Saturday 27 August 2011

Daring Baker August 2011 Challenge: Chocolate Candies

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

This month’s challenge was fun. We were instructed to make two sorts of sweets/chocolates/candies of our own choosing. The only requirement was that one of them had to incorporate chocolate to make a truffle or bonbon, either in the outer shell or in the filling. The other sweet/candy was up to us.

I decided to incorporate chocolate into both my sweets, but using different varieties and in different forms. My first chocolate comprised of using white chocolate to form the outer shell of a filled bonbon. The filling of the bonbon was sweetened black bean paste that I snapped up a few weeks ago from an oriental supermarket. I’ve had red bean paste in Chinese pastries before and loved it, but I’d never seen the black bean variety. It comes in a can and was jet black in colour. It was rich and thick, with a slightly granular texture from the beans, yet sweet with a hint of rosewater that gave it a very delicate flavour. It resulted in a wonderful smooth sweet centre to the crisp white chocolate shell and I loved the black and white colour contrast too.

I used a silicone chocolate mould which helped create the shape and smooth glossy exterior to the chocolates. Plus, it meant they popped out easily when set.

My second sweetie was a thin dark chocolate disc topped with a whole pecan, some dried cranberries and slivers of crystallised ginger. I used a very bitter 85% dark chocolate which gave a wonderful rich chocolate flavour, delicious against the sweet tangy cranberries and the spicy ginger. The nut on top added another texture contrast and worked well with all the other flavours. They were so easy and quick to put together and looked quite stylish. I’ve seen similar things selling for extortionate amounts in shops, so it’s good to know I can produce similar results at home. They’d be great to serve to guests after dinner.

I really enjoyed the freedom we were given with this challenge and it was perfect for me this month as I have been so busy that I wouldn’t have been able to manage anything too time consuming. I love both the chocolates, both very different but equally delicious.

Click to see what tasty chocolate creations the other Daring Bakers made this month.

White Chocolate & Black Bean Truffles
100g white chocolate
10 tsp sweetened black bean paste (from oriental supermarkets)

Melt 80g of the white chocolate and use a small pastry brush to coat the base and sides of small chocolate moulds. Make sure they are generously coated.
Place in the fridge for 5 minutes to chill and set.
Spoon a little of the black bean paste into the centre of the moulds, leaving a tiny gap at the top to allow you to seal them with extra chocolate.
Melt the remaining white chocolate and use to seal/cover the filling to create a white chocolate base to your chocolates.
Place back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before turning out.
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pecan, Cranberry & Ginger Dark Chocolate Discs
50g dark bitter chocolate (I used 85%)
10 pecan nuts
3 chunks of crystallised ginger, shredded
20g dried cranberries

Draw small circle onto a sheet of paper. Place the paper on a baking tray and cover with clingfilm, so the circles show through underneath.
Melt the dark chocolate and spoon a little into the centre of each of the circles. Use the back of a teaspoon to spread the chocolate into the circle shapes.
While the chocolate is still soft, scatter over your choice of dried fruit and nuts.
Place in the fridge to set for 10 minutes.
Once set, carefully peel the chocolate discs off the clingfilm and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Kulfi Inspired Pistachio, Saffron & Cardamom Rice Pudding Ice Cream

Kulfi is a milk based frozen desert of Indian origin that is similar to ice cream, only a little denser and richer. It often comes in gorgeous exotic flavours including mango, rose, saffron and cardamom. I have been fortunate enough to sample traditional kulfi a couple of times and always loved its rich creaminess and exciting flavours.

Indian rice pudding (I don’t know the proper name) is another one of my favourites. Often served cold, flavoured with cardamom and topped with slivers of pistachios. Last weekend I was trying to think of new ice cream flavours and decided to see what would happen if I used rice pudding as my base along with saffron, cardamom and a few chopped pistachios to create a kufli inspired ice cream.

I’m not ashamed (too much) to admit that I used a canned rice pudding. You could of course make your own but this would have taken more time than I had allocated myself and so I cheated/improvised. To get the best flavour and colour out of the saffron I steeped it first in a little warm milk. This created a lovely sunny yellow colour which gave the ice cream a rich creamy golden hue and helped the flavour develop.

