Sunday 27 November 2011

The Daring Bakers November 2011 Challenge: Chocolate Hazelnut Sans Rival

On reading this title I expect you are thinking ‘what on earth is a Sans Rival?’ If so, then rest assured I was thinking the exact same thing when I first heard about this challenge. It turns out that Sans Rival is a delicious layered meringue cake comprising of four nutty layers of meringue, sandwiched together with a French buttercream. ‘Sans’ means ‘without’ in French, so I assume this dessert is so good that it is to be considered without rivals – as in it beats all others!

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog. This month I stuck to just the Sans Rival cake.

We were having some relatives round for dinner and so I thought this cake would make the ideal dessert. It’s traditionally made with ground cashew nuts, but I chose to use hazelnuts instead and to add melted dark chocolate to by French buttercream as I adore the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts together. On assembling the dessert I also added a little raspberry jam between each layer, which made for a delicious trinity of flavours. I was especially delighted as this dessert was also naturally gluten free – hurrah.

I had high hopes for this dessert and it sounded simple enough. However, for some reason my meringue layers just refused to go crisp in the oven. They were meant to be baked for 30minutes, after which time they were nicely golden on top, but when I gave them a prod they were still sticky and gooey. I gave them another 20 minutes by which time they had developed a crisp outer crust. ‘Good’ I thought and took them out to cool. As they cooled they turned back to being soft and a little gooey. Back into the oven they went. This continued for 2 hours by which time I had had enough and decided they would just have to stay as they were.

Thankfully the French buttercream came together quickly and easily and resulted in a gorgeously silky dark chocolate cream that tasted divine. I could have (and did) eaten it by the spoonful. I really should make the effort to make this more often for other cakes as it’s just incredible, so smooth and creamy.

When it came to serving the dessert later that evening, my meringue layers had turned into something resembling more nougat than meringue. It was soft, gooey and chewy and actually made for a lovely tasting dessert with the chocolate and raspberry filling, but was definitely not the crisp layers it should have been.

Although my meringue layers were a disappointment the flavours of the desert itself more than made up for it. There was even one dinner guest who stole a forkful off someone else’s plate after she had finished her own! In summary, it tasted good, but after the stress of the meringue layers I probably wouldn’t make it again (well not this particular meringue recipe anyway). I was also disappointed in my presentation but the meringue just wasn’t playing ball. I halved the recipe below and baked a 6.5inch cake.

Click here to see the blogroll of other Daring Bakers Sans Rival Cakes

Sans Rival
10 large egg whites, room temperature
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
20g cocoa powder (optional and not traditional – I left this out)
240g roughly ground, toasted cashews (I used hazelnuts)

Note: You will need four layers which will mean that you might have to bake in two batches. Be sure to use fresh parchment paper and cooled pans for each batch.
1. Preheat oven to 160C.
2. Line cake pan bottoms (9inch/23cm) with parchment paper and butter and flour the sides really well.
3. In a large clean, dry glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium until foamy (2 mins). Sprinkle with cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, continuing to beat now at high speed until stiff shiny peaks form. (about 7-10 mins.)
4. Fold in nuts, reserving enough to use for decoration.
(Note the more finely ground for folding into meringue. The coarsely ground for is decoration of finished cake.)
5. Divide meringue into four equal parts. Spread in pans, evenly to edges. If doing batches, use fresh parchment paper and cooled pans for each batch.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the meringue from the baking pans while still hot; allow to cool slightly. Peel off the parchment paper while it is still warm, it is difficult to remove sometimes when they have completely cooled.
7. When cool, trim edges so that all 4 meringue layers are uniformly shaped. Set aside.

French Buttercream
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
225g caster sugar
60ml water
285g unsalted butter, room temperature
55g dark chocolate, melted
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur (my addition)

1. Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until the yolks have doubled in volume and are a lemon yellow.
2. Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and cook over medium heat, stirring the sides down only until all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup reaches 112C (or thread stage).
3. With the mixer on high, very slowly pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl, until all has been added. Be careful as the very hot syrup could burn you if it splashes from the beaters. Add the hazelnut liqueur. Continue beating on high until the mixture is ROOM TEMPERATURE (about 15 mins). Still on high, beat in the soft, room temperature butter a tablespoon at a time. Add the melted chocolate and beat well. Refrigerate the buttercream for at least an hour, and whip it smooth just before you use it.

