October 15, 2017

APPLE AND GINGER MUFFINS

apple and ginger muffins

I don’t make muffins too often, in fact not often enough.  When I made these muffins for a CCC “anything goes” event, I had quite forgotten how nice muffins can be.

The “anything goes” theme is one where members can bake anything they like, not just cake, which made a nice change and it was fun to see what people thought of to bring.  There were sausage rolls, quiche, meringues, eclairs, flapjacks and madeleines.  And of course my muffins. 

(Just in case you’re wondering, and you’re probably not, why there is a small knife with the plate of muffins, it’s because at a CCC event where everyone likes to try a small piece of everything on the table, a whole muffin is not a good idea.  Half a muffin would be more than enough if there was to be room in the tummy for all of the other delights on offer.  Those who have ever been to a CCC event will completely understand this problem!)

apple and ginger muffins2

After a pleasant hour or so of leafing through my ever growing collection of recipe books I chose a recipe from this one by Rachel Allen.  I like her recipes, have used quite a few and have never had a failure with any of them.  The recipe is actually for pear and ginger muffins but she suggests apples as an alternative. As we had several apples going begging in the fruit bowl I decided to use them.  I wondered how they would go with ginger as opposed to the more traditional cinnamon and it turned out to be a delicious combination.

apple and ginger muffins3

Thinking about it, one of the reasons that I don’t make muffins more often is that generally they don’t keep too well.  They can be slightly stale after one day and definitely bird food after two or three.

However, in the recipe it says to “whisk together until smooth” which kind of goes against the concept that “lumpy batter makes light muffins”.  (I can’t exactly remember where I read that phrase but think it might have been in a Nigella Lawson book.)  But, having every confidence in Rachel Allen’s recipes, whisk it I did, until nice and smooth.  The result was that the texture of the muffins was more like a cake than a muffin, with the added delight that they were still perfectly nice to eat several days later.  Curious.

In fact, with the quantity of mixture and the texture of the muffins it occurred to me that it might work as a bundt cake - the next time I have a surfeit of apples.  Anyway, apple and ginger is a winning combination.  Cinnamon makes me nervous as it takes only a smidgen too much of it to make a cake taste slightly soapy.  It’s not so easy to overdo the ginger and although a whole tablespoon seemed like a lot actually it was just right.

Ingredients

275g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tblsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

150ml vegetable oil

300g dessert apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 tblsp demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Put 15 muffin cases into two muffin tins.*

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil and whisk together until smooth.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about three quarters full.  (I use an ice cream scoop which makes it easy to get them evenly filled).  Sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can dust with icing sugar or ice with a water icing if you like, instead of sprinkling with demerara sugar.

*Makes 12-15 muffins, depending on how much you fill the cases. 

September 26, 2017

MINI SAUSAGE ROLLS

sausage rolls

I called on a friend recently and she was busy making little sausage rolls for a birthday party.  I hadn’t made sausage rolls for years.

sausage rolls2a

I didn’t realise you could buy sausage meat in France, but then I had never looked for it.  My friend said she finds that it can be a bit coarser than the meat you buy in the UK so she blitzes it in a food processor for sausage rolls and also adds a few bits of veg for flavour.

sausage rolls2

You can buy packs of ready made puff pastry everywhere in France an in some supermarkets they have the rectangular sheets which are ideal for sausage rolls, better than the circles of pastry which obviously need a lot of trimming,

sausage rolls3

Only a few days later we were invited to an apéro dînatoire at another friend’s house.  This is like being invited round for drinks but with extra nibbles, or, as this other friend put it, more than just a crisp.  In fact there is usually enough food to be sufficiently fed for the evening, all tasty finger food and lots of it home made.  So I decided to make a batch of mini sausage rolls to take with me.  They were delicious and disappeared fast, all forty of them!

sausage rolls4

I added some onion, tomato and red pepper to my sausage meat which everyone seemed to love.  Next time I might experiment with some other flavourings, paprika, curry powder or whatever takes my fancy on the day.

