My Favourite Chocolate Brownies: Chocolate Brownie Hunt

ChocolateBrownie1

I really like this Chocolate Brownie recipe.  The end result is densely chocolate, moist and good.  The ingredients and the method is ever so simple and you can’t go wrong with it¹.  I’ve even forgotten to add eggs to it once and it was just extra gooey and went wonderfully well with icecream.  I found the recipe in my Usborne First Cookbook, which I bought when I was in primary school.   Now, when I think about it, it is my first ever cookbook.  So, the newer editions (which Amazon tells me there’s a few) may not have this recipe.  Anyhow, my mistake was not making them until I was about twenty.  By this point, I had passed from a nine-year old who disliked brownies (in the ’80s British brownies were more like a boring chocolate cake) to a twenty-year old who had spent a year in the US and wanted to recreate that dense chocolate experience.  The brownies were an instant hit and I gained a reputation as a Chocolate Brownie Queen.  This is the recipe that I go back to all the time, even though I’m on an Ultimate Chocolate Brownie Recipe Hunt.

What I love about this recipe is that it is a fantastically easy basic brownie recipe and I’ll often add things to suit the ocassion.  I’ve listed a few that I’ve tried below.

Ingredients for Dark Chocolate Brownies adapted from Usborne First Cookbook.

  • 4oz/100g dark chocolate
  • 4oz/100g butter
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4oz/100g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 6oz/160g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 or 2 tbsp of milk if the mixture is too firm.

And the secret ingredient?  Well, this is when you make it your own and add in something extra. Here’s a starter for 5:

  1. My favourite – a 200g packet of maltesers/revels etc.
  2. 50g of roughly chopped walnuts/pecans/brazil nuts etc.
  3. 100g celebrations
  4. 2 tbsp Baileys or any Irish Cream liquor.
  5. Zest of one orange and 1 tsp of mixed spices and 1 tsp of cinnamon.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.  Line a square baking dish with baking paper. The dish be between 20 – 25cm.

Top Tip: I’ve found that stoneware, pyrex or ceramic dishes produce better results that a baking tin.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. 

3. As the chocolate and butter is being zapped in the microwave, measure out the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into another bowl.  Sift the flour if you want to, but it’s not necessary.

4. Add the vanilla extract and sugar to the chocolate melted goodness and mix well.

5. Add the beaten eggs and keep mixing to combine it all.  Don’t worry – they won’t scramble.

6. Gradually add in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder so that the whole mixture is well combined.

7. Let your imagination go wild and add in your extra ingredients.  In the top photo I used maltesers and hazlenuts.

8. Bake in oven for 20 mins.  The secret is to take them out when the top is firm to touch but still wobbles when you shake it.

The verdict? Yummmm…. simple and delicious.  I really like the brownie that it produces.

Happy Hogmanay 2010.

¹However, I did get it wrong.  Once.  Very badly.  I added in cointreau, orange zest and mixed spices, which lent it a lovely Christmassy feel.  It would totally have worked, except I had run out of some ingredients so I substituted:

flour with wholemeal flour
eggs with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda

As I took it out the oven, the bubbling mistake was unrecognizable as a brownie, in looks or taste.  A complete disaster in the brownie front but as I explained away the disaster and said it tasted a bit like a Christmas flapjack, it all went.  What a laugh!  But – don’t repeat my disaster.  Some ingredients are irreplaceable.

Butternut Squash, Apricot and Almond Cake

butternut squash and apricot cake

It’s starting to snow again on campus, as I finish writing up this entry.  They look like beautiful, soft flakes and remind me of my birthday in January when there was lots of snow! Maybe it’s the snow which is helping me get into the swing of Christmas this year.  I started wrapping my Christmas presents on Saturday – a previously unheard of phenonemon for the queen of last-minute.  But then again, Saturday was the first day of snow and also the BBC Good Food Show, so undoubtedly I was going to be excited.  My highlights were of the day:

  1. Buying my amazing Titan peeler (see photo below) and later making a courgette, garlic, basil and parmesan pasta dish for dinner with it. 
  2. Chatting to Alan Rosenthal, who has written a cook book called Stewed, about his business.  I think the timing of the book launch is perfect for these dark nights.
  3. Having a fun day out with my former housemates, Claire and Sarah and tasting muchos good food. Mmmm…

Well, it has inspired me to write about a cake that we can indulge in guilt-free.  I think it’s a handy one to have in mind for after Christmas.  I was hooked the instant I saw this on Kitchenist’s blog, ‘And I’m Telling You: No-Butter Apricot and Almond Cake’.  The title read like some sort of guarantee in a shop and drowned out the voice of guilt that says, “A moment on your lips, a lifetime on the hips”.  (Actually at times, the voice of guilt likes to take on the unwelcome guise of various human beings – what is with that?!)  But the real hook for me was to bake with a butternut squash.  Who can resist one of those golden, odd shaped bad boys?

