Monday, 26 July 2010

Nigella's Chocolate and Nut Brownies

I've been on a hunt recently, a hunt for the best brownie. There are about a billion squillion recipes out there for brownies, and I really wanted to find one worth keeping hold of for those times when nothing else will do but dense, chocolatey, soft, squidgy brownie. You know the moments... when it's cold and gloomy outside and you want a hot mug of tea and something heavy and indulgent, or when you've had a hard day at work and you really deserve a treat, or, you know, when it just tickles your fancy - no excuses necessary!! Anyway, I tried a recipe recently and it was pretty pants if I'm honest. It was a dark and white chocolate swirl brownie and I could just tell as soon as I'd made the batter it was going to be rubbish. Thick and gungy, and kind of oily, just bad bad bad. So, I promised myself, and those who suffered the tantrum when the brownie making didn't go so well, that I'd find a stonking good recipe to make up for it.

I scoured the internet, I trawled through my books, I asked around... and eventually I came across what I really should have gone looking for in the first place: Nigella. You know that I love Nigella, and one of the reasons I love her is because she is oh-so-good at coming up with recipes that are completely indulgent, without feeling bad about it. She knows if you're looking for a brownie recipe, you want it to be rich, heavy, gooey in the middle and choc-tastic. None of this fancy malarkey, she even admits trying to posh up the brownies with pistachios but it doesn't work, and we all know why: brownies aren't posh. They are the opposite of posh. A good brownie should leave your fingers a little sticky, and they should not be eaten in front of someone you want to impress (say, a first date). A brownie should not be eaten delicately, but demolished in warp speed. This is not a mille-feuille or a delicate little tart people, this is the land of over-the-top, completely indulgent, naughty, messy pudds. Oh, and she also knows that if you are making these sqaures of wickedness, you want a lot of them, which is why the recipe makes enough to feed an army...or you know, 3 or 4 greedy people.

Chocolate Brownie:

375g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate
6 eggs
500g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 tsp salt
300g chopped walnuts

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heavy-set pan, stirring regularly to avoid it catching on the bottom.
In a jug, combine the eggs and sugar, and in another separate bowl sieve together the flour and salt.
When the chocolate mixture has melted and cooled slightly, beat in the eggs and sugar, then the flour and nuts. Beat until smooth then pour into a lined tin, about 33 x 23 x 5.5 cm.
Bake at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes, but keep an eye from 20 minutes onward. The top should be pale speckled with dark brown, and will still have a little wobble in the middle. It will be quite soft but have faith in your convictions and get it out of the oven! The difference between soft gooey brownie and dry crumbly brownie is only a minute or two in the oven after all!
Leave to cool as long as you can before slipping the giant slab out of the tin and slicing into hearty wedges!!

You could add any kind of nuts (don't go posh though - Nigella said so!!), dried fruit such as dates or apricots, seeds, whatever really, but I like the basic recipe of dark chocolate and walnuts. The crunch is key here, the brownie should be so soft and squidgy that the walnuts give it a bit of solidity and texture...when you take a bite and find a walnut encased in soft brownie, the combination is utterly divine.

I definitely suggest making the quantity specified here - trust me, you'll never be short of takers. Intensely rich yet frustratingly moreish, these are a winner across the board. No one, and I mean no one, can resist a good old wedge of brownie.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies

More delicious and delectable delights from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook you'll be pleased to hear!! After the Cheesecake and Blueberry Cake I thought I'd try something equally tempting but a little less artery-clogging next. So I flipped straight to the cookies section and settled fairly quickly on these treats. They went down a storm yesterday, I came in to work with a fairly hefty box full of them and my bag was considerably lighter on the way home...only a few crumbs left! Soft and chewy, they are the perfect mid-morning or afternoon snack, as my office colleagues will attest to!! One was converted to raisins after years of thinking she didn't like them, which I think is the highest achievement and greatest feeling of satisfaction possible when people try something you've made!!

Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies:
270g unsalted butter
160g caster sugar
160g soft dark brown sugar
2 eggs
380g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
110g rolled oats
220g raisins
Cream together the butter and sugars, before adding the eggs one at a time.

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then mix in the oats.

Combine the dry ingredients with the butter, sugar and eggs, before mixing in the raisins.

Place balls of dough slightly smaller than a golf ball on to a baking tray, leaving plenty of space between each one to allow them to spread, and bake in the oven at 170 degreees for about 12 minutes.

As is usual with cookies, be brave and take them out when they are only just turning golden. They will still be very soft and need a delicate touch so that they don't fall apart when you transfer them on to a wire rack to cool. Leave for a few minutes until they are solid enough to pick up, then munch away!!

These cookies really are lovely. Raisins of course add to the sweetness and chewy-factor, and are hugged by soft cookie in which the cinnamon flavour is very delicate, just enough to give a warming flavour to the cookies, and the addition of brown sugar gives a slightly toffee-ish essence.
A doddle to make and perfect with a nice cup of tea, you can't go wrong!!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Gooey Chocolate Cake

Here I am again with another Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe… I hope they aren’t getting tedious, but I just love his food as well as his ideology so much! I think I might get an ‘I heart Hugh F-W’ t-shirt printed one of these days… anyway, I digress!!

Here is another success from his Everyday cookbook, and is a little different from the normal chocolate cakes you get. It’s made with almonds in the mix which gives it a lovely moist texture as well as a sort of warm taste if you know what I mean. There’s something really comforting about almonds, and whenever they sneak in to a recipe you really can tell, there’s a certain flavour that sort of envelopes you, they make the dish that little bit more luxurious and rich without overwhelming you. I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well, let’s just say they bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the cake!!
As well as this, the cake isn’t really a cake… I’m worried I’m going to lose you here, but bear with me! This is a good thing!! Instead of a run-of-the-mill sponge, this one is kind of gooey inside due to the lack of flour and when warm it’s a little difficult to tame but wonderfully smooth, soft and sticky, and then when it’s been cooling for a few hours and comes to room temperature – Oh. My. God!! The mix of brown sugar with caster sugar gives it a wonderfully caramelly flavour and it’s like chocolate fudge encased in chocolate cake! Completely delicious and oh-so-moreish!!

Chocolate Cake:

250g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
100g soft light brown sugar
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until well combined, then add the melted chocolate and butter to the yolk mix.
Combine the flour and almonds then fold these in too.
In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks.
Stir in one spoonful of whites to the chocolate mix to loosen it, then continue to fold in the rest of the whites, careful not to knock out the air.
Put the mixture into a prepared baking tin anf bake at 170 degrees for 30 minutes, until only just set. Take it out when there is still a wobble in the middle - this will result in the sticky gooey texture I was raving about!!
Leave to cool on a wire rack before turning out of the tin.
Dig in!!!

It isn’t decorated with anything; no frills, no frosting, nothing, and honestly – it’s at its best this way. The texture is too delicate to sustain any buttercream, and the flavour of the almonds with the chocolate really shines and would be completely overwhelmed by any heavy frosting.

I don’t think this is a special occasion cake, it’s more of an ‘I need a cup of tea and a treat’ type of cake. It’s not decadent and fancy, but humble and utterly satisfying, enjoy!!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Hummingbrid Blueberry Cake

This week I decided a knock-your-socks of cake was in order. I've been on a rather more delicate trend with my baking exploits recently with Lemon cake, Snickerdoodles, and Bakewell Slices. Even the heavier desserts I’ve made like the Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse Cake haven’t been sponge based, and I had a real hankering for a proper cakey cake if you know what I mean!! With tons of icing and everything!!

