Monday, 30 September 2013

The Madeira Cake Story Part 1

What does a Madeira cake mean to you? We used to get one from M&S that was realllly nice so one day I decided to have a go at making one myself. It didn't really turn out (this was years ago, my baking skills have come on a lot since then) but unperturbed I tried again, looking more closely at the recipe. It had ground almonds in so since then I thought they were a requirement of the Madeira but it seems I might be wrong on that score. Or half wrong at least.

After attempt two wasn't really amazing either I didn't try again for a while but I did keep looking at recipes at noticed that the were two general schools of thought. One fitted with my own views that a Madeira included almonds to get that buttery, umptious quality with a beautifully moist crumb that slices like a summers dream. Makes sense I reckon, ground almonds are well known for making a cake moist. On the other hand were the recipes that called for the addition of extra flour to what was essentially a Victoria sponge mix. I'm a bit confused about that. Won't it make the cake go dry quicker and add density? I know a Madeira isn't as light as a classic Vicky sponge anyway but still. I'm sure I have tried this sort of recipe in the past but I can't remember the exact results, just that they weren't amazing. 

While a person might ponder which is the better recipe, ground almonds or extra flour, almost all of them included lemon zest which I totally forget about when I made this. I also know that traditionalists put strips of candied citrus peel on top of the cake but there was no way I was going there. A whacking great bar of hardness of top of my cake? No thanks. You can even keep your chopped peel, no matter how ungrateful it makes me seem. Plus, this way I got to use my pretty rose shaped silicone cake mould again which came with a long ago issue of Baked and Delicious.

With all my desires to experiment, very, very occasionally I want to do something simple and making a Madeira satisfied that while also allowing me to make a step towards answering the question of which style Madeira is better. I made this one on Friday evening when I got home from uni for the weekend because Mum wasn't planning on making a cake the next day and we didn't have anything else in the house.  It felt so good to have it turn out so well - probably because I was so relaxed. This doesn't happen often I assure you! What was even better than that was the taste. I don't think you could get a cake more moist without having it raw! With barely a touch you could hear the moisture in there. And the flavour. Oh my goodness the flavour. How anyone can call a Madeira plain is beyond me. When a cake can taste this gorgeous with the most basic of ingredients and methods it truly shows its worth. I just wonder if the next version I make with the extra flour will live up to this. I don't mind the sacrifice of testing the hypothesis. It's all in the name of kitchen scientific research after all.

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Madeira Cake
An incredibly moist, buttery cake that gets better with age.
  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 75g ground almonds
1. Grease and line a 8-9" circular tin or if using a silicone case, grease with butter and dust with flour, getting into all the corners. Set the oven to 170 C/150 C fan.2. Beat butter until creamy then add in the caster sugar. Creamy together for at least 5 mins until pale and fluffy.3. Add the vanilla to the eggs and mix in on a low speed a little bit at a time. Add a bit of the measured flour with the last few additions.4. Sift the rest of the flour, almonds and baking powder together then fold into the creamed mixture in two batches with the zest until no flour is visible. 5. Spoon into the tin/mould and smooth the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 mins, turning after 30 mins to get an even bake. When a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, turn the oven off and leave in for enough time for the hissing sound from the cake to almost stop. Remove and cool on a wire rack until almost cold then carefully remove from the tin. Enjoy!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Biscuit Barrel September 13 Round Up

Welcome to the first ever round up of the Biscuit Barrel challenge where the theme was CHOCOLATE! If you're only just joining us then the Biscuit Barrel challenge is a little something I set up for fun to encourage bloggers and bakers to share something yummy each month that would be suitable to fit in a biscuit/cookie container. I'm ever so grateful for all those who have entered, wanted to enter but didn't have time or simply helped to spread the word. This month may only have seen a small gathering of entries but they all well and truly deserve their place. I urge you to go have a peek at the pages and a nosey around the blogs they are from. Here we go!

First up we have Chocolate and Marzipan Cookies from Stuart of Cakeyboi fame. I would never have thought of putting chocolate and marzipan together but as soon as I read about these I wondered why I hadn't. They sound like a delicious combination, each bringing something important to the cookie yet working brilliantly in tandem. Nutty deliciousness from the marzipan and do I really need to say what is good about the chocolate part?!

Next is Aimee over at Wallflower Girl and her Gluten Free Jaffa Cakes. Hands up who has wanted to make their own before, gluten free or not. Yes, I'm waving both hands in the air right now! This recipe is a clever use of ground almonds to make the base and makes the whole process look so easy. Another one to be made soon and my guess is that they will have me turning my nose up at the traditional McVities not long after.

