Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lazy Banana and Carrot Cake.

This banana and carrot cake is fantastic for those lazy days when you want cake, but don't really want to do a lot of work (or washing up). The raising agents in the mixture do all the hard work for you. Not only a one bowl wonder that uses up any bananas that are over ripe, but with the carrots in it too, must surely count as one of your five a day!!

Lazy banana and carrot cake.
175g light brown sugar
3 eggs
175ml sunflower oil
175g coarsely grated carrots (or you can use a mixture of carrot and eating apple).
2 very ripe, medium sized bananas mashed (or 3 smaller ones).
280g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional).
butter/margarine for greasing the tin

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease and line a 9 inch, spring form (or similar sized square/loaf) tin.

Put the sugar, eggs, oil, grated carrot, mashed banana in a large bowl and mix briefly. Make sure there are no lumps of sugar.

Sugar, eggs, oil, carrot and banana mixed together.

Sift in the flour (do yourself a favour and sift it for this one, otherwise you'll never get the lumps out), and the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Mix all the ingredients together until they are combined and pour into the cake tin.

Complete cake mix in the tin.

At this point, don't hang about (otherwise you'll lose the oomph from the raising agents) and put the filled tin on the centre shelf of your preheated oven immediately. Bake for approximately forty-five minutes to one hour. The baking time will depend on your oven and the tin you are using. The cake is cooked when risen, browned and when a skewer can be inserted into the centre and removed clean. If the cake is browning too much, cover with foil.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out on to a cooling rack and remove the lining paper.

If you can possibly bear to wait, cool completely before eating.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Brilliant Bean and Pea Salad

I'm lucky enough to have just returned from a trip to Paris, bringing with me some fabulous saucisson sec.

Saucisson sec.

I'm happy enough to eat this on its own, but I am also more than happy to get in every meal possible! To soothe a guilty conscience resulting from a few days of gluttony,  a handful of locally grown broad beans and some wonderfully green peas seemed to be a good idea. This recipe is  for a great fresh salad  that is great with roasted and grilled meats (especially so if you are lucky enough with the weather to be able to get he BBQ out), but is also great on its own with fresh bread for a summer lunch.

The quantities in the below recipe makes enough for two as a side dish.

150g  podded broad beans (If you buy them in pods I find that 500g of pods gives approximately 150g of beans). Feel free to use frozen if not in season.
175g peas (I used frozen on this occasion).
Approximately 60g saucisson sec (or any decent air dried ham or salami) cubed or cut in to small strips.
1 small garlic clove
Olive oil
A light flavoured vinegar (cider or white wine vinegar - on this occasion I actually used the vinegar from my caper jar).
Salt and pepper.

Podded broad beans.

Pod the broad beans if necessary (keep the pods for stock) and then cook on a rolling boil for 3 minutes (please use unsalted water, or you'll toughen the beans). Cool quickly under cold running water, or in a bowl of ice water.

Cook the peas in the same way for 3 minutes, cool as with the beans.

Peel the skins off the cooked broad beans - you should find that they pop out of the skins easily

Cooked and peeled broad beans.

Combine the peas and beans in a bowl and add the chopped saucisson sec (or ham).

Finely chop and add the garlic. If like me, your knife skills are a little lacking, you may wish to crush it instead, no one wants big chunks of raw garlic.

Broad beans, saucisson and garlic.
Drizzle over a small amount of olive oil over the bean mixture. You want just enough to coat the mixture, you don't want it to be swimming in oil.

Add a teaspoon of your chosen vinegar, give it all a good stir and then give it a taste. You may at this point wish to add more vinegar depending on your taste. You also may wish to add some salt, but this will depend on how salty your saucisson or ham is. You might find that you don't need any at all. I think this dish benefits greatly from a good grind or pepper, but as always, you will want to do this to taste.

Brilliant bean and pea salad.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sensational Simple Sponge

A sensational simple sponge.
Sometimes there is nothing better than a simple sponge cake for hitting the (delicious cake) spot. A simple sponge can be truly sensational if done well. A sponge cake is not difficult to make given a few tips, but it is worth giving it a little love and time...I'm sorry Mary Berry (and Delia on occasion), but the all in one method may well seem quicker and perhaps a little easier, but for five extra minutes you can have a much better cake.

A simple sponge is just that. Made from butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour it can be a thing of beauty. You can of course tart it up by adding vanilla, lemon, chocolate...whatever you can think of. Learning to make a sensational simple sponge is a must for all those that love cake!

There are two ways to measure your ingredients for a sensational simple sponge cake. I have used both methods, and find if you are using commercially produced eggs (by that I mean they are graded by size and will be similar weights) then they both work very well.

