Saturday, September 29, 2012

Strawberry Cake

So there was no Wednesday baking day this week folks. I got sidetracked at the office and then at Fresher's Fair and before I knew it the day was gone. Poof. Just like that. I hate it when that happens. And it's been an awful week so I didn't have the opportunity or will to bake anything until today. But I wanted to make something to celebrate the newest arrival to my family - my niece Lilly.

It so happens that my cousins and I grew up together, rather like peas in a pod. The first six of us were all born within seven years of each other. We spent all our summers together - running amok on the farm and getting up to mischief. My father shakes his head now when we tell him all the stories from back then. And let's not pretend it was all totally idyllic - our alliances changed with each passing year and there were feuds and disputes and tears. But we had a lot of fun and many many adventures which we look back on quite fondly these days. I don't think many people have cousins that they grew up with so closely and continue to be friends with. That's the thing about my cousins, we continue to be friends today. And whilst our lives have led us in opposite directions, to live in many different places on earth, when we get together we still have loads to talk about. I just wish we could do so more often.

So this is a cake for Lilly. She is my cousin's child but I see her as my niece. And as the first of my grandfather's great grandchildren I'm sure she'll be plenty spoilt and slightly overwhelmed at the madness of my family. Welcome to the world Lilly!  

This is a pink cake made with pureed strawberries that I had in the freezer. I know I'm breaking all the rules about not gender stereotyping girls into pink but this also happens to be a last ode to summer cake so I feel it's okay. It's frosted with strawberry cream cheese icing which adds to the richness of the cake. I thought the actual cake would be pinker than it turned out to be so I guess you could add in some food colouring if you wanted a very pink cake. I baked 6 cupcakes and a 2 layer cake from the recipe. You're supposed to make a three layer cake but I wanted some cupcakes to take to London tomorrow (I'm going to visit the Princess) so I adjusted the recipe slightly.

Strawberry Cake
Adapted from I made that! 
For the Cake:
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup yoghurt
1/4 cup sunflower oil
120g unsalted butter, soft
1 1/2 cups golden caster sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pureed strawberries
zest of one lemon plus juice of half
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Frosting:
450g cream cheese
170g butter
1 cup icing sugar
6 tbsp strawberry jam
1 tsp vanilla
juice of half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C and line either 3 sandwich pans/1 springform pan/muffin tin (makes about 18 cupcakes).
Beat the butter, lemon zest and sugar together until it looks paste like - you don't need to beat the mixture white.

Add in the eggs and now beat until the mixture is white and fluffy.

In a separate bowl sift the flour, bicarb and salt.
Whisk the yoghurt and oil into the egg mixture. Fold in the flour in two parts.
Lastly add in the strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla, folding everything together.

Place the mixture into the tin you've selected and, if making the cake, smooth it down with the back of a spoon so that it is even.

Bake for: 1/2 hour (springform cake), 20 minutes (sandwich pans), 15 minutes (cupcakes). Obviously this will differ according to your oven, these are just a guide. When done the cake will spring back when touched and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin(s) before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the rest of the ingredients and beat until fluffy and thick. Use generously.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple and Blackberry Muffins

So! I am back online everyone! A further call to IT this morning has seen me sorted out, finally, after a rather frustrating week. I've been dashing to the library and my office in between all the other things I've been doing when I've needed to open attachments to emails. There's nothing quite like trying to understand an excel document on a Blackberry.

I figured I'd start out with the post I had planned for Sunday. Sometimes over the weekend I like to spend a little more time making breakfast. Usually it's coffee and oats for me but some Sundays I get up and want bacon and eggs or, as was the case this Sunday, a lovely straight-from-the-oven carbohydrate. These are from a Marie Claire cookbook called Cuisine which I found in a bookstore last week. It's basically a collection of all the best recipes of the Marie Claire series. I got rather excited about it because I happen to love the Marie Claire books (I have a rather ridiculous number of them and they were amongst the first recipe books I started to buy) but mine are all in Joburg. Their recipes tend to be easy and quick and are great inspiration when you're stuck for dinner. They also generally have wicked breakfast recipes.

These particular muffins are made with oil so it doesn't matter if you don't have butter at room temperature (the curse of trying to do something quickly I find) and you only need two bowls. Okay, maybe three. The original recipe called for blueberries but I had a punnet of blackberries that needed using so I changed that. I also used more wholewheat flour as I'd run out of plain flour. You can either do all plain or half and half as I've written here.  As usual I used golden caster sugar.

