All 12 entries tagged Summer
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July 19, 2012
Chocolate and Beetroot Cake
My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.
First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)
Oh dear...What was I thinking?
Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can't believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.
I know that it's silly, but there's a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However - I just can't face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I've been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It's main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.
Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They'll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.
But first, I'll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?
Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It's alright. Not everyone tastes the "secret ingredient" in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I'm going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.
The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend's picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend's dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious's recipe. I've never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, 'frosting') as I'm not very fond of it. So, I'm pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.
What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I'd recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There's no fooling yourself that it's healthy, however, as there's an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)
So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you'll use a lot.
Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine's Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.
- 250g plain chocolate
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 150g light muscovado sugar
- 100ml sunflower oil
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 100g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 50g ground almonds
- 250g raw grated beetroot
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.
2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn't burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.
3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.
4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.
5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I'd recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don't want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.
6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.
7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you'll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.
8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.
I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don't have to wait that long.
Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing
- 150g dark chocolate
- 100g sour cream
- 100g icing sugar
Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.
Spread it over the cake, et voila!
May 26, 2012
I can smell summer BBQs: here's easy, peasy, juicy Beef Burgers
I do love how summer smells.
What does summer smell like in your part of the world?
These are my current summer notes from my part of the world:
Freshly cut grass,
Pimms and lemonade,
Lancome Midnight Rose,
salty sweat and soltan sunscreen (let's keep it real!)
The charcoal smoke of barbeques!
I like spotting faces in places, can you spot the faces?
This beef burger recipe originated from Meagan (my Canadian friend from Oreo Cheesecake fame!). Meagan said that she didn't know how to cook, but produced great cheesecake and these juicy homemade beef burgers. Maybe they have a much higher standard of home-cooking in Canada compared to the UK?!
She never told me the recipe when she lived in the UK. Was it because she was stunned that none of her UK friends had ever thought to make their own burgers and was worried that our brains would get fried by the complexity of it?
I'm joking. I think it was just me, at that point, who couldn't getthat home-made burgers could be so easy to make. When I visited Meagan and Darren a few years ago, in Canada, I watched Meagan make them in less than 10 minutes: that's how she convinced me of the utter ease of this recipe. Oh winter BBQs! That's another great thing about Canadians. It was the beginning of March, there had been lots of snowfall, temperatures had plummeted to -25C during the day, and Meagan and Darren decided to put on the BBQ. A gas one that sits out on their porch, naturally. Why not?
But back to the subject. These home-made beef burgers are really easy and quick to make, cheaper and much tastier than any you'll buy in a shop. I think that there are three reasons why these burgers are so simple to make:
- They use ingredients that most of us have in our cupboards.
- I use porridge oats which eliminates the step of making bread crumbs or crushing cream crackers.
- I use spring onions instead of onions, because no matter how finely I chop white or red onions, the onions always cause my burgers to fall apart in the cooking process. Spring onions provide the flavour and the burger holds together.
Please feel special because I have especially measured out the ingredients for you in order to give you this recipe. When I make these burgers I normally do a few squirts of tomato ketchup, mustard, a handful or so of oats, a bit of salt and pepper, as many chopped herbs as I fancy etc. So, if you'd like to, you can use my ingredients as a guide, and flavour it as your tastebuds lead you. On the other hand, I do get irritated with recipes that say things like, a bunch of dill or coriander etc., it's just not helpful when you're starting out. Oh I remember, back in the day, when I first came across Jamie Oliver's Naked Chef recipes. His personality and style of cooking appealed to me. However, when he wrote things like 'a glug of olive oil' it was utterly meaningless and put me off making his recipes. Please! I don't know what you mean by a glug or a bunch!
This recipe makes 8 medium sized burgers (approx 75g each). I pretty much double the recipe if I want to make more and modify the seasoning (by that I mean everything apart from the beef, spring onions and egg) depending on how it tastes. You can eat raw beef so it's possible to taste as you go, only if you want to! I don't mind it.
Ingredients for Easy, Peasy, Juicy Beef Burgers
- 1lb/454g minced beef aka ground beef in the US
- (Highly recommended, but optional) 2 spring onions, finely chopped - I use all of the spring onion including the green bits on the top. I know that some people only use the white bits.
- 50g porridge oats, or rolled oats
- 1 egg
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 1½ tbsp barbeque sauce (woodsmoke flavour preferably)
- 1½ tbsp french mustard
- a shake of worcester sauce - difficult to measure that one, sorry.
- ½ tsp salt (add more if needed)
- ½ tsp ground pepper (add more if needed)
- Optional herb flavourings. Add these according to how you want them to taste, but here's a guideline: 10 stalks of parsley with leaves - finely chopped, including the stalks and 6 stalks of dill, finely chopped.
1. Get a plate/tupperware box to place the burgers that you're about to make before cooking them.
2. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mush [mix thoroughly] them together with your hands.
