J and I have just arrived back from a brief holiday in the Lake District. Those who know us know that we love the Lakes, especially in good weather. This year, weather-wise, it was not good. We cancelled two days of camping and chose to head up north on Wednesday instead to stay in the tiny village of Seatoller in Borrowdale. That was a great choice: the valley was lovely with beautiful views all around, but with low clouds, mist and the heaviest rain we could barely walk. I could be exaggerating just a little bit but it was too soggy for my taste. We did manage to enjoy some walks here and there, and we went to our favourite little towns of Keswick, Hawkshead and did all the tourist things, among which was a visit to Hill Top, a farm which once belonged to Beatrix Potter. But I seriously digress…
Though this actually brings me to something I wanted to write about for quite a long time now. I don’t want to be a nag because no one likes that, myself included. But this has been bothering me. On to another story then! (Sorry…) While we were in Hawkshead we decided to have some coffee and cake from a quaint local teashop. Quaint is only the word J used to describe it, since it was really girly, but later he told me he felt squeamish when he saw it. Their chocolate cake seemed so delicious in the display area so that’s what I ordered. Result: it was so-not-delicious! It was dry and had too much salt in it for my liking – so I ask this: what is it with people’s obsession with chocolate and salt? There is no doubt that we are eating too much salt. Now this comes from someone who loves salty things – I could eat a whole tin of anchovies if given the chance. I say it because I would be the first one to put my hand up because I’m guilty too, even though I’ve given up on the anchovy-tin-bit quite a few months ago. Sad I know, but true! Thankfully these days many food stuffs have labels that indicate how much salt or sodium (they are different) you can find in that product. They make life a teeny bit easier.
I am trying to reduce salt in my cooking. I didn’t take it away completely because I need it. We all do. I still wash the beans from a tin to remove all those salty preservatives. More so after watching a celebrity chef on tv throwing the beans plus + the horrible goo into his dish = yuck! But salt in sweet things…*mm…let me think*…is not a good idea with chocolate. I just don’t like it, and I prefer to use herbs and spices, and pepper of course to season savoury stuff. I am no chef I know that. I’m a simple home cook and people are partial to different kinds of food – I know that too. But the fact that we should go slowly with the salt mill is well-known. Nothing new here. I won’t go into any health issues – we’re getting that everywhere and a lot lately and frankly you know the drill. I just want less salt in my sweets. Where can I get a decent saltless bar of chocolate? I wonder if that’s a lot to ask.
Note: For a good guide for salt take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/healthy_salt.shtml
Please don’t tell me that I made a mistake. I purposely emphasised the extreme chocolate-ness of this cake because I really wanted to make it clear that this is serious chocoholic business. This loaf cake is definitely good but it’s not for everyone. It’s not that I want to discriminate – far from it! It’s just that it’s very dense. I would suggest serving it with something else, like for example some berries for some tartness to make up for the sweetness provided by the chocolate and sugar in the recipe. This cake could easily be a chocoholic’s dream. Oh and also: please don’t comment on the photo – I had some extra chocolate icing to spare and wanted to use it!
This recipe is taken from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess with minor variations. So for this gooey, moist cake you need:
- 225g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g dark brown sugar
- 175g light brown sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100g dark chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
- 200g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 250ml boiling water
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/374ºF/Gas mark 5, and grease and line your loaf tin.
Whisk the butter and both sugars together till they form a creamy consistency, then add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue whisking.
Add the slightly cooled chocolate and fold it gently into the eggy mixture, trying not to overbeat. This cake should be dense so you don’t want a fluffy consistency here.
In a small bowl combine the plain flour and the baking powder, and add this to the cake batter, one spoon at a time and mix gently with the boiling water until the batter is smooth and somewhat liquid, but not too much.
Pour this into the lined loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes at 190ºC; then turn the oven to 170ºC/approx 340ºF/Gas mark 3 for 25 minutes. Always keep an eye on it to prevent any burns and check the cake with a skewer or sharp knife, although here you’re looking for a gooey cake so the knife should not come out squeaky clean.
And as always…enjoy!
A couple of months ago I wanted to bake something light and fluffy for tea. I didn’t want to make another chocolate cake; that would have been too boring, even for my self-confessed love of the stuff. So I flipped through the books and found two lovely cakes. I couldn’t choose between them and I tried them both. On two different days in case you ask. The only problem was that when J processed the photos for me I couldn’t remember what cakes they were and where I got them from. Eventually J was the one who did the identifying; nothing out of the ordinary really – it happens. I need to improve my note-keeping…
The following is a recipe which I had in my notes for more than ten years now. It’s a good recipe for Banana Nut Loaf. You can make it quickly if you have people coming over for tea on a Sunday, you can whip it up for yourself and your family, and leave it in the kitchen for anyone who might like something sweet in the afternoon. The original recipe calls for wholemeal self-raising flour but I tried it with half wholemeal and half white once, and it still worked well. If you use plain wholemeal, then mix two teaspoons of baking powder with the flour. The recipe below is close to the one in the book but with a slight variations. It yields one loaf cake.
