Thursday, 3 April 2008

Belated birthday cupcakes.

It was K's birthday in February and I had promised to make her birthday cupcakes. Problem is, she lives in Oxford and we've both been pretty busy this year already, so I didn't have a chance to see her until this week. We were off to see Blood Red Shoes at the Oxford Zodiac (part of her present!). Even though I was on the bus and wasn't sure if we'd have time to go back to her house before the gig I knew I couldn't let her down and still wanted to surprise her with some birthday cupcakey goodness.

So in the morning I dutifully wrapped her other presents and then set to work on the baking. I wanted to make something ultra indulgent. I decided on Uber double chocolate cupcakes with a dark chocolate ganache icing. I also decorated them with bright star sprinkles to give them an extra ounce of celebration and fun.
I thought it would be just the thing to celebrate her birthday in style and keep us going after the gig!

I managed to find a wine box that fit them in perfectly and that I could both wrap and keep upright in my bag. It all worked out perfectly and she loved them.

Happy (belated) Birthday K!

Since I am currently curled up on the sofa watching a film there is no excuse not to post the recipe, which I adapted from the 500 cupcakes and Muffins book by Fergal Connolly.

Uber double chocolate muffins (makes six to eight muffin sized cupcakes)

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a muffin tray with papers.

4oz Softened butter
4oz caster sugar
4oz Self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3tbsp cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
50g dark chocolate chunks
50g white chocolate chunks

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until the chocolate chunks are evenly distributed in the batter. Spoon it into the cases and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 25 mins. They should rise until just level with the top of the cases. Allow to cool fully before decorating.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Call me the allergy-friendly baking queen

It feels slightly wrong to post the above picture and following recipe as technically it is not my handy work. I shall explain. I have a friend who has recently been told she shouldn't be eating gluten. I was horrified at the news as there are so many foods I love, and would love to share with her, that are just full of the stuff. So many things have gluten in them, basically anything that uses flour, as well as lots of other random things that you wouldn't even think of.

As you'll have realised from the previous post about egg-free desserts I am always up for a challange, especially a baking one. I love it when my vegan friend visits, not only because she is one of my favourite people in the whole world, but because it gives me a chance to experiment with all sorts of fun things.

Saying "I'm giving up gluten" just sounds like a challenge to me. So in return for her showing me the amazing delights of Columbia Road flower market, and not only humouring my decision to buy a lemon tree, but helping me back with it, I promised her a gluten free baking session. We relocated to my North London Kitchen (which is considerably larger than hers) thanks to a lift from the musician boyfriends (who couldn't help mocking the lemon tree, swearing the fruit on it was glued on and the lemon scent just kitchen cleaner that had been sprayed over it), and donning our wonderful girly aprons we set to work.

She wanted something chocolate and cute so I suggested cupcakes and she jumped at the idea. An hour and a half later, and one curry and pizza delivery later (the poor musicians hadn't had lunch and were starving and we'd monopolised the kitchen with mixing bowls and chocolate wrappers) we had gluten free cupcakes. All the mixing and decorating are down to her, I just helped cream the butterceam icing and fill some of the cake cases.

We used roughly this recipe adapted from 500 Cupcakes and Muffins by Fergal Connolly. It made 12 regular cupcakes and 4 muffin sized ones.

300g gluten-free plain flour
175g caster sugar
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
2 beaten eggs
4 tbsp melted butter
300ml milk (I used soya milk)
1 tsp vanilla
210 g chopped chocolate (we mixed white and dark)
3tbsp cocoa

Preheat oven to 200C

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar and baking powder. In a large bowl beat the eggs, then add the butter milk and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until combined, then add the chocolate. Spoon the mixture into the cases until they're about 2/3 full. Bake cupcake sized ones for 20 minutes, muffin sized for 25 mins. leave to cool before decorating.

We used a white chocolate buttercream for the filling and decorating.

I think you could adapt this recipe and swap in dried fruit or nuts etc for the chocolate, leaving out the cocoa.

Cute fairy cakes were definitely the perfect way to end a fantastic day and a busy weekend.

What! No eggs?!

There was another reason why my preparations for dinner began on Thursday evening. We had sent out an email earlier in the week asking if anyone had food allergies, expecting the usual dismissals and witty retorts. As it happened one of our guests turned out to be allergic to egg. Now this wouldn't have usually been a problem (one of my closest friends is vegan so I am used to dairy free cooking and baking) except that N adores cheesecake. I had promised him a baked lemon cheesecake with raspberries for dessert and just wasn't sure it would be possible without the eggs. Baked cheesecakes rely on the eggs for their binding and setting, and I am not really a fan of non-baked cheesecakes, they just don't have that dense indulgent texture.