Now we have an entry from Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. I don't know how anyone could not love this blog - it's dedicated to the most wonderful food that is chocolate! I'm really intrigued by these Oaty Coconut, Fennel and Chocolate Cookies because of the use of coconut oil in place of butter to make them dairy free and healthier.

Melanie Jayne was really proud of her entry of Almond and Giant Button Cookies which she totally deserves to be. The base is almost like an almond flavoured shortbread which is pretty delicious sounding on its own and then you add in the big chocolate buttons dotted through them and the decorative fork markings to make them even more lovely. A prefect cup of tea and biscuit time cookie I think.

Finally there is my entry of Chocolate Fudge Pecan Cookies. Crisp on the edges with a lovely chew in the middle and packed full of all things good in my somewhat unhumble opinion. They might not have been the neatest cookies to come out of the oven because of the molten fudge pools but that's no problem. Just gather up the liquidy bits and enjoy when cooled as a cooks perk!

I hope you have liked all these biccies as much as I have. Join me again on October 1st for the new Biscuit Barrel challenge and I do so hope you can enter!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Flour Tortillas and a Book Review

Recently I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of The Hungry Student Cookbook by Charlotte Pike to have a nosey through and offer up my opinions on here. I've mentioned before that I love to read recipe books like a normal person would read a fiction book so I was really excited when I knew this was on its way to me. My housemate text me to say I had received a parcel which had me dying to get back from uni for the rest of the day. When I finally did get in, my first stop might have been my dinner but that was only so I could settle down and get comfy with my new book!

Every recipe book I own is a source of inspiration to me and this one is going to be no exception. It all counts as research! Even though this is aimed at students I quickly formed the opinion that it would be a good choice for anyone who wants quick and easy, but above all tasty meals. There is a good amount of choice covered by the sections which include pasta, rice, soups/stews/curries, jacket potatoes, easy dinners, cooking for a crowd, vegetable based dishes, toasted meals, food for a rough morning and finally sweets. The author has really channelled everything she learned at uni into this book and I suspect the other two books in the series, Easy Baking and Vegetarian Cookbook, would prove the same. Here's what I thought overall.

What I particularly loved:
  • The variety. There are enough different types of recipes and enough flavour combinations to get anyone going on the road to good food. At the same time, there are similarities between some of the recipes that show that it is easy to adapt the recipes to what you have at hand or your personal favourite ingredients. This is good news for those like me who can't resist putting their own stamp on something.
  • The ease of recipes. Alright, this might not be so important for those people who already have enough cooking experience but it is extremely important for those who have barely stepped foot in that particular room before apart from under duress, washing up. A person with little confidence when working with food does not need to be put off by complicated recipes but not one recipe in this book does that.
  • The introduction. This part is fun, not patronising and brief enough to take notice of while still covering all the necessities. This includes kitchen tools and cupboard necessities, how to budget, taking care of your oven (very important unless you want an extra bill from your landlord), food hygiene for beginners and enouragement at getting creative with alternatives.
  • The photography. The pictures dispersed throughout the book are bright and rumbly-tummy inducing, even with dishes I haven't tried before. There will doon be some more things I've experimented with thanks to these pictures!
 What I thought could be better:
  • The photography.  Yep, I've already said this one but I felt there could have been more pictures. A lot of people like an idea of what the finished product should look like so they know if they have done something right. Having said that, more pictures would mean a higher cost and I think that the price is really good for the content. Also, there is a chance that more photos would dishearten a person with little culinary experience if it doesn't look exactly like the style, professionally photographed version, so this point is personal preference really.
  • The baking section. Don't get me wrong, there are a good number of sweet recipes in here and enough chocolate contianing ones to keep me happy but because I lie more on the baking side of the cook/bake fence, I would have preferred more. However, that is all the more reason for me to buy the Easy Baking book in the series! After all, this book is a general cookbook, not a let's-please-Laura-and-have-cake-for-every-meal book.
  • Food intolerances.  I might be being too harsh with this one. I would've liked to have seen more recipes for alternative diets like for gluten or lactose intolerant people. These speciality diets are becoming more prevailant, through both choice and necessity and seeing as Charlotte Pike has a business selling alternative goods called Go Free Foods, I was a little surprised there wasn't at least a page noting what could be used as substitutes, or even labels on the recipes stating if they were suitable for special diets, similar to the 'vegetarian' labels. 
Finally, here are some of my favourite recipes (a couple of photos are ones I've taken of the book) and one from the book itself which I have kndly been allowed to reproduce.
  • Super Tasty Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Leeks - This was gorgeous and so easy to make. I am biased though because it contains so many of my favourite ingredients so I knew it would work right from the start!

