Monday 27 February 2012

Daring Bakers February 2012 Challenge: Very Berry & Apricot Muffins

(I’m still in LA, but I set this post up to publish itself before I left. Never done this before so hope it’s worked)

I love berry muffins but very rarely bake them as I’m almost ashamed to admit, that I’m not that good at baking them. Ones I’ve made in the past have either have flat rather dry tops, or not been that different to an un-iced cupcake. However, this months Daring Bakers challenge was to make a quick bread in the flavour, and shape of our choice. As the whole group is about challenges, I decided it was time to give muffins another go.

I browsed the internet looking for my ideal muffin, and when I came across this one by Zoom Yummy, I called off the search. It looked fantastic and utterly drool-worthy. Packed full of berries with a soft texture and nicely risen. I had to do a little tweaking to make it gluten free and adapt it to my preferences but I was ready to get baking!

The main difference between a cupcake and a muffin is that muffins generally rely on a milk and oil base, rather than a butter base. They also generally use fewer eggs and you are actually aiming to achieve a lumpy batter, rather than a smooth one as this helps give them their light texture. Despite knowing this I think I slightly over worked my batter as there were very few lumps left. I’m too used to baking cakes!

I was a little worried about how full the cases were after I’d divided out the batter, but I went with it and sure enough they rose perfectly. Just high enough to create little domes without cracking and spilling out all over the tin. So fill them more than you might normally think is wise as the weight of the fruit holds the batter down a bit.

Frozen blueberries, cranberries and some fresh apricots are what made up my fruit mix. I loved the colours together, each so striking and bright. They looked so inviting when baked, each one bursting into the surrounding muffin creating little pools of vibrant jammy fruit.

I loved the muffins, but was slightly disappointed they didn’t go a lovely golden brown on top. I suspect this might be down to the flours I used. Next time I will try baking them at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time and seeing if that helps. This is purely aesthetic though and the muffins themselves were soft and tender. I’m sure they would also be great with some almond extract or lots of lemon zest too, but I liked them plain and simple. Letting the natural mix of sweet, juicy, tart, jammy fruits shine through.

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles. I started from scratch with my own research. Click here to see the Daring Baker blogroll to see bakers quick breads.

Very Berry & Apricot Muffins
(Recipe adapted from Zoom Yummy blog)
100g white teff flour*
80g buckwheat flour*
60g brown rice flour*
150g caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
250ml/250g milk
125ml/95g sunflower oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg
300g fresh or frozen fruits & berries (I used equal mix of frozen blueberries, cranberries & fresh apricots)

* can be substituted for an equal quantity gluten free flour mix or regular plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tray with 12 paper liners.
Mix the milk, oil, lemon juice and egg together in a bowl and set aside.
Place the flours, sugar and baking powder together in a larger bowl and mix to combine.
Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and use a spatula to gently fold everything together. You want a few lumps to remain, not a smooth batter, so don’t beat it.
Add your fruits and mix briefly.
Divide the mixture between the paper cases, filling almost to the top, more than you might normally think was wise. (I found I needed 1½ ice cream scoops of batter in each).
Bake for 18-22 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Best eaten within 3 days or frozen on day of baking. Lovely served warm with custard for a quick dessert.

Monday 20 February 2012

The Cake Slice February 2012: Boston Cream Pie & I’m off to LA!

Boston Cream Pie is an American dessert that has a rather confusing name as it is essentially a dessert cake. It consists of a thick layer of pastry cream inside two vanilla sponge layers, topped with a rich chocolate ganache! I was thrilled when it was voted this months Cake Slice bake.

The recipe calls for baking one cake in a 9inch tin that is later cut in half. As I needed to make the cake gluten free I decided instead to use two tins to save the trouble of cutting the cake in half as GF can be a little more fragile. This worked really well and I ended up with two thick layers of sponge. The sponge itself contains very little fat and is made using lots of whisked eggs and hot milk. I’ve not made a sponge using hot milk before but it worked well and you could actually see the cake batter start to puff up and rise with the heat as you mixed it in. It produced a lovely light textured sponge too.

I’m rather particular about creamy things. I don’t like the taste of plain cream, whipped or otherwise, but I adore custard and crème patisserie. I think it’s because cream just tastes bland and fatty, whereas custard has other textures and flavours. Either way the pastry cream filling for this cake made me very happy and was so good. Silky smooth, flecked with vanilla and so tempting that I found myself licking out the bowl afterwards.

Once assembled a bitter chocolate ganache is made and drizzled seductively over the top of the cake while it’s still warm, so that it slowly trickles down the sides, all shiny and glossy. Who could resist?!

