Thursday, 24 April 2014

Apple Pie-Crumble-Cake

On my last day at Gili island during my travel, I had lunch at a cafe.  And just before leaving to catch my boat back to Bali, I saw an apple cake on display.  I didn't have time to go back in the queue and I was annoyed that I didn't get to try it.  I am a sucker for apple cake.  So, when I got back I decided to bake myself an apple cake.

But to be honest, it's not just apple cakes that I love... anything with apples really, pie, crumbles, tarte tatin, strudel, ice-cream, etc...   So, in the making I decided to combine some of my favourite apple treats.  It is very much a cake, but it has enough apples in it to call it a pie too.  If you want, you can bake this cake in a pie dish rather than a baking tin.  

This is a tender, moist cake with a sweet scent of vanilla and a hint of cinnamon with loads of sweet apples and have I mentioned the whisky steeped raisins?! Yes, there are those too.

Crowning the cake is a simple crumble topping with an addition of flaked almonds for texture and also Demerara sugar for crunch and aesthetic purposes. So, there you have it... It's an apple pie-crumble-cake!  

The apples I use are Granny Smith apples. Not only because they're my favourite... I adore their crisp texture and sharpness; but also they hold their shape really well.  They'll be soft after baking but won't fall apart or become mushy.

This is the kind of cake you can serve anytime of day, for brunch, in the afternoon with a cup of coffee/tea, even as a dessert with a scoop or two of ice-cream or custard.... but I'm really looking forward to have another serving of this cake for tomorrow's breakfast... cold, straight from the fridge. Yum. I'm a grown man and if I want cake for breakfast, so be it.

Apple Pie-Crumble-Cake

For the cake and apple filling
2 Granny Smith apples
Half a lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp Demerara or brown sugar
50 gr raisins
1 tbsp rum or whisky
125 gr soft butter
125 gr caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
2 eggs
125 gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the crumble topping
50 gr plain flour
1/2 tssp baking powder
35 gr cold butter, diced
30 gr flaked almonds
3 tbsp Demerara sugar
Double cream or lightly whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter the base of a 22 cm round cake tin or a pie dish.

Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour the rum or whisky, and let them steep for few minutes.  Peel and cut the apples into small chunks and place them in a bowl.  Coat them with the lemon juice, ground cinnamon and brown sugar.  Set aside.

Now, make the cake batter.  In a bowl, sift the flour and baking powder and a pinch of salt. Set aside.  In another bowl, cream the soft butter, caster sugar and vanilla paste until light and pale.  You can use a hand-mixer or simply with a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease.  Beat in one egg, followed by half of the dry ingredients. Mixing well.  Then add in another egg and the rest of the flour. Pour the batter into the cake tin.  Add the apples and raisins and bake for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, make the crumble topping.  Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the cold, diced butter between thumb and fingers until it resembles rough oatmeal.  Stir in the flaked almonds and sugar and mix using a fork.

After 20 minutes, take the cake out from the oven and sprinkle over the crumble topping covering all the surface.  Return it to the oven and bake for a further 20-25 minutes.

Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving and serve with chilled double cream, or lightly whipped cream or ice cream... you get the idea and know what to do next.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

I love chocolate, but I love it even more when it is paired with another ingredient.  Chocolate itself is no stranger to this custom of food-pairings. It has been paired with countless flavours, all with unique and surprising results.  My favourite combination is often fruit based, such as orange, lime, passion fruit and cherry.

Today I opted for something a bit different by adding chopped up crystallised stem ginger to my brownie mix.  The result is utterly delicious. I love the sweet heat that comes from the ginger which works so beautifully with the chocolate, and a hint of brandy (now, we're talking) which I believe needs no further explanation.   

Great news if you are gluten intolerant, this brownie is gluten-free! Not that I am allergic to gluten, but I especially love gluten-free cakes that are made using ground almonds.  The ground almonds keeps the cake moist even after a day or two with squidgy crumb.  

Making the brownies takes very little effort, so I hope you'll give this a go... But, one last thing, I always add a little bit of instant espresso when baking with chocolate.  Not to worry if you don't like coffee, the little amount I use won't make the brownies taste like coffee, but it will actually enhance the chocolate flavour. 

Have a great day!

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

100 gr soft butter
200 gr dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa)
1 tsp instant espresso
5 eggs
100 gr caster sugar
50 gr brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
A splash or two of brandy
200 gr ground almond
60 gr crystallized ginger, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease a brownie tin with butter, and line with baking parchment with the paper overlapping the sides a little.  This will make it easier to remove the brownies later.   

Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.  After a few minutes the chocolate and butter will start to melt.  Give it a stir occasionally.  Remove the bowl from the pan.  The residual heat from the pan will finish off the melting process.  Add the instant espresso, give it a stir and set aside

Using a free standing or a hand mixer, whip the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt together.  Slowly add the chocolate and butter mixture.  Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in.  Also add the brandy.