3. Wet your hands so that the mixture doesn't stick to your hands. Pick up a handful of the beef mixture. I weighed this out specially for you guys, and I think that anything between 70-80g is a good size. Gently roll it into a ball, then press it down firmly into the thickness that you want it, so that it forms flat-ish, round-ish disc shape. If you'd like to freeze them at this stage, spread them out on a baking sheet in one layer and place the sheet flat in the freezer. Once the burgers have frozen, you can store them into a bigger freezer bag. Take them out the day or morning that you want to eat them and let them defrost completely before cooking.
4. Barbeque them or grill them - the choice is yours, or if you live in the UK, depends on the weather. Serve as you like. My current favourite is to eat them with fresh bread with some guacamole, freshly cut tomatoes, and salad.
I've since taught this recipe a couple of times. Always with a bellyful of laughs and burgers.
May 04, 2012
Figgy, Lemon Shortbread (and my longing for the summer to begin)
I am ready for the summer to begin... or at least the spring! What's with the hail and icy winds in Coventry... in May?!? Waaah! Where's the sun?
So here I've baked a little something to try and remind myself of the summer: figgy, lemon shortbread.
Figs and lemons remind me of the mediterranean and the sun. I ate an abundance of both when I was in Turkey. It must have been the right season or something. And last summer, my friends and I picked sun-ripened figs on the sea-side town of Baynuls-sur-Mer, and snacked on the delicious fruits the entire week that we were there. To be honest, I think that Jenny tired of them towards the end, but Sarah and I couldn't get enough of them. Unless you grow the figs yourself, I've yet to buy fresh figs in the UK that taste remotely like the sun-ripened variety.
There's a couple of lemon and fig cookie recipes out there, but I've yet to come across any recipes that combine the two together in a shortbread. When I was thinking up with this recipe, I toyed with the idea of adding another flavour to it, like cardoman or black pepper. I didn't add any this time round, but I rather like the idea of experimenting with some finely-chopped fresh rosemary or dried lavender. Having baked and tested them out on my students and colleagues, I think that the two flavours work rather well together in a shortbread. The flavours aren't overpowering and the end result is a bit more of a delicate, crumble/melt-in-your-mouth experience. It's really interesting asking my colleagues for their feedback on what flavour hits them first, the lemon or the fig. The consensus is that it's a rather subjective experience.
So, let's get on with this recipe. It's a really easy one to make. Two things to prep the night before. 1. Take out the butter so that it's soft. 2. Put the figs in a bowl and cover with some water so that they're plumped up. I adapted Fiona's shortbread recipe, to come up with my own figgy, lemon shortbread. This time I substituted some of the cornflour for semolina. I was improvising, to be honest, because I ran out of cornflour in the middle of measuring out the ingredients. But why semolina? A friend of mine had mentioned the use of semolina in a shortbread before, so it wasn't an entirely new idea. I thought that it would add a bit of bite and crunch to the shortbread and I think, I think, I think that it does. Give it a go and tell me what you think.
Top tip: When it comes to making shortbread, use real butter and always take it out the fridge the night before to soften. If you try and cheat to soften the butter by zapping it in the microwave and causing it to melt, you'll affect the baking process. The end result is a biscuit that splays out all over the place when it's baking in the oven giving it a harder, brittle texture.
Ingredients for my Figgy, Lemon Shortbread. I used 5cm cutters and produced about 55 pieces of shortbread.
- 250g salted butter, softened and cubed
- 100g golden caster sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 100-115g chopped dried figs
- 250g plain flour
- 75g cornflour
- 50g fine semolina (if you don't have semolina then use cornflour, so in total you're using 125g cornflour)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a few metal baking sheet with baking paper. Put the dried figs in a bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 15 minutes to plump them up. I left them overnight and then chopped them up really finely with my pampered chef food chopper. I think that you could experiment with how finely (or not) you'd like your figs to be.
2. In a big bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the lemon zest. Finally add in the chopped, dried figs. I use an electric mixer, but if you don't have one, then beat it together with a wooden spoon.
3. Measure out the flour, cornflour and semolina in another bowl. Then sift the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter in 4 batches. I add it in batches to make sure that the flour doesn't fly out the bowl. Combine well until it's a sticky mixture.
4. At this point, it's best to flour your hands before gently kneading the mixture until it is combined into a smooth texture. I forgot this bit and ended up with sticky fingers. It's important not to overwork the mixture because it will make it a tougher, less crumbly biscuit. Once it has reached that just smooth texture, then wrap it up in a piece of clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later.
5. Roll out the shortbread mixture on a floured worktop so that it's about 0.5-1cm thick. I like to use a glass chopping board and have a large piece of clingfilm between my rolling pin and the mixture. I think that it makes it an altogether cleaner operation. No bits of dough sticking to the rolling pin, and less flour flying everywhere.
6. I then used 5cm round and daisy-shaped cutters to create my cookies. Maximise the space on the dough. Roll up what's left and start again. I may be wrong, but I found that the biscuit is a bit tougher when I roll out the dough a second and third time. I don't know whether it's because I've baked them in the oven for a bit longer accidentally or what... so I'll keep comparing.
One of my colleagues asked me to bake a larger piece of shortbread next time... like you get on the pettitcoat tails. I'll try another time and let you know how that turns out.
