Thursday, 18 December 2008

Visions Of Sugar Plums

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

-Extract from The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

- Very lazy blog post by a weary Ms. Blue

Night-Before-Christmas Slice
Makes 12
Recipe from Super Food Ideas: December 2007 via

150g (1 c.) mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, currants, sultanas (I know those three are basically the same thing, but whatever), then finely chopped dried apricots & dates)
200g (half a jar) mincemeat
75g butter, chopped
40g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
1 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp orange juice
60ml (1/4 cup) brandy
1 egg, lightly beaten
70g (1/2 cup) plain flour, sifted
35g (1/8 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
60g pecans
1 tsbp apricot jam

1. Combine dried fruit, mincemeat, butter, sugar, orange rind, juice and 40ml (a couple of tbsp) brandy in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Remove to a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease a 8" tin and line with baking paper, allowing a 2cm overhang at both long ends. Add eggs and flours to dried fruit mixture. Stir to combine.

3. Spread mixture over prepared pan. Top with nuts. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Combine jam and remaining brandy in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high (70%) for 30 seconds or until jam melts. Brush cake top with jam, cover, and allow to cool in pan. Cut into pieces to serve.

I know it's not the night before Christmas yet, but I thought I'd give you a bit of time ^__^.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Out Of Pocket

It's been a while since I whinged about my love for all things Japanese, and since my sister's been in Japan on a trip for the past week, I thought I was due a good whine. I also thought I was due some Japanese food (it always makes me feel healthy and redeemed, and I like to think it cancels out all the butterscotch pudding).

Inari-zushi is something I'd never tried before - basically it's seasoned rice in tofu pouches, and I'd been dying to give it a go for just about forever, but I had trouble finding the, uh, tofu pouches.

You see, when I made sushi I explained about living in a village overrun solely with alcoholics and the elderly, and inari pouches weren't much of an option (you can neither drink out of them nor... whatever it is that old people do). I'd more or less given up; unless tofu pouches dropped from the heavens and into my unresisting arms, I wasn't going to go too crazy over it. I could've always bought a block of tofu and cut a hole in it, but that wouldn't have been quite the same (not to mention that even tofu is probably a bit ambitious where I come from).

And then I moved a six hour drive away, to a university town where international students are common, and people think the North is some sort of widespread swamp over the entire upper half of England. Finding inari pouches wasn't really my main problem, haha, but all of a sudden I had options I'd never imagined.

And these are they! Weird crinkly soggy little things, but ohh they were delicious. I know I'd eat more or less anything if you told me they were Japanese, but these honestly took me by surprise - not to mention that I got to model them in my bento box with a rice ball from a batch I'd made and frozen a while back (a very poorly made batch: I don't think I was firm enough with them cause whenever I've had one they've collapsed all over the place).

These look nowhere near as impressive as regular sushi, but I think I enjoyed them even more - and damn, I'm proud of myself. I've come a long way. Literally.

Japanese Cooking At Home - Hideo Dekura
Tofu (bean curd) pouches (abura-gea), available from Asian grocery stores. Prepare these by placing them in boiling water for a minute, draining and squeezing out the excess oil.
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water and finely chopped - I used regular
1/4 small carrot, peeled & finely chopped
240ml (1 cup) stock
120ml (1/2 c.) soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp caster sugar

1. Place bean curd pouches, mushrooms and carrot in a saucepan. Add stock, soy sauce, mirin and caster sugar, making sure pouches are submerged while cooking. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for about 10 mins. Remove from heat and allow to stand while liquid is cool.

2. Remove bean curds and squeeze to remove excess water. Transfer to a chopping board and cut in half to make two pouches, then set aside (mine were already in half-pieces).

