Friday, March 23, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Cake

You know that day when you can't focus or concentrate and your work looms large in the foreground but cannot be attempted because you can't sit still enough to read a sentence? I had that day on Wednesday. I know from experience that the restlessness will pass and I'll recover and the work will get done but it doesn't make it any easier to have a no-concentrating day. I figured that baking a cake might help. I needed to take something in to class yesterday anyway so I thought this would be the perfect solution. How wrong I was.

I ran out of cocoa powder and had to use real chocolate instead.

The cake took ages to bake.

It had to be saved from burning with some swifty tin foil action.

I ran out of butter during the icing process and had to resort to using butter spread in the icing.

Because I ran out of butter in the icing process I improvised the icing. I'm still not sure that was a good idea.

The cake fell apart when I sliced it into thirds and had to be assembled in it's tin so that it could be supported. (And patched back together).

Phew. I mean seriously. Enough drama for one cake already.

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Frosting
Adapted from Feast and The Primrose Bakery Book
170g soft butter
200g caster sugar
2 eggs
some vanilla
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb
10g cocoa
100g chocolate, melted
150g sour cream

 Preheat the oven to 180C and line either a springform cake tin or 2 sandwich tins.
Cream together the butter and sugar until bright white and fluffy.

Mix the eggs with the vanilla and beat into the butter.
Weigh out the dry ingredients, give them a stir and then add them to the mixture followed by the sour cream and finally, the chocolate. Make sure everything is well mixed.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth with a palette knife.

Bake for between 45 minutes and 1 hour. This depends on the tins you're using, your oven etc.

The cake will pull away from the sides and a skewer inserted will come out clean when the cake is done.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely before icing.

Caramel Icing
130g double cream
170g soft brown sugar
150g caster sugar
170g butter
360g icing sugar
1 tbsp hot water

In a saucepan put the cream, brown sugar and caster sugar.

Bring to the boil and boil for about one minute. The caramel should be reasonably dark. Whilst the caramel is still hot, add in half the icing sugar.

Beat well. Allow this to cool. The mixture will have the texture of tablet (or grainy fudge). Remove the caramel from the pan and place in a mixing bowl. Break it up gently with your hands. To this add in the butter and the rest of the icing sugar.

Beat until smooth and creamy and lighter in colour. I added in a tablespoon of hot water right at the end just to bring everything together but you may not need it.

To assemble
Slice the chocolate cake into thirds. Place the springform ring, closed, onto the plate you're going to serve the cake on. Place the base piece of cake inside. Ice, using a palette knife to smooth the icing. Repeat with the second and third layers. When icing the top layer use less icing as the cake goes into the fridge so the icing sets and then you ice a final layer. This first icing layer is known as the crumb layer.

Once your cake has been resting in the fridge for a half hour you can ice the final layer. To serve, unlatch the ring and slide it off the cake.    

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Red Cabbage

At the farmer's market on Saturday I picked up a small red cabbage. I had a sudden craving for red cabbage with apples. I turned to Nigella's tome of wisdom, Feast and came up with this. It cooks very slowly, over the lowest heat possible and over the course of the afternoon it transforms into something wonderful. It is a good accompaniment to pork, on a spring-feeling evening.

Red Cabbage with Apples
Adapted from Feast
2 shallots
1 red cabbage (mine was small)
1 Bramley apple (or cooking apple of your choice)
1 half bottle of red wine
some brown sugar
ground cinnamon
ground ginger
1 clove

Slice the shallots finely and, in a heavy bottomed pan, fry until translucent in a combination of butter, oil and salt. Chiffonnade the cabbage and add to the shallot, stirring to combine. Peel and chop the apple into square-ish pieces. Pour the wine into the cabbage followed by the sugar and spices. I didn't measure any of these but sprinkled and grated until I was sure there was enough. You can always add more towards the end of the process. Finally add in the apple. Give everything a good stir, then turn down the heat and cover. Cook for two hours, stirring on occasion and making sure the pan doesn't run dry. Add some water if you're worried. Eat with pork.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday Farmer's Market

On Saturday I ventured out to a one off market at Sutton Bonnington. They normally have their markets on the first Wednesday of the month - you can see the pictures from earlier in March here but there was an extra one on Saturday. We arrived as the market was starting up and left just before the crowds. Excellent timing in my opinion. There were some new stalls - we sampled beetroot brownies and contemplated mouthwatering cakes. Eventually we bought veggies, I got some eggs and a bag of onion pakoras that I cannot get out of my mind, they were so good. I bought less than I normally would have, mainly because I'm trying to empty my fridge before I go traveling in a week's time but I was sorely tempted by a variety of things - bread, brownies, cake, olives, hot sauce, meat, scotch eggs, chocolate and honey. Next time I'll be able to stock up properly.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Banana Bread

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all your bananas will ripen at once. My apologies to Ms Austen but that is the truth. (I've been having a forgotten love affair with the BBC Pride and Prejudice this week and it's made me all giddy.) I will stop now. I found myself with ripened bananas this week and whilst I love a banana as much as the next person, there's only so many one person can eat. Banana bread is the obvious choice and the thought of warm bread with a smear of butter finally won me over yesterday, which was particularly dreary and bleak. For some reason banana bread reminds me of the sun. Perhaps it is the warm glow the bread gives off? Or perhaps I have memories of eating it in the sun. Who knows. It's comforting, filling and the perfect weekend breakfast.

