Friday, 1 October 2010

I've Moved

Part of the reason I've not been blogging as much as I would like is my frustration with trying to get to grips with the formatting on this site, especially when importing photos. It often takes longer than the baking. 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A Summery Ginger Cake

The recent warm weather, as glorious and much needed as it is, doesn't lend itself to baking. Even recently at dawn, whilst it may still be cool, the thought of cranking up the oven and creaming butter and sugar has not been appealing (I make sound like I stand over the ingredients with a wooden spoon laboriously mixing by hand - no way, not whan I have a thing of beauty). It's a shame really, there are few things in life that lend themselves to a sense of collective goodwill but, espeically here in the UK, a few days of consistent good weather, some positive sporting results (I type this on Saturday evening watching Murray beat Simon and before tomorrow's 'match') and a fresh, home baked cake are definately some of them. Whilst I didn't quite manage the trifecta, two of the three met wonderfully last weekend when I went to visit my brother and his family.

A ginger cake is not something that would be at the top of any summer baking recipe list, but last Saturday morning, with the sun already warming the day, I was in need of a cake that would do for a pudding, rather than a snack, and could be easily transported down the M5. I have David Lebowitz's 'Ready for Desert' on my shelf and have baked from it, but had spotted this recipe blogged recently which served as a reminder (I had also bookmarked it a few months ago on The Food Librarian but just hadn't got round to it yet). I had fresh ginger in the fridge, from my recent rhubarb compote fetish and the quick prep and baking time (not to mention the 'leave to cool in tin' instruction) made for a potentially perfect recipe.

To be honest I had no idea when I chose this recipe that this moist ginger creation wold be quite the light thing of delight it turned out to be. Married, by accident, with fresh strawberries and creme fraiche it made for the perfect end to the evening (and was damn fine for elevenses the next day too - apparently). I can imagine the original suggested accompaniment of whipped cream with lemon curd would also lift the cake wonderfully.

Fresh Ginger Cake
David Lebovitz

115g fesh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
250 mild flavoured molasses (treacle)
200g sugar
250ml vegetable oil
250g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
250ml water
2 tsp bicarbinate of soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 175C
Butter bottom and sides of of a 9" 23cm tin and line the bottom with parchment

Chop the ginger very finely in a food processor or with a chefs knife (I went for the safer processor option)
Mix the treacle, sugar and oil in a large bowl
Whisk the flour and spices together in a medium sized bowl
In a small saucepan bring the water to the boil, then stir in the bicarb
Whisk the hot water into the treacle mixture, then add the ginger
Gradually sift the flour mixture over the treacle mixture, whisking all the time
Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly combined
Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until top of cake springs back or a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean - approxamately 1 hour
Leave to cool completely in the tin before running a knife around the sides to loosed.

This will apparently keep for up to 5 days at room temperature, but I doubt you'll have the chance to test this theory.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Many Muffins

I'm enjoying this recent spate of muffin baking I'm on. As much as I adore my Kitchen Aid there's something to be said for the ease with which a batch of muffins can be brought together. I also seem to be braver when it come to adapting recipes, something about the end result being distributed amongst 24 paper cases rather than the trepidation of all those ingredients going into the one bundt tin. The reduced baking time can be a bonus (although doesn't quite leave enough time to clean the bathroom -thank god for portable kitchen timers) as is the reduced cooling time and the fact that they're perfect for easy distribution. All of which mean that there's time to whip up a batch before work in the morning rather than having to wait until the weekend in order to allow enough time for prepping, baking and cooling.

For a basic, and adaptable, muffin recipe I found this from Joy of Baking. I was going to play around, but then remembered the packs of blueberries in the freezer and used them straight off. The feedback was great and I really can't stress how quick and easy it is. The important thing about making muffins is not to over mix the dry ingredients into the wet. A full explanation of why can be found on the link above, but 10-15 'stirs' should be enough to incorporate the flour, you may still have the odd dry clump and streaks of flour, don't worry!

I recently adapted Dorie's Carrot Spice Muffins recipe to good effect, I think, starting with substituting courgettes for the carrots (I do love my courgettes). I worried, as I was counting out those ten to fifteen stirs, that there perhaps weren't quite enough raisins or walnuts in the batter mix. But, the muffins were delightful with some bites delivering a nutty crunch, another the sweet taste of dried fruit with the hint of spice and moistness from the courgettes throughout.