The original recipe is in Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache.  There’s an amazon package sitting in the corner of my room, and I’m hoping my brother has sent me this recipe book as my Christmas present.  I’ll let you know after Christmas. 

When it came to trying out this recipe, I didn’t have any almond essence.  And after staring at a bottle of almond essence in the shop for 5 minutes, I decided to not to purchase it but to substitute it with Amaretto (an almond liqueor) instead, which I had already. 

I think that the hardest part of the this cake is peeling away at the hard skin of the butternut squash.  The best advice I can give you is to invest in a good quality, sharp vegetable peeler.  I didn’t have one both times that I made this cake, so I attacked said butternut squash with a knife.  

cutting up butternut squash

Remember how I mentioned that I have now bought an amazing Titan peeler?  It’s my newest kitchen purchase and I love it.  It peels just about anything.  I want to buy all sorts of root vegetables just so that I can peel them.  I’m a bit ridiculous, aren’t I, for being so excited about a peeler. *v*  Did I mention already that I love it?

the best peeler

So, here are the Ingredients for my adapted version of Butternut Squash and Apricot Cake:

  • 16 dried apricots
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp of apricot brandy (optional)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash *see top tip
  • 1tbsp amaretto
  • 60g plain flour
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • icing sugar (to serve)

Top Tip: Weigh out the butternut squash before you peel and grate it.  If you go over that’s fine.  You’ll lose some of the weight when peeling it.  Oh, and double check the weight once you’ve done the difficult part. 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.  Line the baking tin with baking paper.  In her blog, Kitchenist, Ele insists that this is a really important step and musn’t be overlooked because the cake has a tendency to stick to the tin as no butter is being added to the recipe.  So, I obeyed.

2. In a small heatproof bowl, soak the dried apricots by barely covering them in boiling water and adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract.  For extra apricot-loveliness, try adding some apricot brandy to it, as I did the second time I made the cake.  1 tbsp of apricot brandy seemed a good amount for me.

3. Measure out the dry ingredients in a bowl – the flour, ground almonds, mixed spice, baking powder and salt

4. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy.  Use an electric whisk if you have one.  Otherwise, it’s a good workout for your arms.

5. Add in the grated butternut squash, amaretto, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and combine well.

6. Add in the dry ingredients in 3. to the wet mixture and give it a good mix so that the mixture is well combined.  It should feel quite gloopy but thick.

7. Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.  Drain the apricots that were soaking and place them on top of the cake.

unbaked butternut squash and apricot cakebaked butternut squash and apricot cake

8. Bake the cake for between 35-45 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.  The top of the cake should be springy and golden in colour.  Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then on a cooling rack.  Dust with icing sugar, just before serving.

Verdict?  I think that the butternut squash adds a beautiful moistness to the cake, rather than a distinct flavour.  The almond and mixed spice make it a truly delectable cake to eat.

So the combination of: no butter easing the guilt + butternut squash and apricot contributing towards your 5-a-day + amaretto and apricot brandy adding a sweet naughtiness to it = the perfect cake to feel good about whilst eating it.  I baked it for my work colleagues on my birthday and, on another occastion, as my contribution to my church’s ladies day.  Each time, it received good reviews.  Mmmmm…

Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers

 

spiced autumnal orange drizzle cake
 

It’s autumn on campus. I love going for walks with friends around the fields on the beautifully bright days that we’re lucky to have. And with the dark nights drawing in and the leaves falling off the trees, it is the perfect time to brave your face to the brisk night at a bonfire, or turn in early and watch the flames lapping the wood in the fireplace.

leaves falling off treesleaves turning yellowsilhouettes
When I came up with this cake 2 years ago, I had both types of fires in my mind as inspiration. I had also been watching Masterchef and one of the contestants had created a dish using charcoal to recreate the fiery taste of a bonfire. I decided to use dark chocolate, not feeling quite knowledgeable enough about charcoal flavouring (perhaps leave that for another time). My idea being that the chocolate would visually recreate the burning embers of a fire, and the orange and spices would add the warmth in the flavour.

