Monday, 27 April 2009

The Daring Bakers - April Challenge

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abby's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

As part of my foodie blog project I decided to join The Daring Kitchen. This is an online group for keen bakers and, more recently, cooks as a whole.  Each month both the bakers and the cooks are given a recipe to make and report back on at a later date.

This month the challenge was to take a basic cheesecake recipe which consisted of a cream cheese filling with a graham cracker crust (the US alternative to a biscuit base) and elaborate on it.  I have to confess I can't really take all of the credit for the final recipe I used as I decided to base it on a recipe I've been dying to try for ages - Nigella Lawson's Lime and Chocolate Cheesecake.

The base consisted of the usual biscuits crumbs and butter mixture, but instead of digestive biscuits (or Graham Crackers) I used double chocolate chip cookies.  These were whizzed into crumbs, mixed with melted butter and pressed into the base of a spring-form tin.

Then, to make the filling it was simply a case of mixing together the filling ingredients and adding the juice of four limes.  This was then poured in the tin and the whole thing baked in the oven for about an hour until the cheesecake was almost set, with just the hint of a wobble remaining.

The cake was left to cool in the fridge before removing it from the tin and serving.  

I have to say this recipe was definitely a big winner.  The chocolate chip biscuits added, not surprisingly, a lovely chocolate flavour to the base and the limes provided a wonderful balance to the cheesecake filling which can sometimes be a little too rich or sickly for me.  As you can see, the cake browned on the top a bit but it had no impact on the flavour as far as we could tell.

The original recipe can be found here on Jenny's blog.  Nigella's recipe for Lime and Chocolate Cheesecake can be found in Nigella Bites.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Some more pretty cakes

My cupcake experiment continues!

This time, though, I thought I'd try mini cupcakes and use my icing syringe for the piping.  And instead of using double the weight of icing sugar to butter I've used a recipe that uses four times as much sugar compared to butter (plus a splash of milk).  The end result is much stiffer (possibly a little to stiff?) than the one I used previously and is a lot easier to work with.  Not surprisingly though this does make a VERY sweet buttercream.

I also used a slight different recipe for the cake this time - the standard 2 eggs and 4oz of everything else PLUS an extra teaspoon of baking powder.  They came out very well but I still think the 4, 5, 6 recipe (see here for a previous discussion on this subject) is the best if you want a really light sponge.

Overall I'm pretty happy with how they turned out but I'd still like improve consistency of my piping skills - it's so hard to make them all look the same!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Another Creme Fraiche recipe!

I had finished with my little creme fraiche project for the time being but then I came across this recipe in May's delicious magazine which I thought looked interesting.  It's called Roasted Chicken and Leek Fusilli Pie and, instead of mixing the pasta with the sauce, you just put it on top of the chicken and veg mixture, a bit like a pie crust I suppose, drizzle with olive oil and then bake it in the oven   I was bit concerned that the pasta would go really crunchy like the edge of a lasagne that hasn't quite been covered by sauce.  

As it turned out the pasta didn't go crunchy, apart from a few bits around the edge, although I did think it was a bit chewy.  Overall I thought it was a pretty nice dish, but not outstanding.  There was quite a lot preparation involved with chopping all the veg and chicken (the recipe states 15 minutes prep time but I'm sure it took me longer that that) although once that was done it was all pretty straightforward.  Also, you couldn't then just put it in the oven and leave it as the veg had to be roasted, then the pasta added and then the cheese put on the top for the last five minutes.  While it was nice, it was quite nice enough to justify all the effort and to be honest I'm not sure it's one I'll be making again in the future.

Here's the recipe...

Roasted Chicken and Leek Fusilli Pie
(adapted from delicious magazine, May 2009)

2 tbsp olive oil
8 large skinless chicken thigh fillets, cubed
2 red potatoes, diced
1 red onion, thickly sliced
2 leeks, washed and thickly sliced
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp plain flour
250g fusilli or other pasta shape
100g frozen peas
150ml chicken stock, hot
200g creme fraiche
75g grated fontina or gruyere

1) Preheat the oven to 109c/gas 5.  Heat 1 tbsp o
il in a 1.2 litre ovenproof dish.  Stir in the chicken, potatoes, onion, leek, garlic, bay leaf, flour and some seasoning.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden, stirring once or twice.

