In search of the Real Red Velvet

IMG_3525

I often get an idea for what I want to cook, then spend hours hunting through recipe books, magazines, or on-line for the right recipe.  Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t.

I love using fruit or vegetables in the food I make but winter offers a limited selection.  This means I need to be a bit more creative to find the right ingredient. I’ve been doing a bit of baking with beetroot lately, Chocolate Beetroot Cake and Chocolate Beetroot Brownies to be precise.  One of my favourite salads consists of grated fresh beetroot, apple and carrot dressed with orange juice, red wine vinegar and olive oil. It’s so simple and delicious.  Sometimes I can’t stop eating it.  Another favourite is Roast Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad with Goat’s Cheese and Hazelnuts.

Beetroot is such a versatile vegetable.  It doesn’t have to be pickled (although that’s good too) but for many people that’s the only way they’ve eaten it.  They say that don’t like it but haven’t experience the true sweet earthiness beetroot has to offer.

I decided (actually I had beetroot in the fridge needing to be used) that I wanted to make a cake with beetroot that wasn’t dominated by chocolate.  The answer: Red Velvet Cake.  I’ve been fascinated by red velvet cake but turned off by the need to use huge amounts of red food colouring to achieve the desired colour. So naturally I started to look for a recipe that used beetroot instead.

My hunt for a Real Red Velvet Cake recipe using real natural ingredients led me here: http://www.larecetadelafelicidad.com/en/2012/11/natural-red-velvet-cake.html

It was almost what I was after but not quite.  As you may know I’m not always content to just follow a recipe.  I just put all the ingredients into the food processor but it didn’t come together the way it should have.  The tin I used was too big for the amount of batter.  The result was a flat dense cake, delicious but disappointing.  I gave a taste to the girl that lives behind the shop.  She suggested I call it mud cake, so I did and it sold like hot cakes!

Not one to give up easily I made it again using a smaller pan, and it rose to the top, just like it should.  I’ve since made this cake a few more times and I’m finally happy with the results.

Advertisements

Quick and easy does it

Today I’ve been at home with just my youngest son, Oliver, who is 3.  We took the two older ones at school and kindergarten then walked home.  When we got home, Oli decided he wanted me to make biscuits.  If left to his own devices, Oli would live quite happily only eating biscuits, Vegemite toast and breakfast cereal, maybe a banana or two.  He’s a carbs lover, likes potato, chips or boiled but not mashed.  He especially likes biscuits, sweet or savoury it doesn’t matter to him.

Because I’m in the process of setting up the kitchen in the shop, I have few ingredients or cake tins left at home.  This means that at the moment, when Oli says lets make biscuits, the options are fairly limited.  “What kind of biscuits do you want” I ask.  “Let’s look in the biscuit book” he says.  Yes I’m a passionate, some might say obsessive, baker but I have few books dedicated solely to biscuits.  I find one book with biscuits, but most of the recipes required ingredients I don’t have to hand.  Whilst the shop is only two minutes walk around the corner from where we live, the journey becomes longer and more difficult with a three year old, so I choose to use what’s in the pantry – not much.

I manage to find a bag of rolled oats, I know I have some butter, flour, sugar, eggs, spices and a couple of bits of dried fruit.  After trawling the interweb, I find this recipe on the Martha Stewart website that looks appealing.  “10 mins preparation time” it says at the top of the recipe, just my kind of thing.  Melted butter, another of my favourite ingredients.  I love to cook, but sometimes I’m lazy.  After all day in the kitchen at school making “L’Exotique Gateau” yesterday, I really can’t be bothered.  Minimum effort for maximum effect is what I’m all about today.  I don’t have any brown sugar in the pantry but I have close to a cup of organic raw sugar and a jar of molasses.  Perfect, that’ll do the trick.  No raisins, just a small amount of cranberries and currants.

When it comes to baking, people tend to get all hung up on following the recipe exactly.  Yes, I agree, that it’s important when it comes to things like sponge cakes or pavlova to get a good finished product.  However, as my experience at college has taught me, in a class of 10-12 people, all given the same ingredients, the same recipe, the same instructions and cooked in the same oven, everyone produces something slightly different.

I’m learning to relax, trust my instincts and just go for it.  So when I didn’t have all the ingredients the recipe called for, I made it up as I went along.  This is the result –

Cranberry Oats Squares

  • 170g butter, melted
  • ¾ cup organic raw sugar
  • ¼ cup organic molasses
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced).  Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add the molasses and vanilla to the melted butter.  Pour over dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Add the egg and combine.  Put into paper lined square tin and bake for about 30 minutes.  Cool in the tin for 15 minutes.  Remove from tin and cut into squares while still warm.

It’s smelling fantastic as it sits on the top of the stove cooling.  Just the thing for hungry kids after a day at school/kindergarten and hopefully some leftover for lunch-boxes tomorrow.

Cake for a Friend

Image

Last week my friend and fellow blogger Lara, who blogs as Thornberry, asked me to make a cake for her book group.

We have a semi-regular play date on a Tuesday morning so our 5 year olds can get play while we drink coffee, eat cake and do some knitting and crochet.  The last time we got together I made an apple tea cake from a recipe of my great-aunty Alma.

