Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

I suppose in a bit of a perverse anti-New Year kick, and to satiate Josh and Ben's seemingly endless requests (and appetite) for something that they are pleased to tuck into, I've been looking for more chocolate recipes. Yet, while Josh and Ben can gallop through goodies with the pace only teenage boys can, I am increasingly conscious of the fact that Mike and I need to shape up a bit. We are in our mid-forties with a soon-to-be 18 month old toddler, and the thought of running around after Sam for the next few years, in the state of fitness I have now, is not appealing.
The exercise bit I have yet to figure out, as I'm so busy it really is hard to find time when I'm not so tired (yes, I've just read that back and it sounds a lot like an excuse to me, too). But as far as diet goes, we are trying to eat healthier and with moderation for any treats as an approach. So I was looking for something that would satisfy the boys, yet could provide Mike and I with a little sliver of a treat, full of flavour.  
Trawling through one of my baking books, Brooklyn Blackout Cake looked like it would do.
This cake has some history to it. It originated at a neighbourhood bakery, Ebinger's, in Brooklyn, NYC. The bakery was a long standing Brooklyn family tradition, having opened in 1898. The cake was created during World War II , and is so named after the blackouts that protected the naval yards from bombing. Ebinger's is long gone (it went bankrupt in 1972) , but the memory of this cake lives on. It's a rich cake, with (in this version) three layers of Devil's Food Cake sandwiched together and coated with a chocolate custard. A fourth layer of the cake is whizzed up in a processor to give a fine crumb, and this is used to decorate the cake.
The recipe I used is by Annie Bell, from her Baking Bible, and is available on line here. But there is another fantastic article, courtesy of the New York Times, about Ebinger's and the bakery's famous Blackout Cake (amongst others) here, or at Brooklyn.com here.
The cake was a bit complicated to make, as you need to make a smooth custard first and allow it to cool before starting on the rest of the cake. The layers are made from two sandwich cakes, cut in half when completely cooled. Then filled and covered with the cold custard. You then cover the cake with the crumbs made from one of the layers, gently pressing handfuls into place while trying not to dislodge the layers.
You're supposed to chill the cake before cutting, so it firms up a bit. The boys were impatient though, and so I cut into it practically as soon as I'd finished taking photos. That way, the cake looks even gooier than it usually would. It pretty much disappeared within a couple of days.
When I first cut into it, I managed to restrain myself to just the tiniest sliver. After that, next time I went looking for some, I kind of had enforced moderation as, quite simply, there was none left. 
Not even a crumb. 
I guess that's just how the cake crumbles.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lime Tart and Continental Drift

