Friday, 29 April 2011

Off to The Lakes

I'm off to the Lake District in a few hours time, so won't be around until next weekend. I can't wait to dust off my hiking boots and do some hill walking and exploring. I used to hike every weekend when I was at uni and I've missed it. Hope everyone has a great week and enjoys the Royal Wedding!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Peanut Butter Birthday Cheesecake with Raspberry Balsamic Swirl

Happy Easter everyone. Today is not only Easter Sunday, but also my birthday! One of the main birthday treats, often involves birthday cake, but I’ve been baking and eating a lot of cake recently, so this year I decided I wanted something a little different and decided on a birthday cheesecake – it still has ‘cake’ in the title.

I adore cheesecake but for some reason never bake them that often. A few months back I saw Nigella Lawson make a peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake on tv, and its been on my mind ever since, pestering me to bake it. The only slight problem was that the rest of my family are not really peanut butter fans, but I thought ‘it’s my birthday and if they don’t like it, well all the more for me.’

Using Nigella’s recipe as a starting point, I adapted it to suit my own tastes. I’m not a fan of biscuit bases, I find their crumbly gritty texture detracts from the smooth creaminess of the cheesecake, so instead I baked a thin layer of chocolate roulade sponge directly into the tin, before adding the peanut butter cheesecake mix on top. I had a slight culinary set back when my hand mixer broke just as I was about to make the sponge base. I had to whisk and egg and sugar together for 10 minutes until ribbons formed using an old fashioned rotary whisk – it certainly gave the arm muscles a work out!

To further enhance the peanut butter element I also added a couple of crumbled peanut butter cups which added some delicious chunks dotted throughout the cheesecake.

I also love the combination of red fruits and jam with both peanut butter and chocolate and so decided to incorporate all three into my cheesecake. I had a little bottle of raspberry balsamic vinegar glaze sitting on the side which I used to add a decorative swirl to the top the cheesecake. The swirl alone looked pretty, but a few strokes with a pointy knife transformed the swirl into a feathery flower effect. (If you can’t find a balsamic glaze, just heat a few spoonfuls of raspberry preserve and stir in 1 tbsp good quality aged balsamic vinegar.)

I love how this baked and set into the top of the cheesecake, I think it looks striking against the creamy cheesecake background. My cheesecake cracked a little on cooling, but if you notice it only cracked along the outer edge of the feather effect, which actually made it look quite attractive and my family thought I had done intentionally – hurrah!

The finished cheesecake was everything I’d hoped it would be. Smooth and creamy with an indulgent rich peanut taste. The chunks of peanut butter cups added bursts of sweet melty chocolate with the slightly salty peanut filling giving the perfect contrast. This too worked wonderfully with the fruity intensely flavoured raspberry balsamic.

The thin chocolate sponge base added a whisper of chocolate flavour, while its light soft texture didn’t detract from the ultra smooth cheesecake top. Mmmmm divine!

It was so good that I must confess I was a bit greedy and had a slice at lunchtime and another after dinner. I also polished off the leftover bits from my brothers plate who tried a slice to be kind, but admitted it wasn’t for him. Oh well, I don’t feel too guilty, it was my birthday afterall, plus this means all the more for me – what a shame. It’s certainly a ‘must’ for peanut butter fan.

Today is my actual birthday, although I celebrated it with my family yesterday due to everyone having other Easter day engagements planned. Hence the reason I had my birthday ‘cake’ a day early too!

Peanut Butter Birthday Cheesecake with Raspberry Balsamic Swirl
Chocolate Sponge Base
10g buckwheat flour
10g cocoa powder
1 egg
40g caster sugar
1 tsp water

Peanut Butter Cheesecake
350g cream cheese
80ml sour cream
180g smooth peanut butter
3 eggs
120g caster sugar
3 peanut butter cups

Raspberry Balsamic glaze
2 tbsp raspberry preserve
1 tbsp good quality aged balsamic vinegar

