Sunday 28 February 2010

Fresh from the oven - No kneading required

Apologies to my fellow bakers at Fresh from the oven for missing the past couple of months baking. I can't eat marzipan, so although I admired the stollen that others baked from afar, I wasn't really motivated to make it as I can't eat it. And I just ran out of time last month. But that's all in the past - this month I've been organised enough to make this no-knead bread. This month's host is Claire over at Things we make - she has a lovely blog which I suggest you go and browse! She chose no-knead bread for this months challenge, based on the original recipe published in the New York Times a while ago that has been circulating around blogs ever since. I had heard of it before, but lacking the Le Creuset cast iron pot deemed necessary for the baking, I had avoided the recipe. However, I needed to rise to the challenge set by the group and so although I still don't have a Le Creuset I do have a different option....more later.
This recipe really is very easy to put together, and as Claire has given such good instructions I won't reproduce them here, but suggest you visit her post about it, here.

I have to admit that I was tempted to keep messing with the dough - it seemed very alien to me to just leave it to do its own thing for all that time. It wasn't the easiest of doughs to work with when it came to mixing it after 16 hours (the picture above is the fermentation after 16 hours, mmmm, bubbly!), and required a fair bit of flour to lubricate it and release it from the bowl, plus a very sticky scraper. I also had a little difficulty in transfering it to the cooking pot - it didn't want to be parted from the bowl it had risen in. As mentioned before, I don't have a Le Creuset (or similar) cast iron pot, but I do have a stainless steel pan with a metal (rather than glass) lid, which is oven safe. So I decided to bake the bread in this, which actually worked really well, I was very relieved indeed when the bread turned out easily as I had been imagining a horrible stuck mess that I would have to extricate bit by bit and spend ages scrubbing my pan to get it clean again! The only drawback is that oiling the pan did leave marks after baking (unsurprising really) and because the bread filled the pan it was impossible to turn upside down to check for done-ness. I left mine to bake for probably about 15-20 minutes longer than specified to get the lovely golden crust you see here.

I found the bread quite difficult to slice and ended up with rather thick slices, but never mind! The bread itself was quite nice, but unfortunately, having to oil the pan to prevent it sticking meant that the base of the bread was slightly oily, which I found off-putting. I did eat it all though, so it can't have been too bad!
Great challenge, and one I'm glad I did, even if I won't repeat the bread any time soon. I think I'll stick to my usual sort of bread, but this made a nice change. I will try and remember to add a link to the roundup when it's published.

Monday 22 February 2010

Chocolate apricot oat crunchies

It's an unsulphured dried apricot, just in case you were wondering....

Mostly my baking is planned. Not very well planned, I'm the first to admit, but there is usually a little forethought to what I'm making. Sometimes, though, it's just spontaneous. I was about to take a cake out of the oven, and had just enough time before needing to cook my dinner to fit in another simple, quick to bake recipe. And that's where these little biscuits come in. They aren't posh or particularly photogenic, but they are easy and quick to make, and taste good, which is what it's all about after all. (You could even pretend they're healthy, what with the oats and all, but no, no they're not...)

One of the nicest things about this recipe is the way it lends itself to variations so well. The recipe is Delia's originally, but once you've added what you fancy, it becomes your own. Delia suggests chocolate almond, apricot pecan, cherry flaked almond, and raisin hazelnut but I wanted dried apricots and dark chocolate (and for once, my colleagues had dark rather than milk chocolate, because these biscuits were all about pleasing myself, not someone else!). The recipe was published in Delia Smith's How to Cook, Book 1 (a lady after my own heart; biscuits and cakes get a chapter in the first book of the series, meat and fish etc. have to wait until later!!!)

As I followed the recipe faithfully (not often I can say that!) I will just give a link to the online version on Delia's website. I used 50g chopped dark chocolate, and 50g chopped unsulphured apricots, omitted the mixed spice and didn't bother with the topping. I would advise letting the mixture cool a little before addding the chocolate because mine mostly melted, and it would have been nice to have chunks of chocolate in the biscuit.

I loved them, colleagues loved them, what more is there to say?

Sunday 14 February 2010

Rosemary madeira cake

Sometimes I have a flick through cookery books that I've had for ages and ages, and suddenly a recipe that I've passed over for years and years appeals to me. So it was with this Nigella recipe. It's from How to be a Domestic Goddess, which was one of the earlier baking books I bought, when Amazon wasn't there to offer cut-price books (or if it was, it was in its infancy, and I didn't trust buying over the internet - oh the days of innocence and past!) and this was an expensive treat. Many a time I've looked through the pages, admiring the photography, imagining what the recipes would taste like. Don't get me wrong, I've cooked plenty from it too, but this recipe had always been overlooked. I did make the Madeira cake though, years and years ago. And I had problems. With hindsight, it was the oven because student houses never have great equipment. And it was my inexperience too. Now, however, I have an oven that I know and plenty more experience. It was time to repeat the recipe and forget the acrid smell that had been the result of a cascade of cake to the oven floor....... my head is hanging in shame.

