Thursday, 23 February 2012

Coffee and walnut cake without the monkey poo!!

Fresh coffee and walnut cake
I have to admit, first and foremost, that this recipe is a few weeks old and has been parked in the back of my brain somewhere waiting for me to pull my finger out and write it up ever since. 

And now I’m revisiting the recipe I’m really wishing I had some of this cake right now to enjoy with a cup of smooth, velvety coffee.

Watching Raymond Blanc on the telly while I’m writing this isn’t helping either – he’s making babas with raspberries and cream and they look bloody lovely. 

It seems to come naturally to me now that whenever I find myself with a spare couple of hours at the weekend I’m inevitably going to end up baking, much to the delight of my work colleagues who often get the leftovers on a Monday, but hugely detrimental to mine and Paul’s health-kick.

Now coffee, the main flavour in this cake, is like marmite: you either love it or hate it, and in this house we definitely love coffee.

Random fact: did you know that the world’s most expensive coffee is made from animal poo?! According to the British Coffee Association, Kopi Luwak is a rare, gourmet coffee from Indonesia that’s made from coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (a monkey-like creatre).

But don’t let that put you off as there isn’t a drop of monkey poo in sight here.  

My standards are set quite high when it comes to coffee cake having tasted many versions, including the coffee and hazelnut cake at Chester’s in Ambleside which is just to die for. But it’s great for a home-made afternoon tea-style treat and it’s really quick and easy to make.

175g unsalted butter
175g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp strong black coffee
175g self-raising flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
100g walnut pieces, plus extra for chopping and sprinkling on top

For the buttercream
100g unsalted butter
175-225g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp strong black coffee

Grease and line a loaf tin (or a round cake tin if you prefer).
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy then gradually add in the eggs and beat well. Add the coffee. Don’t worry if it looks like it’s curdled at this stage, it will all come together once you've added the flour.
Sift in the flour and baking powder then fold lightly and evenly with a metal spoon. Fold in the walnut pieces.
Put the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for around 25 minutes or until a skewer or knife comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Cream the butter until soft then beat in the sugar a bit at a time then add the coffee. Beat and add the milk if necessary to get the right consistency. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Caramel-filled chocolate cupcakes with caramel buttercream icing - I've died and gone to heaven!

They (I still don’t know who ‘they’ are) say men think about you know what every six seconds, well I can beat that, because I think about cakes every second of every day. Sometimes I don’t even want to eat the cakes (okay not very often), I just want to make them then put them proudly on a fancy cake stand and admire them, alone, drooling. God, I need to get a life.

The last few weeks have seen me stuck in a bit of a ‘work, eat sleep’ pattern with not very much in between, so I’ve found my mind wandering into cake land more than ever (and what a blissful place it is).

Last weekend me and Paul were seeing family, including four children under four, so I thought I’d better make some sweet treats. The visitors were just an excuse in all honesty as I’d wanted to make these caramel cupcakes for weeks after coming up with the idea one night when I should have been doing something much more productive.

I know cooks shouldn’t comment on their own food, but I’m not a cook so I will proudly proclaim that these are the best damn cakes I have ever made. There’s no room for modesty here, they are totally amazing and I want to eat them over and over again until I cry tears of caramel.

They went down well with the family, especially Paul's newphew Arthur who asked “what’s caramel?” before promptly stuffing one in his tiny mouth and getting buttercream all over his little face. I take that as a sign of success.

I also discovered that the caramel filling tastes incredible as a warm sauce poured over vanilla ice-cream, but no matter how much of it I ate, there was still enough caramel left to make caramel shortcakes the next day. (See my blog from September 11, 2011 for the recipe.)

This recipe will make about 12-15 cakes and it needs to be done in stages.

Stage One – Make the caramel filling
Put 150g unsalted butter and 150g dark brown sugar into a non-stick saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.
Add a 397g tin of condensed milk and bring gently to the boil, stirring continuously. As soon as it comes to the boil and is a bubbling golden caramel, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Stage Two – Make the chocolate cupcakes

6oz vegetable margarine
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
4.5oz self raising flour
1.5oz cocoa powder

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, starting with the margarine, sugar, then eggs, and flour.
Mix using an electric hand mixer – starting on low speed until all the ingredients are mixed, then increasing the speed until the mixture is creamy and a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon into cases until half full (they will rise quite a bit) and bake for around 15-20 minutes until springy to touch and a skewer or knife comes out clean. Leave to cool.

Stage Three – Make the caramel icing
Melt 115g margarine or unsalted butter in saucepan over a low heat.
Add 200g dark brown sugar and 60ml milk and bring to the boil, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool. (You can use this time to prepare the cakes) Once cooled, beat in 220g icing sugar until smooth.

Stage Four – Filling cakes
Once the cakes are cool (usually okay after an hour or so in a cold kitchen), get a small sharp knife and cut out a triangle from the middle. Slice the bottom off so you are just left with a circle to cover the hole, and set aside (and enjoy eating the spare bits!!).
Dollop the filling into the middle and place the circle on top to cover.  


Stage Five – Icing the cakes
Once you’ve added icing sugar to the icing mixture, it might benefit from being in the fridge for an hour so it’s not too sloppy when you try to pipe it.
Put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle and swirl on top of the cakes, from the centre outwards. Then sprinkle with broken up Caramac bars or whatever you prefer!! 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Winter warmer - Rustic Italian lamb stew

WELL it’s been another cold and frosty weekend here in Leigh with a couple of inches of snow on Saturday.

Me and the other half had planned to go out for a nice meal at an Italian but due to the weather we decided to cancel on the last minute and I was quite firmly told that it was my turn to cook!

So I thought I'd better make something vaguely Italian as that's what we'd got our hopes up for, and there'd been some talk of lamb (although that’s not unusual in our house as lamb is Paul's food heaven.)

I dug out some winter recipe books for inspiration and came across a lamb stew made with red wine – just looking at the pictures made me feel warm and cosy and it was a good excuse to use up some of the red wine we still had left-over from Christmas.

I used the recipe (which was from a Sainsbury’s cookery book) for inspiration but I just threw in whatever I wanted really and let it bubble away.

Getting the lamb just right is the only difficult part – the recipe says to brown the meat first but next time I’d be tempted to throw it in raw so it falls apart when cooked (this would work especially well in a slow cooker).

Served with creamy mash potato and a glass of wine, this is a perfect winter warmer and something a little bit special for a Saturday night. It serves two with a portion left-over.

Why not try this on Valentine’s Day to impress your partner? It looks, and tastes, as if a lot of effort has gone into making it but really it is relatively easy.

350g lamb, diced
1 x onion, chopped
2 x medium carrots, diced
2 x celery sticks, chopped
2 x garlic gloves, crushed
2 x sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 x red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Zest of an orange
375ml red wine
1 x tbsp plain flour
1 x 390g can of chopped tomatoes
250ml vegetable stock (1 cube)
1 x tsp balsamic vinegar
1 x 410g can of cannellini or butter beans
1) Put the lamb in a bowl with the chopped onion, carrot, celery, garlic, rosemary, chilli, orange zest and red wine. Leave to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.
2) Remove the meat , reserving the marinade, and fry in a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter until browned. Add the flour and stir for one minute.
3) Pour the marinade into the lamb and stir then add the tomatoes, stock and balsamic vinegar.
4) Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer on the hob for about one hour until the meat is tender. Add the beans for a couple of minutes and serve.