I used the Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe as my starting point for bringing to life a perfect autumnal treat.

Ingredients for Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers

  • 125g/4.5oz butter
  • 75g/3oz caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g/5oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  • zest of one orange* see top tip.
  • 2 tbsp (or 30 ml) of Cointreau or milk if you don’t want to use alcohol
  • 85g/3.5oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Top Tip: wash the fruit with a wee bit of washing up liquid to take the wax off, unless you can buy unwaxed oranges (I find them harder to source compared to lemons and limes). It will make the zesting of the orange much more effective and easier.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2. If you don’t have an electric whisk, like me, then mix the butter, sugar, orange zest together first before adding in the eggs, then the flour, spices and baking powder. If you have an electric whisk, then add in all of the above ingredients and whizz them up until the mixture is smooth.

3. Stir in the Cointreau/milk so that the mixture falls softly off the spoon – that’s my interpretation of ‘a soft, dropping consistency’.

4. Stir the chocolate into the cake mixture. I wanted the chocolate to sink to the bottom of the cake, so didn’t coat the chocolate with flour.

5. Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the top. Pop it into the oven and let it bake for about 40 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.

6. While the cake is in the oven, prepare the orange drizzle. (if you prefer it a bit sweeter, then increase the sugar)

Ingredients for Orange Drizzle

  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 tbsp of Cointreau
  • 30g golden caster sugar

7. I normally use a chopstick to poke wholes in the cake for the drizzle to pour into. This time I experimented with a cocktail stick in case they make smaller holes. Nope. I’ll return to the chopstick next time.

8. Slowly pour the drizzle evenly over the cake when it is fresh out of the oven. Ta da!

Verdict – Mmmmmmmm…. Moist and flavoursome. The chocolate, orange and spice mix is a winner with adults and children alike. The added bonus is that this is a simple and quick cake to bake (especially if you have an electric whisk).

My first solo Bramble (and Apple) Jelly

This is my first solo attempt at making any kind of fruit jam or jelly.  As a child, I’d picked brambles with my family and been involved in the jam making process.  So, I had a vague memory of what was involved:

A big pot.

Simmering sugar and fruit.

Prodding the liquid to see whether the jam has reached setting point.

Fresh bread to mop up the residue in the pot.

So, naturally I had lots of questions.  Lots and lots… and lots. 

While I was in Coventry market, I got chatting to one of the stall holders and discovered someone who reputedly makes scrummy blackberry and apple jelly.  I asked her a lot of my questions.  I hope that she found it all rather amusing.  I’ve promised her a small jar of what I make.  My mum and Delia online answered the remaining questions.

Well, this is what I started with:




the raw ingredients



and this was the finished jelly:




the finished jelly


6 jars of it in fact, of all different shapes and sizes.

I’m definitely not a jam making guru.  Tee hee… But I’ve got a taste for it and answers.

What kind of sugar should I use?

I was making bramble jelly and I used granulated sugar

What’s the sugar to fruit ratio?

1:1

I washed my fruit, can I start when they’re still wet?

My mum suggested that I wait for the fruit to dry first and pat them dry with a kitchen towel.  I considered patting dry 2kgs of brambles and decided that I’d wait for them to sort of air dry.

How long do I need to let the concoction simmer for?

As long as it needs to…. my mum said 15 minutes.  Perhaps the rarified air in Scotland causes the sugar/fruit mix to turn into jam quicker.  Not in my case.  They were simmering for at least an hour.

Do I need to use a muslin cloth?

No, I used a metal sieve and it was good enough.

What quantity of apples do I want to put in for 2kgs of brambles?

Probably equal.  I put in 1.5kgs.

How do I know when the jam is done?

When the liquid has a thin film that bunches up when you touch it gently with a sharp metal implement.  

Like so:

jam set

In contrast to this:

cimg4861.jpg

And the most important question of all, how did it taste?

It tastes a wee bit tart.  Next time I’ll add in some more sugar.  I like it and I hope that Coventry market stall lady likes it too.

ps. Growing up in Scotland, bramble jelly is what we called blackberry jam.  Jelly because the seeds have been strained out of the jam.  I didn’t make a jelly out of the thorns and bushes… but I have plenty scratches on my arms from my summer of picking brambles.

