Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Coffee Loaf with a Vanilla and Cardamom Syrup

Many thanks to Becky Thorn (http://mintcustard.wordpress.com/) for this idea. Despite not drinking coffee I really like coffee cake so it's nice to try it with something other than the usual buttercream or walnuts. I was a little worried about the cardamom syrup overpowering the delicate coffee sponge, but it actually provides a beautiful fragrant sweetness. However the best thing about this cake is by far it's simplicity. One of the easiest you'll ever make I promise!

Prep time: 10 Mins (Plus 15 Mins for the syrup)
Baking time: 45 Mins
2 rounded tsp Instant Coffee
3tbsp Boiling Water
175g Unsalted Butter (Plus extra for greasing)
175g Caster Sugar
3 Medium Eggs
175g Self Raising Flour

For the syrup
6 Cardamom pods
1 Vanilla Pod
100g Caster Sugar
200ml Water

Start by mixing together the instant coffee and boiling water in a small dish then leave to one side. When the coffee has cooled (It can be warm, just not hot) preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line the base of a 22cm loaf tin. In a bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Pour in the coffee, mix it around then tip in the flour and do the same, until you are left with a smooth batter. Pour into your loaf tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed from the middle. When you're happy, remove from the oven and leave in the tin.

Once you've taken your cake out you can start on the syrup. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods (you don't want the husks) and grind until you are left with a fine powder. You should be left with about half a teaspoon and you don't want any more than that. Split the vanilla pod in half and put it into a small saucepan with the ground cardamom, sugar and water. Bring it up to the boil and leave it bubbling away, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes. By that time it should have reduced by at least two thirds and become syrupy, but if you're unsure definitely play it safe and take it off the heat anyway. It's not a big deal if the syrup is quite thin, but it will be a problem if it goes to far.

When the syrup is done carefully remove the cake from it's tin and place on a wire rack. Pierce the top all over with a sharp skewer then spoon over about half of the syrup. Leave it for five minutes to soak in, the spoon over the last of the syrup. You'll find that the syrup will thicken as it cools on top of the cake and become a sticky glaze. One final tip, it's probably worth placing the wire rack over a sheet of greaseproof or baking paper to catch any of the syrup dripping off of the cooling cake. Finished. See, I told you it was easy!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Blood Orange, Chocolate and Almond Cake

I've not been feeling myself this week, so apologies for lack of posting. Hopefully this one will make up for it. Blood oranges have just started cropping up again, so I took the opportunity to have a go at using them in a chocolate cake. Slightly tarter than regular oranges I think they also have a more interesting flavour, a wonderful fragrance and work really well in cakes and tarts. This cake looks spectacular, but is actually very easy to make. The only real thing you need to keep an eye on is the candying of the oranges and melting of the chocolate, just to make sure they don't go too far on the heat. Oh and before I forget, this cake is flour and dairy free so great for those with intolerances.

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 40 Mins
200g Caster Sugar
6 Medium Eggs
2 Blood Oranges
1tsp Baking Powder
300g Ground Almonds
50g Cocoa Powder

For the Candied Oranges
2 Blood Oranges
75g Caster Sugar
150ml Water

100g Dark Chocolate (I used a 71% one)

OK, so let's get started. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and grease/line the base of a 23cm springform tin. You can use an oil or butter for this, depending on your preference but just make sure it's well greased, especially if your tin is ridged at the bottom. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and the sugar until combined. Add in the zest of both of the oranges and the juice of one (You can eat the other!), then give it another whisk. Fold in the baking powder with 100g of the ground almonds. Follow that with the 50g of the cocoa, then finish by folding in the last 200g of ground almonds. Pour into your tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes, until a skewer can be removed from the centre of the cake easily, but slightly crumby. When you're happy remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 45 minutes or so.

