Tuesday 27 April 2010

Sticky apple and ginger cake

How can such an unassuming cake taste so delicious? This is definitely not a cake that's going to win any prizes in the looks department, but seriously - what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in flavour and texture. I suppose I could have decorated it, but I wasn't sure what type of icing would complement it - a simple glace water icing made with ginger syrup might have been good, but it doesn't need it.

The original recipe came from a recent issue of the Waitrose magazine (which I'm buying at the moment because it's only £1 and I just can't resist!). It's a recipe for a ginger and apple simnel cake, but I've missed that boat for this year and I can't eat marzipan anyway, so it didn't seem a hardship to miss off the marzipan. Add it if you're a fan by all means.

Apart from leaving off the marzipan I made only a couple of minor changes to the recipe - I only had 280g light muscovado sugar left rather than 300g, I only used 125g crystallised stem ginger because that was the size of my packet of that (although next time I'd add more probably - it baked into a luscious sticky chewiness and even though pretty much all of the ginger sank to the bottom of the cake this didn't matter because it meant that you got a lovely gingery 'hit' in some mouthfuls to contrast with the gloriously buttery sweet soft cake of the other mouthfuls).
The other change I made which I was actually really pleased with was to use an eating apple instead of a cooking apple. When it came to grating it, I decided that instead of using the coarse side of my box grater, I would grate the apple on my Microplane grater. This meant that rather than being distinct pieces the apple was essentially pulp, which I think must have contributed to the gorgeous moist texture of the cake. It also got rid of a rather large slightly mealy apple that was sitting in the fridge and on my conscience!

NB That's not my box grater, but it's similar in style! The microplane grater is sold as coarse, but it isn't really - it produces mush!!!

I just can't say strongly enough how delcious this was for a ginger lover - the cake was moist and rich and sticky and gingery and just fabulous! Have I said enough? Make it, you won't regret it. Everyone else loved it too - apart from those on diets who had to resist.... mean? am I ever!!!

Monday 26 April 2010

Chocolate and lemon marble cake

This was a quick traybake to use up some eggs but it was simple and tasty so I thought I'd record it here anyway. Citrus flavours are always popular at work and I (and most other people!) like chocolate so the combination was designed to appeal to everyone!

The surface of the cake was very attractively marbled, the insides less so. I think I need to work on my marbling technique! However, this did have the advantage that you got a lemon mouthful, then a chocolate one and the flavours were more distinct. It was a nice, simple, moist cake enjoyed by many with a cup of coffee and sometimes these are the kind of cakes you want.

Chocolate and lemon marble cake
225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
4 large eggs

For the lemon portion: zest of 1 1/2 large lemons (why 1 1/2 - check out this delicious bread for the other 1/2!!!)

For the chocolate portion: 30g cocoa powder

- Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C. Grease and line a traybake tin, mine is 20 x 30 cm (8x12")
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, beating slowly as you do so.
- If the mixture looks as though it's going to curdle, add a little of the flour.
- When the eggs are incorporated, add the flour and fold in until well mixed.
- Divide the mixture - place half into a different bowl and then add the cocoa powder and a little water or milk to one half, and the grated lemon zest to the other half.
- Blob alternately into the tin until all the mixture is used up, then swirl with a flat blade (I used the handle of a spoon).
- Bake for 30-35 minutes - the cake was cooked more quickly than I expected as it's quite shallow. It's done when springy to the touch and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

You can see that the bottom of the cake is rather less marbled! No matter, it still tastes good!

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Cranberry oat loaf

It seems like a while since I last posted bread, well, apart from these hot cross buns. Recently I've mostly been eating this bread, and variations (additions have included olives, roasted peppers and roasted halved cherry tomatoes) of this bread. All very delicious, but when I spotted Dan Lepard's most recent recipe in the Guardian last Saturday I decided it was time for a change.

I did actually stick pretty closely to his recipe (find the recipe posted on his forums here) but since there's only me eating this, and because my freezer is about to explode with all the items in there, and given the final factor that I also needed a more savoury bread for lunchtime sandwiches, I decided to halve the recipe. It worked well (who'd have guessed?!!!). The minor changes I made were to add the butter to the soaking mixture to avoid having to rub it in (bad, lazy person!) and to use the zest of half a lemon rather than an orange, lemons were present, oranges sadly lacking in my house.

But coming back to the bread for lunchtime sandwiches. I still fancied the idea of using the soaked oats technique, so I used that for my normal (no additions) bread too. The other change I made for the plain loaf was to use half strong white flour and half soft/plain white flour, as I've found that this gives me a closer crumb, and I prefer this. Unsurprisingly the two loaves look very similar....

