There’s nothing like a great big gorgeous gooey chocolate brownie. Just pure decadence. I was off work for three days last week due to the snow and by last Friday afternoon I had cabin fever. Now if you’re a baking addict like me you begin to think of what you can bake, never mind cooking the tea. I was thinking I might have to get my breadmaker out but thankfully we had enough to keep us going.
A couple of weeks back I bought Martha Collison’s second recipe book “Crave” and ended up craving things after looking through the recipes. One of her recipes for Pecan Praline Brownies including some homemade pecan praline to add to the mixture.
I had a packet of Vahine Pralines Concassees which I had bought from a Carrefour Supermarket when on holiday in France last year. I didn’t know what I would use them for until I saw the recipe for the Praline Brownies. Instead of making the praline with pecans, I would substitute the packet of pralines. The pretty pink colour contrasted well against the rich, dark brown colour of the brownies.
What I also loved about this brownie recipe was that it used real, dark chocolate in the mixture and not just cocoa powder. I also chose to bake mine in a square tin, rather than a traybake tin so I would get deeper pieces.
Instead of melting the dark chocolate separately, the recipe asks you to melt butter and sufar together on the hob. Then, once this is melted then you add in the chocolate pieces using the heat of the melted mixture to melt the chocolate.
When the mixture had cooled, I added in beaten eggs, flour and cocoa powder and then finally tossed in the pralines. Then it was poured into the prepared tin and ready to bake in the oven for between 25-30 minutes.
When the brownies were baked, they were taken out of the oven and left to cool. I always worry about overcooking brownies as they are meant to be fudgy and chewy, not like a cake.
As not to tempt me to scoff them, I cut up the brownies and put them straight into a plastic box to go in the freezer. I knew if they were frozen, I’d not be able to eat them all up. I did love the way the brownies turned out, though.
I cannot believe how lazy I’ve been about my blogging recently. Life has just been so hectic and every time I try to sit down and write something, there’s always something else to do. I’ve also started on a diet, so I have been trying my hardest not to bake as much. This is torture to me as I really miss it. So I made a deal with myself. I said I would bake only for Cake Club or for special occasions. Famous last words: I lasted 4 days after joining Slimming World! It got to Sunday lunch time and I was working my way through a massive bag of beautiful rosy apples my Dad and step mum had given me. I just had to bake something and found the perfect recipe in Miranda Gore Browne’s book Bake Me A Cake As Fast As You Can.
Apple Amber is a traditional Irish pudding which is a bit like an Apple Meringue Pie. Miranda’s recipe is a cake version where the base is a whisked lemon sponge. The apples are spooned on top as a filling and then the meringue goes on top and is baked in the oven. It sounded too mouthwatering for words.
First, I had to make the apple filling. This I tried to do on the Sunday morning when really I should have been finishing off my pile of ironing. The ironing basket was getting as tall as the Empire State Building but that didn’t stop me from baking! I used 3 apples as they were quite small and finely chopped them. Miranda had said to grate them but I find grating things hard work. So I peeled the apples, cored and sliced them into little cubes. They were then put into a pan to stew with some sugar. As my apples were eaters and quite sweet, I drastically reduced the sugar but added in lemon juice. Once the apples were pureed down a bit, I took them off the heat and stirred in two egg yolks.
Miranda suggests using a springform cake tin but I couldn’t find the right size one in my cupboard. I just used a normal circular tin but a deep one I use for Christmas cakes. This gave me enough depth for the lemon sponge cake base, the filling and the meringue part. As the filling was cooling, I started on the cake part. I whisked butter and sugar together in my KitchenAid, then added in some vanilla extract and two more egg yolks. While this was whisking away I weighed out the dry ingredients for the cake. I used self raising flour, baking powder and some lemon zest. Finally I added in some milk.
The cake baked very quickly in my fan oven and only took about 20 minutes. I felt the time passed by in a flash as I was doing the meringue part while the sponge was cooking. Apart from smashing an egg on the work top and then making a mess of separating another egg, I finally managed to make some meringue. I’m getting better at meringues but sometimes I worry about burning them.