3. Mix mushrooms and carrot into the sushi rice with a rice paddle. Carefully open the pouches. With wet fingers, make a ball of rice and place it in the pouch. Press sides with fingers to make a pillow shape, and tuck the ends inside. Repeat with the rest.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Getting Saucy

It's officially December now - not just a little bit of December (the first couple of days are always a bit 'might be, might not be') but properly, full-on December, and so I feel totally within my rights to start the 'IT'S ALMOST CHRISTMAS, TEE HEE HEE' business now. Bring on the cheesy music, lopsided paper chains and ridiculous hats! On with the carol-singing, Muppet movies and getting ready to go home! It's time for frantic shopping, ice-skating, and of course, roast dinners followed by hot butterscotch pudding and toffee ice-cream.

Because we're not total student stereotypes, my friends and I decided to have a roast dinner on Sunday afternoon to bring in December; I suspect we all sort of expected it to go horribly wrong, but -as I gleefully texted my mother afterwards- it was a great success (I never knew it was possible to roast so many things; chicken, carrots, parsnips, potatoes... I began writing out what we'd had but I was using the word 'roast' so many times it began to lose all meaning). I took charge of gravy, having watched my mum make it hundreds of times (her gravy is famous across the North-West), but upon stepping up to the oven I realised I'd never actually made it myself from scratch and began waving my wooden spoon in alarm, rifling through cupboards and hyperventilating into my saucepan. Miraculously it turned out well, but I'm not sure how it happened.

Something I had more confidence in was this pudding (like at home, I was elected to make dessert. Some things never change), which is the self-saucing kind with a cakey top and gooey bottom. There is pretty much no way a butterscotch pudding can go wrong.

Well, I mean, there is. You could put all the sugar in at once and then realised you were supposed to keep half of it aside to go on top, for example, which I certainly Did Not Do. But a bit of improvisation later and it doesn't really make much difference when you bring a steaming hot pudding to the table and people who were previously complaining they would never eat another bite start going, 'just a smaller piece... no, bigger than that... bigger than that... are we on rations or what?!'

Butterscotch Self-Saucing Pudding
Recipe found here.
Serves 6

100g (3/4 c.) brown sugar
200g (heaped 1 1/4c.) self-raising flour
100g butter, melted
1 egg
125ml (1/2 c.) milk
4 tbs golden syrup
1 tbs cornflour
375ml (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
Double cream or ice cream, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 1.5 litre (6 cup) ovenproof dish. Combine 35g (1/4 cup) of the brown sugar and all of the flour in a bowl. Add the melted butter, egg, milk and 2 tbs of the golden syrup and stir until combined. Spoon into greased dish.

2. Combine the remaining brown sugar and cornflour. Sprinkle over the pudding mixture. Combine boiling water with the remaining 2 tbs of golden syrup. Pour over the top of the pudding mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (obviously this depends how deep you skewer it; the cake should be cooked but you want it to stay saucy. I wouldn't worry too much about it).

Five of us round the table; a pudding that serves six. Say hello to breakfast.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

DB 6: The Sweetest Thing

I'm the first person to admit that I've been a bit of a failure on the Daring Baker front these past couple of months, if by 'a bit of a failure' you mean 'totally absent'. The thing is, there's a certain amount of insanity involved in DB challenges, and what with living with a load of new people here - I can't help thinking that if I stand in the kitchen all afternoon with my camera on timer, attempting to take pictures of myself flipping pizza dough when Asda sells frozen pizzas for 60p each, I'm going to get some very odd looks.

I am used to odd looks. I thrive upon odd looks. But when I moved out, my mother's advice to me was not, 'be yourself', but 'maybe don't be yourself too much, just for the first few weeks'. You see where I'm going with this.

I'd been worried that real life would force me to hand in my Daring Baker badge and gun (only kidding, we don't get badges), so a cake-centric challenge this month was a huge relief. People will let you get away with a lot of odd looks if you buy them off with cake at the end of it. Just to be on the safe side - and also because I wasn't, to be honest, hugely excited by the recipe as it stood - I decided to throw dulce de leche into the equation (explanation for those ignorant of this miracle: you know when you boil a can of condensed milk and your kitchen explodes, blah blah? Dulce de leche is the milk caramel you are rewarded with at the end. Worship it).

Rather than blow up the kitchen (people always get a bit narky over that, I'm damned if I know why) I'd stumbled across a technique for making dulce de leche in the microwave that sounded loads quicker & safer, so I decided to try that.

