Friday 22 February 2013

Further Fun with the Food Dehydrator

I enjoyed the outcome of my first experiments with my new food dehydrator a few weeks ago and decided to experiment some more. The first time around I kept things safe and simply tried dehydrating some slices of apple and pear. This worked well but I learnt that you have to keep your slices fairly thick and chunky if you want to achieve soft and squishy dried fruit. The first time I cut my apple and pear slices quite thin which resulted in dried fruit that was halfway to being a fruit crisp as it dehydrated to practically nothing. Tasty yes, but not what I was after.

This time around I cut my fruit chunkier and also experimented with some different fruits. Apple, nectarine, blueberries, plum and ….carrot! (A rogue vegetable)

I get strangely excited by new gadgets and experimenting with food. There is always the eager anticipation as to what will be produced. I layered up the fruit, set a time for 5 hours and left it to do its thing.

On the base layer I put apple and nectarine quarters. The apple slices turned brown during the dehydration process as I didn’t dip them in anything acidic or chemical, I rather liked their appearance. They looked almost like they had been caramelised or dipped in cinnamon. Being chunkier, they also retained some of their moisture this time. Juicy and slightly firm, yet not crisp. The apple flavour was really pronounced too. Very good.

The nectarine slices kept their colour, if fact they turned positively golden! They took on a slightly withered appearance but this turned them deliciously chewy and sticky. A very successful dried fruit replica and their flavour and sweetness intensified due to the drying. My favourite of the lot.

I was unsure what would happen to the blueberries. I had read it was advised to place them on baking paper so they didn’t fall through the gaps in the grating as they dried. I was unsure how successfully they would dehydrate, being as they are sort of enclosed in their own skin. I had wondered if I should prick them with a knife to help some of the moisture escape, but in the end I just left them as they were. Below is a before and after shot. You may notice they don’t look particularly dried out and they weren’t, but the drying still altered their flavour and texture. They were soft yet with a firmer texture than before, not so fleshy or juicy. Their flavour had also intensified, making them actually taste like a really good blueberry, rather than a water mush with a hint of berry flavour. A good standby for improving their flavour of winter, but I think it may be more worthwhile just waiting to buy them in the summer when they are in season. I don’t think you can get quite the same dried blueberry result as ones sold in shops. Those are probably dried for days and coated in sugar. An interesting experiment nonetheless.

For the plums I simply cut off the cheeks either side of the stone. These dried in such a way that they ended up looking like poppy heads. Darker centres surrounded by a crinkled red skin. Rather attractive really. In terms of eating, I couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not. They stayed strangely crisp and get more chewy than juicy. Their flavour had intensified but it also brought out a slightly bitter note. They were nice dipped in peanut butter, but I’m not sure I’d make them again. Maybe I was just unlucky and used a bland tasting plum to begin with.

Now the mystery addition to the range – carrot coins! You don’t see many dried vegetables amongst the dried fruit snacking options and it turns out there is a good reason for this – they don’t taste very nice! The carrot probably dehydrated the most successfully, becoming shrivelled and crinkled on drying, probably due to its lower moisture content to begin with. I was quite excited when I saw them, but unfortunately they were not pleasant to eat. Have you ever found a really old carrot in the back of your fridge? One that’s turned shrivelled and bendy and yet somehow still breaks in half with a snap? Well, this was what happened to the carrot coins. Soft around the edge but oddly crisp and a little bendy. They did taste strongly of carrot, but I ended up feeling like I was eating a really old carrot, rather than a nicely dried one. I intend to try making carrot crisps using paper thin slices of carrot, but I don’t recommend carrot coins – leave those to the instant noodle snack people!

The only drawback I discovered to having the fruit juicer and free from any preservatives or nasties is that they went mouldy after 4 days. So I’d recommend either eating them quickly or else refrigerating or freezing them.

I’m having so much fun experimenting – anyone got any suggestions or good recommendations as to what I should try next?

Saturday 16 February 2013

Celebrating 6 Years of Apple & Spice with Apple, Caramel & Almond Tart with Peanut Praline

Wow I can’t believe this is my blogs 6th anniversary. I never thought I would keep it up when I started all those years ago. There has been some distinctive changes in my life throughout the span of this blog, but my love of food and baking has remained steadfast.

