Saturday 23 May 2009

Butterscotch banana cake

I am still here, I promise, it's just that work has been getting in the way of food recently - always annoying. I was at a conference last week and nothing foodie to report, except that we went to Sapporo Tepanyaki for dinner one evening, which was interesting and exciting!

I've been baking, but nothing new recently - I met up with friends in London a week ago, and took this chocolate orange and vanilla marble cake, which went down well. However, it was quite heavy lugging it around London all day, especially as we were meeting at Westminster and the District and Circle lines and Jubilee line were closed - walk from Victoria anyone??? Anyway, it was a lovely day, with a lovely pic nic, even if it did try to rain on us!

So here's one I made earlier. Butterscotch banana cake. I've had my eye on this one for a while. Eventually I'll work my way through all of the recipes in the rather excellent guide to baking given away with the Guardian in November 2007, it's just that I'm a little slow to get round to some of them. I like banana cake, not just because it allows me to use up fruit that has gone beyond all hope of eating raw (more ideas here), but because it generally just tastes great!

This one particularly appealed because it consists of caramelizing the bananas first in yummy sugar before proceeding to the recipe. Sounded interesting so with the correct ingredients located I proceeded. Sadly not without hitches, but I'll come to that later. You can find the original recipe here. I have made a few minor alterations - I used some granulated sugar, didn't have quite as much banana flesh as specified and missed out the spices. I wanted naked banana flavour.

Butterscotch banana cake
150g white granulated sugar
100g caster sugar
200g banana flesh, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
175ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs
150g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
2 level tsp baking powder
½ level tsp bicarbonate of soda
50ml plain yoghurt

- Butter a 22-23cm round tin and line the base with non-stick baking paper.
- Tip 150g of the caster sugar into a frying pan with 25ml water, bring to the boil, then cook over a high heat until the sugar turns to a dark reddish caramel.
- Add the banana pieces, butter and vanilla, and simmer until the bananas break up in the caramel and the mixture is thick.
- Spoon on to a plate and leave to cool.
- Beat the remaining 100g sugar with the oil and eggs until thick and slightly aerated, then beat in the bananas and the yoghurt.
- Sift the flours, baking powder and soda together two or three times (throwing the bran back in), then fold this through the banana mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into the tin, heat the oven to Gas 5/180C (160C fan-assisted) and bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Notes: I preheated my oven first of all. I don't really understand why the instructions are given like that, and I didn't really notice because the first thing I do is preheat the oven. Ooops. I'm sure Dan has a good reason.

Caramel. Now the first time I ever tried a caramel (not for this!) it worked. I think this was pure beginners luck. Not so here. The first time, I followed the recipe as specified (my frying pan is non-stick) and ended up with a sort of lump of solid yet spitting sugar. This is bad. I didn't want to ramp up the heat any more for fear of destroying my frying pan. I need that pan, it's used almost daily!!! Second time I tried again but in a normal (i.e. not non-stick) metal pan. Same results. After much agonising and asking J's advice (and reading the post by Zeb in this very helpful thread on Dan's forum message board) I decided to use granulated sugar and no water to start with. This worked fine, and first time. When the caramel was the colour I wanted, I added the water, which hissed and spat and solidified the caramel but it all then came back fine. I added the banana and proceeded. You can see the banana in the picture below. Yum!

Caramelising the bananas in the sugar smelled so delicious I was tempted to forget about making the cake altogether and just sit down, me and the pan of luscious caramelly bananas and eat.... mmmmm, sweet, sweet bananas!!!

I found that the cake sank very slightly in the middle - you can't really tell from this picture though, and it didn't seem to affect the texture of the cake either so it didn't really matter.

My colleagues loved this cake. I can understand why - it was very banana-ry and very moist without being at all dense or heavy - it really is a very light cake as Dan promises. However, my only reservation was that to me it tasted a little oily. Perhaps this is necessary as the cake is so moist and it may just be my perception, because no-one else had a problem with that at all. It's very different to a standard banana loaf type cake, and definitely worth trying, but it's not one I'll keep coming back to over and over again.

You can see just how moist and light the cake is, and the colour truly is yummy.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Blueberry Vanilla Hummingbird Cupcakes

Well, I promised last time that there would be some non-chocolate posts coming so here we are. Can't get much healthier than the 'superfood' that is blueberries ;-)

Truth be told though - I had some rather lovely blueberries that I wanted to bake with, and the vanilla cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook was firmly planted in my mind as the next recipe to try. So I adapted. I made the recipe as stated in the book, but added 4 blueberries to the base of each case (inspired, it has to be said by the strawberry cheesecake cupcakes in the book) and then when I made the vanilla frosting, I coloured it purple and topped with the remaining 12 blueberries - I had just the perfect number in the punnet (allowing for the few that made it to my mouth during the process....).