2) Meanwhile, cook the pasta until just about done but still firm in the centre, then drain well.

3) Stir the peas, stock and creme fraiche into the chicken mixture, then top with the pasta.  Drizzle over the remaining olive oil, then bake for a further 20 minutes.  Scatter over the cheese and return to the oven for 5 minutes until bubbling and golden.

This dish was included the magazine's "freeze ahead" section.  If you want to freeze the dish, cool it completely before wrapping in cling film and foil and storing it in the freezer for up to two months.  Defrost thoroughly before reheating at 190c/gas 5 for 25 minutes until piping hot.  Cover with kitchen foil if it's browning too much.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A cake experiment

While I was visiting family recently I decided, along with my sister, to try a bit of a taste experiment.  Most recipe books give the standard sponge cake recipe of 2 eggs plus 4 oz each of butter, sugar and SR flour.  However, there is an alternative recipe that my mum always uses which calls for 2 eggs plus 4 oz butter, 5 oz sugar and 6 oz SR flour (I'll leave you to work out the metric equivalents if you really want to - I'm afraid I'm an imperial girl at heart).  This recipe comes from a little book that came with my mum's Kenwood Mixer of all places (which dates back to 197something) although I'm sure it has been published elsewhere since then.   Anyway, as we had plenty of willing testers we thought we make a batch of each and compare the results.  Both batches were mixed up with about 1/2 tsp of vanilla and a splash of milk and then baked in muffin cases at 180C for 12-15 minutes.

On taking them out of the oven there was an obvious difference between the two batches - the 4,5,6 batch looked more well-risen than the 4,4,4's, which looked a little flat.

Flavour-wise they were pretty similar.  (Actually, to be honest, the 4,4,4 batch had a bit more flavour but I think that may have been down to me being a little too heavy-handed with the vanilla).  When it came to texture however, the 4,5,6 batch was definitely better as they were much lighter and fluffier.  As a result, we proclaimed the 4,5,6 batch to be the winner.

While we were in cake making mode we tried our hands at a bit of fancy icing.  Upmarket cupcakes seem to be all the rage at the moment with cake stalls at farmers markets and websites popping up all over the places.  I've often thought "How hard can it be?" and that I must give it a go myself (hence the recent purchase of a new piping bag!).  As it turns out, the answer to the above question is "Quite Hard!".  The pictures I've posted don't actually look too bad but the icing was quite hard to work with.  Further research has suggested that I need to use a greater proportion of icing sugar - I will experiment on and report back (it's tough job but someone's got to do it!).

My handywork

My sis's

A spare egg white

The Viennese Biscuits I posted about previously resulted in a spare egg white which gave me an excellent excuse to bake the following recipe. This is one of my all-time favourite recipes and ranks very highly on my effort/reward scale! (I will try and elaborate on this at a later date). In short, they are ridiculously easy to make and taste fantastic.

Forgotten Cookies
(by David Oppedisano writing in Good Food Magazine)

2 large egg whites
120g (4 1/2 oz) golden caster sugar
120g (4 1/2 oz) pecan nuts, roughly chopped
150g (5oz) dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Line two baking sheets with foil.

2) In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and dry. Gradually whisk in the sugar to make a thick and glossy meringue. Gently fold in the nuts, chocolate and vanilla.

3) Spoon heaped teaspoonfuls on to the baking sheets. These don't tend to spread a great deal so you don't need to leave huge gaps.

4) Put the sheets in the oven, then turn it off and leave the cookies for at least 3 hours, overnight, or until the oven is cold.

5) Carefully peel the cookies from the foil and store in an airtight container.

A new baking toy...