  •  Bombay Potato Curry - It was only last year that I was brave enough to try curry and I realised I had been missing out. This one contains ots of lovely warming spices and is really cheap to make.
  • Creamy Honey and Mustard Pork Chops - Honey and mustard are always a winning combination yet I have never tried it with portk before. I will be soon though!
  • Homemade Tortillas - These are something I've always thought would be hard and time consuming. I couldn't have been more wrong - the most difficult bit was rolling them into a circle, which I ignored anyway and just rolled until they were thin enough. I made these on a Friday evening when I had got back to the house at 5pm after being in the lab all day and yet by half five I was enjoying sausages wrapped in the best tortillas I've ever eaten with extra mushy peas and tomato sauce. I might never buy them again, plus I had some leftover for another day. Look below for the recipe.

  • Muffins - There are several varieties included, both savoury and sweet and the blueberry ones are now on my list of things to make.

  • Banoffee Pie - Decadent and easy are words that don't sound like they shoud go together but they do for this. Another recipe that contains all things delicious. Come on, how good does that look?! 

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Flour Tortillas
Such an easy and quick recipe to make you not want to bother buying tortillas again.
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1.5 tsp vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 60ml warm water
  • pinch salt
1. Add the oil, water and salt to the flour in a bowl and mix to a stiff dough.2. Divide the mixture into 4 balls and roll out on a floured surface to a thin circle.3. Heat a large, dry non-stick frying pan ove a high heat and cook each tortilla, one at a time, for 30-50 seconds on each side until lightly browned. 4. Enjoy!
The Hungry Student by Charlotte Pike is published by Quercus at £7.99 and is available from all good booksellers. There are three books in the series: The Hungry Student, The Hungry Student Vegetarian Cookbook and The Hungry Student Easy Baking. 
 Disclaimer: I was not paid for my time and all opinions are my own. I wasn't forced to write a positive review - that just wouldn't be fair.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Chocolate Mousse Brownies (Gluten Free)

I don't know what to say about these brownies.

That's ok, I'll give you a moment to pick yourselves up from the floor. No worries.

Here's a picture which might help to explain why I have no words for them. And seeing as I can't help quoting it, a picture is worth a thousand words after all.

No? Still not convinced? Alright, I'll try.

I have read an awful lot of brownie recipes since I became addicted to Pinterest and yet I'm still loyal to my own creation that my mum raves about. Normally if Mum likes something I've made she tells me so once. Twice if I'm lucky but she certainly doesn't go on and on. Those brownies though are a different matter so I've been reluctant to try a different recipe meaning it's the one I automatically used in a gluten free version to christen the oven in my uni house. Sadly I didn't feel they were up to par so when I saw a flourless brownie recipe in the book that accompanies the current series of GBBO I thought it would be the best choice to make, amongst other things, for my housemate Lauren's birthday which was last week. I did a lot of baking last week and banned Lauren from the kitchen while I was up to my games but I let her see these because she was getting them before her actual birthday to entertain friends with if they came round. Now I know I'm blowing own trumpet here but seeing as I'm pleased enough to not know how to describe these I'm going to quote Lauren - 'oh my god, they're melting in my mouth.'

Naturally, I didn't stick to the recipe because of my inherent desire to meddle and thankfully everything worked with this one and I ended up with something so darkly chocolately and squidgy yet being light enough to make me think of chocolate mousse with each bite. The recipe changed my perception of gluten free brownies - I don't think I'll ever use gluten free flour mix again for something similar. It must be the technique of whisking eggs and sugar to the ribbon stage that does it texture wise though I would like to think my personal stamps had a hand in it too. I changed the butter for oil and apple puree and sprinkled the nuts on top. Normally I one million percent disagree with putting nuts in brownies but these were for Lauren who loves walnuts so I had to make the sacrifice on this occasion. Then when I had congratulated myself at finally getting the tray in the oven I realised the nuts were still waiting patiently on the side to be added to the mixture. Thankfully whipping out the tray again and spreading them on top didn't ruin the bake and it has shown me that nuts on brownies are a wonderful addition. I genuinely can't wait to make these again and I promise even with my desire to aapt every recipe on the plantet that there will be an again because we both thought they were that good. As did the people Lauren shared them with. Reluctantly. And in small pieces.
I'm so pleased with these that I'm going to share them with several baking challenges and quickly so I can get this publlished because looking at that picture is making me desperately want chocolate!

First up is Tea Time Treat, a joint venture between Karen (our host for this month) at Lavender and Loveage and Kate at What Kate Baked. The them is flapjacks, oats and traybakes and brownies are a classic traybake.

Treat Petite is a new challenge this month created by Stuart at Cakeyboi and Kat at Baking Explorer (who is hosting this month). There is no theme this month so anything goes as long as it isn't a big cake. Traybakes count - I checked!

