Sunday, 30 March 2008

Daring Bakers March Challenge – Perfect Cake for a Party

This months challenge was selected by Morven of Food Art And Random Thoughts. She selected a lemon scented white cake, which I think is what we call Angel Cake here in the UK. It is a cake made using lots of egg whites, resulting in a light yet closely textured cake with a very pale crumb colour. It was to be frosted with an Italian buttecream, also made with egg whites, so you will have plenty of egg yolks left over after making this cake – great for making custard.

We were allowed to be quite free with our adaptations and decorations of the cake, so I am looking forward to seeing a whole host of different party cakes created by fellow bakers.

I decided to stay true to the recipe and bake a lemon flavoured cake, as I love lemony things and it seemed a fitting flavour for Easter and the start of spring which is when I baked and ate the cake. The recipe calls for the cake to be baked in two 9inch circular tins but I didn’t have tins this size so I baked mine in square tins thinking “that’ll do”, but this resulted in rather a thin cake as the square tins have a bigger surface area than circles. My cakes were a little too thin to cut in half safely, so instead I cut them in half down the centre, stacked them one on top of the other and made a very tall rectangle cake instead. It was obviously meant to be, as they baked with an indented line right down the middle! This was because I had folded the baking paper in half before placing it in the tin and the cake batter was so light and airy that it wasn’t heavy enough to flatten out the crease! So it all worked out for the best.

I sandwiched the cake layers together with lemon buttercream and lemon curd and also drizzled it with lemon icing, made from lemon juice and icing sugar for an extra lemony hit and the whole thing was topped off with toasted coconut. I loved the texture of the cake, it was soft and moist with quite a close texture that went really well with the extremely fluffy pearly white buttercream. Its definitely one I will be making again, although maybe next time I will try to find the right sized tins.
Don’t forget to check out the Morven’s blog for the official recipe as well as the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Perfect Party Cake
By Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours.
For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour – 300g
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk – 275ml
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar – 300g
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter – 100g
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar – 200g
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter – 300g
¼ cup fresh lemon juice – 2 lemons
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves (I used lemon curd)
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 180C. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out cleanTransfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.Remove the bowl from the heat.Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.Spread it with one third of the preserves.Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Mushroom & Mixed Veg Pie

While I was home over Easter I wanted to cook my family a Vegetarian meal that we could all enjoy. (They are all meat eaters and don’t eat that much vegetarian food) Due to the horrible cold weather (snow and hail) I chose to cook a warming vegetable pie. I decided to make the base a sort of mushrooms style bolognaise and then layer it up with grilled aubergine, spinach and topped with roasted butternut squash and potato mash.

The mushroom base was mixed with beans and gave a wonderful texture and flavour that meant my family didn’t miss their meat at all. As much as I hate to admit it they do give a nice ‘meaty’ texture. The roasted butternut squash in the mash gave a wonderful colour and a lovely autumnal flavour to the dish. I also stirred through some sliced leek for added flavour.

The only downside to the pie is that it did take quite a while to prepare due to the different components which were all assembled separately, but as it was a horrible day outside I was more than happy to stay warm and cosy in the kitchen. If you are short of time I see no reason why you couldn’t forgo the roasting of the squash and simply boil it with the potatoes, and the aubergine could be diced and cooked with the mushrooms instead of being griddled quite easily.

It was a very comforting meal to eat while listening to the hail stones bouncing off the windows.

Mushroom & Mixed Veg Pie

450g mushrooms
3 cloves garlic.
1 large onion
1 small butternut squash
1 aubergine
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g tin black eyed beans
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp brown sauce
4 medium potatoes
1 leek
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp double cream
100g spinach

Preheat the oven to 200C. Chop the butternut squash into large chunks, remove the seeds and place on a baking tray (you can leave the skin on). Drizzle over a tablespoon of olive oil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a very large frying pan. Chop the onion into a small dice, add to the pan and cook gently until soft.
Meanwhile dice the mushrooms, crush the garlic and finely chop the thyme and then add to the pan of onions. Allow to cook slowly and reduce for around 30 minutes.
Heat a griddle pan until hot. Slice the aubergine into ½ cm discs and brush each slice with a little olive oil and sprinkle with oregano. Place the discs onto the griddle pan and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes until softened. Brush with a little more oil and then flip over and grill the other side. Transfer to a plate and set to one side.
When the mushrooms are golden brown and reduced, drain the tin of beans and add to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes and brown sauce. Stir until well mixed and allow to simmer, reduce and thicken (about 30 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
While the mushroom mixture is cooking, peel, dice and boil the potatoes until soft.
Meanwhile, slice the leek and fry in a little oil until softened, then set to one side.
Drain the potatoes. Scrape the roasted butternut squash the its skin and add to the potato. Mash both together, adding the double cream and enough milk to create a smooth mash. Stir through the leek, season to taste and set to one side.
Now assemble the dish.
Place half the mushroom mixture into the base of a deep 30x20cm ovenproof dish, arrange the sliced aubergine over the surface and then spread the remaining mushroom mixture over the top.
Lay the spinach over the top and grate over a little fresh nutmeg.
Dollop the vegetable mash over the top and spread it out into an even layer. Drag a fork over the surface to create peaks and tufts and then place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 6