Courgette Spice Muffins
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Carrot Spice Muffin Recipe

Makes 24 muffins

300g plain flour
300g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp salt
120g light muscavado sugar (or light brown)
150g caster sugar
1 1/3 cup oil
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups grated courgettes
50g raisins
50 sultanas
75g chopped walnuts
zest of a large orange

Preheat oven 190C
Grease or line muffin tins

Mix flours, spices, bicarb and baking powder in a large bowl
Add sugars, mixing so there are no lumps
In a large mixing bowl or jug whisk together eggs, oil, buttermilk, vanilla and orange zest
Add in the grated courgette and combine well
Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined, do not over mix, the mixture will be lumpy and there may still be traces of flour visible
Fold in the dried fruit and nuts and fill each muffin case nearly full
Bake for 20 minutes, transfer the tins to a cooling rack for 15 mins before removing the cases from the tins and allowing to cool completely

We've been really lucky recently with the weather, a recent glorious weekend coincided with the local monthly farmers market. I stocked up on rhubarb so I could make more compote for my breakfast. Another recent obsession, I don't have a recipe as such, just chop, add to large pan with juice and zest of orange, vanilla pod, couple of chunks of ginger and some sugar. How much sugar? I like my rhubarb sharp, especially as I usually combine it with yoghurt and the sweet early British strawberries that are to be found right now. Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini recommend using 10% of the net weight of rhubarb used which sounds like a good tip. Cook the whole lot for 15 mins. Remove ginger and refrigerate when cool - delicious.

But back to the baking. As with any seasonal ingredient the blogs are filled with recipes meaning inspiration isn't hard to find. As usual I was overwhelmed by choice but in the end I adapted the Rhubarb Strawberry Pecan Loaf from Smitten and it was divine. The only problem was the muffins that I set aside to take into work on Monday morning were so moist they bordered on mushy. They still tasted divine but these are definitely ones best eaten on the day they're baked. There are a couple of comments on the original recipe about the moistness of the loaf and I can't imagine how you would slice it, but the muffins meant this wasn't a problem.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pecan Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 24 Muffins

230g Light muscavado sugar (or light brown sugar)
117g oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
187g plain flour
187g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
450g chopped rhubarb
345g sliced strawberries
75g chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 180C
Grease or line muffin tins

Beat together sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla and buttermilk
Combine flours, bicarb and salt
Add dry to wet and stir until just combined
Fold in fruit and nuts and distribute between the muffin cases
Bake for 15 - 18 mins
Transfer tins to cooling rack and leave to cool in the tins for 15 mins before transferring the cases to the rack to cool completely

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Spice Cakes

I've made two different spice cakes recently. The first was the Black Pepper Spice cake (see recipe below) from my favourite Cake Keeper Cakes. I've made this before and knew the intended recipient was a fan of black pepper so made it again. I often feel like it's a bit of a cop-out using a recipe I've tried before when baking; there are so many recipes out there to try, why resort to something you've made before? But I have to say the cakes in this book are so delicious and the recipes so reliable that I go back to it frequently, especially when baking for a special occasion. I upped the pepper quota a little to ensure it's presence was felt and also left in the walnuts which I've omitted previously and they provided a lovely bite to the soft crumb of the cake. This time I also added the glaze which I left off previously (out of laziness I suspect) and I'm glad I did. It really added another dimension, the zingy citrus offsetting the warmth of the spices. I resolve to pay more attention to suggested glazes in recipes from now on rather than viewing them with suspicion as just another way to add sugar.

I also made this Spiced Brown Sugar Carrot Loaf but wasn't as enamored. I think I expected something moister having baked so much with courgettes recently, and bolder on the spice front. Having said that I tried it fairly soon after baking and it may be one that develops over time like so many. If I were to make it again I would definately play around, perhaps using half courgettes, half carrots and I would increase the spices, which to be fair the author does recommend - it's also suggested you eat spread with butter which may get around the moistness issue, and be extra delicious I'm sure! I followed the recipe apart from using half wholemeal flour half plain, and reduced the sugars slightly (light brown from 262g to 225g and the caster from 112g to 75g). I also had to employ the use of my rolling pin to give the base of the tins a pretty good whack to help get the finished loaves out, I did grease and flour the tins, but if you might want to line them too if you give the recipe a go!

Black Pepper and Spice Cake
Cake Keeper Cakes

330ml Buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 Tsp vanilla extract
300g flour
90g walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 Tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinamon
1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp black pepper
112g butter
225g sugar

I cup icing sugar
Juice of a lemon

Preheat oven to 180C, grease and flour a bundt tin.

