Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Coffee and Walnut Cookies

Coffee and walnut is one of the ultimate classics of cake so me being meddlesome me wondered if I could make the same flavour work in a biscuit. Now I'm sure quite a few other people with a lot more baking knowledge than me has had the same idea and come up with some wonerful recipes that wouldn't need altering but where would be the fun in usig one of those? So one day when the biscuit barrel was looking forlornly bare I flipped through my exponentially growing and found a recipe for walnut crumbles in the series two Great British Bake Off book. Ignoring the sensible thing of trying out the recipe as written for the first time I threw myself straight into turning them into coffee and walnut cookies, which to be honest required very little imagination to do. The first attempt gave a nice but pretty weak flavour so this time I used Camp coffee because it was an old faithful from my childhood, most often used by my mum in a chocolate fudge cake. It was a little better but for those who aren't a fan of drinking coffee (like me) this is probably adequate. I wasn't sure how much liquid I could add to a biscuit recipe but the 1tbsp I used this time seemed to work fine so for a stronger flavour I'm sure 1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water, or even 1tbsp espresso would work fine. Hey, you could even do a batch of each alongside each other to create a rainbow of coffee flavours!

Coffee and Walnut Cookies - perfect for a TEA break!
Makes 27 ish (including one to sneakily try before presenting to anyone else. Well, you know, cooks treat and everything.)

100g unsalted butter, really soft
90g caster sugar
50g demerara sugar
1 large egg
1tbsp Camp coffee/other coffee essence/granules dissolved in 1tbsp boile water/espresso
250g self raising flour
85g walnuts

1. Set the oven to 180 C or 160 C fan and line 2 or 3 baking sheets with baking paper. I love doing this because they slide straight off - so much easier than when a light greasing wih butter fails.

2. Beat the butter and sugars until just mixed with an electric mixer (why bother wasting energy usinng a spoon when technology is available), whisk the coffee flavouring of choice with the egg then beat that into the sugary buttery loveliness too. 

3. Chop the walnuts finely or grind in a blender. I used the grind function on Mum's blender which just happens to do the exact same motion as the smoothie, crush, mayo, milkshake, puree and batter. Just be careful that you don't turn the walnuts into a paste. I like them sort of rougly ground - not so big that they hurt Mum's teeth but not so small that you don't get the occassional larger piece which gives a lovely tecture to the biscuit. When you're happy with the walnuts work them into the previous ingredients with the sifted flour. A spoon or spatula is good for this but feel free to use your hands if you like - I usually give it a good final squeeze/knead right at the end for luck to make sure everything is well mixed together.

4. Now it's time to form the biscuits. For 27, each one should weigh 23g with a little bit leftover to try raw. Well, everyone does it with cake mix don't they?! (Of course, if you aren't obsessive like me you don't need to do any weighing at all. You'd be eating your biscuits so much quicker this way.) Roll each piece of dough into a ball and flatten to a disc less than 1cm thick and place on the trays. Sorry I can't be more exact with sizes but I didn't go so far as to measure diameters and thicknesses! Don't forget to leave space in between them as they do expand. 

5. Put in the oven for 13-15 mins, rotating the sheets half way through. You want to get a more golden colour to the biscuit with darker edges - difficult to judge when the dough is already brown from the coffee. Just be careful the biscuits don't catch and scorch. Annoyingly the first batch I made didn't at all but the ones today did on a few. Naturally I destroyed the evidence of the worst one - scorched evidence tastes rather nice!

6. Once done, leave on the tray for five minutes than transfer to a wire cooling rack. Here is a good time to put the kettle on and maybe try one warm while you are waiting. Or better yet, get someone else to make the drinks while you arrange the cooled biscuits on a plate, snaffling some away where appropriate. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Chocolate Whisky Cupcakes with Ganache Topping

I had planned to begin this by telling you all how I was sat here writing while eating a slice of freshly baked brown bread made from a recipe by James Morton - one of the guys from this years Great British Bake Off, but the thing is that I've already eaten it. It was far too nice to wait. (Have a look here if you want.) I was a bit sceptical about it as I have not had much luck with bread recipes other than my mum's white one and a wholemeal tin loaf by Paul Hollywood but the whole lack of kneading thing was attractive so I gave it a go. Plus I got to use my pink dough scraper. It proved (seriously, no joke intended there) to be a very productive morning and the bread tasted lovely and was pretty light despite not having to kill my arms for ten minutes in the kneading process. I love time saving techniques.