Friday, 21 March 2008

Chocolate Rice Krispie Easter Egg Nests

Chocolate Rice Krispie cakes have long been a favourite at children’s parties but I decided they would be perfect for this weeks Monday Munchers, especially when given an Easter inspired twist. The addition of speckled chocolate mini eggs turns these krispie cakes into Easter nests complete with their own eggs and cute fluffy chicks.

These are so simple and easy to make that they would be the perfect Easter treat to make with children. You could make mini ones, standard ones or even muffin sized ones if you wanted to give them away as gifts. Chocolate mini eggs always appear in the shops around Easter time and add a fun festive feel to the nests. I found some little fluffy Easter chicks in a cake shop and they were so adorable cute that I had to buy some, after all, you can’t have a nest without some chicks.
Make sure you have the paper cases ready to go, as the mixture starts to set quite quickly once you add the Rice Krisipes. You could use Cornflakes, crushed Shredded Wheat or even All Barn in place of the Rice Krispies is you wish, but I find Rice Krispies easier to work with and I much prefer the texture they provide.

While they still might seem more suited to children, can you honestly say you know an adult who would say no to a chocolate krispie cake? Have a Happy Easter!

Chocolate Rice Krispie Easter Egg Nests

135g dark chocolate
35g butter or margarine
1 tbsp golden syrup (45g)
100g rice krispies
Chocolate mini eggs for decoration

Line a bun tin with paper cases and weigh out the rice krispies and set to one side.
Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup together in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water.
Stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
Remove the bowl from the pan and immediately stir in the rice krispies, making sure they all get coated in chocolate evenly.
Quickly spoon the mixture into the paper cases and add 2 - 3 chocolate mini eggs on top of each one.
Allow to set at room temperature before storing in an airtight container until required.
Makes 12

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Orange & Ginger Cocoa Cranberry Granola

After the success of my recent attempt at making granola, I was eager to try out other combinations. I wanted to try a cranberry and ginger combo and decided to add the zest from an orange too as I think it tastes great when paired with cranberries. I set about gathering my ingredients and as I opened the cupboard to get the ginger my eyes zoomed in on a jar of cocoa powder and I thought… hey why not? Orange and chocolate, cranberry and chocolate, ginger and chocolate = yummy. So in it went.

While it was baking, the granola filled my house with a wonderful yet slightly bizarre assortment of smells. The zesty orange and the cocoa were the main aromas, making the house smell like a Terry’s chocolate orange only with a hint of spicy ginger mixed in. Now this may be wonderful to those of you who like Terry’s chocolate oranges, but I myself am not much of a fan and so I began to worry that maybe I had been a little too adventurous with the flavour pairings. I do like chocolate and orange together, but only when it’s real orange otherwise I find it tastes a bit fake.

Another slight hitch was that due to the cocoa powder I couldn’t tell when the mixture was turning brown as everything was light brown to start with. I decided to stick to the set time and trust my nose for any smells of burning and it all worked out well.

When it had cooled I ate a spoonful and was initially disappointed at the slight bitter edge to it from the cocoa powder, but as I chewed the cranberries released their sweetness and the orange flavour really shone through complementing the bitter cocoa flavour and I was left with a tingling of ginger on my tongue. I had another mouthful, …hmmm I like it.

This is definitely not your usual flavour pairings of granola but I quite like how it contains some unexpected flavours, although I might not use quite as much ginger next time. If you are a fan of Terry’s chocolate oranges, this could well be the granola for you.