The component parts on their own are simple and quite ordinary sounding, sponge, vanilla cream and chocolate glaze, but assembled together they made for one deliciously indulgent cake/dessert. The whole thing was surprisingly light, so much so I had to resist the urge to keep going back for further slices. If you’ve not tried Boston Cream Pie before, I highly recommend you do!

Click here to see The Cake Slice blogroll

Boston Cream Pie
(Recipe adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle)
Hot Milk Sponge
130g plain flour (I used white teff flour)
1¼ tsp gluten free baking powder
120ml whole milk
3 eggs
150g caster sugar
55g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Vanilla Crème Patisserie
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
15g cornflour
240ml whole milk
15g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
60ml double cream

Chocolate Ganache
85g dark chocolate, 70%
80ml double cream
½ tsp vanilla

Hot Milk Sponge
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease two 9inch tins and line the bases.
Heat the milk and butter together until the butter has melted. Set aside.
Beat the eggs at high speed until well blended. With the mixer still on, slowly trickle over the sugar until the mix has tripled in volume and become thick and foamy. Beat in the vanilla.
Scatter a third of flour and baking powder over the surface and fold in gently using a spatula in a folding motion. Continue folding, adding the rest of the flour.
Heat the milk and butter mixture again until hot and then add it all to the cake mix, pouring it around the edge of the bowl in one go.
Fold in as before, being sure not to over mix.
Quickly divine the batter the two pans and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen, lightly golden and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack and leaving to cool completely.

Vanilla Crème Patisserie
In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.
Heat the milk until just beginning to boil, remove from the heat and slowly drizzle it over the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.
Return the mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow it to boil.
Remove from the heat, strain through a sieve into a clean bowl and beat in the vanilla and butter. Cover and set aside to cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge for 2 hours.
When cold, add the double cream and beat with an electric mixer until it forms light peaks. Use to fill the cake or refrigerate until required.

Chocolate Ganache
Chop the chocolate into small chunks.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just coming to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Mix gently until dissolved.
Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool for 5 minutes before using.
Can be made in advance and re-melted gently on a very low setting in the microwave.

Lay one layer of sponge on your serving plate. Spread over the chilled custard mixture, leaving a little border around the edge as it will spread out of its own accord.
Carefully place the second sponge layer on top and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
Once chilled, pour over the chocolate ganache and spread out over the top surface. A little will dribble down the sides of the cake but this is fine.
Allow to stand for 30 minutes so the glaze firms up a bit before serving.
Store any leftovers in the fridge, covered in clingfilm.

Hollywood Here I Come!
In separate news…on Thursday I am off to Los Angeles to visit my friend, J, who moved to Hollywood to study film last year! I’m so EXCITED!! We have got lots planned and she has just informed me that it’s the Oscars on Saturday, while I’m actually in LA, so hopefully I might even get to spy a few celebs!

I was wondering if anyone had any good suggestions for Veggie friendly Gluten free restaurants, cafes or shops for me to visit while I’m there, or any specialist foodie places that are a must see. Ice cream, pancakes, waffles, pizza, chocolates etc that are in and around Hollywood.
I’ve found one restaurant called Hugo’s that sounds amazing and just discovered that BabyCakes NYC have a branch in LA too (so excited!), but apart from that I’m open to suggestions…

Also, I’m planning on taking lots of food for my 11 hour flight as when booking I mentioned I needed a special meal as I was Vegetarian Coeliac I was told ‘no, you have to choose one or the other, we can’t give you a meal incorporating both’…….?? Same applies if you are dairy and gluten free, you would have to choose just one! Errrrm how is that supposed to work?? In the end I’ve gone for Coeliac as that’s actually a medical condition but it’s probably going to mean a meat based meal. I also don’t hold out much hope for the other GF meal bits provided, as I’ve done some review hunting and so many people out there have been given gluten-containing bread, cakes or even croissants as part of their supposedly gluten free meal – so I’m going to be very suspicious of any food served to me on the flight!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Celebrating 5 Years of Apple & Spice with Roasted Apple & Custard Pots

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I stared this blog! At the time it began I was a student sitting in my attic bedroom and thought writing a food blog would be ‘a bit of fun’ I never dreamed 5 years down the lines it would still go going. Along the way I have ‘met’ so many lovely people and learned so many new recipes and techniques that I really don’t think I would be the same person I am today without it. A lot of that is down to you, be your readers or fellow bloggers, so thank you!

Every blog anniversary I have always made an apple inspired recipe to celebrate.
1st year – Spiced Apple Cake
2nd year – Individual Apple & Oat Crumbles
3rd year – Overnight Spiced Apple Stack
4th year – Fruity Tea Loaf
And finally, this year I give you roasted apple and custard pots. Slices of baked apple underneath a thick, creamy layer of freshly made custard.