Technically I tried it twice, because, uh, the first time I ate all the results before I knew what'd happened. Ahem.

Dulce de Leche in the Microwave
Can't remember where I found this method, sorry.
1 400g can condensed milk

Empty the can into a large glass bowl, and cover with cling film. You can either keep a tiny bit uncovered to prevent excess steam build-up or cover it fully and punch a few holes in the top with a pair of scissors; I had more success with the latter.

Microwave on medium power (I used level 5 on a 10-level appliance) for 2 minutes. Remove, stir with a wire whisk, and recover. Cook on medium for 2 more minutes. Remove, stir with a whisk, recover.

Then, in increments of 2-1/2 minutes, cook (on medium power) for another 10 minutes, stirring between each interval. After the first two stirs, you'll notice that the milk bubbles and foams up as it expels moisture. Then, with each stirring, the milk will be thicker and more caramel colored. If after the 10 minutes, you like the color and consistency, stop! If you'd like a thicker sauce, continue cooking in 1-minute increments for another 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the microwave, and let cool before packing in a glass jar, or use right away as a topping for ice cream.

Onto the cake itself - and I'm sorry, I just wasn't blown away by it. It wasn't a very demanding recipe (what came over you, DBers?!) but apparently a popular one. Nn. Sure, it was nice - I adore the frosting - but the cake itself was pretty plain, with unneccessary caramel-making steps that didn't add much to the flavour; call me uncivilised (and admittedly I had trouble browning the butter; is that what we used to call burning it in the old days?) but it just tasted like a plain sponge to me. Without the dulce de leche filling, there wouldn't have been much special about it at all. That said, I didn't exactly have trouble eating it, and the frosting is killer (there should have probably been more of it, but, uh, it had to sit in the fridge a couple of days, and mysteriously depleted).
Caramel Cake recipe here.

I would say: if you fill the cake with dulce de leche, I recommend adding a little cream or milk to it to soften it a little (so it's a little gooier/runnier) - mine was really too thick to be a cake filling, but it only occured to me afterwards that I should have done something more with it. Le sigh.

November's Daring Baker Challenge comes from a recipe by Shuna Fish Lyndon, as chosen by DB host Dolores with co-hosts Alex (Brownie of Blondie & Brownie) and Jenny of Foray Into Food. Thank you!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Flipping Marvellous

As you all know, I have dazzlingly healthy eating habits; so when Joy The Baker posted a few weeks ago about making carrot cake pancakes my reaction was nought but glee at the idea of getting those extra vegetables in for breakfast.

Hee hoo hoo hoo. I just like the fact it has 'cake' in the name. CAKE FOR BREAKFAST, MOTHER. I TOLD YOU IT WAS THE FUTURE.

However, after the triumph of my carrot cake a few weeks back, the novelty of beta-carotene is wearing off a little.

Also I just like to be excessive, it makes me feel like a better blogger (not hard).

Also I like grating stuff.

To summarise: two batches of pancakes! (This is the kind of summary I enjoy). The first is Joy's carrot cake pancake recipe: I don't have much to bring to the party over those other than to say firmly, I APPROVE. The second is an apple pancake recipe from a book called 'Chocolate'; this is a little redundant as I left the chocolate out. Sometimes I'm so wild I scare myself.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted from the Food Network
Metric by me.

170g (1 1/4 cups) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
240ml (1 cup) milk
200gish (2 cups) finely grated carrots
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Spread
120g (4 ounces) cream cheese
50g (1/4 cup) icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 dash ground cinnamon

1. In a bowl, combine flour, pecans, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine egg, brown sugar, milk, carrots, and vanilla; mix well.

2. Stir carrot mixture into dry ingredients until moistened. Pour batter by 1/4 cupful onto a greased hot pan. Turn when bubbles form on the top of pancake; flip and cook until golden brown.

3. For topping, blend cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve with pancakes.

I've even included a photo of the pancakes cooking (l: apple, r: carrot), just in case this concept is still blowing you away a little. A cake! in a pan! What a crazy world.

