Monday, 17 September 2018

Food blog eight - for Richard’s ‘official’ birthday bash

The finishing touches have been, or are being, deployed:
We have two iced cakes, Royal Icing with adornments, from my aunt. She has made the decorations herself, out of icing sugar, and one shows all the vegetables Richard grows. Hand-styled and hand-painted. Very detailed and stylish. What a clever aunty!

The second cake is decorated with an icing sugar paint palette, brushes and water pot. Yes he’s also an artist and it’s a skilful demonstration of cake decor.
Another aunty has decorated her pineapple cakes with pecan and cherries. Yummy.

My two carrot cakes (one gluten-free and sugar-free) and the moist ( g-f and s-f) chocolate cake from my last post - will be defrosting on Thursday night - ready for icing on Friday - then back into the fridge.
The sugary cake will likely have a buttercream frosting, decorated with miniature icing-sugar carrots. The healthier options will have a cream cheese frosting, flavoured with Madagascan vanilla essence and sweetener.

The drier chocolate cake is now crumbled and steeped in Amaretto - in two glass trifle dishes. It certainly isn’t dry now!

As we’ll have a four-year old with us over the weekend I’ve made a sweeter trifle for her and a boozy one for those who like that sort of thing. Neat Amaretto packs a punch so in both cases I diluted it with half-half water. That’s while, after a few taste tests, I could still stand. 

In trifle number one I cut the chocolate cake into small pieces and spread no-added-sugar raspberry jam over the rough cubes, a la Nigella. I steeped them in the Amaretto concoction for about four hours, it really was a dry cake, and made a compote. 

Into a small saucepan I put sliced, dried apricot, sliced dates, grated orange zest and sultanas. I barely covered the fruits with water and the pan was a little shy of half full. On medium heat I brought the pan to a slow boil and simmered the fruit for fifteen minutes. After the quarter hour the sultanas and apricots had ballooned and were truly succulent.  The sticky compote took a short while to cool down. I drained the excess Amaretto liquor from the steeped trifle base and made a sweet layer of compote over the jammy cake base. Then it was time for the custard.

The custard is made from
300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
6 egg
3 tbsp caster sugar or 1 tbsp truvia
1 tbsp cornflour-non-gluten 
vanilla essence (to taste)

1 Put the milk, vanilla and cream into a thick-bottomed pan on a gentle heat. Stir while bringing it to just below a simmer without allow ing it to boil. In another bowl (or food processor) combine the egg yolks, sugar/ sweetener and cornflour. The egg mixture will need to be in a large bowl for the next stage. 
3. Pour the milk on to the yolk and sugar/sweetener mixture, stirring all the time. 
4. With the heat on medium-low pour the custard mixture back into the pan. Stirring slowly and continuously, cook until it coats the back of a wooden spoon – the longer you cook it, the thicker it will be. If it doesn't appear to be thickening after 10 minutes, you may have the heat slightly too low, but don't turn it up dramatically or you'll spoil it.
5.Allow the custard to cool before pouring it over the trifle base. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until you are ready to decorate the trifle with whipped cream and toasted almonds or berries. The custard will set overnight.

In the boozy version of the trifle I omitted the raspberry jam and used less compote which has a sweetening effect. I also made a chocolate custard rather than a vanilla flavoured one. It seemed more appropriate for a decadent, whoozy-boozy Amaretto confection.

How to make chocolate custard
450ml (3/4pt) whole milk
3tbsp cocoa powder
4tbsp caster sugar or 11/3 tbsp truvia
1tbsp gluten-free cornflour
2 large free range egg yolks

1.Put aside 2 tbsp of the milk. Pour the rest into a medium-sized non-stick pan and heat it.
2.Sift the cocoa, sugar/sweetener and cornflour into a bowl. 
3.Add the yolks and the 2 tbsp milk. Stir to make a thick paste.
4.Stir hot milk into the egg mixture in the bowl, stirring all the time, then pour the mixture back into the pan and stir gently over a low heat until the custard thickens. 
5.Don’t let the mixture boil unless you want scrambled egg!

The chocolate custard shouldn’t need flavouring but a teaspoon of Amaretto - added once it’s cooled - might add an alcoholic richness. As with trifle one pour the custard over the boozy base and cover with cling film. Cool in the fridge - allowing the custard to set as before.

Decorating whipped cream topping is best done just before serving as colours bleed. Pomegranate adds a bright red gleam to the peaked cream but grated chocolate seems more in keeping with the boozy Amaretto-heavy trifle.