4 tbsp raspberry Jam (my addition)

Set bottom meringue on cake board with a dab of butter cream to hold it in place. Spread a thin layer of buttercream and then place another meringue on top. Repeat with a thin layer of buttercream, meringue, thin layer of buttercream, meringue, and finally buttercream the top and sides. Decorate with reserved nuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve. I also added a thin spreading of raspberry jam between each layer.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Butternut Squash & Red Lentil Soup

Winter certainly seems to be closing in. It’s not been overly cold, but the days have been dark, damp and dreamy. Filled with three endless days of mist and drizzle that seems to seep into your clothes and skin making you feel cold and miserable. On waking up to yet another day of swirling mist I decided there was only one thing for it – a nice big bowl of steaming hot soup!

Ahh soup. Is there anything more warming and satisfying on a cold dreary day than a bowl/mug/ladle/bucket full of piping hot soup?! It seems to warm you up from the inside out, from the tips of your fingers down to your very soul. Ideally it must be thick soup too, rich and satisfying, not those horrible watery packet mixes. But a soup packed full of winter veg and goodness.

One of my favourite soups is red lentil soup. It’s thick and creamy with a bit of texture and bite from the lentils. Lentils, being rich in protein and fibre also help transform the soup into a filling meal that keeps the winter chills away.

I had a hunt through my fridge and basically comprised the soup from whatever I had to hand or that needed using up. That’s one of the perks of soup, it can transform even the most tired or gnarled shaped vegetables into something delicious. This time the main flavour component of my soup was a whole baby butternut squash. I simply scooped out the seeds and membrane from the middle and diced it up, leaving the skin on. As it all gets blitzed into a puree you can’t detect the skin so it’s not worth the hassle. Plus, there’s a lot of extra goodness hidden in those skins, the same applies to the parsnip, although I would recommend peeling the papery skin off the garlic.

The vegetable base is cooked and pureed first, before the lentils are added and cooked in the soup for a further few minutes. This means they add texture while being suspended in a creamy velvety smooth soup. The soup base looks a little thin when puréed, but once the lentils are added, they swell up, absorbing some of the liquid and releasing their starch, creating one glorious thick and satisfying soup.

Creamy, comforting and warming to the soul. There’s nothing better on a day like today.

Butternut Squash & Red Lentil Soup
1 onion
4 spring onions
1 parsnip, skin left on
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small butternut squash, 600-700g whole
2 sticks celery
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 pints vegetable stock, hot
150g red lentils
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Chop the onion, spring onion, parsnip, celery and butternut squash into a chunky dice. You can leave the skin on the parsnip and butternut squash, although remove the seeds and membrane from the centre of the squash.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan pan, add the veg and the thyme and stir together. Place the lid on the saucepan and allow the veg to cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the edges of the veg is starting to take on a little colour.
Roughly chop the garlic, add to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Pour over the vegetable stock, stirring right to the bottom to ensure you get up any stuck on bits. Replace the lid and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until all the veg is soft and tender.
Remove from the heat and puree the soup in a liquidizer until smooth. It should be quite runny/thin at this stage.
Return the soup to the pan and add the salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the red lentils, turn the heat to low and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble. Stir constantly for the first few minutes to prevent the lentils from sinking to the bottom of the pan and sticking.
Half cover the pan with the lid and allow to bubble gently for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent the lentils from clumping together. The soup will thicken up considerably as the lentils cook and swell.
Once the lentils are tender, remove from the heat and serve steaming hot.
Serves 6

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Roasted Banana & Pecan Bundt Cake with Maple Glaze

Today is National Bundt Cake day! Any baked good with a day dedicated to it is a winner in my books. Mary of the Food Librarian blog loves Bundt cakes so much that she has done a 30 day count-down to today, baking and blogging a different Bundt cake recipe each day! Wow what an undertaking. Incredibly this is also the 3rd year she has done this.