Whilst the cake is cooling you can candy your oranges. Slice your oranges thinly, no more than a few mm thick and carefully place them in as large a saucepan as you have. Tip in the sugar, followed by the water and leave on a medium/high heat until boiling. Now the time for this will depend on your size of pan but you want to let that reduce significantly, occasionally and carefully turning the oranges over in the syrup. I think for me it took about 15 minutes. When the syrup has reduced to nearly nothing turn off the heat and leave to cool for about 30 minutes. 

To finish, carefully remove the warm cake from the tin. Arrange the syrupy slices of blood orange on top of the cake, overlapping slightly. Melt the 100g of chocolate in a bain-marie or microwave then using a small spoon, drizzle it all over the oranges. You don't have to use all of the chocolate, it's up to you!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

For Your Consideration - The Grenada Chocolate Company

The Grenada Chocolate Company is an award winning producer of high quality chocolate. Founded as a cooperative between organic cocoa farmers and artisan chocolate makers, it has been producing high quality chocolate since 1999 from its factory in the Grenadian rainforest. Made in small batches using unique processing methods, the cocoa used is grown naturally and locally, free from chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. 

So most importantly, how does it taste? Well to say I have been semi converted from Valrhona to this should be enough of an endorsement alone. The flavour is rich and deep, with a complexity you only really find in the best chocolate. Aside from the heady cocoa taste and a slightly bitter nip, there is a wonderful fruitiness that lingers in the mouth. The texture itself is also challenging to the point that it's hard to explain. It is initially firm, with a satisfying bite that yields to a velvety creaminess. I've always thought that proper chocolate should taste and feel like an organic, almost natural product and this definitely fits the bill. When used in cooking it doesn't disappoint, with the complex flavour lending itself brilliantly to a range of cakes and desserts, adding a dimension beyond that of lesser chocolate.

Grenada Chocolate Company chocolate is available in selected supermarkets and speciality shops. Despite being a small producer it's bars are big on flavour and texture, so if you haven't already you really should try and get hold of a bar or two yourself!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Easy Lemon Curd and Raspberry Cakes

Happy Valentines you soppy lot. To mark the occasion I thought I'd come up with something you can knock up for that special someone, even if you are a baking novice. Despite their simplicity these still are delicious, with understated lemon notes and a lovely little raspberry surprise.

Prep Time: 10 Mins
Baking Time: 20 Mins
150g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
150g Caster Sugar
150g Lemon Curd (Plus 100g to brush on at the end)
3 Medium Eggs
200g Self Raising Flour
12 Large Frozen Raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. Cream together the butter and the sugar, then add the 150g of lemon curd and do the same. Beat in the eggs one at a time, sift in the flour then vigorously mix it all together until you are left with a smooth light batter. Spoon equally into the lined muffin moulds, then take a frozen raspberry and push it into the middle, not quite to the bottom. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 20 minutes, until the mixture has risen, enveloping the raspberry and the tops have browned evenly.

Leave the cakes to cool in the tray for 30 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack. Stir the remaining lemon curd in a pan over a low heat, until it's melted and syrupy. Remove, then liberally brush the melted curd over each cake and leave to cool completely. You're all done!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Apple and Cider Cake

After recently watching a contestant on a popular TV food competition make an (admittedly rather terrible) apple cake, I was compelled to come up with something similar of my own. This apple cake uses still cider (which you should be able to get in most supermarkets) to help boost the flavour as well as give the cake a lovely syrupy moistness and I've not bothered with cinnamon or any spices. You can add some gentle spicing if you'd like but I think leaving it out lets the zingy freshness of the apples and cider come through beautifully. I've used Cox's apples but you can use whatever you'd prefer, although I'd avoid cooking apples.

Prep Time: 15 Mins
Baking Time: 90 Mins
200g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Light Muscovado Sugar (Plus 2tbsp)
4 Medium Eggs
160g Ground Almonds
200ml Still Cider
160g Plain Flour
150g Sultanas
4 Good sized Apples (Peeled and cored)

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease/line the base of a 23cm springform tin. Cream together the butter and sugar (not the 2tbsp!), taking care to make sure any lumps are beaten out. Mix in the the eggs one at a time then fold through the ground almonds. Pour in half the cider, give it a gentle mix, then do the same with the flour. Repeat for both until you are left with a smooth, fragrant batter. Take two of the apples, chop them into small cubes and toss them in with the sultanas. Mix it into your batter, gently but thoroughly, then spoon into your prepared tin. 

