A Blogger Missing in Action

Sorry. It has been months since I last blogged a recipe. The thing is, I’ve not stopped cooking or baking and I still enjoy trying new recipes and flavours. So, what’s my excuse? Um, time and motivation. Oh gosh was that too blunt? Perhaps I should soften that by saying that the marathon training also changed my tastebuds? (It really did.) But, I’ll be honest with you. Really I stopped blogging because I’ve lacked time and motivation.

I had too many moments thinking, ‘does anyone read this blog anyway? and ‘is it worth it?‘.

Do all bloggers get that?

I think, for me, part of it is because I can’t see the immediate, face-to-face feedback, or people don’t leave comments. It makes it a bit harder to keep pushing yourself when you can’t be bothered to anyway. Some recent visitors left comments and that’s helping me out of that state of inertia.

And the time? After the end of a busy term, the students left halls and I immediately flew off to Chambery to experience a week of snowboarding. When I came back with a very bruised bottom, it was April. And not only did April feel like it had crept up on me but it also felt like it just tiptoed past me too, unplanned.

Then with three weeks to go, I started panicking about running a marathon.

My pre-marathon jitters transferred over to my food. I was worried that I’d ‘hit the wall’ once I got to mile 20 because I hadn’t fed myself properly. So, when my sister and brother-in-law came to stay, I asked my sister to make up some wholemeal pizza dough as an acknowledgement to my panic. We set out to make three different kinds of pizza toppings: courgettes with parma ham, mozzarella and basil, yellow cherry tomato sauce. The gender stereotype hit us in a funny moment in the supermarket, when Ola picked up the one packet of parma ham and very seriously asked ‘are we sure that there is enough meat going on these pizza?’ I made up a special sloppy joe style pizza just for him with minced beef, fresh chillis, onions and cayenne pepper. His favourite meat dish, however, was when I made Nigella’s buttermilk chicken from the Nigella Express cookbook for a Royal Wedding party. Ee-Reh had already made it before the week was out, when they returned home.

May had some awesome food moments. My mum cooked me her korean chicken casserole on the weekend of my marathon. However, May was really chocka, so no blogging from me.

I ran my first ever marathon at the start of May. I didn’t hit the wall and ran it all in 4 hours, 17 minutes and 47 seconds! My empty stomach woke me up at 2am the morning after and I finished off my mum’s casserole and gleefully indulged in a Magnum. I think that I deserved it.

stratfordmarathon

My mum had a major operation in the middle of May so I spent a week in Aberdeen looking after my mum. There’s not a photo to illustrate this one, more for your benefit 🙂

Then, just as the ash cloud was descending upon the British Isles, once again, I flew out to Morocco to visit a friend of mine in Casablanca. There, I learned how to prepare sardines for cooking, and went to the market to buy a few spices.

everydaylifeinthemedinaspiceshopping

And then… it was June.

Allinson’s Banana Cake: my marathon training cake

I’m training to run a marathon that is in May – EEEEeeeekK! It’s my first one and to say that I’m terrified is an understatement. So, I try not to think too much of the distance or the number of hours that I’ll be running. However, I can’t seem to stop myself thinking about what food to feed myself towards the end of a long run. I am ravenous. It’s a different kind of hunger to when I was training for my first half marathon. Then, I found myself craving melons towards the 10 mile mark. So far, I can’t seem to eat enough of this one cake.

Allinsons Banana Cake with Chocolate
I know that my latest posts have been about buttermilk, but bear with me whilst I share one more buttermilk cake recipe and then I’ll move onto something else. This is the one that started it all. It began a few years ago when I found this gem of a recipe on the back of Allinson’s Wholemeal Self-raising Flour packet. I wasn’t entirely convinced at how it would turn out. But I thought, ‘why not? I’ve got the ingredients at hand. What do I have to lose but maybe some bananas that are going off anyway, some sugar, butter and flour?’ So, I made it for an English Tea Party for Study Abroad/Erasmus students at Leicester University as part of their Welcome Programme. And then I had to make it again for my colleagues because it all disappeared before they got a taste.

And..?