Method – Chocolate Sponge Base
Grease an 8inch/20cm deep springform tin and line the base with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 190C.
Whisk the egg and sugar together until thick and ribbons form on the surface when you lift the beaters out of the mix, around 5 minutes.
Sift over the cocoa powder and flour and fold in gently using a spatula or metal spoon until no streaks remain. Fold in the water. Do not over mix.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin (it will be only a thin layer) and bake for 7 minutes until set and slightly puffy.
Leave in the tin to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 170C.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Beat the sugar and cream cheese together until soft and well combined. This is easiest to do if the cream cheese is at room temperature. Heat it for 30seconds in the microwave, on low, if you’ve taken it straight from the fridge.
Beat in the peanut butter, beating until no lumps remain.
Add the sour cream and eggs and whisk once more. The batter will be fairly runny, but should be a smooth even colour.
Chop the peanut butter cups into chunks and stir through the batter.
Pour the cheesecake mix on top of the cooled chocolate sponge base.
Drizzle over a swirl of the raspberry balsamic glaze. Use the tip of a sharp knife to drag the swirl out towards the edges, starting from the centre, at each quarter (think N, S, E & W on a compass). In-between these four lines (NE, SE, SW & NW), drag the knife in towards the centre to create the ripple/feather effect.
Bake in the 170C oven for 45 minutes until just set and a little wobble remains.
Turn off the heat, but leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door propped half open for 30 minutes to allow it to relax and cool down gradually.
Then remove for the oven and leave to cool for an hour before placing in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Raspberry Balsamic Glaze
Use a premade fruity balsamic glaze or melt the raspberry preserve in a small pan until liquid. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir until combined. Drizzle over the top of the cheesecake batter and swirl as above of leave in blobs.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Cake Slice April 2011: Cold Oven Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I’d left baking the Cake Slice cake a little late this month but I loved the sound of it, a pound cake subtly spiced with fresh ginger, lemon and vanilla, that I still wanted to bake it. As I wasn’t in need of a big cake I decided to halve the recipe and bake it in my 6inch Bundt cake pan instead. I’m pleased I did as the whole cake recipe must make a simply enormous cake! My half recipe made enough to fill two 6inch Bundt pans.

As this was still more cake than I’d anticipated I decided to give one away to my grandparents. I had one cake in a large star design and the other in a heart design. As you can see the heart one came out perfectly, whereas the star one got stuck on one side (must had missed one corner when oiling the pan) and so it stuck and despite me spending 10 minutes gently poking and prodding it, it broke when I tried to get it out. Still I was happy that the heart one turned out well, as this was the one I’d been hoping to give to my grandparents. Whew.

Despite its rather misshaped appearance the cake itself was delicious. It was light, moist and tender with a delicate crumb and a slightly chewier outer crust. The vanilla and lemon flavours came through strongly with the ginger being quite subtle but adding its own special ‘something.’ It was the perfect cake to accompany some freshly baked rhubarb and some natural yoghurt. Very clean fresh flavours.

The recipe itself was unusual (at least to me) in two ways. Firstly it contained cream cheese which I’m sure helped give it its moist texture and secondly you place the cake in a cold oven before turning it on and letting the cake come to temperature and bake along with the heating of the oven. This worked well for me but I suspect results may differ depending on the efficiency and speed of your oven.

I loved this cake and my grandparents were delighted with theirs too. I’d made it gluten free but didn’t tell the family till after they’d eaten it and they said they wouldn’t have known. I suspect this is again thanks to the moisture giving properties of the cream cheese. I’ll have to try baking with it again.

The recipe shown below is for the full quantity. I halved this and baked it in two 6inch Bundt tins for 40 minutes from a cold oven. Click here to see The Cake Slice blogroll

Cold Oven Cream Cheese Pound Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)
360g plain flour (I used Doves gluten free self raising flour)
1½ tsp baking powder
200g unsalted butter, softened
230g cream cheese, softened
500g caster sugar (I only used 400g)
6 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1½ tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp grated lemon zest

Adjust the oven rack to the lower – middle position. Grease a large 10-12inch Bundt pan and dust with flour. Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine the butter, cream cheese and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.
With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, ginger and lemon zest.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, a few spoonfuls at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Then mix of 30 seconds on medium speed.
Spread the batter into the Bundt tin and place the cake in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 160C and bake, without opening the oven door, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 65 to 80 minutes.
Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing and serving.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Spinach & Ricotta Tart GF

Spinach and ricotta is a classic combination, but one that I’m only recently beginning to appreciate. I remember being given spinach and ricotta tortellini when I was little and not liking the spinach’s slightly grassy taste. More often than not it was watery, causing the cheese to split into horrible lumps or else was stringy and fiberous. It put me off for quite a while! However, I have since discovered that spinach and ricotta can also be a fantastic pairing and am now using it with gusto.