For the health conscious among you there is no butter in this bread recipe but I more than made up for it with the amount I allowed to melt onto the beautifully warm crust. Aplogoies to my dad but I really couldn't save it for you this time. However, I do wonder if you could add other ingredients to the dough. Say, medium oatmeal, or maybe even crushed Weetabix for a different texture. Or.. NO, STOP MESSING WITH THE RECIPE!!! I really need to learn when to leave a recipe alone. Apart from this one. I really do think I have finally found the right recipe to make the perfect chocolate whisky cake. I have been looking for the right one for over a year now and eventually came to wonder if using my mum's amazing chocolate cake recipe with extra liquid would work and thankfully it most certainly does. This is a cake that is made every Christmas, holiday, birthday, visit from my brothers, return from university after thinking I'd screwed up the all important exam in my favourite module...well you get the idea. Plus, if it gets a chance to keep, it gets richer and more moist with age.

As I've said, I wasn't sure if the recipe would take the extra liquid but at the same time it was really important that I got a good whisky flavour. I added about 3 tbsp and let Dad be by second opinion. His response was "a gnat's b*****k more" so with a little trepidation I added another tbsp and warned Mum that if it was too strong it was not my fault. Surprisingly the flavour in the cake after baking wasn't strong at all but I apparently didn't need any more in because the flavour in the ganache definitely compensated. The cakes turned out to be really light so I don't see any harm in trying to add another couple of tbsp next time but hey, that's just me! The ganache was a little too sloppy so I'm altering the quantities a bit for the recipe here but oh my, the original made the most gorgeous acompaniment to strawberries. I'm pretty gutted that the last lot of strawberries I bought weren't all that brilliant probably signifying the last lot until next year now (I stand firm on this one - I will not buy anything other than British strawberries - it seems wrong somehow). I've always thought ganache was pretty special but then I sampled the batch I made for the cakes (naturally) and was taken a whole new level, with only a single tbsp of whisky. I'd even say it is better than Nutella, and that really is saying something.

Makes 16 muffins or one 8" cake (I used hald quantities to experiment with)

10oz caster sugar
6oz soft margarine e.g. I Can't Believe it's not Butter
3 large eggs
1 rounded tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp water
6oz vanilla yoghurt e.g. Activia creamy
8oz self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2.5oz cocoa powder
4tbsp (maybe a couple more) whisky, whichever brand you like

300g Bournville
200ml double cream
2tbsp whisky
1 heaped tbsp apricot glaze heated and mixed with a splash of water so it is good and runny

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C for the big cake or 190 C for the muffins. Grease, flour and base line two 8" sandwich tins with baking paper or place 16 muffin cases in muffin trays. I used normal ones from Asda but as you can see some of them lurched over the sides so it's a good job I had greased and floured around the holes first. Those pretty tulip shaped cases might be better to stop this because I don't think the cakes should be made any smaller.

2. Place all the cake ingredients (preferably have everything at room temperature first and don't forget to sift the dry ones) into a big bowl  and mix with an electric mixer on a low speed until combined, then stop, scrape down the sides with a spatula and continue to mix on high until the mixture is lighter in colour. This will take a couple of minutes maybe.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins or the muffin cases - about 75g each if using the latter. Yes, I really do weigh things to this extent! Bake in the oven for 25 mins ish (big cake) or 20 mins ish (muffins) then cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before either turning out the big cakes onto the rack or taking the muffins out of the tray to cool completely.

4. Chop up the chocolate and place in a bowl then heat the cream in a small saucepan until the first bubble appears. Pour the cream onto the chocolate, cover the bowl and leave for five or ten minutes, then give it a really good stir until the chocolate is all melted and mixed into the cream. Add the whisky and mix again until well combined and the ganache is smooth. Here is a really good point to have a taste then when you are sure it is okay, cover the bowl again and pop into the fridge until the ganache is much thicker but still soft enough to pipe. Make sure the cakes are fully cool before you start finishing and decorating.