With a large spatula, fold in the ground almonds and little pieces of crystallized ginger.  Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Be careful not to over-bake.

Let the brownies cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing, dust with icing sugar if you want to and you know what to do next.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Roast Chicken with Kaffir Lime Leaves

Hello friends! I'm baaack!
I had a great time travelling with my friend Cian... over the past couple of weeks, we went to Jakarta, Bandung, Singapore, Bali and ended up at the island of Gili Trawangan, near Lombok.  Cian is still on holiday and hopefully still enjoying his time in Indonesia.  And I, being boring, had to cut the holiday short due to work.  I won't bore you with the details, but I'm not complaining... This work will pay for my next trip.

Anyway, I haven't been feeling well for the past few days.  Nothing serious, but please let me moan.  During the last part of our holiday at the Gili island, we stayed at a hostel... and you know what, we're (at least I am) too old for hostels. There are times when I was a teenager or in my early twenties when it's absolutely fine to travel, backpacker style... sharing rooms (and germs) with strangers, bunk beds, communal shower, etc... And I must have caught something.  Cian, if you are reading this, no more hostel please. 

I'll share more interesting stories from our travel in the next few posts.  Right now, I want to share with you guys this delicious roast chicken with kaffir lime leaves.  Kaffir lime leaves is my latest obsession. I absolutely love it. It has a very refreshing citrus scent and most importantly, tastes delicious too.  You might need to go to a specialty store to get it, and do check out the freezer section because the leaves freeze well too. I always buy it in bulk and store them in a ziploc bag in the freezer.

And as per usual, I only use the thighs and drumsticks here... and you know why, but I'll tell you again, because they have more flavour, more tender compare to breast meat and they are also cheaper.  But do use any parts of the chicken that you like.  Chicken wings will be delicious too.

This is a very easy and tasty chicken traybake.  And even though I feel giving measurements for the marinade aren't necessary because it's entirely up to your liking; but to the eight chicken portions, I add a clove of garlic that's been finely grated, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons of honey, same of regular olive oil, the zest and juice of 1 lime, a tablespoon of finely chopped kaffir lime leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

The chickens only need to marinate for 2 to 4 hours in the fridge.  Certainly not overnight I think because the acid from the lime juice will start cooking the chicken.  And because they only need a short time, it's not a bad idea to make few slashes on the chicken using a sharp knife to ensure the flavour really gets into the meat, as pictured below.

Take the chickens out from the fridge for half an hour or so before baking them in a preheated 190 C oven for 35 to 40 minutes. I would also suggest that you line your baking tin with foil, because the honey in the marinade might burn and who needs the extra scrubbing when doing the dishes?! You're welcome.  

Serve the chickens with rice or potatoes, but even better, towards the end of the roasting time, make this holy guacamole spaghetti! You will not be disappointed. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Banana Upside-Down Cake

I am so excited for my holiday. Next week, I'll be leaving for Jakarta and there I'll be reunited with my friend Cian who is flying all the way from the UK. Cian and I used to work together and though we never traveled together, we both really look forward to our little adventure.  

From Jakarta, we'll make our way to Bandung in West Java, Singapore, Bali and end up at the Gili Islands. Being obsessed with food, my itinerary consists very little of cultural sights... hardly any, to be honest. It's mostly food places I want to visit.  But I will try my best to visit some interesting places in between meals. And if you've been to any of those cities, I welcome more recommendations... 

I'll be sure to share my experiences with all of you when I am back, so watch this space!  But until then, first I want to share with you this banana upside-down cake.  I suppose it's nothing really new and ground-breaking here, but it's comforting with the sticky brown sugar topping, the sweet cinnamon and warmth from ginger... and that's what I want today, on this gloomy day (my favourite kind of day). This cake is very easy to make and serve with ice-cream (vanilla is great, but I had it with chocolate and salted caramel ice cream which is sublime) while the cake is still warm... oh you know it just makes sense...

Banana Upside-Down Cake

For the topping:
50 gr butter
50 gr soft light brown sugar
a pinch of salt
2-3 bananas, depending on size

For the sponge:
3 eggs
60 gr caster sugar
40 gr soft light brown sugar
50 gr plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
40 gr butter, melted

Grease and line a 18 cm square tin and pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

To make the sticky topping, place the butter and brown sugar in a small pan over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, turn up the heat and let this bubble away for a few minutes until the mixture begins to thicken slightly.  Do keep an eye on it, because it may burn quickly. When it's done, take it off the heat and stir in a pinch of salt.

Carefully pour the mixture into the bottom of the lined tin and swirl the tin around to spread it out evenly. This needs to be done straightaway otherwise the mixture will solidify.  Slice the bananas, neither thick nor thin and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the tin. You can do any patterns as you please.