The chopped pistachios added little nuggets of buttery texture along with their pretty green colour. They stayed quite soft in the ice cream, not going too hard or brittle which was nice. Cardamom is one of my favourite, yet often underused spices. It’s so distinctive and aromatic and worked brilliantly with all the other flavours.

Once churned all the flavours were apparent, with the earthy complex saffron and cardamom being most prominent. I loved how you could still clearly see the streaks of golden saffron scattered throughout. Saffron is quite distinctive (and expensive) so a little goes a long way.

The rice pudding itself got a little pulverised during churning, lending a thicker, creamier texture to the finished ice cream, but not quite as much ‘rice texture’ as I’d originally hoped.

I adored the finished ice cream, it was so different to anything else I’ve had before while having definite Kulfi overtones. It was quite rich and aromatic so small single serve scoopfuls were enough to satisfy the taste buds. It’s probably not at all authentic and I apologise to anyone who is horrified at my ice cream creation, but it tasted delicious to me.

Kulfi Inspired Pistachio, Saffron & Cardamom Rice Pudding Ice Cream
2 x 400g tins rice pudding
100ml milk
½ tsp ground cardamom
50g shelled pistachio nuts
40g caster sugar
Pinch saffron strands

Place the saffron strands in a small bowl and pour over the milk. Place in the microwave and heat on defrost for 30-60 seconds until the milk is just warm. Stir and leave the saffron to steep in the milk for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour the rice pudding into a bowl and stir in the cardamom and sugar.
Roughly chop the pistachios and add to the rice mix along with the saffron milk, including the strands of saffron, which will be a vibrant sunny yellow colour.
Stir to combine and place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes before churning in an ice cream maker until thick. Alternatively, transfer it into a large container and place in the freezer; stir the mix every hour until set.
When thick and almost frozen, serve at once or freeze until required.

Saturday 20 August 2011

The Cake Slice August 2011: Hungarian Coffee Cake a.k.a Monkey Bread

I was really excited when this cake won this months vote. I’d never heard of Hungarian Coffee Cake before, but apparently it is also known as Monkey Bread which I have been seeing for years popping up on various blogs. Its something I’ve always longed to try, yet never got round to, so now was my chance.

The idea behind the strange name of Monkey Bread is that the cake is made up of balls of dough, which are rolled in cinnamon sugar, before being stacked into a Bundt tin and baked. The rounds of cinnamon crusted dough can then be pulled off in their ball shapes, like a sort of tear and share bread. I assume the logic behind the name is that you can pick at it with your fingers, like a monkey. Click here, here and here to see some great examples.

I had high hopes for this cake but I ended up being quite disappointed. I’m not sure if it was a bad recipe or if I did a bad job at adapting it to be gluten free but it ended up more scone-like in texture than doughy balls of cake/bread. Looking at the recipe, I strongly suspect it’s the recipes fault. The cake part itself contains no eggs and no sugar. The dough is rolled in a cinnamon sugar and topped with a sugar/butter sauce, but the balls of dough were a little bland, making them appear even more scone-like. I’m sure its meant to also contain yeast.

Once baked, the cake was very crumbly, causing it to break and collapse slightly when I released it from the tin. It also disintegrated when I tried to take a bite, meaning I had to eat it with a fork and spoon rather than my fingers. The ball shaped pieces of dough also expanded and merged together, meaning it was impossible for me to break off a clean piece, it sort of fell how it wanted, crumbling away like an old ruined castle.

Despite its crumbly texture and poor appearance, the actual flavour of the cake was delicious. I used dried cranberries and sultanas in place of the raisins which added bright little dots of ruby colour throughout the dough and provided a lovely tangy bite against the sweet caramel topping. By mistake I also used salted butter instead of unsalted in the caramel topping, which meant every bite was a mix of sweet and salty, which worked brilliantly. I think this was one of the best bits about the cake.

The cake itself had a dense textured crumb, but was very moist with a slightly grassy flavour due to my use of Teff flour. I enjoyed it and its scone-like texture which made a change to the usual soft and light cakes. I actually ended up devouring over half of it myself in only 2 days! It was just so easy to keep picking at it, especially as chunks kept falling off, just waiting to be picked up.