However, the cranberry version did catch (very slightly, and in no way approached burnt!) more than the plain, just as Dan said it would. I baked the loaves for 10 mins at Gas 7 (210C), 15 minutes at Gas 6 (200C) and a further 10 minutes at Gas 6 upside down to brown the bases of the loaves, my usual technique. I was really impressed with the texture of the bread - it's more substantial than the bread I usually make and the toasty oats on the top of the bread, combined with the oats in the loaf give it a lovely slightly chewy texture. You can see from the crumb shot that the oats aren't visible in the final loaf, but their presence is felt by the chewiness and they lend a lovely oaty taste too (again, unsurprisingly!!!). Definitely a good all purpose adaptable bread recipe, thanks Dan.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Custard Creams - sometimes it's fun to play with your food...

I'm such a lucky person aren't I? T bought me some lovely biscuit cutters in the shapes of various mini-beasts for Easter instead of buying me an Easter egg (he did buy me chocolate in bar form though, far better in my opinion!) and I couldn't wait to use them, I've had cookie-cutter envy ever since seeing these adorable bush buddy cutters on Johannas fab blog, Green Gourmet Giraffe.

I spent Easter with my family, and J had made some custard cream biscuits for us that a friend of hers had made and after trying them I was determined to make some of my own and see if they were as delicious as J's biscuits. So the combination of desires led to custard cream biscuits in extremely cute shapes! And I got to have fun playing not only with icing the finished biscuits, but also with photographing them..... Note the way the lion is hunting the spider in the photo above, and the fact that the scary spider has red eyes - mwah-hah-hah. As an aside I only made one spider on the basis that spiders are scary and indeed, all the others were eaten well before the spider. It was only after some of his legs had broken off that people were willing to approach him.... coincidence? I think not!

Well, I did have to make some in more traditional shape too - not square like the commercial ones, but two layers sandwiched together with buttercream icing. Mind you, most of the mini-beasts were sandwiched too, and they had decorations on the top as well!

Aren't the caterpillars lovely?! OK, recipe:

Custard Cream biscuits with buttercream filling
Ingredients (you could easily double these to make more biscuits)
85g softened butter
85g self raising flour
28g custard powder
30g icing sugar

Buttercream icing
50g butter, very soft
100g icing sugar, plus more


- Preheat the oven to 170-180C/Gas 3-4. I know this doesn't seem accurate, but J's friend said to use Gas 3, but I found Gas 4 fine. I don't think it's critical because you'll have to watch them carefully anyway.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the flour and custard powder and mix well to combine. The mixture may seem a little dry, but doesn't require any additional liquid - it will come together to form a soft dough.
- If you are making the traditional type biscuits, take small amounts of dough and mould into balls in your hands. Put on a baking tray lined with silicon baking parchment and push down very slightly - you want them to be rounded - they don't rise during cooking.
- If you are making cut out shapes, roll out small amounts of the dough at a time on a lightly floured surface, cut your shapes and very carefully transfer to the baking tray.
- Repeat until all dough is used up.
- Bake for around 8-15 minutes. Yes, this is a massive time span for such small biscuits, but if you roll the dough fairly thinly, they'll not take very long to cook and if you form mounded balls they'll obviously take a lot longer. Sorry to be so unhelpful, but the biscuits are done when they are not quite starting to turn golden brown. The best thing I can suggest is to bake a small batch first and keep checking to get an idea of how quickly they are cooking in your oven given how thick/thin they are. I know this sounds difficult but it really isn't. Just remember you don't really want them coloured and they'll be a bit soft when you take them out.
- Leave on the tray for a minute or so and then very carefully transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

In the meantime, prepare your buttercream - beat half the quantity of butter to icing sugar (e.g. 50g softened butter to 100g icing sugar) together until very light in colour and fluffy. I often add a little more sugar when I feel the mixture can take it. If you are colouring the buttercream, divide it into smaller bowls and add colouring paste/gel/liquid until you achieve the colour you are looking for. Only you can know this! I used make-shift piping bags by putting the buttercream into a small plastic food bag and snipping a tiny corner off the bag to get a hole to pipe through.

All that remains for you to do is have fun decorating. I guess children would love doing this, but I loved doing it too, what can I say?

Oh, and then you get to eat your creations. Which in this case is fantastic because these light little biscuits just crumble, dissolve and melt in your mouth. Although sharing the same name as their commercial cousins these are light-years away in both taste and texture. All of my colleagues loved them, and it goes without saying that J and T love them. So thanks to Brenda for giving the recipe to J, and to J for persuading me to try her delicious biscuits because I'm not normally a fan of buttercream, here it's great!