A few weeks ago, I almost considered finishing the blog. I was finding I had less time to bake and blog and when I did get round to baking at the weekend, I felt I should be making the recipes for either the Daring Bakers group or The Cake Slice group that I am a member of. It felt there was always a recipe I should be baking and my own ‘to bake’ list kept growing larger and larger without me ever getting the chance to bake any of them. I have come to the decision to give up the baking groups and instead focus on the recipes I want to bake and eat. After all, surely that’s what my blog should be about, the kind of food I like to bake and eat.

I’d like to say a big Thank You to Paloma of The Coffee Shop who has taken over the management of The Cake Slice group, that I set up and have run for the past 5 years. Thanks Paloma, you are doing a fabulous job.

Anyway, back to Apple & Spice and all things deliciously apple-y! Every blog anniversary I have always made an apple inspired recipe to celebrate.
1st year – Spiced Apple Cake

4th year – Fruity Tea Loaf

This year I made Apple, Caramel and Almond Tart with Peanut Praline. A sweet pastry tart with a layer of dulce de leche caramel, topped with almond frangipane and decorated with slices of fresh tart apple and finished with peanut praline. Yum!

I really wanted to make an apple tart this year and love the flavour of apple and almond together and so decided to make an almond frangipane to go underneath my apple slices. This got me thinking that it would be even better if there was a hidden layer of something underneath the frangipane, which let me to dulce de leche caramel. Apple, caramel and almond – what’s not to love?!

You may notice that the apple slices have been arranged horizontally, rather than the usual vertical fan formation. This allows you to build up layers to create an effect that almost resembles a rose or flower.

Once baked the tart looked and smelt lovely, but I still felt it needed something extra and my eyes settled on a bar of peanut brittle. A quick attack with a rolling pin and I had some peanut praline crumbs to sprinkle over the top of the finished tart.

The tart was delicious, even if I do say so myself. All the flavours worked together so well and the peanut praline crumbs really made it. Adding a little nuttiness and crunch against the sweet and fruity tart.  I love how you can see all the layers in each slice.

I fed it to a couple of work colleagues, one of whom told me in advance not to be offended if she didn’t like it as she wasn’t a dessert person. She ended up asking me for the recipe, and I don’t think (I hope) that she was just being polite. It’s got a few components but is quite easy to put together and tastes like you have been slaving away for hours. Do give it a go, it’s sure to impress.

Apple, Caramel & Almond Tart with Peanut Praline
Gluten Free Sweet Pastry
200g gluten free plain flour blend
90g butter
1 egg
40g icing sugar
½ tsp xanthan gum
1-2 tbsp water

3 Granny Smith apples
Juice of ½ lemon

Almond Frangipane
55g ground almonds
55g caster sugar
55g butter
10g plain flour
1 large egg
½ tsp almond extract

Caramel Filling
1 small tin dulce de leche

To Finish
1 tbsp caster sugar
10g butter
Apricot jam to glaze
30g peanut brittle/praline

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Have a 7-8inch fluted tart tin to hand. Preheat your  oven to 200C.
Mix the flours and xanthan gum together in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, add your butter, (it should be soft, if not blast it in the microwave for a few seconds) along with half the flour mixture, the egg, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the 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 end. Add a little more water if it seems dry. Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Roll out the pastry between two large sheets of clingfilm to the size and shape of your tart tin, plus an extra 1-2 inches for the sides.
Peel off the top sheet of clingfilm, and use the base sheet to help you flip the pastry into the tin and press it down gently. Trim off the excess and patch up any cracks with the off-cuts of pastry.
Prick the pastry lightly with a fork and place on a baking tray.
Blind bake the pastry for 15 minutes until just starting to brown.
Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce your oven to 180C.

For the Apples
Fill a large bowl with water and add the juice of half a lemon
Peel and core the apples. Slice into 3mm thick slices and add to the lemon water while you cut the rest. (This stops them browning)

For the Frangipane
Soften the butter and then cream it together with the caster sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and almond extract and beat again. Add the flour and ground almonds and beat again to incorporate.