Apple Pancakes
Adapted from Chocolate by Parragon

225g (8oz) plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp butter, melted
300ml (10 fl oz) milk
1 eating apple
1 tsp cinnamon
(50g chocolate chips - I left these out)

1. Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and melted butter. Gradually whisk in the milk for a smooth batter. Peel, core and grate the apple and stir it into the batter (along with the chocolate chips if you're using those)

2. As for the carrot pancakes: cook in a hot pan. Flip 'em around the kitchen with reckless abandon and alarm flatmates who should know better and innocent visitors (pay them off with pancakes they'll get over it pretty fast). Good times.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bread Basket-case

It may look like I have a bit of a craze for yeast-less bread going on at the moment, and that's because, uh, I have. Bread generally fulfills my baking urges, without me having to spend a small fortune on sugar, eggs and chocolate. And going for quickbreads or -today- soda bread saves me the whole waiting business that yeast involves.

Of all the urges to strike young people nowadays, I get baking urges. I'm practically a stone.

In my defence, I went to London for a couple of days at the weekend and managed to spend in that time what I usually spend in three or four weeks - as a result, this week, I resolved to curb my excesses a bit. Read: instead of buying drinks and going out on the razzle (people don't use that word nearly enough) I bought apple cider vinegar to make onion chutney and tried to tell myself it was a necessary purchase. It is now sat incongruously in our shared kitchen amongst tins of Asda Smartprice baked beans; I'm a little bit ashamed, but not enough to stop.

The good news (arguably) from your point of view is that, overwhelmed with goodwill and/or shame, I offer you two recipes this week! Calloo, callay, &c. &c.

Soda bread is the lazy baker's answer; it needs hardly any ingredients (although my recipe did just call for milk, and I thought buttermilk was a staple. Having bought vinegar anyway, I added a few drops to my milk to turn it into an acceptable buttermilk substitute. I'm just filled with such ingenuity), no yeast, no rising/proving time, bakes in half an hour... plus you get flatmates wandering into the kitchen, drawn to the smell of fresh bread, with looks of wonderment on their faces. Paired with Cheddar cheese and homemade onion chutney - the condiment you never knew you were missing, in the words of Eat Me, Delicious - and I have to admit my (half-sized) loaf was engulfed embarassingly quickly.

I'm now about to go to the gym, but that's nothing to do with anything.

Recipe from Easy Vegetarian by Ryland, Peters & Small.

500g wholemeal flour (I only had white)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cream of tartar (I left it out as I don't have any, and sometimes I like to leave out central ingredients. Just to mix things up, you know)
pinch of salt
25g butter, cut into small cubes
300ml milk
flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

1. Sift (pfft) the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl, and rub the butter in with your fingertips. Make a well in the centre and mix with a round-bladed knife to form a soft dough.

2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes. Shape into a round loaf 15cm diameter and flatten the top slightly. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and use a sharp knife to score a cross about 1 cm deep in the top of the dough, making quarters.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven, and, protecting your hands with a tea towel, tap the bottom of the loaf to check it's cooked -if it's ready, it should sound hollow. If it doesn't, bake a few minutes more. Serve warm.

Onion Chutney
Recipe from Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook, via Eat Me, Delicious

2 tbsp butter
2 yellow onions, diced
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp red chile flakes
1 tsp dried coriander (I'm not a coriander fan, so I used dried thyme. It was, you know, green. Close enough).
1 tsp brown sugar
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cracked pepper

1. Heat butter in a pan over medium heat and add onions. Saute until translucent. Add salt, chile flakes and coriander and continue to cook for 15 minutes (I didn't need quite this long). Add remaining ingredients and cook until the onions are very soft and creamy.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

You Say Quickbread, I Say Crackbread

...No, I haven't forgotten about you. And I haven't forgotten to eat. I haven't even forgotten to blog.

I've just forgotten to write an essay comparing two of Shakespeare's poems. Dang.