I used a combination of cooking and eating apples which resulted in a pleasing mix of slightly sweet and slightly sharp apple flavour with each bite. Some of apple was also soft and squishy while other slices retained a bit more of their structure. This combination of flavours and textures went really well against the thick creaminess of the custard.

The edges of the apple slices had become slightly toasted and caramelised during baking. When layered underneath the custard and allowed to chill for several hours, this created little pools of sticky caramel-like sauce amongst the apple which tasted delicious. You can’t beat the taste of real freshly made custard either.

So simple, quick and easy to prepare but a complete joy to eat. There is something so comforting and pleasing about the nursery combination of apple and custard, but sometimes the simplest things can be the best.

Roasted Apple & Custard Pots
Roasted Apples
2 large eating apples
1 large cooking apple
6 tsp soft brown sugar
15g butter

3 egg yolks
500ml milk
70g caster sugar
25g cornflour
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 190C.
Peel, core and slice the apples into thick slices. Lay them on a large baking tray, mixing the cooking and eating apple slices up. Scatter over the soft brown sugar. Dot small blobs of butter over the top and place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. They should be soft and lightly caramelised around the edges.
Once baked, remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray. Don’t try and move them too much when they are hot as they will stick more to the tray.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl.
Heat the milk until simmering and then slowly pour over the top of the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
Return the custard mix to the pan and stir over a low heat until beginning to thicken. Don’t try and rush and heat it too quickly or it could burn. It will take about 10 minutes. When thickened, remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl. Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool slightly. You want to use it still warm though.
Distribute the cool, baked apple slices between 6 glasses or ramekins, saving 6 slices for decoration. Some will be very mushy, but this if fine.
Pour the still warm custard mixture over the top and shake gently to smooth the surface. Lay a saved apple slice on top as decoration.
Place in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Makes 6

Sunday 12 February 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes

It’s nearly Valentines Day which means its time for something sweet, red in colour and involving hearts – Red Velvet Cupcakes!

Yes I know red velvet has now been done to death by lots of people, but before you sigh and roll your eyes, red velvet cake is still relatively new here in the UK, especially in the small village I live in where the cupcake itself is still seen as something quite unique. I have made a take on red velvet cake once on this blog, but they were more of the traditional cocoa cupcake, without the red colouring that although a modern edition, is now more commonly associated with red velvet. I don’t normally condone putting food dye in things unnecessarily, but for a special occasion I make exceptions, plus it makes it look so pretty and perfect for Valentines Day!

I used red food paste rather than the liquid colouring that most cupcakes call for. This way I got away with only using half a teaspoon of dye, rather than a shocking 2 bottles of liquid dye! They came out a lovely red colour too (they look darker in the photos as it was a dull day). I still used the vinegar, buttermilk and cocoa powder method as well, which I think created the perfect cupcake. Not too bright, yet still visibly red, very moist and with just a hint of something cocoa lingering in the background.

Topped with a creamy swirl of contrasting vanilla buttercream they look quite striking. A few red heart sprinkles and a dusting of edible red glitter and these cupcakes are all dressed up and ready to go to your loved one (or eaten all yourself!)

The buttermilk produces a lovely textured cake and one that my fellow cake munchers didn’t even know was gluten free. A few hours after baking some of the cupcakes did ‘escape’ from their paper cases. I’m not sure if this is because they were gluten free or because they were just so moist. Whatever the reason, they were nothing short of delicious!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
150g gluten free plain flour (I use Doves Farm mix)
10g cocoa powder
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g soft butter
120g caster sugar
½ tsp red food paste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
70g buttermilk
½ tsp cider vinegar

Vanilla Buttercream
130g butter
260g icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk
Heart sprinkles and glitter to decorate

Preheat oven to 170C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
Make sure the butter is very soft. Beat together with the caster and vanilla until well combined.
Add the egg, buttermilk, red food paste and cider vinegar and beat again. Scatter over the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and whisk until smooth and fluffy.
Use the large scoop to divide the batter into each cupcake liner, filling quite full.
Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream
Make sure the butter is soft and beat until smooth. Add the icing sugar and fold in using a spatula. Add 1tbsp milk to help them combine.
Switch to a whisk and beat the buttercream to make it light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and a little more milk if necessary, until you have a soft spreadable consistency.
Pipe swirls of the buttercream on top of the cooled cupcakes, using a large star nozzle.
Decorate with red heart sprinkles and a dusting of edible red glitter.

Monday 6 February 2012

Chocolate Salted Caramel Brownies

Did everyone enjoy seeing the snow over the weekend? I used to love snow and feel so excited whenever I woke up and found a thick layer of white covering the ground. Snow is now viewed as a bit of a nuisance, yet it still holds a sense of magic for me. It makes everything appear so fresh, bright, white and clean. Opening the front door you are greeted not by sound, rather a lack of it. The very air feels hushed and silent, creating a unique non-sound in itself.

