Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Cherry, Walnut & Chocolate Birthday Cake


It's my mother's birthday tomorrow and a second Christmas celebration for us, so a special birthday cake is required. A few years ago I made my mother Brian Goodwin's Birthday Cake from Gaia's Kitchen for her birthday party and it proved to be so popular with the guests that I was inundated with requests for the recipe. Surprisingly, I haven't made it since - time to rectify this I think!

This is how I did it:
  • Melted 100g bar 85% dark chocolate and left to cool slightly.
  • Creamed 4.5oz unsalted butter with 4.50z light muscovado sugar & grated zest of 1 orange.
  • Beat in chocolate.
  • Beat in 3 medium size eggs, one by one.
  • Sieved in 6oz flour (1/2 wholemeal spelt & 1/2 white spelt) with 2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.
  • Stirred in juice from same orange with a couple of tbsp of water as it was quite a stiff mixture.
  • Stirred in 3oz natural glace cherries - halved and 2oz of walnuts - roughly chopped.
  • Spooned mixture into a 21cm cake thingy and baked at 180C (gas 4) for 30 mins.
  • Turned out onto rack and left to cool.
  • Rolled out 8oz natural almond marzipan into a round to fit top of cake.
  • Melted 100g bar of 70% dark chocolate with 1/2 oz butter and two tbsp of date syrup.
  • Stirred this until smooth then covered cake with the marzipan and then the marzipan with the chocolate mixture.
  • Decorated with 12 toasted walnut halves.
One of the reasons I remember this cake as being so good is that marzipan lovers like myself are not deprived of this delicacy as is usual with a non-fruit cake. I'm looking forward to trying it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Cupcakes


After the indulgence of saturday's Yule log, it was time to knuckle down and make a few presents. In preparation, I'd earlier bought some single cupcake boxes to add to the bags and baskets of various goodies that I've made (not quite as many as I'd originally planned, but at least I have something of a selection - medlar jelly, cranberry, walnut and white chocolate cookies (will be posting this one for Sweet & Simple Bakes on 1 January) and most importantly for this recipe, redcurrant vodka. How could I let all those booze soaked redcurrants go to waste? I couldn't of course, so - stroke of genius - I decided to use them in the cupcakes.

This is what I did:
  • Creamed 125g unsalted butter with 125g dark brown sugar until pale.
  • Beat in 3 smallish eggs (would have used 2 duck eggs, but didn't have any).
  • Sieve in 125g sieved flour (1/2 wholemeal spelt and 1/2 white spelt), 1 tsp baking powder, 1 heaped tbsp cocoa and 1 tsp mixed spice.
  • Then stirred in 6 large tbsp of redcurrants marinaded in vodka & sugar for 3 months then drained (alternatively you could use 100g raisins soaked overnight in brandy).
  • Divided mixture between 12 cupcake cases and baked in a preheated oven at 180C (gas 4) for 22 mins.
  • Left to cool whilst made the topping.
  • Melted 100g 70% dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.
  • Creamed 100g butter with 50g icing sugar.
  • Mixed in slightly cooled chocolate and spread on top of the cupcakes.
  • Decorated with cranberries and chocolate snowflakes.
We managed to nab one of these each. Luckily, the consensus was favourable. They were a little reminiscent of a Christmas pudding, both in texture and taste: nice and fruity with a bit of alcohol to warm the cockles. They may have been slightly seedy, but that is only to be expected of currants. All in all, I was well pleased with my Christmas cupcakes.

Thank you to all the good folk who have visited my blog this year with special thanks to those that leave such kind and supportive comments. These are always much appreciated. I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Chocolate Chestnut Log


A chocolate log blog without a chocolate log recipe? With the Christmas season in full swing, pressure has been mounting to correct this omission. What to bake? Actually, it wasn't that difficult, a recipe I've been wanting to try has been lurking in my pile of dusty magazines & cuttings since 2005 - better late than never! It's a chocolate chestnut roulade from I'm no longer sure where.