Hummingbird Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch salt
40g soft unsalted butter
120ml whole milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
125g punnet blueberries (mine were large berries)

Vanilla frosting
250g sifted icing sugar
80g unsalted butter
25ml whole milk
few drops vanilla extract
violet food colouring

- Preheat oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
- Reserve 12 nice big blueberries and divide the remaining ones between the 12 cases.
- Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a large bowl and beat on a slow speed with an electric hand mixer (or put into a stand mixer - oh for a stand mixer!!!) until well combined and a sandy consistency. This was messy and got all over the work top. Ah well.
- Whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract together in a jug and add half to the dry mixture. Beat slowly to combine and then more quickly to beat out any lumps.
- Add the remaining liquid mixture and beat slowly to combine. Do not overmix.
- Transfer (I found semi-pouring/semi-spooning the best way to go as the mixture is quite slack) the mixture into the cake cases until 2/3 full and bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven until they spring back to the touch. A skewer inserted should come out clean (provided you don't stab a blueberry!)
- Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

- For the frosting, beat the butter and sugar together until well combined. The mixture will be crumbly.
- Add the milk and beat to combine. The mixture will come together into a big lump. Add the colouring cautiously, beating until you get the desired colour. Keep beating for a few minutes, you will see it get lighter in colour and texture.
- Spoon or pipe onto the cupcakes.

Finally, top each of the cupcakes with one of the reserved blueberries. Sit back and admire your delightful creations.

As with the chocolate version, these cupcakes were delightfully light and moist, and the blueberries at the bottom provided a luscious gooey contrast to the cake. These went down an absolute storm at work - I think they were the most rapidly disappearing cakes I've ever taken in!!!

Make them, you won't regret it!

Monday 11 May 2009

Hummingbird chocolate cupcakes

Yep, more chocolate. Well, what do you expect from a chocoholic? I promise that there will be some non-chocolate related posts coming up soon, but in the meantime, just enjoy the chocolate!

I saw the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook a couple of weeks ago and resisted it's siren call to be bought, but then I discovered I had a voucher for WHSmith that gave me £5 off, and the deed was done, simple as that. I decided that since I'd succumbed to buying the book I really ought to get round to making something out of it pretty quickly. The number of cookery books I've bought, meaning in all honesty to make lots of things in them, that then just sit and gather dust or occasionally get a quick browse is embarassing. I'm pleased to say that this isn't one of those books.

I don't really know why it appealed so much, you can probably guess that I've already got plenty of baking books - why would I need another? Well, why indeed but I'm ever so glad that I bought this one, because it was worth it simply for this recipe alone. Living 'oop North' I've obviously never visited the Hummingbird Bakery itself (it being in London) so I can't compare these against the genuine article, but I can say they're excellent.

I usually make my cupcakes with a 2 egg, 4oz flour, sugar, butter mixture, plus extras - vanilla, flavours etc but this recipe is different. These aren't huge cupcakes, but are perfect for a small treat in the middle of the morning or afternoon. I really, really recommend buying this book for the recipe - so worth it!

The thing that really made them stand out to me was their lightness. They were beautifully moist and almost dissolved or melted in the mouth in a most pleasing way. The rich yet light buttercream icing was the perfect complement to the beautiful cake. I will definitely be making these again.

Needless to say, my colleagues loved them. Quote of the day has to go to one colleague whose comment was thus: 'I really loved the cakes, but the ball-bearings were a bit hard on my teeth!'. So beware if you decide to decorate with 'ball-bearings' as I did - they are not for the dentally challenged!!!

Thursday 7 May 2009

Moist chocolate cake with honey glaze

Moist rich chocolate cake. I'm always up for trying a new chocolate cake recipe, and this one from Dan Lepard is a little different in technique to a standard sponge cake (as is often the case with his recipes, usually for good reason!). I was reminded of it as I was tidying up in my kitchen (something which should happen rather more often than it actually does) and came across the tapioca flour that I had bought especially for this recipe. I thought I'd better give it a try, and I'm really glad that I did.

I didn't want to make the chocolate treacle frosting that Dan recommends, and as it was late in the evening when I finally got round to frosting the cake, I decided to make a simpler icing. I'd been flicking through 'Feast' by Nigella Lawson, as you do, and the delicious picture of the honey chocolate cake with its shiny glaze jumped out at me, so I decided to try that instead. Yum! The honey flavour does come through quite strongly, so use a honey you like! And when she suggests sifting the icing sugar, it's probably worth it. I didn't bother and had to beat my mixture for ages and ages to try and get all the little lumps of icing sugar out, and I think a few still escaped. Will I ever learn???

I made a half recipe and baked it in an 8" sandwich tin, which was perfect. I don't think that I'd bake a double recipe in one tin, mine rose quite a lot, and I'm not sure how it would turn out. But double the mixture and bake in two tins to make a much taller, more decadent cake. The original recipe is here.