7. Place them on sheets of greaseproof or baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them round half-way through baking. They will be a light golden colour when they're done, like the colour of golden caster sugar, rather than a darker brown, like the colour of demerara sugar. Take them out the oven and immediately sprinke some granulated or demerara sugar on them. Leave them to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool completely. Put them in an airtight container and they'll probably last
3-4 days. Monica assures me that they'll keep for a month.
These ones that I baked have pretty much all gone within 24 hours. I took some freshly baked shortbread to my students to test it out on their discerning tastebuds. I don't know whether they were just being nice, but here are their thoughts on the recipe:
"It's like shortbread." (10/10!)
"I wouldn't change a thing."
"They just melt in your mouth."
"Maybe a bit more lemon and fig, but I like my biscuits to be really fruity." - if you think that this would be you, then add a bit more lemon zest and try chopping the figs into bigger chunks to see whether that helps.
I await to hear your verdict.
February 25, 2012
Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!
To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn't for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart's cupcake's book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and... p,p,p... what other word am I looking for that starts with 'p'?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?
Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:
- a new/complicated technique
- not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don't have
- and getting over my dislike of frosting
Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don't get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I'm joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!
There were four noteworthy moments that I'd like to share:
I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed "Kenny", and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated "Kenny is a dream!" Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don't have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.
You'll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.
Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.
I still don't quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha's recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn't be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn't use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn't have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha - I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.
So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?
Looking at these photos now, I'm thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm.... I wonder whether... Next time I bake this, I'm going to try it with pomegranates. I'll let you know how I get on.
Anyway, back to Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.
Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes
- 340g self-raising flour
- 35g cornflour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 225g butter, softened and cubed
- 375g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups finely chopped strawberries - about 20 strawberries.
1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That's the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don't have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you're using a mixer then use the beater attachment.
I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour...
4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.
5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.
6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.
Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.
Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.
So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart's recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn't quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn't suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens' Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there's also an element of me believing Ruth's blog to be more honest over Martha's book.
Besides, Ruth sold it to me, "This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!"
Okay, Ruth. Let's give it a go and see whether it's worth the effort.
It is. I don't normally like buttercream frosting because it's too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front - it holds it's shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.
So, here's my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth's posts, I'd seen that she'd used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.
Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That's one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.
Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
- 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
- 50g caster sugar
- 250g caster sugar
- 100ml water
- 500g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tbsp strawberry jam
- 1tsp vanilla extract
Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid's were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend's Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!
1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don't hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don't lost their shape when you take the whisk out).
2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.
Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn't seem to affect it too much this time.
3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.
4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it's time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer - keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn't weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it's going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don't worry, that's normal.
5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.
6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.
7. Fill those piping bags and away we go :)
IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING
UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it's case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.
:-) The salvaged cupcakes!
August 10, 2011
Sicilian Caponata (Sicilian Aubergine Relish)
I fell in love with antipasti when I holidayed in the north-western tip of Sicily last September. In the past, I'd completely avoided antipasti: the magazine diet pages advise against eating antipasti for their hidden calories. I'm not entirely sure what changed my mind, but I had definitely ditched that notion of avoiding antipasti by the time I went on holiday. And I'm glad I did, because it certainly made for a glorious gastronomical adventure.
On our final night we stopped by the beautiful seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo, which was dressing itself up for a feria. Sarah and I both love good food so we wanted to finish our holiday with a delicious italian meal. We chanced upon this newly-opened restaurant and entered on the recommendation of an italian man (who was also a chef!) we bumped into at the corner of the street. He spoke english, having worked in England for a few years, and he was holidaying with his family in the area. I do love those serendipitous moments. I think of them as God showing me favour. Others might call them fortune or chance. I absolutely recommend this restaurant to you, but I'm not sure where it is. Maybe the photo will help you find it. We were served a delicious menu del dia. However, truth be told, I was full after the antipasti. I was ever so apologetic to the chef for leaving food on my subsequent platas.
Before we left the beautiful island, with the aquamarine shoreline, I began to dream up an time when we could eat sunny, sicilian food in the backdrop of a wet, grumpy, english winter. The occasion presented itself when I arranged a sicilian evening with my friends Helen and John, who had been to Sicily earlier in the year. Helen and I decided that we'd only serve antipasti, bread and dessert. We didn't plan a main course. The benefit of hindsight from our holidays.
Helen made tasty parma ham rolls stuffed with cream cheese and mango and a flavourful french bean, sundried tomato and feta cheese salad. My contribution to the evening: homemade caponata and sicilian bread. (I'll write about my tentative endeavours into bread making another day.)
Caponata isn't much to look at; it tastes spectacular. How do I describe the flavour? Sweet, tangy, a bit crunchy, moreish. Perhaps, one would bluntly call it an aubergine chutney, but that doesn't sound very appealing to me. The juices from the vegetables makes a beautiful sauce and the aubergines soak it up. Yum. It was one of the antipasti that was constantly served to us when I was out there.