So I asked myself, which recipe book that I own is most likely to contain lots of delicious cakes? Clearly Hummingbird was the only answer!! Despite wanting a big old cake, with all this lovely hot weather I wasn’t quite in the mood for chocolate, and berries seemed the obvious choice of flavouring. This cake is baked in a ring shape in the Hummingbird book, however I don’t own one of those (yet!) so my reliable old round cake tin had to make do!!

It’s no ordinary cake recipe; the ratio of eggs, butter, sugar and flour is nothing like any other cake I’ve made – for starters there are SIX eggs!! … and then the very healthy addition of sour cream, which, you know, I have no problem with!!

Blueberry Cake:
350g unsalted butter
350g caster sugar
6 eggs
450g flour
2 tblsp and 2 tsp baking powder
280ml soured cream
250g fresh blueberries plus extra to decorate

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time.
Beat in the sifted flour and baking powder until well mixed, then add the soured cream and mix well until liht and fluffy.
Gently stir in the blueberries and pour into a tin and bake at 170 degrees for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack. When completely cooled cover with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with blueberries.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
600g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter
250g cream cheese

Combine the icing sugar and butter until well mixed, before adding the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy.

The blueberries all sank to the bottom of the mix while it was baking which was disappointing, but I was more grumpy with myself because I completely forgot that a good way to avoid this is to quickly toss the berries in flour before mixing them into the batter. A handy hint for if you decide to make it!! Anyway, all was not lost because I turned the cake upside down to ice it, which resulted in almost a layering of sponge, then a really moist and berry-heavy section before hitting the cream cheese frosting…deeeeee-licious!!!

I’m not completely convinced by this cake; I think there are better sponge recipes out there, however I did want a really dense cakey-cake and that’s exactly what I got! As for its aesthetics, the snowy white of the frosting looked beautiful speckled with deep navy blueberries, and I did like the way the colour from the layer of blueberries bled into the pale yellow sponge dappling it with a deep purple which faded in to a paler lilac colour.

This is definitely a heavy cake, in typical Hummingbird fashion – they don’t do anything by halves!! I would say it’s probably best as an afternoon tea type of thing rather than dessert – I just can’t imagine ever having enough room for this cake after a meal! Either way though, completely indulgent and berries add a summery touch, enjoy!!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Nigella's Snickerdoodles

Sometimes, because I'm a bit of a loser, I like to browse through my old blog posts. Sometimes to find recipes I want to make again, but more often than not, I have a peruse because I like to see the change in it. I like to see how at the beginning it was quite clear I was just getting to grips with blogging; the writing, the photos, the layout, and over the last year I would like to think that my posting has improved, I love to see the increase in the amount of you that comment and chat, and I'm a little more comfortable in this little space of mine.

However something had been bothering me as I glanced over old blog posts recently, and I couldn't quite figure out what it was. It was nothing that stood out and screamed 'Umm, Becca, Hello?!?! This is wrong!!', nothing conspicuously incorrect or missing, and I just couldn't put my finger on what was. Then it hit me. Nigella. Oh, Nigella, how could I possibly have neglected you so?! As I scrolled through my posts, I realised there was just one lonely little post on a Nigella recipe. One. Now, you may not know this, (chances are you don't since I have carelessly disregarded her books on this blog) but I'm a Nigella devotee, so this is qute an upsetting revelation for me. I have loved Nigella for years, my cookbook collection has ended up including several of her books which I love, and I look forward to her television programmes when we are treated to them. She epitomises home comforts, she shows luxurious food without being ostentacious, and never apologises for her indulgences. And on top of all these home-making efforts, and the importance she clearly places on her family, she has managed to become a successful businesswoman in her own right. Superwoman or what? Anyway, the point of my waxing lyrical about Nigella is this: I haven't written about enough of her recipes here, and I plan to rectify the situation!

So I thought I'd start with something fairly simple but utterly gratifying and enjoyable: Snickerdoodles, or as Mr. Colehill insists on calling them, Snickerdimdums. Don't ask me why, sometimes it's just better to nod along...