Spurred on by her many delicious looking Bundt cake recipes I wanted to join in the fun and bake my own. I first tasted this cake recipe a couple of weeks back, when it was baked by a coeliac friend of mine for a get-together. It was the moistest, most intensely banana flavoured cake I had ever had. I begged her for the recipe and have been looking for an occasion to bake it ever since. The cake is meant to be baked in a large loaf tin, but I felt sure it would be equally as good baked in a Bundt tin instead.

I think the secret behind this cake is that it uses a lot of bananas which are first roasted in the oven, in their skins, in order to intensify their wonderful banana-iness (if that’s not a word, it should be). I have never encountered this in a recipe before and was a little sceptical about how much flavour this would actually impart to the cake, but the end results speak for themselves. It’s fantastic.

The cake is also studded with a few crushed nuts for added texture and flavour and I also added just a smidgen of mixed spice. The cake is kept extra moist by the use of oil and sour cream in place of butter in the recipe. The cake is quite dense but in a good way, similar to a pound cake rather than feeling heavy and solid.

I love the look of each slice; the speckles of banana make it look so pretty and appealing. As if the cake itself wasn’t delicious enough, it is also topped with a drizzle of maple glaze to add just that extra touch of sweetness. I’m not usually a fan of maple flavoured things, but it really complimented the banana flavour well.

The great thing about Bundt cakes is that they look impressive with very little effort. They are also generally studded with exciting flavours or chunks of chocolate or nuts, relaying on these for flavour rather than mountains of frosting. This was a divine cake and one that the rest of family couldn’t believe was also gluten free. I think its going to be my new ‘go-to’ banana cake recipe. Even if you already have a favourite banana recipe, I urge you to try roasted them for a few minutes first, it really makes a difference!

Mary wants everyone to share her love of Bundt cakes and so is encouraging everyone to bake and blog a Bundt cake recipe from now until 24th November. If you submit a photo to her before this date then she’ll send you a Bundt badge for baking along. Click here for details. This is of course my entry.

Roasted Banana & Pecan Bundt Cake with Maple Glaze
(Recipe adapted from Gluten Free Baking by Phil Vickery)
450g ripe bananas with skin on (about 3½)
150g light soft brown sugar
125ml sunflower oil
1 tsp glycerine (I used golden syrup)
3 eggs
225g gluten free flour (I used Doves flour mix)
½ tsp xanthan gum
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp gluten free baking powder
2 tbsp crème fraiche (I used sour cream)
50g roughly chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
½ tsp mixed spice (My own addition)

Maple Glaze
3 tbsp maple syrup (I only used 2tbsp)
75g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Make a couple of slits in the skins of the bananas and lay them on a baking tray. Bake the bananas, in their skins, for 10 minutes (they will go black). Then remove them from the oven and leave them to cool slightly. Reduce the oven to 180C.
Oil a 9-10inch wide Bundt tin and set to one side.
Whisk the sugar, oil and glycerine together, adding the eggs one by one, until well combined.
Sift over the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and spice. Peel the skin off the bananas and weigh out 250g of the flesh. Add the mushy banana to the rest of the mix along with the crème fraiche.
Beat everything together until combined and no large chunks of banana remain.
Stir through the chopped nuts and pour the mixture into the prepared Bundt tin.
Bake for 45 minutes until risen, golden brown and a skewer inserted in the top comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 30minutes in the tin before inverting onto a serving plate. It should release from the tin if you give it a firm shake.
Leave to cool completely before icing with the glaze.

Maple Glaze
Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the maple syrup to the strength you like it, mixing it into the sugar with a small spoon. Add a smidgen of water if you need in order to create a pourable yet thick glaze.
Spoon/drizzle the glaze over the top of the cool cake and leave to set for 20 minutes before serving.

Book Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Anna Maria - comment number 2 on my Gluten Free Book Giveaway!