3 years on and a couple of banana cake recipes later, this has turned out to be one of my favourite banana cake recipes and I bake it frequently. It’s also one of the few cakes that I get a craving for. So, I’ll buy bananas deliberately in order to bake this cake, rather than eat the bananas as they are. I know that’s not the common practice with bananas. A further confession. Sometimes I see how long I can leave the bananas ripening before they become unusable. (Answer – black and mouldy.) I’ve proved to myself that the banana in its various shades of mottled brown to very black is edible… in a cake… and will last a bit longer if you pop them in the fridge.

One of the nice things about this cake is that you can make variations of it, which is handy when you’re baking it frequently. I’ve experimented by adding 100g of milk or dark chocolate chunks successfully, tried white chocolate chunks (doesn’t work because they don’t have enough flavour to come into their own in this cake), decorated the top with dried apricots soaked in apricot brandy. My preference? I like it as just a plain banana cake.

I’m sure that you can find even more variations. I’d love to know them so please share 🙂

Ingredients for Allinson’s Banana Cake, adapted by yours truly.

  • 100g/3½oz softened unsalted butter, cubed or as I recently discovered, you can subsitute it with 80ml sunflower or vegetable oil. I think that the oil makes the sponge a bit lighter.
  • 140g/4½oz caster sugar (I halved the sugar, so add some more, if you’d like it a bit sweeter)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 350g/12½oz wholemeal self-raising flour (feel like I should say Allinson’s, since its their recipe… and I’ve only ever used their flour)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 75ml/3 fl.oz buttermilk (how to make your own buttermilk)
  • optional extra ingredient – 100g chocolate chunks; chopped walnuts or pecans…

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep cake tin. I find that anything between 18-23cm works. Just vary the baking a time a bit. A 23cm cake tin needs a bit less time in the oven than a 18cm one.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Then gradually add in the egg. Or, if you’re using oil, then beat the sugar and egg together first, then add the oil.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. The sifting helps to create lightness which is important when using wholemeal flour. Remember to add the bran that remains in your sieve back into the mixing bowl. I tried using the bran to decorate the cake last time but it just went everywhere so I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

4. Add 3. to the butter and sugar and mix well. It will resemble bread crumbs if you’re using an electric mixer, or feel very stiff if you’re doing it by hand.

breadcrumbs banana cake mixture
5. Add in the mashed bananas and the buttermilk and mix well. If you want to pop in an optional ingredient, such as chocolate chunks or nuts or dried fruit, then do so at this stage

Top Tip: Coat your chocolate chunks lightly with flour before adding them to the cake mixture. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of your cake during the baking process.

6. Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin, smooth and pop it into the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.

banana cake mixture
I think that it’s the combination of the wholemeal flour and banana that gives the cake its wholesome and moreish character. The top of the cake crisps up slightly and lends a wonderful slightly crunchy, sweet flavour. The flavour of the banana isn’t too overpowering, for those of you who aren’t overly keen on it and leaves you wanting to nibble on some more. Mmmmm Mmmmm MMmmmm.

Incidentally, I do recommend the back of flour packets as a good place to find yummy baking recipes. Flour companies should know these things, since flour is normally the primary ingredient. Now, I should listen to my own advice more often and make those chocolate thins that are on the back of the plain wholemeal flour one…

Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake

 

raspberrybuttermilkcake
I really like discovering delicious new recipes, especially when you weren’t looking for them. It feels like stumbling across some hidden treasure. This cake is exactly that. I found this one in Smitten Kitchen as I was googling for a recipe that I could use up the buttermilk that I had leftover from a banana cake baking session. Fortuitously, I happened to have all the ingredients at hand. Winner! So, I just got up and started baking the cake 🙂

raspberries
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute it with natural yoghurt but it doesn’t quite taste the same. Better yet, I have since learned how to make my own buttermilk, the cheat’s way. The proper way requires either churning butter and using the leftover milk (hence the name, buttermilk) or shaking a pot of double cream for a l.o.n.g time for the same effect.

