Friday, 23 November 2012

Low fat mint chocolate you can have two slices!

Tastes like a mint aero! 
A friend of mine has been requesting a low fat chocolate cake for months now. I'm not really one for low fat alternatives, I always think they taste strange and would prefer to have a little bit of what you fancy as a special treat.

It's her birthday, and again the low fat chocolate cake was brought up. Fine!! Ok!! I'll make one!! Even though my last attempt a few months ago was a strange tasting, meringue-like chocolate cake that I wouldn't feed to anyone. It lacked flavour, so went in the bin and she was given gooey ridiculously chocolatey fudge cake instead. At about 500 calories per slice, it's not exactly a woman's best friend.

This chocolate mint cake only has a little fat in it, though like most things that are low fat, the sugar content is relatively high. You can't win 'em all, but for anyone following a low fat diet, you have to try this recipe.

For the cake:

250g plain flour
150g light brown sugar
60g cocoa
50g Splenda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp finely diced peppermint leaves
3 egg whites
2 tsp peppermint essence
1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170d (fan oven).
Grease and line an 8 inch round tin.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large bowl with the peppermint.

Whisk together the egg whites, peppermint essence and milk.
Next stir in the boiling water.
This will be quite a thin liquid mixture, so don't worry that you've done something wrong.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.

 Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Leave the cake to firm up in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the icing:
150g extra light cream cheese
1 jar of marshmallow fluff *
2 tsp peppermint essence
2 drops green food colouring (just enough to give a pale green shade)

*You can pick this up in nearly all supermarkets, or in one of those retro sweet shops that are in most towns. If you can't get your hands on it, melt a bag of mini marshmallows with low fat milk until you have a spreadable consistency. Then beat in the cream cheese, flavouring and colouring.

Using an electric whisk (cos I'm a bit lazy about whisking by hand), whisk all the ingredients together until you have a smooth, glossy icing.

Cut the cake in half horizontally.
Use about 1/3 of the icing to sandwich the cake together.

Using a palette knife, spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake.

The cake is gorgeous the way it is, though I used After Eights to complete the decoration. You could use mint Aero or any after dinner mints you have to hand.

For a festive alternative, decorate with peppermint candy canes.

I'm devastated I can't cut a slice to show you how good it looks. From tasting the cake crumbs, and icing this cake is an absolute winner. It's rich, chocolatey and moist, and doesn't taste like a strange low fat alternative.

Let me know what you think...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Rice pudding like you had in school? I think not!!!!

I had a request for rice pudding this weekend...I'm a bit of a dessert snob, so looked at him in disgust.... '"You want rice pudding????"...It's baby food, lumpy school dessert food or even worse... dessert from a can food!!

Only one thing for it... I had to make it a little bit posh! And so vanilla rice pudding, with black cherries in a creme de cassis syrup topped with toasted pistachio nuts was born....

Could I be any more pretentious if I tried?... Well, I could have served it in a cocktail glass!!

Thankfully this is a pretty simple dessert to make... I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed going to great lengths for rice pudding!

For the vanilla rice:

800ml low fat milk*
4tbps caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split open
300g pudding rice

Start by bringing the milk, cream, caster sugar and sliced vanilla pods to a gentle simmer in a heavy based saucepan. 
Add in pudding rice and leave to simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes, (you can make a start on the compote and nut garnish while you wait) or until the rice is tender and you have a creamy pudding. 
At this stage, if you prefer a thinner consistency, add in a little more milk  if you find the pudding too thick for your taste. 

*The health nut in me just had to adapt this recipe. The original recipe called for 600ml whole milk, and 200ml of double cream. No doubt this makes a rich, creamier pudding, but a little excessive for a casual Saturday dessert I think! The low fat milk created a creamy pudding with far less calories, and I honestly don't think the double cream is a necessity. 

For the black cherry compote:

1 can of black pitted cherries, drained reserving 2tbsp of the syrup (there really is no need to search for fresh cherries, canned are just as good for this recipe... and they're already pitted! Win!!) 
2tbsp cornflour
5tbsp Creme de Cassis, or you can substitute with rum/vodka mixed with some of the syrup from the can

Place ingredients in a saucepan. 
Bring to the boil, and leave to simmer until you have a thick syrup coating the cherries.