So, did it work? Yes. I'm pleased and relieved to say that I had no problems whatsoever with the cake this time round. In fact, it's a rather majestic looking loaf cake, and I'm sorry that I didn't get a picture of it whole, before slicing. However, the slices show you the crumb and I'm sure you know what a loaf cake looks like! I'm talking about this cake and the Madeira cake as if they're one recipe. They aren't, and there are two separate entries in the book, but they are extremely similar, and given that Nigella has published the Madeira cake here on her website, but not the rosemary loaf cake, I'll just tell you how the recipes differ.

For the rosemary version:
Omit the zest and juice of the lemon specified for the original version. Add 1tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves just before the flour (you'll need about 2 4"/10cm stalks of rosemary) and 4 tbsp of milk where Nigella specifies lemon juice. That's it!

Nigella says the cake takes an hour to cook. Not for me it didn't. I ended up leaving it about an hour and a half, which wasn't a problem - the outside didn't burn, but be aware if you're trying to fit lots of baking into a session that this one will take longer than specified.

Taste test? This was fab. Really buttery and moist and the balance of the vanilla and rosemary flavours was lovely. I thought the rosemary was quite subtle, with perhaps more vanilla flavour, but it was really, really good. Colleagues agreed and it didn't last long.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Well, I wanted chocolate. Hang on, forget the want, I needed chocolate (I often do....). Not a heavy, dense cake, but something light, quick to make and enjoyable to eat. Not pure chocolate but with a little twist. And then I remembered the lightness of the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcakes I made almost a year ago. They were deliciously chocolately but light as a feather. This incarnation is based quite strongly on the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcakes but is my own interpretation with adaptations as time has passed and the whim has taken me (not to mention the ingredients available in the pantry...). Hence orange. I do enjoy a good chocolate orange combination, and used to adore Terry's Chocolate Orange, but now find it less pleasing for some reason. These taste similar, but the orange flavour is less overwhelming, and less artificial. Better, I think.

Quick to make, easy to eat - what more could you ask? My colleagues loved these and they all disappeared rapidly.

Chocolate orange cupcakes
120g self raising flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
40g butter, softened
120ml semi skimmed milk (2% fat for those outside the UK!)
1 large egg
grated zest of one large orange (preferably unwaxed)

For the chocolate fudge frosting
40g butter
25g golden syrup
50g dark chocolate (I used 70% cocoa solids)
160g icing sugar

Chocolate vermicelli to decorate

- Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
- Place flour, cocoa powder, sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat on slow with an electric mixer (handheld or stand, I used handheld) until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. I don't find this works very well, flour and sugar sprays everywhere and it is all lumpy. So I add half the milk at this point too. Beat until no longer lumpy (this took ages, I thought the lumps would never go)
- Whisk the remaining milk, egg and orange zest together in a jug and add this to the mixture. Beat again until no more lumps remain (again, seemed to take a while....). I'm really not convinced about this method, but the cupcakes seem to be good in the end, so I'm persevering for now.....
- Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in a preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, mine took about 20.
- Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

When the cupcakes are pretty much cold:
- For the frosting, heat the butter, chocolate and golden syrup gently in a pan until the chocolate is half/nearly melted. Stir until completely melted then add the icing sugar. Beat until smooth, adding about 25ml boiling water. Cool slightly until starting to thicken up.
- When the cupcakes are cold, pour/spoon the frosting onto them, sprinkle with vermicelli if desired (they do look pretty with vermicelli!) and leave to set. I found the frosting started to set very quickly, especially when I poured it onto the cupcakes. In one go was the best method, it was difficult to add more frosting to the cupcakes without creating an entire new layer. The frosting was pleasingly runny and didn't need any encouragement to get to the edge of the cakes, and set with a lovely glossy finish. I suppose you could have used orange juice in the frosting too, but this didn't occur to me until too late.

The cupcakes are slightly on the small side, but in this case that's no bad thing. Reason being, the frosting is quite runny and having cupcakes below the level of the cases means that the frosting is contained and doesn't escape. There was a little extra frosting, which would have been really good eaten warmed up over ice cold vanilla icecream. Yum. Or it would have been if it had made it to the icecream....