Cream butter and sugar in a mixer on high speed for at least 3 mins until light and fluffy, meanwhile whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla in a large measuring jug and combine the dry ingredients, including nuts, in a large bowl.

With the mixer on low add a third of the four mixture beating until just incorporated followed by half of the buttermilk, scraping down the sides as needed, repeat - ending with the last of the flour mixture. Turn the mixture up to medium high and beat for one minute.

Scrape into the prepared pan, bake for 40 -45 minutes until a tooth pick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 mins before turning out onto a rack to allow to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the sugar with enough lemon juice to make a smooth mixture - it should be fairly thick to drizzle over the cake and allowed to run down the sides. Allow to set for about half an hour before serving.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

An Abundance of Bundts

How I love my Bundt tins.

To begin with I coveted these tins of beauty and mystery from afar via my laptop and all the food blogs - most of which are American - that I somewhat obsessively check daily. There was something so tantalising about them, cake in a brand new form, akin to seeing recipes familiar yet strange in their use of zucchini and arugula (an I still don't understand the different forms of cocoa powder you can get in the US, nor which is the version we have here, but I have mastered converting from cup measures, once managed to make my own 'cake flour' and have grasped that a 'stick' of butter weighs 112g). Then I saw one for sale in Lakeland and discovered how amazing the cakes contained within these tins can be; both to bake and to eat. Versatile, simple, yet their presentation punches well above their weight. Plus (and this is a massive bonus for one not gifted with a delicate touch) their design negates the need for icing - even if a recipe calls for a glaze or ganache, perhaps a dusting of icing sugar, it can be drizzled over in a haphazard manner and most of the time it's not needed at all. The beauty of these cakes lies in the flavour that can be packed into those beautifully designed tins.

Have I convinced you yet to go out and invest in one? If not, then just remember that most Bundt recipes can be divided into two 9x5 loaf tins.

Since that initial Lakeland tin my collection has grown, so much so that I've just arranged for extra shelving to be put up in my increasingly cluttered kitchen, lest the current cabinets detach from the wall under their collective weight (although the uncontrollable baking recipe book fetish may pose more of a risk).

Family and friends are grateful, not only for there now to be an entry under the heading 'hobby' with which to aid their gift buying, but also as recipients of the finished products. Everyone's a winner, from the dairies that provide the many cartons of buttermilk I get through in a month, via the supermarkets that provide the rest of the ingredients, to the neighbours, friends and colleagues who receive their share of the finished goods, to Weight Watchers et al who probably owe a week or two subscriptions to the products of my insomniac Sundays. Bundts even allow me my guiltiest pleasure - their cracked and domed tops, fresh from the oven can be tested and tasted whilst warm as this will soon become the hidden base. I tell you, there's little that these tins can't do - including helping you to make your Sunday Roast.

My recent obsession has been baking with bananas. I've discovered a couple of local shops that sell perfectly ripened bananas reduced in price as they're too perfectly ripe for most consumers, but for a baker they're just perfect. Supermarket bought bananas can take weeks to reach this stage so I've taken to walking round these various shops on a Saturday collecting fruit bursting with flavour (and occasionally out of their skins - I always take a plastic bag with me now) in order to bake on a Sunday morning. I've tried several recipes over the weeks and I think my adaptation from Dorie Greenspan's Classic Banana Bundt recipe is not at all bad. I'm not sure when you can claim a recipe as your own, there are plenty of additions and a couple of substitutions in this recipe, but she certainly gave me the start I needed. I've added spices, reduced the sugar, swapped some of the flour for wholemeal and, of course, used buttermilk. This last Sunday morning was spent with this bread's latest incarnation prompted by the gift of some amazing miniature tins - how great are these?

I can't tell you the fun I had, the only problem was trying to choose which of my neighbours would get which shape and size cake. I hope you enjoy this recipe, and I really hope you get to try baking Bundt soon.

Banana Bread
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe in 'Baking From My Home to Yours)

225g butter
100g light muscavado sugar
150g caster sugar
450g (approx 4-5) mashed, very ripe bananas
Squeeze of lemon juice
225g wholemeal flour
225g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk ( I use one 284ml carton)

Preheat oven to 180C, grease tin(s) and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl
Mash bananas and squeeze over a little lemon juice
Beat together sugars and butter till light and fluffy - about 5 minutes with a stand mixer on medium high speed.
Beat in vanilla and eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary
Reduce mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients (batter may curdle, don't worry), followed by the buttermilk then the remaining dry ingredients.
Once incorporated scrape into tin(s) and smooth the top(s) and place in the oven.