The raspberries all sank to the bottom the first time I made this (the cake still tasted scrumptious). I had a hypothesis that the fruit wouldn’t sink if I first lightly powdered them with flour before I added them to the cake batter. So, I tested this out the second time I made this cake. I poured the batter into two cake tins and scattered in one, lightly floured raspberries, and the other with bright, red raspberries. When both cakes turned out beautifully with raspberries floating dreamily on top, I was flummoxed as to why the first time round had been a disaster. However, now I’m remembering that I forgot to preheat the oven and so the batter was left out for a while, so maybe the raspberries sunk then… *sigh* Basic common sense, Miss Cha – remember to switch on the oven and turn on the cooker at the mains so that the oven can actually preheat.

 

raspberrybuttermilkcake2twotypesofraspberriesoncaketwotypesofraspberrycake1
 

Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake, adapted by yours truly from Smitten Kitchenand Gourmet Magazine

List of Ingredients

  • 55g/2oz unsalted butter
  • 135g/5oz caster sugar (for the cake) + 1 tbsp of caster sugar (to sprinkle on top of the raspberries)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 130g/4.5oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125ml/4fl oz buttermilk, stirred
  • 140g/5oz of raspberries

Top Tip: you can substitute the raspberries with other berries. I imagine that blueberries would taste heavenly, or cherries with almond flakes on top…

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F or Gas Mark 5 and line a 18-20cm cake tin, or alternatively dust it lightly with flour.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 2-3 minutes with an electric mixer (I finally got one!) or 5-7 minutes by hand.
3. Mix in the vanilla extract, the lemon zest, and then finally the egg.
4. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Slowly add 4. and the buttermilk to the wet mixture. I’d recommend adding the flour in three batches, alternating each time with the buttermilk. This way, it will be easier to mix and the mixture won’t curdle. If you’re doing this with an electric mixer, do it at a low speed.
6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top, then scatter the raspberries evenly on top of the mixture. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of caster sugar over the raspberries.

raspberrybuttermilkcake2scatterraspberries
7. Pop it into the centre of the oven and let it bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.
8. Let it rest in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack.

The verdict? Well, this cake is a winner in my eyes. Its simple to bake and you can make this cake and eat it within an hour. It is wonderfully moist from the buttermilk and the raspberries lend a lovely freshness to it. Also, the cake tastes delicious, even when the berries have sunk to the bottom. If that happens to you (and I don’t think it should as long as you remember to preheat the oven) here’s how I remedied it – by serving the cake, turned upside down. You could also sprinkle lots of icing sugar on it.

remedyraspberrybuttermilkcake
p.s. The cake freezes well too. Wrap it up twice with foil and a plastic bag to freeze it. Just take it out the freezer the night before and leave it on the side to defrost it – simple.

Baking Tip: How to Make your own Buttermilk

I have a newest favourite ingredient. Buttermilk. Who would have imagined that buttermilk would hold that honoured position? Not only is it my current fad, but learning how to make my own buttermilk has felt liberating. I no longer feel like there’s a barrier stopping me from baking a recipe because buttermilk is ‘another ingredient that I don’t have’ or ‘where can I buy that from?’ when I come across it in a list of ingredients. Since discovering how to make my own cultured buttermilk, my oven has been turning out soda bread, raspberry and buttermilk cake and vast quantities of Allinson’s Banana Cake.

buttermilk and raspberry cake and banana cake

I first came across it when baking scones for an international tea party for 300 students. A friend of mine recommended Delia’s buttermilk scone recipe to me and every single batch turned out great. They rose perfectly and were springy in the middle. Then, I made the banana cake that was on the back of the self-raising flour packet with the leftover buttermilk. Wow – that turned out to be a winner too.

Buttermilk is the liquid that is leftover from the butter making process. Cultured buttermilk that is commonly sold in supermarkets today is curdled, sour milk. I know… I’m really selling it to you, aren’t I? Appetising, it does not sound. However, it is a lovely ingredient when you use it in baking because you’re pretty much guaranteed lightness and a good rise. When I researched the chemistry, I was told that the acid in the buttermilk reacts with the sodium bicarbonate to release carbon dioxide. Those large bubbles help the mixture to rise quickly. Oh, and means you can bake soda bread within an hour from start to finish.