My Big Scary Essay Number One was in at the start of last week, meaning I spent the rest of the week happily cavorting around, learning every dance routine in High School Musical and probably getting through several bottles' worth of wine: as you can imagine, baking takes a back seat. I've given up on diluting my excesses and now eat my chocolate whole and my flour in handfuls straight from the bag (not really, because this would be disgusting).

This week I realised that although Big Scary Essay #1 was done, I did actually have several more assignments and a Slighter Shorter but Still Angsty poetry essay to write. Time to take my hand out of the flour bag, methinks (oh god, look what Shakespeare has done to me. I wrote a sonnet yesterday. It wasn't even about an aubergine).

So, back to business, if by business you mean, 'procrastination' (which I do).

Baking is more or less my default method of procrastination (followed by typing all this up: my essay document is open, so I'm practically working on it, right?) but deciding a sugar high was not in my best interests (what you want is not always what you need; a wise man told me that once. Or possibly a Disney film) I went for a savoury quickbread. Vegetables, and everything.

Never mind that the person who wrote this recipe was blatently on crack (the original recipe had NINE EGGS. NINE. The fuck?). I halved it, and then took out 2.5 eggs and added a few splashes of milk instead, because despite evidence to the contrary, I'm actually not insane. I also made it vegetarian, and changed the herbs, and the cheese, and the cooking time, and the method; and let's be honest, this isn't really the same as the original in any way. I didn't want to subject you all to some drug-dealer-written recipe.

Thank me later.

Savoury Breakfast Bread
Developed from a crazy recipe on Cooking Bread

140g (1c.) plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1/2 a medium red pepper, chopped (about 1/2 c.)
1/2 a medium courgette, chopped (about 3/4 c.)
115g (1 stick) soft butter (you probably don't need quite this much)
1-2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
about 80g (1/2 c.) grated cheddar cheese
twist of ground pepper
2 eggs
120ml (1/2c.) milk
1. In a bowl combine the flour, herbs, baking powder, pepper and courgette. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, butter and mustard. There is no chance of you combining butter with this shit unless you bash it up in a kitchen mixer or else microwave it in 20 second bursts to melt it in a bit; I did the latter. Add milk & mix until well blended. Season with pepper.

2. Pour half the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix until just blended. Add the cheese, mix, then add the rest of the flour and stir until again just blended. Don't be put off if it kind of looks like vomit at this point, and don't overmix.

3. Pour into a greased & lined 8x4" loaf pan and bake at 180C for about 35 mins. I needed a bit longer cause it stayed soggy in the middle, but I fixed this by leaving the tin in the oven for a while after I'd turned the oven off to let it dry out a big more. Allow to cool for 10 mins and remove from the tin.

Monday, 3 November 2008

George's Marvellous Carrot Cake

When I'm not taking the view that anything can be improved by adding chocolate chip cookie dough or layers of cheesecake, I'm always looking for the best possible version of a basic recipe. You know what I mean? The sort you try, and you just know it's the best; you just know that this is Exactly What It Should Taste Like. Chocolate chip cookies, for example. I don't even want to go into the amount of people who've searched for that ultimate recipe (and even when I think we've found it - yes I did make the NY Times cookies, and yes, just, yes - I continue to search for one that doesn't take 36 hours and £10 worth of ingredients).

Personally, I'm always on the lookout for carrot cake. I save recipes, I compare recipes, I try recipes; I am consistently underwhelmed by recipes. I tear up recipes and stamp on the pieces. I shout things about carrot cake that I will not repeat. I know, deep in my heart, that carrot cake is just so much better than anything I've tried so far.

And I'd almost given up. I'd almost resigned myself to mediocre carrot cake - I'd half told myself that maybe this was just the way carrot cake was; maybe the idea I had in my head was but a dim and distant dream. I'd told myself off a few times for using phrases like 'dim and distant dream' in relation to cake, and so on.

I had nothing to lose, but some carrots to use up. So I pooled my remaining recipes, taking bits from each, changing a couple of measurements, regulating things, casting unnecessary nuts and extraneous ingredients aside.