At last it was time to assemble the whole cake together and finish it off in the oven. I spooned the apple mixture on top of the sponge still in its cake tin and then finally on went the meringue. I wanted it to look like a big snowy mountain but it just looked like a big mess. I just hoped it would taste nice. Back into the oven it went for 15 minutes.
When the cake was ready to come out it smelled wonderful in my kitchen. I gave it time to cool down before attempting to get the cake out of the tin. It slid out easily apart from one tiny bit of sponge which got stuck to the side of the tin. I had greased it, too.
Later on I served the Apple Amber Cake up for pudding. I had a tiny mouthful and found it quite sugary, even with my sweet tooth. Funnily enough Mr SmartCookieSam, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth liked it and over the next couple of days had more slices of it. My son ate the cake and meringue bit and left the fruit! I will definitely have a go at baking it again but was wondering if there was a way of reducing the sugar content in the meringue and the apple puree so that it didn’t taste so sweet.
Those of you who know me well will realise that this is a post close to my heart. I am a primary school teacher myself. I trained 21 years ago but had time out to bring up my children. I worked as a TA in a fantastic primary school for 8 years doing supply teaching alongside it. But this time last year I decided to take the plunge and leave my regular job to take up day to day supply. Apart from the uncertainty of work at the beginning of the school year I am very busy and would not change it for the world.
What I do find upsetting and have done for years is that in other countries on the whole it seems that teachers are treated with respect. This doesn’t seem to be the same in the UK. I get sick and tired of all the “start at 9 and finish at 3” jokes and about all the long holidays we get. The funny thing is though, these complaining types are the sort who wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a classroom and if it’s so easy for the teachers with their cushy hours then why aren’t you doing it yourself? Teacher bashing seems to be a great past time and for the record, no we don’t sit around drinking coffee all day on training days! Boring….. anyway I love being a teacher and it is hard work when you feel like you are juggling about 20 balls in the air. Apart frombaking I would never consider another career.
So when I opened the October chapter of The Clandestine Cake Club’s new cookbook “A Year Of Cake” it was a big surprise to see a recipe commemorating World Teachers Day. I’ve never even heard of this day, it was created in 1994 funnily enough that was the year I qualified. So why haven’t I heard of this day before? UNESCO created World Teachers’ Day to raise awareness of the essential role that teachers play in the education of future generations and encourages support to make sure that children all over the world have access to quality education.
As a teacher I have always been over the moon with beautiful gifts and gorgeous cards that pupils have given me at the end of term or at Christmas. I always appreciate them and keep all my cards in a special drawer in my spare room. I treasure my memory book I was given when I left my last job although I do end up crying when I read all the lovely comments in it.
It has always been a tradition or a saying “an apple for the teacher” and I was only too keen to try Yin Li from Leeds Clandestine Cake Club’s delicious sounding Toffee Apple Gingerbread recipe from “A Year Of Cake”. Perfect for this time of year with apples being harvested and also toffee apples are synominous with Halloween and Bonfire Night time.
Yin Li suggests using a crisp type of eating apple in the recipe, such as a Granny Smith. I had loads of Bramley cooking apples to use up and I thought as they were being softened to caramelise them it wouldn’t matter. They would be sweetened by the amount of sugar being added to them. To make the toffee apple base I melted butter and sugar in a large frying pan. When this was done I added sliced apples to the pan and softened them for about 5 minutes. There seemed to be a lot of juice coming out of them.
The apples were removed from the heat and then allowed to cool down while I made the gingerbread itself. First I sifted flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice together in a large bowl. Then cubes of butter were rubbed in so it turned into fine breadcrumbs.
I then put treacle and golden syrup into a saucepan and heated it through so it became runny but not bubbling away. In another pan I then put muscovado sugar and milk to warm through. Once all this was done I then whisked the milk mixture into the flour mixture beating it carefully. Finally the treacle mixture was added.
I got the tin ready. I used a 20cm square tin with a loose bottom and greased and lined it carefully. It needed to be lined as the toffee sauce with the apple mixture might leak out of the bottom if you weren’t careful. The apple layer was placed on the bottom and then the gingerbread mixture spooned carefully on the top.