One of my all time favourite desserts is Lemon Tart (or Tarte au Citron when I'm feeling posh). So when I was looking for a suitable Nigel Slater recipe for Dish of the Month, and I found Lime Tart amid the January recipes in Kitchen Diaries I, I knew I had found my bake.
Dish of the Month is a new blogging challenge organised by Janice at Farmers Girl Kitchen and Sue at Heaven on a Plate. The aim is to prepare a Nigel Slater recipe every month and share your post via a linky. It's inspired by a love of Nigel's writing and recipes in the Kitchen Diaries II, but you don't need to confine yourself to that particular book. I must admit that while Kitchen Diaries I and II is fairly regular bed time reading for me, I haven't tried many of the recipes. But ever since buying Appetite when it was published, I love how Nigel writes, and when he writes about, for example, the perfect knife, melded into his hand with just the right weight, I get it. It's so evocative, I can almost feel the handle nestling into my palm.  
I knew, therefore, that I wanted to give this challenge a go. Mainly so I had a reason to finally explore Nigel's culinary world. I'm going to try and keep with the seasonality of Kitchen Diaries though and work through month by month. The recipe for this month's Lime Tart is available on line here (scroll down past the Treacle Tart - if you can!).
I'm just going to add a little about my experiences, as sadly, it didn't all go to plan.
The first thing I noted is that the recipe available on line actually differs slightly in the pastry ingredients from that found in Kitchen Diaries. On line, it states 50g of icing sugar and 1 egg yolk. This becomes 40g icing sugar and 2 egg yolks in Kitchen Diaries. I went with the Kitchen Diaries version, but as I can easily panic about pastry, felt a little unnerved that Nigel had two versions for the same recipe. I couldn't see the reason for it and my mind was nervously wondering why.
In making up the pastry, I found the method unusual, too. Nigel says that the pastry is too delicate to roll out, so his method involves rolling it into a log shape, chilling, then cutting thin discs from this which you press into your pan. Knowing that pastry should be handled as little as possible, or it shrinks, again I was nervous. At first, I also thought that I wasn't going to have enough pastry, and thought I was cutting the discs too thick. But as I artfully arranged them around my tin, it all worked out and looked pretty impressive. It took a while longer than simply rolling out. But 'Phew!' I thought. Closely followed by 'that was fun - I can do that with Sam when he's a bit older. He'd enjoy it'.
Having assembled the pastry, I put it to chill for 30 minutes before baking. The baking was where it went wrong. The discs of pastry had shrunk to reveal cracks, like fault lines, all the way across the bottom of the shell. It was a bit like witnessing continental drift in action, hence the title of this post. There was no way I was going to be able to pour filling into it, as it would just pour back out again. Tasted nice though, with that sweet crunch you want from a dessert pastry. 
I didn't know if it was me and I had done something wrong, or it was the method. But feeling very disloyal, and running out of time that day, I decided that I had to try another method and recipe to prepare a shell, as this one clearly was not going to be used. I tried another batch basing it on the pastry for Cranberry Meringue Pie. But, oh no! This one was even worse - the edge of the pastry simply collapsed so that I ended up with something that loosely resembled a deep dish pizza base.
So out came attempt number 3. This time I used a Rachel Allen pastry recipe. I didn't bother taking a photograph of this one. Again, the pastry was lovely and crisp, and tasted gorgeous (so much so that Mike dove into it eating it like a snack). But the sides had developed vertical cracks so that again, the filling would just leak out.
By this time it was 10.00 pm and I had to give up.
I had made the filling up ready for tart shell number 1, but refrigerated it as soon as I saw the problems. I decided to try and salvage it by keeping it in the fridge until I had a chance to make another shell.
Yay, Finally! Attempt number 4.
So today, attempt number 4 has finally worked. I went back to a recipe that I have used before - from Eric Lanlard's 'Tart it Up' - and in an attempt to understand exactly why I was having so much trouble with the pastry, did some on line research. One of the sites I came across was this fantastic blog, Azelia's Kitchen, which is amazing. Azelia's step by step photos reinforced everything that I felt I knew about pastry, and gave me some new hints and tips for method. Back on the right path following her suggestions, and with Eric's  recipe, after blind baking I ended up with a shell I was proud of.
This time, I used a larger, but shallower tin, and so the filling baked in about 30 minutes. Despite a scare when I nearly dropped the completed tart moving it for the photographs, it survived.
And was it worth it?
Oh my, oh yes. The filling is gorgeous and chilled, with the crispy pastry, it was worth every damn, agonising second.
Even if it is now Nigel Slater's / Eric Lanlard's / Azelia's Lime Tart.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Devil's Food Cupcakes

It's been a while since I blogged - or I suppose made - anything that was specifically designed to appeal to my boys. I felt I was starting to neglect them, so I decided to rectify that. Chocolate is usually a sure fire hit in that regard.
These little cakes certainly fulfilled that part of the brief, as the sponge is dark and intense, and richly chocolatey. The frosting is a US-style 7 minute frosting and is very similar to the marshmallow filling in the teacakes I blogged recently. So, it is very, very sweet.  

While I seem to have developed an incredibly sweet tooth since falling pregnant with Sam, I must admit, I found it a little much, and given that I had piped big swirls of frosting, ended up scooping about half back off in order to eat a cupcake.   

Devil's Food Cupcakes
Ingredients (makes 12)
125g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/8 tspn salt
90g softened unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar
105g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs (57-64g each, weighed in the shell)
1 tspn vanilla extract
160ml buttermilk
For the frosting
260g caster sugar (I used white to keep the colour as white as possible)
80ml water
3 egg whites (from eggs weighing 57-64g each in the shell)
1/4 tspn cream of tartar
1 tspn vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with cases.
Sift the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda into a bowl and set on one side.
Beat together the butter and both sugars until light in colour and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well mixed. Add the vanilla and mix.
Fold in one half of the flour mix until incorporated. Add the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour mix. Fold in gently. Scoop the batter into the cases.
Bake in the centre of the oven for around 20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean.
Let cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
To make the frosting, place the sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar into a large bowl (which you can place over a saucepan of boiling water, and so the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Beat the mixture using an electric hand held mixer for a minute or so, until white and foamy. Place the bowl over the water, which should be held at a bare simmer. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form - this should take about 7 minutes.
The mixture should register 160 C / 70 F on a thermometer, if you want to check it. Remove from over the water and add the vanilla. Continue to beat for a further 2 minutes. This will thicken and help cool the frosting.