The first method is to take a number of large eggs (say 4 for a generous sized cake) and then double the number of eggs in ounces for the caster sugar, butter and self-raising flour. So, if you have 4 large eggs you'll use 8 ounces each of sugar, butter and self-raising flour. If you wanted a smaller cake you could use 3 large eggs and 6 ounces each of sugar, butter and self-raising flour.

If you are using eggs from your own hens, or have been given some by a friend (lucky you!) or sourced eggs from somewhere where they are varying sizes, it is probably more reliable to use a different measuring method. In this case crack open your eggs and using grams measure their combined weight. You will then need to use an equal weight each of sugar, butter and self-raising flour. For example if you use four eggs and their contents weigh 220 grams, you would then use 220 grams of sugar, 220 grams of butter and 220 grams of self-raising flour.

This may seem needlessly complicated, but if you have uneven sized eggs then this is the best way to get a sensational simple sponge. If you are using standard sized eggs it's fine to use the number and ounces method, as more often than not you would find that 4 eggs would weigh approximately 8 ounces in any case.

So....on to the method (I hope you're still with me) for the sensational simple sponge. This is where the little extra love and time comes in.

Before you do anything else, grease and line your tins. I love the straight sided, loose bottomed sandwich tins from Alan Silverwood. They cook really evenly and the loose bottom really helps get the cake out the tin. The straight sides give you a good looking and even cake (this will even help with the rise believe it or not!). Grease the tins (I also like to line the bottom with greased baking paper) and then tip some flour (or cocoa if you are making a chocolate sponge) around the tin to make a fine layer on top of the butter/margarine used for greasing. This will stop your cakes from sticking to the tin and is well worth the extra effort.

Greased and floured tin (with optional fingerprints!)

Have all your ingredients at room temperature...if you keep your eggs in the fridge take them out in advance of using them....same goes for the butter. The only exception to this is if it is a very warm don't want the butter to be melting/greasy looking at all, just soft.

The first step is to cream together the butter and the caster sugar. I use a stand mixer, but you can use a hand mixer, or if you want a work out you can do it by hand with a wooden spoon. You want to cream together the butter and the sugar until they combine, and the butter is a couple of shades lighter than it was. If doing this by hand this will take a little time, but it is perhaps one of the most important steps to making a sensational simple sponge cake. By creaming together the sugar and the butter you are creating little bubbles of air in the butter and sugar mixture, which will make the cake rise when baked. If the butter is too warm before you start, and is melting away it won't be stiff enough to hold the bubbles, so if it starts to do that whilst you are mid cream, pop the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes and cream again.

Butter and sugar creamed together on the paddle attachment of my can just about see the tiny bubbles within the mixture.
Creamed butter and sugar in the bowl.

The next stage is to whisk in the eggs. Do this one at a time until they are combined in to the mixture. The mixture may begin to look curdled. Do not worry as this can be for a number of reasons (including cold eggs, or using margarine) and is nothing to worry about. Some recipes will advise you to add a little flour with each egg to prevent this. I would advise that you don't do this, you'll be adding the flour soon enough and overworking the flour will give you a tough cake. Delia Smith advises that allowing the mix to 'curdle' makes the cake heavy, but I have not found this to be the case, overworking the flour is more likely to do this in my opinion.
Butter, sugar and egg mix that looks curdled.

I'm not normally one for sifting flour (I'm too lazy), but this is the one time you should do it. Less lumps in the flour means less stirring once the flour is in the mix, and the key here is to stir as little as possible. The more you stir the flour into the mix, the more you will develop the gluten in the flour, something you do not want when making a sponge cake. Over developing the gluten will give you a tough and dry cake. You literally want to stir in the flour just enough so the mixture is combined.

Once you've got the flour into your mix, and it is smooth and combined you want to get it into the tin(s) as soon as possible. You don't want to leave the mix sitting around, as you will lose the oomph of the raising agent in the self-raising flour (this begins to work as soon as it hits the moisture of the rest of the mix). I like to divide a four egg mixture evenly between two 20cm tins (approximately 8 inches). For a nice level top once the cake has baked I slightly indent the centre of the mix in each tin.

Sponge layer before baking.

Mix with indentation in the middle.
For a 4 egg cake in two layers, bake in a centre of a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius for approximately 25-30 minutes. If it's a 4 egg cake in one layer it is more likely to be 45 minutes. Cooking times will depend on your oven. The sensational sponge is cooked when the centre feels springy when lightly touched and your finger doesn't leave a mark (be careful the cake will be hot!). You can also insert a fine skewer or cocktail stick into the centre of the cake, and if this comes out clean the cake is cooked

Allow the cake to cool on a rack for 5 minutes or so and then tip out of the tin(s). If you don't want any grid marks from the cooling rack to be left on the top of your sponge you can tip it out on to a tea towel (on the rack) and then turn it over to cool.