I wonder which one the four year old will choose this weekend?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Food blog seven - moist, rich chocolate cake

Last week I tried a chocolate cake recipe using buckwheat flour and butter. As I hadn’t ever made chocolate cake before it was something of an experiment. Today I found another recipe, using olive oil, an ingredient I always find works splendidly in a moist carrot cake. The resulting chocolate cake was excellent. I substituted the flour and sugar with gluten-free and sweetener. I believe the lighter flour and olive oil in hot water made for a lightly textured, well-risen rich chocolate cake.

Ingredients for Moist Chocolate Cake
If baked using buckwheat flour and sweetener this is gluten-free and sugar-free.
1 cup flour - 7/8 cup if using buckwheat. Dove’s gluten-free SR flour is cup for cup and light.
1 cup sugar, powdered - 1/3 cup if using truvia
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp coffee powder (to bring out flavour)
1/2 cup oil-I use cold-pressed virgin olive oil
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold milk or buttermilk (Greek yogurt diluted by a third)
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1 egg (whisk for 1 minute)

It really is worth using olive oil in water, for moisture, and coffee to enhance the chocolate flavour.

1 Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C - 160C fan. Grease and line an 8-inch baking tin.

2 In a bowl sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coffee powder.
3 In a second bowl whisk together 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup hot water till well blended. Let it cool. 
4 When cool add the milk or buttermilk ( or Greek yogurt watered down) and vanilla essence. Mix in the food processor. 

5 Add the whisked egg.
Pour the wet ingredients gradually into the dry ingredients and beat them together. I finish the whole off in the food processor. 
6 Pour it in a greased tin.
Bake it for 35-40 minutes at 180 degrees C or 160C fan till an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

You can double the ingredients and sandwich both halves together with a chocolate frosting. See last week’s blog for details. This is my second chocolate cake and I much prefer it. When I bake a carrot cake I used cold-pressed (non-blended) olive oil and the result is always moist. 

In the image the lighter, drier chocolate cake was made with butter and buckwheat flour. The darker moist cake was made with olive oil in hot water added to Dove’s gluten-free flour.

The moist cake wins hands down.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Food blog six - lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes

In food blog one I showed how a gluten-free lemon drizzle cake made with sweetener and coconut flour could be moist and tasty. It passed the taste and texture tests and was even enjoyed by my gluten-intolerant friend. It was a hit!

In fact the only issue I had was that the coconut flour I used was over-sweet. Yesterday, in order to rectify this, I tried the same recipe with buckwheat flour rather than the aforementioned ground coconut. And, yes, the texture was good, the lemony taste just as evident, if not more-so, and overall the lack of coconut was a great improvement.

Today I converted another recipe. This one was for sugar-free chocolate cake. Sugar-free, check, but it wasn’t gluten-free. In place of the suggested self-raising flour and wholewheat flour I substituted buckwheat and rendered the whole gluten-free.

My understanding is that Truvia or stevia are better sweeteners than some other brands, but I am still learning. In order to use Truvia I had to look up conversion tables, none of which told me how much sweetener to use in place of the amount in the printed recipe. However I remembered the sweetener in this recipe is manufactured, ounce for ounce, to be the equivalent of sugar. And 1/3 tsp Truvia is the equivalent of 1 tsp sugar. 
So that was my conversion! Not exactly a Damascene moment but in my own small way a step forward along the road to healthier baking.

Sadly the buttermilk I had in my fridge was past its use-by date so I had to improvise with watered-down Greek yogurt. (I use 5% fat Fage yogurt.)

I can’t remember ever baking a chocolate cake, with or without sugar, with or without gluten. It isn’t an especial favourite of mine but as I’m catering for a party - ie for others - I felt it was worth a try.

The ingredients
3 1/3 cups flour ( I use buckwheat - see above)and you only need 7/8 of the buckwheat. What is 7/8 of 3 1/3 cups?
[clue: 31/3 is 10/3 - convert to decimals and 7/8 is 0.875 in decimals] yep - it can be done!
2.8 cups buckwheat flour is the equivalent! 
1 1/3 cups cocoa powder ( either Green & Blacks or Co-op Fairtrade or Chocolat Patissier by Menier)
1 cup Truvia - sweetener
1 tabs gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened - but not melted - butter
3 cups buttermilk or 1 2/3 cups Fage Greek yogurt watered down with 1 1/3 cups of water
1 tsp Madagascan vanilla essence
5 large eggs

The printed recipe said to simply combine all ingredients however I split the mix as my food processor is only big enough to deal with half the batter at any one time.
My slightly amended method is as follows:

1 Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F, 160C or 140C fan. Grease and line 2 x 9 inch cake tins or 2 x 8 inch tins plus a tin for 6 muffin cases. ( I like to make small cakes at the same time as a large cake. This is for a taste-test before I freeze the cake or cover it with frosting. )

2 Place half the dry ingredients in the food processor and mix them for 20 seconds. 

3 Add roughly half of the wet ingredients and again process the whole for 20 seconds. 
If you find the cake mix is too stiff to drop from a loaded wooden spoon - when tapped - add a little more water to further dilute the Greek yogurt. If you are using buttermilk this problem is unlikely to arise. 