Orange & Ginger Cocoa Cranberry Granola

100g jumbo rolled oats
50g porridge oats
100g wheat flakes
25g linseeds
40g flaked almonds
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp natural oil
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
50g dried cranberries
50g raisins

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Place the oats, wheat flakes and linseeds in a large bowl.
Finely grate the zest from the orange and scatter over the oats along with the ground ginger and cocoa powder.
Mix the oil, water, orange juice and golden syrup together and pour over the oat mixture.
Use a spatula or large spoon and mix well, ensuring everything is lightly coated.
Scatter the mix onto the baking tray and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes until it’s starting to smell toasted and fragrant from the orange and ginger.
Remove from the oven and give everything a good mix to ensure even browning. Stir through the flaked almonds and return to the oven for a further 8 minutes.
Remove from the oven and mix through the cranberries and raisins and leave to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Peanut Butter Chip Choc Cookies

After making cookies to share with my friend over the weekend, I realised that its been a while since I baked cookies for the Monday Munchers and so decided that chocolate cookies would be this weeks treat.

These cookies are basically the well known Tollhouse Cookies but with a twist. I wanted to make chocolate cookies and so replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder and added peanut butter filled smartie style chips in place of chocolate chunks. The peanut butter chips not only showed up well against the dark cookie but also added to the fun of eating them as they provided little shots of peanut flavour in every bite, which was a novelty to the Monday Munchers as I don’t think we have peanut butter chips here in the UK, so people became quite excited by them. The ones I used were given to me by Gigi from America. If anyone knows where I can get these in the UK then please let me know.
I sat on the floor and watched them baking, it was interesting the way they spread into chocolaty pools before puffing up and baking into thick cookies. Somehow I always imaged they would turn from dough to cookie without the melting part in the middle, but I don’t suppose they would spread out into cookie shape otherwise – random comment I know! The cookies themselves were soft and chewy with a strong cocoa flavour. Next time I might try making mini ones and sandwiching them together with peanut butter for extra indulgence.

Peanut Butter Chip Choc Cookies
110g butter
50g caster sugar
75g soft brown sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla
100g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g peanut butter chips or choc chips

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
Cream together the butter and both the sugars until light and well combined.
Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and bircab and beat until just combined. The mixture will be quick thick but don’t worry.
Stir through the peanut butter chips or chocolate chips.
Place heaped teaspoonfuls onto the baking tray, leave a 2inch gap between each one.
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until spread out and lightly puffed up.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely.
Repeat the process with any left over cookies mixture.
Makes 14-16 cookies.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Choc Chip Cakies

I call these cookies cakies because they are a cross between a cookie and a cake. The outside is crisp and chewy and the inside is soft and cake-like. They adapt very well to whatever add-ins or flavours you wish to throw at them. I kept mine simple with a vanilla base and choc chips stirred through. You may notice that some of the cookies have pink blobs in them, this is because I used white chocolate bar that had been dyed pink (it was left over from valentines day).

I made these for my friend J from back home, as she was visiting yesterday. We had a lovely time sitting on the sofa, munching cakies and catching up with each others gossip.

Choc Chip Cakies
100g butter or margarine
60g soft brown sugar
40 caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla
150g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g chocolate chunks of your choice

Line a large baking tray and pre heat the oven to 190C.
Cream the butter and both sugars together until creamy and well combined.
Beat in the egg and vanilla and chocolate chunks.
Sift over the flour and bicarb and fold in until a dough is formed.
Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking tray, leaving a 2inch gap between them.
Flatten the dough slightly and place in the oven to bake for 8 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven, they should be golden brown and slightly puffed up.
Allow to cool for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely.
Makes 16 cookies

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing

It was R’s birthday at work this week and I promised to bake her the cake of her choice and she asked for carrot cake. I was thrilled by this as by is probably my all time favourite cake. The recipe I use originally comes from an Australian Women’s Weekly magazine and I have tweaked it over the years to produce what I now think of as my perfect carrot cake. I love its moist spiced crumb, dotted with juicy raisins and the odd nugget of chopped pecan nut which are scattered throughout. Topped off with cream cheese icing it becomes a truly marvelous cake.

People often pair orange flavoured icing with carrot cake but, I much prefer lemon as I think it gives a sharper cleaner finish. However, the birthday girl requested a cinnamon icing, which is equally good as it helps enhance the spices within the cake. It’s not the most photogenic of cakes but the flavour more than makes up for it. I added a few pink royal icing flowers on top as pink is her favourite colour. The birthday girl was more than happy with her cake.