Yin Li says the gingerbread could be served in different ways, either as a tarte tatin with the apple layer on top of the cake inverted out of the tin or you could eat it so that the apple layer is a surprise on the bottom. I inverted the gingerbread myself so it was like an upside down cake and cut it into squares. Along with the Chocolate Orange Cake I’d baked earlier I took the gingerbread to work with me and hoped it would go down well.
I’m not sure what everyone thought of the gingerbread as everyone took slices of the chocolate orange cake. I had a piece of the gingerbread myself and I really enjoyed it. You could taste the spices coming thorough and they worked perfectly with the apple flavour. Perfect for a cold autumn day and would be ideal for a Sunday lunch pudding finished off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’ll definitely be baking this again!
Forever Summer? Now wouldn’t that just be the ticket? As I look out of my kitchen window at a cold, wet and rainy landscape I can’t help thinking we have been just a little bit short-changed here in the UK when it comes to summer. I was lucky enough to escape to Ibiza for a week in August which was wonderful, even though we were blessed with rain and thunderstorms when we were there. But it wouldn’t be a British Bank Holiday if it wasn’t raining would it?
When I came back from Ibiza I was determined to hold on to the concept of summer. I am definitely a Spring and Summer person. I have much more energy and get up and go when the sun is out. To me, summer is a time when I can open up the patio doors, sit out with a drink and my cross stitch and to relax. Being a teacher in my day, this relaxation is very important to me in the school holidays when I’m not rushing around after my teenagers. To me, summer is also a time when you can eat simple but delicious food or even get the BBQ out. Though to be honest we have only had about 3 BBQs this year. The last one was nearly cancelled as the heavens opened when my husband pulled the BBQ out and got it set up!
Another thing I tend to do when I have more time is to cook from recipe books I’ve bought but not had time to do anything with. I love Nigella and use her recipes a lot but there’s one book on my shelf of hers that I’ve hardly used. To be honest it’s my brother’s book which I’m borrowing off him. He lives in Canada but he’d left two of his Nigella books at my mum’s house! So Paul if you’re reading this I hope you don’t mind, I’m looking after them for you and making good use of them! One of the books is Nigella’s “Forever Summer” and upon reading it you are immediately transported into a world of dinners and BBQs on a terrace, with the blazing sun pouring down as you chat and sip on a delicious cocktail. Instead I’m thinking it’s more like bangers and mash weather than bangers on the BBQ here.
But it is a shame that the UK climate and all our wishes of a gorgeous hot summer were dampened down this year. I’m determined to still enjoy some yummy food though. Over the last few days I have enjoyed testing out a couple of the recipes from Forever Summer in the vain hope that we might get some better weather to take us into September.
Last weekend we had a quiet Bank Holiday weekend at home and when it is like this you want to enjoy good food and great company of family and friends. For Sunday I attempted some Mint Chocolate Mousse which is one of the delicious dessert recipes in Forever Summer. Nigella says it “tastes best when made with the best quality mint chocolate”. I tend to use Lindt Mint Chocolate Intense bars as they have mint pieces and oil in it rather than a soft fondant. But when I was out meeting my friend for coffee we went to a local farm shop which didn’t sell any mint chocolate bars. There were some other gorgeous ones to choose from but I had my heart set on a mint mousse. In the end I bought good quality chocolate buttons and added some peppermint extract that I already had at home.
I was a bit nervous about making chocolate mousse as it involves separating eggs which I always muck up. Then I had to whisk egg whites. I managed though and the mousse turned out much better than expected. Shared out equally and spooned into rather retro looking sundae dishes, this pudding turned out to be a lovely decadent treat.