As you can see in the above picture I have invested in a piping bag (and nozzle!).  I am feeling the need to be a little more creative and experimental with my baking so thought this would be a good start.  

I began my foray into the piping bag world by making Viennese Biscuits from Rachel Allen's Bake.  I was a bit worried that the dough would be too thick to pipe out but it was fine and I think they turned out pretty well.

I decided to sandwich them together with butter icing, flavoured with cocoa powder, and while they looked very pretty I thought the end result was a bit too sweet, even for me.  Next time I think I'll use jam instead, or maybe try dipping them in melted chocolate.

Viennese Biscuits
(adapted from Bake by Rachel Allen)

110g (4oz) butter, softened
50g (2oz) icing sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
1/2- 1 tsp vanilla extract
150g (5oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) cornflour
Pinch of salt

Piping bag & 1-1.5cm star nozzle

1) Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

2) Cream the butter until soft and then beat in the icing sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract until combined.

3) Sift in the flours and salt and mix well to form a dough.

4)  Spoon the dough into the piping bag and pipe out 5cm 'S' shapes, circles or rosettes, spaced 5cm apart to allow them to spread.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until pale golden brown.

5) Leave on the baking tray for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes about 15 biscuits or 30-35 mini bite-sized ones.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Creme Fraiche Challenge - Recipe No 4

Tonight's dish, Pork Medallions with chilli, lemon, chive and creme fraiche, was recommended to me and it didn't disappoint.  It's another recipe from the Delicious Magazine website and can be found here.  The most time-consuming thing about this dish was the mash I served with it - cooking the pork took just a few minutes.  I should say that I'm not a fan of fresh chillis so just used a few dried chilli flakes instead.

The only negative thing about this dish was that it wasn't particularly photogenic!  Apart from the broccoli I served with it, it was all a bit beige so I'm afraid I don't have a photo to share with you tonight.  

So, how about this one instead?

The beautiful Jersey cow, but from a slightly-less-than-beautiful angle.  

Well, I like it!


You'd prefer I stuck to photos of food?


Friday, 3 April 2009

The Creme Fraiche Challenge - Recipe No 3

Tomato, Red Onion and Creme Fraiche Tart

I was trying to think of a creme fraiche recipe for my Creme Fraiche challenge that didn't involve pasta or mushrooms when I remembered a lovely tart recipe. I found this recipe in Delicious magazine some time ago and have made it two or three times now. The first time I made it I thought the recipe used far too many tomatoes so since then I have just used 250g and have much preferred the end result.

Making this recipe has reminded me of a couple of useful pastry-making tips!

Tip No 1 - If you can't be bothered with messy flour on your worktop or are struggling with cracking pastry just put the pastry between two big pieces of cling film and roll away!

Tip No 2 - Always keep a few scraps of raw pastry to one side. Then, if your cooked pastry case comes out of the oven with a crack or two in it you can just cover them up with a bit of raw pastry. Don't worry about the raw pastry, it will cook when the tart goes back in the oven.

This is a really delicious tart. The onions give a lovely sweet, rich flavour which is nicely balanced with the creamy filling and sharp tomatoes. This is a recipe which takes bit of time to put together but rest assured, your efforts will be rewarded!

You can find the recipe here on Delicious Magazine's website.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Creme Fraiche Challenge - Recipe No 2

The second dish I've made as part of The Creme Fraiche Challenge is a great after-work pasta dish - it's quick and only needs one pan.

Lemon linguine with ham
(from Good Food Magazine - August 2006)

Serves 4

400g/14oz linguine
cupful of frozen peas
200ml creme fraiche
grated zest of 1/2 lemon and juice of 1 lemon
3-4 slices of cooked ham, cut into strips

1) Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling water, adding the peas for the last 4-5 minutes

2) Drain the pasta well, reserving a little of the cooking water

3) Return to the pan and stir in the creme fraiche, lemon zest and juice.  Add a little of the cooking water if it needs loosening up.

4) Season and serve with the ham strips scattered over.