Apple and Blackberry Muffins
Adapted from Marie Claire Cuisine
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 green apple, 1/2 grated, 1/2 sliced
3/4 cup milk
150g blackberries
125g plain flour
125g wholemeal flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tray with cases.
In a bowl whisk together the eggs, honey, sugar and oil until combined. Add in the grated apple and milk.

 In a separate bowl, crush the blackberries lightly with the back of a fork, just so they're slightly broken up and not in large pieces.

 Add the blackberries to the egg mixture and give everything a good stir.

 In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Fold half the dry mixture into the egg mixture and combine. Then fold in the rest of the dry ingredients.

Spoon into muffin cases. Top with apple slices and a sprinkle of golden caster sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the tops are golden and a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack. The original recipe says it makes 6 but mine made 12 so I did half without apple on top. These muffins don't really keep as the apple baked on top goes soggy so you need to eat them the day they're baked, preferably whilst they're still warm.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Cookies

So I found this HBO documentary called The Weight of the Nation and I started to watch it last night - for work and stuff - and I got terribly depressed. It's all about the obesity crisis and how we (well, Americans anyway) are getting fat and how basically we need to eat only fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. And I thought, dear god, what am I doing? Writing a blog about cake and cookies and all that stuff that makes you fat. And I'm sharing it. I'm a bad bad person. I got terribly sad at the idea that maybe what I do is wrong on very many levels. Then obviously, I pulled myself towards myself and said, hey. There's no high fructose corn syrup in my baking. Or stabilisers. Or preservatives. Or e-numbers. This is the good stuff. Pure. Simple. Butter. And I was reminded of dear Julia (Child - for those of you who may need clarification) and chef Garth (who taught me almost everything I know) who said something along the lines of 'no butter no taste'. So I recovered from the guilt I felt over supplying you with recipes that, used and eaten to excess, will make you fat but really just make the day better, and made you these totally extravagant, over the top cookies. (For the record I planned to make these cookies before I saw the documentary and not because of it. This isn't a fit of rebellion or anything.)

This recipe comes from Baked Elements. If you're a New Yorker, (which as we know, I am not, but sometimes, on some days, do wish to be) you'll probably have heard about this bakery. It's in Brooklyn and it makes the most amazing cakes. It's very American - there are some cakes in this book that scare me on a level - like the Oopsy Daisy cake (buy the book and look it up!). Baked Elements is all their favourite ingredients divided into chapters. So there's cinnamon and chocolate and cheese. There's also peanut butter and lemon/lime. There's no chapter on coconut which is how I knew we were going to be friends. I (coincidentally) have the original book in my Amazon basket, waiting for pay day.  But this is the book I bought at Books for Cooks when I was in London on Saturday. It had a recipe for spice cake which swung the vote (the Princess was voting - you can read about her spice cake obsession here). So I figured for Wednesday baking day, I'd try something out of this new addition.

I started this recipe on Tuesday evening because there's a fair amount of chilling involved. Basically you make the dough, chill it, roll it out, chill it, fill it and roll it up and then chill it again before slicing and baking. You need to find something to do in all the chilling hours (mostly about 3 at a time but up to 24). I read, went for a swim and watched more of the HBO doc. The original recipe uses smooth peanut butter but I only ever have crunchy so I used that. I also used sunflower oil (and not the recommended canola), only 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, golden caster sugar instead of granulated sugar, only 300g of the dark chocolate and golden syrup (not corn syrup, whatever that is). I think my cookies are pretty winning personally. Particularly since the rolling up bit is slightly technical and I was worried that I'd made a mess of things. I didn't!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Cookies
Adapted from Baked Elements
For the dough:
2 1/4 cups plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
170g butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter*
1 egg plus 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
300g dark chocolate (70%)
1 tsp golden syrup
This makes about 21 cookies per log.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt and set aside.

Beat together the butter, sugars, oil and peanut butter until creamy and light. This takes a fair while. Scrape down the sides and then add in the egg, yolk and vanilla. Beat everything until combined.

Add in half the flour mixture and stir in gently. I did this by hand so as not to over-mix things. Add in the last of the flour, stirring until just combined.

Divide the dough in half and place each piece on a lightly floured piece of baking paper. Flatten it down into a disc of sorts and then fold the paper up around the dough so it's completely covered. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate overnight (or for at least three hours). The flatter your disc is now, the easier it will be to roll it out in the morning.

In the morning take the first piece from the fridge, unwrap it and roll it into a rectangle (keeping it on a piece of baking paper) until it is about 1/2cm thick and roughly 25cm by 15cm. (I didn't actually measure it when I rolled it out but that seems about right). Mine also weren't very rectangle-ly (as you can see in the photos below).