There are two ways that you can make it:

1. Shake double cream really, really hard for a long time and not only will you have butter (and a new muscle-toning exercise) but you’ll have buttermilk from the leftover liquid, or

2. Add 1 tbsp/15ml of white or cider vinegar or lemon juice to 225ml/8fl oz of milk (preferably whole, or at least semi-skimmed) and wait about 10-15 minutes for it to curdle. This is the much easier way. Essentially, buttermilk is curdled, sour milk. I prefer to use lemon juice because the smell is that wee bit more safer when baking a sweet cake, but it doesn’t matter really.

I experimented, as you’d expect me to, with whether the fat content of the milk makes a difference. I think it does. Full-fat milk will curdle better. My results with skimmed milk were disappointingly watery. Those of you who are lactose intolerant or vegan will be pleased to read that you can make it with unsweetened soya milk too. It just needs a bit more vinegar/lemon juice.

I’m still chuckling to myself, as I write this, because it is a random ingredient to get excited about. Oh, I should also add that Miss Buttermilk comes as a pair with Mr. Bicarbonate of Soda.

makeyourownbuttermilkbuttermilk

What gets in our way between the recipes in the cookbook and making them?

recipescookbooks

I don’t know about you, but I have cookbooks that I have yet to make a recipe from after years of having them. Don’t get me wrong. I love receiving the books as presents: I pore over the pages of recipes and I’d like to make something. But then I seem to put the book away on my bookshelf, with a rather wistful sigh.

I was thinking about what gets in the way between the recipe in the book and the making of it? We salivate over the food photos and we love to ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaahhh’ over recipes in a magazine. But what is it that stops us from making the dish? Is it the long list of ingredients? The lack of self-confidence that one could make it look as good as the one in the photo? The assumptions that are in the methods section, such ‘whip the eggs until they form soft peaks’ – what do soft peaks look like, before they’re stiff?

I’m sure that we can identify deeper reasons within ourselves. When I give some of my issues a wee bit longer thought time, I can easily trace their origins back to my parent’s cooking habits or my fear of failure… and that’s only two of a long list. I could go on. So, without further ado, here is my list of things that act as a barrier between the recipe in the book and the making of it. The list is not finite by any means:

  • a long list of ingredients
  • an unfamiliar ingredient
  • a piece of cookware/bakeware that I haven’t got
  • too many steps in the method section
  • patronising language
  • rubbish index
  • complicated techniques
  • the lack of occasion
  • lenghty preparation or cooking times
  • using yeast
  • no photo of the finished dish
  • too much of something that I don’t like, such as cream or cheese, or …. as the americans call it, ‘frosting’

This next reason, however, is the primary one for why I don’t make a recipe:

I can’t be bothered to.

I think that it looks pretty good in the photo and I’d try eating it in a restaurant. But I can’t be bothered with the effort of trying out a new recipe. Reading a step, doing it, re-reading it to check that I’ve not missed something etc., requires a lot of mental energy. I don’t think that I’m alone in not wanting to try out a recipe because I think it is going to be tricky and complex. And then on top of that, there’s nothing more disappointing than putting a lot of effort into a dish and it tasting… alright… but not awesome. I’ve had plenty of those experiences before. So, I’d prefer to potter around inside my comfort zone and serve up dishes that I know are tasty.

But then, how do we expand our repertoire as cooks, bakers, chefs, if we aren’t trying new techniques? How do we become adventurous in our cooking, if we don’t experiment with new ingredients? How can we just gaze on cookbooks that groan heavily on our bookshelves, when there are so many new dishes hidden in them?

Therefore, I made a new year’s resolution to try 12 recipes this year that you can’t describe as ‘simple and easy’. Recipes that I’d class as complex or tricky, but will force me to face up to and press on, past the mental obstacles between the paper and the plate. This is my way of pushing myself to attempt recipes that I would previously look at and dismiss as way too difficult for me. Or to put it simply. Get over the faff and effort.

Why 12? Well, there are 12 months in the year and I thought that I could make a recipe that stretched me each month, so that it was a continuous thing. But it’s only a number and what’s in a number? What’s more significant is that I want it to be a lasting change in attitude, so that I am more adventurous with my cooking and bother with all the faff and effort.