You win a copy of The Gluten Free Baker by Hannah Miles. Please email me your postage details and I'll arrange for you to get the book ASAP. Thank you to everyone who entered.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Gluten Free Rosemary, Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia! A Review and A Giveaway

I used to love focaccia bread. Its soft and springy texture with the thin golden crisp salty crust, studded with herbs. Since having to go gluten free I never thought I would eat it again, but all that changed when I tried this recipe from The Gluten-Free Baker by Hannah Miles.

I was recently sent a copy of this book and enjoyed looking through its pages, bookmarking recipes to try. Hannah Miles herself does not need to follow a gluten free diet, but does have an interest in baking of all kinds. Some people might remember Hannah from the final of Masterchef back in 2007. She also writes her own blog. The book is split into sections including cakes, cookies, breads, pastry and desserts, with many delicious sounding recipes to choose from. I don’t really know why I settled on the focaccia as my first recipe to try, especially as my own experiments with gluten free bread baking have been a bit hit and miss. The photo of the focaccia looked so inviting and ‘normal’ (see below) that I yearned to be able to create something equally as good.

I followed the recipe to the letter, with the only slight variation I made was to use red onion instead of olives and natural yoghurt in place of buttermilk, but as it was only a spoonful, I didn’t think this would matter. The dough was more like a thick cake batter than bread dough, but this is a consistency I am learning is most suited to gluten free bread baking.

My dough looked promising and once I studded the top with some tomatoes, red onion and little sprigs of rosemary I was beginning to feel quite excited by it. One point I learnt is don’t prod your fingers into the surface to create little dips like you do with a normal focaccia, or else you’ll just make a deflated hole in your dough as there is no gluten to make it spring back! I only did this once and a handy tomato covered the hole so no one was any the wiser.

Once baked the bread looked and smelt amazing. It didn’t rise quite as tall as the one in the photo but it wasn’t far off! It had a thin crispy golden crust and an airy springy underneath. I love how studded with little holes it is. It was even a little flexible without crumbling or falling apart at all! I think using eggs and a little vinegar seemed to help stabilise the dough.

The taste was amazing! It was just like regular focaccia. Light and springy with a wonderful flavour from the sweet roasted tomatoes and onion and a slight saltiness from the little sprinkling of rock salt. The best focaccia I’ve ever made – gluten free or not and definitely the most successful and delicious gluten free bread I’ve ever produced!

It was fabulous the first two days, after which it got a little drier, but using it to make a toasted cheese sandwich soon transformed it back to deliciousness once more. It was so good. I’ve already made another one and frozen it in wedges to dig out when I need. I’m thrilled to have a recipe for a more artisan type bread that really works. I can’t wait to try out some of the other recipes.

All of the recipes in the book use ingredients that are readily available which helps make them feel approachable to all bakers. For the purposes of a fair review, I will also add a slight negative comment that I’ve noticed with the book. A lot of the cake, cookie and savoury recipes use ground almonds as a substitute for flour. Although I know this often works quite well, it can result in a heavier, denser, moister end product which is not always desired. Plus, not everyone likes the taste of ground almonds, so I felt they were a little too relied upon. However, I’m sure you could replace some with gluten free flour if you liked. Don’t let this minor point put you off the book, as all of the recipes I have so far tried have been wonderful.

Now onto the exciting part. I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of the book to one lucky person. With Christmas coming up it would make the ideal gift for a friend or family member who might have recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, or even if you’ve just got an interest in gluten free baking.
To be in with a chance to win, simply leave a comment telling me a bit about your own experiences of gluten free food. Do you or anyone you know have coealic disease? Do you have a go-to gluten free recipe you produce should the need arise or are you daunted by the idea of it and want to learn more?
Open to UK residents only. Competition closes at midnight on Monday 14th November 2011.