I first tasted this tart during a gluten free cookery demo a few weeks back and it tasted so good that I was determined to make it myself. At the demo they used a packed pastry mix, but never one to reply on packets, I scanned the ingredients list and then concocted my own using similar flours I had at home. The demo also taught me some new tips about how to approach gluten free baking that go against all ‘traditional’ baking techniques. You want to treat pastry as if it was bread dough – use soft butter, make a batter to start and then knead it until it becomes smooth. As there is no gluten to overwork there is no fear of it becoming tough or shrinking when baked. For bread dough you want to treat it like a cake mix – it should be very wet and poured into a loaf tin before proving and baking. If it’s too thick, it won’t rise and the bread will be dense. Interesting stuff!

Anyway, back to the tart. The pastry worked like a charm and resulted in a light, crisp pastry that I think I even preferred to when I used to eat standard party. It was lighter and less greasy. The filling came together easily and all the frying onion, garlic and balsamic made the kitchen smell wonderful. Ricotta is quite a bland cheese, and in a tart such as this it adds more of a texture than a flavour. However, its lightness results in a puffy, almost soufflé like textured filling that allows other flavours to shine.

A little red onion and sun dried tomato adds sweetness and bite to the tart, while the spinach makes it fabulously green and slightly earthy. It’s delicious warm, straight out the oven but I also enjoyed it cold the next day, when it turned a little more quiche-like. As a bonus it also freezes well, meaning you can stash slices of it away for when you’re short of time or lacking inspiration to cook.

If you’re not on a GF diet, I’m sure the filling would be equally delicious is a standard pastry case.

Spinach & Ricotta Tart GF
(Recipe adapted from Glutafin)
Gluten Free Pastry
225g gluten free flour mix (I used 100g white rice flour, 50g potato flour, 50g tapioca starch, 25g buckwheat flour)
1 tsp xanthan gum
110g butter
1 egg
1 tbsp cold water

Spinach & Ricotta Filling
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150g frozen or fresh chopped spinach
250g ricotta cheese
2 eggs
75g sun blush/dried tomatoes in oil
3 sprigs fresh basil
Salt and pepper

Method - Pastry
Have an 8inch/20cm tart tin ready.
Mix all the flours and the xanthan gum together in a bowl to combine.
Make sure you butter is soft, if not blast it in the microwave for a few seconds. Add to a mixing bowl along with half the flour mixture, the egg and water. Beat with a spoon or spatula to form a paste. (Yes I know this goes against all traditional pastry making!) Add the rest of the flour and bring the mixture together to form a dough, switching to your hands at the en. Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Lightly dust a work surface with GF flour and roll out the pastry to the size and shape of your tart tin, plus an extra 1-2 inches for the sides.
Use your rolling pin to help you transfer the pastry into the tin and press it down gently. Trim off the excess. Patch up any cracks with the off-cuts of pastry.
Place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Spinach & Ricotta Filling
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Finely dice the red onion, heat the oil in a frying pan, and gently fry the onion until beginning to soften. Crush the garlic and add it to the onion and cook for 3 minutes more.
Either chop your fresh spinach or defrosted and drain your frozen spinach. Add the spinach to the pan along with the balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Cook over a fairly high heat until very little moisture remains. Remove from the heat and stir through the ricotta cheese. Lightly beat the eggs and beat them in too.
Chop the tomatoes and basil into small chunks and fold into the filling.
Spread the filling into the chilled pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes until set, slightly puffed and the pastry is lightly golden brown.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Tastes great warm or cold the next day when it goes more quiche-like. Also freezes well in slices.
Makes 1 x 8inch/20cm tart

Monday, 11 April 2011

Bean Salad with Lemon & Mint

Hasn’t the weather been glorious this weekend! It was so nice to be able to wander outside without the need for a coat. I loved wandering around the garden, the trees full of blossom, the last few daffodils nodding in the breeze, the grass lush and green, the sun making everything seem bright and vibrant. Such sun evokes visions of BBQ’s and summer picnics and my favourite bit…fresh tasty salads!

After our long spell of cold miserable weather the kitchen was rather short on summer salad ingredients but thanks to the wonderful processes of bottling and canning I was still able to put together a fresh and tasty bean salad for us to enjoy with dinner.