Which also means one more thing. Because there is one thing that moves me to cook and bake and create. Much more than a new cookbook or a new year’s resolution. Being with people who love food and use recipes and cookbooks. I’m always inspired by these people.

A Taste of Sunshine: Coconut, Lime and Malibu Drizzle Cake

Note from: 12th July 2014

I’ve changed this recipe, since moving to Cambodia.   Being surrounded by coconuts and limes, I’ve made this cake a few times but found that the cake was still quite dry, even when drenched in lime syrup.  So, I’ve been testing out some new ideas and this morning I finally nailed it.  I’ve replaced lime rum with Malibu – a coconut rum.  It’s much more accessible and adds to the coconut.  I also soaked the desiccated coconut in lime juice and Malibu for 30 minutes to pump up the moisture levels in the cake and cut out the coconut milk.  

I still love the story of how I came up with this cake, especially now that I’m living in Cambodia.  So, I’ve kept it.  I’ve italicised and crossed out where I’ve made the changes to the recipe, however, in case you’re interested in the journey that this recipe has been on.  When I baked it this morning, I made a plain lime drizzle cake to taste test the difference the coconut adds to the flavour of the cake.  And it certainly does add a mellow note to the cake.  So, here’s the much improved, moist ‘taste of sunshine, drizzle cake’.   

coconut and lime drizzle cake
It has been really cold outside – freezing in fact. In Aberdeen, I experienced a very rare Christmas of it reaching -15°C. I think that I was the only one who was delighted that it was so cold and guaranteed a white christmas. I didn’t quite appreciate that the cold snap just hadn’t snapped for 5 weeks in Aberdeen and they were tired of being cooped up by the snow.

I find that when it is that cold it’s hard to remember how it could ever be warm enough, that you don’t need mittens for a start… or a coat… or thermals (did I go too far with the thermals bit? is that just me?). Does the UK really have a t-shirt and flip flops season? But now that temperatures are above freezing. Well, it feels positively balmy. ‘Let’s put on those bikinis and do some sunbathing’. Okay – so maybe it’s not quite reached that temperature yet.

So, this recipe is dedicated to all of you who would like to be reminded of some sunshine. A taste of hope that seasons do come and change.

How apt. As I write, I realise that on the two occasions that I have baked this cake, they were to celebrate significant milestones in my sister’s life.

Milestone #2. (Nope, this isn’t a typo, I’m milestoning this chronologically)

Back in November, my mum came to visit me en route to my sister’s graduation. Quite a considerable detour since my sister, Ee-Reh, lives in Huddersfield! Bless her – my mum told me later that her main intent on visiting me was to unpack whatever boxes remained from my various moves over the summer. Instead, it was really nice to show her that her eldest daughter had finally seen the light about unpacking everything and was trying to keep her flat tidy.

The following morning, whilst my mum acted on an urge to do my ironing (I love her!), I wanted a taste of sunshine. So, I baked a cake for my mum to take as my sister’s graduation present.

Unfortunately the graduation ceremony was called off due to the severe weather conditions.

Milestone #1.

I first made this cake for my sister’s wedding in September, along with Ee-Reh’s request for my lemon drizzle and dark chocolate cake. My sister had asked several of her guests to contribute cakes. These two were my favourites. The Carrot Cake is decorated with a picture of the swing in the garden where my sister had the wedding ceremony. Then this Bumble Bee Cake, with flying bees. Aren’t they fantastic?

carrotcake with swingbumblebee cake
 

Ee-Reh and OlaEe-Reh in the tree
And, yes. That’s my sister up in the tree. On the morning of her wedding. Hanging up the decorations. She’s incredible!

I’ve been wanting to experiment with lime, coconut and chilli since I visited Cambodia in March. Ahhhh… those flavours bring back memories. Cocktails of freshly squeezed limes + sugar syrup + soda water, refreshing chicken and lemongrass soup, steamed spring rolls and deep-fried beetles – what fun! I really enjoyed Cambodian cooking. But it was the sunshine… the sunshine that I desperately wanted to taste.