For another guide on making mini sausage rolls see the BBC Good Food website here.

Ingredients

2 packs of feuilletée rectangulaire (oblong ready rolled puff pastry)

500g pork sausage meat

1 egg, beaten

1 tomato

1 small onion

½ a red pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6.  Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Put the vegetables into a food processor and blitz briefly to chop finely.  Add the sausage meat and blitz again until smooth.

Unroll one sheet of pastry and cut lenghtwise along the centre to make two long strips.  Divide the meat into four equal parts and spoon one part along one strip of pastry to make an even sausage about an inch inside the edge.  Brush the opposite long edge with beaten egg.

Fold the nearest pastry over the meat and roll the whole thing towards the opposite edge so that a long sausage roll is formed and the join in the pastry is underneath.

Cut the roll into ten roughly equal sections, prick the tops with a fork or slash with a knife, brush liberally with egg and place slightly apart on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other half of the pastry.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown and the meat is cooked.  While the first batch is baking make the second batch.

Remove to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes 40 mini rolls.

August 17, 2017

GINGER GUINNESS CAKE

guinness ginger cake

In recent years I have made a lot of cakes.  It all began with the charity cake stall for the BBC Children in Need appeal which we held at work for the first time more than ten years ago.  That’s when I started looking for new recipes.  Then I joined the Clandestine Cake Club and started my own branch of the CCC in France in 2014.  .

My hunger for new and interesting recipes grew and grew and since then I have made an awful lot of cake.  Some of them have been, frankly, awful.  The truly awful ones have never made it to the blog, but some of the slightly disappointing ones have.  Probably the most awful of all was the apple and kale cake I made a few years ago, a cake which led me to two important conclusions.  One is that cabbage, unlike some other vegetables, has no place in a cake.  The second is that some recipes are eternally popular for a good reason.  They work.  New recipes and new cook books are to be treated with a certain amount of scepticism. 

That doesn’t mean that new recipes are to be avoided.  They should most definitely be tried along the lines of “life is an adventure or nothing”, and occasionally up pops an absolute gem.  Like this one.

guinness ginger cake2

It comes from the Sainsbury’s baking recipe collection volume 2.  I have been unable to find the recipe anywhere on the internet so I can’t give a link to the original.  In the book it’s called a Ginger Stout Cake but as I used Guinness (the only stout available in our local supermarket in France), I have renamed it.  The other reason for renaming it is that it will be up there with my other very favourite cake to make for a birthday, cake stall or any other reason, the Chocolate Guinness Cake by Nigella Lawson.

I have written the recipe here as per the amendments I made to suit the ingredients I could get hold of.

guinness ginger cake3

The moment I cut into it I knew it was going to be good.  After the first mouthful I thought “wow!”.  Nick, who is not a great cake lover, thought it was wonderful, had two slices straight away and banned me from offering it to anyone else so that he could get his fair share of the rest, something previously unheard of.

The cake was moist, soft, deliciously spiced and strong on ginger flavour.  With the slightly glossy glaze from the ginger syrup and dotted with diced stem ginger, it looked classy and grown up and needed no other decoration.  I urge you to try it!

Ingredients.

200g unsalted butter

200ml Guinness (or other stout)

200g caster sugar

50g dark soft brown sugar

3 tbsp black treacle

2 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp mixed spice

2 large eggs

75ml natural yoghurt*

25ml milk*

300g self raising flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping

3 balls of preserved stem ginger, diced

3 dessert spoons syrup from the jar

Method

Put the Guinness, sugars, butter, treacle, ground ginger and mixed spice into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted, without letting it boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line a 23cm round, deep springform cake tin**.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and milk, then pour the cooled sugar mixture into the bowl.  Sift in the flour and bicarb and, using an electric whisk, beat until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour until done.  The cake should lose its wobble in the middle but not be too firm.

Remove from the oven and whilst still warm drizzle over the ginger syrup and dot with the diced ginger.  Cool in the tin and remove when cold.