To toast the pistachios:

I can't stand food that lacks texture... for me, I always need something crunchy to kill the feeling that I'm eating baby food! I adore pistachios, and there's not much that can't be improved by adding a little crunchy garnish.

100g shelled pistachio nuts

Take the shelled nuts, place in a dry frying pan/or baking tray in the oven, and allow to toast gently using a low heat for 4/5 minutes. Don't allow the nuts to brown, or you will end up with a burnt aftertaste in your mouth! 

Toasting the nuts allows the natural oils to be released, giving a better flavour, and a fantastic fresh aroma. 

To present: 
Even though I couldn't resist glamming rice pudding up, there's no need to go crazy on the presentation of the dessert. Sometimes, less is more, and the taste of this dessert speaks for itself. 

Spoon generous helpings of the rice into bowls. 
Pour some compote over the rice, and finally top with toasted pistachio nuts. 
Serve straight away. 

I have to admit, rice pudding was never really my thing, but I really liked this dessert. It was warming, flavourful, simple to make and most importantly got several nods of approval..

Monday, 12 November 2012

Brandy, apple and honey layer cake...

Light, sweet and warming...tastes like more...
A while ago, a friend of mine asked me to recreate a honey layer sponge she tasted whilst in Prague. This cake was made using 10 thin layers of honey sponge, sandwiched together with a smooth caramel icing, and topped with gingernut's known as 'Medovnik' in Eastern Europe, and is one of the nicest cakes I have ever tasted (and I've tasted one or two cakes!).. It's light, and not at all sweet despite what the ingredient list implies. When I made this cake, there were ooohs and aaahs of delight as people tucked into it..and since then, it has become one of my favourite cakes to bake. 

Apples seem to be my current ingredient of choice, they're a fruit so therefore any baked goods containing them are a health food....that's how it works right???? I had requests for Medovnik and apple bakewell pie, but I had to choose one...decisions decisions! I decided to go with a twist on Medovnik, and bake an apple and brandy version. 

Start by making the honey cake:
I did say this cake isn't like most cakes, so pay attention here! It seems a little odd at first, but bear with me..

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 30g butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 250g plain flour
Place the icing sugar, butter, egg and honey in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water. Stir until the ingredients are well combined and warm. 
Remove from the heat, beat in baking soda and plain flour to form a firm dough. 
Set aside to cool and firm up for 30 minutes. You can prepare the filling while you wait. 
Preheat the oven to 170d (fan oven)
Take the dough, and divide into 6 even pieces (I use my digital scales to be really precise) 
Roll out each piece into a thin round. I usually use a 6 inch round tin as a guide for this, and cut around the tin  using a pizza cutter for an even edge.

When you have you six rounds, place on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 4-5 minutes. You need to keep a close eye to the oven as each sponge disc is very thin, so will burn quickly. You're looking for a firm disc, with a pale golden colour...don't let them brown as they will dry out. 

For the filling: 
Instead of using the traditional caramel filling, I decided to make a chunky brandy apple puree, and chantilly cream. 

Apple filling:
Peel, core and slice 2 large cooking apples. 
Place in a pan with 2 tbsp water. 
Cook until the apples begin to are looking for a thick and chunky stewed apple consistency here. 
Next add in 2 tbsp of caster sugar, 2 tbsp of honey and 4 tbsp of brandy. 

Once the sugar is dissolved, taste some of the apple to make sure it is sweet enough for you, and either add more sugar if desired, or remove from the heat and leave to cool. 

Chantilly cream:
  • 284ml carton of whipping cream
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
Using an electric whisk, whisk the cream and vanilla together until you have soft peaks. 
Fold in sieved icing sugar gently. 
Set aside until ready to prepare the cake. 

To construct the cake:
Take a disc of honey sponge, cover generously with brandy using a pastry brush. 

Top with a thin layer of the apple mixture, followed by a thin layer of chantilly cream. It's important that you use thin layers, the cake is supposed to be firm rather than oozing with filling. 

Place the next sponge disc on top, and repeat until you have added all 6 layers. 