So this months cake had mixed success. In terms of Monkey Bread it was a complete failure, but it did however produce a….mountainous giant scone thingy…that I enjoyed eating so all was not lost. I wouldn’t recommend this recipe as it stand though.

Click here to see what the other Cake Slice Bakers thought.

Hungarian Coffee Cake – a.k.a Monkey Bread
(Recipe from KeeCakeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)
100g butter, melted and cooled
170g light brown sugar

Cinnamon Dusting
110g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

100g butter, cold
360g plain flour (I used 200g white teff flour & 160g brown rice flour)
1 tbsp gluten free baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
(1 tsp xanthan gum – if GF)
255ml buttermilk
50g walnuts (I used pecans)
70g raisins (I used mix of cranberries & sultanas)

Method – Topping
Whisk together the melted butter and light brown sugar. Set aside.

Method – Cinnamon Dusting
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a nonstick 12cup/8inch Bundt pan and dust with flour.
Combine the caster sugar and cinnamon in a zipper top bag or small bowl and set aside.

Method – Cake
Cut the butter into 1/2cm dice. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled butter pieces and, with an electric mixer mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the buttermilk until the mixture just comes together, adding an extra tablespoon or two if the mixture is too dry.
Use a small ice cream scoop or spoon to scoop up balls of dough and transfer them to the zipper top bag. Shake the bag to coat the balls with the cinnamon sugar.
Place the coated balls of dough in the prepared pan, sprinkling the walnuts and raisins over them as you go. Pour the melted butter brown sugar mixture over the cake. Bake until the cake is firm and well risen and the caramel is melted, about 35-40 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto a serving platter and serve immediately.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for 1 day.
Makes one 12 cup/8 inch Bundt cake

Monday 15 August 2011

Breakfast Scone for One

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. There are such a lot of interesting and exciting options open for breakfast and it makes me sad that so many people overlook them. I cannot understand why some people (other members of my family included) eat the same thing every single morning. I don’t just mean they always have cereal, it’s the fact they always have exactly the same cereal, day in day out! That would be so dull and boring to me. You wouldn’t eat exactly the same thing for dinner every night would you?

Cereal, yoghurt, fruit, scones, muffins, bagels, eggs, porridge, toast, smoothies, wraps, pancakes etc. Even if you just pick one of these categories, at least add some variety with different variations – e.g. porridge. It may sound boring but consider you could make it sweet or salty, topped with a little sugar or drizzled with chocolate chips, banana and walnuts, or how about stirring in some natural yoghurt and fresh berries at the end? I’ve even made it using smoothie instead of half the milk/water for a very delicious and fruity tasting alternative. I’m all for being a bit adventurous with my breakfast fodder, especially since being diagnoised as coeliac, as a lot of my favourite breakfast items are now off limits. The only thing I insist on is that it does include some kind of fruit somewhere.

One of my favourite things to make for breakfast is a breakfast scone. Before you roll your eyes thinking this sounds like far too much work, it’s actually very quick and easy. The breakfast scone is a single serve, one person portion scone and resembles more of free form rock cake, than a dainty little afternoon scone. Its simply made by mixing together a small amount of flour, milk, butter and a pinch of sugar with any additional ingredients you have on hand to form a thick dough which you then scoop out onto a baking tray and bake for a few minutes. No rolling out, cutting or egg washing, it bakes simply in a heap that cracks and puffs into a lumpy looking mountain as it bakes. It’s not the most attractive breakfast, but it is very tasty, quick and makes me feel like I’m having a treat despite its humble appearance.

I had some cold stewed apple leftover from the night before which I decided would be the perfect accompaniment to my breakfast scone. I kept to the cream and jam train of thought by used thick natural yoghurt in place of cream and the freshly cooked fruit instead of the jam. This kept it lighter, fresher and healthier for breakfast. As I planned to use the apple as a topping, the scone itself was studded with chewy sultanas and a pinch of cinnamon. It smelt wonderful as it baked, almost like a cinnamon sultana cookie.

The outer crust was cracked and slightly crusty while it stayed soft and tender inside. They are not as dainty and sophisticated as afternoon tea scones, but eaten hot straight out the oven with the chilled fruit and yoghurt it made a delicious start to my day. It doesn’t really take any extra time than a standard breakfast as it takes moments to put together and while it’s baking you can be getting ready for work or making packed lunches etc.

