March 4, 2015

CHOCOLATE AND GINGER SWEETHEART CAKES (cheat’s version)

sweetheart cakes

Some time ago Nick announced that he doesn’t really like cake all that much and the only cakes he does like are chocolate, ginger and fruit cake.  So for Valentine’s Day I decided I would treat him to some chocolate and ginger cakes, using my pretty new heart shaped tin.

Then things went pear shaped time wise – and baking was off the agenda.

sweetheart cakes6 Our kitchen in France used to look like this.  It looks pretty good from a distance but there are lots of things wrong with it so we decided to lash out on a new one.

kitchen6

The kitchen now looks like this.  Notice the nice big empty space under the beam where we found a humungous mouse nest.

Design 5

This is the artist’s impression of our new kitchen.  Nice and clean, no mouse nests, an oven whose door doesn’t fall off and nice tiles on the floor that don’t break up when you stand on them.  Plus a sink that drains properly and good lighting.

The new installation is about a month off but there is a lot of preparation work to do first, namely to remove the old kitchen, dig up the old kitchen floor and put down a new one.  The floor is being done by a professional builder and Nick had to dash across the channel to start the removal of the old kitchen before the said builder can start.  Hence the reason that I didn’t get my little cakes made.

kitchen7

Before I set off for France myself I picked up a packet of chocolate cake mix just in case.  I had no idea at that point whether I was going to have the facilities to bake anything so I thought I would make it easy for myself.  In fact we have managed to set up a reasonably functional temporary kitchen in the dining room.  Sadly the water supply is at the other end of the building but you can’t have everything.  It’s significantly better than camping at least.

sweetheart cakes2

Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix was recommended in a blog I read as a handy item to have in the store cupboard so that’s the one I bought.  On the back of the pack there are instructions for using it for a loaf cake, muffins, cupcakes or a traybake so that inspired me with confidence. 

sweetheart cakes3

I added to the mix some ground ginger and chopped preserved ginger and used my new heart shaped bun tin.  There was a lot of mixture left over, enough to make four mini bundt cakes as well.

 sweetheart cakes4Unfortunately I couldn’t find my can of cake release spray so I buttered the tins well but the cakes still stuck, which was annoying.  Having had a few sticking bundt disasters in the past I find that the spray is the only way to more or less guarantee that the cake will come out.

Sadly this meant that all but one of the little cakes lost the nice pretty pattern on top that should have been imparted by the tin.  So I decorated them with a little ginger flavoured icing and they looked fine.  They tasted nice too.

sweetheart cakes5

I can’t say that they tasted as good as a real home made cake would have done but they were fine.  Better than no cake at all, which, under the circumstances, was the other option.  I will get another packet of the cake mix in for emergencies and even try some of the other flavours available.

alphabakes 

Now I am really cheating and being rather cheeky in submitting these little cakes to the Aphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes, which this month is for the letter S. 

I fully intended to enter them last month when the letter was V – as chocolate and ginger Valentine’s cakes.  I blame mitigating circumstances for my cheek in changing the name to sweetheart cakes instead to comply with this month’s theme.  You can see the details here.

(If you’re interested you can read more about our new kitchen adventure here.)

Cheat’s Chocolate and Ginger Sweetheart Cakes

Ingredients

1 pack of Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

200ml water and 60ml vegetable oil (as specified on the packet)

1tsp ground ginger

2 balls preserved ginger, chopped

2tblsp icing sugar

2 tsp syrup from the jar of ginger

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Spray two bun tins with cake release spray (or butter well and cross your fingers).

Make up the cake mix according to the instructions on the packet, adding in the ginger.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then ease out gently and cool on a wire rack.

Make up the icing using a little extra liquid (water or syrup) if necessary to make runny.  Drizzle over the cakes when completely cold.

Makes approx 24 small cakes or buns.

February 27, 2015

GATEAU NANTAIS

Not long ago I was looking for a French cake recipe that I could adapt to a gluten free version, something fairly plain but interesting that would go nicely with a morning coffee or afternoon tea, but by no means be a showstopper.  Somehow or other I stumbled across Gateau Nantais.

gateau nantais

It certainly doesn’t look like a showstopper, does it?

There were plenty of recipes on the internet and most claim that what it lacks in good looks is more than compensated for in flavour.  It is essentially an almond cake flavoured with rum.

gateau nantais3

The only rum I had in the house was a dark spiced rum so that’s what I used.  However, the interesting part is how the gateau Nantais came about.  The merchant ships from the Caribbean used to arrive in Nantes with rum as one of their many cargoes.  There are lots of things you can do with rum but the people of Nantes discovered it was very nice in a cake.  I cannot disagree with them!

