Posts Tagged ‘Coffee’

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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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It’s a Date

February 24, 2010
Despite early mornings being the best time for me to bake, they’re not necessarily the best time to pick recipes. A certain amount of attention is needed for the basics, like checking you’ve got enough flour and sugar (and of the right type) that the berries you thought you had in the freezer are still in their packet; rather than spilling out and impossibly mixed in the drawer with the ever present escapee frozen peas. All this needs a relatively clear head lest you discover half way through that you’re out of some vital ingredient. It’s also not a good time to decide you’re going to take that loaf recipe and double it to fit a bundt tin and it’s most definitely not the best time to convert those doubled quantities from American cups to metric. Even if I manage all of the above at 5am the chances are something else will slip – like remembering to turn the oven on, or dusting that greased pan with flour.


In order to avoid moments of frustration part way through the baking process I’ve tried recently to plan just a little bit more, spend some time on a Saturday evening looking through my cupboards to check to see what I could bake. Seeing what I actually have in stock and then pick recipes from there, write out all my conversions and notes ready to go when I wake. I don’t go as far as to weigh out the ingredients ready – what if tomorrow morning was the one morning when I actually get to lie in? But I have a plan.


This past Saturday’s peruse of my cupboards revealed several packets of dates and a fruit bowl overstocked with oranges. Leiths offered up a Date and Orange Loaf, I doubled the quantities from those suggested for a 1 1/2 lb tin so I could fill three of my 1lb ones. It’s an easy recipe as everything is added to the date mixture after they’ve been simmered in water. Use a large pan and you can just whack it all in and save on the washing up.


Date and Orange Loaf

Leiths’ Baking Bible


Makes three 1lb loaves


450g chopped dates

250ml water

340g soft dark brown sugar

340g butter

Grated zest of two oranges

2 tbsp orange juice

2 large eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp all spice


Preheat the oven to 170C.

Grease the tins and line the base with baking parchment.

Place dates and water in a large pan and bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add sugar, butter, orange zest and juice and beat well.
Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Add the eggs, beat well and then sift on remaining ingredients.
Bake for 60 – 90 minutes and then allow to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.



This is a tasty cake, the moistness from the dates and citrus zing make it perfect to eat as it is. It will improve for being wrapped well for 24 hours, and should it last long enough to dry out, I can imagine that a little spread of butter, perhaps to a toasted slice, would be lovely too.


As I’m not capable of buying just one of anything, of not having a back-up or spare, there were still more dates in the cupboard and having not made muffins for awhile I chose the recipe below, swapping walnuts for chocolate chips in order to make mocha muffins.



Mocha Date Muffins

Adapted from Leiths’ Coffee and Date Muffin Recipe


Ingredients for 12 Muffins


140g chopped dates (tip – snip into pieces with kitchen scissors rather than chopping, far easier)

1/2 Tsp bicarbinate of soda

1 tsp instant coffee

150ml boiling water

225g soft light brown sugar

115g melted butter

2 beaten eggs

250g self-raising flour

100g dark chocolate chips


Line your muffin tins with cases, or grease and dust with flour.

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Place dates in a large bowl with coffee and bicarb, pour over the boiling water, stir and leave to soak for 10 minutes.

Add the butter, sugar and eggs into the date mixture, fold in the four until just combined (do not over mix, for light muffins you want it just mixed) and fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Remove muffins from the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack (the original recipe suggests covering them with a clean tea towel as they cool to keep the tops soft).


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A Win and a Fail

November 10, 2009

Another gathering for a night of ladyboy poker provided another baking opportunity. In a search for inspiration a brief email poll of participants returned the single word ‘chocolate’.
I had recently bookmarked a recipe for Chocolate, Coffee and Cardamon Cake with a view to a dinner party/poker dessert (rather than a bake and take to work kind of cake). I had fresh pods in the cupboard from the gingerbread earlier in the week and the pictures on Spice and More’s blog screamed dense richness, just what you need with a good bottle of red to induce a lucky hand. I followed the recipe on the site, using the reduced amount of sugar suggested, with 70% chocolate (I had Green and Blacks in the cupboard). I have a Gaggia coffee machine (possibly my most prized possession) so brewed a double espresso then strained the crushed cardamon pods and seeds which I’d simmered in water into the coffee before adding all the liquid at the point stated. The type of tin wasn’t specified but you’ll need a deep springform for this one. I didn’t bother with a ganache (and this wasn’t because of previous disasters, I believe I now have a foolproof recipe) I just didn’t think it looked like it needed it, the top of the cake looked so moist and was slightly cracked and I worried about masking the cardamon with more chocolate. When it came to serving, additional chocolate definitely wasn’t needed, it was so tasty on it’s own.

Along with the cake I also offered to cook the main. I have the Leon book and love it so much that I gave it to several people as Christmas presents last year, my sister is currently spreading the Leon love by giving copies as gifts. I needed a one pot veggie dish and the Egyptian Tamarind stew looked appealing, filled as it is with roasted aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and chickpeas (or fava beans if you can find them). I Googled it for additional hints and tips and discovered that it had been part of the Guardian’s cookalong series with the added bonus of a pilaf recipe to accompany it. You can get the transcript and recipes here. I used agave nectar rather than honey, partly to just use it and partly because I’m not a fan of honey and wasn’t sure how strong the taste of it would be. I think the agave worked, I added a little more tamarind than suggested and I think that I would split the chillies to get a little bit more of a kick. The smell of the pilaf was amazing as the heat hit the spices and everyone enjoyed it.

So, two wins on the food front were joined by two poker wins – yes I won both games! Unheard of. Only that day I’d been moaning that I was feeling a little despondent as I rarely won a hand never mind games or cold hard cash and was pretty much only going along for the company and baking opportunity. But win I did, and it felt good.
There was a baking fail though, perhaps fail is too strong a word as colleagues at work seemed to enjoy it, but I can’t say I was taken with the Cardamon Vanilla Bundt featured on the Food Librarian’s ‘I Like Big Bundts’ series (in the lead up to National Bundt day on November 15th). It was heavier than I expected and whilst it smelt divine whilst baking, the end result didn’t have enough vanilla or cardamom for me. Do check out the series though, there are some fantastic looking cakes on there.