Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

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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 – Cake no 1

August 21, 2011

Project Chocolate Cake begins. I have 41 days until my Dad’s 80th Birthday party for which he has asked me to make the cake(s). There will be 40 or so guests and the party is being catered, so I’m aiming for 2 – 3 large bunts which should allow for enough cake to go round and room for all those candles.

He’s helpfully requested a chocolate cake saying ‘You remember that one you made me once? That was lovely‘. Not the most helpful of descriptions for someone with a three cake a week baking habit, I was also fairly sure he would want a ginger or fruit cake, so the chocolate request has thrown me somewhat.

The party is on a Sunday afternoon and with family and friends arriving over the weekend the cakes will have to be baked on the Friday – keepability is going to be an important factor. A moist and dense cake, something ‘fudgy’ to allow for good slicing might be needed. But then again after the food that will be on offer during the afternoon, perhaps something lighter? There could be additions, nuts, chocolate chips, a hint of orange perhaps or even a touch of alcohol but at the moment it’s the texture and taste of the base mixture I’m interested in.

Project Chocolate Cake started with a selection of my baking books and some sticky labels spread out before me, the cake below was chosen as cake no 1 simply becuse I had all the ingredients in stock and wanted to start early the next morning and coming from Cake Keeper Cakes, a book I’ve found highly reliable it seemed like a good place to start. I have recruited several friends and neighbours as official testers and reviewers, a task they seem quite eager to engage in, it will be interesting to see if it is possible to tire of chocolate cake.

The batter was easy to mix and a lovely light and moussy consistency. It raised to just above the height of the tin and although I turned the cake halfway through I neglected to check early enough for browning, it needs to be covered at about that point with a piece of foil.

The cake sunk and cracked quite a bit in the ten minutes that it was cooling in the pan. I didn’t add the suggested chocolate chips so I wonder if that changed the structure of the cake, it stuck a little bit, and the outside looked dry and unappealing.

 

I thought, that considering the amount of chocolate and cocoa used, the finished cake should have had a deeper  flavour, the texture was  lovely and light though, it sliced fairly well but I can’t say that I thought it was special enough. Comments from the official testers are at odds with my initial assessment though – it was greatly enjoyed. After baking I thought I had one to discount immediately, but it’s still in the running

Double Chocolate Bundt Cake

(messed around with from an original Triple Chocolate Cake by Lauren Chattman in Cake Keeper Cakes)

114g dark chocolate (I used 70% Green and Blacks)

30g cocoa

250ml boiling water

250ml buttermilk (milk suggested in original recipe)

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon instant coffee (my addition)

337.5g plain flour

2 Tsp baking powder

1 Tsp bicarb

1/4 Tsp salt

220g unsalted butter – room temp/softened

450g caster sugar

(original recipe also had the addition of 1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips)

 

Preheat your oven to 170C, grease and flour 12 cup bundt tin.

Place chocolate, cocoa and coffee in a bowl, pour in the boiling water and mix until smooth. Set to oneside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large jug whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (they should change colour becoming very pale) add the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated.

With mixer in low add 1/3 of the flour mix, followed by 1/2 the buttermilk and repeat. Mixing between each addition and scraping the sides as necessary. If you are adding the chocolate chips do so at this point.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, rotating half way through baking and covering loosely with a piece of foil if needed. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 mins before turning out to cool completely.

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A Plum Job

August 17, 2011

This year promises to be a good one for fruit trees. The English apple season has started earlier than ever before thanks to the freezing temperatures of winter which put the trees to sleep meaning that they awoke in the unuaully warm spring with vigour ensuring lots of blossom and good pollonation. I would imagine that this reasoning extends to all fruit teres and a friend’s plum trees were certainly laden and I came away from an afternoon visit with bags of fruit, sweet eating plums that vanished quickly and a sharper, darker variety that begged to be baked.

I always forget just how lovely plums can be, the hard, tasteless fruits found in supermarkets are nothing in comparrison to those picked ripe from a tree. My tiny garden enables me to play with pots of compost and seeds resulting in harvests of salad leaves, slug ravished radishes and of course the essential courgettes. But what I would love, more than anything, would be a fruit tree. A tasty variety of pear or even apple would be a thing of joy, the blossoms, the fruits, the weeks of pies and chutneys, baked goods and compotes.

But a plum tree would be just perfect.

Eager to get started with the bags of fruit I came home with I looked for something quick and easy, this Oat Slice recipe from Delia.

I added some ground cardamom (from about 8 pods) as it pairs well with plums and is one of my favourite spices, I reduced the cinnamon slightly to a level teaspoon rather than the suggested heaped one to make it a bit more balanced. This really took no time at all to bring together, the nutty oats contrasted beautifully with the sharpness of the plums and the earthiness of the spices. You could adapt this to use a wide variety of fruits and I bet the addition of some chopped nuts in the oat layer would be divine.

There were still plenty left and a weekend poker evening meant hungry guests to share with. I didn’t want the stress of pastry and a pie, and a crumble, whilst one of my favorite puddings wasn’t right either. Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume II provided the recipe for a pudding like cake. There was homemade ice cream brought by one of my guests and  I popped some of the remaining plums in a pan with the juice of an orange, a table spoon of sugar, a cinnamon stick and some crushed cardamom pods and reduced them to make a sharp yet deep and spicy compote to cut through the richness of the cake. I upped the spices from the original recipe by once again adding cardamom and also half a teaspoon of ginger and  teaspoon of vanilla. I also used butternilk rather than milk.