(*The original recipe uses 100ml buttermilk but I substituted a mixture of yoghurt and milk.)

(**The original recipes uses a 20cm square tin and bakes the cake for 40-45 minutes.)

Cuts into 12-16 slices, but allow two slices each!

August 8, 2017

GOOSEBERRY AND ELDERFLOWER CAKE

gooseberry and elderflower cake2

My little gooseberry bush in France produced a couple of handfuls of gooseberries this year, against all odds.  The soil is not at all good and we struggle to grow many things, apart from tomatoes, cucumbers, broad beans and courgettes.  In fact it’s interesting to see what grows and what doesn’t.  My rhubarb plant, a precious cutting from my mother’s old rhubarb bush that produced tons of fruit each year, finally gave up the ghost this year, succumbing to the heat and the stony, clay soil.  But my gooseberry bush is showing promise, although many people said it was impossible to grow them in this part of France.  I froze some of them and supplemented the rest with some brought from a UK supermarket to make this cake.

gooseberry and elderflower cake

It’s an adaption of a recipe in the book “make me a cake as fast as you can” by Miranda Gore-Browne, a GBBO contestant of a few years ago.  It’s a whisked sponge, fat free and therefore very light.  The gooseberries are cooked until soft to create a compote for the filling and the juice is used as a glaze for the cake.

The recipe suggests that you could sprinkle icing sugar on the cake instead so I did both.  I then decided it would benefit from a little decoration but of course by now elderberry flowers are long since gone so I used some flowers from one of our rose bushes and leaves from my gooseberry bush.  I was very pleased with the result.

The cake was delicious, gooseberry and elderflower being a gorgeous combination.  The cake was flavoured with elderflower cordial as per the recipe but I used an elderflower liqueur called St-Germain to flavour the cream.

P1020934

St-Germain is a French liqueur which I have to say is delicious.  It’s my current favourite digestif and ever since I first learned of its existence in Phil’s brilliant blog, “as strong as soup”, have been on the lookout for a bottle.  Having searched the shelves in French supermarkets I finally tracked down a rather dusty bottle lurking at the back of a shelf in my local Tesco!  I love the rather art deco style of the bottle.

Gooseberry and elderflower cake

100g caster sugar

4 large eggs

100g SR flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp lemon zest (about half a small lemon)

2 tbsp elderflower cordial

For the filling

100 ml whipping cream

1 tbsp elderflower cordial **

200g gooseberries

40g caster sugar

1 tbsp water

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. Grease and base line two 20cm sandwich tins.

Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, whisk together the sugar and eggs for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should triple in volume.

Sift in the flour and bp and fold in gently with the lemon zest.

Transfer to the tins and bake for about 10 mins, until done. On removing from the oven, sprinkle the cordial over the cakes and leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, put the gooseberries, sugar and water into a small pan and cook until the berries are just soft but still holding their shape. Remove the berries from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn up the heat and boil the syrup for a few mins until thickened. Leave to cool.

Whip the cream until thick and fold in the elderflower cordial.

Put one cake onto a serving plate and spread the gooseberries over it. Spread the cream on top of the berries. Put the other cake on top and pour the cooled gooseberry syrup over to glaze. (Or simply dust with icing sugar and decorate with flowers.)

** I used St Germain elderflower liqueur in the cream.

Cuts into 8-12 slices.

July 24, 2017

LEMON AND GINGER CAKE

ginger and lemon cake2

I can’t believe it’s two months since I posted anything!  My excuse is that we have been very busy.  It’s not that I haven’t been baking, just that finding the time to blog about it has proved difficult.

We were back in the UK for a prolonged spell in June for the purposes of selling our house.  When we downsized three years ago we anticipated spending most of our time in France.  As it turns out we have spent more time in the UK than we expected and we’ve never really settled in the new house so we’ve decided to move – to upsize again.  We don’t need a house as big as we had before but just a bit bigger.  With a garage.

ginger and lemon cake

Getting your house ready for sale is a big job these days.  I have to chuckle when I think of the differences between the French and the UK process.  In France the agent turns up and takes the photos, just a few, and if your knickers are on the towel rail or the washing up is in the sink nobody bothers.  Here in the UK you have to make the house look like a show house.  It takes a Herculean effort to do all this and we did it during the heatwave in June! 