Swirl or pipe onto the cupcakes (I piped mine using a 2D tip).
As the letter for this month's Alphabakes is 'D', I'm sending these Devil's Food Cupcakes over to Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline Makes, who organise the challenge. This month's host is Caroline, and you'll find the round up on her blog at the end of the month.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Orange Buttermilk Cake

For a brief time yesterday, we had sun. It seemed weird when the weather forecasters had predicted snow for large parts of the country.
While it was cold, the morning gave that hint of the promise of spring. Our cats basked in the sun in the garden. We even had a visit from a grey squirrel, who turned 180 pretty quickly after seeing the feline population suddenly become much more alert than they had been a few seconds before.

After the indulgence of the festive season, it seemed a good time to try something lighter. At least in taste, if not calories.
Citrus is always a good bet for that in my book. The zingyness of lemon, the tartness of lime, or the more gentle hue of orange. They're all refreshing and have a way of perking up your palate in the same way a glint of sunshine can lift your mood. 

This is a easy, lazy cake, with the all-in-one method as its base. The glaze is simply icing sugar mixed with a little OJ and water, then poured onto the cake and eased over the sides, so it creates falls. I used some perfectly toned sprinkles to decorate, but you could vary this and use zest, sugar flowers, or even some edible flowers.
Whatever you choose, if you're the slightest bit still feeling sluggish after the holidays, your tastebuds will thank you for making this cake.
Orange Buttermilk Cake
Ingredients (makes one 8" / 20cm cake)
155g softened unsalted butter
2 tspns finely grated orange zest (about 1 orange)
150g caster sugar
3 eggs (medium, so around 60g on average in the shell)
185g self-raising flour
60ml buttermilk
For the icing
160g icing sugar
1 tbspn orange juice
1/2 to 1 tbspn water
Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350F / Gas 4. Grease and baseline a deep 8 inch /20 cm cake tin.
Place all the cake ingredients into a mixer and beat on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing for about 3 minutes, until the batter is smooth and is lighter in colour.

Spread mixture into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 40 - 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Let cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the orange juice and mix. Add a little water to bring the consistency to a thick, but pourable paste.
Put the cake onto your serving plate. Pour the icing onto the top of the cake and gently, with a spatula, ease it right to the edge. The icing will then, fairly naturally, fall in little folds down the sides of the cake.

The recipe I have used is adapted from one in an Australian Women's Weekly publication, 'Baking'. I should explain that although I did the skewer test after 45 minutes, and it did indeed come out clean, when I cut into the cake it did appear to me a little underdone in the very middle towards the bottom of the cake (you can see in the picture of the slice above). The cake is supposed to be very moist though, and it had clearly browned well on the top. I had also used for the first time one of Lakeland's new 'pushpans', rather than my normal deep sandwich pan, so I'm not sure if that had an effect. I think it might have been a bit better in a slightly lower oven for a bit longer. I may well try that next time, and revert back to my usual pan, to see if it makes any difference. There will be a next time though - I can see this little cake being one of my firm favourites.

As this month's theme for Tea Time Treats is citrus, I'm going to submit this to Karen at Lavender and Lovage who, along with Kate at What Kate Baked organises the challenge. Karen is hosting this month and the roundup will appear on her blog towards the end of the month. 

I'm also entering it into this month's one ingredient challenge, hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food, and co-organised with Nazima at Franglais Kitchen. The ingredient this month is orange, so I think this fits the bill perfectly



Sunday, 6 January 2013

Little Apple Pies

We took the Christmas decorations down today. As usual, the house feels bare, and a little bleak. It is strange to think that the next time they will go back up, Sam will be over 2 and will probably have an inkling into what is going on, and will have his first, excited, Christmas.

Santa will probably visit, after having taken a break over the last few years. We'll need to leave a little something out for him, of course. Poor Santa - I happen to have it on very good authority - can get a little bit fed up of mince pie after mince pie at every house, which is what we have left out for him before. So when he visits in 2013, he may have a bit of a change. 

This recipe is actually the last of my festive baking, and was supposed to be an entry for 'Forever Nigella', the blogging challenge organised by Sarah of Maison Cupcake, and for which December's theme was Christmas (and was hosted by Laura Loves Cakes). But Christmas turned out to be a bit of a mad rush, and I didn't get around to making these until New Year's Day. You can still check out all the fab entries on Laura's blog, and maybe bookmark a few.

Still, I thought I would share it with you as it was intended to be a Christmas alternative to mince pies for Mike, as he, by amazing coincidence, also doesn't like dried fruit or mincemeat. These, however, he loved. So if you ever have to cater for someone who is mincemeat averse, I can definitely recommend these. I'll certainly be making them as a treat for Santa when he calls next. They are simple to make and the apple filling can be thrown together in just a few minutes. You can use the same pastry as for mince pies, so by simply changing the filling, you can rustle up a batch of each at the same time.