Now make the sponge... Using a free-standing or a hand mixer, whisk the eggs and sugars until pale, thick and light.  This will take a few minutes.  Then slowly add the flour, ground cinnamon and ginger.  Using a spatula, fold in the melted butter.

Pour the sponge mix over the bananas and gently spread it out with a spatula or the back of a spoon to level the top.  Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for five minutes or so.  Then put a large platter on top of the tin, and holding the tin and the platter with a tea towel, flip the cake over.  Gently remove the tin and carefully peel off the baking parchment. 

Cut into squares, serve with softly whipped cream or ice-cream and you know what to do next...

Monday, 17 March 2014

Orange and Chocolate Pudding Layer Cake

The strangest thing happened yesterday.  My mother always has an opinion about everything, including food. I mean, she is a great cook and an excellent baker, so most likely she will have something to say on the subject.  She doesn't compliment often, not directly anyway, but when she's quiet, you can consider it a good sign. Meaning: she likes it... she's thinking about it, what's in it, how to make it, etc.

So, yesterday I was cooking cauliflower macaroni and cheese (utterly delicious recipe by Not Quite Nigella. Lorraine, if you're reading this, my mother absolutely love this dish), and I could see my mother having a slice of the orange and chocolate pudding cake.  Whilst stirring the pasta, I was anxiously waiting for the verdict. Would she has something to say or would it be a silent?!

Turned out, my mother had something something to say.  She said, "This is really nice. You can really taste the orange and the chocolate pudding is not overwhelmingly sweet."  And she had another slice and she packed few slices for some friends she's meeting later.  Hours later when she got home, she ate another slice, complimented the pudding again and passed on all the lovely comments from her friends.

I was stunned and confused by the explicit reaction but nonetheless over the moon.  This pudding layer cake has my mom's stamp of approval.

You can be all creative with the flavour combo for the sponge and pudding, but I do love orange and chocolate.  And if you ever wonder what Terry's chocolate orange might taste like in cake/pudding form, this is it.  The orange sponge is light and fragrant; and with the rich and velvety mousse like chocolate pudding, it's sublime.

To achieve the beautiful texture of the chocolate pudding, I use agar-agar.  If you've never heard of it, it's a vegetarian gelatin substitute made from seaweed.  You can get it from a specialty food store or online. Unlike regular gelatin sheet that usually needs to be soaked in cold water to soften before use; agar-agar needs to be brought to a boil in order for the setting to occur.

One might think that making the pudding layer cake is a bit time consuming, since you have to wait for the pudding to half-set before you add the layer of sponge, and so on... but it's actually not the case.  The pudding sets within minutes; and the actual process of baking the sponge and making the chocolate pudding is very easy.  Come on, I'm sure you're tempted :) 

Orange and Chocolate Pudding Layer Cake

For the orange sponge:
6 eggs
120 gr caster sugar
1 tbsp water
125 gr plain flour
120 gr butter, melted
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

For the chocolate pudding:
1200 ml milk
75 gr best quality cocoa powder
2 tsp instant espresso
300 gr caster sugar
14 gr agar-agar powder
8 egg whites (save the yolks, read notes below)
a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190 C and line and grease a 20 cm square baking tin.

To make the orange sponge, using a free-standing or a hand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla paste and water until it's thick, pale and airy.  This will take a few minutes.  With the mixer running on low/medium, slowly add in the flour.  Then carefully fold in the orange zest and melted butter.  Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it's done. Set it aside to cool completely and slice the cake in two, horizontally.  

Now, the chocolate pudding...  in a big pot, heat up the milk, cocoa powder, instant espresso, 150 gr of the sugar and the agar-agar.  Keep stirring until the cocoa and sugar dissolved.  When the mixture comes to a boiling point, turn off the heat and set aside.

In another bowl, again, either using a free-standing or hand mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Then add the rest of the sugar, a tablespoon at a time whilst continue whisking until it's thick and glossy.  Fold in the chocolate mixture a little at a time until everything is incorporated.  The meringue here will give the pudding a mousse like consistency. 

Using a clean 20 cm square tin, place 1/3 of the chocolate pudding mixture into the tin.  Let this half-set  (it is important that the pudding is half-set, and not completely firm, otherwise the layers may separate). Then place 1 half of the sponge followed by another 1/3 of the chocolate mixture.  Let this half-set again and place another layer of sponge and top with the rest of the chocolate pudding.  Put this in the fridge to firm up for at least a couple of hours... and you know what to do next...

Note: I hate wasting food and there's no way I'm gonna throw away 8 egg yolks. You can make loads of spaghetti carbonara if you have an army to feed, or custard/ice-cream is another good idea; but if you're like me and you live in a household where there's no such thing as too much cakes, you bake a Swiss roll :). So, my question of the day, what would you make with the extra yolks?