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A Big Bundt-Up

November 19, 2011

For the past two years I have baked on National Bundt Day in America. Inspired by Mary, the Food Librarian I, along with many others who follow her blog have celebrated this, my favourite type of cake, on the 15th November along. My enjoyment of baking this kind of cake pales into insignificance when compared to Mary’s dedication. For three years she has baked a bundt a day for the month leading up to the 15th. That’s 90 Bundts people. This year saw the spectacular Jello Bundt, the slightly freaky Doll Bundt and also the Tomato Soup Bundt – have a look at her site on the link above to see her collection of recipes.

Last year Mary sent a badge to all those who baked along with her, even kindly posting one out to me here in the UK, I would’ve baked again this year anyway, but confess that the thought of another badge spurred me on especially as I have misplaced this one.

There are tentative plans forming that may enable me to sell my wares so test recipes are taking up much of my baking time. I recently made Blueberry & Coriander muffins which where a great success, so I decided to try this flavour combo in Bundt form. I took the Lemon, Yoghurt Anything Cake from Smitten Kitchen to use as the base recipe. This is a cake I’ve cooked numerous times before as both a loaf and doubled to Bundt size, I’ve made it a couple of times with blueberries too. I added 3 teaspoons of dried coriander and some lime zest – coriander lime being firm friends, I also planned a lime glaze.

As I said, I have made a cake very similar to this before, in this tin even. But …. well ….

I perhaps could’ve take more out of the 10 cup pan (I made a small loaf too, no photos of this as I was too preocupied with the disaster above) but it didn’t overflow, just rose above the lip of the tin. I greased and dusted the tin with flour, as always. I put some batter into the base of the tin before mixing the blueberries into the rest of the batter to help prevent the berries from sticking.

And yet ….

Even once I extricated the disaster from the tin it was obvious it wasn’t cooked properly. I toyed with the idea of using a cookie cutter to rescue parts of the cake, but it was never going to taste pleasant. I couldn’t even taste the coriander.

I feel like I’ve had too many sticking disasters recently and it’s so disheartening. On Tuesday I felt like stepping away from my Bundt tins and sticking (no pun intended) to those tins that can be easily lined.

But then I wouldn’t be in with a chance of getting my badge or feel part of the Bundt-fest.

So I made this.

The base recipe is from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks site, a wonderful blog filled with inspiring photography and recipes. I have both of her books and  regularly look to her for inspiration when planning meals. I do love a banana cake and have been researching and testing recipes to potentially sell, this one was on my list to try as it uses olive oil, dark muscovado sugar and part wholemeal flour. I liked the look of this one as it doesn’t have much sugar in it so isn’t too sweet, especially as I decided to swap the  chopped chocolate for chopped toasted walnuts. I often put lemon in my banana cakes and also added in a mix of spices (cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) along with the vanilla to add warmth and depth.

I stood for a while surveying my tin options and, decision made, tentatively spooned the batter into the pan. It baked evenly and was done in about 35 minutes. Fearful of the turning out process I photographed the cake still in its tin, the use of dark muscovado sugar adds a lovely darkness to the crumb. Ten minutes cooling time and I turned the tin onto the cooling rack, and felt that wonderful sensation of the cake slipping easily, neatly and in one piece out of the tin.

The glaze is a mix of dark muscovado sugar, icing sugar and lemon juice, the sharpness of the lemon combined with the richness of the muscovado sugar in both the cake and the glaze lift the flavour of the banana which is still noticeable as the cake itself really isn’t that sweet. I like the crunch and earthiness of the walnuts in there, but I’m sure the original suggestion of chocolate would be just as delicious.

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Kitchen Crush

November 14, 2011

As may be apparent from the previous post my current, primary kitchen crush is with Dan Lepard. An extra helping of his recipes courtesy of last week’s Saturday Guardian provided these spicy Bonfire Night Biscuits.

A quick and easy recipe to knock up even if you’re not lucky enough to have a bonfire in your back garden to provide the autumnal smell of wood smoke, the aroma of these baking in your kitchen will make the dullest November day sparkle. The recipe asks for glace ginger but I used stem ginger and the comments section suggest that crystalised would do just as well if you wanted. I also cut out into rounds and adjusted the baking time down a bit to compensate. The base biscuit recipe I imagine is adaptable by swapping the spices and additions – I’m planning a Christmas version. Watch this space.

My other current crush is on Mr Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstal. My summer holiday this year was spent in Dorset taking part in the Four Day  Cookery Course at Park Farm, the headquarters of River Cottage. They run day courses that cover everything from bread and baking to curing meat, even seashore foraging.

I’ve long wanted to do the four day course; which dedicates a day each to meat, fish, veg and bread and baking; and I’m so glad that I did. It’s not cheap, but I turned it into my summer holiday – with a few days spent exploring and walking the surrounding area – and I can honestly say that having done the course it was the best value for money of any holiday I have ever taken.

