Saturday, 30 January 2010

Caroline's blueberry nutella cake

Our house smells divine just now. It's a shame this isn't a smell-a-blog. We are having a gloriously lazy morning which has consisted of a lie-in, breakfast under the duvet on the sofa, an episode of Battlestar Galactica under said duvet (Starbuck a man in the original??? I don't think so), some knitting - and a little cake baking. Hence the magnificent smell.

Mmmnn, gooey nutella

Despite recent trends on this blog we do actually eat savoury food round here too, but this is a cake to take to Kiwi Family later today, sort of in honour of Kiwi Sis's birthday a few weeks ago, which is sort of her 30th because we all missed her real 30th last year when they were still in New Zealand. For once I had no dithering at all over what to make because I was itching for an excuse to make my new friend Caroline's blueberry nutella cake. She made it for one of our craft groups and it was just the best cake ever. My commitment to this cake only increased when what should Kiwi Sis give me as part of a lovely Xmas hamper, but some home-made blueberry jam? Serendipity spoke.

So far the cakes are made and cooling, but I plan to update this with photos before we leave to head up to Kiwi Family. I made the mixture in my food processor for the first time ever as the butter hadn't softened as much as I'd hoped and I needed some more welly. It was quite fun. I also added a splash of kettle-hot water as my cocoa mix was a bit claggy, and this works well in one of our family chocolate cakes. And I had to grease but not line the tins because I was out of baking paper, so we will have to see how amenable the cake is to being turned out. The mixture was a bit thicker than I expected as Caroline's cake was really moist (that word again!), but I decided to go with it and tinker next time.

Update: the cake was a winner! I sandwiched it together with Kiwi Sis's jam, and then spread a whole (small) pot of nutella over the top and sides. The Munchkin and Munchkinette recognised my cake tin as soon as we arrived (the Munchkin actually asked in advance what I'd be bringing, but had already been excited that we were coming to stay, so I'm sure this wasn't the only reason he was looking forward to seeing us!), and were pretty impressed with the sight of so much chocolate. I don't think the cake was quite as moist as Caroline's, but I don't think anything with that much chocolate spread on it can ever be a hardship to eat. I haven't tried making any of the vegan versions of nutella (there's one in V-con, and another here, for example), but that plus vegan marge and an egg replacer could make for an excellent alternative version...
Cai's blueberry nutella cake recipe is here

Monday, 25 January 2010

New best carrot cake

I've been in the market for a new carrot cake recipe for a while. I used to have a great standby one from a leaflet I picked up at a supermarket checkout one time, but I haven't made it for a few years, as it turned out a bit gooey a few times on the trot. Personally I quite like gooey, within reason, but The Scientist isn't keen, and I've got to admit that veering that close to uncooked egg doesn't thrill me. I tried a Delia recipe for him to take gaming a year or so ago, but also had problems with cooking it through (as well as a whole manner of other problems I don't wish to revisit any time soon). This time I wanted to try one with pineapple in it too, after The Scientist tried a good one in a cafe. It just so happened that this vague yen coincided with our Vet Friends giving me not one, but two, great cookbooks for my Christmas present. The first was James Martin's dessert cookbook, which does feature a very fancy looking carrot cake, complete with caramelised baby carrots on the top - but no pineapple. The other was Simon Rimmer's new book, which coincidentally DOES have a carrot cake with pineapple.

Simon Rimmer is the chef at Green's restaurant in Didsbury, Manchester, which I've never been to, but have heard very good things about. I don't think it's particularly known for its desserts, but if this cake is anything to go by, it should be. For one thing, it avoided the under-cooking thing. In fact it cooked perfectly in the time it was supposed to. I'm sure the fact that you make two cakes to sandwich together rather than one large one helped, but still, I like a chef whose cakes bake how they're supposed to. It was also moist (I'm sure I use this word to describe all my favourite cakes - see the comment above on gooeyness, I suppose. I just asked The Scientist how he'd describe it, and he said succulent, which sounds much nicer). It was also hefty as a whole, but the cake itself was quite light. Am I making any sense? Just go and make it. And make the icing, too. It's not remotely vegan, but the people I was making it for aren't remotely vegan either, and they loved it. I've started a new label for 'gamers' favourites', so I can find the most requested treats for The Scientist's gaming weekends again easily. This one's definitely up there.