When I found this Antonio Carluccio recipe(which is in his Italia cookbook), one of the things that almost put me off making this dishis the looooong list of ingredients. But then I remembered my resolution to push my culinary self. Besides, I realised that I had most of the ingredients and I only needed to buy capers and olives... and celery and aubergines and tomatoes.. It really does taste pretty special and it is a very simple dish to make. Admittedly the list of ingredients is on the long side. There's just quite a bit of prepping and chopping at the start.
The recipe recommended you want the pale violet aubergine that is native to Italy. I found it tricky to source in Coventry so I satisfied myself with the deep violet variety.
Oh, and something else to note. Use a really large, deep frying pan, or a large wok. I started out with a frying pan, then swapped it for a stock pan because of the quantity of the ingredients.
- 600g aubergines (about 3 medium sized aubergines), cut into 1 inch cubes
- 6-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or just olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 celery hearts, cut into little chunks
- 500g ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 100g pitted green olives
- 60g salted capers, rinsed
- 100g slivered almonds
- 2 ripe but firm pears, cored, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 50g caster sugar
- 50ml white wine vinegar
1. In a large bowl, immerse the cubed aubergine in salted water for 1 hour. Then drain and press down firmly on the aubergines in order to squeeze as much water out. Transfer the aubergine onto a clean tea towel and pat the aubergine cubes dry. Prepare a plate with a few sheets of kitchen paper.
2. Heat most of the extra virgin olive oil in the frying pan, or stock pan and fry the aubergine cubes until it's a golden colour, rather than a bit burnt like mine. Transfer the fried aubergine onto the plate with the kitchen paper, so that as much oil is absorbed. Leave to one side.
3. Add more oil, if necessary, and fry the onion until soft. Add in all the other ingredients, except the caster sugar and white wine vinegar (really important you leave these out for now). So, that's the celery, tomatoes, olives, capers, almonds, pears, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Add the aubergines to the pan, with the sugar and white wine vinegar. Season with salt, if required. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it cool down.
Caponata can be eaten warm, and believe me, I couldn't resist a wee taste of it. But it is, oh so delicious, when served cold.
This made A LOT. I had loads leftover from the sicilian evening. I took it to a friend's birthday party later that week, by which time the flavours had matured and we kept going back for some more. I gave some to a sicilian student, I stirred it through pasta to make packed lunches, and finally finished it off with a friend of mine with some bread and salad. It's really handy to have a few jars of this in the fridge for a delicious lunch, or a contribution to a dinner.
July 30, 2011
Baked Oreo Cheesecake
This is the first ever cheesecake that I made solo.
I'd never made a cheesecake before until I was sous-chef for my friend Meagan when she made this dessert. Since she isn't into baking yet made it look so easy, I thought that I'd have a go. Two years later, I finally got round to it and by then I'd forgotten the recipe and so had Meagan. Told you she isn't much into baking. I made it again the other night to remind myself of what recipe I'd chosen.
Funny moment related to this, the first time I made this, I bought so many oreos and cartons of cream cheese that the lady in the checkout told me off. She said that to watch out because I'd get fat! She's right, you know. If I ate it all tonight then I'm sure I'd have to be rolled out of bed in the morning because I'd have grown 3 spare tires, given the amount of cream and sugar in this.
So, this Oreo Cheesecake... It tastes pretty special. If you like oreos and you like baked cheesecake, then I can guarantee that you'll like this dessert. I've adapted the recipe from the Krafts website.
- 38 (or 3 packets of) Oreo biscuits, 1 packet roughly broken to add into the cream cheese mixture.
- 900g soft cheese
- 60g melted butter
- 180g granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 150ml sour cream (original recipe said 100ml, but as sour cream is sold in 150ml cartons in the UK, I added in the remaining 50ml as I didn't have anything better to do with it.)
1. You'll need to preheat the oven to 325F/160C/Gas Mark 3. The first time I made it, I used two 20cm deep loose-bottomed cake tins and then I experimented with a 23cm stoneware square baker. The stone works brilliantly, but I'm pretty biased with stoneware. This time, I used the traditional 23cm springform cake tin and made 6 mini cheesecakes as tasters, naturally, as well. They all work well.
2. In a bowl, set aside the packet of Oreos that you've roughly broken by hand.
3. Take 22 biscuits (2 packets minus 6) for the biscuit base. Finely crush the biscuits in a food processor. Or if you prefer it a bit rough, then do what I did and bash them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Make sure that all the air is let out first, otherwise there'll be a mini oreo explosion.
4. Add in the melted butter and mix well before emptying the crushed biscuits into the springform cake tin. Spread the biscuits out somewhat evenly, then press the biscuits down firmly to the bottom. I found that the end of the lid stopper of my food processor doubled up conveniently for the task. For the mini cheesecakes then my mini tart shaper works beautifully.
5. In a BIG mixing bowl, as there is rather a lot of cream cheese involved, beat the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and the sour cream. Make sure that it is well combined and the mixture doesn't have any lumps. The first time I did this, I didn't have an electric mixer so I remember using a pampered chef mix 'n' scraper. What doesn't work, and I share this from experience, is a whisk. I don't know what possessed me to try that one out...