For a classic victoria sponge, sandwich two layers of the simple sensational sponge with jam and sift icing sugar on the top. If you've made a lemony cake you can sandwich (or just top) with lemon curd, or if chocolate use a chocolate ganache (or cherry jam). You can of course just eat it plain, or with whipped cream, you can ice it with butter cream, or fill it with fruit....the options are endless, but you will always have a sensational simple sponge!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Easy peasy (lemon squeezy) shortcrust pastry

Pastry, even shortcrust,  seems to be one of those things that strikes fear in to the heart of many a decent cook. It really shouldn't. I'm pretty cack-handed, truth be known, but these days I can turn out a decent shortcrust without drama. I knew I'd made it in the short crust pastry world when my Granny (all round baking and cooking genius, and my main teacher and inspiration) asked me how to make it as she's never been happy with hers!!! Of course I agreed to share with her as long as she taught me how to make her marvellous flaky pastry!!

So, here's my recipe. I tend to use the same recipe for sweet or savoury dishes (as I tend to think that sweet dishes can benefit from a plainer pastry), although this one can be adjusted to make it sweet if you so desire.

The following quantity will make enough shortcrust to easily line a 9inch (23cm) tart tin with some leftover.

250g plain flour
75g unsalted butter
75g lard (It's the lard that gives this shortcrust it's fantastic texture. If you want the recipe to be vegetarian you could use Trex or double the butter, but lard is best...honest!).
1 medium egg beaten with a tablespoon of cold water
(if you want to make this a sweet pastry you can add in a tablespoon or two of caster or icing sugar, but as I said, I normally don't bother)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

You need to lightly bring together the flour and the fats. You can either do this by pulsing lightly in a food processor or gently rubbing the fat into the flour in with your fingers (or using the paddle on a food mixer). Traditionally, a lot of recipes at this point say you're looking for the texture of breadcrumbs. I've never quite seen it that way myself, but essentially you want the fats and flour to be combined with no large lumps. With shortcrust it is best to work it as little as possible, so it's best to be cautious and not to keep rubbing and rubbing (or blending). If there are a few larger lumps of fat, it won't matter at all. If you're going to add sugar gently stir in at this point.

Once you're at the 'breadcrumb' stage you want to add the beaten egg and if using the food processor give the mix a little pulse or two. If making by hand gently stir in with your fingers. You're looking for the mixture to be just starting to clump together or ball-up. If it isn't doing this you may need to add a little more water, but do this a very small amount at a time. At this point tip it out of the mixer or bowl on to a sheet of cling film. You can see from the picture below that the mixture is literally just coming together.

To finish bringing the pastry together, just bring together the edges of the cling film and press the mixture together. No need to knead (and again, the less you handle it the better).

Wrap the resulting ball of pastry securely in the cling film and bung in the fridge for as long as you've got (at least 30 minutes, or one to two hours is even better). Even better is to stick it in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes.

Now, if you like the stress of rolling out pastry, then go for it, but I have a much easier method that works really well for the cack-handed amongst us! Grab a chunk of your pastry and using a coarse grater, grate it into your tart tin.

Once you have a decent layer start to press it together with your fingers. I like to start at the edge of the base, pushing it up the sides of the tin.

You can then grate some more of the pastry dough into the bottom of the tin to form the base. Using this method you can make the pastry as thin/thick as you like. I tend to be able to get it much thinner using this method, than rolling it out. Make sure you really push into the corners of the tin (where the base meets the side) so you don't end up with a thick layer here.

I'm not too bothered if the base has some finger indentations, but if this bothers you, use a little wodge of pastry to press down on the base to smooth it out. Prick the base of the raw tart shell with a fork and then line with tin foil (shiny side down), pressing it down in to the edges, and baking beans (or baking bean alternative). I find tin foil works really well to stop the shell from becoming misshapen in the heat of the oven and also makes it a darn sight easier to remove the baking beans from the tart shell when cooked.

Put the pastry shell back in the fridge for at least half an hour (15 minutes in the freezer) and then bake in the centre of your preheated oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 22 minutes. Take it out the oven and remove the foil and baking beans. Put back in the oven for a further 3 minutes (for a total baking time of 25 minutes) if the tart shell is going to have a filling that will require further cooking.

If the shell is going to be filled with a filling that doesn't require further cooking you might want to cook it for a little longer until golden brown.

That's it! Lovely flaky, crumbly short crust pastry! Have a go, make a nice chocolate tart...try this fabulous recipe from David Lebovitz.