At the start of each section is an inspiring double page photographic spread of all the breads Bertinet will show you how to make with that particular dough. In the olive dough section are tempting delights such as pizza, pancetta and mixed olive bread and ciabatta, along with one of my favourites, rock salt and rosemary focaccia. How could I resist using some of my dough to make one of these lovely breads? Well, I couldn't and it was much more successful than the bread bowls!

I used dried rosemary I as find fresh tends to burn, and I thouroughly enjoyed this focaccia. The texture of the dough was superb - moist and tender and just slightly chewy, just the way I like my focaccia. A perfect accompaniment to a risotto or a lovely bowl of soup - enjoy!

Friday 23 October 2009

Stone fruit yogurt cake

You will note that the title of this post is in fact not quite true.... raspberries obviously not being a stone fruit! However, the premise of Dan Lepard's recipe is to use up nectarines, plums or peaches past their best. I had the nectarines but I also had raspberries which were threatening to go off if I didn't use them up quickly. Hence the combination of raspberry and nectarine here. I feel that it's following the spirit of the recipe so hopefully Dan won't mind this variation! I also had the necessary Greek yogurt for this recipe languishing in the fridge, so when this recipe was published at the end of September (find the original article here on the Guardian website), it pushed it's way past everything else on the 'to bake' list and ended up at the top. And I'm so glad that it did! This is a stunner, both visually and in terms of taste. I love the way the fruit is on the top of the cake when you flip it over all juicy and inviting.

It's a little while since I made it, but from what I remember, I followed the recipe pretty closely. I omitted the lemon zest as I wanted the flavour of the fruit to come through (and I didn't have three lemons, and even if I had had the lemons I was in a lazy mood that didn't run to zesting three lemons..... sorry!). I used two or three nectarines (rubbish memory) and about 100g raspberries - the amount of fruit just covered the base of the tin, which seemed right to me. I also used demerara sugar to sprinkle over the fruit rather than caster, just because I seem to have an excess of demerara sugar at the moment.

I wondered about Dan's instruction to line the tin with foil, and just lined mine with baking parchement as usual. I understood the instruction once the cake was cooked and some of the caramelly syrup formed by the fruit juice and sugar had escaped onto the bottom of my oven..... ah well, it was only a little escape and didn't affect the cake!

The cake had a beautiful gentle peak when it was cooked, which was fine, but when it came to turning the cake onto a cooling rack, the peak meant that the base of the cake started to come apart. I quickly transferred the cake to my cupped hand and struggled to get the lipped plate you see in the pictures out of the cupboard one-handed to hold the cake and prevent the base cracking open. Luckily I succeeded (no mean feat when you're holding hot cake in one hand and attempting to wrestle a plate from the bottom of a heavy pile of plates!) and the cake didn't crack or break.

I was really pleased with the way this cake turned out - a perfect peach melba cake! The yogurt in the mixture added a beautiful smooth richness to the cake, without being over-rich as I have occasionally found soured cream to be and I will certainly be making this cake again. In fact, there's more yogurt in the fridge this very moment. I think this would be perfect with some chopped fresh peach or nectarine and either a spoonful of the greek yogurt or a little drizzle of cream.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake

I have been admiring the rather delicious looking cakes being baked by the Cake Slice Bakers group over the past twelve months and sort of wishing that I could join in, but at the same time being thankful that I didn't need to buy a third cake tin for the third layer that many of the cakes made by the group required. The book last year was Sky High Irresistible Layer Cakes. (Or indeed, transporting the resulting delicious confection to work - nigh on impossible on a bus!) However, when Katie over at Apple and Spice (you really have to check out her blog - her cakes are amazing and really inspired me to want to join this group!) mentioned that the group was opening up the membership to new members a while ago, I decided that it was now or never and in I jumped!