As lovely as it is to look at and play in, after a while you want nothing more than to scuttle inside, and warm up by the fire with a steaming mug of something and a slice of something delicious to eat.

These brownies were just what was required. Rich and chocolaty, topped with a thin drizzle of sweet caramel and the occasional crunch from a light sprinkling of sea salt. Providing a wonderful sweet ‘n’ salty taste against the gooey chocolate brownie.

These are best eaten within 2 days and at their optimum when eaten still ever so slightly warm from the oven, which I assure you wasn’t a problem!

Chocolate Salted Caramel Brownies
115g butter
150g dark chocolate 60-70%
25g cocoa powder
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
100g gluten free Doves plain flour
1 tsp sea salt crystals
50g toffee or caramel sauce (approx)

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a 9inch square pan with silicone paper, letting it rise up two of the sides as well. Grease lightly with vegetable oil.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Break up the chocolate and add to the pan, stirring constantly over a low heat until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the sugar. Scatter over the flour and fold in until incorporated.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
Drizzle the toffee sauce in strips over the surface of the brownie and drag a skewer the opposite direction, across the strips, to create a feather effect. Sprinkle a little of the sea salt over the surface.
Bake for 18-20 minutes until the brownies form a light crisp surface and feel slightly firm to the touch. A skewer inserted should come out with a few sticky crumbs attached, but no molten mixture.
Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before carefully lifting out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Cut into 12 squares

Thursday 2 February 2012

Warburton’s: Wheat & Gluten Free

Warburtons has long been know for its bread, and at the beginning of 2011 it took the momentous step to open a brand new dedicated wheat & gluten free bakery in Newcastle. Here they create their own free-from fresh bread and bakery products specially for people with coeliac disease and those having to follow a gluten free diet, without any risk of cross contamination.

First onto the market was their white and brown sliced bread and rolls. Leading on from the success of this, last month they launched 3 new tasty products aimed more at the sweets, treats and snacks market. Lemon & poppy seed muffins, cranberry & blueberry muffins and a spiced fruit loaf.

I can now let you in on a little secret. Back in October I, along with a few other selected gluten free bloggers (Fiona, Lucy & Annie) and some members of Coeliac UK got a special sneak preview at these products. We were all invited to Newcastle to visit their specialist bakery, taste some samples and give feedback on their current and proposed ranges as well as getting in a few requests for new product ideas and issues with obtaining gluten free foods.

It was an eye opening and very enjoyable experience. We got a grand tour of the bakery and saw the bread being made: dough, proofing, baking and packaging. The room where they proof the loaves of bread is like a giant walk in sauna.

We then got to try the products. The muffin loaves look very stylish and I love how they are baked in their own little cardboard cases. This gives them a better quality appearance and means they won’t get quite so squished if you have one in your handbag for a while. I found them to be very moist with a tender yet quite close texture. There is a generous amount of fruit in each one, although I found there was a slightly chemical aftertaste. I suspect this is due to a large amount of raising agent to help it rise, as I’ve found similar things in other GF products.

The fruit loaf, for me, was the star of the show. It’s a soft, springy loaf that’s studded with a generous amount of raisins and sultanas and nicely spiced with cinnamon. As you know, I adore anything cinnamony, but the loaf itself was also excellent. It wasn’t at all dry or crumbly and I enjoyed several slices on their own without the need to add any butter. I’ve also found its delicious toasted and topped with jam. It tastes like a hot cross bun in loaf form and is certainly going to be a regular on my shopping list from now on.

Back in October, the mini muffin loaves were destined to be sold in coffee shops but I have since spotted them in Asda, along with the spiced fruit loaf, so they may be available on a wider scale. If you are already a fan of their fresh bread and rolls the good news is that they are now also available to order on prescription! I tried their sliced bread and rolls when they were first launched and was disappointed to find they were dry and fell apart very easily. However Warburton’s have since rectified this problem and I can now happily say, for me, their sliced bread is the best on the market (still not crazy about the rolls though). I like how its not full of added bulkers, starches, fat and sugar like some GF breads. I used to prefer Genius, but the last few times I’ve had it is has been very dry, overly sweet and full of holes, so I’m afraid that’s now been crossed off my list.

I really appreciate all the hard work and dedication Warburton’s are putting into getting their gluten and wheat free products to taste good. The fact they have opened a purely gluten free bakery shows they are in it for the long haul and really seem to care about making a genuinely good quality product for people with coeliac disease, rather than just jumping on the gluten free bandwagon as some companies seem to be doing.
I also just wanted to say I have not been paid for this review and I do not blog about things I don't truly believe are good. If I don't like a product, it doesn't get blog space.