I was surprised then to find that of my 6 cookbooks, only one has an actual banana bread recipe - and even then it had chocolate chips in it. They all had variations on banana cake but I wanted a loaf without extras. So I did some adapting from The Primrose Bakery Book and came up with this. I used two different types of sugars, left out the chocolate chips and added in some cinnamon and sour cream.

Banana Bread
Adapted from The Primrose Bakery Book
125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
some vanilla
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 ripe bananas
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sour cream/buttermilk/crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a loaf tin with some baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.

Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. I normally beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl before adding them to the butter mixture - mainly so that I don't chase egg yolks around the bowl for ages.

Add in the flour and baking powder and beat again. The mixture will be quite stiff.

In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with the cinnamon and sour cream.

Add this to the mixture and beat again until everything is incorporated.
Pour the batter into the loaf tin, smoothing it with a spatula.

Bake for about 55 minutes until the loaf is risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean. If it starts to get too dark on top cover the tin loosely with foil - something I failed to do this time.

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out and eating with liberal amounts of butter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chocolate Apricot Oat Bars

 I've had some dried apricots in the cupboard for a while now. Okay okay, months really. I bought them in a fit of healthy eating, promptly got over it and they've been squandering at the back of the cupboard, just out of eyesight. I toyed with the idea of making apricot and pecan granola bars but then I ate all the pecans as a snack instead. So this is the compromise - oats, apricots and chocolate. They mesh surprisingly well. The chocolate is dark and bitter, the oats adds texture and every now and then is an apricot piece full of sweetness. I originally thought these were going to be granola bars but they turned out more like British flapjacks (flapjacks in South Africa being something else entirely). I'm cool with that. They are insanely sweet - there's golden syrup, black treacle and brown sugar in here. But they seem kind of healthy too - mostly because of the oats I think. Don't kid yourself, these are not guilt free bars. But they are a super afternoon snack with tea, an after dinner sweet treat or perhaps, if you like your chocolate early, a breakfast. They'll kick you into high gear for sure.

The basis of this recipe comes Tea with Bea which I've spoken about before here and here if you don't remember. Bea makes proper granola bars full of coconut, peanuts, almonds and other healthy things. I used the sugars, butter and oats quantities and made up the rest. It worked out surprisingly well - even if I didn't make what I thought I was going too...

Chocolate Apricot Oat Bars
Adapted from Tea with Bea
125g butter
250g plus 1 tbsp brown sugar
100g golden syrup
100g black treacle
50g honey
some vanilla
300g oats
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
135g dried apricots, roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 160C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. 
Place the butter, golden syrup, black treacle, honey, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan and heat until the butter melts.

 Put the oats, baking powder, flour and apricots into a bowl and mix so that the apricots are coated in flour.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the bowl because the flour has a nasty habit of hiding out down there and reappearing as you're trying to squish everything into the baking tray.

Finally add in the chopped chocolate. Because the mixture is warm the chocolate will melt slightly so don't be alarmed when this happens. You'll still have larger pieces of chocolate that will survive the heat. Press the mixture into the baking tray using the back of a spoon or the back of your hand. Squish it right into the corners.

 Bake for about 35-40 minutes, depending on your oven. The mixture will rise but it'll still be quite soft on the bottom.

Allow to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before slicing into pieces.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Double Chocolate Cookies

One of the blogs I read avidly is Orangette. I'm fairly sure that everyone who is interested in food reads this blog. If you haven't, here is the link. Molly writes in an accessible, friendly way and is knowledgeable on a whole host of things. Her pictures are also wonderful and more unusual than regular food blogs. She blogged about these cookies a while ago and when I'd read the post I just knew that these cookies were in my future. She advises making the dough at least a day before you want to bake it and I now know why. When I made the mixture I was incredibly skeptical that it would actually turn into cookies. So skeptical in fact that I re-read the instructions and ingredient amounts just in case I'd left out any flour or anything. But I hadn't, I'd made it according to instructions. I decided to take a leap of faith and after reading Molly's advice about the dough being easier to handle after being in the fridge I decided I couldn't loose anything by continuing as instructed. People will eat cookie dough mess right?

So I rolled the dough into 4 little logs, dolloping it onto the clingfilm with my spatula, not getting the hands involved at all. The dough had the consistency of an extremely thick cake batter and was very sticky. There wasn't much to do except roll them carefully into logs and leave them in the fridge. (Upon re-consulting the blog I discovered that they were originally made as drop cookies which makes sense when you first see the batter.) The next morning I had slice-able logs. A miracle! I rolled the logs in granulated sugar and sliced them into rounds. I even sprinkled them with a little salt. Baking took about 10 minutes and then the cookies had to cool on a tray. The result was an intensely chocolatey, soft-in-the-centre cookie that was the perfect mid-afternoon slump fix. The salt sharpens the taste of the chocolate. You can find the recipe here. I made them as per Molly's recipe and didn't do anything different. I even beat the butter to white with my newly bought hand mixer. (I was rather excited about it at the time!)