Among the recipes I consulted there was one by fellow blogger Phil at As Strong as Soup which you can see here, and one in French which you can see here.  The one I chose to adapt was from the blog written by Mary-Anne Boermans, one of my favourite contestants from the Great British Bake Off a few years ago.  She was the baker always coming up with fascinating recipes with a touch of history about them and in fact she has written a book of old British recipes – which Nick gave to me as a Christmas present but has yet to be tried out.  Her blog is well worth dipping in to and you can see the recipe for Gateau Nantais here.

gateau nantais5

I was relieved to see my cake looked very similar to those in the pictures of Gateau Nantais in Google images – always a good way of finding recipes and finding out how the finished dish should look.  It was very pleasant and well received but if I was to make it again, and I probably will, I think I would probably put in more rum.

Ingredients

For the cake

200g caster sugar

150g butter, softened

60g gluten free plain flour

200g ground almonds

3 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

20ml rum

For the topping and icing

20ml rum to brush over the cake

100g icing sugar

20ml rum to make the icing

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Grease and base line a 23cm spring form tin.

Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy using an electric whisk – this may take up to ten minutes.

Add the flour and ground almonds and mix well.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Add 20ml rum and the vanilla extract.

Transfer to the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and firm.  Remove from the oven and brush 20ml rum over the cake to soak in.  After 30 minutes remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack.

Make a runny icing using the icing sugar and remaining rum.  Add more icing sugar if necessary to get the right consistency.  When the cake is completely cold spread the icing over the top.

Serves 8-10.

February 19, 2015

SLOW COOKER RICE PUDDING

rice pudding3

It’s difficult to make a picture of rice pudding look exciting or glamorous but for those of us who love it, beauty is not the important thing.  It’s the taste and the thickness of the skin!

I have loved rice pudding for as long as I can remember.  I was recently reminiscing with my brother about my mum’s excellent rice pudding and he reminded me about how much we argued over who was to have the skin!  My mum used to make it using full cream milk (semi-skimmed was not invented then, there was only ordinary milk or, better still, gold top) and if we were lucky, partly with evaporated milk.  It was served hot, thick and creamy, and occasionally there would be a few sultanas or raisins in it, which was known in the family as Chinese wedding cake.

We loved it hot, sometimes with a blob of strawberry jam, or cold and even stiffer the following day.

rice pudding1

Soon after I bought my new mini slow cooker I was keen to use it to make a rice pudding.  It’s a simple dish to make but there are a huge number of recipes to be found for it.  I chose this one on the BBC website, as it was closest to the one I remember my mum using.  The only difference is that I added a small can of evaporated milk.

rice pudding

I also warmed the milk before adding it to the pot and stirred a couple of times during cooking.  My brother said that the only time he made it in a slow cooker he ended up with the rice stuck on the bottom and the milk on top, which was disappointing to say the least, but he hadn’t thought to stir it.

 rice pudding2 

Cooking time depends on how stiff you like your rice pudding and how thick you like the skin.  The longer you leave it, the stiffer and more delicious it becomes.

Slow Cooked Challenge

I am contributing this post to the Slow Cooked Challenge, run by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen.  It’s an open theme this month and you can read the details here.

Ingredients

55g/2oz pudding rice

55g/2oz caster sugar

600ml/1 pint milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)

1 small tin, 170g evaporated milk (normal or light)

grated nutmeg

a few knobs of butter

Method

Rinse the rice and put into the slow cooker with the sugar and evaporated milk.

Warm the milk in a saucepan and add to the cooker.  Stir well.

Sprinkle some grated nutmeg on the top and dot a few knobs of butter over.

Cook on low heat for 3-4 hours or longer, stirring a couple of times.

Serves 4.

February 2, 2015

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING (WITHOUT DATES)

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING3

The other weekend I was feeling the need to bake something.  Not just any old thing but something really indulgent and wicked.  The post Christmas abstinence from baking and sweet stuff had caught up with me and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms.

However, I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself to the shops in the horrid weather – we were out walking our dog Lulu when I announced my urge to Nick and there was a bitterly cold wind stinging our faces.  Thinking about what we had in our cupboards at home that I could use, I mentioned sticky toffee pudding, something I have never actually made before, and Nick’s eyes lit up.  He often orders it when we go for a meal out so I knew he would be pleased.  I then said “I think we have a pack of chopped dates somewhere” and he looked rather less pleased.  He doesn’t like dates, apparently.  Something else I hadn’t known about him for the last twenty years!