I loosely followed Nigella's recipe for the apple filling (leaving out the festive spices, as Mike hates cinnamon - yes he can be quite picky!), but made my own rich, buttery pastry. It was light and flaky and I could have eaten it all on it's own. The apples came through in the filling, but I'd probably cut down a little on the orange juice as I thought it was a little strong (Mike disagreed though, and thought it was fine).

Anyway, here you go.

Little Apple Pies

Ingredients (makes 12)

For the pastry
175g plain flour
113g chilled, diced, unsalted butter
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn caster sugar (plus a little more to sprinkle)
30 - 60ml chilled water

For the filling (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)
About 375g apples (Nigella suggests Cox's, I used Braeburns)
1 tbspn caster sugar
1/2 tspn vanilla bean paste
zest of 1/2 orange
1 tbspn orange juice
1 tspn lemon juice
15g butter

1 medium egg, lightly beaten, to use as an egg wash.

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Lightly grease a 12 cup bun tin.

To make the pastry, put the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a processor fitted  with the blade attachment. Pulse for a few seconds to mix well and aerate.

Add the cubed butter and pulse again - no more than 10 seconds - so that the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. With the motor running, gradually add the water so that the mixture starts to come together. You may need as little as 30ml or as much as the full 60ml. Pulse for no more than 30 seconds, and only until the dough starts to come together (don't wait until it is one large ball). Turn it out onto the work surface and gently push it together into a disc. Wrap in cling film and chill for about an hour before rolling out.

To make the apple filling, peel, core and dice the apples quite finely. Put them, and all the other ingredients into a saucepan, and cook for a few minutes to soften. Leave on one side to cool.

Roll out the pastry (I did it as thinly as I could - about 2mm) and cut out discs to fit your bun tin as the pie bases. Cut out some shapes to use as tops. I used a small snowflake cutter - it didn't really work as a pretty shape, but it covered the tops nicely. Fill the pies with about 2 tspn of filling, and then gently press a top into place.

Brush with a little beaten egg, and sprinkle a little caster sugar over the top (this will give a lovely golden finish). Bake in the centre of the oven for 18 - 20 minutes. Remove, and allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

You never know, come late on Christmas Eve, Santa may thank you for them. After all, he likes a little variety.



Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Coconut Marshmallow Teacakes

I've discovered something.

There's a reason these little cakes / biscuits / whatevs were chosen as one of the technical challenges on last year's series three of Great British Bake Off.

While they are delicious, and probably make up at least one childhood memory of most adults in Britain (Tunnocks Teacakes anyone?), they are one of the most fiddly things I have ever made in my life. What with tempering chocolate, making the biscuits, and then faffing with marshmallow. And doing them against the clock?

I should have known from watching the programme. Especially with poor Kathryn's encounter with chocolate that failed to harden. But, and this might seem a tad egotistical, watching Paul Hollywood's later teacake 'Masterclass' (you can find the recipe on line here), as he made it all seem so simple, I started to think 'what's so hard about that?'. 

Little did I know ...

So, here you go. My attempt at Teacakes.

But, these are teacakes with a difference.

Apart from the crazy paving effect of poorly tempered chocolate - which matched my own poor temper at the end of the whole process - I decided to jazz them up a little.

So there is a little powdered coconut in the biscuit base.

And there is a cheeky dosing of Malibu in the marshmallow.

So gorgeous is it, I could have eaten the marshmallow on its own. And I did. But then had to stop myself.

The teacakes themselves taste delish. The biscuit base is more like a soft shortbread. It goes well with the gooey marshmallow. Encased in chocolate, it definitely is a tea time treat, The addition of the coconut worked really well (although coconut and chocolate together always works well in my book).

However, as lovely as they are, they are very, very sweet. So to enjoy them without overdoing it, I'd reckon on stopping at half a teacake. You can always take a breather and save the other half for later.

Once I had braved cutting into one, I realised that my marshmallow was a little runnier than is ideal (although in the pictures above - which I took the following morning - it seems to have set up a bit overnight). I guess I needed to whisk for a bit longer than I thought was necessary.