And since I mentioned it, the James Martin book is really good too - lots of tips on how to do cheffy decorating things and some lovely looking recipes. I'm hoping to try some of them very soon :)

Simon Rimmer's does as it says on the baking instructions carrot cake (from The Seasoned Vegetarian)

Feeds 10 (or 8 gamers)

300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp salt
175g light muscovado sugar
50g walnuts [I left these out as one of the gamers has a nut allergy]
227g can pineapple, drained and finely chopped
3 eggs
handful of sultanas [I left these out too as one of the other gamers doesn't like dried fruit. Picky lot aren't they?]
2 soft bananas, mashed
175g carrots, grated [this was about two]
175ml corn oil [I used vegetable]

Soft cheese icing
100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar, sifted
100g cream cheese
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
ground cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3. Prepare two greased and lined 20cm sandwich tins

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarb of soda together into a large bowl, then add the rest of the cake ingredients and mix well. Divide the mixture between the tins.

Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch

Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before icing

For the cream cheese icing, beat together the butter, sugar and cream cheese, then scrape in the seeds from the vanilla pod. Spread half the icing on top of one cake, then place the other cake on top and spread with the remaining icing. Dust lightly with cinnamon.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Banana custard cupcakes

Remember I said I'd made three types of cupcakes for Science Nephew's birthday party at the end of November? Well here, at last, is the third. I wanted something a bit special - a little pzazz, a little buffet-table presence, a little cry of 'photograph me' - so after the usual dithering, I selected a banana custard cupcake. After all, it was for a child's birthday party, and what child doesn't like bananas and custard? I even love the WORDS banana and custard.

I've made banana muffins before, but I wanted something more like a banana sponge this time. Handily, there was a recipe that looked just right on my cupcake calendar, so I used that as my base, and it did indeed turn out to be just as I'd hoped. In a perfect world of course I would have made my own custard but this didn't seem the time, so I scooped out a hollow in the middle of each cake, and spooned in some cooled instant custard. The scooped out bit was put back on top and the whole was adorned with squirty cream, and a cherry on the top. It looked just as fun as I'd hoped. As with the others, I took the components along to the party separately and assembled them there. I left the cream until the last minute, but it did still subside a bit, and was certainly pretty messy. In a misguided attempt at not weighing everyone down too much I'd gone for light cream, and I think it was just too light. Another time I'd whip some normal cream.

I think the scale of the cupcakes made them a bit daunting, but once people got stuck in I got some nice compliments (and Science Nephew's other grandma asked for the recipe :) ) The Scientist, however, came up with the best feedback: make bigger cupcakes, fill the middle with jelly AND custard, and make - a trifle cupcake! Inspired or what? Its time will come. It was the leftover squirty cream which made decorating his cupcake SO much fun for the Munchkin the next day. He truly couldn't believe he was allowed to do it and eat the results as well. It's fun being an aunt :)

Banana custard cupcakes

Cupcakes (recipe from my 2009 cupcake calendar - I imagine it has been superseded by this one)
1 cup (2 sticks, 240g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
2 cups self raising flour
4 eggs
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup (about 2 large) mashed bananas

Preheat the oven to 175C. Prepare muffin liners or tins.