Oh, it could have been a disaster. I could have been writing this with tear tracks down my orange-tinged cheeks (too many carrots). It would have been the end, my friends. I would have turned away from vegetable-based cake for life, forced to join the real world - the practical, vanilla sponge world. No longer would I write like an eighteenth century novelist chronicling my cake escapades! No more over-dramatics over unsatisfactory baked goods! No more exclamation marks!I made this cake a few weeks ago and froze it, without trying it. And then I got it out the other day; left it overnight. Frosted it in the morning, and ate it in the afternoon. It looked so ordinary - no secret ingredient or unusual method...

But this cake? Was The One. Understated and ridiculously damp and moist, this was the carrot cake I had seek...ed. seeken sought wanted. What makes this cake different from any other cake, I've no clue (I do suspect it benefited from being left overnight) and much in the manner of George's Marvellous Medicine, I'm not sure I could reproduce it, but this is The Recipe.

Do with it what you will, my friends.

I've Actually Found The Best Carrot Cake Recipe In The World
Adapted from four separate sources, I can't really credit anyone with this (it uses two blogs, a bit of Dorie Greenspan, and an old recipe from Gourmet), so it looks like I get dibs on it. I've never been prouder to own anything in my life. Except maybe my Nikon.

This only makes a 7" (double layer) cake so you can double it and make a 9" one as most of the original recipes did. Obviously, I'm cooking on a smaller scale now.

140g (1 c.) flour
180g (1c.) caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 tsp each allspice, nutmeg
2 eggs
1 dash salt
200ml oil (EDIT: This should be 1/2c. in my half quantity recipe, but when I copied it out to have to hand in the kitchen, I halved all quantities except the oil X__X. Solves the mystery of why it was so moist, haha. Rather than use a whole cup (240ml) I suggest you try about 200ml and see how it goes).
2 cups carrots, grated by hand (sorry, I don't know this in grams! Should have a volume of 500ml)

1. Beat sugar and oil. Add carrots. Add eggs, one at a time. Sift together flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add all together. Bake in 2 7" greased pans at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Frost cake with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
225g cream cheese
60g butter
250-300g (2 c.) confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together butter and cream cheese. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Frost cake when cooled.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Capital Letter Cheesecake Bars

Sometimes I suspect that I'm subliminally trying to sabotage my own baking efforts so I'll be forced to make something again. Take these for example. Yes, every square is a little mouthful of Purest Heaven... but I screwed up, of all things, the chocolate drizzle over the top. How can anyone screw up a chocolate drizzle? All you have to do is, uh, drizzle chocolate. But no; mine seized up in the microwave until I had to add so much milk and butter to sort it out that it turned into a sauce/glaze. And it bothers me. It really does. I keep looking at the pictures and imagining them with drizzle; it's the tragedy of my heart.

And I just know I won't be satisfied until I make them again. With chocolate drizzle. And then I'll have to eat them, and you know, my life is so traumatic?

There are possibly a couple of things that could persuade me to forgive these bars. Firstly: they're called 'chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake bars', and if you think that's a mouthful, wait til you take a real one.


I mean, hello, CHEESECAKE (I think we all know how I feel about cheesecake, and to avoid scaring off anyone who doesn't know, I won't go into further detail). COOKIE DOUGH. I think everyone feels the same way about cookie dough. CHOCOLATE CHIPS. Self explanatory. CAPITAL LETTERS.

--Okay, fine, I just like to over-emphasize. Otherwise you might've missed all the chocolate chip/cookie dough/cheesecake components in these chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake bars, or something.

To summarise: you absolutely can't go wrong with something like this.

Apart from the chocolate drizzle. Apparently it's easier to go wrong with a chocolate drizzle than you'd expect.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from the version found on Bake Or Break
The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook.

200gish (1 & 1/2 c.) choc chip cookie crumbs (I used choc chip Maryland cookies cause my flatmate was, get this, THROWING THEM OUT. They'd apparently 'gone soft'. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN SUCH BLASPHEMY. The original recipe uses plain graham crackers/digestives but also includes about 70g mini chocolate chips, which I omitted)
75g unsalted butter, melted

Sorry measurements are vague, by the way; I did half quantities and improvised a lot. If you have American measuring cups, you might want to dig them out for this one.