Courgette (or Zucchini) and Walnut Cake: a ‘don’t–have–enough–of, so–how–about–kinda’ cake

2 courgette and walnut cakes

This is a cake recipe that I adapted out of a “not enough of” so “how about” moment. Have you had any of those moments? I had quite a few of those “uh-oh” moments on a summer’s evening last year. Sarah, my then-housemate, and I had a baking evening in the midst of the bumper courgette season. Oh, we laughed A LOT

and somehow ended up… with a yummy cake.

This is the original List of Ingredients for Zucchini and Walnut Cake. I’ve included it so that you know what the original plan was. If you’d like to, why not try them both out and tell me what the differences you come across. A year on, during another bumper courgette harvest, I’ve finally gotten round to baking the original recipe (below in italics) with a few modifications below. At the end, I’ve written a wee note about the differences I came across between each of the recipes – but the cause of yummy cake is not lost in either one.

245g walnuts (separated into 185g walnut pieces / 60g walnut halves)
500g zucchini – grated (500g is about 2 medium sized courgettes)
250ml canola oil – I couldn’t find this in Sainsburys so used sunflower oil
330g raw sugar – I halved it to 170g demerara sugar
3 eggs
310g self-raising flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

I mean, who normally has canola oil, and what is raw sugar? I had no idea until I saw it in this recipe. My google search tells me that demerara sugar is one type. Ah… a sigh of relief. I have some of that. But not enough walnuts, or self-raising flour… ho hum.

So, here’s my List of Ingredients for my ‘Don’t-have-enough-of-so-how-about’ Courgette and Walnut Cake. Oh, I might as well write courgette instead of zucchini, since I’ve changed so many of the ingredients already.

245g mixture of walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts and hazelnuts
500g courgette, grated
250ml vegetable oil (lighter than olive oil)
170g demerara sugar
3 eggs
310g wholemeal self-raising flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
a splash of milk, if necessary

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3
  • Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
  • Weigh out 185g of the nuts, saving 60g of the other nuts to decorate on top of the cake mixture later.
  • I grated the courgettes in a food processor that had the grater option and finished the end bits by hand. It’s the easiest way to get through 500g.
  • Mix together courgettes, oil, sugar, eggs so they look like this
courgette and walnut cake mix1
  • Add the chopped nuts.
  • Gradually add the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg to this mixture.
  • Add a splash of milk to the mixture to add a bit more wetness to the mixture. If the mixture looks and feels gloopy once you’ve mixed it, then it’s right.
gloopy courgette and walnut cake mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the tin and use the remaining nuts to decorate the top of the cake.
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour 10 minutes, until a cake tester (or knife) comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
    NB. If you bake them as muffins, then they need 30-35 minutes, but check them with a skewer to ensure that they are done.)

    Top Tip: Check on the cake at 55 minutes. If the nuts look very brown as if they’re likely to burn, then cover the top with a sheet of baking or greaseproof paper.

  • Let the cake cool in the tin.
  • Enjoy and smile as you ask those around you to guess the mystery ingredient 🙂

So, what are the differences?
When I was used white flour, I had too much mixture for my 2lb loaf tin. Therefore, I also made 5 muffins, which I then decorated with chocolate frosting and finished it off with a walnut. I’ll be enjoying them as a treat with my mum later. As for the verdict on the flavour? Both cakes have a lovely nutty, spiced taste because of the nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts. The wholemeal version somehow, just tastes… more wholesome. I like it. My photos of the wholemeal cake are currently stored on Sarah’s camera, so I’ll add them on at a later date.

p.s. I discovered that this cake freezes well. This is entering a new territory in baking for me because I had never frozen a cake before. What I did was double wrap it with foil, once the cake had completely cooled down. Then wrapped it again in a plastic bag before popping it into the freezer. I defrosted it simply by putting it out on the side. The cake was yummy to eat.

Happy Courgette Season!

Chocolate Chilli Brownies

It has almost been a year since I started this blog and I began it with a poem.  Coincidentally, I’m celebrating it’s first anniversary with another one.