6. Add the eggs in one by one. Gently beating them into the mixture until they are just about combined before adding the next one...
Top Tip: I read somewhere that in order to stop the top from cracking, you have to treat the mixture much more gently once you start adding in the eggs. Something about coagulating and air bubbles.
ps. It didn't stop mine from cracking. Then again, I could have done a number of things wrong to make that happen.
7. Add the oreos that you set aside in 1. into the cream cheese mixture and stir gently.
8. Pour the mixture into the biscuit base. Crush the remaining oreo biscuits and scatter them on top. I had a thought, too late, that I could have arrange oreo biscuits so that it looked prettier. It doesn't matter really.
9. Pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes with an oven proof bowl of water. The bowlful of water helps to keep the cheesecake moist whilst baking. I chose to do that, rather than double wrap the cake tin with foil and pop it in a deep baking dish filled with water, for the sake of ease really. I think that it is also supposed to help the top from not cracking too. Given that my last one did, maybe I should have used a water bath.
10. You'll know it's done when the top wibbles a bit when you touch it. It'll set more whilst cooling. Run a knife round the edges to immediately so that the edges don't cling to the sides whilst cooling. It also makes getting the cheesecake out of the cake tin much cleaner later on. Leave it to cool completely in the oven, with the oven door ajar.
11. Then wrapped in clingfilm or foil, refridgerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours. This is really important for allowing the flavours to mature. Serve it up and enjoy.
The verdict? A smashing dessert and as it is a cheesecake, perhaps a good one for the summer. The eggs give it a slightly yellowy appearance and I might experiment with using one less egg in future. It's not as elegant as the lemon and ginger cheesecake, but it's not meant to be. Who minds if it has a few cracks on the top; my tasters certainly didn't.
March 02, 2011
Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake
I really like discovering delicious new recipes, especially when you weren't looking for them. It feels like stumbling across some hidden treasure. This cake is exactly that. I found this one in Smitten Kitchen as I was googling for a recipe that I could use up the buttermilk that I had leftover from a banana cake baking session. Fortuitously, I happened to have all the ingredients at hand. Winner! So, I just got up and started baking the cake :)
If you don't have buttermilk, you can substitute it with natural yoghurt but it doesn't quite taste the same. Better yet, I have since learned how to make my own buttermilk, the cheat's way. The proper way requires either churning butter and using the leftover milk (hence the name, buttermilk) or shaking a pot of double cream for a l.o.n.g time for the same effect.
The raspberries all sank to the bottom the first time I made this (the cake still tasted scrumptious). I had a hypothesis that the fruit wouldn't sink if I first lightly powdered them with flour before I added them to the cake batter. So, I tested this out the second time I made this cake. I poured the batter into two cake tins and scattered in one, lightly floured raspberries, and the other with bright, red raspberries. When both cakes turned out beautifully with raspberries floating dreamily on top, I was flummoxed as to why the first time round had been a disaster. However, now I'm remembering that I forgot to preheat the oven and so the batter was left out for a while, so maybe the raspberries sunk then... *sigh* Basic common sense, Miss Cha - remember to switch on the oven and turn on the cooker at the mains so that the oven can actually preheat.
Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake, adapted by yours truly from Smitten Kitchenand Gourmet Magazine
List of Ingredients
- 55g/2oz unsalted butter
- 135g/5oz caster sugar (for the cake) + 1 tbsp of caster sugar (to sprinkle on top of the raspberries)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- grated zest of half a lemon
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 130g/4.5oz plain flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 125ml/4fl oz buttermilk, stirred
- 140g/5oz of raspberries
Top Tip: you can substitute the raspberries with other berries. I imagine that blueberries would taste heavenly, or cherries with almond flakes on top...
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F or Gas Mark 5 and line a 18-20cm cake tin, or alternatively dust it lightly with flour.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 2-3 minutes with an electric mixer (I finally got one!) or 5-7 minutes by hand.
3. Mix in the vanilla extract, the lemon zest, and then finally the egg.
4. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Slowly add 4. and the buttermilk to the wet mixture. I'd recommend adding the flour in three batches, alternating each time with the buttermilk. This way, it will be easier to mix and the mixture won't curdle. If you're doing this with an electric mixer, do it at a low speed.
6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top, then scatter the raspberries evenly on top of the mixture. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of caster sugar over the raspberries.
7. Pop it into the centre of the oven and let it bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.
8. Let it rest in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack.
The verdict? Well, this cake is a winner in my eyes. Its simple to bake and you can make this cake and eat it within an hour. It is wonderfully moist from the buttermilk and the raspberries lend a lovely freshness to it. Also, the cake tastes delicious, even when the berries have sunk to the bottom. If that happens to you (and I don't think it should as long as you remember to preheat the oven) here's how I remedied it - by serving the cake, turned upside down. You could also sprinkle lots of icing sugar on it.
p.s. The cake freezes well too. Wrap it up twice with foil and a plastic bag to freeze it. Just take it out the freezer the night before and leave it on the side to defrost it - simple.