For one large Bundt bake for 64 - 70 minutes, but be sure to check after 20 minutes or so to see if the top is browning too quickly, if it is, cover the top loosely with foil. For the mini Bundt pans I baked for 25-30 and the teeny and tiny loaf tins, 20 -25 mins.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Early Morning Sunshine

The glorious weather of late April has mostly vanished, unsurprisingly, in time for the bank holiday weekend. But I can let you into a little secret ... if you wake just before dawn - open your eyes as the birds are starting to stir and the sky begins to lighten - then by the time you are sat with that first coffee of the morning and are awake enough to appreciate it - the sun will be shining in a gloriously clear sky. Chances are it will be gone by 8am when most are rousing themselves for the start of the long weekend, but one of the compensations of waking so early every morning is seeing that early morning sun. No matter how wet and windy the recent days have turned out to be I have had some early alone time with the sun which goes a long way to lifting low spirits.

Another highlight of my day has been checking on my seeds. My previous attempts at 'gardening' usually extend only as far as placing bought pots of blooming hydrangeas around my garden, enjoying their mop-headed beauty before butchering them at the end of the season with the secateurs, a pruning from which they never quite recover. My small garden is littered with lopsided, near-corpses from previous years. To date the thing I am most proud of in my garden is not killing the poppy and christmas rose that were already established when I moved in ten years ago. I have, however, been seduced by the BBC2 series 'Edible Garden' something about the programme made growing my own veg, from seed, seem possible. Whilst part of the attraction of the half hour slot is coveting Alys Fowler's beautiful garden - and wondering why I can't manage to pull off the wearing of wellington boots in quite the same way - the big draw for me is the flexibility she conveys in how and what you can grow in a limited space. By choosing the right varieties, or just harvesting early, the smallest of spaces will hopefully provide some ingredients for my kitchen.

One thing I knew I wanted to grow was courgettes, I hope for a glut so I can bake with them, grate and add to my porridge, I'm also hoping for beetroot - again for the baking possibilities. There are radish which I hope to nibble on and I am hopeful for dwarf beans and kale. All have germinated so far, other than the beetroot which are being a little shy and the chili seeds. There's still time. It's all quite exciting.

So, early Saturday morning, with the earliest morning sun shining on my my seeds, me feeling so proud (and more than a little grateful that the cat hasn't watered the trays too) I aimed for the perfect morning by baking. I had bookmarked an Orange Marmalade Tea Cake back in February from Deeba's blog 'Passionate about Baking' which is one of my favourite sites. Her photo's are stunning and whilst I couldn't hope to recreate most of what she does in terms of presentation and styling I had all the ingredients for this cake.

I made made a few changes to the recipe Deeba lists, which she herself had adapted, I used half wholemeal flour and reduced the sugar as well as adding a little ginger. I also doubled the quantities listed for a loaf cake as I had plenty of courgettes and went with muffins for easier distribution (and less washing up). Deeba used some, no doubt stunning, homemade bitter orange marmalade and the run of the mill jar I had handy could've done with being a bit tarter, perhaps some additional zest would've added a bit more zing. If you're going to make this and buy marmalade specifically for it I would go for a sharper variety with decent chunks of orange rind, I might even make again with a smattering of stem ginger. As they are below they are so light, with each bite offering a slightly different taste or texture due to the distribution of the orange, walnuts and chocolate chips. In honour of the hour when these were baked I have rechristened them...

Sunshine Muffins

Makes 16 muffins or 2 5" x 9" Loaves

262g plain flour
262g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp vanilla extract
500g grated courgettes (approx 4 small)
1 cup / 375g marmalade (approx one jar)
250g caster sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 175C and line muffin tins with papers
Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and spices.
Mix all the other ingredients, except the walnuts, in a large bowl until combined , making sure there are no large lumps of marmalade.
Sift the dry ingredients into the wet
Stir in the walnuts then fill the muffin cases to just over 3/4 full each (I used a 1/4 cup measure, the muffins don't rise that much)
Bake for 25 minutes until the tops are starting to brown and are firm to the touch, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Anxiety of Birthday Baking

I have made several cakes recently for colleagues and friends that have been for birthdays (or on one occasion a leaving do) and I think I may soon stop. Usually, I bake, allow to cool , then cut and portion the cakes at home before leaving on the doorsteps of neighbours or taking into work to share. But when, for a particular person or occasion, I take the cake into work whole, without cutting into it, so I can’t tell how it’s turned out. I’ve had a couple of baking fails where the finished product looks and smells divine - the batter was tasty and enjoyed from the bowl - but when I’ve cut into it the inside has been leaden, dense and uncooked - inedible. The image of these stays with me, as does the disappointment at the waste of the time, effort and ingredients. Then there’s the confusion over what went wrong, or worse the frustration at realising the stupid, and avoidable error.