Now I’m pretty sure that most sticky toffee puddings do contain dates but he assured me that the one he normally gets at our favourite restaurant absolutely doesn’t.  Hmmm…….  Maybe the dates are so squidgy that he doesn’t realise they’re there.  Anyway, I found myself consulting my cookbooks and eventually the internet for a recipe for a dateless sticky toffee pudding and found this one on the allrecipes website.

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING1 STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING2

I followed the recipe exactly – it wasn’t difficult – and ended up with a nice sponge over which was poured a lovely toffee sauce.  The sauce was delicious but overall the pudding was just ok.  Not sticky enough for either of us and disappointing having read some of the reviews of the recipe.

Then I read further down the reviews and spotted that someone else had found a similar recipe in a blog here but with an interesting difference. 

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING4

Instead of serving the sauce with the pudding, on removing the sponge from the oven you had to prick it all over, smother it with the sauce rather like a lemon drizzle cake, and let it seep into the cake.

Now this was much more like it!  What a transformation from the rather dull to the incredibly wicked and indulgent!  It was very, very sweet but totally gorgeous and I will most definitely be making it again – but not too soon………

Ingredients

For the sponge

190g plain flour

1½ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

120g dark soft brown sugar

120ml milk

2 eggs

80g butter, melted

2 tsp vanilla extract

For the sauce

120g butter

200g dark soft brown sugar

250ml double cream

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan.  Butter a suitable baking tin or dish, approx 21 x 18 cm.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  Add the sugar and mix well.

In another bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter, until a light frothy foam appears on top.

Add the liquid to the flour mixture and mix together until smooth and well blended.

Pour into the baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes until the the sponge is firm and golden brown.

While the sponge is baking, make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a large saucepan and heating gently, stirring all the time, until smooth and dark brown.  Set aside to cool slightly until the sponge is done.

When the sponge is cooked, remove it from the oven and prick all over with a skewer or fork, going right through to the bottom of the cake.  Then pour the toffee sauce over it to allow it to seep into the sponge.  There will be plenty of sauce left over to serve separately with the pudding.

Serve warm with the reserved toffee sauce, plus cream or ice cream for that extra indulgence – might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb as my dear mother used to say !!

Serves 6 generously, would easily stretch to 8 servings.

January 24, 2015

SLOW COOKER BEEF POT ROAST

braised beef 

We are great fans of our slow cooker and use it regularly, but it has often struck me that it’s a bit too big for just the two of us, creating leftovers that we have to either be inventive with or waste.

Breezing through Sainsbury’s recently I spotted a mini slow cooker, 1.5 litres, and thought that for £16.99 it was worth a try.  When I unpacked it I wondered if I had dropped a clanger as it looked a bit smaller than I expected.  I wondered how useful it might be after all but spotted a recipe for pot roast beef in the booklet that came with it so decided to have a go.

braised beef1

Essentially you coat the beef in a paste of mustard and flour, add beer to the pot and cook for several hours.

braised beef2 braised beef3

The recipe was for brisket but we used topside as we had already bought one of those large joints at a special price in the supermarket, intending to cut it into portions and freeze it. 

It was a huge success.  The beef was tender and tasty, with a delicious sauce.  We served it with the veg from the pot, some greens and mashed potatoes.  There was ample for two people with just a few leftovers for a sandwich the next day. 

The slow cooker appears to be perfect for a meal for two.  It seems to heat up quickly and bubble away nicely, ensuring food is cooked in the suggested time – not requiring anywhere near as long as the larger model for food to be properly cooked.  I think we’re going to enjoy this particular kitchen gadget very much indeed.

Since making the beef pot roast I have also made a delicious rabbit stew and a rice pudding in the cooker – more about them later!

Ingredients

a 750g piece of topside or brisket of beef

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

200ml beer (or beef stock)

Method

Put the prepared onion and carrot in the cooking pot.

Mix the flour and mustard to a thick paste and using your hands rub it all over the beef.  Place the meat on top of the vegetables.

Pour the beer over the beef – add more than stated if necessary so that the liquid comes to about half way up the joint.

Season with salt and pepper, cover with the lid and cook on high for 3 hours.  Reduce to low and cook for a further three hours.  (The machine has an auto setting which will start on high and reduce to low automatically.)

Serve the beef with the sauce from the pot and more vegetables of your choice.

Serves 2.

December 15, 2014

TOMATO, HAM AND GOAT’S CHEESE TART

tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart

It was time to think about using up some of the leftovers in the fridge.  It was lunchtime and with a rummage around I found a pack of puff pastry, a bit of smoked ham, some goat’s cheese and plenty of tomatoes.