January 05, 2011
A Taste of Sunshine: Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake
It has been really cold outside - freezing in fact. In Aberdeen, I experienced a very rare Christmas of it reaching -15°C. I think that I was the only one who was delighted that it was so cold and guaranteed a white christmas. I didn't quite appreciate that the cold snap just hadn't snapped for 5 weeks in Aberdeen and they were tired of being cooped up by the snow.
I find that when it is that cold it's hard to remember how it could ever be warm enough, that you don't need mittens for a start... or a coat... or thermals (did I go too far with the thermals bit? is that just me?). Does the UK really have a t-shirt and flip flops season? But now that temperatures are above freezing. Well, it feels positively balmy. 'Let's put on those bikinis and do some sunbathing'. Okay - so maybe it's not quite reached that temperature yet.
So, this recipe is dedicated to all of you who would like to be reminded of some sunshine. A taste of hope that seasons do come and change.
How apt. As I write, I realise that on the two occasions that I have baked this cake, they were to celebrate significant milestones in my sister's life.
Milestone #2. (Nope, this isn't a typo, I'm milestoning this chronologically)
Back in November, my mum came to visit me en route to my sister's graduation. Quite a considerable detour since my sister, Ee-Reh, lives in Huddersfield! Bless her - my mum told me later that her main intent on visiting me was to unpack whatever boxes remained from my various moves over the summer. Instead, it was really nice to show her that her eldest daughter had finally seen the light about unpacking everything and was trying to keep her flat tidy.
The following morning, whilst my mum acted on an urge to do my ironing (I love her!), I wanted a taste of sunshine. So, I baked a cake for my mum to take as my sister's graduation present.
Unfortunately the graduation ceremony was called off due to the severe weather conditions.
I first made this cake for my sister's wedding in September, along with Ee-Reh's request for my lemon drizzle and dark chocolate cake. My sister had asked several of her guests to contribute cakes. These two were my favourites. The Carrot Cake is decorated with a picture of the swing in the garden where my sister had the wedding ceremony. Then this Bumble Bee Cake, with flying bees. Aren't they fantastic?
And, yes. That's my sister up in the tree. On the morning of her wedding. Hanging up the decorations. She's incredible!
I've been wanting to experiment with lime, coconut and chilli since I visited Cambodia in March. Ahhhh... those flavours bring back memories. Cocktails of freshly squeezed limes + sugar syrup + soda water, refreshing chicken and lemongrass soup, steamed spring rolls and deep-fried beetles - what fun! I really enjoyed Cambodian cooking. But it was the sunshine... the sunshine that I desperately wanted to taste.
Honestly, honestly, honestly. The first lime drizzle and coconut cake, the one that I took to my sister's wedding, was dry. Even with the lime drizzle moistening it up. I now have a theory that dessicated coconut sucks up the moisture in a cake: this also happened when I made kentish cake, another cake recipe that asks for dessicated coconut. Hmmm... so, in true Han-Na style, I did some googling for other coconut cake recipes to give me some ideas on how to liven up this recipe and discovered the addition of coconut milk and rum in cakes. Rum, hey? A real taste of sunshine then :) And thank you to my blessed colleague for lending me her lime rum.
A quick note about the ingredients: 1. Coconut milk - Buy some powdered mix stuff for this recipe and others. It's cheaper and more flexible store cupboard ingredient than a tin of coconut milk. You can vary the quantity of coconut milk really easily. I used Maggi's.
2. My colleague lent me her bottle of Lime Malibu and most supermarkets will carry it. However, if you're adverse to alcohol, the rum is an optional ingredient.
Ingredients for a Taste of Sunshine: Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake
- 125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
- 75g/2.5oz caster sugar
- grated zest of two limes - or one depending on how much limey zestiness you'd like.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 150g/6oz self-raising flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 50g/2oz dessicated coconut
- 125ml/4floz coconut milk
- 1 tbsp lime rum or normal white rum (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.
2. Put the butter and the sugar together in a bowl and whisk them together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Alternatively, if like me, you don't have an electric whisk and the butter isn't softening quickly enough (even when you have left it out on the side to soften) then cheat by zapping the butter in the microwave - see top tip.
Top Tip: I don't have an electric whisk and I'm not always so organised to leave the butter out on the side to soften. As you can guess, this results in the butter being too firm to hand whisk with ease. So, I cut the butter into small size chunks (about 3 cm cubes) and zap them in the microwave for just under a minute (the time will vary depending on the power of your microwave) in order to ease the whisking process. I try and do it so that the butter hasn't melted, just softened. In all honesty, I normally end up with a not-entirely-but-pretty-much-melted butter consistency. I guess that it affects the chemistry of the baking in some way but the cakes turn out fine.
3. Add the lime zest and eggs and keep whisking so that the mixture is combined well. I almost forgot to add in the eggs at this stage. The addition of the coconut milk makes it quite a runny mixture so it was easy to forget. I remembered just at the end of the mixing, so I don't think that the order of adding the eggs at the end affected the baking chemistry too much. But I'm going to say - add them in at this stage, so that you don't forget.