Coconut Marshmallow Teacakes

Ingredients (makes 6 easily - you could try for 8)

400g dark chocolate with around 40% cocoa solids (I used Asda own brand but you could use Bourneville - I also found I only needed 300g in total)
50g wholemeal flour 
50g plain flour 
pinch salt
½ tsp baking powder
25g caster sugar 
25g butter, chilled
2 tbspn powdered coconut (otherwise known as coconut flour - you could use dessicated coconut but that sometimes has been sweetened)
3 tbsp milk (the original recipe uses 1 tbspn but I needed more than that to bring the dough together - nearer 3 tbspns!)

For the marshmallow
3 large free-range eggs, whites only
150g caster sugar (I used golden caster sugar, so my marshmallow has a golden tinge)
2 tbspns golden syrup
½ tsp salt
2 tbspns Malibu (coconut rum spirit) optional - you could just use 1/2 tspn vanilla bean paste as in the original recipe

You'll need a silicone half sphere mould - each sphere being 7.5cm in diameter. I got mine on line from
Sew White.

First, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (be careful the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the surface of the water otherwise the chocolate will burn). I used about 300g of dark chocolate (that's all that I had) and it was still plenty to make the teacakes. In fact, I still had some left over at the end.

Leave to cool and thicken slightly. Then, pour a teaspoon of chocolate into each of the half-sphere moulds. Work the chocolate around the inside of the mould so that you have coated - as evenly as you can - all the way around. Try not to make it too thick, as you'll need to break through this later when you want to eat it! I found that having the pink version of the mould helped me see where the chocolate might be too thin - as I could see pink areas through the chocolate.

Next, preheat the oven to 140 Fan / 160 Conventional / 325 F / Gas 3.
Make the biscuits. Place the flours, sugar, salt and powdered coconut into a bowl. Rub in the butter until you have a mix that looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the milk, a little at a time, until the dough comes together. As noted, I needed a little more milk than stated in the original recipe - about another tablespoon at least. Roll out the dough. The original recipe says to roll out the dough to a depth of 5mm - I found this a little thick, and would roll it out a little bit thinner next time. Use a 7.5cm cutter to cut out six rounds. Place them on a greased baking sheet, or one lined with grease proof paper. Prick them with a fork.

Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes. Then bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until just starting to tinge around the edges (they will still be quite pale). Remove, and allow to cool for a few minutes - if necessary at this point (and while they are still a little soft) use your cutter to trim them to size again if they have spread - before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once they are cool, dip them in the remaining melted chocolate to cover. You need a good, even coating but not too thick. Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and leave to harden.

To make the marshmallow, place all the ingredients in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Again, make sure the base of the bowl doesn't touch the surface of the water. Use an electric hand mixer on full to whisk the mixture until the sugar has dissolved, and the volume has doubled to a stiff, thick, billowy meringue. This will take a while - 6 to 8 minutes according to the recipe. You need the mixture to be thick as it is going to be piped into the chocolate shells. Once it has reached this stage, take the bowl off the heat and allow it to cool completely.

Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle. Pipe into the chocolate shells so that there is a 1cm gap to the top of the mould (you need to sit the biscuit in this so that it fits nicely). It's from this point on that I had a bit of trouble, so if you are a perfectionist with your presentation, go slowly, and take care. If you overfill the marshmallow, it will squidge over the edge when you press the biscuit down onto it.

Even leaving the gap with the marshmallow I did, I still had a little overflow, once the biscuits were in place. The biscuits also sat higher than the top of the mould. You can see that here.

Place the remaining melted chocolate into a piping bag. Pipe around the top of the spheres, and then place one of the biscuits on top. Pipe around the edge again, and use a knife to smooth the chocolate around so that you have a nice edge (if you can - mine was a bit messy).

Leave to harden completely before turning out. The way to do this is to invert the mould using a chopping board, and then, with the mould upwards, peel it away from the teacakes. I found that you can pull on the mould out to the sides slightly, so that it loosens it, and then peel up so that the very top of the teacakes is the last to come out. I realised at this point that some of mine had a light discolouration in the chocolate - I need to practise my tempering!

If necessary, tidy up the edges a little, by trimming carefully with a knife.

Out of the six I made, three came out of the moulds looking reasonably respectable. The other three were a little mottled in colour - I guess because the chocolate wasn't tempered properly, or because of the quality (Asda own brand, I suspect, does not a fancy pátissiere make). Needing to take some decent photos but running out of light, I decided to cover them with cling film and leave them overnight. This - accompanied by various teenage prodding fingers - didn't help the situation. The next morning they had all lost their glossy shine and the mottling had got worse.

Fortunately, this is one of those situations where the looks don't affect the taste. They tasted just as good.

So, if you are tempted to give them a go, it's worth it. At least just the once. For the experience.

Otherwise, if you can get someone else to make them for you then do.

All the pleasure without the pain.