Sunday, 29 March 2009

Gina's Fudge Brownies

When I want to make something that's quick and chocolatey, I usually fall back on chocolate brownies. The best brownies I've ever had were made by an American friend. I've adapted the recipe she gave me slightly, but I have to say although mine are usually dense and delicious, they have never been quite as fudgy as Gina's - I blame my oven!

This is what I do
  • Melt 2oz butter, 100g bar 85% chocolate and 6oz muscovado sugar in a large saucepan.
  • Take off the heat to cool slightly.
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs and ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Stir in 2½ oz wholemeal flour and ¼ tsp salt
  • Chop 2oz walnuts and add these to the mixture
  • Bake in a greased 8-inch square tin for about 20 mins at 175°C.
  • Cool then cut into 16 pieces
As a cinnamon fan, I often substitute 1 tsp ground cinnamon for the vanilla extract.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Chocolate Marsala Cake

Another birthday, another new cake.  This one, from Nigella, has been calling to me for years, but it's only now that I have finally got around to it and then made two in two days.  I didn't think I was going to get a chance to try this one, so cunningily, I made a trial version without the icing so we could get to see what it was like.  Am I glad I did!

Oh the joy - when I looked at the details no creaming was asked of me.  I didn't have to agonise over "ought I to try it really?" and "does it actually make a difference?".

This is what I did 1st time around:
  • Melted 100g butter with 100g 85% dark chocolate
  • Whisked 4 duck eggs with 175g brown sugar until thick and mousy
  • Folded in 50g white spelt flour + 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Folded in the cooled chocolate mixture
  • Poured into 22 cm round cake tin and baked in a preheated oven, 180°C (gas 4) for 30 mins.
  • Cooled on rack for 5 mins
  • Spooned 9 tsp of Marsala over as much cake as possible & left to cool in tin
We had ours with clotted cream - having no ganache was our excuse!  Even the clotted cream, however, couldn't disguise the rubbery texture of this cake.  So, for the actual birthday cake I used the same ingredients, but used the creaming method instead of the whisking one. Then made the following icing.
  • Melted 100g 70% dark chocolate with 100ml double cream and 1 tbsp Marsala
  • Whisked until thick enough to use as icing
  • Poured this over cooled cake.
This worked much better, the cake rose well and (I did get to try a piece after all) the texture was much cakier.  The ganache was really good, but I have to say I found the cake disappointing - maybe I overcooked it a little, it was rather dry.

Let me know if anyone has success with the first method - and then invite me over for tea please!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Chocolate & Almond Cake

Mother's Day! Another opportunity to try out a new cake. A friend had posted a comment a few weeks ago giving a recipe for a flourless and what looked to be a rather rich and delicious cake which had come via way of her aunt. I have to say I was rather looking forward to giving this one a go.

When I'd first noted the recipe I assumed it would be dead easy as there were only 5 ingredients involved. Unfortunately for me, I didn't look at the method that closely and with only a couple of hours to go before having to leave with the finished cake, I realised that the "wretched" creaming method was involved again. Given that this was to be a special cake I thought I'd better do it just so. Faced with a lump of rock hard butter, I proceeded to do some serious 'working out' - my arm ached during and after the whole procedure. I think it all paid off in the end, because it was a truly delicious cake - rich, chocolatey and smooth textured. Voted by the foreman of the jury as the best so far. In fact, it would make a great pudding served with clotted cream.

This is what I did:
  • Melted 200g dark chocolate (100g 70% +100g 85%) in a bowl over hot water.
  • Creamed 200g of unsalted butter with 150g light muscovado sugar (the less said about this the better).
  • Mixed in 4 egg yolks and 200g ground almonds.
  • Added chocolate.
  • Beat egg whites with a 1/4 tsp salt until firm then fold into the cake mixture.
  • Spooned into 23cm round tin and baked at 170°C (gas 3/4) for 40 mins.
  • When cool, turned out and dusted top with cocoa powder

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Molten Lava Puds

A friend has asked me to put this recipe on the blog.  It came to me a couple of years or so ago via one of my aunts and is so brilliant that it has subsequently become one of my old faithfuls.  As well as being particularly moreish, it's easy to make and great for dinner parties as most of the work can be done well in advance.  It's rich and chocolaty on the outside and wonderfully chocolaty and molten in the middle.