I put up a twitter post asking people to guess the mystery ingredient in one of my brownies.   They came back with chestnuts, courgettes, chillis… all great ideas… but incorrect.   (it was maltesers).  The chilli suggestion, however, reminded me of the time I experimented with brownies by adding in chillies.  My friend Jen ate one.  This was her reaction.

Jen spits it out. Eugh!

“What did you put in this one?”

Chilli Brownies.

chocolate_and_chilli

Zingy Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake

lemon and ginger cheesecake 1

So, when you hold
the hemisphere
of a cut lemon
above your plate,
you spill
a universe of gold,
a yellow goblet
of miracles,

Pablo Neruda – Ode to the Lemon

I love lemons. My friends will testify to my love affair with lemons. ‘A yellow goblet of miracles’ beautifully describes my imaginations of what I could create with them. I particularly love that zing that lemons add when I use it in baking.

My timing of trying out this recipe was a bit silly really. It was three days before the removal men were coming. My two tubs of soft cheese in my fridge were almost at their expiry date, the sun was out and I needed an excuse to do something other than pack boxes! This lemon and ginger cheesecake seemed like the perfect summer dessert.

the inspiration for lemon and ginger cheesecake

I’ve since made two versions of this cheesecake. Version One lacked the lemony zing. It may appeal to the finer palette; I love robust flavours. So, I cheated the second time and added lemon curd to the mixture, which brought out the lemon and complemented the ginger perfectly.

Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake adapted from the Good Food Channel

Ingredients and Method

Ideally use a 25cm springform cake tin and double wrap the outside of it with foil. This is to protect the cheesecake when baking it in a water-bath. I didn’t have a big enough cake tin at the time of baking the cheesecakes. Instead, I made a 20cm and 10 mini cheesecakes. Very cute!

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F

lemon and ginger mini cheesecakes

…For the biscuit base

225g digestive biscuits (or if you really like ginger, then substitute it all or partly with ginger biscuits)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted

  1. Pulse the biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs, or bash them up in a bag with a rolling pin. Whichever method suits your mood.
  2. Add the ground ginger, caster sugar and the melted butter and mix it all up. I’ve already reduced the amount of butter from the recipe so that there is enough butter for the biscuit base to stick together.
  3. Transfer the biscuit mixture to the cake tin and press it down firmly. If you would also like to make mini ones too, then use a tablespoon of biscuit mixture per cupcake case. I discovered that my mini-tart shaper is perfect for pressing down the biscuit base.

…For the filling
570g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
4 large eggs, beaten
grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
380ml sour cream
2 tbsp lemon curd, beaten so that it’s a little bit runny, optional but highly recommendable

  1. Beat the cream cheese and the caster sugar together until smooth in a big bowl.
  2. Mix in the cornflour.
  3. Slowly mix the eggs into the mixture, one at a time, so that they are thoroughly mixed in. Don’t worry that the mixture always looks a wee bit peculiar at this stage.
  4. Pour in the sour cream and add the lemon zest. Gently mix them into the mixture.
  5. Lemony zing lovers could also add the lemon curd into the mixture at this stage. I put blobs of it on top of the mixture once I had poured the filling into the cake tin. Then I worried that the lemon curd would burn in the oven if it was left on top, so I took a metal chopstick and mixed the lemon curd into the mixture. I’ve since thought about putting 3/4 filling in, putting in a layer of lemon curd, then topping it with cheesecake filling. Essentially you can do whatever you like with it, and I’d really love to hear what worked for you.
  6. For the mini cheesecake fans – I used 2 teaspoons of the filling for each case.
  7. Pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes. I think that I baked the mini cheesecakes for 20 minutes. Bake until the middle of the cheesecake is just set. I test it by gently resting my finger on it and the cheesecake is ready when there is no (or barely any) mixture sticking to it.

Top Tip! Cheescakes are best when baked in a moist oven. To achieve this, you can bake the cheesecake in a water-bath by placing the cake tin in a roasting tin and filling the roasting tin with enough hot water so that it reaches about half way up the cake tin. Alternatively you can place a small oven-proof bowl full of hot water on the bottom level of the oven. I’ve used both methods and haven’t noticed any difference to the texture of the cheesecakes. But perhaps a more experienced cheesecake baker could enlighten me?