Fortunately I found a recipe for a vegan baked cheesecake using tofu and vegan cream cheese. I bought tofu, but wasn't sure if it would be the right sort and thus whether it would turn out alright.
We came up with a contingency plan. I would try the suitable cheesecake recipe and in case it didn't work would also bake an eggless chocolate cake and then I could make a second baked cheesecake to satisfy N and another one of our guests who isn't a fan of chocolate.

So on Thursday night the cheesecake experiment began. I had to do everything in the blender because I don't have a food processor so it took a little more time, but the resulting mix looked great, it was really silky and you couldn't tell it was made with tofu. The final thing to worry about was how it would bake. Fortunately it came out great. I chilled it over night and then topped it with some raspberry puree. It went down a treat and no-one would have guessed that it was made with tofu.

Despite the success of the cheesecake I didn't feel I could let the chocolate lovers down and I knew N wouldn't be disappointed if I made a second cake. So on Friday I had a bash at an eggless chocolate gateau. It too turned out really well, and was so moist. I was really impressed. I had fun with the piping too. I am getting really into this decorating malarkey.

I think what pleased me most was seeing the face of our friend with the egg allergy as it lit up when I assured her both desserts were egg free. She was so pleased, and had a tiny piece of each to make sure she'd tried everything. That's definitely one of the best things about cooking and baking, making other people feel indulged and happy.

So, here are the recipes I used.

(Vegan) Lemon Cheesecake ( adapted from Baking Bites blog)

14 oz package firm silken tofu
8 oz vegan yoghurt
2/3 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cornstarch
9 inch base (I used 250g of crushed digestive biscuits with 25g melted butter mixed together and prebaked for 5 mins)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Place silken tofu and vegan yoghurt in the food processor. Process for 1 minute, then add sugar. Process until smooth and no sugar granules remain, 3-5 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and vanilla extract. Whisk in cornstarch. Pour mixture into the food processor and process until very smooth. Pour into prepared crust and bake for 45 minutes.
Allow to cool at room temperature for 2 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
Serves 10

I didn't really find this cheesecake to be very lemony, even though I also added the lemon zest. However, since I was topping it with a sharp raspberry puree it didn't really matter.

Egg-free Chocolate gateaux (serves 8) Adapted from “Vegan” by Tony Weston and Yvonne Bishop

I didn’t use vegan ingredients in this because it was for someone with just an egg allergy. However, just use vegan equivalents where they are needed. I have put them in brackets.

250g Self-raising flour
250g soft brown sugar
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
125ml flavourless oil (I used groundnut)
150ml Soya milk
1 tablespoon natural yoghurt (vegan yoghurt, bean curd or coconut cream)
1 dessertspoon of cider vinegar
25g dark chocolate (use 70% vegan chocolate, which I did anyway as I prefer it)

Prepare two 8 inch cake tins and pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Place all the ingredients, except the chocolate, in a bowl and beat together until combined. Coarsely grate the chocolate and add to the cake mixture. Divide between the tins evenly and level the tops. Bake for 25 mins.

I sandwiched the cake with a mix of mascarpone cheese and low fat cream cheese (I just did it to taste, I didn’t want just mascarpone as it’s too sweet for me) with a layer of raspberry puree on top. I then iced it with a whipped chocolate ganache icing (same as the Easter cupcakes, which is where you can find the recipe, I think).

So yeah, jam!

I have been a bit slack with the blog recently, mostly due to how busy things were here this weekend. We had people for dinner on Friday, friends over on Saturday, and then on Sunday I was out with a friend at Columbia Road market, and N was with her boyfriend jamming with their new band, all of which was topped off with a baking session. That's more socialising in one weekend then I would usually do in a whole month! No wonder we were both totally wiped out yesterday. technically all started on Thursday. It was going to be eight of us on Friday night, more people than I have ever cooked for. We wanted something tasty but simple, nothing too showy. Basically something we would usually have ourselves, but multiplied. We decided to do bread and olives and hummus to start, pasta and spicy tomato sauce for main and cheesecake for dessert. Easy life. However, as the next series of posts will show, it was destined not to be quite as easy as I'd anticipate, but far more fun!

I started the preparations for the dinner the day before for a variety of reasons. I needed to make the starter for the ciabatta, and I wanted to try out something a bit new...

...Whilst flicking through my recipe books a while back I had spotted a recipe for "tomato and balsamic jam" which looked amazing. Since I love tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and jam it sounded perfect. I thought it would be just the thing to accompany ciabatta and focaccia. It was such a simple recipe it was almost laughable. Basically you just chuck everything in one pan, leave it and voila! Jam:

I wanted to leave it in the fridge overnight so the flavours would enhance, and fortunately I had this great kilner jar from my Mum (originally filled with her delicious homemade lemon curd - that didn't last long, hence the empty jar!). Useful and it looked rather smart on the table the following evening.

I was so pleased with the result, and it got rave reviews from everyone at dinner. I made double the amount the recipe suggested and it was almost all gone even though it was just an accompaniment to the bread, hummus and olives.