Honestly, honestly, honestly. The first lime  and coconut drizzle cake, the one that I took to my sister’s wedding, was dry. Even with the lime drizzle moistening it up. I now have a theory that dessicated coconut sucks up the moisture in a cake: this also happened when I made kentish cake, another cake recipe that asks for dessicated coconut. Hmmm… so, in true Han-Na style, I did some googling for other coconut cake recipes to give me some ideas on how to liven up this recipe and discovered the addition of coconut milk and rum in cakes. Rum, hey? A real taste of sunshine then 🙂 And thank you to my blessed colleague for lending me her lime rum. In this much improved version, I’ve omitted the coconut milk completely.

Ingredients for a Taste of Sunshine: Coconut, Lime and Malibu Drizzle Cake

  • 125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
  • 75g/2.5oz caster sugar
  • grated zest of two limes – or one depending on how much limey zestiness you’d like.
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g/4oz  150g/6oz self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 50g/2oz dessicated coconut
  • 125ml/4floz coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp lime coconut rum or normal white rum (optional)  I use Malibu.
  • juice of 2 limes

Method

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

2. Measure out the desiccated coconut in small bowl.  Add in the lime juice and the rum.

3. Put the butter and the sugar together in a bowl and whisk them together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Alternatively, if like me, you don’t have an electric whisk and the butter isn’t softening quickly enough (even when you have left it out on the side to soften) then cheat by zapping the butter in the microwave – see top tip.

Top Tip: I don’t have an electric whisk and I’m not always so organised to leave the butter out on the side to soften. As you can guess, this results in the butter being too firm to hand whisk with ease. So, I cut the butter into small size chunks (about 3 cm cubes) and zap them in the microwave for just under a minute (the time will vary depending on the power of your microwave) in order to ease the whisking process. I try and do it so that the butter hasn’t melted, just softened. In all honesty, I normally end up with a not-entirely-but-pretty-much-melted butter consistency. I guess that it affects the chemistry of the baking in some way but the cakes turn out fine.

4. Add the lime zest and eggs and keep whisking so that the mixture is combined well. I almost forgot to add in the eggs at this stage. The addition of the coconut milk makes it quite a runny mixture so it was easy to forget. I remembered just at the end of the mixing, so I don’t think that the order of adding the eggs at the end affected the baking chemistry too much. But I’m going to say – add them in at this stage, so that you don’t forget.

5. Thoroughly mix in the flour, baking powder and desiccated coconut. Mix in the desiccated coconut with the lime juice and rum.

6. Mix in the lime rum and the coconut milk.  Thoroughly mix in the flour and baking powder.  The mixture will be rather gloopy now.

coconutandlimemixturegloopycake
 

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tester/knife comes out clean.

7. As the cake is baking in the oven, now prepare the sunshine lime drizzle. Oh, I can almost hear the waves crashing on the beach as I write this up. Where is that bikini?

I normally use golden caster sugar for drizzle. However, this time I tried using icing sugar because i didn’t want the snowy sugary crust on top. No reminders of the snow please! And it worked well. I try to reduce the amount of sugar that I use in recipes so remember to add a bit more sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Ingredients for Sunshine Lime Drizzle

  • 35g icing sugar (you can substitute it with golden caster sugar if you want)
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1.5 tbsp lime rum (more if you want to)

8. Mix the lime juice, icing sugar and lime rum. Don’t worry about the lime pulp, I think that the pulp adds personality to the cake when you pour it on.

9. When the cake is baked, make some holes in the cake to ease the journey of the drizzle through the cake. My weapon of choice is a metal chopstick. A cocktail stick will do the job just fine and is easier to source. Pour the drizzle on while the cake is still hot. I find it helpful to use a teaspoon towards the end to make sure that every inch of cake has been covered with drizzle. Ta Da.

coconutandlimedrizzlecakecoconutandlimedrizzlecake2
The verdict? It’s a simple cake to make. I made a double batch and gave the second one away to some of my friends who travelled to Cambodia with me. My sister commented, “the cake was very yummy. All who ate it said so. Jennie especially liked how moist it was. I thought, for a lime-lover, it could have been more zesty. However, equally, this could put off those who do not appreciate the lovely greeny limey goodness.”

 

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.