This is what I did:
  • Lined a 33 x 23cm swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
  • Melted 150g dark chocolate - I used Green & Black's 72% cook's chocolate.
  • Separated 6 large eggs.
  • Whisked whites until stiff (actually CT did this bit)
  • In a separate bowl, whisked yolks with 175g caster sugar until pale and custard like.
  • Whisked in the melted chocolate.
  • Folded in the egg whites 1/3 at a time using a large metal spoon
  • Poured mixture into tin and baked in a pre-heated oven at 180C (gas 4) for 25 mins - cake well risen, lightly browned and spongy to touch.
  • Left to cool slightly then turned out onto a piece of parchment paper dusted with caster sugar and removed backing paper.
  • Left to cool completely whilst made filling.
  • Whipped 200ml double cream until soft peaks formed (again can't claim all the credit as CT did this bit too).
  • Mixed in 4 heaped tbsp sweetened chestnut puree.
  • Spread this onto cooled sponge.
  • Attempted to roll the whole thing up - here disaster struck! It was quite thick and didn't seem to want to roll and my impatience didn't help. I finally managed to cobble something together that vaguely resembled a log shape. What a learning curve. Next time and there will be a next time, I'll use less sponge mixture and try and take more care when rolling.

Despite the original panic induced by the imperfectly rolled log, I actually like the fissures of the finished article which remind me of a pine log with deeply ridged bark. CT managed to hack two chunks off for us to try - his strength must be returning (he even managed to whip the cream and whisk the eggs, so he deserved his extra large slice).

The sponge has plenty of body despite being mainly eggs - it almost has a brownie consistency, sweet, moist and dense yet somehow light at the same time. This makes the perfect foil for the cream and chestnut filling, which offsets the sweetness of the sponge and has a contrasting texture and creaminess which creates a divine whole. Oh hell, forget complex analysis, it's just truly scrumptious. There would be no shame in presenting this as a centre piece for a Christmas tea or as pudding for a special dinner. Or like us, no special occasion required.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Chocolate Refrigerator Cake for Adults


I may not have managed to do much in the way of Christmas baking this year, but I did get to make a rather rich and fruity version of a "no bake cake" today. We may not have mince pies to offer the good folk who drop in to alleviate some of CTs boredom as he continues to languish on the sofa, but I do now have an alternative Christmas offering!

This is what I did:
  • Melted 200g Maya Gold (dark orange spiced chocolate) with 4oz unsalted butter and 4 tbsp double cream.
  • In a large bowl, broke up 8oz digestive biscuits into small pieces (but not crumbs) with the end of a rolling pin.
  • Added 4oz walnut pieces (again not too small), 2oz goji berries, 2oz crystallised ginger - chopped and 2oz dried figs - chopped.
  • Mixed in chocolate mixture until all thoroughly combined, but taking care not to break up the biscuits and other pieces too much.
  • Turned out into a 9" sq cake thingy and left in the cold for a couple of hours. Normally, one would expect this to go into the fridge to set, but our kitchen is so cold, fridge was not needed.
  • When set cut into 24 rectangular pieces.
As well as being truly scrumptious, this is such a quick and simple thing to make. Lots of healthy fruit and walnuts and with no additional sugar, this was just the right side of sweet for our taste. Very rich and choclatey, this is definitely an adult version of a kids' favourite and a little goes a long way. Not quite the sort of cakes I was planning on doing for Christmas, but the figs give it that festive flavour. And who knows what I might be able to squeeze in next weekend!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Bread & Schumacher

What a fantastic time I had at Schumacher College and what a great place it is to unwind and meet interesting folk. The course, Baking for a New Food Culture, gave me even more than I had hoped for. I now have a new food hero, Andrew Whitley, the authority on all bread matters!

We learnt about and discussed the history, politics and health properties (or not) of bread in the mornings and baked wonderfully nourishing and tasty bread in the afternoons.

Day one saw us "air kneading" Pain de Campagne (a wheat sourdough) and having a go at a Russian Rye (another sourdough). One of the reasons I wanted to go on the course was to learn to make a good sourdough that wasn't actually too sour. Both of these turned out well, despite the unusual method of kneading and were completely delicious with just the right note of tanginess without being vinegary.

Day two had us air kneading again, this time making Ciabatta and Focaccia - again delicious and very quickly consumed during one of the gorgeous meals served at Schumacher.

Day three and we were making Challah, an enriched and sweetened Jewish bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath. This one I didn't get to taste as I gave it to my wonderful friends who had kindly taken in CT to look after while I was away on the course. They tell me it was lovely.

Sheila Dillon of the Food Programme on Radio 4 spent some time with us. She showed the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John and then led a discussion on the need to get everyone to understand the importance of eating real food produced by real people.

See Andrew's site Bread Matters for further information about the importance of real, non-industrialised bread and a short video clip showing something very similar to what we were doing at Schumacher including air kneading. Here, you can also buy a copy of his highly informative book "Bread Matters: why and how to make your own" and / or join the Real Bread Campaign.

OK, this didn't have a great deal to do with chocolate, but it was very much to do with real food AND on the last night we were served the most delicious chocolate and medlar tart!

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