Here's how (sort of as I can't quite remember the actual quantities I use so have resorted to taking them straight from the recipe as given):
  • Melt 170g good quality dark chocolate with 170g butter
  • Whisk together 3 eggs, 160g sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Add 40g sifted flour, stirring until mixed.
  • Stir in chocolate mixture again until thoroughly mixed.
  • Cover the batter and leave overnight in the fridge (or at least 2 hours)
  • Scoop mixture into 6 greased ramekins
  • Bake at 175°C (gas 4) for about 15 mins or until the puds have risen but still soft to the touch.
  • Extra yummy if served with raspberries and cream.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes

A year or two ago, I had a phase of making cupcakes.  I'd never made them before and they really won me over. I made burnt butter cupcakes, cappuccino cupcakes, lavender cupcakes, banana & white chocolate cupcakes, espresso cupcakes, chocolate and cherry cupcakes and lemon drizzle cupcakes, but I never made straightforward chocolate cupcakes.  A friend's birthday this week provided the opportunity and I made some very chocolatey cupcakes from a recipe in Divine.

Because these were birthday cakes and because I got such good results from exhaustively creaming the butter and sugar last week, I grabbed my spoon, shrugged my shoulders and used this method again.  Also because I was so impressed with the sour cream icing used last week, I used this one again rather than the one given in the recipe.

Here is what I did:
  • Remembered to get the butter (200g unsalted) out early in the morning and put it over the heater to soften.
  • Melted 200g dark chocolate (used 1 bar 70% and 1 bar 85%) in a bowl over hot water.
  • Creamed the butter with 200g soft brown sugar for ages until it was really light.
  • Then stirred in 4 eggs alternately with 200g flour (4oz wholemeal, 4oz white spelt) + 1 heaped tsp baking powder.
  • Stirred in 1/2 pot of sour cream and then the melted chocolate.
  • Tried to spoon mixture into 12 cup cake cases - big mistake!  The recipe stated that this made 12 cup cakes.  I had my suspicions about this and I was right - this is a recipe for 24 not 12, so the paper cases ended up being overfilled which then made it difficult to ice them and I still had some mixture left over.
  • Baked these for 17 mins at 180°C.
  • Melted another bar of 70% chocolate and stirred in the rest of the sour cream.
  • Spread this as best I could over the cooled cup cakes.
  • Decorated each with a sugar flour.
These looked pretty and tasted good, but I don't think the creaming paid off this time and next time I make them I shall try my normal melting butter, sugar and chocolate method.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Sour Cream and Chocolate Cake

This recipe came from an American friend who was so impressed with the cake she'd had in Port Townsend WA  that she asked the chef for the recipe.  He duly sent it to her and having read my blog, she subsequently passed it on to me. It sounded really interesting with its use of sour cream and vinegar -neither of which I'd ever used in cake baking before.

I didn't want to make quite such a large cake and also had to work out American conversions, so my measurements are actually rather different to the original recipe.

As the original chef emphasised the importance of creaming the butter and sugar in this recipe, I tried to overcome my reluctance and give my least preferred method of cake making a go (deep sigh).  I do this from time to time to see if it really does make that much of a difference.  To be honest, I'm not convinced that it's really worth the effort involved.  True, if the butter is nice and soft, it isn't really that much work, it's just the butter always seems to be rock hard, either because our house is so cold there is no where to warm it up, or I fail to get it out of the fridge early enough to soften it!
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 8 oz soft brown cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 duck eggs
  • 6 oz plain flour (I used 4 oz wholemeal + 2 oz gluten free flour)
  • 2 oz cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 4 fl oz warm water
  • 6 fl oz sour cream
  • 4 oz 70% dark chocolate
  • 4 oz sour cream
Sieved dry ingredients.  Creamed (and creamed and creamed) the butter, sugar and salt.  Added the eggs 1 by one alternately with the flour & cocoa mix.  Then added the vanilla, vinegar and water alternately with the remainder of the flour.  Finally stirred in the sour cream.  Spooned this into a 9 inch (23 cm) round cake pan and baked for 35 mins at 180°C.  Put cake to cool on a wire rack and then made the icing.  Melted the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, allowed to cool a little and then stirred in sour cream.  Spooned this immediately onto cooled cake and decorated with Minstrels (thought contrasting coloured sugar flowers would have been better here, but didn't have any).

I have to say I am very impressed with this cake.  Maybe all that creaming paid off after all (oh no!) - the cake was both moist and light as well as tasting great.  The sour cream icing was fantastic, not sweet but highly flavoursome - a good foil for the cake.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Ingredients are the Key

I'm probably kidding myself, but I like to think my baking is actively good for folk as well as tasting pretty damn good. Good quality ingredients are crucial for making tasty and nutritious fare. With this in mind I try to use certified organic ingredients where possible, although locally sourced and fairly traded are also important.

