When I saw a recipe for banana ginger cake chez The Caked Crusader the other day, I knew there was nothing to be done but make it as soon as I could. Banana and ginger is not an obvious pairing by any means, but the cake just sounded so good – and it was.
I’d not heard of The Dumpling Sisters until their newly published book passed my way recently. This endearing name for Amy and Julie Zhang highlights their passion for dumplings. It’s a lovely book with recipes for easy homemade Chinese food, but it’s heavily meat orientated, so not really one for me. However, there were a couple of baking recipes in the back which drew my attention and their sweet and salty walnut cookies were one of them.
Who doesn’t love a good Easter egg hunt? Well, I’m not actually sure I’ve ever been on one, but I love the idea and I’ve certainly witnessed a few with the excited squeals of children ringing in my ears. So when I was asked to create an Easter recipe for Sainsbury’s, I thought I’d hide a few Easter eggs inside some cupcakes.
For those of you who’ve been watching Lorraine Pascale’s latest cookery series on BBC2, How to be a Better Cook, this new cookbook will come as no surprise. Whether you’ve seen the series or not, Lorraine’s easy style makes this an accessible book for both beginners and those wanting to expand their range of techniques; the more advanced cook may also find it useful for inspiration. She carries us through the recipes with characteristic grace and modesty. The cover states, “100 quick and easy recipes”, a statement that grabbed my attention. Time is at a premium for most of us these days, so any help we can get to enable us to produce tasty and nutritious food that also looks good and is simple to prepare has got to be a good thing.
Published by HarperCollins, with a cover price of £25, this hardback edition of How to be a Better Cook is very similar in style to her last one A Lighter Way to Bake. The recipes are for simple every day food and are not too excessive when it comes to the use of fats and other such “naughty” ingredients. Chocolate tart I hear you cry? Well yes, there is a chapter on desserts, cakes and treats, what cookbook is really complete without one? But even the tart is made with more milk than cream. Similarly her recipes for panna cotta, ice-cream and Bircher muesli use yogurt to replace some or all of the cream associated with these dishes.
This is not a book aimed at vegans and vegetarians and I could wish there was a little more in it for me. However, despite the three chapters devoted to meat and fish, a few recipes caught my eye. Many of the meat dishes can easily be adapted to include vegetarian alternatives and there are chapters for canapés & cocktails, starters, snacks & soups, salads, vegetables & sides which also contain many vegetable dishes. It’s been a long time since I tried making harissa but Lorraine’s recipe has me inspired once again. She is a self-confessed harissa junky and uses it in all sorts of ways. I keep meaning to unearth my slow cooker from the back of the cupboard, but it’s a bit of a faff, so tends to stay put. However, this is about to change as I’m now really keen to make slow cooker lentil, sweet potato and cumin soup with ginger and coriander – I can just imagine how good that tastes.
As a fan of incorporating vegetables into sweet bakes, thus trying to make them a little more nutritious, I was pleased to see a recipe for pumpkin, brown sugar and pecan cake with cream cheese icing and very nice it looked too. Lorraine also incorporates wholemeal flour in some stem ginger and apricot biscotti, an addition which I obviously heartily approve of.
With Halloween and Bonfire Night just a few days away, it’s useful to find that Lorraine has these covered. Ghostly black-eyed meringues, lighter chocolate muffin spiders, s’mores pops and toffee apple slice pops are great fun to make, with or without the children.
The pages are shiny which makes them a little difficult to read in certain light. I also found the photographs to be rather hard and a bit stark. There are plenty of them in the book and many of them are of Lorraine. As a former model, this is perhaps not surprising, but much as I like Lorraine, I prefer my recipe books to show pictures of the food rather than the author. However, I liked the stylish use of colour running through the book, a picture of something on a green plate for example would be matched by green text on the opposite page. A recipe for chargrilled green bean, sugar snap and courgette salad with poppy seed dressing printed in pink, had pink forks shown in the accompanying photo. You can see what I mean from the recipe excerpt below.