The book that the group is baking from this year is 'Southern Cakes - sweet and irresistible recipes for everyday celebrations' by Nancie McDermott. This is the South of the USA, not the south coast of the UK! so a note for UK (and other non-US) readers is in order about this month's recipe - coffee cake in the USA doesn't necessarily contain coffee in any way, shape or form, but is merely used to identify a cake which is consumed with coffee. Confusing no? So I haven't left out any ingredients from this recipe......

So my first recipe as a Cake Slice Baker was unfortunately one I can't actually eat unless I sub a fairly key ingredient. I therefore present Cinnamon-Cashew Coffee Cake! I really wanted to give this cake a taste and pecans and me don't mix, but luckily I can still eat cashews, so I could still get the crunchy texture the recipe is asking for. This cake was very easy to put together, which is good news as I'd left making it until the last moment through disorganisation. I decided, along with quite a few other members of the group, to make a half recipe, and baked mine for the same length of time in a 6.5x9.5" baking tin, which worked perfectly well.

I amended some of the quantities slightly - cutting down a little on the cinnamon as I'm not the world's greatest fan of cinnamon and I also converted the recipe from cups to grams. I've therefore given the recipe below so that readers who prefer metric measurements don't have to convert their own. I couldn't find a conversion for a cup of nuts though, so I guesstimated and serendipidously had about 100g nuts left in the packet, which seemed about right. I also replaced the specified all-purpose flour and baking powder with self raising flour because I prefer to use this.

Cinnamon-Raisin filling
150g light muscovado sugar
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1 scant tbsp cinnamon (original recipe states 3 tbsp for the full recipe, these quantities are for half)
110g raisins
100g cashews (or pecans if you can have them!), coarsley chopped
85g butter, melted

Coffee cake (without any coffee...... can you tell how much this confuses me!!!)
220g self raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
120ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
110g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg

I didn't read the instructions properly and combined all of my filling ingredients together, which I wasn't supposed to do, but I can't see that it would have made much difference. Like many others, I found the batter very sticky indeed, and it was difficult to spread around the tin, but as in my recent plum oat slice, using slightly under half of the mixture for the first layer was a good move and made spreading the remaining layer over the top a little easier. Because there were two raisin/nut layers it didn't really matter if the top layer didn't quite reach the edges in some places.

So how did it taste? Well, it disappeared in record time at work, so there must be something right about it! It smelled lovely whilst it was baking, filling the house with a warming cinnamon-y scent, just right for the autumn weather we've been having round here. The cinnamon flavour was quite strong and the texture of the cake was lovely and soft, a great contrast to the crunchy, chewy nutty raisin layer. The nuts weren't as crunchy as I was expecting, but then I've never had a cake with nuts in it before so I'm not sure if it's normal for the nuts to be quite soft rather than crispy. I suppose that might just be a feature of cashews and that pecans might be crunchier - who knows!!! I really enjoyed the cake though - it was lovely to hit a little pocket of sweet sugar - and there were plenty of them dotted throughout the cake.

Thanks for a great first recipe - I've looked through the book and am really looking forward to making more from it over the next year! Don't forget to check out the other Cake Slice Bakers posts here at the blogroll.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Failsafe bread two ways - simple white and wholemeal apricot

Simple white loaf
Not such an attractive picture as this one, but the picture that Dan provided for this bread was so stunning that I just had to try and make it. The article contains lots of helpful tips to make your breadmaking failsafe, so I really recommend reading it, here on the Guardian website.

So, back to the bread. I was quite pleased with the way my loaf came out - not as visually stunning as Dan's, but good all the same. Unfortunately I think I may have added a little too much water to the dough because when it came to proving the dough, it was happily expanding sideways into a flying saucer - not really what I wanted at all. So I quickly reshaped the dough into a more acceptable form and stuck it in the oven straightaway. I'm sure this is breaking some important bread-making rule, but this dough does seem pretty failsafe. I think this accounts for the large holes I had in the crumb, especially near to the edge of the loaf.