The theme for this months Feel Good Food hosted by Victoria at A Kick at the Pantry Door is apples and although apples may only me a small part of this recipe (homemade apple sauce, cooked peeled and chopped apples and blend to a puree, it couldn't be easier), these brownies certainly made me feel good. There's less sugar and fat in these compared to regular brownie recipes so I'm sure my entry must be ok!

Last but absolutely not least I'm sharing these with Four Seasons Food where the theme is currently Sliding Into Autumn. I think my inclusion of apple sauce just scrpaes me a pass with this one plus I made them specifically for a September event - a month associated with the end of summer and start of autumn. Anneli of Delicieux and Louisa of Eat Your Veg run this one with Anneli taking the reigns for this month.
Four Seasons Food
If you like baking challenges then I'd be ever so grateful if you could check out my own, very new challenge too - the Biscuit Barrel Challenge.

Phew! Here's the recipe. Give it a go - you won't regret it.


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Chocolate Mousse Brownies
An unltra chocolatey, squidy brownies that melts like a mousse in every bite.
  • 225g chopped dark chocolate (mix of 70%/less dark, to taste)
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 70g unsweetened apple sauce
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 3 eggs, medium
  • 150g soft brown sugar
  • 100g walnut pieces
1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl also containing the oil and apple sauce, held over steaming water without the base toucing the water. Stir well to mix, then sift and mix in the cocoa powder. Set aside to cool while you set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan and line a 8" square tin with baking paper.2. Whisk the eggs until frothy then sift in the sugar and whisk until the mixture is pale, increased in volume and leaves a ribbon trail when you lift the whisk out.3. Gently pour and fold in the chocolate mixture with a large metal spoon or spatula until no streaks remain. Pour the mixture into the tin and sprinkle the walnut pieces on top.4. Bake in the preheated oven for around 30 mins. When the brownies are ready a skewer inserted into the midle will come out with some gooey bits on but it won't be liquid.5. Cool in the tin, on a wire wrack until fully cold then turn out and cut into bars. Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

White Chocolate and Lemon Giant Cupcake (Gluten Free)

I am NEVER making a secret birthday cake again.

There, now I've added in a bit of drama let me pour out the excuses for the even worse than usual photography and abandonment of all attempts at food styling. It was my housemate Lauren's birthday on Thursday this week but pretty much since I knew we would be living together this year I've been planning on making her a cake. I've had lots of ideas and the one I really wanted to do would have gone perfectly because I've done the base of it before and I know it's a winner. Lauren knew I was making her a cake but not what sort because I had told her she wasn't getting a description because I would probably change my mind or it would go wrong. I'm still not going to describe the cake I wanted to do on here yet in case Lauren reads this and decides she would've preferred that cake but at some point it will be made and shared. A Christmas dinner party maybe? We'll see. Ok, brace yourselves. Here it is.

Now for the excuses reasons behind it. I've had a stressful week at uni. Not because the work has been hard but because I've been getting worked up over things not going as they should in the labs. It majorly worried me that I couldn't get even the most basic things right. If I was so incompetent at hose how could I possibly spend the rest of the year doing research. I kept telling myself that everything would be ok because no matter what has happened in the past, it really has all worked out fine after the stress. So each night when I got back I'd get straight on with dinner then ban Lauren from the kitchen while I got on with a bit more of her birthday baking. Monday was brownie night (post to come soon, I promise, they're so good), Tuesday I made lemon curd for the first time for Lauren's present, Wednesday was cake baking night (taking more than double what it should have done to bake thanks to a temperamental thermostat on the oven and me not being used to a gas one) then Thursday was decoration. The lemon curd took yonks to thicken but it didn't curdle and it tasted fatastic. Lauren had some on toast for breakfast. It might seem an odd thing to give as a birthday present but lemon curd is one of Lauren's favourite things.

The original, practically fool proof cake didn't get made because the key ingredient I needed was at home. We've had car trouble lately in the form of two cars on the drive with neither of them close to working. Normally I would get driven back to Huddersfield when I go home for the weekend because I only live an hour away by car so I can take as much as I like back with me. The last couple of times though I've had to go on the train and as much as I act like a pack horse when I'm going shopping, carting so much stuff across train stations and a two mile journey between the final stop and the house really wouldn't be a good idea so I've had to be really careful what I pack. It has been frustrating me to hell not having all my stuff here. Would you believe that I only have three of my own recipe books with me and two of those were delivered to the house for reviewing? Anyway, most of the room in my suitcase was dedicated to clothes and old notes I couldn't leave at home any longer. I had the tiniest bit of space left which would just about fit in the giant silicone cupcake mould if I squashed it up. The all important jar of stuff for the other case needed more room unless I wanted a very sticky surprise when I went to unpack. 

I should've just bought another jar from the shops here. I don't know what I was thinking.