Combine the utter, sugar, flour, eggs and nutmeg in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth - about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the mashed bananas until well combined. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack

To assemble
Make up instant custard and leave it to cool
Scoop out a cone from the middle of each cupcake, using a knife
Pour or spoon some custard into each cake - I put in enough to make it level with the top of the cake
Gently place the removed bit of cake back on top
Go crazy with the squirty cream
Put a cherry on top

Persimmon chutney delight

How well I remember the first time I met a persimmon. We were in Fremantle market near Perth a few years ago. I had drawn us over to the fruit and veg stands, where lots of the traders had examples of their wares for tasting. I was a bit suspicious when one held out a slice of what looked like very firm tomato - I thought I was quite well-up on exotic fruits from years of celebrating the Jewish harvest festival as a child, but I didn't recognise this. I tried it anyway - and was sold. This was no tomato (though I love tomatoes). Instead it was a supremely sweet-yet-firm nugget of delight, and it was a persimmon. When we got home I realised that you can get them in the supermarkets here, but for at least half their season they are imported from South Africa. For the other half, however, they come from Israel, and I'm prepared to extend my definition of European that far (Eurovision, people - they're in Eurovision). So for those few months I gorge on these little delights, and try not to think about how much sugar I must be ingesting. A few weeks ago I outdid even myself, however, as I bought a whole bag for a pound from Coventry market, and even I don't allow myself to eat that many in quick succession. They were starting to look a bit sorry for themselves after a week or so, and I decided I'd better find another use for them.*

I've been engaged in a long-term project to clear and defrost the freezer so I didn't want to bake any breads or cookies that would end up in there. Instead I was inspired by two very nice fruit chutneys I've eaten over the last few weeks, and found this recipe instead. The reviews were very useful, so I made the following changes:
I halved everything EXCEPT the fruit. I had so much of it, and wanted it to be really fruity, so I used four or possibly even five smallish very ripe persimmons.
I used much less than half of the vinegar as comments said that it was very vinegary. I wanted quite a loose chutney so I added a little bit more water towards the end, and mine was neither too vinegary nor too dry.
I used half cider vinegar and half white wine vinegar because I didn't have enough cider vinegar.

The resulting chutney had a good spicy kick to it, though you could dial the heat up or down according to preferences. I filled one average sized jar from my batch, which was just right. I have a bit of a tendency to hoard chutneys, and now that I hardly eat cheese I don't use it very much! I'm looking forward to trying this one with salads and bread though, and I might even let The Scientist try it. If he buys me some more persimmons.

A couple more pertinent persimmon facts: there are two types of persimmon, one of which is wonderful, but the other of which is astringent and disgusting. There is no mistaking whether you have the right one! The right one is small and tomato shaped, although it also depends on how ripe they are. The other is bigger and more bulbous (see a handy illustrated guide from another persimmon lover here). Secondly, persimmons are also called sharon fruits, but I think persimmon is prettier. Thirdly, my aunt told me you shouldn't eat more than one per day, but I have no idea why. Fourthly, if you cut the top off and put one in the freezer for a few hours, they make a delicious little sorbet you can eat with a spoon. Versatile AND pretty, eh? But I can't show you how pretty because I'd eaten all the others by the time I made the chutney :)

* why didn't The Scientist help me out? Well, to be honest, I don't even know if he likes them as they are so firmly designated as mine. He could try one if he wanted, honest. Well, as long as I had at least six more in the bowl.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Crafty Christmas cont'd

I hope you all had a fun festive season. We did - lots of eating, relaxing and spending time together. I will miss The Scientist when he goes off to work tomorrow :(

We were given some lovely presents by friends and family. Here are a few more of the home-made items we gave in return:

Knitted hat and gloves for Eco Sis

Woolly bear, for Vet Grub

Ever-growing litter of pigs - so cute I keep making more, but I suspect they will be joining Kiwi Family's household at some stage

As you can see, knitting is the new patchwork in our house, much to Mausel's delight (it's a game, a game!). The bear and the pigs, as well as a whole lot of stripy mice I haven't photographed yet, are from this brilliant book. The patterns vary in difficulty but there's a glossary of knitting techniques, and most of the toys are made in only a few pieces. I'd definitely recommend it. I made an elephant too but he came out a bit droopy so I've unravelled him and am going to try again using smaller needles.