Lorraine gives tips and tricks throughout the book, but also includes a few pages at the end detailing her store cupboard essentials, kitchen equipment essentials, how to look after knives and how best to store food.
As soon as I saw the recipe for Ridiculously Rich Chocolate Tart, I knew that was the one I was going to make for this review. As per usual, I changed things around a little. I had some goat’s butter from St Helen’s Farm that I was keen to try out in the pastry and some goat’s milk in need of using up. I also wanted to give the tart a bit of a salted caramel edge. To do this, I used a pinch of salt and 100g of Cacao Barry caramel milk chocolate and 165g of 72% dark chocolate, which included one of the Seed and Bean bars I reviewed a while back. I also made the pastry with half wholemeal flour and half white.
Apart from faffing around with pastry, which is never my most fun activity in the kitchen, this tart was a breeze to make. If you are in a rush, Lorraine allows for a nice easy get out clause for this stage – buy the pastry. But that’s not my way. The only problem I experienced, other than trying not to eat it before it set, was getting the tart into the oven without spilling the filling. Needless to say, I didn’t achieve this. Lorraine suggests pouring the filling into the tart case once it’s actually on the oven shelf. My oven and kitchen preclude this, so I didn’t quite get the nice clean edges I’d have liked. I also found, I had more pastry and filling than I needed, so I made three 10cm tartlets as well.
The Tarts were sublime. They had a crisp, buttery, flaky pastry which melted in the mouth – not a soggy bottom in sight. The filling was rich and creamy and had the hint of salted caramel I was looking for. It also had a subtle goaty tang which did a good job of reinforcing the robust flavour of the chocolate and added another welcome dimension.
I’m sending the tarts over to Lucy at SuperGolden Bakes for her weekly event #CookBlogShare.
In case you would like to try Lorraine’s recipe out rather than my slightly adapted version, I am taking the unusual step of including an exact copy here for you with kind permission of HarperCollins.
|Photography © Maja Smend|
Recipe taken from How to be a Better Cook by Lorraine Pascale (HarperCollins, £25).
For years I’ve raged against the invasion of the very American Halloween and associated trick or treating; in the UK, we have All Hallows Eve, from which Halloween is derived. Just five days later we have our very own Guy Fawkes Night, with its pagan effigy burning associations – OK Guy Fawkes was a catholic, but never mind. Well, finally I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can’t beat them you’d better join them! In fact I had no choice as this month’s We Should Cocoa theme is Halloween.
If I need to make brownies in a hurry, my go to recipe these days is for chocolate fudge brownies from Charlotte Pike’s wonderful book Easy Baking in The Hungry Student series. I first made these for an event last summer where they proved to be extremely popular. Then, last week, I made some for my birthday party. This week, I’ve omitted the coffee, used some different sugars and added blackcurrants. I also always use wholemeal flour or wholemeal spelt which I feel gives me a few brownie points (haha). The method I use is my favourite one pot wonder.
Father’s Day will soon be here, falling on Sunday 15th of June this year. Baking something for dad is a gesture many people are keen to make. Dr Oetker have come up with a few chocolate recipes they feel would be suitable for the occasion. The recipes focus less on the sugar and more on the chocolate – of the dark variety. They include a chocolate Guinness cake and an ale chocolate layer cake – hmm, I think I can see a theme developing here. I opted to try out the recipe for Coconut Chocolate Bars which I knew would appeal to CT.
I didn’t, of course, stick entirely to the recipe as given. For a start, I didn’t have any powdered egg white, Dr Oetker or otherwise, but I did have two egg whites sitting in the fridge leftover from making raspberry muffins. I used wholemeal spelt flour for the base along with vanilla sugar. I added a little butter and maple syrup to the chocolate at the end as I opted for the 72% and thought this might be a little too hard to work on its own. I also wanted a nice shiny top and as I still haven’t really got to grips with tempering chocolate properly, this seemed a good way of achieving it. You can find the original recipe here.