The attitude of the agents we talked to varied.  Interestingly they all came up with roughly the same valuation for the house which was encouraging, but one said we should go for the show home approach, even removing some small pieces of furniture, another said it was up to us and the third said that it wasn’t necessary because the potential buyers viewing the house should be able to see through all that.

In the end we went with the show house people.  They sold our house last time and it sold in two days.  Having done some house hunting ourselves, it’s sometimes hard to see past all the muck and junk and envisage the potential.  Being intelligent people (I hope) you would think we could do that but without a doubt the houses we were most likely to consider were the neat and tidy ones. 

ginger and lemon cake3

Anyway, the house sold in four days and if you’re interested you can read all about it here.  Unfortunately the sale has since fallen through because our buyer lost their buyer so it’s back to square one.  We were not so lucky this time.

Whilst we were in the no man’s land of organising paperwork I had time to bake a cake.  Nick is not fond of many cakes but he does like a ginger cake and I had a couple of lemons going spare so I made this lemon and ginger cake. 

It was delicious with an excellent crumb.  The recipe said to bake it in a loaf tin but I didn’t have one as big as stated so I used my Ikea tin and it was just right.  Because of the shaping it didn’t seem appropriate to ice it.  The flavour was more lemon cake than ginger cake and this is probably because the icing had quite a bit of ginger in it and of course I omitted it.  So next time I would either use a different cake tin and ice it with the ginger icing, or put more ginger into the mixture.  Either way, I will definitely be making it again.  You can see the original recipe here.  (It was better than the previous lemon and ginger cake I wrote about, which you can see here.)

Ingredients

200g golden caster sugar

4 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

100ml double cream

200g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground ginger

65g unsalted butter

4 tblsp lemon juice

For the icing

A few knobs fresh ginger*

150g icing sugar, sifted

1½ tblsp lemon juice

decorations of your choice

Method

Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Butter a 22cm (1.3 litre) loaf tin and line the base with baking paper.  (Or use a suitable round cake tin of about 20cm dia.)

Using an electric whisk, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Stir in the cream.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and ginger and fold into the egg mixture.  Stir in the melted butter and 3 tblsp of the lemon juice.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and done.  (Mine was done in 40 mins.)

Remove from the tin to a wire rack and sprinkle over the remaining 1 tblsp lemon juice.

To make the icing, squeeze the juice from the knobs of ginger using a garlic press.  Beat the ginger juice and lemon juice into enough of the icing sugar to get the roughly the consistency of double cream and pour over the cooled cake.

*I had never heard of this way of using fresh ginger before and think that instead I would probably use a tblsp or so of ginger syrup from a preserved ginger jar, as I always have that in the house but don’t always have any fresh ginger.

Cuts into 8-12 slices and keeps well in an air tight cake tin.

May 19, 2017

RHUBARB AND ALMOND CAKE

rhubarb and almond cake

The rhubarb season is in full swing and long gone are the days when all I made with it is a crumble or a pie.  This cake with rhubarb and orange is a classic combination and with the moistness given by the almonds it makes a delicious cake, or dessert if served while still slightly warm with some cream, custard or crème anglaise.

rhubarb and almond cake2

The recipe comes from the Sainsbury’s website and this is the first time I have made it.  I made and wrote about a similar cake last year which also contained rosemary and amaretti biscuits, but I think I prefer this one, which is easier and quicker to make. 

rhubarb and almond cake3

In fact it takes little more time and trouble than making a crumble, but looks and tastes good enough for guests as well as being a slightly special rhubarb pudding for a family meal.   You can see the original recipe here.  I used a slightly smaller tin than suggested in order to make a deeper cake.

rhubarb and almond cake4

Ingredients

150g softened butter or spreadable butter such as Flora Buttery

150g golden caster sugar (plus 2 tblsp extra)

2 eggs

200g ground almonds

100g self raising flour

zest of 1 large orange

1 tsp baking powder

400g rhubarb, trimmed, wiped and cut into roughly 4 cm lengths.  Also slice in half along the length of any pieces that are very thick

2 tblsp approx flaked almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a 21cm round springform or loose bottomed tin and line with baking paper.