I love how adding just a few different add-ins or using only one or a mix of flours can create such different tasting results. Judging by the wafts of overripe banana smell that are being emitted from the fruit bowl I think some sort of mashed banana, chocolate chip combo will be called for tomorrow. It might not be in scone form, maybe stirred into my porridge or mixed into a pancake batter – I’ll see how I feel in the morning.

Ok, rant over. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so whatever you eat make sure you enjoy it and remember that variety is the spice of life!

Breakfast Scone for One
1 tbsp fine ground corn meal
1 tbsp brown rice flour
2 tbsp gluten free flour mix (or 2tbsp buckwheat flour)
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
Small handful sultanas
Small blob (approx 10g) butter (very soft or melted)
40-50ml milk
½ tsp caster sugar

To serve
Stewed apple or fruit compote
Natural yoghurt

Heat the oven to 180C. Have a small baking tray lined with silicone paper ready.
Mix the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, sultanas and sugar together in a small bowl.
Add the very soft or melted butter and mix it into the flour along with the milk, using a small spoon, until you have a very soft dough/thick batter. It should be too wet to handle.
Scoop the dough onto the baking tray and place in the oven for 12 minutes.
Once baked, remove from the oven and enjoy while still warm, accompanied by a spoonful of stewed or fresh fruit and a generous dollop of natural yoghurt.

Note: Works well with other flavours and flours too, so be creative or simply use what you have on hand. Try adding a little mashed banana or a few fresh berries to the batter along with some dark chocolate chips, nuts or spices for a delicious alternative. Try flavouring the yoghurt too. Stirring through a little honey or peanut butter creates a great tasting yoghurty dip

Saturday 6 August 2011

Spiced Zucchini Cake

Do you call them courgettes or zucchinis? In our house they are courgettes, but I’ve decided to call this a zucchini cake as I think that makes it sound much more exciting and exotic.

Before making this cake I had never tried nor baked a zucchini cake. I have seen them popping up on blogs for years, and every summer tell myself ‘I will bake one this year’ but somehow I never achieved it. However, this year I finally managed it and am now kicking myself for not trying one sooner, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing all these years!

I was prompted to finally attempt this cake after Monica of Lick The Bowl Good recently talked about her favourite recipe for a chocolate zucchini cake. I’ve had another plain zucchini cake recipe saved in my ‘to bake’ file for years, but Monica’s recipe looked so good that I was torn between them. In the end I decided to use Monica’s recipe as the base, but remove the chocolate from it and use the other recipes additions of nuts and spices for flavour.

I decided against making a chocolate zucchini cake as I wanted to see the grated shreds of dark green courgette scattered throughout the cake and taste its subtle flavour. I was worried adding cocoa would overpower this. This turned out to be a good call as I loved the appearance and flavour of the finished cake.

The cake was incredibly light with a fine tender crumb and very moist from both the zucchini and use of oil instead of butter in the cake. I used a mix of ground cinnamon and a little freshly grated nutmeg in the cake which gave it a wonderfully spicy after note that went so well with the pecans I also added. My first slice crumbled slightly, this was partly because I used gluten free flour, but also because the cake was still a little warm – I couldn’t wait any longer! The following slices cut more cleanly.

Once baked and cooled it was topped with a simple drizzle of lemon glace icing. You could add a thicker frosting or cream if you like, but I think the zingy tang from the lemon helped enhance the other flavours in the cake, rather than overpower them and helped keep everything light and fresh tasting. Sometimes simple is the way to go.

The cake reminded me strongly of carrot cake (one of my all time favourites), only slightly more sophisticated with its streaks of emerald green. It’s the perfect summer cake and the ideal way of using up a glut of courgettes. I bet this would be a hit even with courgette/zucchini haters.

Don’t do as I did for so many years and let this cake pass you by – go make it now!!