4. Thoroughly mix in the flour, baking powder, dessicated coconut.
5. Stir in the coconut milk and lime rum. The mixture will be very gloopy now.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tester/knife comes out clean.
7. As the cake is baking in the oven, now prepare the sunshine lime drizzle. Oh, I can almost hear the waves crashing on the beach as I write this up. Where is that bikini?
I normally use golden caster sugar for drizzle. However, this time I tried using icing sugar because i didn't want the snowy sugary crust on top. No reminders of the snow please! And it worked well. I try to reduce the amount of sugar that I use in recipes so remember to add a bit more sugar if you prefer it sweeter.
Ingredients for Sunshine Lime Drizzle
- 35g icing sugar (you can substitute it with golden caster sugar if you want)
- juice of 3 limes
- 1.5 tbsp lime rum (more if you want to)
8. Mix the lime juice, icing sugar and lime rum. Don't worry about the lime pulp, I think that the pulp adds personality to the cake when you pour it on.
9. When the cake is baked, make some holes in the cake to ease the journey of the drizzle through the cake. My weapon of choice is a metal chopstick. A cocktail stick will do the job just fine and is easier to source. Pour the drizzle on while the cake is still hot. I find it helpful to use a teaspoon towards the end to make sure that every inch of cake has been covered with drizzle. Ta Da.
The verdict? It's a simple cake to make. I made a double batch and gave the second one away to some of my friends who travelled to Cambodia with me. My sister commented, "the cake was very yummy. All who ate it said so. Jennie especially liked how moist it was. I thought, for a lime-lover, it could have been more zesty. However, equally, this could put off those who do not appreciate the lovely greeny limey goodness."
August 25, 2010
Courgette (or Zucchini) and Walnut Cake: a 'don't–have–enough–of, so–how–about–kinda' cake
This is a cake recipe that I adapted out of a “not enough of” so “how about” moment. Have you had any of those moments? I had quite a few of those “uh-oh” moments on a summer’s evening last year. Sarah, my then-housemate, and I had a baking evening in the midst of the bumper courgette season. Oh, we laughed A LOT…
and somehow ended up… with a yummy cake.
This is the original List of Ingredients for Zucchini and Walnut Cake. I’ve included it so that you know what the original plan was. If you’d like to, why not try them both out and tell me what the differences you come across. A year on, during another bumper courgette harvest, I’ve finally gotten round to baking the original recipe (below in italics) with a few modifications below. At the end, I’ve written a wee note about the differences I came across between each of the recipes – but the cause of yummy cake is not lost in either one.
245g walnuts (separated into 185g walnut pieces / 60g walnut halves)
500g zucchini – grated (500g is about 2 medium sized courgettes)
250ml canola oil – I couldn’t find this in Sainsburys so used sunflower oil
330g raw sugar – I halved it to 170g demerara sugar
310g self-raising flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
I mean, who normally has canola oil, and what is raw sugar? I had no idea until I saw it in this recipe. My google search tells me that demerara sugar is one type. Ah… a sigh of relief. I have some of that. But not enough walnuts, or self-raising flour… ho hum.
So, here’s my List of Ingredients for my ‘Don’t-have-enough-of-so-how-about’ Courgette and Walnut Cake. Oh, I might as well write courgette instead of zucchini, since I’ve changed so many of the ingredients already.
245g mixture of walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts and hazelnuts
500g courgette, grated
250ml vegetable oil (lighter than olive oil)
170g demerara sugar
310g wholemeal self-raising flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
a splash of milk, if necessary
- Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3
- Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
- Weigh out 185g of the nuts, saving 60g of the other nuts to decorate on top of the cake mixture later.
- I grated the courgettes in a food processor that had the grater option and finished the end bits by hand. It’s the easiest way to get through 500g.
- Mix together courgettes, oil, sugar, eggs so they look like this
- Add the chopped nuts.
- Gradually add the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg to this mixture.
- Add a splash of milk to the mixture to add a bit more wetness to the mixture. If the mixture looks and feels gloopy once you’ve mixed it, then it’s right.
- Pour the mixture into the tin and use the remaining nuts to decorate the top of the cake.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour 10 minutes, until a cake tester (or knife) comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
NB. If you bake them as muffins, then they need 30-35 minutes, but check them with a skewer to ensure that they are done.)
Top Tip: Check on the cake at 55 minutes. If the nuts look very brown as if they’re likely to burn, then cover the top with a sheet of baking or greaseproof paper.
- Let the cake cool in the tin.
- Enjoy and smile as you ask those around you to guess the mystery ingredient :)
So, what are the differences?
When I was used white flour, I had too much mixture for my 2lb loaf tin. Therefore, I also made 5 muffins, which I then decorated with chocolate frosting and finished it off with a walnut. I’ll be enjoying them as a treat with my mum later. As for the verdict on the flavour? Both cakes have a lovely nutty, spiced taste because of the nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts. The wholemeal version somehow, just tastes… more wholesome. I like it. My photos of the wholemeal cake are currently stored on Sarah’s camera, so I’ll add them on at a later date.
p.s. I discovered that this cake freezes well. This is entering a new territory in baking for me because I had never frozen a cake before. What I did was double wrap it with foil, once the cake had completely cooled down. Then wrapped it again in a plastic bag before popping it into the freezer. I defrosted it simply by putting it out on the side. The cake was yummy to eat.