Gratuitous photo of snails - aren't they fab!!!

Monday 5 April 2010

Collapsing Chocolate Creme Fraiche Cake - Happy Birthday T!

Did you really think I'd leave you over Easter without a chocolate cake of some sort? I think it must be the law to eat chocolate at Easter (although it has to be said that I lack the will power of even a gnat and therefore didn't give up chocolate for Lent....) so here is this year's offering.

It was also T's birthday on Easter Sunday (which doesn't happen all that often, the coincidence I mean, obviously both Easter and the birthday happen each year without fail...), so Happy Birthday T, it was really lovely to spend the day together and you'll get your present when you've decided what you want (hint, hint!). So this cake was for T's birthday.

I had creme fraiche in the fridge and wanted to use it up, and vaguely remembered seeing a cake with creme fraiche instead of butter in it. I'd made this cake before, but it had sadly risen like a souffle and then collapsed into an ugly, inedible (and it's not often that happens) heap. (I hasten to add that this was my fault - I changed the type of flour and used half fat instead of full fat creme fraiche, still it contributed to my avoidance of any cake using separated eggs!) Determined to both avoid a repeat of this catastrophe and also to use the creme fraiche, I used this recipe for inspiration, but essentially made up my own cake! Note to self: when making up cakes and diligently writing down ingredients, method, oven temperature and cooking time, do not record this vital information on a scrap of cardboard. With the best will in the world, you will lose it (again....second time in as many weeks.... sigh).

Creme fraiche chocolate cake
3 eggs
125g caster sugar
250ml tub full fat creme fraiche (I used a French style one)
115g self raising flour
30g dark cocoa powder (Green and Blacks is good)

For the chocolate icing
40g butter
25g golden syrup
50g dark chocolate (70% solids)
160g icing sugar (I used a mixture of normal and unrefined because I ran out of normal...)

- Grease and line the base and sides of an 8" deep cake tin. Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C.
- Whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined, about 2-3 minutes with an electric hand whisk.
- Add the creme fraiche and beat until combined.
- Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and fold together until there are no more streaks of flour in the mixture.
- Pour into the lined tin and place in the oven. I put mine on a baking tray because I was using a loose based tin and was worried about mixture escaping. I'm happy to report that nothing escaped!
- Bake for around 40-45 minutes (this is where my little bit of cardboard with timings written on it would have come in really handy. That or a better memory, I'd be good either way!) until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake feels firm to the touch. The surface of my cake had cracked quite a bit, but it didn't matter as I was planning on icing it anyway.
- Turn out carefully and leave to cool on a wire rack. The cake will sink.

- When the cake is cool, make the icing.
- Melt butter, syrup and chocolate in a pan then add icing sugar. Beat briskly until smooth and pour onto cake. I found I had a little too much icing, but no matter, it tastes good warm on vanilla icecream! Scatter with decorations of choice - Cadbury's mini eggs here. Yum!

The glaze is one I've used before, and is fudgy and grainy and delicious! It went perfectly with the fudgy cake, and, ahem, disguised the fact that the cake was perhaps not standing as tall as it might have been. Nothing like a pool of icing to level off a slightly sunken cake. I should have called it sunken souffle cake, pretended it was exactly as I was expecting and no-one would have been any the wiser! I see Delia has a similar idea....

Taste? Ooooh, yum! You can see from the picture above just how dense and fudgy the cake was - really good. Not too sweet and the cake and icing went together really well. T cut himself a good big slice to enjoy with cream - well it was his birthday and Easter sunday after all. J and I enjoyed it greatly too.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Marzipan and Cherry Easter cupcakes

These are my contribution this year to Julia's Easter Cake Bake. I think that I should be rather proud of the standard of my entry this year, considering the poor job I did last year, but let's not dwell on that shall we.... I decided to make these cherry and almond Easter cupcakes to use some of the marzipan that I bought at Christmas to make a stollen for J. I should apologise to J here, because I never did get round to making that Stollen... some other time maybe. So it happened that I had a block of marzipan to use, and marzipan and Easter seem to be linked, what with Simnel cake (although that's more Mothering Sunday than Easter in my book) and so forth, so marzipan it was. I had recently made some rather poorly received (more to come on this, if I can bear to post about it) cupcakes so felt that it was time to redeem myself with work colleagues and make something that looked and tasted good (the last batch of cupcakes tasted fine, but didn't look very appealing and I'm coming to the conclusion that people eat primarily with their eyes....)

I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and decided to adapt it to my requirements. I didn't want 24 cupcakes, so I halved the recipe then tweaked it and got 12.