- 125g soft butter
- 230g soft brown sugar, plus 1 extra tablespoon
- 3 eggs
- 225g wholemeal self-raising flour
- 50g dessicated coconut, plus 2 extra tablespoons
- 15og banana, mashed
- 125ml milk
- 40g walnuts, chopped
- ½ teaspoon mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper. (Believe me, this will really keep the cake nice and moist so don’t skip the lining bit.)
- In a large bowl mix the softened butter, the 230g of the sugar, eggs, flour, 50g coconut, banana and milk. Whisk all the ingredients together but don’t over beat.
- Now spoon half of your cake batter into the loaf tin. In a small bowl use your hands to mix half the walnuts, mixed spice, the 1 extra tablespoon of sugar and the 2 extra tablespoons of coconut.
- Sprinkle half this mix on to the batter in your tin. Then carefully pour in the remaining cake batter. Smooth the surface with a spatula and add the remaining spice, nut and coconut mix on top.
- Bake the cake for around 1 hour, keeping an eye on it every now and then to make sure the surface doesn’t burn. If this happens cover it loosely with a piece of foil after 25-30 minutes. Check that the cake has cooked through by inserting a skewer or knife. It’s well worth the wait.
Cookies are not very difficult to make. It’s easy to bake a good quality batch at home, but I guess they can turn out bad if not made with care. As with almost all sweet things that need chocolate, it’s important to have a cool environment. I make these cookies regularly throughout the year but in the summer I just freeze the chocolate chunks or chips beforehand just to make sure that they won’t melt while I handle them. That did happen once and although they were good, the chocolate just melted in the mixture. Another thing which helps is to use chunks instead of chips. I can’t find decent sized chocolate chips here so I make my own. I place one or two 100g bars of the stuff into a plastic bag and bash it with a rolling pin until I get small chocolate cubes. I must admit they still end up being large-ish but the larger the chunk, the larger the cookie, so who’s in?
I tried and liked many chocolate chip cookie recipes, so what I will give you is the most recent one I came across and made. This is taken from Nigella’s Kitchen with minor changes. They are a treat. I managed to make a batch of 18 large cookies out of this. You’ll need:
- 150g soft unsalted butter
- 125g soft brown sugar
- 100g caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
- 300g plain flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 300g chocolate chunks
- Preheat your oven to 170ºC/Gas Mark 3 and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper or silicone sheets.
- Melt the butter either on the stove or in the microwave in short blasts. Be careful not to burn it. Put both sugars in a bowl with the cooled melted butter and whisk.
- Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs till the mixture is creamy. Slowly mix in the flour and the baking powder and gently mix everything again. Now is the time to fold in the chocolate chunks.
- Using a small ice-cream scoop or a US ¼ cup measure (or your hands if you like and if they’re not too warm), drop the cookie mixture down onto your lined baking trays. Make sure you place them around 6-8cm apart because they will expand in the oven. Try to keep the cookie dough bowl in the fridge to keep it cool in between batches.
- Bake for around 17-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them and take them out as soon as their edges turn a little golden. Leave to cool for a while before turning them on a wire rack. Do not over-bake.
Note: Uncooked cookie dough will keep for 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container or sandwich bags. What I do is this: set aside a small batch of formed cookies on a tray and insert these in the freezer. When set, take them out and transfer them into a large sandwich bag. When needed put them back on a lined baking tray and bake into a preheated oven for around 20 minutes.
Now there’s no doubt that Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is full of good stuff. Somehow I find that her recipes here are more refined than those in her other books. To be honest I cannot pin point exactly why; to me they just are. Just try the next recipe, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s one of my favourites: Damp Lemon and Almond Cake. It’s not a flourless cake; you still need some plain flour for this, but if you like almonds like me, you will be completely smitten by this beauty.
If you want to learn from my mistake, I’ll tell you that it is essential that you use baking paper for greasing your cake tin. I didn’t and you can see that mine got a little burnt at the edges. (You will need a 21-23 cm springform tin.) What I can assure you though is this: it was delicious, especially with real vanilla ice-cream! You could serve it alone of course, or with some sort of lemon ice-cream or sorbet, but for me that would be a tad too much. You still don’t know which cake I like best…Let’s start:
- 225g unsalted butter, softened
- 225g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 50g plain flour, or rice flour for a GF version
- 225g ground almonds
- ½ teaspoon almond essence
- juice and zest of 2 lemons
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each egg.
When these have been well combined, gently add the ground almonds, almond essence, lemon zest and juice.
Pour into a very well greased and lined round cake tin and bake for around 1 hour. Mine was done after 55 minutes so every so often please take a look at your cake without opening the oven too much. After 30 minutes cover it with a piece of foil to stop the surface from burning.
After the cake is done remove from the oven and let it cool for around 10 minutes in its tin. Then turn it out slowly onto a rack.