Spiced Zucchini Cake
100ml vegetable oil
200g Doves gluten free self raising flour
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
2 eggs
230g caster sugar
270-300g zucchini/courgette
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
50g pecans

Lemon Glace Icing
80g icing sugar
Juice of ½ lemon (approx)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease the sides and line the base of an 8inch/20cm deep springform tin.
Grate the zucchini and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until lighter in colour and increased in volume.
With the mixer still going, drizzle in the oil until all combined. Add the grated zucchini and spices. Roughly chop the nuts into chunks and stir them in too.
Sift over the flour and baking powder before folding it in using a spatula, turning the bowl as you go. Do not over mix, stop once the flour is all incorporated.
Pour the mix into tin and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before running a thin knife around the edge and releasing the cake from the tin. Leave to cool completely.
Mix the lemon juice into the icing sugar, a little at a time, until you have a thick smooth glaze. Use a fork or tip of a spoon to drizzle the icing over the top of the cooled cake.
Makes one 8inch/20cm cake.

Note: If not making this cake gluten free then use plain flour and increase the baking powder to 1½ tsp

Monday 1 August 2011

Plum & Apple Jelly

The fruit season has arrived early this year probably due to our mixed up weather of a hot spring and cold wet start to the summer. We have a couple of old gnarled apple trees in the garden which every year produce the most gorgeous tasting apples. The only problem is that they are tiny apples (compare it to the size of the daisy nearby!). An apple measuring an inch wide is to be considered ‘a whopper.’

Due to their tiny size this makes the apples quite tricky and time consuming to do anything with, as once peeled and cored there is not much left. After a bountiful fruit gathering session at the weekend I decided to combine the apples with some equally tiny plums I’d picked growing wild in the hedgerows, and turn them into plum and apple jelly.

Making a jelly is the perfect way to use tiny fiddlesome fruit as you boil the fruit, including all its peel, skin, pips and seeds, before straining off the pulp and collecting the sweet rosy coloured fruit juices from which you make the jelly out of. The skin gives colour and flavour while the pips add natural pectin which helps the jelly set meaning no peeling or coring required!

The aroma wafting from the fruit as it bubbled away was intoxicating, sweet, fruity and the essence of summer. Once strained the resulting juices were a fabulous blushed rosy pink colour which had seeped from the fruits peel and skin.

The finished jelly was clear and vibrantly glossy with almost mirror-like qualities, just beautiful, and packed full of apple and plum flavour. I love it on toast or used in sweet dishes but my family enjoy it with meat dishes too, in place of the more traditional red currant jelly. Little jars of bottled summer orchard.

Plum & Apple Jelly
1kg plums
2kg apples
3 pints water
450g granulated sugar per pint of juice you create

Wash and roughly chop the plums and apples and place them into a very large saucepan. Don’t peel or core them, you want the skin, pips, stones and all as these add a gorgeous colour and natural pectin to the jelly which is needed to help it set..
Add the water and bring the mixture to a simmer. Leave to bubble for 30 minutes, giving it the odd stir or prod until the fruit is cooked and everything has gone soft and mushy. Remove from the heat.
Set a large bowl underneath a jelly bag (or large sieve lined with muslin) and carefully pour the mushy fruit into the bag, letting the clear pink juice run through. Do not squeeze or press on the pulpy fruit let behind too much, as this can turn the clear juice cloudy.
Rinse off your large saucepan. Place 8-10 jam jars and their lids into a cold oven and heat to 160 for at least 10 minutes to sterilise them. Leave them in the oven until required.
Measure how many pints of juice you have and pour it back into the cleaned pan. Add 450g of granulated sugar per 1 pint of juice you have collected. (Mine was 3pints so used 1.350kg sugar).
Heat the sugar and juice together, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to bubble for 35-45 minutes until it has reached its setting point. Test for setting by placing a small spoonful of the jam onto a saucer and placing in the fridge for 3 minutes. Once cool, run your finger through the jam and if it ripples and leaves a clear path, then it is ready. If not, then allow to boil for a further 5 minutes before testing again.
Once ready, remove the jelly from the heat and the jars from the oven. Carefully ladle the hot jam into the hot jars and screw on the lids tightly. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and to give you a good grip.
Allow to cool at room temperature before storing in a cool dark place until required. The seal button in the lids will suddenly pop back down as the jam cools, as a sterile vacuum is created within the jar. They will give a loud ‘pop’ when this happens, so don’t be alarmed.
Once open, store in the fridge
Makes 8 – 10 jars