110g butter, softened
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour
100g marzipan, chilled and coarsely grated
100g glace cherries, halved if small, quartered if large (wash them first to get rid of the syrup - it'll help to prevent them from sinking in the cake mixure)

150g icing sugar
mini eggs to decorate

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs and flour and beat well until combined.
- Add the grated marzipan and cherries and mix well until combined. Divide between the muffin cases.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked and lightly golden brown (mine took 24 minutes). Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with sufficient water to form a thickish icing. I know the Good Food recipe recommends 100g icing sugar for 24 cupcakes, but it wasn't even enough for my 12, let alone 24!!!
- Blob the icing onto the cupcakes and spread around a little. Top with mini eggs as desired.
I have to confess here, I bought two packets (2 x 100g) of mini eggs because as I suspected there weren't enough different colours in one packet alone to provide differently coloured eggs for all the cupcakes. My first packet had a preponderance of pink eggs. If you aren't as fussy, one packet will be plenty!

As to what they taste like, I don't know - I can't eat marzipan, but they were admired and then disappeared fairly rapidly with good comments being made, so I'm guessing they were moist and delicious!!! Probably with an almond flavour (well, you would hope so!) and juicy chunks of glace cherry. Your imagination is as good as mine!!!

Friday 2 April 2010

Hot Cross Buns

Yes, it's that time of the year again - nearly Easter and I'm actually going to manage to post this recipe on Good Friday (just....)! (See last year, where I was late.... as ever!) And although I'm not going so far as to have a bake off of lots of different hot cross bun recipes (though check out Chele's blog if you want to see her progress) I'm going to give you my version this year.

I'm happy to give both ingredients and method because although the recipe is heavily influenced by Dan Lepards techniques and recipes, I feel I've made this one my own. Full of juicy moist raisins and subtly spicy, these mini hot cross buns have got a lovely soft texture and a good bite too. Delicious spread with plenty of butter, even better if they're warmed first. Mmmmm, hot cross buns. It's been worth the wait to make my own rather than buying them since Christmas!

Yes, they aren't shiny and pretty like last year's buns, but lets be honest, that sticky glaze makes them tricky to take into work! I admit that a sticky top is nice though, so check out last year's post for a sticky topping.

175g plain flour
175g strong white bread flour
generous tsp instant yeast (probably about 7g)
scant tsp salt
generous tsp mixed spice
grated zest of a lemon
190ml milk, scalded and allowed to cool slightly (I used semi-skimmed)
30g butter
50ml water (approx)
pinch (1/8 tsp) vitamin C powder (optional)
1 egg, beaten
100g raisins, soaked for about an hour in approx 100ml boiling water

A little extra flour for the crosses

- In a large bowl, mix together the flours, yeast, salt, mixed spice, lemon zest and vitamin C powder.
- Add the butter to the milk and stir until melted.
- Add the egg, milk and butter mixture to the flour and mix well to form a dough. Drain the raisins of their soaking liquid, discard the liquid and add the raisins to the dough, mix to combine.
- Leave the dough out of the way in a warmish place for about an hour and a half. It will have grown.
- Knead the dough briefly, but don't worry about it too much, it's just to amalgamate it all.
- Shape the buns. I used my weighing scale at this point - I decided to make mini hot cross buns and each of my pieces of dough weighed between 48-52g (roughly!). Knead into ball shapes and place fairly close together on a tray to prove. I spaced mine slightly apart, so that the buns retained their individual shape after baking, but if you want more of a batched edge, place them closer together.
- Leave for about 45 minutes, until they have grown somewhat - I left mine on the top of the oven whilst something else was baking, so I guess it was fairly warm for them.
- Make a paste using a little plain flour and water, then pipe crosses onto the buns. I don't have any measurements for the amount of flour and water I used, but the paste ended up being the thickness of thick pouring cream. I put it into a small plastic food bag and snipped off the corner, the larger the hole you cut, the thicker your crosses will be.

- Preheat the oven to Gas 6/200C (if not already on for something else!).
- Bake the buns for about 25 minutes (I'm afraid I can't remember the exact time mine took and although I wrote it down, I've lost my little piece of paper, can't think where it's gone.....)
- I turned mine upside down for the last 5-10 minutes of baking (which was an interesting manoeuvre, involving many baking gloves and two trays, not sure I recommend it!).
- When baked cool on a wire rack and then add glaze if desired.

Delicious served warm and buttered, or toasted and buttered. These aren't as soft as shop bought hot cross buns, but they are really delicious. I think next time I'll experiment with upping the spice a bit, add more citrus zest, perhaps orange as the lemon was very subtle and perhaps add some different dried fruit too - I'm thinking apricots or perhaps glace cherries, stem ginger or mixed peel - so many delicious options!


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