October 29, 2017

STICKY TOFFEE LOAF CAKE and a good reason for not baking.

sticky toffee pudding cake

There will not be as much baking going on in this house over the next few weeks, or even months.  The reason being – I am on a diet.  A quest to lose the more than two stone I have gained since I retired, preferably by the time we return to France next spring.

The excess weight did not arrive overnight, it was a gradual thing, the result of the constant availability of food, eating a meal instead of just a sandwich at lunchtime, and possibly an overly enthusiastic interest in all things cake.  The last half stone has appeared since we lost our dog Lulu last summer and, with 2016 being my personal annus horribilis, no doubt a bit of comfort eating as well.

I have lost weight successfully before on various eating plans, the most successful being a calorie counting regime.  I accept that an increased activity level would help matters, but it would be hard to fit in any visits to the gym at the moment, what with doing up our new UK house and – keeping an eye on our new puppy, Hugo.  We have a lot of plates spinning and are only just keeping ourselves sane – you can read more about it here if you like.  We can hardly be described as inactive, compared to those who might sit in front of a computer or a TV all day, and it’s good to see that the first half stone has already disappeared.

However, I still have plenty of cakes and other bakes to write about, in fact a backlog of baking posts that should keep me going for quite a while.  It will actually be nice to bring the blog up to date so that all those bakes don’t just disappear forever into the mists of time.

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Nick made this cake for the last CCC meeting.  I had made it myself (and blogged about it) a while ago and when I looked it up it turns out that that was three years ago – how time flies!  I remembered that it was a delicious cake, full of spice and just right for early autumn, with its dates and pecans.  You can read about it here.

sticky toffee pudding cake3sticky toffee pudding cake2

Autumn arrived unusually early in our little corner of France.  Considering that the cake club meeting was on 27th September, looking at the photos you would think that it was a month later.  September is usually a glorious month in the Loire Valley, warm and sunny, with all the joys of summery days without the baking heat of say July and August.  This year September was disappointing, cool and showery.  (Apparently October has been better – but we were not there to enjoy it, sadly.)

It was definitely a “mists and mellow fruitfulness” kind of day when Nick baked his cake and I had to take the cake outside to get enough light to take its picture.

sticky toffee pudding cake4

The cake is made to a Delia Smith recipe – Nick is very much a fan of Delia – and rightly so.  I can’t recall having too many failures with any of her recipes.

This time we decided that we liked the rustic look of the cake without its icing so decided not to ice it.  That was a good decision I think.  Sometimes an icing is called for but on this occasion the cake was perfectly delicious without it.  (For those who like the intense sweetness of a sticky toffee pudding, the icing would satisfy the need.)

It kept really well for several days.  Chunks of it sustained us on our long, twelve hour journey back to Derbyshire from the Loire.  The last few pieces kept us going and our spirits up when we faced the first tranche of building work on our new house in the UK.

You can see the original recipe with the iced version here.

Ingredients

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

110g chopped dates

50g pecan nuts, chopped

110g Flora Buttery (or similar, such as Lurpak Spreadable)

50g black treacle

175g golden syrup

150ml milk

2 eggs, beaten

225g plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 150˚ C / 130˚ fan / gas mk 2.  Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment or use a paper liner.

Put the butter, treacle and syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat and melt them together.  (Warming the tin of treacle in a saucepan of hot water will help to make it easier to measure out.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, mix in the milk then the beaten eggs.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarb, whisking in gradually until smooth.  Add the nuts and about two thirds of the dates, mix well and pour into the tin.  Drop the remaining dates onto the top of the cake and push them in a bit with a skewer.

Bake on a low shelf for 1½ hours to 1 hour 50 minutes until done, risen and cracked on the top.  Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cuts into 10-12 slices, depending on how thick you like you slices of cake.

October 20, 2017

CHOCOLATE, ALMOND AND AMARETTI CAKE

chocolate amaretti cake

This is one of those very rich, fudgy chocolate torte kind of cakes.  The kind where you can really only manage one small slice although you would dearly like to eat another!

chocolate amaretti cake3

It’s a Rachel Allen recipe from her “Food for living” book.  I have waxed lyrical about her recipes before and this is another one that I would highly recommend.  It appears in several places on the internet, one of which is here.  I have adapted it slightly to use ground almonds instead of flaked almonds because that’s what I had in the house.

chocolate amaretti cake2

I have made several cakes of this kind before, using various recipes, but this is my favourite so far.  A lot of them are way too rich for me, the intensity of the chocolate being more than I can take.  For me, this one is just right, dense and squidgy without being too rich and sickly.