I’ve tried to blog about it, but I can’t find the words to do the week justice. I could write a list of the dishes cooked, decipher my notes into recipes to share with you, but this would not convey what I learnt or the fun that I had. The team at Park Farm go out of their way to ensure you have good fun and the hours whip by as their share their passion and knowledge and you share, with the others on the course, the fruits of your labour.

I made and ate things that I would not normally try and it has given me more confidence in the kitchen and with my palate and skills. Should I try to more accurately describe all that I learned, made and ate I would run out of adjectives by the first lunchtime. There are photo’s on my Flickr page which chronicle the dishes cooked and eaten over the four days and I hope they give an indication of the fun that was had.

On the course I bought a copy of  ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday!’ book – the latest from Hugh. It accompanies his current TV Programme where he extolls the virtues of a veg based diet by giving up meat and fish for the summer. The book accompanies his current TV show on C4 which follows the usual River Cottage format of HFW taking something he’s passionate about and making an entertaining and informative programme to share his passion. Whilst Hugh isn’t going to be a life long vegetarian he wants us to eat more veg and realise that veg-centric meals needn’t be dull.

The book is broken down into sections on salads and soups, raw things and bready things and mezze and tapas to name a few.

First off for me was the veggie biryani made for 12 – want to feed a crowd? Who could ask for more than succulent spicy veg with curried rice garnished with crunchy almonds? A breeze to prepare and cook, and if you can lift the casserole dish containing enough for 12 people and carry it to the table to reveal and serve, all the better (I needed help just getting it out of the oven – damn you Le Cruset with your sturdy based pans, wrist splints should be sold alongside them IMO).

For dips and salads, please make the roasted carrot hummous – this has replaced Peamole (it is what it sounds like) as the dip-tastic choice of the season and the raw beetroot and walnut and cumin salad add a fab crunchy side – try it with a smoked fish platter.

Above is a warming Sunday night dinner for friends, a puy lentil and spinach soup (made with the veg stock recipe from the same book) filling and warming, perfect  after a long walk in the crisp autumnal sunshine. Should you want a little meat in there, I added some pancetta as there were some in the fridge that needed using. I don’t think Hugh would mind.

What I enjoy about veggie cooking, and all the things I’ve made from this book so far, is the ease with which each dish is adaptable in terms of using up what’s in the fridge or buying what’s currently in season. I feel more able to play around without the meat – perhaps because the total cost of the dish is cheaper so the risk is less. Perhaps also just because I’m more comfortable with cooking veg and less fearful of over or under cooking and more confident of how the dish will fare as leftovers. I’ve made more than I’ve covered here, and yet more are flagged. This book is one that I will return to over and over again.

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Short & Sweet

November 4, 2011

I have been baking almost exclusively from Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’ since it arrived a few weeks ago. A comprehensive compilation of recipes from choux to pita; muffins to meringues and tarts to tapenade dinner rolls. The ‘tips & techniques’ at the start of each  chapter – whilst present in any decent baking book – I’ve found more enlightening than usual. For example pointing out that ripe bananas are alkaline and may need the addition of more baking powder to stop the finished cakes turning out on the heavy side (noted Mr Lepard).

Dan writes a weekly column ‘How to Bake’ for the Saturday Guardian magazine. A regular cut-out-and-keep for me, my collection of his recipes are tucked between the pages of other baking books, and now they will have a place of their own. What I’m particularly pleased about is that the book isn’t just a collection of the recipes already available online and, as was recently pointed out in another review – the book stays open at the page required making life just a little easier.

 

 

 

I have now twice made the savoury choux pastry recipe and Black Olive Gourgeres (mini choux bites with thyme, garlic, parmesan and kalamata olives – divine). A chance to revisit the choux first attempted at River Cottage and to hone those skills. The gourgeres are a fantastic pre dinner party nibble as they can be made ahead and reheated easily before serving. They’re messy buggers to spoon onto a baking tray (line that tray with parchment) but they don’t need to be too uniform in shape as the their rough edges crisp up and add wonderful crunch.

 

 

 

The savoury choux paste with added parmesan and a hint of mace along with the cayenne (top spice tip from River Cottage – try it) was easier to work with although my quenelle-ing skills need a fair amount of work. I was able to try out my theory that a filling of horseradish creme fraiche would go well with the spicy buns. I can confirm it does make a lovely pairing; the light and crispy pastry, warm with gentle heat from the spices and parmesan compliments the smooth zingy and firey mixture of creme fraiche (I used low fat)  and horseradish (the English Provender Co makes a great substitute for the fresh stuff) lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Make your mixture and chill in the fridge before piping into the cooled buns. A great mixture that goes wonderfully well with beef or smoked fish too. Top tip of my own – remember to warn guests that the buns are filled. Chances are they will be eaten with glass in one hand and the eater’s focus on conversation – the spilling potential would seem to be moderately high.