Unrefined and as near to natural as possible is also something I try to adhere to.
  • Flour, being a key ingredient to most cakes and puddings, I feel it's really important to try and use a high quality flour. Spelt is an old fashioned wheat that many wheat intolerant sufferers can consume without any adverse side effects. Stone ground flour is also a healthier choice as the grain does not get heated as much as is the case with steel rollers. Heating destroys enzymes and vitamins and hastens the process of rancidity. I get my ordinary wholemeal flour from Cotehele, a local watermill where the flour is organic and traditionally milled. My wholemeal Spelt is from the Bacheldre Watermill and is certified by the Soil Association.
  • When it comes to salt, I normally use grey Breton sea salt as this has a lot of additional minerals. However, this is too coarse for cakes, so if I use any salt at all, I generally use fine pink salt from the Himalyas. Yes, yes, I know this is not very local, but using this a pinch at a time on an occasional basis means a 250g pot lasts for years.
  • Sugar is the easiest and cheapest ingredient used to sweeten cakes and puddings as well as adding bulk. It is, of course, hard to argue that sugar is good for you, so I won't try. There are alternatives and I do use them occasionally, but I do tend to use sugar or Rapadura for the most part. I do ensure the sugar I use is cane sugar, which is meant to be marginally less destructive. I also use Rapadura some of the time (and would use it all of the time if it wasn't quite so expensive). Rapadura is cane juice that is dried naturally and is purportedly rich in minerals, especially silica.
  • Dairy - I am a big fan of dairy, partly because I love it and partly because I believe, if produced well and not eaten to excess, it is very good for you. Butter and milk produced by organic pasture fed animals have high levels of vitamins A, D, K and E as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Unpasteurised milk, also referred to as raw milk, is the healthiest way to take it (assuming of course the milk is from a clean herd that is not infected with TB). Pasteurisation destroys the milk enzymes that help the body to absorb nutrients, including calcium as well as the lactic-acid which helps protect against pathogens. I haven't yet found a local source of organic raw milk, but I shall keep trying.
  • Eggs that are organic and free range with access to fresh green grass are hard to find. Luckily there are a few local small scale suppliers in this area and I don't (touch wood) have a problem. A deep yellow yolk is a good sign that chickens have been pasture fed and these eggs will be rich in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • And of course there is Chocolate! The good news is that organic, dark, unprocessed chocolate is actively good for you. The bad news is that it is hard to find and of course very expensive. Epicatechin, a flavonoid is removed from commercial cocoa as it has a bitter taste. Of course it is this very element which is so good for you. Dutching is also a process used by most commercial cocoa manufacturers which neutralises the acids in the cocoa nibs thereby destroying chocolate's natural polyphenols. Roasting cocoa beans at a high temperature also destroys the antioxidants they contain. In an ideal world, you would be looking for chocolate that:
  1. Has not been "dutched" or alkalised
  2. Has been dried and cool pressed rather than roasted
  3. Contains at least 70% cocoa
  4. Is organic
  5. Contains cocoa butter rather than hydrogenated oils
  6. Contains raw-cane sugar or other natural sweeteners rather than refined sugar.
Unfortunately my world is far from ideal! I did manage to find unprocessed cocoa powder on a trip to Totnes a few months ago, but I've long since run out of that. In general I try to use certified organic chocolate that is 70% or quite often now 85% cocoa, although I do also use chocolate that is fairly traded but not organic.

Graham Harvey's highly readable book We want Real Food gives an in depth view on the dangers of overly processed foods, to ourselves and to our environment, and the benefits of a more natural diet.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Ginger and Chocolate Chunk Cake

Having said I'm not a great fan of chocolate chip cakes, I've just gone and made another one! The sun has been shining today and given that we haven't had much in the way of blue skies recently, I didn't feel like spending hours in the kitchen. Humm - what to make where speed is of the essence? I very quickly decided to have a go at the Stem Ginger and Chocolate Chunk Cake recipe from Linda Collister's Divine. Being a big fan of ginger, it was this ingredient that sold it to me. Of course I didn't have any stem ginger, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.

Here is what I did:

Melted 3oz unsalted butter with 2oz muscovado sugar, 2 tbsp honey and 2 tbsp treacle in a large pan. Into this I mixed 8oz wholemeal flour, large pinch of salt, 1 tsp bicarb of soda, 1 large egg and 100ml milk. Lastly I stirred in 3oz of crystallised ginger - roughly chopped and 100g of milk chocolate (Green & Black's is a good one) also roughly chopped. Poured this into a 2lb greased loaf tin and baked for 40 mins at 180°C.

I wasn't disappointed. The house smelt wonderfully of honey - as did the cake. The cake was moist, had a good texture and tasted great.


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