These are remarkably simple and quick to make,and the warming smell of cinnamon and nutmeg is completely divine, not to mention the sweet crumbly texture which is truly delightful and very very moreish! Nigella describes them as sort of a baked doughnut, shall we say a 'healthier' version or is that pushing it a little?! Mine were a little crumblier than I expected from the 'doughnut' comparison but perhaps I baked them a minute or so too long. Either way, they weren't exactly snubbed by the hungry mouths around me, and I don't think anyone had a problem with the more biscuit-y texture.

125g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar plus 2 tblsp
1 egg
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tblsp ground cinnamon

Combine the flour, nutmeg, salt and baking powder and set aside.
Next, cream the butter and 100g caster sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg.
Now beat in the flour until you have a soft and smooth paste/dough.
Combine the rest of the sugar and cinnamon on a plate.
Roll walnut sized pieces of dough in the suagr and cinnamon before placing on a lined baking tray.
Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes when they should be turning a pale golden brown.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.

I challenge you to stop eating these without either removing yourself from the room or the Snickerdoodles from eyesight!! These biscuits are pretty much perfection in my eyes. They aren't too over the top, just right for an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. Obviously there is room for your Hummingbird type hit-you-over-the-head-with-chocolate Double Chocolate Cookies, but sometimes something a little more refined is in order. And we at Colehill Kitchen are British after all; it's in our nature to get over-excited about a little treat, as Bill Bryson has so aptly pointed out!! So here's to a dainty little morsel of perfection, courtesy of Nigella...I think she would throughly approve of a little indulgence!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate Cheesecake

Ok, so I'm back on the chocolate bandwagon in a big big way, I know. This is possibly one of the most chocolate heavy desserts you could make, but it was a celebratory dessert!!! Well that's my excuse anyway. The oven at Colehill Kitchen has always been a bit of a disaster zone; it doesn't seem to have temperature control, so once you turn it on it just keeps getting hotter and hotter and hotter until it's like a furnace in there. This is great for bread making when you want the oven ridiculously hot, but it makes baking large cakes a real challenge (think black cinders on the outside, raw batter on the inside) and anything that needs a cool oven an absolute no-no. But a few days ago we got a new oven, YAYYY!!!! And what's the yummiest thing that needs a cool oven? Umm, hello? Cheesecake!

As well as the other Hummingbird recipes I've made, I've made this cheesecake before, about a year ago, and it really is rather huge. But it went down a storm with everyone (no surprise there really!) so I knew there would be no problem getting rid of this beast, and I was not wrong!! Despite the almost unbearable heat over the weekend, a third of the cheesecake was swiftly demolished, and now there are but a few crumbs left to prove it was ever there!!

Chocolate Cheesecake
200g digestive biscuits, finely crushed
2 tbs cocoa powder
150g unsalted butter, melted

900g cream cheese
190g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

The base is your usual biscuit base. Melt the butter then mix it into the crushed biscuits and cocoa powder before pressing into a a 23cm round springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with greaseproof paper. Leave this to chill and harden in the fridge while you make the filling.

For the filling, melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, then set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile beat the cream cheese and caster sugar until thick. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs one by one, beating until fluffy. Careful not to overdo the mixing though or the cheese may split.

Then spoon on blob of cheese mix into the melted chocolate and mix, then a couple more dollops to bring both mixes to similar temperatures, before finally combining the lot and mixing until it is all an even colour.

Pour onto the base and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Check it after 40 minutes to keep an eye out for burning around the edges, and take it out while there is still a wobble in the middle. Be brave about this!! If you leave it in too long the filling will be dry and crumbly, this you do not want - smooth and creamy all the way!!

Leave to cool and ideally chill overnight...if you can hold off that long!!

This recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook is competely over the top, rich and dense but not ridiculously heavy. Perhaps not the ideal dessert for a tropically hot and humid weekend but hey, it was a special oven-related occasion!! We deserved cheesecake after all this time!!