I have included the recipe for both lemon and cinnamon icing below, so you can use which one most appeals. And, if you must have orange icing, simply substitute orange in the lemon icing method.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
250ml vegetable oil
250g light soft brown sugar
3 eggs
500g (3-4) grated carrots
120g walnuts or pecans
75g raisins
375g self raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon

Grease and line the base of a 20cm 8inch springform cake tin. Preheat the oven 180C.
Place the oil, sugar and eggs into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until thick and creamy.
Peel and roughly grate the carrots and chop the nuts into large chunks. Fold the nuts, raisins and grated carrot into the cake batter.
Sift over the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda and fold into the mixture using a spatula, turning the bowl as you go until no flour streaks remain, but do not overwork. (The moisture from the carrots will help slacken the mixture).
Spread the batter evenly into the cake tin and bake for 45 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before un-moulding and cooling on a wire wrack before icing. Store in the fridge until required.

For the cinnamon icing
30g butter
150g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp extra cinnamon
140g icing sugar

Using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together in a bowl until smooth.
Beat in the vanilla and the 1½ tsp of cinnamon. Gradually sieve and beat in the icing sugar until it’s all combined.
Spread thickly over the cooled cake. Dust the remaining cinnamon over the top of the cake using a sieve and decorate with sugar flowers or extra whole or chopped nuts if desired.

For the lemon icing
30g butter
100g cream cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
240g icing sugar

Using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese and lemon zest in a bowl until smooth.
Beat in the lemon juice and gradually sift and beat in the icing sugar until its all combined.
Spread thickly over the cooled cake. Decorate the top with sugar flowers or extra whole or chopped nuts if desired.
Eat and enjoy.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Super Granola

I am a huge fan of granola, but have always relied on the occasional expensive box from the supermarket, whilst telling myself that next time I would have a shot at making my own. This weekend I decided it was time to give it a go.

The result is this super granola, for not only is it packed full of super ingredients but it also tastes super too. It was so quick and easy to make and tastes far superior to the boxed stuff, I don’t know what took me so long!

After researching lots of variations, I decided to base my granola on a recipe from What’s for lunch honey? I liked how there was not too much fat or sugar in the recipe, as I wanted it to be healthy and not leave me with a sugar rush for breakfast. I chose to use both jumbo rolled oats and porridge oats for the base and also threw in some crispy wheat flakes for added crunch and texture. After a cupboard rummage I also added linseeds, pumpkins seeds, brazil and hazelnuts. I scattered over some ground cinnamon as I think this goes well with almost anything and replaced the usual honey or sugar with a light vanilla syrup that I had leftover in the fridge.

It was then into the oven for a quick bake before scattering over some coconut and returning it to the oven to get nice and toasty. Once baked I adding some super berries in the form of dried blueberries, goji berries and dried pear, I just love how bright and attractive they make it look.The aroma from the cinnamon and toasted nuts and coconut wafted throughout the house and smelt amazing, so warm and comforting that I couldn’t wait for it to finish cooling down and ate a bowlful with just a splash of milk while it was still warm.

Everything was crisp with the oats and nuts providing a wonderfully nutty toasted taste. The cinnamon with a hint of vanilla mingled perfectly and developed as you chewed with the sweet chewy fruit coming in at the end. It was so scrummy that I kept eating handfuls every time I went into the kitchen. There’s no way I’m going back to boxed stuff, from now on it’s homemade all the way. I love how it can be adjusted so easily to suit your own tastes, don’t like nuts? Leave them out. Hate raisins? Replace them with chopped apricots. I can’t wait to try out other flavour combinations.

Super Granola
100g jumbo rolled oats
50g porridge oats
100g wheat flakes
25g linseeds
35g pumpkin seeds
35g brazil nuts
25g hazelnuts
2½ tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp natural oil
3 tbsp vanilla sugar syrup OR honey with 1tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp water
20g unsweetened flaked coconut
35g dried blueberries
30g goji berries
35g dried pear

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl weigh out the oats, wheat flakes and seeds.
Chop the brazil nuts into quarters and the hazelnuts in half and add to the oats along with the cinnamon.
Thin down the vanilla syrup or honey in the water, stir in the oil and then drizzle it over the oaty mixture.
Use a spatula or large spoon and mix well, ensuring everything is lightly coated.
Scatter the mix onto the baking tray and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes until it’s starting to smell toasted and the edges are turning brown.
Remove from the oven and give everything a good mix to ensure even browning. Stir through the coconut and return to the oven for 8 minutes more. Keep an eye on the granola now as coconut can burn quite easily.
Remove from the oven. Dice the pear into small pieces and stir through with the rest of the fruit and leave to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Munch and enjoy.