Sunday, 29 July 2012

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone, Cream Cheese and Cinnamon Icing (and some 'Hunger Games' matters)


Let's talk about carrot cake first. Then I'll move on to talking about books. This cake is W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L! So moist! So full of flavour - from the citrus undertones to the somethin' somethin' the toasted pecans and desiccated coconut bring - and covered in a truly wonderful frosting. It is light, and fluffy and not too sweet! The original recipe calls for only one tablespoon of caster sugar and I've upped this to four but it's still the least amount of sugar I have ever put in frosting before! And it works so well! It's luscious even though it's not too sweet and the cinnamon offsets the flavours in the cake wonderfully. I'm not the biggest carrot cake fan - and by that I mean that I do actually like carrot cake but if given menu with all the other wonderful cake flavours in the world, I wouldn't ever pick carrot - but this is delish! It is easily my favourite carrot cake I've eaten.

So books ... I've been wanting to rant about the Hunger Games for a while and then I realised, I have a blog which for some reason people seem to read, so why not take liberties here and post about literature instead of cake. Or with cake. That's cool with you guys right?

So who has read the Hunger Games trilogy? Watching the film doesn't count. I saw a trailer for the first film mid-2011, absolutely loved the concept and decided I wanted to read the books. It took me a whole year to get to them but I finally read them this year. My general criticism of all the books is that it  glosses over the most powerful themes; the violence, and loss and despondence. I realise that it is probably due to the fact that it is written for teenagers but I feel that the powerful statement they are attempting to make is never quite achieved due to the fact that Collins steps back every time she talks about the violence which is so central to the books.

My other criticism is that at crucial moments of the books, Collins begins to write in a weird dream-like voice which gives an unclear picture of what is happening and throws the reader off a bit. This happened at the end of the second book Catching Fire (I don't understand any of the last major event in this book) and towards the end Mockingjay when a character close to Katniss dies. It bugged me big time!

Saying that though, I really really enjoyed the first book and resented work on more than one occasion for taking me away from such a great story. And while it wasn't as good, I also really enjoyed Catching Fire. Mockingjay on the other hand was pretty poor though in my opinion, it isn't exciting and it's unnecessarily sad and most of all, most of all, I don't agree with who Katniss ends up with. I'm not going to give anything away but I think Collins matched her up with the wrong person!

Okay, that's my opinion of The Hunger Games series done. Let me know what you all think. And make this cake. You'll thank me. Oh and this is funny innit?


Recipe adapted from Delia Smith


Ingredients

For the cake
200g wholemeal self-raising flour
3 level teaspoons mixed spice
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175g dark brown soft sugar
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower oil
Grated zest 1 orange
200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
110g sultanas
50g desiccated coconut
50g pecan nuts

For the syrup glaze
Juice 1 small orange
1 tablespoon lemon juice
75g dark brown soft sugar

For the topping
1 x 250g tub mascarpone cheese
200g Philadelphia Cream Cheese
4 rounded tablespoons caster sugar
1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon

To serve
50g pecan nuts

You will need 2 x 8 inch or 3 x 6 inch sandwich tins (I used 3 x 6 inch tins)

  1. Preheat Oven to Gas Mark 6/200C/400F then turn it down to Gas Mark 3 /170C/325F when you have toasted the pecan nuts.
  2. First, place all the pecan nuts on a baking sheet and, using a timer, toast them in the oven for 8 minutes. Now chop one half roughly for the cake and the other more finely, for the topping later. Then don't forget to turn the oven down for the cake.
  3. To make the cake, whisk the sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl with an electric mixer for 2 -3  minutes, then check that there is no sugar left undissolved. 
  4. Now combine the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl. Then stir all this into the sugar, eggs and oil mixture gently, followed by the remaining cake ingredients. 
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and bake the cakes on the centre shelf of the oven for about 30 minutes. They should be nicely risen, feel firm and springy to the touch when lightly pressed in the centre, and show signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin. If not, give them another 2 - 3 minutes and test again.
  6. Meanwhile, make the topping by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Then cover with clingfilm and chill for 1 - 2 hours, until you are ready to ice the cakes. 
  7. To make the syrup glaze, whisk together the fruit juices and sugar in a small pan and place onto medium heat until it starts to boil and all sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
  8. When the cakes come out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer or toothpick and quickly spoon the syrup evenly over the hot cakes. Now leave them to one side to cool in their tins, during which time the syrup will be absorbed.
  9. When the cakes are completely cold, remove them from their tins. Spread one-third of the filling over one of the cakes, place the other on top, (repeat again one more time if making a 6" 3 layer cake) then cover the top and sides with the remaining icing.
  10. Scatter the remaining toasted pecan nuts over the top.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cookies