Spread some of the dulce de leche caramel into the base of your tart. Add blobs of the almond mixture on top and smooth over to create an even layer.
Drain the water from the apples and pat them dry.
Arrange the apple slices in a fan formation on top. Start at the edge and work you way into the middle, overlapping each slice. Arrange them curve side out towards the edge, rather than the usual fan formation. This ends up creating more of a rose/flower effect to the apple slices.
Melt the 10g butter and brush over the apple slices. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of sugar.
Bake in the oven at 180C for 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Glaze with a little warmed apricot jam. Crush the peanut brittle into crumbs and scatter over the top of the tart before serving.
Makes 1 x 7-8inch tart

Saturday 9 February 2013

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Beetroot Glaze

I’m sorry I have not posted in a while. I had a cake in mind and a blog post all ready to go only to be hit with a nasty stomach bug, meaning food has been the last thing on my mind. I’m pleased to say I’m now well on the road to recovery, my taste buds have rejoined me and I have rediscovered my appetite! So without further ado, here is a rather belated chocolate beetroot cake.

Chocolate and beetroot has now become another ‘classic’ flavour combination, but aside from a chocolate beetroot brownie a few years ago, I have not explored the pairing much myself. I love fresh beetroot, its moody, dark, blood red colour and mysterious earthy flavour always draws me to it. A few weeks ago I picked up a huge pack and enjoyed a happy few days eating it roasted or shredded into salads and sandwiches. However, it got to a stage where every time I opened the fridge I seemed to discover yet another beetroot still waiting to be used. There is only so much beetroot I can take before my mind starts imagining how to include it in a baked treat.

Beetroot and chocolate seemed the place to start and I decided on a simple cake. I wanted the beetroot to be the star of the show and so shunned anything covered in mountains of cream or frosting in flavour of a simple snack cake. I then hit upon the idea of jazzing it up with a glaze, made a fabulous vibrant pinky/purple using the juice of the cooked beetroot. This added both a burst of vibrant colour and little sweetness, while being completely natural, no food dye required!

The cake itself is on first glance just a chocolate cake, but if you look more closely you can see a definite rustic burgundy hue to the sponge. It also smelt different to regular chocolate cake, slightly earthy, mysterious and yet still very chocolaty. The flavour too was chocolaty, only more complex with an undertone of there being something a little bit extra special included, without it actually screaming beetroot. I would liken it to when you add just a touch of coffee to chocolate cakes, you don’t necessary taste the coffee, but it adds a depth and richness to the chocolate. This seemed to work in the same principle.

On the first day the cake was light and tender but over the next two days it became softer and stickier as the beetroot released its moisture into the cake. I think the cake was at its optimum about 2 days after baking, when I couldn’t stop eating it. The arty drizzle of beetroot glaze worked really well against the flavour of the cake and added little bites of sweetness against the rather intense chocolate flavour of the cake.

This was a delicious cake and I loved its simplicity yet complex flavour. I’ll be experimenting with other beetroot baked treats again, it’s worth the ruby stained hands, although you could always buy the precooked stuff – just not the kind in vinegar please!

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Beetroot Glaze
180ml vegetable or sunflower oil
180g gluten free self raising flour
55g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g caster sugar
250g cooked beetroot (or 350g raw)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beetroot Glaze
80g royal icing sugar (*see note)
Juice from the cooked beetroot

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease and line a deep 8inch springform tin.
If you are using a packet of cooked beetroot then continue onto the next step. If using raw beetroot, trim the ends and peel the skin from the beetroot. Cut each beetroot into quarters and place into a small glass bowl. Add 1 tbsp water and cover the top with clingfilm. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until the beetroot are just softened. Set aside to cool, but do not throw away any of the beetroot juice created.
Place your cooked beetroot (reserve any juice for later) into a food processor and blitz until you have fine shreds. Add the eggs and blitz again. Add the oil and vanilla and mix again until well combined.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and add the sugar. Pour your beetroot mixture on top and fold everything together using a large spoon of spatula.
Pour the cake mix into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until slightly springy to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before running a knife around the edge of the tin and releasing the cake from the tin. Leave to cool completely.
Once cooled, place the royal icing sugar into a small bowl and slowly add the reserved beetroot juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve a thick, yet drizzle-worthy glaze. It will be a gorgeous bright purple colour.
Transfer the cooled cake to a serving plate and artfully drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.
Leave to set for 20 minutes before serving.
Makes 1 x 8inch cake

The cake tastes even better as it ages, as the beetroot slowly releases its moisture into the cake making it turn softer and moister. I found 2 days in it was at its best.

* Note: Royal icing sugar sets hard and won’t be so easily absorbed into the cake, making for a better finish. You can use regular icing sugar in place of the royal icing sugar, but it will remain wet and soak into the cake and disappear over time