Return the rectangles to the fridge for another chill session whilst you make the filling.
For the filling melt the chocolate and syrup in the microwave, heating it in 30 seconds spurts and allowing it to rest slightly between zaps. (You can also do this on a double boiler). Stir to combine. Allow it to cool for about 15 minutes.

Remove one of the rectangles from the fridge and, using a pastry brush, smear it with chocolate, leaving a 1cm gap at the top of a long side. You can be quite generous with the chocolate which will start to harden as you brush.

Using the baking paper, roll up the rectangle into a log. I turned the first edge over by hand and then used the paper to roll up the rest. Wrap it tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate again for three hours. Do the same with the second rectangle. I put one log in the freezer to use at a later date (I don't need that many cookies all at once).

When your three hours is up and the log is quite hard, preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Undo the log from all it's wrapping and slice it into 1 and 1/2 cm slices, using a hot knife. If the cookies fall apart (a few of mine did, especially the ends), just squish them back together with your hands.

 Bake evenly spaced for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned and you can move them along the tray with your thumb. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes on the trays and then transfer to cool completely on wire racks. Eat.      

*I use organic peanut butter with no added sugar or salt. It's blended with the peanut husks still on so it's a lot darker than regular peanut butter. It is also amazing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Apple and Blackberry Cobbler

It's apple and blackberry season here. And figs. Everywhere I've been recently has had blackberries and figs at ridiculous prices. And by ridiculous I mean super super cheap. The magazines are all writing about autumn, (winter is coming) and apple and blackberry combinations seem to be the thing to do. Obviously I don't want to be out of the loop so I made this for dessert on Sunday evening. It's great served with cream but possibly even better cold, for breakfast, with yogurt. The key is to have a large percentage as blackberries and a fair amount of cobbler. I mean seriously, one needs carbohydrates with ones fruit in take no?

Apple and Blackberry Cobbler
Adapted from Happy Days with the Naked Chef
1/2 large cooking apple
1 punnet blackberries
zest and juice of one lime
1 tbsp caster sugar
45g butter, unsalted, cold
110g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
35g golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180C. Core and halve the apple. Then peel it and cut the half you're using into chunks. If you've got a regular sized apple, use the whole thing.

Place the apple into a two serving baking dish and cover with blackberries, sugar (1tbsp) and lime zest. Place into the warming oven and allow to cook slowly for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl place the flour, baking powder and butter. Rub the butter into the flour until it starts to look like breadcrumbs.

Add in the caster sugar, salt, lime juice and yoghurt and stir until it starts to come together. Bring it together with your hands.
Remove the fruit from the oven and dollop the cobbler mixture over the fruit.

Return to the oven and cook until the cobbler is brown and the fruit is bubbling away underneath - about 20 minutes.

Eat hot with cream. This makes enough for two generous portions or three normal sized ones.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adventures in London with the Princess

Yesterday, on a whim of fancy, I went to London to visit the Princess. The Princess would like a new series of posts on our adventures together to be featured here so I thought I'd indulge her fancy and tell you about it. I couldn't face any more days of partial work so I took the most extreme option available and just left everything. What is lovely about the Princess being in London is that it reminds me of how much I love it there. Sometimes London can get a little overwhelming and you become resistant to it's charms. It becomes just another place where you need to get stuff done. What's great about going about the city with someone who is unfamiliar with it, is that they remind you of just how great a city London is.

Yesterday we met in St Pancras, where my train arrives, and hopped on the circle line to Notting Hill Gate. From there we wandered, with what felt like the entire tourist population of London, down Portobello Road. I love all the antiques there as well as the food market at the other end. We went into Books for Cooks (yes, I bought something) and had brunch at Gail's Bread.

We bought cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery. Afterwards we lay down for a long while in Kensington Gardens and people watched and read. It was a beautiful day yesterday so there were many people in the park - having picnics, suntanning, roller blading. It was bliss. Once we'd had our share of the park we wandered down Gloucester Road in search of Slightly Foxed, a bookshop (where I spent another small fortune). On our way back up we passed someone who may or may not have been Chris Hemsworth. After much consultation, we're still not sure. Can you imagine if it was?! We ended our day by going to see Lawless and had another bizarre experience in that we walked into the theatre as the 2pm show was finishing. No one stopped us en route so we ended up a) being very confused and b) seeing the end of the film first. As days in London go, this one wasn't bad.