Some positives now. I've been dying to use my giant cupcake mould since I got it with an issue of Baked and Delicious from ages ago. I was so worried it wouldn't come out properly though because the last piece of shaped silicon bakeware I used tore my beautifully baked cherry and almond cake in half. This one behaved itself though and came out cleanly. The cake held together when cutting even though I wasn't sure if I was using the correct xanthan gum:flour ratio as I hadn't used xanthan gum before and most importantly Lauren adored the cake. Even though I did this to the kitchen.
So after all that, you might actually like to know what the cake has in it. Well, the creamed sponge is flavoured with lemon zest, juic and curd. There is also white chocolate in there but not as much as I've stated in the recipe because I kept eating it. Seriously, I do not deserve to fit into my clothes with the amount of chocolate I've snaffled away this week. I added a very lemony drizzle as soon as the cake came out of the oven and sandwiched them together with more lemon curd. The icing should've been a fantastically innovative whipped coconut cream but despite having had the tin of coconut milk in thr fridge for two days, not enough cream separated off for me to use so I had to make a dash to the nearby Tesco to get icing sugar to make buttercream. I added what lemon curd was left, swirled it onto the cake and frantically shoved halved mashmallows and white chocolate buttons on where I could because Lauren was supposed to be going home soon and I had to serve this up quick. Lauren didn't mind though when I practically threw the spare marshmallows and buttons at her, instructing her to do some with them so I didn't eat any more.

And that's that. It doesn't sound as bad reading it all back but it really was an awful week. I wanted to cry through most of it and especially when my precious cake idea didn't go smoothly. It was all worth it though and I'm still going to enter it into a couple of baking challenges.

Firstly, We Should Cocoa where the theme this month is showstoppers because We Should Cocoa turns three this month. Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog is hosting this month now that co-creator Chele has sadly retired from blogging. The predominant flavour should be chocolate which is exactly what would've happened if I hadn't eaten so much and if I'd had to time to use the icing I've given in the recipe which tastes like white chocolate despit being buttercream. 

Secondly is Calendar Cakes where this month the theme is cupcakes in honour of it being National Cupcake Week on 16th-22nd September. What better way to celecrate by making a giant version. Calendar Cakes is hosted this month by Laura of Laura Loves Cakes while co-creator Rachel of Dolly Bakes hosted last month.
There are lots of great entries up already for both challenges so I'd suggest you go over and have a look now. And because I think I'm allowed to because it's my blog, here's a cheeky link to my own challenge which I'd love for you to enter if you enjoy baking challenges. 

Enjoy the recipe!

print recipe

White Chocolate and Lemon Giant Cupcake (Gluten Free)
A giant creamed sponge flavoured with white chocolate and lots of lemons suitable for any celebration!
For the cake:
  • 340g softened butter
  • 340g caster sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
  • 6 large eggs
  • 350g gluten free flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 to 3/4 jar lemon curd
  • Splash lemon juice
  • 150g white chocolate, chopped
For the buttercream:
  • 75g softened butter
  • 225g icing sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Grease and flour your chosen tin. Make sure it is thoroughly done if using a shaped mould. Set the oven to 160 C/140 C fan.2. Beat the softened butter in a large bowl then beat in the caster sugar and continue creaming until pale, and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and mix in a little at a time, adding in a spoonful of the measured flour if you think it is going to curdle. Mix in the zest too.3. Sift the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum together then fold into the creamed mixture in several batches. Alternated with enough lemon curd and juice to get a soft fropping consistency. Near the end, fold in the chopped chocolate.4. Divide the mixture between the tins, level the tops then bake in the preheated oven for one hour. I say one hour but this is llikely to vary a lot between oven. Just make sure you check it regularly after the first 40 mins, adjusting the temperature if it looks like it is browning too much without being baked inside. Mine took so long because I set the temp to 160 yet an oven thermometer said it was much lower.5. When the cakes come out of the oven place on a wire wrack to cool completely in the tins. If you want to add a drizzle, mix the juice of 2 lemons with 25g caster sugar, heat inthe microwave, prick holes in the cake and brush on while still hot.6. When cool, carefully remove the cake from the tin and make the icing. Beat the softened butter in a bowl until really creamy then sift and mix in a bit of the icing sugar at a time. Add the vanilla and a splash of milk if really necessary. Keep beating until the mixture is really pale and fluffy.7. To assemble, sandwich the cakes with lemon curd, smoother the icing on top and decorate as you wish.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Mini Bakewell Cheesecakes

Ooooo, it feels good to be writing a blog post. I've been wanting to make and write about these for a few days now but what with being back at uni (I know, I keep harping on about that) I have to at least make an attempt to do some work before I do the fun stuff. Sneaking a peak and Pinterest and other blog posts is easy to distract myself with fit around my work but the actual experimental baking and blogging requires a little more time devoted to it. Because I seem physically unable to bake something that I've done before so I know works and can be done quickly. One day I'll learn. One day. Possibly. Maybe. At some point so far over the horizon time travel will be invented first.