For Bank Holiday Monday I wanted to create a Strawberry Meringue Layer Cake. The picture in the book showed a mouthwatering sandwich cake. Each layer had the sponge cake and was then topped with a layer of chewy meringue and finished off with a sprinkling of flaked almonds. Well, it serves me right for not reading the recipe right. I did separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl. But that’s where it ended. Instead of keeping the meringue separate, I wasn’t concentrating and threw the egg whites in with the rest of the sponge. That wasn’t meant to happen! So in the end I was left with a flatter version of a Victoria Sponge! I didn’t have any flaked almonds in either, so I sprinkled on some icing sugar hoping that it might make the cake half decent! We were far too full up after our gammon. and pineapple so the cake went in the fridge to eat during the week. It tasted ok and a small slice was very welcome when I got in from work absolutely exhausted after a long day.
For our Bank Holiday dinner I cooked a gammon joint. I usually boil gammon in a large pot on my hob so it takes all the salt out of it. This time I tried it in my slow cooker which didn’t turn out too well. It was still very salty and the meat instead of coming out in slices, fell apart like pulled pork! I attempted to make the accompanying pineapple salsa. None of my family liked it though, which was disappointing.
For me, summer conjures up beautiful coloured and tasty salads. One of my favourite salads is a well made Greek Salad so I was keen to try the version in Nigella’s book. Her version includes fennel though which I can’t stand as I don’t like anything with an aniseed flavour. I left it out. This version also includes some finely sliced red onion which was marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar and sprinkled with black pepper. The salad was absolutely delicious, the feta cheese and olives were just delicious, a mixture of creaminess and saltiness in the same dish.
I have really enjoyed cooking from Forever Summer over the past few days. There are a lot of recipes in the book which my family won’t touch with a bargepole but I’m keen to dip in and out of it. Let’s hope we have a decent summer next year!
Last Monday afternoon I got in from work and finished my jobs. It was one of those afternoons where I had an urge to bake something. It had to be something quick that I could sling together and chuck in the oven before disappearing off to collect my kids from school.
Brownies or blondies work well for me as I make them such a lot, you get it down to a fine art and they don’t take long to whip up and in the oven. So, for this month’s Cooking The Books Challenge where I am baking a recipe from every chapter of Rachel Allen’s Bake, her recipe for White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Blondies would be just the ticket. In the recipe introduction Rachel says “Fed up of brownies? Try blondies! These little squares are great on their own, eaten with ice cream they are simply sinful!” Well we all need a pick me up or a little treat to help us get through life don’t we?
I looked in my baking cupboard knowing that I’d bought a packet of white chocolate chips a couple of weeks back and would have enough to go in the blondies. But when I opened the cupboard.. they just weren’t there! I can only put it down to my kids helping themselves! So frustrating, but I couldn’t prove who had took them! Luckily though I had a packet of dark chocolate chips and they would have to do instead!
To begin with I creamed some butter and crunchy peanut butter together in a large mixing bowl. When this was done I sifted some plain flour and bakingpowder in another bowl. To the peanut butter bowl I added soft brown sugar, egg and some vanilla extract. Finally in went the bag of chocolate chips.
As for the tin, I used the square one I always use for my brownies. It’s a either a loose bottomed one I bought a few years back in Lakeland or one I bought at a Jamie At Home party which isn’t loose bottomed but still worked as well. Either tin always makes either 16 small square brownie bites or 12 large ones. No problem again here, the dough went into the tin fine and 25-30 minutes later out it came after being baked in the oven at 170oC (electric fan oven here).
After about 1/2 hour’s cooling time I attempted to cut up the blondies and quickly hid them in a box in the cupboard away from my family. They were going into work to share with my work colleagues and I thought if my family knew there were blondies about there wouldn’t be any left the next day.
I thought I’d got away with it as it was an afternoon when I was at home and my kids were still at school. I had hidden the evidence but when we got in from the school run my daughter started sniffing when she came back in. She said “Have you been baking? I can smell chocolate!” My kids have baking radar but I lied and said she was imagining things!
For the final recipe in my May Cooking The Books Challenge I had to bake something from the Dessert Cakes chapter of Delia’s Cakes. I looked at all the recipes and wanted something different, something I’d not tried before. I kept going back to the Venetian Zabaglione Cake, a recipe I’d originally seen back in Delia’s How To Cook Book Three. This was also to be my fourth and final contribution to the Afternoon Teas down at the Village Hall in my village Open Gardens.