I remembered the easy tarts I made quite often a couple of years ago and wondered why I had given up making them, favouring beans on toast or scrambled eggs.  It’s strange how a favourite recipe can slip from memory, almost as if it has gone out of fashion.  My previous post about it is here. 

tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart2

For this tart I used two tablespoons of onion marmalade mixed with two of double cream for the base.  The sweetness of the onion makes a difference I think.

tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart3

This kind of tart is so quick and easy to rustle up.  It takes hardly any time at all to put together and is done just as soon as you would be able to cook a ready made pizza or warm a tin of soup – well, maybe a little longer than that, but it’s well worth it.  It’s a great way to use up leftovers too.  Peppers, chicken, sausage, mushrooms, virtually any kind of cheese – the combinations are endless.

We had ours with some green salad.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry

a lump of St Maure goat’s cheese or any cheese of your choice

1 large or 2 small spring onions

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes

1 or 2 slices of ham, cut into strips

2 tblsp double cream

2 tblsp sweet caramelised onion marmalade or chutney

Method

If you can, remember to take the pastry out of the fridge 20 minutes before you start, so that it won’t split when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200° fan.

Unroll the pastry and trim it if necessary to fit a baking tray or sheet.  Place the pastry on the sheet on top of the baking paper it was wrapped in (or on fresh paper).  Make a cut in the pastry about 2 cm from the outside edge, all the way round, to make a margin, trying if possible not to cut all the way through.

Mix together the cream and chutney and spread over the pasty with the back of a spoon within the margin.

Arrange the slices of tomato, cheese, ham and onion on top and bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the cheese bubbling.

Serves 2-4, depending what you serve with it.  Salad makes two servings from it.  Add chips or potato salad and bread to make it serve four.

December 6, 2014

INDIAN CHEESECAKE (or a tale of two tins, part two)

Indian cheesecake2

The other tin that I bought on our visit to Ikea for shelves or lighting (I still can’t remember which) was this tin of biscuits.

There was an enormous mountain of them by the checkouts and I carefully selected a tin that wasn’t dented – a good proportion of them were.  Unfortunately as we loaded our things from the conveyor back into the trolley (why do we never remember to take a bag into Ikea?) it somehow fell onto the floor so I ended up with a dented tin full of broken biscuits! C’est la vie!

Indian cheesecake

Luckily some of the biscuits were still in big enough pieces for dunking but there were a lot of crumbs so I thought it was the perfect excuse to make a cheesecake.  I rarely make cheesecake on the grounds that they are simply too moreish and not at all good for you, but we were having visitors so I decided to go for it.

I chose a recipe from Annie Bell’s Baking Bible for something called “Indian cheesecake”.  I spotted it a few weeks ago when I was searching through the index pages of my recipe book collection for something to bake that began with the letter “I” for an Alphabakes challenge.  It appealed to me but I never got round to making it at the time.

Indian cheesecake3

I’m not entirely sure why it’s called an “Indian” cheesecake.  In the recipe the base is made from a sort of crumble mix of polenta and flour but of course I already had a load of ginger biscuit crumbs so I obviously used those.  Maybe the Indian label comes from the spices in the mixture, ginger and cinnamon, but they to me they are more reminiscent of a English tea room than an Indian restaurant.

In any case, it was truly delicious.  And I really mean truly.  Nick pronounced it the best pudding I have ever made and it was demolished by our guests in double quick time and with second helpings.  Hence the reason for there only being one slice left by the time I took its picture!

I will certainly be making it again when I feel the need for an indulgent dessert.  If you fancy making it yourself I would recommend making it the day before you need it as you are supposed to chill for many hours or preferably overnight.  Which makes it even more the perfect dessert for visitors!

I give my adaptation of the recipe using broken biscuits and the ingredients I had available.

Ingredients

175g ginger thins, or digestive biscuits

75g butter, melted

550g cream cheese (I used full fat, but the recipe says low fat)

150ml crème fraîche

180g caster sugar (the recipe says golden caster sugar)

3 eggs

¼tsp vanilla extract

½tsp ground ginger

½tsp ground cinnamon

1 heaped tsp black treacle

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan.  Have ready a 20cm dia, 7cm deep,  non-stick tin with a removable base.

Bash the biscuits into crumbs, mix with the melted butter and press into the bottom of the tin.

Put all the other ingredients into a food processor and blend well.  Pour through a sieve onto the crumb mixture and bake for around 50 minutes.  The centre of the cheesecake should still have a slight wobble as you take it out of the oven.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake and leave to cool in the tin.  Cover loosely with foil and chill in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve, remove carefully from the tin.  Dust with cocoa powder before serving if you like.

Cuts into 12 slices.