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.