This week on placement I've been preparing melon mush to work on. I get the feeling the other people I know who are on placement at uni have been laughing at me slightly because they are using a few more lab skills than me, making sparkly complexes that could be used in all sorts of important situations once developed and perfected. My work doesn't sound as important but it is. And it's what I want to do. So there. Plus my project is edible. Well, not anymore. You'd get slightly ill if you tried eating it now it's been soaked in acetone. I'm not really sure how much I'm allowed to tell you about it so I'll just tell you about my lab then get on with the cheesecake story. I'm in a temporary lab at the moment because there is a lot of building work going on. It's a bit frustrating because we don't have access to half of the equipment we need so it's been a somewhat interesting week. Fingers crossed I should be moving into my proper lab next week though. I got to nip in yesterday because the powers that be decided it was ok for us to go in just to use the oven that we desperately needed. It's a much nicer lab and looks a whole lot cleaner thought I suppose it won't stay like that when there are several people from the research group working in it at once. Whatever happens it looks a lot nicer plus it is right behind the lab my housemate Lauren will be in some of the time so we can wave at each other through the windows. Like you do.
Onto a different lab now - the kitchen! For quite some time now I've been wanting to make a baked cheesecake and then one using quark cheese. If anyone hasn't heard of quark cheese, it's this really low fat stuff that can be used as an alternative to cream cheese in cheesecakes. It has similarities to curd and cottage cheeses and fromage frais but it isn't something I'd eat on it's own or in a sandwich because it's too tangy for my tastes. I wondered how this would translate into a cheesecake but I thought it turned out really well. The raw mixture tasted really sweet and creamy as did the cooked and slightly warm stuff. (I know you're supposed to chill baked cheesecakes before eating but I couldn't wait! The longing was too strong. So hang me.) I've just eaten one of the cupcake versions I did which has been in the fridge overnight and that did have a bit of a tang yet I thought it was still delicious and complemented the remaining hint of cream really well. I'm really grateful to Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes for their Alphabakes challenge this month whcih requires a bake with a name or ingredient that starts with the letter Q because it meant I got to try several new things which I can now tick off my baking ambitions list. Caroline is hosting the challenge this month but I thing you should pop over to both their blogs to say hi because they're both brilliant. (And if you like baking challenges, have a look at my Biscuit Barrel Challenge here.)

Originally I was planning on sharing these Bakewell Cheesecakes with another challenge because I started off doing them in a cupcake format. However, seeing as ths was a made up recipe, and I kept eating the ingredients, I didn't know how many I was going to make so I ended up making a couple of ramekin sized ones as well. These worked out much better I thought so I'll give the recipe for those and go with my other plans for this months Calendar Cakes. No worries.
I wish I could tell you that these turned out 100% perfect but that would be a lie yet I'm still happy to tell you all about the joys and not so much joys because this blog is all about my baking adventures. I read so many blogs where the writers have retested recipes until they are perfect but that isn't me. I like to try one thing out after another and I don't see what's wrong with that. I'm not a professional baker, just someone who enjoys it so much and enjoys eating the results even more. Some of my things do turn out perfectly, others not so much but I can usually find something good about them and that is defintiely the case with these Bakewell Cheesecakes. I gave them a sort of GBBO style appraisal so I could improve next time because there will definitley be a next time. First  description. From the bottom, there is your typical biscuit crumb and butter base. Does anyone else have a problem where they think this mixture is nicer than the original biscuit and has to keep tyring a spoonful or six? Next is a layer of strawberry jam. I had a mini pot of M&S strawberry conserve which is my favourite shop bought jam though it still doesn't beat my own which you can give your verdict on here. I couldn't use my own jam because it is all at home and through a series of extremely annoying events I couldn't bring some to the uni house with me. I'll explain later because this post is stretching on and on as it is. Only some of the cheesecakes ended up with jam because there was only a little bit but oh well. On top of that goodness is a laer of franginpane. I wasn't sure if the cheesecake layer would mix into it but I wasn't bothered if it did. In the end it did a little but I think that was more because of my spreading out. I wanted to eat these and soon, not get an A***+++ on my presentation skills. If anything, it added interest! Finally there was the quark cheesecake layer. I went for a vanilla flavouring because I thought that would be best in keeping with the Bakewell theme. I was pretending in was almond extract ok?! 

On it's own everything was good. Combined it was oh so good. I want another right now. And why not? Quark is something like 0.2g of fat per 100g so if you ignore the other layers you are practically eating air! Try it. Give me your opinion. Here's the recipe and I'll pop the notes on the improvements made at the bottom because I think I've yacked for long enough without giving you some reward.