Preheat oven to 325°.

1. Butter a 9"-square baking pan. Line pan with parchment paper, leaving enough to extend over the sides. Butter the parchment paper.

2. Combine cookie crumbs and butter until crumbs are moistened. Stir in chocolate chips if using. Press crust mixture into bottom of pan and 1 inch up sides. Bake for 6 minutes. Set pan on wire rack to cool

Cookie Dough:
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
40g light brown sugar
3 tbsp caster sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
100g (1 c.) semisweet chocolate chips

3. Using an electric mixer , mix butter, brown sugar, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract at medium speed until smooth. Decrease mixer speed to low and add flour. Mix just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.

Fun fact: I stirred this all by hand and broke my wooden spoon in half.

Not deliberately.

280g cream cheese, at room temperature
45g (1/4 c.) caster sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar just until smooth. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating just until blended. Pour batter into baked crust. Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls over the top of the filling.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until set. Transfer to wire rack.

For chocolate topping, melt 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter if necessary to make chocolate smooth. Drizzle over top of bars. Cool bars in pan completely, about an hour.

Using the edges of the parchment paper, remove bars from pan. Cut into bars and serve.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Autumn Days

You know the idea of Autumn? Sitting inside in front of a glowing fire, all snug and warm when it's dark and cold outside; drifts of crisp red and gold leaves which you crunch underfoot and kick into the air; the air getting that little bit sharper and fresher, turning your cheeks pink and making you curl your sleeves around your hands to keep them warm. Pub lunches, with dark wood and bright candles... I love it.

What I hate is Actual Autumn; wearing about twelve layers to pad restlessly about the house in and still being cold, and being bored to death because there's nothing to do inside and you can't go out without getting soaked. Wet feet. Thoroughly depressing grey days.

You wouldn't think a season could change that much from one end of a country to the other (uh, unless you live in, I don't know, Russia. I'm talking an England-sized country, here), but Autumn has been a revelation to me these past few weeks. It turns out watching everything die is a lot more picturesque under bright, clear sunlight; on campus there's a bush such a bright shade of red that it looks like it's burning, and on Saturday my flatmates and I went walking on the common and found a baby Christmas tree growing in a secluded corner.

This is the sort of seasonal comfort food that my brain automatically associates with Autumn-in-inverted-commas, and it's been such a shock to actually have an Autumn (rather than the Northern alternative: 'Death Months') that I thought it was time to dig out the recipe. I made it for the first last year - just before Halloween, actually; I remember because I was hurrying to get tea ready for my dad and sister before I went out to a party. If it amuses you, imagine me cooking this dressed as Anne Boleyn. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi, I think.

Anyway, it's totally comforting, ridiculously easy (if you have a food processor. You know, the sort I Don't Have At Uni with me. I used a masher and tore up the breadcrumbs by hand) and extremely cheap, which gives me a good feeling about my ability to look after myself in the big wide world. Oh, and healthy, don't forget that. Don't let those Death Months strike you down, as we say up North.

...We don't actually say that. I might just tell people that we do.

Carrot & Parsnip Crumble
Recipe from Josceline Dimbleby's Complete Cookbook
Serves 4.

100g brown bread (leave crusts on)
675g carrots
450g parsnips
4 tbsp fromage frais or similar
(this time I used yoghurt; I've used creme fraiche before)
1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg
75g grated cheddar cheese
25g parmesan
(I skipped this and use 100g cheddar)
2 tsp dried oregano
3 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

1. Whizz (or tear) the bread to crumbs in a food processor, then set aside in a bowl. Peel and chop carrots and parsnips roughly, then boil them til very soft. Drain and put in the food processor (may need two batches) with the fromage frais, and whizz to a smooth paste.

2. Grate in the nutmeg & add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish and spread level.

3.Stir grated cheese, oregano and olive oil into the breadcrumbs and spread that evenly over the top of the pureed veg. Cook for 15-25 mins at 230C, til the topping is crisp and golden.