…Meanwhile, start the topping
250ml sour cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
80g stem ginger, drained and finely chopped
grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon mixed with 1/2 tbsp of sugar

  1. Mix the sour cream and the caster sugar together.
  2. Take the cheesecake out of the oven when it’s ready and pour the topping on, arrange the stem ginger on top. The mini cheesecakes appreciate a thin layer of sour cream topping.
  3. Pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes, so that the sour cream topping can set.
  4. When it comes out, immediately run a knife round the edge of the cheesecake. This will help stop the cheesecake from cracking. Also, helpful for when taking the cheesecake out of the tin when serving it up.
  5. Let the cheesecake cool down for about an hour before popping it into the fridge overnight.
  6. Sprinkle the sugary lemon zest on top before serving.

Verdict – The combination of lemony zingyness with gingery warmth produces lots of ‘Mmmmms’. It does take some effort but it is a really simple summery dessert to make that is a crowd-pleaser. I’m pleased to say that my friend’s children ate some and then asked for seconds. Winner! The cheesecake is best eaten a day or two after it is made so that it stays soft. But I always seem to make too much cheesecake in one go, so I’d appreciate any tips on freezing it.

Banana Loaf with Granola Topping

banana loaf with granola topping

The mixing bowl is the perfect resting place for black, mushy, overly-ripe bananas: they redeem themselves in a cake.

A friend of mine fed me this cake. It was a weightwatchers recipe. Of course, this meant that you could eat ALL of it without feeling any ounce of guilt. I was hooked by the cinnamon granola topping and the cake’s wholemeal goodness. I’ve since wondered about transferring its cinnamon granola goodness to other recipes, like an apple cake.

The first time I made the banana loaf, I stuck to the original recipe and used one banana, 1tbsp runny honey and margarine. The result was on the dry and unsatisfying side. The kind of cake that needs a cuppa. So, I made a few variations to it. This version may just scrape through into the weightwatchers recipe book, that is if you replace the butter with margarine. (I ended up using butter because I finished off the margarine on the previous attempt. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmmm…)

Since baking Nigella’s Clementine Cake and brownies, I’ve learnt that some cakes are best left a day or so in order to allow the flavours to mature. I guess this cake could be eaten warm out of the oven, but the flavours really came out when I left it for a day.

This variation on a Weightwatchers Banana Loaf with Granola Topping recipe will make one banana loaf using a 2lb loaf tin.

Ingredients

Cake Mix

125g butter (or margarine if you’d like a lower fat version)
75g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 overly-ripe, mushy, black bananas, mashed
1½ tbsp runny honey
225g wholemeal self-raising flour
splash of milk

Granola Topping

15g chopped walnuts or hazelnuts (I’d run out of hazelnuts)
2 heaped tsp oats
3tsp demerera sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Banana Cake Ingredients

    Method

      1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
      2. Line the tin with baking paper.
      3. Make the granola topping first – combine all the ingredients together in a small bowl and leave it to one side.
      4. Whisk the butter and sugar together in a bowl until soft and fluffy (I discovered that an electric whisk makes this process much, much easier.) Then gradually add in the beaten eggs.
      5. Mix the mashed bananas and the honey together and then add them to the butter, sugar, egg mixture. On my first attempt, I was slightly concerned about the appearance of the resulting mixture. The mixture didn’t want to combine into a smooth mush. My second attempt had the same result, so I’m thinking that this look is normal.
      6. Slowly add in the flour to the mixture and mix it until it achieves a ‘soft, dropping consistency’. It’s a phrase that I picked up from my lemon drizzle cake recipe and perfectly describes how the mixture should drop off the spoon. I added a wee splash of milk at this point to reach this consistency.
        cimg4053.jpgcimg3976.jpg

      7. Spoon the cake mixture into the tin, brush the top with milk to help stick the granola topping to the cake (good tip, Lucy!) then evenly sprinkle the granola mixture on top. The recipe suggested making a small furrow down the middle of the mixture. Is the result is a more even loaf?
      8. Bake for 50mins in the middle of the oven, until the skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from its tin and move it to a wire rack to cool.

      Not a dry crumb at the end! Enjoy.

      granola topping banana loaf

        Cryfield 3: the start of the pudding competition

        Perhaps it was inevitable? … that food would be involved in my scheme for breaking down cultural cliques, sharing British culture and encouraging social integration and between UK and international students. I discussed it with Lucy, the resident tutor in Cryfield 1, last night who came up with this and the action plan. Tonight I mooted the idea of a pudding competition with several groups of residents in my block and they loved it. So folks, it is definitely ON!