It was pleasant enough to eat, especially given the rapid method used to make it, but I wasn't quite sure about the texture - it seemed almost bouncy - I can't think of a different way to describe it. I'm not sure if this was just my flour though - I'll try a different brand next time.

You can see that the texture is slightly uneven with some holes, especially around the edges.

Good for lunch though, or for toast - yum!

Wholemeal apricot loaf
This was actually the first loaf I made according to the recipe's principles, and I was so impressed with it that I went on to make the white loaf above and have subsequently remade it too - it makes fabulous toast with lots of butter for breakfast, or a great lunch paired with cream cheese.

I thought it came out beautifully, with the gorgeous crack down the centre opening right up, and the colour was helped by the proportion of wholemeal flour I added to the recipe, along with the tray of boiling water put into the oven as Dan suggests. I don't quite know what inspired me to combine dried apricots with wholemeal flour, or even to try putting dried apricots into bread at all, but I'm really glad that I did, because this is a great loaf. I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with dried apricots - ate them a lot as a child, but recently I need to be in the right mood to enjoy them, and don't usually want more than one or two at a time if they're 'au naturel' but I'd bought some naturally coloured apricots on offer and wanted to use them. I thought wholemeal flour would be a good partner, but didn't want to go totally wholemeal, so just used 1/4 wholemeal bread flour and 3/4 white bread flour. I added 150g dried apricots to the loaf the first time, and then about 85g the second time (finishing up the same packet!) and prefer the loaf with the larger amount. This is rapidly becoming my favourite breakfast bread, thanks Dan!!!

Thursday 15 October 2009

Plum Oat Squares

Well, still here and still blogging. I'm being held up not by a lack of things to blog about, but by my disorganisation - I have lots of things to blog and insufficient pictures of them. So you'll have to use your imagination for this one I'm afraid. I wanted to take a picture of the inside after cooking, but forgot and now they're all gone. I'd make them again, but the list of recipes on my 'to bake' list is growing rapidly and I don't want to rebake these just yet! I'll try and be more organised next time!

The nights are drawing in rapidly and I went to work and came home in the dark for the first time a couple of days ago. Autumn is definitely here and with it come the apples, plums, pears, parsnips, leeks, pumpkins, squash and all the bounty of harvest time. I wanted to make the most of some lovely plums I had picked up at the greengrocer, I think they may have been Marjorie Seedlings, not the hard unyielding type imported from South Africa all year round, but luscious, juicy English plums in their proper season.

Plum and oat seem like natural partners to me, think of warming plum crumble with an oaty topping and you'll see what I mean (plums and almonds also spring to mind, but not for me I'm afraid!) so this recipe from Delia Smith really appealed. I've made it before (pre-blogging, many, many years ago) with apples, so I knew that it'd be really good (and let's face it, most of Delias recipes are really good, the most recent 'Cheat' series excepted....). I'm not a huge cinnamon fan, but if you are, go ahead and add it in!

Plum oat squares
450g fresh plums (although I only had about 350g)
5oz/150g porridge oats
10oz/275g plain flour (Delia specifies wholemeal, but I didn't have it)
1 tsp salt (which I omitted as I used salted butter)
8oz/225g butter
4oz/110g light muscovado sugar

- Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6/400F. Grease and line an 8inch/20cm square tin with parchment paper (as seen below).
- Prepare your plums - wash, cut in half, remove the stone and slice fairly finely. Set aside.
- Melt the butter with the sugar gently until the butter has melted. Stir in the oats and flour until well mixed.
- Take 1/3 of this mixture (Delia says 1/2, but if I take 1/2 at this stage, I find I haven't got enough mixture to cover the fruit later on) and spread it over the base of your tin. It won't be a very thick layer, so just keep moving it about until the base is covered.
- Spread the plums evenly over the oaty base.
- Cover the plums with the remaining oaty mixture. I dollop it on in small amounts, dotted around because if you dump it all in the middle, it's really difficult to spread it out. This is where it's handy to have 2/3 of the mixture left to ensure that all the fruit is covered.
- Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or a little longer if you want it really crispy. It's very forgiving - I think I left mine in for 45 minutes and it isn't in the slightest bit burnt.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before cutting. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