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Mini Bakewell Cheesecakes
The combination of all things good - buttery biscuti crumbs, glorious jam, frangipane and virtuous cheesecake. Makes 6 depending on your ramekin size.
  • 100g rich tea biscuits or digestives
  • A few spoonfuls of strawberry jam
  • 1 large egg
  • 55g softened butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 55g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g quark cheese
  • 21g softened butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • A few flaked almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 170 C/150 C fan. First crush your biscuits into crumbs by whichever method you find easiest. Divide them between your ramekins.2. Carefully drop small blobs of jam onto the biscuit crumbs. Use quite a soft jam to make it easier. 3. Mix the frangipane ingredients together in a small bowl until evenly combined then divide between the ramekins.4. Pour away the liquidy bit on top of the quark then blend well well with the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg and extract then divide between the ramekins.5. Pop the ramekins onto a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins sprinkling on flaked almonds half way through, adjusting times and temperatures according to your oven. When done the cheesecake bit will be set round the edges and wobbly in the ccentre. Cool on a wire rack then chill in the fridge overnight. If you can last that long.
  • Originally I used butter to bind the biscuit crumbs but decided the oils from the ground almonds is enough to moisten them. The ramekins contian the crumbs anyway so it doesn't matter if they are a bit loose. 
  • Make sure the butter for the cheesecake layer is very soft otherwise it won't mix into the quark properly and you will be pushing the mixture through the sieve to remove the butter bits like I had to. What a waste of lovely mixture.
  • Try to avoid the cheesecakes getting too hot by monitoring them regularly. Getting the mixture too hot will result in cracked tops and possible curdling spoiling the smooth texture sought after by cooks everywhere.
  • The cheesecake layer was based on this recipe here

Monday, 9 September 2013

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies and a Book Review

I'm baaaaack! It feels like I've been away for yonks rather than only a week. It has been killing me not to blog every two or three days but uni and placement had to start again at some point and that point arrived last week. Hopefully I can make up for my absence though with a post I'm really excited about - a recipe book review AND some recipes! Ok, ok so I know the book I'm about to show you isn't your standard recipe book but I think it's a really good one and I've had the brilliant fortune to be given a copy by the lovely people at . (Thank you!) So here's the book...
Some of you might be put off straight away because The Ultimate Student Cookbook is quite obviously aimed at students but please hear me out because I think I might just be able to change your mind. My first impression was that it is a book that anyone could enjoy, no matter your culinary expertise, student or not. Yes, it's student based and yes, the language is written in a student way but the recipes are things  that range from the basic how to cook eggs in a variety of ways to Teriyaki Salmon and Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry. Not so studenty really are they? Yet if you are in that uni/college group with no experience of coking whatsoever, the instruction are really clear and precise with little or no unnecessary jargon to baffle you. It's rather refreshing to be honest for a recipe book to contain top class ideas without all the bumph with has you flipping through without really reading properly. The book was released last month ready for the new term and fits in well with the bright, cheerful and above all fun that is (head over there now for lot of offers, freebies, advice and articles). The sections include a welcoming intro, basics, a variety of following chapters building in complexity as the skills of the cook improve, homemade versions of favourite takeaways culminating with my personal favourite, sweet stuff. Naturally I've tested a few recipes and have bookmarked others and I'm pleased to report that those I've tried already have worked brilliantly. Here's what I thought overall.