This is how I made:
Coconut Chocolate Bars
- Creamed 100g unsalted butter with 50g vanilla sugar (golden caster sugar) until the mixture was smooth and creamy.
- Sieved in 115g wholemeal spelt and 15g of cocoa powder and mixed until just combined.
- Pressed into an 8″ sq silicone mould trying to make it as evenly spread as possible.
- Baked at 180℃ for 15 minutes then reduced the oven to 140℃.
- Whisked two egg whites with a pinch of cream of tarter until peaks formed.
- Slowly whisked in 100g golden caster sugar until stiff peaks formed.
- Gently stirred in 1 tsp of vanilla paste and 150g desiccated coconut.
- Spread this over the biscuit base and baked for 25 minutes at 140℃.
- Melted 150g Dr Oetker 72% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water together with 20g unsalted butter and 1 tbsp of maple syrup.
- Stirred gently until smooth.
- Poured over the coconut spreading it into the corners and ensuring all was covered.
- Left to set, removed from the mould and cut into 18 bars.
If, like us, you are fond of the UK confectionery Bounty bars but find them too sweet, you will love these. They have all the flavour and texture of a Bounty and more and they are not tooth achingly sweet. They weren’t as pretty as I was hoping; I was unable to cut them cleanly, but they held together well and still looked quite striking with the alternating layers of dark, white and dark. They were light in texture but quite rich, so we found ourselves unable to gorge on them as we thought we might.
I’m sending some of these off to Nayna over at Simply Food for her Let’s Cook for Father’s Day event.
Likewise I’m sending some bars off to Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior’s Cookin w/Luv.
There should be just a few of these chocolate coconut bars to send off to #recipeoftheweek with Emily over at A Mummy Too.
Chocolate was a very rare treat when I was a child. Bounty bars were allowed on rare occasions as they were deemed to be less unhealthy because of the coconut. So I am sending these adult versions off to Treat Petite where the theme is childhood memories. CakeyBoi and The Baking Explorer host this monthly event.
Thanks to Dr Oetker for the baking chocolate selection and recipes. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
Looking around my kitchen the other day (well more like the other week), two items caught my eye. An opened jar containing some chocolate mincemeat leftover from the mincemeat slices I’d made a few days earlier and one lost languishing banana which was about to expire. It was obvious there was no time to spare, I needed to use them quickly. What could I do, but make some banana and mincemeat buns. I based my recipe on the mincemeat buns I made a couple of years ago.
This is how I made them:
- Creamed 125g unsalted butter with 125g cardamom sugar (golden caster) until light and fluffy.
- Broke in 2 duck eggs, beating well between each egg.
- Added 1 mashed banana and beat until combined
- Sifted in 125g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 1 scant tsp baking powder and 1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
- Stirred until just combined, then stirred in 4 tbsp chocolate mincemeat.
- Spooned into 12 muffin cases.
- Baked at 180°C for 20 minutes until risen and golden.
The buns rose well and had a fabulous crumb structure. And more to the point, they were very tasty. Even CT liked these and he is not a mincemeat fan.
Using up leftovers and homemade leftovers at that, as well as rescuing a banana from the compost heap gives these simple buns the necessary kudos to be entered into Credit Crunch Munch with Camilla of FabFood4All and Helen of Fuss Free Flavours.
This month’s Family Foodies is all about getting something prepared fast – fast as in under 30 minutes. Well I reckon as long as your butter is soft and your ingredients handy, you could get these mincemeat muffins prepared in ten minutes allowing them 20 minutes to bake. I’ve also managed to get a healthy banana in their as well as lots of dried fruit and dark chocolate. Hosted alternately by Bangers & Mash and Eat Your Veg.
Saffron with its bright yellow hues and subtle floral and bitter notes is a spice which seems singularly exotic. But it has long been associated with Cornwall. It is said that the Cornish traded with the Phoenicians way back, exchanging tin for saffron and it’s been used here ever since. This may or may not be true, but saffron was a highly popular ingredient in the Middle Ages and saffron crocuses were grown in Bude until the late 19th Century.