Amaretti biscuits can sometimes be hard to find in the shops, both in France and the UK, if you’re looking for them at the wrong time of year.  I have bought them before in both Aldi and the Co-op at a sensible price and with the amaretti season (Christmas) coming up, it should soon be easy to get some more.  I shall stock up as they usually keep for ages and it’s really annoying when I see a recipe that uses amaretti biscuits that I would like to try, I have none in the cupboard and can’t buy them anywhere because it’s the middle of May!

chocolate amaretti cake4

This cake would be great for a dinner party or buffet table dessert.  It’s incredibly easy to make, is perfectly delicious and can be made the day before needed.  In fact this one kept really well for several days in an airtight tin.  It needs no embellishment other than a dusting of icing sugar and some berries on the side if you like.

Ingredients

150g 70% dark chocolate, melted

50g amaretti biscuits

100g ground almonds

175g caster sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

100g butter, cubed

4 eggs

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and base line a 20cm round springform cake tin.

Put the amaretti biscuits in a food processor with the sugar and orange zest.  Process until finely ground and slightly gritty.

Add the ground almonds and process briefly to combine.  Blend in the butter and eggs, then the chocolate, until smooth and well combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed up and slightly cracked around the edges.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack or plate to cool completely.

The top will have cracks which can be disguised with a nice dusting of icing sugar or cocoa powder!

Serves 8-10.

October 15, 2017

APPLE AND GINGER MUFFINS

apple and ginger muffins

I don’t make muffins too often, in fact not often enough.  When I made these muffins for a CCC “anything goes” event, I had quite forgotten how nice muffins can be.

The “anything goes” theme is one where members can bake anything they like, not just cake, which made a nice change and it was fun to see what people thought of to bring.  There were sausage rolls, quiche, meringues, eclairs, flapjacks and madeleines.  And of course my muffins. 

(Just in case you’re wondering, and you’re probably not, why there is a small knife with the plate of muffins, it’s because at a CCC event where everyone likes to try a small piece of everything on the table, a whole muffin is not a good idea.  Half a muffin would be more than enough if there was to be room in the tummy for all of the other delights on offer.  Those who have ever been to a CCC event will completely understand this problem!)

apple and ginger muffins2

After a pleasant hour or so of leafing through my ever growing collection of recipe books I chose a recipe from this one by Rachel Allen.  I like her recipes, have used quite a few and have never had a failure with any of them.  The recipe is actually for pear and ginger muffins but she suggests apples as an alternative. As we had several apples going begging in the fruit bowl I decided to use them.  I wondered how they would go with ginger as opposed to the more traditional cinnamon and it turned out to be a delicious combination.

apple and ginger muffins3

Thinking about it, one of the reasons that I don’t make muffins more often is that generally they don’t keep too well.  They can be slightly stale after one day and definitely bird food after two or three.

However, in the recipe it says to “whisk together until smooth” which kind of goes against the concept that “lumpy batter makes light muffins”.  (I can’t exactly remember where I read that phrase but think it might have been in a Nigella Lawson book.)  But, having every confidence in Rachel Allen’s recipes, whisk it I did, until nice and smooth.  The result was that the texture of the muffins was more like a cake than a muffin, with the added delight that they were still perfectly nice to eat several days later.  Curious.

In fact, with the quantity of mixture and the texture of the muffins it occurred to me that it might work as a bundt cake - the next time I have a surfeit of apples.  Anyway, apple and ginger is a winning combination.  Cinnamon makes me nervous as it takes only a smidgen too much of it to make a cake taste slightly soapy.  It’s not so easy to overdo the ginger and although a whole tablespoon seemed like a lot actually it was just right.

Ingredients

275g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tblsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

150ml vegetable oil

300g dessert apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 tblsp demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Put 15 muffin cases into two muffin tins.*

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil and whisk together until smooth.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about three quarters full.  (I use an ice cream scoop which makes it easy to get them evenly filled).  Sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can dust with icing sugar or ice with a water icing if you like, instead of sprinkling with demerara sugar.

*Makes 12-15 muffins, depending on how much you fill the cases.