Moist Rich Chocolate Cake
140g caster sugar
90g plain flour
25g tapioca starch or flour
38g cocoa powder
scant tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
190ml boiling milk
50g dark 70% chocolate, chopped fine
1 large egg
40ml sunflower oil
20g treacle (original recipe says 25g, but I couldn't measure out 12.5g, it just wasn't going to happen!)
1 tsp vanilla extract

- Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line the base of a 20cm diameter shallow sandwich tin with non-stick baking parchment.
- Weigh and sift all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
- In another bowl, melt the chocolate in the boiling milk, leave to cool for 15 minutes, then beat in the eggs, oil, treacle and vanilla.
- Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients for 30 seconds until smooth, and pour the batter into the tin.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes for a shallow tin, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

When cool, pour over the chocolate honey frosting/glaze:

(again I used a half recipe, which made loads and loads for this size of cake - you could reheat leftovers and pour over vanilla ice-cream - yum!)
30ml water
60ml runny honey
90g dark chocolate
40g icing sugar

- Bring the water and honey to the boil in a small pan, then turn off the heat nad add the finely chopped chocolate, allowing it to melt in the hot liquid.
- Leave it for a few minutes, then whisk/stir together. Sieve in the icing sugar (see note above!) and whisk again until smooth.
- Pour the icing over the cake.

The glaze stays tacky for ages, so leave plenty of time before you want to cut the cake (I left mine overnight). You can find the original recipe (and lovely picture) on the newly revamped and very attractive (naturally!) website, here.
A final picture of the whole cake. I wasn't that bothered about making it look beautiful - rather more interested in the taste to be honest! You can see that the cake cracked on baking, but since the original picture also sported an excellent fissure I was quite pleased that my cake was mimicking its original!

The cake and icing were both really lovely - the cake was really moist and the icing stayed soft and luscious, but set just enough to be able to be cut (albeit with much wiping of the knife inbetween slices).

Many thanks are due to both Dan and Nigella for this rather scrummy chocolate cake. Need I say that this was snapped up rather quickly by my colleagues - very positive feedback!!!

Saturday 2 May 2009

Lemon and raisin flapjacks

I suppose this is really more of a note to myself than anything particularly original. When I made these chocolate flapjacks, I was really pleased with their texture - slightly thicker and more 'oaty' than my usual ones, and given that they went down so well at work, I was inspired to try different variations. If I don't post about this one soon, I'll forget what I added to them, which would be a real pity because they were really good!

So no new recipe I'm afraid, I used the same recipe as here, but omitted the chocolate, replacing it with 100g raisins and the finely grated zest of one lemon. I know that J feels flapjacks should be 'pure' and not have other things added to them, but I'm going to disagree with her! These were yummy and the lemony flavour was great. It cut the richness a little, and the raisins were good - not too prominent, but added a little interest to the flapjack. I was worried that they'd burn during the cooking, but they didn't. A few on the top caught a little, but not in an acrid burnt way, just in a chewy, tasty way. And if you really don't like those ones, you could easily pick them off! I think that next time, I might add the zest of another lemon, because I really liked the flavour it gave, but it was quite subtle this time.

These went down just as well at work as the last batch. I think I'm on to a winner. Quick and easy to make, and not too expensive either!

Friday 1 May 2009

Vanilla buttercream cupcakes - Sweet and Simple

Welcome to this month's Sweet and Simple Bake. For me, buttercream iced cupcakes are the essense of sweetness and simplicity - a light, fluffy vanilla cupcake topped with a decadent swirl of light-as-a-feather buttercream is perfection.

I have a small confession to make, but I'm sure Rosie and Maria will forgive me! I looked at the recipe when it was first mentioned at the beginning of last month and thought yum, cupcakes. I then promptly forgot all about it for a few weeks and finally got round to making these a week ago or so. I didn't look at the blog again and so just used the cupcake recipe that lives in my head, which is 4oz (or about 115g) each of butter, sugar and self-raising flour and two eggs. Plus a tsp of baking powder and a tsp of vanilla extract. Now, this is the same recipe that Rosie and Maria give on the recipe blog here, but scaled down. Perhaps that's why my cupcakes aren't exactly overflowing their cases, although I actually think they're a pretty good size for a quick midmorning pick-me-up! So if you want to follow their recipe (which I'm sure will work perfectly), please do. For the recipe I used, click here!

I decided that I wanted to have some fun decorating my cupcakes, and chose red food colouring to give pink buttercream, which I piped on using one of the nozzles I bought a while back. I love piping buttercream, it's just such good fun. Sadly, I underestimated how much butter I needed and used 90g butter plus 180g icing sugar. I think for 12 cupcakes piled gloriously high with buttercream (like here) I would have needed about 120g butter and 240g icing sugar.

These disappeared as if by magic when I took them into work, even the one above, which was the last lonely cupcake to be iced and I really was running out of icing! However, I got no complaints about it, and plenty of praise so it does seem to show that the simple things in life are the best sometimes!


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