The stuff I particularly loved:
  • The brightness of the book. It makes everything seem more cheerful and encouraging which I think is essential to someone starting to cook on their own for the first time. Not everyone has been grabbed by the home baking bug spread by GBBO so I think it is important not to scare anyone off, especially when there are so many other things to think about at the start of university.
  • The photography. Everything I said above applies here too. Words can only tell so much of a story and mouthwatering images are often the final push to try something new. I've admitted before my lack of photography skills and I'm always so envious of the beautiful pictures I see on the likes of Pinterest and the blogs I follow. Some of these pictures are so good they can be a tad intimidating. For me, this makes it more of a challenge I want to beat to recreate the dish but those with less kitchen confidence might be put off. The images in this book don't do that in the slightest although they still managed to make me hungry despite me looking at the book for the first time just after I'd eaten lunch. Moreover, I have another student recipe book that my mum bought me before I started uni, and although I really like it for the sheer number of ideas it contains, there are no pictures so you're on your own trying to guess if something was supposed to turn out like that. 
  • The language. I've mentioned this already but it deserves another going over. I feel like it will really appeal to the target market, linking with to make them feel like they're on familiar ground. And for those outside of the target, the conversational town is still great.
  • The introduction. At first I wasn't so keen on the introduction because I felt that it needed more to encourage readers to eat healthily/substitute ingredients/experiment with recipes once they are confident enough. However, after reading it again I realised it did all that with out being patronising which is the most important thing. If I were a fresher this year I would feel like I could be independent, cooking gorgeous dishes for myself and friends to enjoy. I was being unfair on my first run through and I'm sorry for that. The intro contains all the important guides like using containers which most people will have to measure things (instead of scales which most people won't have unless you're like me and have three sets), the essential equipment and food basics, basic food hygiene and safety, how to include and prepare veg, and portion sizes etc.
What I thought could be better which isn't much:
  • This one might be just me who thinks this. There is a handy little code included with each recipe telling you whether it costs less than £1.50, £1.50-£2.50 or £2.50 to £3.50 per person and I was surprised to see how many higher costing recipes there were. This point should be taken with a pinch of salt though because I've had a few years practise at finding ways to cut costs and as I've already said, this book is about teaching so readers will learn their own ways too. Plus, the book contains proper meals, not quick cheats, and proper food costs. There is no point in trying to hide this because then we'd all be eating the cheapest pasta sauces every night and that isn't good for the body or soul.
  • I feel there ought to be a section on using up leftovers and teaching about reducing food waste. The Unbelievably Easy Ham and Cheese Pasty' recipe highlighted this for me when it instructs to cut out the pastry circles and then discard the off cuts. Alright, so the recipe calls for puff pastry which won't puff up if you mush all the off cuts together in the same way you would shortcrust pastry but if I had written the book (I would love to write my own recipe book by the way) I would have said use shortcrust pastry right from the start. The waste bits can then be used to make things like jam tarts. I would've also included how to make your own shortcrust pastry because it is so easy and satisfying. Cooking for the freezer tips to reduce waste and costs would be good addition too.
  • Another thing I would have done if I had written the book would have been to include at least a small section on alternative diets. Granted, the Ultimate Student Cookbook is about teaching general cooking so there is little scope for much in depth but so many people now know someone who has to follow a certain diet for health reasons, or even by choice and they might want to treat them to a meal or cake. Perhaps that is the foodie in me though.
Ok you've probably had enough of my waffle by now so let me leave you with my favourite recipe titles plus one full recipe reproduced with permission of course. I can't take credit for the first three pictures, I just feel the recipes deserve a special mention!

Favourites Recipes from The Ultimate Student Cookbook 

  • Gnocchi - I tried this one out straight away because it was this book which showed me how easy it is to make. Ok so I played around (I just can't help myself) and added carrots to add in some veg but I loved it. I'm still not totally sure of the pronunciation mind!
  • Bean Cassoulet - so yummy and comforting so I'm glad I tried it. It's so easy and adaptable because you can use your favourite beans or throw in some meat as you wish. I reckon bacon would be nice. Why didn't I think of that the first time round?!
  • Sausage and Red Pepper Rolls - I've never thought of putting pepper in a sausage roll before but the picture makes it look oh-so-good. I'll be testing this soon.
  • Black Forest Pint-o-Trifle - I haven't tried this one but I thought it was a brillliant idea. I've seen loads of individual desserts in glasses but never one like this. It would be good for a barbeque party of if it were made by students then it would be a fantastic end to a dinner party without the need to go buying a big trifle bowl.
  • Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies - these were my absolute favourite so naturally I tried them out and they certainly didn't disappoint. I did some big ones and some smaller but they were all gorgeous. I wasn't the only one who though so too. They are cripsy on the edges and soft in the centre with a brilliantly peanut buttery taste to complement the chocolate. I can't sing their praises more so why don't you give them a go for yourselves. Then when you see how easy they are maybe buy the book for more really easy, tastey dishes. It's available at Amazon here. 

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

  • Generous splash of milk
  • 125g light soft brown sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 100g smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 egg
  • 150g milk chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).
  2. Put the milk, sugar, butter, peanut butter and salt in a large saucepan over a medium heat. As the butters and sugar begin to melt into the milk, stir to combine. Once all the ingredients are well incorporated, take the pan off the heat and allow to cool briefly.
  3. Place the flour and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Pour in the melted peanut butter mix and stir this into the flour. 
  4. Crack the egg into the bowl and add the chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly until you end up with a dough-like consistency.
  5. Take a golf-ball-size portion of the mixture and roll it in your palms to form a ball. Gently flatten the ball until it becomes a disk about 1cm thick. Place on a non-stick baking tray. Repeat the process with the remaining mixture, making sure you leave a couple of inches between each soon-to-be cookie.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and place on a rack to cool for a few minutes before devouring.
Disclaimer: did not pay me for my time and all opinions are my own. I wasn't forced to write a positive review - that just wouldn't be fair.