5. If using the big cakes, sandwich together with a buttercream of your choice - believe it or not, one made with soft margarine is perfectly adequate here. Brush the tinned down glaze all over the big cake or just on top of the muffins. Spread the ganache (I find a silicone spatula best plus an angled metal spatula for finishing off) over the top and sides of the big cake or fill a piping bag with large star nozzle and pipe a swirl of ganache onto each muffin. Please ignore the dodgy piping in the pictures. I have a severe lack of skills in that area!

Any leftover ganache is best eaten immediately. I wouldn't take the risk that someone else gets hold of it first if I were you.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Apple and Almond Traybake

I rather enjoy getting things right. I'm sure everyone does, but I particularly like getting things more right than someone who has got paid to make up a recipe and have it published in a popular magazine. *Cough* Baked and Delicious *Cough* Every 4 weeks or so when my subscription issues arrive I always stop whatever job I'm doing and have a quick flip through mentally noting what things I would really like to try so I can compare with Mum's things when she has a look through. It's only after doing this that I calm down and read the magazines through properly. When issue 32 arrived and both Mum and I liked the sound of this cake I made it at the first opportunity and it was popular all round. However, me being my meddlesome self felt there was room for improvement. There seemed to be a lot of faffing about in the creaming method stated and although melting hard toffees with milk makes a lovely caramelly topping, it didn't seem totally necessary. So I had a play. Dad hasn't tried it yet because he has been eating boiled fruit cake but Mum said straight away that it was perfect, much better than the original, and it even had a lovely lingering smell that had waited for her to come home from work. Plus it was so much quicker and despite using less ingredients I ended up with a cake which was the same depth. I stuck to the silicone cake pan that came with that issue just for old times sake.

Here we go.

4 large eggs
200g soft margarine (I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter but I'm sure any suitable for baking would be fine)
25g demerara sugar (demerara goes really well with apples to give a little hint of caramel)
175g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
125g ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond essence
1tsp baking powder
1 large bramley apple
10g flaked almonds
10g demerara sugar

*Also, cake tin roughly 9 inches square, greased and lined if not using a silicone one. You could use a larger one and get flatter cakes but you would have to adjust cooking times/temps.

Right, this method is really easy.

Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan and place all the ingredients except the last three in a bowl, preferably with the baking powder on top so it isn't in contact with any wet ingredients. (You want to keep all its rising ability in tact until you are almost ready to put the cake in the oven.)

Peel and core the bramley apple and cut into little pieces. It's hard to say a size but be careful not to get them too big or they will sink. I sort of sliced each quarter up then sliced horizontally  to get little cuboid pieces then did a few random chops on the board. I'd say no bigger than 1cm x 1cm pieces. Get some more flour, a heaped dessertspoon or so, and toss the apple pieces in it. (I've no idea if this stops them from sinking but it is supposed to work with cherries.) Set the chopping board aside while you mix the cake ingredients together. Using an electic mixer start on slow until everything is combined, then scrape down the sides and continue on fast until the mixture is lighter in colour. 

Working quickly but gently now so you don't knock the air back out that you have just whisked in, slide the apple pieces off the board into the bowl and fold in with a spatular or similar until the pieces are evenly distributed throughout. This is much better than the original recipe which had slices of unpeeled apple layed on top of the cake which ended up leathery and awkward to cut instead of keeping the slices in shape. Silly idea!

Pour the mixture into the tin, level the top and place the levelling implement into the bowl to lick later. 

Sprinkle the 10g each of flaked almonds and sugar over the top of the cake and place in the middle of the oven. If you are using a silicone tin, you might want to put it on a baking sheet first for ease. Bake for 40-50 mins, until the cake is golden and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Now this is a bit I find annoying. Oven setting can vary so much you have to get to know your own and adjust timings to suit. As a guide, our oven is a fan one and I had it in for 30 mins, turned, 15 mins, then another 5 with the oven off because the tester was clean but the cake was singing a lot still.

Once you are happy the cake is done, place on a wire rack and leave for 10 minutes or so before turning out of the tin onto he rack to cool fully. You don't want to turn it out too early or it may be too fragile still and break up. Cool completely before cutting into 12 pieces. 

Enjoy with a cup of tea! Or in my case a cup of barely warm milk and water that has barely been introduced to the tea bag. Whichever way you enjoy it, I hope you have fun.