        The rules are relatively simple (but not yet set in stone so suggestions welcome).

        1. The competition will happen on the same evening in the next fortnight (an evening that the Cryfield resident tutors will choose).
        2. There are seven kitchens so there will be seven types of puddings. Each kitchen makes a pudding – or several of the same version.
        3. I’ll give them each the name of the pudding to make and a recipe for it, which they can either choose to follow or adapt. We need to be able to recognise what pudding it is once it’s finished.
        4. Each kitchen must involve all the people (who would like to take part) in the making and baking of the puddings.
        5. At a certain time the puddings are to be brought down to the common room where the judging will take place.
        6. There will be a criteria for how the puddings will be judged – to be revealed later.
        7. I’m mulling over the idea of giving extra points to kitchens if they involve 3 or more international students in the process.

        Currently, I am thinking that judges will be the Cryfield Resident Tutors. I haven’t discussed it with anybody else yet.

        I’ve also given them some more suggestions to think about:

        Everyone who would like to take part contributes 50p and the proceeds go towards their favourite charity (as a block) and covering the costs of the food.

        Or – they could choose to cover costs of food amongst their kitchens and make it a social event.

        So, I need seven suggestions of british puddings. And if you’d like to be a judge then it can be considered…

        Lemon Drizzle Cake with Sunken Dark Chocolate Chunks

        Lemon Drizzle Cake with dark chocolate chunks

        This was the first, and only, cake that I baked to be entered into a baking competition. One of the subwardens at Leicester was raising money for a good cause related to cancer research and ran a cake bake sale. I was really excited about contributing a cake towards it and got to enter the competition too.

        I think that this was the moment when I started to realise that I could bake cakes that tasted yummy enough to win prizes. Being a tad competitive, I set my eyes on 2nd place – a bottle of wine. (First prize was some sort of subwarden duty cover, I think, and didn’t interest me. Now, I’d consider that prize slightly differently. How things have changed!) I wanted to try out a new recipe from Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes because it is such a good recipe book. I haven’t yet found a dud recipe in there yet. The Lemon Drizzle Cake with it’s sunken dark chocolate chunks sounded so moody yet light that it stood out to me (and won me 2nd prize – hurrah!)

        So, when I was making it again tonight, I was reminded about how easy this cake is to make. You pretty much whisk all the ingredients together, add chocolate, add it into the oven et voila.

        So, Lemon Drizzle Cake with sunken dark chocolate chunks, adapted by yours truly from the amazing Green and Black’s ‘Chocolate Recipes book.
        Ingredients
        125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
        60g/2.5oz caster sugar
        2 large eggs (except this time I used one egg and the vinegar + bicarb of soda trick)
        150g/5oz self-raising flour
        1tsp baking powder
        grated rind of 1 large lemon
        3 tbsp milk
        75g/3oz dark chocolate, chopped

        Method
        1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line the loaf tin with baking paper.
        2. Whisk the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and lemon rind together for about 2 minutes with an electric whisk, longer if you’re doing it by hand.

        Zest and Batter. Prepare

        sift, sift, sift

        3. It says in the recipe book to ‘Whisk in the milk to make a soft dropping consistency’. When do you know it is a soft dropping consistency? I pretty much guess each time and kept adding a bit more milk in. The original recipe says 1 tbsp of milk by the way. However, I’m sure that I ended up adding in 3 to achieve that ‘soft dropping consistency’.
        4. Stir in the chocolate.

        stir in the chocolate

        5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. I always use my pampered chef spatula now for this part. It gets all the cake mix out of the bowl so that I can eat that wee bit more cake. Smooth the surface and bake for 40 minutes or until the centre of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Remove from the oven.

        I love Lemon Drizzle it does make the cake. Mmmm…
        Mix 50g/2oz golden granulated sugar and the
        Juice of 1 lemon

        Prick lots of holes in the cake where you’d like the lemon drizzle to soak into the hot cake to make it refreshing and moist. I use metal chopsticks to do this but you could also use a cake testing skewer or bamboo skewers.

        using metal chopsticks to prick the holes

        Then pour the lemon drizzle over the cake when it is just out of the oven. I find it useful to use a teaspoon towards the end to ensure that the sugary syrup spreads evenly on the cake and into the little holes. Remove the cake from its tin and place it on a wire rack to cool. Ta da!

        ta da