Slice the remaining apples thinly, then in a fresh bowl toss them around in the 2tbsp of sugar you have left over. Arrange them on top of the cake. You can make whatever pattern you like on top, as long as it's completely covered with sticky sweet sliced apple. Bake the cake in the centre of the over for around 90 minutes, by which time the top would have turned a light golden with a few apples just starting to catch and caramelise around the edges. Leave to cool completely in the tin, then carefully turn out onto a plate. Yum!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Lily Vanilli's Bleeding Hearts

I've been busy this week testing for others, so not had a chance to come up with a recipe myself. Will try to have something posted in the next few days (Probably involving chocolate), but to keep you lovely lot going in the meantime I thought I'd bring these devilish delights to your attention!

East London baking hero Lily Vanilli has brought her always popular 'Bleeding Hearts' back just in time for Valentines Day and I think they make a great alternative to the same old flowers and chocolates bought every year. Made with red velvet sponge, cream cheese icing and blackcurrant & cherry 'blood' they are beautifully macabre and disturbingly delicious, so if you're struggling for ideas this Valentines day, head over to their site and get an order in!

Friday, 3 February 2012

For Your Consideration - Naked Jam

There are so many great places and producers out there that don't get the credit or publicity they deserve, so I thought I'd start a feature highlighting some of the artisan food heroes I've been lucky enough to stumble across.

I wanted to start this off with something special and naked jam is definitely that. Founded by award winning jam and conserve champion Jennifer Williams, this small Hampshire company makes jams and conserves that are big on flavour and high in quality. Hand made in small batches, the fruits that are used are all locally sourced or foraged from the New Forest, which ensures each batch has its own unique character and flavour. This also means that her product range changes with the seasons and use fruits including blackberries and plums, crab apples, damsons and even bullaces. 

Despite using traditional methods and ingredients, the end products are exciting and innovative. I've just annihilated a jar of yellow damson and apricot brandy myself! You can find them on the breakfast tables of some of the best food hotels in Hampshire, as well select shops and boutiques. You can also buy direct (More information is on the website) and I would advise you do so at the next available opportunity. You have a Gentleman Baker guarantee that you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Date and Dark Muscovado Loaf

I think too often there's a tendency to reach for the spice rack when making fruit based cakes or loaves (I've been guilty of it myself), but sometimes it's nice to just let the main ingredients speak for themselves. This date loaf is a great example, as the sweet toffeeness of the dates marry well with the deep, almost liquorice flavour of the dark muscovado. If you can't resist then of course try adding some spicing, such as ginger or cinnamon. For now though I'll leave mine as it is!

Prep Time: 10 Mins (Plus an hour soaking time)
Baking Time: 60 Mins
375g Chopped Dried Dates (You should be able to buy them ready chopped)
200ml Boiling Water
100g Softened Butter (Plus extra for greasing)
175g Dark Muscovado Sugar
1 Large Egg (Beaten)
200g Self Raising Flour

Tip the dates out into a bowl then pour over the boiling water. Leave the soak for about an hour, stirring occasionally. You should end up with an unctuous infusion, that has the colour of toffee.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line the base of a 22cm loaf tin. Rub the sugar through your fingers into a large bowl, which should help get rid of any lumps, then add in the butter and briskly cream together. Tip in the egg, followed by the date mixture and beat until combined. Sift in the flour, mix it all up to a consistent batter then spoon into the prepared tin. Bake in the oven for around 60 minutes, until a metal skewer can be removed cleanly from the centre. It's worth checking after 45 minutes and if it's brown enough on top, you can cover it with some foil. Take the loaf out, but leave in the tin for half an hour, then remove and leave to finish cooling on a wire rack. You can enjoy this one on it's own or sliced and spread with something delicious!