I made Nigella’s Quadruple Chocolate Cake (although mine technically is only a triple version as I didn’t finish with the chocolate curls, but hey there’s still plenty of chocolate in there) in bundt form for a colleagues birthday a while ago. I’m fairly confident that doubling loaf cake recipes makes for a good large bundt (and the reverse) and have made this cake before, albeit in loaf form and did my usual of substituting the sour cream for buttermilk. I have no idea what I was doing when making this but I did think, as I spooned the batter into the pan, that the recipe direction of ‘pouring’ was a little off but it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and I was reviewing the recipe to check baking times I realised that I had missed out an entire step; adding the boiling water. 250ml of boiling water, not a tablespoon or a piffling amount, but 250ml.

I stared at the cake in the oven a fair amount whilst it was baking, trying to imagine what this error might mean. The cake came out of the oven fine, it felt a little heavy, but it’s a chocolate bundt, not a chiffon cake, it was hardly going to be a light and airy thing that I held in my hands. I couldn’t work out how this might have affected the finished cake and spent an evening of anxiety, trawling the net for advice, asking the question on the Serious Eats Talk board (a great resource and an enjoyable and compelling read, there are some great threads on there and some very knowledgeable, helpful and amusing people on there). I eventually cored out a small section of cake from the underneath, which whilst dense seemed ok - in fact it tasted great. It was cooked all the way through which was my main fear, so I decided to risk it. Everyone commented on how rich and moist the cake was, and whoever got the slice with the missing section didn’t say anything!

I have also made Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake twice recently. I’ve had this cake in my ‘Cakes to Make’ folder for months and when you look at the recipe and photo’s you’ll understand why it’s a cake to make. I have yet to come across a recipe from Deb that hasn’t not only been reliable, but also absolutely delicious. She has such a loyal and proactive following that reading the comments below her posts in full is always worth it for the revisions and suggestions. The reason this cake had remained in the folder rather than in my oven was due to the quantity of lemons needed. I usually have a couple of lemons in the fruit bowl ready to lend their zest to a cake (or, of course, to contribute to a Saturday evening G&T) but to have 8 at one time takes planning. I discovered that a colleague, due to leave work, liked lemon cakes so I had time to plan and purchase enough lemons. It was more than worth it.

So much so that I made another later the same week, with the frosting, for a good friends birthday. The syrup should brushed on slowly over a cake pierced multiple times with a toothpick or skewer - it’s worth the effort of taking the time to make sure as much as possible is absorbed as the difference it makes to the taste and moistness of the cake is considerable.

Another, more recent citrusy, request was for a Tart au Citron. For the recipe I reverted to the trusty Leith’s Baking Bible as I’m anxious about the technicalities of pastry and despite the success of December’s Gin Mince Pies was still hesitant. The recipe for the Pate Sucree was for one to be made by hand and there were no tips on converting to be made in a food processor, an essential adaptation as these hands were not for pastry making made. Once more Serious Eats helped me out and I ended up with pastry that came together well. I suspect I didn’t quite leave it to chill for long enough before trying to work with it, or perhaps it was because I was trying to bake in the evening rather than the morning, so unbalancing the natural order of things, but I didn’t have the time to leave it for that long and the recipe was vague, with only the direction to ‘chill’. When I came to roll it out it cracked and split and was an absolute disaster. I tried to rescue it by putting it back in the fridge but was too tired and frustrated too leave it long enough. I toyed with the idea of using to make little mini jam tarts but to be honest I had lost the will to bake and just gave up. I went to bed intending to nip to the local French Patisserie to buy one of their spectacular tarts to give along with the story of my disastrous effort. However, I woke at 5, and decided to have a go at another lemon recipe from Smitten. Not something I would usually make, but when searching the site for a lemon cake it had come up. Oh the anxiety! It’s been a while since I made shortbread, I’ve not made lemon curd before and to top it all off the pictures of the finished recipe weren’t displaying properly so I couldn’t see how it should turn out. And of course I had to take the bars in the tin they were baked in as they would not have travelled well so I had no opportunity to taste to see what they look like. In my anxiety to get this ready in time to take to work I didn’t manage to take a photo, but I have a plan to make them again in the near future and will make sure there are pics. Oh, and it was enjoyed.