Happy Courgette Season!
July 26, 2010
Zingy Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake
So, when you hold
of a cut lemon
above your plate,
a universe of gold,
a yellow goblet
I love lemons. My friends will testify to my love affair with lemons. 'A yellow goblet of miracles' beautifully describes my imaginations of what I could create with them. I particularly love that zing that lemons add when I use it in baking.
My timing of trying out this recipe was a bit silly really. It was three days before the removal men were coming. My two tubs of soft cheese in my fridge were almost at their expiry date, the sun was out and I needed an excuse to do something other than pack boxes! This lemon and ginger cheesecake seemed like the perfect summer dessert.
I've since made two versions of this cheesecake. Version One lacked the lemony zing. It may appeal to the finer palette; I love robust flavours. So, I cheated the second time and added lemon curd to the mixture, which brought out the lemon and complemented the ginger perfectly.
Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake adapted from the Good Food Channel
Ingredients and Method
Ideally use a 25cm springform cake tin and double wrap the outside of it with foil. This is to protect the cheesecake when baking it in a water-bath. I didn't have a big enough cake tin at the time of baking the cheesecakes. Instead, I made a 20cm and 10 mini cheesecakes. Very cute!
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F
...For the biscuit base
225g digestive biscuits (or if you really like ginger, then substitute it all or partly with ginger biscuits)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted
- Pulse the biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs, or bash them up in a bag with a rolling pin. Whichever method suits your mood.
- Add the ground ginger, caster sugar and the melted butter and mix it all up. I've already reduced the amount of butter from the recipe so that there is enough butter for the biscuit base to stick together.
- Transfer the biscuit mixture to the cake tin and press it down firmly. If you would also like to make mini ones too, then use a tablespoon of biscuit mixture per cupcake case. I discovered that my mini-tart shaper is perfect for pressing down the biscuit base.
...For the filling
570g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
4 large eggs, beaten
grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
380ml sour cream
2 tbsp lemon curd, beaten so that it's a little bit runny, optional but highly recommendable
- Beat the cream cheese and the caster sugar together until smooth in a big bowl.
- Mix in the cornflour.
- Slowly mix the eggs into the mixture, one at a time, so that they are thoroughly mixed in. Don't worry that the mixture always looks a wee bit peculiar at this stage.
- Pour in the sour cream and add the lemon zest. Gently mix them into the mixture.
- Lemony zing lovers could also add the lemon curd into the mixture at this stage. I put blobs of it on top of the mixture once I had poured the filling into the cake tin. Then I worried that the lemon curd would burn in the oven if it was left on top, so I took a metal chopstick and mixed the lemon curd into the mixture. I've since thought about putting 3/4 filling in, putting in a layer of lemon curd, then topping it with cheesecake filling. Essentially you can do whatever you like with it, and I'd really love to hear what worked for you.
- For the mini cheesecake fans - I used 2 teaspoons of the filling for each case.
- Pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes. I think that I baked the mini cheesecakes for 20 minutes. Bake until the middle of the cheesecake is just set. I test it by gently resting my finger on it and the cheesecake is ready when there is no (or barely any) mixture sticking to it.
Top Tip! Cheescakes are best when baked in a moist oven. To achieve this, you can bake the cheesecake in a water-bath by placing the cake tin in a roasting tin and filling the roasting tin with enough hot water so that it reaches about half way up the cake tin. Alternatively you can place a small oven-proof bowl full of hot water on the bottom level of the oven. I've used both methods and haven't noticed any difference to the texture of the cheesecakes. But perhaps a more experienced cheesecake baker could enlighten me?
...Meanwhile, start the topping
250ml sour cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
80g stem ginger, drained and finely chopped
grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon mixed with 1/2 tbsp of sugar
- Mix the sour cream and the caster sugar together.
- Take the cheesecake out of the oven when it's ready and pour the topping on, arrange the stem ginger on top. The mini cheesecakes appreciate a thin layer of sour cream topping.
- Pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes, so that the sour cream topping can set.
- When it comes out, immediately run a knife round the edge of the cheesecake. This will help stop the cheesecake from cracking. Also, helpful for when taking the cheesecake out of the tin when serving it up.
- Let the cheesecake cool down for about an hour before popping it into the fridge overnight.
- Sprinkle the sugary lemon zest on top before serving.
Verdict - The combination of lemony zingyness with gingery warmth produces lots of 'Mmmmms'. It does take some effort but it is a really simple summery dessert to make that is a crowd-pleaser. I'm pleased to say that my friend's children ate some and then asked for seconds. Winner! The cheesecake is best eaten a day or two after it is made so that it stays soft. But I always seem to make too much cheesecake in one go, so I'd appreciate any tips on freezing it.