Thursday 4 February 2010

Apple, blackcurrant and clotted cream cupcakes

Presenting to you the reason that I bought the tub of clotted cream in the first place, which led to me having half a tub of clotted cream left to use in this shortcake. So was it worth buying the clotted cream - oh yes! I discovered two good recipes so a definite bonus. This recipe is from the Sainsbury's Magazine (excellent value for money, as I'm sure I've said before) and generally full of interesting things to read, and really good columnists, both foodie and otherwise (and no, I am in no way connected to/employed by/recieving anything from Sainsbury's for saying this, but if they want to offer.....) so if you can get hold of a copy do! The recipe came from a feature on afternoon tea which caught my eye when first flicking through the magazine and then when I looked more closely it turned out that the recipes were by Dan Lepard, which only served to make me keener to try them - I know that his recipes work well. Other than the clotted cream, I had everything to hand. I made a few small changes to the recipe, which I'll outline below.

I made these for a 90th birthday party I went to where the recipients (of varying ages!!!) were of conservative taste. Another party go-er made banana toffee meringue pie, which looked delicious, but which was repeatedly greeted with 'oh, I only like lemon' and a disappointed look before walking off. Needless to say, anything that didn't look conventional or perfect didn't go very well, and I'm very sad to report that these cupcakes suffered this fate. I blame myself. The recipe clearly specifies two bun tins, and I possess only one muffin tin. Hmm. Even though I used two paper liners and squashed the cases into a relatively tight space, it just wasn't happening. Hence the rather erm.... 'rustic' appearance of the cakes. However, as I'm sure you know appearance is not everything, and what these lacked on the looks front, they more than made up for on the taste front. In a way, I feel sorry for the people who didn't try them when they had a chance, they really missed out!

Mmm, square cupcakes - special!!!
Anyway, fewer excuses for appearance, more recipe for cake....
This recipe was first published in the February 2010 issue of Sainsbury's Magazine, and is reproduced by kind permission from the editorial team there, and by Dan Lepard, whose website (currently undergoing an exciting makeover) can be found here, along with the forums where you'll be able to find many more excellent recipes, worthy of your time and effort along with invaluable advice from fellow bakers. Go there, go now and you won't regret it. Well, actually, stay long enough to read the recipe here first and tell me what you think, then go!!!

Apple and blackcurrant clotted cream cupcakes
3 dessert apples, peeled and cored
2 tsp mixed spice (I omitted this)
50g unsalted butter, softened
113g tub Taste the difference clotted cream (or half of a 227g tub, which appeared to be the only size they sold in my local store)
150g caster sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract (I omitted due to allergies)
2 large eggs
75g ground almonds (I substituted with semolina due to allergies)
225g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
100g high quality blackcurrant conserve (Taste the difference is specified, I used Bonne Maman)
For the icing
150g icing sugar, sifted
75g blackcurrant conserve, as above

You will also need 2 cupcake trays lined with 20 cupcake cases (you really do need these.....and I made around 25 cupcakes)

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Chop the apples into rough small dice (I was doing this by hand and mine were probably about 1cm square, which I think with hindsight is too big. They need to be really quite small). Toss with the mixed spice until covered.
2. In a bowl, beat together the butter, clotted cream, sugar and almond extract (if using!) until smooth, then fold in the ground almonds (or semolina). Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold this through, too. Add the apples and fold very gently until just combined. I found the mixture very stiff and difficult to fold the apples into. Gentle didn't come into it!
3. Half fill the cupcake cases with the mixture. Dilute the conserve with 25ml of boiling water, beat well, then spoon a little into each cupcake. Top each one with a teaspoonful of cake mixture. I have to confess that due to the combined problems of stiff batter with large lumps of apple in it, this was really difficult - I ended up with some cases full of essentially apple and little batter, others all batter, little apple. I also found that the let down jam ran out and everywhere, next time I won't let it down. It was difficult to properly cover the jam because it had run out and because of the lumpy sticky batter, so eventually I gave up, and marbled the rest of the jam through the remaining batter, which was much easier. I will try again the proper way I think.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden; leave for 5 minutes then loosen each cake with a knife and move to a wire rack to cool.
5. For the icing, beat the icing sugar with the conserve and a little water until creamy. Spoon on to the cupckes and leave to set.

The accompanying photo in the magazine looks much better than my efforts, although my top photo is ok. Next time I would chop the apple smaller, and perhaps let the batter down with a little milk to make it easier to work with. I also wouldn't dilute the jam. But I would make them again, the flavours were lovely and the blackcurrant and apple together were really nice. It was also a good way to use up some dessert apples I had lurking, and it's always nice to use things up!

Like I said, I had a few escapees. I like to think of this cupcake as the elephant man of the batch. Still delicious though and all were eaten with relish by colleagues who didn't have a choice of other items and I think know that most things I bake are edible if not really quite yummy!!!


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