To decorate the cake, spread the remaining chantilly cream around the sides. 
Spread a generous layer of the apple filling on the top of the sponge. 
Take a pack of lady fingers, dip each finger in a bowl with a cup of brandy and 3tbsp of warm honey until slightly softened. Place the fingers around the edge of the cake. 
Store in the fridge until ready to serve.  
From the side

Thin layers of deliciousness!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Gooey chocolate comfort...

I was never really a  fan of brownies until recently.. I always found them too sweet or too chocolatey (is there such a thing as too chocolatey?!) A good friend of mine is addicted to brownies and was always asking for them when I'd visit. Since I'm such a good friend, I obliged, and after several batches of these amazingly rich and gooey treats, they're ready to be shared ...

For the brownie:
250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) .. Always use the best ingredients you can afford, remember the expression about the silk purse and pigs ear?!
170g butter
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp peppermint essence
2 bars of Frys Peppermint cream roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 170 degrees (fan oven) and grease and line square brownie pan.
Melt dark chocolate and butter together in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water. Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add peppermint essence.
Stir in sieved flour and baking powder. Finally mix in chopped mint chocolate.
Pour into prepared tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes. They should be a little squidgy, but that's fine because you want a fudgey gooey brownie :)
Turn off the oven. (I know that's obvious after baking, but I do have my reasons for being so particular!)

For the topping:
100g mint chocolate
100g mini marshmallows

Immediately after taking the brownies from the oven, cover the top in chopped mint chocolate (Frys Peppermint cream or After Eights). Sprinkle mini marshmallows on top.
Yes, the corner is missing... it 'fell' off...tragic accident! 

Place tray back in the oven (the oven is turned off, but still hot... we don't want to overcook the brownies, so the residual heat in the oven will be enough to melt the sweets, and give a gooey topping. You can use a blowtorch if you have one handy...

Browned and gooey after blow torch treatment...

Once the sweets are melted, remove from the oven and cut into squares... taste immediately (very important step!)

These brownies are gorgeous, they're rich and fudgy, and the sweet minty topping cuts through the rich chocolate perfectly.

They're just as delicious if you leave out the peppermint, and add in white chocolate chunks and raspberries or nuts... You can adapt the recipe to use whatever sweets you have in the house. I've added nuts, maltesers, oreos, orange zest... play with the recipe and find what works for you!

Be sure to let me know what you think!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Toffee apples in a cake???

As usual, I was in the mood to bake, but not really in the mood to go shopping. After a look around the kitchen, I came up with a giant bag of toffees, and lots of apples..... hmmmm toffee apple cake anyone? 

I find baking really relaxing so I can't resist after a bad day, a long day, a busy day... basically any excuse!! 

The blackberry and apple crumble cake I baked a couple of weeks ago went down very well, so I decided to make it again, with a twist. 

There are a few different steps to this cake, but it's really simple, and definitely worth it. 

Start by preheating the oven to 170 degrees (fan oven), and lining an 8 inch square tin. 

For the crumble topping:
2oz plain flour
1oz light brown sugar (brown sugar gives a more chewy caramel flavour than caster sugar)
2oz butter
50g finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are perfect) 

Rub the butter into the flour until you have no lumps of butter. Stir in sugar and nuts, and set aside until needed. 

For the filling: 
4 large cooking apples
100g toffee sweets

Peel, core and slice the apples. 
Place in a pan over a low heat with the toffees, until sweets have melted and apples are soft, but still firm. The toffees should sweeten the apples enough, but this is a personal taste thing, so let the mixture cool slightly and taste. If you need to sweeten, add some sugar, and cook until dissolved. 
Set aside to cool slightly. 

For the cake:
5oz self raising flour
2oz golden brown sugar
1oz ground almonds
1tsp cinnamon
50g finely chopped toffees
1 egg 
50ml milk
4oz butter, melted

Start by mixing the dry ingredients. 
Melt the butter, before beating in the egg and milk. 
Add liquid mixture to the dry ingredients until just combined. 

To assemble the cake:
Pour the cake batter into lined tin. 

                                                           Top with the toffee apples.

Finally sprinkle the crumble topping over this.

Place in preheated oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and firm.

I prefer this cake warm, just out of the oven, but some of my friends think it's far better cold... I guess you'll just need to have a slice of each to find out what you prefer.... let me know!! 

I hope you enjoy this recipe... it's sweet, comforting and really delicious.