4 Place the batter in one of the tins and repeat  stages 2 & 3 with the rest of the ingredients and fill the second tin.

5 If you are using 8 inch tins you should have enough cake mix left over for six muffins. If not put the filled tins in the oven for 55 minutes.

6 If you have made six muffins they can go in the oven 20-25 minutes before the main cake is due to come out.

After 50 minutes my cakes were ready. As my mixture was rather dry the top of one of the cakes cracked but once both had cooled on wire racks I simply sliced the cracked top off. This was an excuse to taste the cake crumbs before consigning it to the freezer. Amazingly, despite my fears that the mixture was too stiff, the texture was good, the chocolate taste  strong, without being bitter, and both cakes had risen well. In hindsight I should have added a little more water to the wet ingredients in the food processor. It would have made a less firm cake mix but, despite its stiffness, the cake was a resounding success.  

The six muffins were good to eat on their own but I will pipe a chocolate frosting over them for the party.

A cream cheese frosting is a good replacement for a butter icing. It is sugar-free and blends well. To cover and sandwich the two cakes together use the following ingredients:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature ( softened not melted)
8 oz cream cheese - softened
A little over 1 cup Truvia sweetener
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tabs Madagascan vanilla essence 

1 Beat the cream cheese and butter in the food processor. Add sweetener, cocoa powder and vanilla essence.

2 Mix the whole for 20 seconds. If it’s too tart or bitter add more sweetener - to taste.

The above will fill and coat a cake. There should be enough frosting left over to use in an icing bag for the muffins too. If you need to make more: cream cheese sweetened with Truvia - to taste - and a drop of vanilla essence makes a quick alternative. It’s ample for piping on half a dozen muffins.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the moisture of the gluten-free/sugar-free lemon drizzle cake and the chocolatey taste of the amended recipe I used today. Buckwheat flour is much less sickly sweet than coconut flour - in my opinion - and it doesn’t hide the lemon or chocolate flavours. Another hit for healthy eating! 

Now to put my feet up with a cup of ordinary t-bag tea with semi-skimmed milk. I will forego the cranberry and raspberry tea today. I’ve been quite health-conscious enough. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Food blog five - aaargh!

This week I truly thought I had perfected the art of baking the best gluten-free, sugar-free carrot cake. Not only was the texture open ( I made it with buckwheat - which isn’t wheat but a seed) and followed my fail-safe recipe for the all-singing, all-dancing carrot cake with everything in it. Except I used sweetener in place of sugar. And the g-free, s-free one tasted like cake! I made an all-singing etc cake that same afternoon too.

In order to uncontaminate the gluten- and sugar-free version I took especial care over wiping all food prep surfaces and used separate utensils so not a trace of wheat flour nor sugar from the all-singing batter got into the mix. (All to save those suffering from coeliac or diabetes). I simply used a calculator which converted the amount of sweetener needed in place of 6 oz muscovado sugar and replaced the  SR wheat flour with the aforementioned buckwheat flour. The full recipe can be found on my previous post, food blog four.

After over seventy minutes’ baking time (35 mins each cake) two rather good-looking specimens sat cooling on their wire racks. Both were springy to the touch and were well cooked through. That same evening I carefully labelled each cake so I’d know, in three weeks’ time, which is gluten-free and which is not, and placed them in the free tray in the freezer.

Feeling pleased with the end result I planned my next cake ( gluten-free lemon drizzle perhaps) for when we are back from Devon. And then I had the horrors! Cripes! I’d used the wrong baking powder in the gluten-free cake. Yes it’s only a teaspoon in the whole of a cake but nevertheless it’s a wheat-based powder. Dammit!

I even have gluten-free baking powder sitting on the shelf next to my nutmeg, cinnamon, Madgascan vanilla essence, bicarbonate of soda and so on. What a fool! I used the wrong baking powder. I will have to come clean and declare ‘trace gluten’ in my supposedly gluten-free cake. And I really will have to bake another one - perhaps the lemon drizzle - with the gluten-free baking powder.


Two weeks ago, in happier times, a minor success was my banana and sultana cake. I did check that dried fruit doesn’t lead to sugar spikes - so a diabetic could enjoy a slice. I’d hate to cause anyone harm by overlooking a (nother) demon ingredient. I still have a lot to learn, I feel. But my version of the g-free, s-free carrot cake was so much better, both in texture and taste, than the results of other recipes I’ve used that I will allow myself half a pat on the back.

Next week: lemon drizzle or banana cake...