My friend Susan sent me this WhatsApp message today: "That blog of yours ... been a bit lazy recently?" Sure, she might have had a point but in my defence, she was trying to get back at me for forcing her to go running (as she had promised she would).
Oh wait, hang on, that wasn't in my defence at all. Okay, I'll try again. In my defence, since I last blogged, I have moved my entire room into a whole other entire room (I'm hoping my repetitive use of the word 'entire' helps to exaggerate the magnitude of the task appropriately), got a new job and finally, visited Birmingham which is a land far far away.

Plus as, Einstein may or may not have said, "it is not the frequency of the blogging that counts, rather the quality of the posts" and boy, this post is a great one! Or rather the recipe is. The rambling that accompanies the recipe is mediocre at best.

These cookies are soft but firm, chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, and they're choc full of Reese's peanut butter cups which always makes for a winning recipe! My friends from my previous job and I have been pretty good at holding tea parties about twice a year and I made these for the last one. I dare say they were a hit :)

These are from the wonderful Annie's Eats; who has graduated from just being my foodie crush to being my superwoman inspiration!


Yield: 16 large cookies

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp plain flour
6 tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2 cups coarsely chopped Reese's peanut butter cups

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4 / 350F. Line baking sheets with grease proof paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. 
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Add in the egg, vanilla extract, and milk. Beat until smooth. 
  5. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Add in 1 1/2 cups of the chopped peanut butter cups and fold in gently with a spatula.
  6. Roll a heaped tablespoon of dough into a ball, one at a time, and space 2 - 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Gently press a few pieces of the remaining Reese's peanut butter cups into the top of each of the dough balls. 
  7. Bake for 12 - 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. (The cookies may seem too soft immediately after coming out of the oven but they will set as they cool. You don't want to overbake them).
  8. Let cool on the baking sheets about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Cheats Home-Made Garlic Baguette


You're probably wondering how you can fake home-made garlic bread, aren't 'cha? Well, I'm here to show you but first I'll answer the WHY. WHY would anyone fake home-made garlic bread?

Well, in my opinion, home made, hand cooked, from scratch ... whatever you want to call it ... food is always about 700 bazillion times better than anything that comes in a packet or needs to be cooked in a microwave, or re-heated in an oven. 
On the other hand, let's be honest, garlic bread is never going to be the star of the show. The show, of course, being the meal. It's always a bit player a.k.a the side dish a.k.a. the thing that you'd quite like to be there but if it isn't, well, life goes on. So, I do the math and it doesn't seem logical to make home-made garlic bread from scratch to go on the side of a pasta dish which you absolutely have to make from scratch. But like I said earlier, home-made stuff is much better than non home-made stuff - yes, I'm aware that I'm going in circles but I'mma reach my point right about ... now - so how about mixing and matching the two. Part baked baguettes with home made garlic butter and voila, kinda sorta 'home-made' garlic baguette. 

For the how, check out my easy peasy recipe below.

Ingredients

2 part-baked baguettes (See below for a picture of the ones I used - from Sainsburys - but any will do)
60g unsalted butter, softened
3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped parsley

 1 - Pre-heat your oven according to the instructions on your part-bake baguette packet


2 - Put your butter into a bowl along with the garlic, salt and parsley. Mix well until the ingredients are well combined. Taste a teeny eensy bit to make sure there's enough salt


 3 - Cover and put aside for at least half an hour to allow the flavours to infuse the butter
 4 - About 20 minutes before you are ready to serve your garlic bread, slice approximately 6 diagonal cuts in each baguette - being careful not to slice all the way through - and spread the garlic butter generously on the baguette either side of the cut


 5 - Wet your hand under a running tap and rub a wet palm lightly all over your baguettes (if you like your bread crusty on the outside, skip this step)
 6 - Wrap baguette loosely in foil and bake in your pre-heated oven for the time stated on your baguette packet


 7 - When baked and still warm, rip into slices and serve