I really love this recipe - the oaty cakey bit is chewier than a flapjack and really moist and delicious, with a lovely contrast from the soft, juicy plums in the middle. Yum, yum, yum! Disappeared pretty quickly at work too, hence being unable to get a photo of the innards of the slice - trust me, it's great! A lovely autumnal way of using plums, I think I'll try apples next time. Not sure whether cookers or eaters would be better though - what do you think???

Sunday 4 October 2009

Black pepper rye bread

Not the best photos I realise, but I couldn't find a better way of getting a picture of this rather delicious loaf. Another recipe from Dan Lepard, and made to wide praise (here on his forums). The combination of coffee and black pepper intruiged me and the picture of the loaf in the Guardian looked so inviting that I just had to make this, despite having a dislike of coffee. After checking with Sue over at Mainly Baking that the coffee flavour wasn't too pronounced when she made the loaf I went ahead.

I checked the forum for any comments and discovered that some people had found the mixture quite dry, so I was careful to take my hot rye mixture off as soon as it boiled. Even so I found the mixture stiff and added some more warm water to it, probably about 50ml in total. It's perhaps just that I'm not as used to working with a dough where you're mixing the additional flour into a cooked paste rather than adding the liquid to the dry ingredients. Other than this, I followed the recipe exactly, the only change being that I omitted the fennel/anise flavour - I'm not sure that I'm keen on these flavours and it was going to be a lot of bread to eat if I wasn't keen on it! I'll try those flavours elsewhere and if I like them, will add them next time.

It's not the most perfect shape in the world, but I quite like the fact that it's individual - after all, I've made it, not bought it! And I'm not going to be sharing any of it either ;-)

I was really pleased with the interior of the loaf - it was very moist in a pleasant way with an even textured crumb and a beautiful colour - not the usual slightly offputting grey of rye, but with a brown hue from the coffee. I couldn't taste the coffee at all, which is perfect for me - I don't actually like coffee and so making this loaf was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off. The pepper is very noticeable, to the extent that after a few bites you find yourself reaching for a drink to cool the mouth (but this is coming from someone with no heat tolerance at all - I never eat chilli-hot food, even mild level, so if you're a chilli lover I'm sure you'll hardly notice the heat at all!).

Perfect slathered with cream cheese for lunch - and no need to add pepper to the top!

Thursday 1 October 2009

Sweet and simple bakes - St Clements Drizzle Cake

Another delicious recipe this month for the Sweet and simple bakes group. This one was easy to whip up but the taste is utterly scrummy. I have a fondness for lemon drizzle cake and was keen to try the same thing but with a mixture of orange and lemon juice. I think on this occasion that the lemon slightly outshone the orange - I find that orange in baking can be a very subtle flavour, but the result was still great. I made the recipe pretty much to the letter, except that rather than use granulated sugar for a crunchy topping I used icing sugar, which I dissolved in the juice of the orange and lemon to make a syrup to pour over the cake. (As in this recipe I make for lemon syrup loaf cake, from Nigella.) I made sure that I had lots of holes in the cake for the syrup to penetrate and this resulted in a deliciously moist cake. You can see in the pictures that the edges of the cake are sodden with syrup, and this is one cake where the end pieces (normally with a tendency to dryness) become the favourite as all the excess syrup dribbles down the edge of the cake as it is bathing in syrup in the tin as it cools.

This disappeared rapidly at work - testimony to the popularity of lemony flavours at work. Sweet and lemony and utterly gorgeous - I defy you not to want to make this cake. You can find the recipe over at the sweet and simple bakes recipe blog and check out everyone else's cakes over at the round-up on the sweet and simple bakes blog. Thanks to Maria and Rosie for providing such a great bake.


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