Lemon zest and juice take the place of vinegar for a quick and simple zingy dressing which was jazzed up with a bit of fresh mint and chives from the garden. The smells wafting up as they were picked were wonderful. A little sweetcorn and a few sundried tomatoes added sweetness and sunny colour without the need to visit the shops. Quick, fresh and tasty. Hurrah for sunshine :)

Bean Salad with Lemon & Mint
1 x 400g tin mixed beans (flageolet, kidney beans and cannellini etc)
½ tin sweetcorn (75g)
200g marrowfat or broad beans
6 sundried tomatoes in oil
Zest of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
Small bunch fresh chives
10 fresh mint leaves
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Drain and rinse the mixed beans, sweetcorn and marrowfat/broad beans. Shell the broad beans by gently squeezing them along the seam and popping them into a bowl. Discard the thin outer shell.
Finely chop the sundried tomatoes, mint leaves and chives using scissors.
Add all the veg, beans and herbs into a bowl and mix to combine.
Add the finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon and drizzle in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Serve as an accompaniment to other salads and assorted nibbly bits or own its own.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Flourless Chocolate Mocha Mud Torte

It was Mothering Sunday here in the UK yesterday, which meant all the family gathered together to enjoy some family time and Mum appreciation. We spent the day together including a traditional Sunday afternoon walk through nearby woodland followed by a full blown Sunday roast cooked by dad and me. Of course, no family gathering would be complete without something sweet and tasty for afternoon tea or dessert and on this occasion it turned out to be this wickedly indulgent chocolate torte.

This torte originally started out life destined to be something else, but things didn’t go according to plan (always check you have all the necessary ingredients in stock!) and I had to improvise. I’d made a chocolate ganache base that I’d flavoured with coffee to enhance the chocolatiness but then I got stuck. I decided to try and turn the ganache into a flourless chocolate cake. I separated some eggs, made the whites into meringue, folded everything together, put it in the oven and hoped for the best.

It puffed up and rose spectacularly in the oven before sinking down into a gooey fudgy chocolate cake once taken out. However, this is how most flourless chocolate cakes turn out so I wasn’t disappointed. The taste of this cake is about as far from disappointment as you could get – it’s fantastic!

We ate a taster slice a few hours after it was first baked, when it was only just cool. The texture was like a softly set mousse, very light but incredibly chocolaty. The coffee comes through later, not overpowering the chocolate, only adding to its rich dark flavour.

After the torte has rested for a few hours the top surface developed a slightly crisp, fragile crust while the underneath became sticky and fudgy, like the best sort of brownie you can imagine. Mmmm it was divine. Far better than my original plan for the ganache.

There is very little added sugar and no flour, nuts or grain of any kind, meaning the chocolate can really be the star of the show. You want to use a good quality high percentage dark chocolate to really get that coco hit.

Small slice are all that’s needed for an instant chocolate high and a mood enhancing boost.

Flourless Chocolate Mocha Mud Torte
250g dark chocolate 65-70% cocoa solids
300ml double cream
3 tsp instant coffee granules
1 tbsp milk
30g golden syrup
2 eggs
50g caster sugar
Cocoa powder for dusting

Line an 8inch deep springform tin with a sheet of silicone paper. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Heat the milk and coffee granules together in the microwave until the coffee has dissolved. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place into a saucepan along with the dissolved coffee, double cream and golden syrup.
Heat gently, stirring often, until the chocolate has completely dissolved into the cream. Do not allow to boil.
Remove from the heat, and stir to make sure everything is well combined. Set aside to cool slightly.
Separate the egg yolks from the whites and place into separate bowls. Beat the egg whites until fluffy, opaque and just starting to hold a soft peak. While still whisking, add the caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time until you achieve a thick glossy meringue.
Beat the egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, mixing quickly.
Add a third of the meringue to the chocolate mix, and fold in use a large spoon or spatula, making sure to reach right to the bottom of the pan.
Add the rest of the meringue, and fold in gently until just combined. Don’t over mix.
Pour the chocolate batter into the prepared pan and place in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes.
The mix will puff up and rise to the top of the tin and crack during baking. This is normal. When the top has formed a crust and is darker around the edges, remove the cake from the oven.
Allow to cool completely (it will collapse and sink – this is fine) before running a knife around the edge and removing from the pan.
Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Serve slightly warm for a soft mousse texture, or leave to rest for a few hours to achieve more of a truffle-brownie texture.