Honey, Spice and Plum Cake

(slighty adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in Tender Volume II)

250g plain flour

Tsp baking powder

Tsp bicarb

Tsp cinamon

1/2 Tsp ground ginger

Ground cardamom from about 10 pods

Tsp vanilla extract

200g golden syrup

2 tbsp honey (NS specifies ‘thick’ but I used standard runny honey which was all I had to hand)

125g butter

125g light muscavado sugar

250g plums, halved (or quatered if large) with stones removed

2 large eggs

240ml buttermilk (or milk)

Preheat your oven to 180C, grease and line a 24cm square tin

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices

Gently heat the golden syrup, honey and butter until the butter is melted then add the sugar

Whisk together the eggs buttermilk and vanilla extract

Stir the syrup mixture into the flour mixture using a metal spoon then the egg and milk mixture, stirring until no traces of flour remain

Pour the mixture into the tin then drop in the plums (vague)

Bake for 25 minutes then cover loosly with foil and bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Switch off the oven but leave for a further 15 minutes then remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin.

I can’t help but wonder how Nigel comes up with these recipes – is it based on one tried and tested perhaps handed down or has he (or a minion) experimented with different baking times and options? I’ve not come accross a recipe before that states you should leave a cake in a cooling oven as part of the baking process.

I’m not sure whether a little longer was needed in the oven – you can see the dense moist crumb, and that the plums have sunk to the bottom, but it didn’t taste under done in any way. Not that there was any way to test this theory but I suspect well wrapped it would keep well being so moist. This one disappeared swiftly.

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Investment

August 11, 2011

More is needed. In this blog obviously, my neglect is shameful. I have been baking but not with the same regularity, or joy, as previously. The reasons are many and varied but my old foe apathy has set in. However, recently I’ve been in the kitchen a little more and the more I do, the more I enjoy being there. It might feel wrong to force myself to bake when the mojo is missing, but it seems a little more discipline will allow me to rediscover that joy and the rewards it brings.

That bit of effort invested into my kitchen should then provide rewards; both in terms of my enjoyment and the lift to the spirits an hour or so spent zesting oranges, chopping nuts or standing perplexed over an ice-cream maker can bring; but also for those that I share those proceeds with.

My family, my friends, my neighbours, my community.

Recent events have shown that more investment is desperately needed in the relationships with those around us. I’m not talking about financial investment, or here to debate the budgetary cuts – there are those far more knowledgeable than I who are able to provide arguments on that subject. But the investment of time and care. Last weekend a group of neighbours and friends hosted a BBQ for the rest of the Avenue, a truly collaborative event attended by every house, and more, from those who had lived here for decades to those who had yet to move into their new home.

It was a great evening, there was good food, great company, and plenty of laughter. Most importantly connections, relationships and friendships with those around us have been initiated or strengthened. A couple of hours of planning, a few more of preparation and several more enjoying ourselves can only serve to reward us all. Sadly, at the same time as we were extending these friendships and sharing food the riots and looting were starting in north London and we could never have imagined that in just 48 hours it would extend to our city centre a few miles away.

I have no idea how I/we go about extending this feeling of connection to the wider community in order to prevent the chaos of recent days recurring, I’m not naive enough to believe that an offering of dips, muffins or bowls of salad is going to make much difference, but we must try, even if it starts in a small way with those next to us – a little investment in these relationships would be a wise and beneficial one for us all.

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Getting Fruity with Hugh

January 5, 2011

The pain of last night’s lack of sleep is still too raw (a long, dull story involving new smoke alarms that are ‘charging’. Loudly). However I did at least have Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and his Date and Orange Cake recipe from last Saturday’s Guardian to keep me company at 4am this morning, that and my lovely new Microplane zester.

Look at it, isn’t it lovely?

The perfect Christmas gift from my brother and family it made short work of zesting the three oranges that go into this moist cake. The recipe was part of a section in the Guardian last weekend about Christmas left overs. Now, I always have dates and oranges in the house for baking purposes but I did actually have a pack of medjool dates still  in their little paper cases, bought for a Christmas treat that didn’t get eaten.

As one of the commenters on the link above noted, and as I’ve found before with Hugh’s recipes, the butter pooled out of the bottom of the tin. Luckily I had placed the tin on a baking tray so it was caught and I didn’t have to spend time scrubbing away at burnt fat on the base of the oven (that would not have improved my day). I would try reducing the butter, to 250g perhaps, but I also wonder if it’s the nuts in the cake that makes it less absorbent especially as these were pulsed from whole blanched almonds so were coarser than pre-ground almonds – of course that’s still reason to reduce the butter should you wish.

I kept the pieces of dates fairly large as they were deliciously moist but have to confess I had only the smallest of tastes of the finished cake from one small section that had stuck to the base where the parchment had come loose. I took the finished cake into work, let it be known it was in the kitchen, and in no time it was gone.

I was fairly sure, in that post-Christmas time of abstinence a rich cake such as this would’ve been nibbled in thin slivers or shunned entirely leaving me time to taste, but it went before I could cut a slice. It went  down well though. Perhaps if you make it you could let me know what you think?