 

 

 

From the sweeter end of the recipe selection I made the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake for a neighbours birthday. A fine crumbed cake containing condensed milk it’s better for a day left well wrapped but pretty damn tasty straight away if it calls to you from the kitchen.

 

 

 

Another day found me looking at the collection of dried fruits in my baking cupboard. First off was a Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake which I baked in a tray, all the better for portioning to share out (a suggestion made by Dan that I can confirm works well). This too benefits from sitting for a day or two and I really would leave it if you can, a far moister cake awaits you if you can resist. I used a mixture of prunes, figs and apricots as well as adding 100g of whole blanched almonds, which in the tray form didn’t have the opportunity to sink – mind you the batter is thick enough with chopped fruit that they should stay suspended even in a deep tin. The discovery of a nut adds delightful texture and interest to the bites of cake.

 

 

 

For me though the star of the show so far has been the Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake. Containing coffee, lots of walnuts and sesame seeds, rich sticky dates and pomegranate I felt sure I would enjoy it, but the layers of taste are amazing. Like a complex perfume it has a deep earthiness from the coffee and walnuts surrounded by the sweet dates and then the syrupy top notes of the pomegranate syrup float around your mouth. Dan says that treacle could substitute for the pomegranate syrup but I can’t believe the flavours would then dance around your palate in quite the same way. The syrup is worth getting if you can, a little goes a long way and if you enjoy middle easter food or follow the Ottolenghi column adjacent to Dan’s in the Guardian then you will find plenty of uses for it.

 

 

 

The recipe states half wholemeal or spelt flour and half hemp flour – I just used all wholemeal and it turned out fine, although I might just have to get me some spelt and hemp and see if the flavours can be any better.

 

 

 

There is still so much to try in the book and I know from last year that the Caramel Christmas Cake is a winner and sure to make another outing, or four, this year.

 

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Project Chocolate Cake – The Finale!

October 6, 2011

Well, the day has been and gone.

My Dad has turned 80, friends, colleagues and relatives visited, good food was provided, eaten and taken home (the local co-op sold out of tupperware so good was the food and generous were the portions). Wine was drunk (more than was sensible by me) and stories and connections shared.

The day before the party two cakes were baked

 

More than a few eggs were used

 

The morning of the party they were decorated

 

A little chocolate and cream to make a ganache

 

Some Kit Kats were used

 

Decoration done

 

In the middle of the party, the candles were lit, a song was sung

 

The candles were blown out

Happy Birthday Dad

 

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 4 and The Cake-Off

October 6, 2011

Cake no 4 was chosen from Kiss My Bundt by Chrysta Wilson a book that I’ve had for a while, ordered during the missing mojo period in the hope that it might restore the my baking desire. It didn’t work at the time, no fault of the book which is filled with intriguing bundt recipes. Chrysta provides base recipes for simple bundts of all sizes and then a myriad of adaptations and suggested frostings. She covers everything from a Champagne Celebration Cake to Chocolate Bacon Cake (with bacon sprinkles) even a Vegan Red Velvet Cake.

The book joined the others on my shelves and has been, if I’m honest, forgotten. Project Chocolate Cake has given me a mission, a focus, and I’ve poured over my recipes to find suitable test candidates. As I was certain the final cake should be in bundt form then this book was a definite source to consult. I didn’t want to stray into adventurous avenues so I went for the Basic Chocolate Bundt, oil based it made a good contrast to the other butter based cakes and almost guaranteed a moist crumb. As I’ve had problems with a couple getting them out of the tin I hoped that using oil might aid the turning out too.

It didn’t disappoint – moist and so light in crumb, it was also lusciously dark. Once again my oven speeded up the baking time by about 5 minutes, it was evenly baked and turned out beautifully.

Basic Chocolate Cake 

Chrysta  Wilson – Kiss My Bundt

350g sugar

300g plain flour

90g cocoa

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of  soda

3/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

255g buttermilk (Chrysta suggests whole milk)

180g vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

2 tsp vanilla

220g boiling water

 

Preheat the oven to 180C

Grease your pan and dust with flour

Sift together the dry ingredients

Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla for 1 minute

Still whisking slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time

Once combined slowly add the boiling water – you will end up with a thin batter

Pour into your pan and bake for 40 – 45 mins.

Leave to cool in the pan for about 10 mins before turning out.

Many of the official tasters had Chrysta’s recipe as their no 1, but the vote wasn’t unanimous – only one thing for it … A Cake-Off.