Delia says the cake is “my adaptation of a cake still served in the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice. You can eat it sipping a Bellini cocktail or with coffee at any time of day.” Nearly two years ago I was lucky to go to Venice and the Italian Lakes for my 40th birthday treat. It was so busy that we didn’t go to Harry’s Bar so I never got to sip Bellinis there but I did enjoy a lovely pistachio ice cream from a back street gelateria. It was delicious. But I did enjoy a Bellini on a cafe terrace overlooking the beautiful Lake Como. Since then I’ve never had another Bellini but the memory of that perfect day stays with me all the time!
So the cake sounded perfect to me, except for one thing. It needed Marsala wine in it and I hadn’t got any. Ages ago I’d bought some to make a tiramisu with, put the remainder in our drinks cabinet. But it ended up being used in other recipes and I wasn’t going to spend loads of money on something I wouldn’t need. Instead I added another Italian liqueur to the recipe, some Amaretto which was extremely strong but tasted fab.
The Zabaglione filling had to be made first and this is how it was started off:
The mixture was added to a saucepan and heated. I kept on stirring this until it thickened and then transferred it to a dish to cool and set a little. This was a bit like making a custard. I then popped it into the fridge while I baked the actual cake.
The cake itself was an all in one vanilla sponge. At this time my phone was on charge so I didn’t take any pictures. It was baked in a 20cm/ 8″ diameter deep and round tin and then cut in half horizontally. This was then left for a couple of hours until the filling and icing was ready to use.
To decorate the cake, a generous portion was put on top of one half of the cake, the other cake was put on top of it and then I added it to the top and sides. I didn’t read the recipe properly and wondered why there wasn’t enough icing left to decorate the cake. According to the recipe, the remainder just goes on the side of the cake and the top is dusted with icing sugar. I ignored this and spread the icing all over the top as well. No wonder you could see bare cake through the thin layer!
I must admit I had serious doubts about this cake, the Amaretto was very strong and I was worried about whether people would like the taste or enjoy it in the hot weather. I did put a warning note next to the cake about the alcohol content but when I went down to the Village Hall I didn’t see the cake on display. My hubby said he had seen it out earlier on that day, does that mean it had gone? I don’t know. All I hope if it was served was that people enjoyed it!
I did like baking the Zabaglione Cake although it was very fiddly and it would be great to try it with the Marsala in, as it should have been made.
Last Sunday I wanted to make a pudding for Sunday lunch. Funnily enough it turned into an evening meal as we had a late breakfast so skipped lunch completely. It wasn’t even going to be a chocolate based pudding, I wanted to bake the Venetian Zabaglione Cake from Delia’s Cakes. But when you start reading the ingredients list and realise on a Sunday afternoon that you need double cream and Marsala wine, well what can you do?
So I had to choose something else. There were two bars of plain chocolate left in my baking cupboard and a load of chocolate sprinkles. I had the ingredients for Mary Berry’s Marbled Chocolate Ring Cake which I could bake in my bundt tin and also it was a recipe I missed off last month’s Cooking The Books Challenge due to lack of time! The cake looked so inviting I just had to have a go. I didn’t have any extra milk chocolate for drizzling on the top so I had to make do with what was in my cupboard. Thankfully I had a tub of chocolate sprinkles!
Here’s how it was made:
My 16 year old daughter came downstairs during a break from revising for her GCSE’s and asked if she could decorate the cake. I let her and told her to have a look in my baking cupboard for decorations instead of the milk chocolate drizzle. I had some chocolate sprinkles in a tub and some rainbow sugar but she opted for the chocolate. I told her Mary’s cake had the icing spread so it completely covered the cake. She told me she just wanted to spread it on the top and it looked great with the extra bits. I couldn’t wait to cut the cake and eat some.
It was worth the wait. A lovely chocolatey hit without being too sweet or overpowering. I really enjoyed it with a tablespoonful of creme fraiche. Perfect for a family dessert or a fabulous birthday cake offering!