Gluten Free Rosemary, Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia
(Recipe from The Gluten-Free Baker by Hannah Miles)
450g gluten free white bread flour (I used a mix of maize, rice, potato & buckwheat)
1½ tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp fresh yeast (I used fast action dry)
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp warm water
300ml warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp buttermilk (I used natural yoghurt)
1 tsp fine sea salt
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
20 pitted black olives (I used sliced red onion)
Few sprigs fresh rosemary
Olive oil for drizzling
Sea salt flakes for sprinkling

Generously grease a deep sided 33x23cm/13x9inch oven tray.
Put the yeast, warm water and honey in a small bowl. Stir and leave for 10-15 minutes to become foamy.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, add the proofed yeast, xanthan gum, warm milk, eggs, vinegar, buttermilk and fine salt. Beat everything together using a spoon or spatula to form a thick dough.
Spread the dough into the greased tray and spread it out into an even layer.
Cover the top with clingfilm or a clean towel and place in a warm place to proof for 1 hour or until risen and puffy.
Preheat the oven top 190C.
Dot the halved cherry tomatoes, slices of olive (or onion) and small sprigs of rosemary over the surface of the dough. Don’t stick your fingers into it though!
Drizzle the surface with olive oil and scatter the top with sea salt crystals.
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp on top.
Allow to cool in the tin to room temperature before cutting into large squares and serving.
Tastes delicious on its own or served with soups, chutneys, cheese or split in half and toasted to make sandwiches.
Eat within 2 days or freeze in portions on day of baking.

Monday 7 November 2011

Hotel Chocolat Giveaway Winner!

There were 18 comments on the post about the Hotel Chocolat Luxury Advent Calendar giveaway and so I used a random number generator to pick the winner.

The winner is…
Comment number 18! Congratulations The Caked Crusader who said if she won:
“I would share it with Mr CC - there's nothing I wouldn't share with him...even chocolate!"
Aww a worthy winner. I’ll be emailing you soon for your address info.

Keep an eye out for another chance to win something – coming soon!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Hotel Chocolat Luxury Advent Calendar & A Giveaway!

As the days are getting shorter, the leaves on the trees are turning from green to vibrant shades of red and gold, collecting in drifts by the roadside and crunching underfoot. There is a chill in the air and these are all signs that autumn if firmly here with winter and Christmas on the way.

Growing up, Christmas was always a magical time, full of excitement and anticipation. My siblings and I used to love waking up each morning in December and being allowed to open the door of our advent calendar and eat the little chocolate shape behind – chocolate at breakfast time! I stopped buying advent calendars when I went off to university, as that seemed to be the marker of leaving childhood behind, however I missed the tradition. So imagine my delight when Hotel Chocolat offered to send me their new Luxury Advent Calendar for Two.

Specifically design for adults, it’s a huge, double layer advent calendar with two chocolate truffles behind each door! How fantastic is that!!! All the excitement and fun of childhood, only much more indulgent! The idea is you get to eat one truffle yourself and share the second one with a loved one, friend, work colleague or even just eat the second one yourself as an after dinner treat – I won’t tell!

The truffles themselves come in a delicious variety of different flavours, cocoa percentages and fillings. There are the classics like chocolate truffle and salted caramel but also a few festive specials including mulled wine and gingerbread! I love the striking colours of silver and purple against the Hotel Chocolat classic black background, so sleek and stylish. (It’s also my Christmas tree colour scheme!)

Of course for the sake of quality control I had to open one or two of the doors, just to sample the chocolates, for… review purposes. What’s behind door number one?...Mulled Wine truffle!

The filling was thick and creamy, with a faint fruity booziness and a strong flavour of Christmas clove. It didn’t taste overly wine-like to me, although very fruity. On checking the ingredient list I could see no sign of wine, but there is Port listed, so I think this has been used to give a stronger, sweeter flavour which worked really well and I’m more than happy about.

I couldn’t resist opening another door…Salted Caramel! This one was gorgeous. The chocolate was slightly dark and bitter, a lovely contrast against the gooey runny salted caramel centre. Look how delicious soft and glossy it is!

I’ve managed to hold off opening any more doors until December itself, but I’m delighted to be able to offer one of you lucky readers the chance to win one of Hotel Chocolat’s Luxury Advent Calendars yourself! (They're gluten free btw) All you have to do is leave a comment telling me who you would share your advent calendar with and why and for a second chance to win, leave another comment telling me which gift from the Hotel Chocolat Christmas collection you would buy for a loved one. Open to UK residents only I’m afraid. Comments close Midnight on Sunday 6th November. Good luck!