There was a short hiatus whilst I went on my summer holiday but early one morning I re-baked cakes no 3 (with the quantities doubled to fill a standard bundt tin) and 4 this time in a different tin (thank you Ikea of all places) a spring-form bundt pan – genius. I’m sure that technically this isn’t a true bundt pan, but I decided to use it because of the (hopefully) eased releasing and also because the straight sides will make the planned decoration easier.

The day that I’d chosen to bake on was also the day of our regular pub quiz in the local, so off I trot, cakes in hand ready to share. Still no unanimous decision, so difficult to compare the two as they are really very different. I was also asking them to imagine the final cake with the extras that have to be added. When taste, decorating and slicing issues were all taken into consideration cake no 3  won out.

I think inundating the neighbours with various chocolate cakes has been less of a chore for them than the Victoria Sponge period a few years ago (although I did have to dust off that recipe recently too) and I’d like to thank them for putting up with the mountains of cake they have eaten recently. After the 4 different cakes, the 2 re-baked for the cake-off there was a test cake still to come. My decoration idea needed testing as did the ganache and I needed to make sure that it all went together well. It did – so much so that I had to post an emergency plea via Facebook to locals to come and eat the thing before I made myself ill

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 3

August 29, 2011

When I first started thinking about finding a suitable chocolate bunt recipe for my dad’s cake there was one source that I knew I would have to consult. Mary, the Food Librarian, is an accomplished and passionate baker and, like me, has a love of the bundt cake – so much so that every year in the month leading up to National Bundt Day in the States she bakes, and blogs, a bundt a day in the wonderfully titled ‘I Like Big Bundts‘ series of posts. Last year I was one of 86 people who joined her in baking a bundt on the final day and I can’t wait for this years series

I emailed Mary asking for her recommendations based on the many recipes she must have trialed over the years, she recommended a Chocolate Velvet Pound cake from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet (a book that is challenging my current self-imposed cookery book embargo) and the recipe has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

I could see from the recipe that if I wanted to use a large (12 cup) bundt pan then I would need to increase the quantities (Mary baked in mini bundt pans). I assume the original recipe is for a standard loaf tin, in which case a doubling of the quantities would be right. But the risk of using up 6 eggs and seemed a little excessive should my calculations not be correct, so I used the original stated quantities in my 12 cup pan.

Even whilst mixing the batter the high cocoa content was obvious and the obligatory pre-dawn licking of the bowl (what this must do to my sugar levels throughout the day I dread to think) certainly ranked this recipe at the top.

The batter nicely covered the bottom of the pan and although the result was a smaller than normal cake it baked evenly in 40 minutes and came out of the pan wonderfully cleanly.

During baking it smelled divine – really chcolatey and the feedback, whilst not unanimous in declaring this the winner, has been very positive. The best, and most accurate description from a tester is ‘like chocolate mousse in cake form’ how can that not be a winner?

I’m tempted to make it again immediately with the doubled recipe to see what that yields, but I will work my way through the other bookmarked recipes first – if only for the tester’s sakes – I can hardly stop after just three cakes can I?

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 2

August 22, 2011

Cake no 2 is the aptly named Black Chocolate Party Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes‘. A book I’ve had for some time but never actually baked from. The recipe can be viewed here  in an extract from the book via Rose’s site. As you can see she lays out her recipes in a particular way and her instructions are very detailed. I think this has put me off as my recipe reading tends to be of the scanning variety (a habit for which I’ve paid dearly in the past) and my baking sessions tend to be a little last minute and taking place first thing in the morning I’m not always in the best frame of mind to follow such detail. I think I found the layout it intimidating and have discounted the recipes as being too complicated.

This one wasn’t complicated, it was very clear and concise and the inclusion of weights if ingredients as well as the American standard cups helped greatly. I have two more of Rose’s recipes bookmarked to try so I will be making up for lost time with this book.

The batter was quite different to the previous cake, thicker, more like a pound cake in texture, containing toasted walnuts that have been ground to a fine powder which I think contributes to the final moist texture of the cake. Another difference to the cakes I’m used to baking is that she adds all the butter, along with some liquid to the flour and sugar and beats from there, rather than beating the butter and sugar first. This is the first time I’ve baked like this, I’ve just checked the other two recipes and they follow the same procedure.

It baked evenly and needed 55 minutes. The cake has a cocoa syrup that I used and the result smelled heavenly indeed. As an example of the detailed instructions Rose suggests placing the cake on clingfilm before brushing the syrup over the cake in order to catch the drips, which can then be absorbed from the bottom of the cake as it cools completely.

So where does this cake stand in the competition so far …. well, with only one cake to compare with it seems to have come in second with the taste testers. It sliced far more cleanly, being denser with the syrup. It was sticky though and may not have been the cleanest of cakes to eat by hand. The addition of a ganache or buttercream may also push the richness too far. I would make the cake again, served with creme fraiche or ice cream even it would make a lovely desert, but it’s not going to be the one for the party.

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