It’s a deliciously moist cake topped with slices of apple and dregged with sugar and cinnamon before baking.  It was one my grandmother would make for her friends when they came for afternoon tea.  My brother and I would be lucky enough to get a piece when we visited a few days later.  It was always spread thickly with butter or served with lashings of cream as Granny claimed it was “a bit dry”.  It never was, but no-one complained.

A few weeks ago I had made an orange semolina cake with blood orange syrup for Father’s day.  Lara was lucky enough to get some of the leftovers.  So when her request came, she asked if I could make an orange cake or and apple tea cake.

I still had some blood oranges left from making Marathon Maramalade and had been thinking about making a flourless orange cake with them.  I suggested this to Lara and she was happy with the idea.

I used Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from Cook’s Companion for Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake.  It’s always moist and delicious but notoriously hard to get to cook all the way through without burning the edges.  I followed Stephanie’s advice to use a tin that allows for the batter to be no more than 6 cm deep.  I also lined the sides of the tin with three layers of baking paper to offer some protection to the sides of the cake.

I used 4 small blood oranges in a pot of water and cooked until tender.  The recipe said 2 hours but as my oranges were small and thin skinned so they only took an hour.  I removed them from the pot and cut them into quarters so they’d cool quicker.

When it came out of the oven, the cake was cooked perfectly all the way through and didn’t sink in the middle.  I really wanted to cut a slice and have a taste, but as it was for an order, I couldn’t!  I thought about dusting the cake with icing sugar but as it was to be served later it would have melted. The other option was an orange icing but upon further investigation, the pantry was bare of icing sugar.

I finally decided to make blood orange compote to serve with the cake as a little something extra on the side.  Segmented oranges and orange zest were placed in a bowl.  I made then a light caramel to which orange juice was added then poured over the top of the fruit and allowed to cool.  I’m told it tasted “superb”.  Thanks to Lara for the great photos.

I have a few blood oranges left and it’s my partner’s birthday in a few days.  I think I’ll have to make another Flourless Blood Orange Cake so I can get a piece!

 

Make cake while the sun shines (twice cooked is twice as good)

Today has been a gorgeous spring day in Melbourne.  I’ve always loved the “in-between” seasons, spring and autumn. The cool crisp mornings that give way to sunny warm afternoons.  It makes me just want to get into the garden and pull up the weeds that have thrived in the winter rains.  Instead I’ve been in the kitchen, driven by the small nagging voice of my 5 year old daughter.  “I want ice-cream, mummy”.  I’ve been trying really hard to refrain from buying things from the supermarket.  Instead I make it at home.  Mostly it’s mayonnaise, more on that another day.

Instead of going back out to the shop to buy cream for ice-cream, I remembered a Nigella Lawson recipe from delicious Magazine I’d made sometime ago.  It has no cream in it, only egg yolks, milk, sugar and lemon rind.  All these things I had.

So having made the custard for the gelato di crema, I was left with egg whites.  Usually I put them in a container in the fridge with good intentions of doing something with them.  They then languish at the back of the shelf until discovered some months later as the source of that mysterious bad smell in the fridge.  Not today.  Today I decided to make pavlova.  I used a mish-mash of various recipes.  The result was a concoction of 5 egg whites, a cup of raw organic sugar ( ground in the food processor to somewhere between caster and icing sugar), a pinch of cream of tartar, 2 tsp of white vinegar and 2 tsp of tapioca starch.

I baked the pavlova in the oven at 160C for about 40 minutes then turned it off and let it cool down in the oven whilst I went and did the after-school pickup.  When I came back and opened the oven about and hour later, I was somewhat disappointed with the results.  It was crust, but when touched it broken and seemed to be very thin.  There was also a lot of weeping going on and not by me!  I had undercooked it or not whisked enough after the sugar went it.

After it was cooled I put it into and airtight container to await the return home of my pav-loving partner.  When I took it out again a few days later it was very wet and not looking the best.  My choices: bin it or rebake.  So back into the oven it went, for about half an hour, I can’t tell exactly, I forgot to set the time (something I do a lot).  I was alerted by the smell of something cooking and when I opened the oven, I remembered I was trying to save the pav! By this stage it was nicely brown and crusty so the oven went off and I left the pav to cool again.

Some of you may remember I had collected a large box of blood oranges from my defacto-cousin-in-law a little while back.  Being early spring here in Melbourne, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy strawberries to top my twice cooked pavlova.  I like to use what’s at hand where possible.  I’d been reading Maggie Beer’s “Maggie’s Table” and had come across her recipe for Blood Orange Curd.  “Why not?” I thought.  It would be a bit like an upside down lemon meringue pie, only with blood orange.  So I preceded to follow her recipe, but being nervous about curdling it, I took it off the heat and but it into a bowl in the fridge to cool.  it seemed a bit runny but I hoped that was because it was hot and a rest in the fridge would thicken it.

A few hours later I returned to check and the curd was still runny.  Under-cooked again! What was going on.  So this time I did away with the bain marie and put the curd into a saucepan and recooked over gentle heat until it thicken.  It tasted good but lacked the citrus punch I wanted to compete with the sweetness of the pavlova, so I zested a blood orange and added it to the curd.  This vastly improved the flavour, however next time I’ll add more juice.

When the curd was cold, I slathered it over the top of the pavlova, and served it with a good scoop of lemony gelato di crema.  Delicious!