Cream together the butter and 150g sugar with an electric whisk.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Add the ground almonds and orange zest.  Sift over the flour and baking powder and mix well to combine.

Spoon half of the mixture into the tin and level the surface.  Arrange slightly less than half of the rhubarb on top.  You needn’t be too particular about the arrangement as this layer will not be seen but keep the rhubarb away from the edge of the tin.  Sprinkle over about 1 tblsp of the extra sugar.

Carefully spoon the rest of the cake mixture over the fruit and level the top.  Arrange the rest of the rhubarb in circles on top, again keeping it away from the sides.  Sprinkle over the remaining 1 tblsp sugar and the flaked almonds.

Bake for about an hour until golden brown.  Test for doneness and cover with foil to bake for a further 10-15 minutes until done.  (Mine was done in just over the hour.)

Cool in the tin.

Remove when still slightly warm if serving as a dessert, otherwise leave to cool completely before turning out.

Cuts into 8 good slices.

May 9, 2017

MOCHA AND AMARETTI MOUSSE

mocha and amaretti mousse

This recipe comes from the little book of chocolate recipes written by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde, called “The little book of Chocolat”.  It’s a lovely book, full of very well written and doable recipes, each one styled on a character in the novel “Chocolat”.

mocha and amaretti mousse2

I have made chocolate mousse before, several times and with great success.  This one is different because it contains espresso coffee, thereby making it “mocha” and a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits.  As it was just after Easter, I adorned it with some micro chocolate eggs for decoration and, of course, added crunch and chocolate.

It was very easy to make and, as it needs to be well chilled before serving (a bit like me before dinner), I made it well in advance.  The wonderful thing is that not only was it excellent, the crushed biscuits still being crisp and crunchy after several hours in the fridge, but it was still excellent two days later. 

It makes six portions and there were five of us for dinner so one portion languished in the fridge for a full two days before we remembered it was there.  The biscuits were still crunchy, the little chocolate eggs had not sunk.  That tells me that it’s a very useful recipe indeed.  Maybe two days before serving is pushing it a bit but I would not hesitate to make this the day before a dinner party, knowing with confidence that it will still be delicious.

The serving glasses are my charity shop find from around Christmas which I am very pleased with.  The very small glass plates are from a stack of no less than twelve that I spotted on a table at a vide grenier (brocante) at Angles-sur-l’Anglin last month.  At five euros for the lot they are most definitely a bargain.  Especially as I have since remembered where I saw them for sale in a shop and for 1.50 euros each!  According to my maths that means, taking into account that I might just have bought them at full price if I had seen them,  I have roughly 13 euros to spend on more bargains……

Ingredients

100ml double cream

4 tblsp freshly made espresso coffee

200g dark chocolate, grated (using a food processor grating disc makes this part a lot easier and quicker than by hand)

4 eggs, separated

100g amaretti biscuits

Method

Gently warm the cream in a medium saucepan, remove from the heat and add the espresso and chocolate.  Stir until all the chocolate has melted and is well blended.

Whisk the egg yolks and add to the chocolate, stirring until blended in.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Mix about half into the chocolate mixture then fold in the rest.

Put the amaretti biscuits into a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin until crushed to small crumbs.

Fill six serving glasses about half way with the mousse and add a layer of amaretti crumbs.  Make sure you reserve some crumbs to decorate the top of each mousse.  Divide the rest of the mousse between the six glasses, filling carefully so as not to disturb the layer of crumbs.  Dust the tops with the remaining amaretti crumbs and add other decorations if you like.

Chill for at least two hours before serving.  Can be made well in advance.

Serves 6.