Tag Archives: Ginger

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake

Baking with SpiritI’ve moved house since my last post.  I was only moving three minutes away, but given how much crap I seem to have accumulated on top of the ridiculous amount of stuff I already had, it turned into a feat of epic proportions.  I succeeded though, and have been busy settling in and discovering the quirks of my new kitchen (as well as trying to find the best light for photos – I’m still working on that one).  The first thing that I unpacked was all my baking paraphernalia, so that I could participate in this month’s Baking with Spirit, guest-hosted by Craig over at The Usual Saucepans.  He has challenged us to “Reinvent a Classic.”

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake 1

Initially, I wanted to do something G&T-inspired – Craig and I first became friends after discovering a mutual love for gin, so it seemed appropriate.  I had a few ideas, but I wasn’t really feeling excited about any of them.  Then, as I was unpacking some bottles of ginger beer, it hit me.  Gin and ginger beer is a thing (well… I’m pretty sure it’s a thing.  Ok, I just looked it up and apparently it’s gin and ginger ale that’s a thing.  A thing called a Gin Gin).  A couple of years ago, I had spiced mulled gin served with apple juice and it was delicious (made by Craig actually – how fitting).  What if I made an apple and ginger upside-down cake with gin in it?

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake 2

So that’s exactly what I did.  There isn’t actually any ginger beer (or ginger ale) in the cake because I didn’t want to open a whole bottle just to use a little bit, but it’s represented by ginger and other spices.  I thought about making this with pears, but I happened to have plenty of apples and no pears, so that was that.  Like many upside-down cakes, this is definitely a make-the-day-before cake.  I tried some of the cake not long after baking and couldn’t taste the gin, but the flavour developed overnight and you could taste it the next day – it was subtle, but added something a little different to the flavour profile of the cake.

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake 3

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Firm apples that keep their shape when baking are key, as you don’t want them to disintegrate into mush.  The actual number of apples required obviously will depend on their size and the size of the cake tin.  I reckon the recipe would be equally delicious with pears rather than apples, or a mix of the two.  Whilst utterly delicious as a snack (or breakfast…), this cake would also make a wonderful dessert, served with whipped cream.  The cake is best eaten the next day so that the caramel can really soak in and the gin flavour can develop, and will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g unsalted butter, softened
275g light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
250g all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp gin
3 or 4 apples (I used Granny Smith)

For the caramel:
100g unsalted butter
130g light brown sugar
3 tbsp gin

Directions

To prepare the cake:
1.  Line the base of a 24 or 26cm round deep cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices, salt and gin into the egg mixture and stir together with a spatula or large spoon until just combined.

4.  Peel, core and cut the apples into eighths.  Set aside.

To prepare the caramel:
5.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together to make the caramel.  Once the sugar has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, stir in the gin and pour into the prepared cake tin.  Arrange the apples over the top of the caramel, then cover with the cake batter, smoothing the top (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

6.  Place the cake tin on a baking tray large enough to catch any caramel that might bubble over the sides (much easier than cleaning a caramel-encrusted oven…) and bake for 50-55 mins until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool in the cake tin for about 10 mins before turning out onto a serving plate to cool completely.  The cake is best eaten the next day.

Enjoy!

Apple, ginger & gin upside-down cake 4

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Sticky lemon & ginger muffins

The lab was a glum place to be on Thursday after that last gutting America’s Cup race.  Actually, NZ was a glum place to be.  Except, presumably, the place in Warkworth where most of the Oracle USA boat was built.  So Team NZ was beaten by a boat largely built and designed in NZ…  Totally not awkward at all, nope.  Anyway.  It’s depressing, so let’s not dwell on it too much.  My actual point is, we were all feeling a bit sulky.  And the solution to that is… cake.  Obviously.  Come on, this is a food blog.  Food is always the answer.

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 1

Random RecipesI wasn’t sure what I wanted to bake.  Luckily though, Dom has set the theme of puddings, cakes and bakes for this month’s Random Recipes, so that conveniently bypassed the whole issue of indecision.  I randomly picked out A Treasury of NZ Baking, and randomly opened it at page 78: crunchy lemon muffins.  Oh hello…  After coming down with a cold over the weekend and being given lemons by several lovely people, I have plenty to use up.  Inspired by all the hot toddies that I’ve been making with said lemons, I added some ginger to the muffins.  I considered adding whisky, too, but decided to save that experiment for another time (I totally didn’t get distracted and forget).

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 2

They didn’t come out very crunchy.  As in, they didn’t come out crunchy at all.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m guessing it’s something to do with the glaze, which certainly made them sticky – perhaps too much of the sugar dissolved in the lemon juice or our house is too humid and the crunch was lost.  Despite that, they were utterly delicious and lemony, which I love, with a hint of ginger poking through.  So I’ll definitely be making them again.  Especially since they’re also super quick to prepare – start to finish only took about 40 minutes.  Amazing or what?

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 3

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins

Makes 15 muffins
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Avoid using muffin liners as I think they’ll just go soggy from the glaze – silicone moulds or directly baking in the muffin holes are the way forward.  These are best eaten within two days, either warm or room temperature.

Ingredients

For the muffins:
75g unsalted butter
250g all-purpose flour
175g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
250ml milk
1 egg
Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

For the glaze:
60ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
60g caster sugar

Directions

To make the muffins:
1.  Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.  Set out 15 silicon moulds or butter 15 holes in muffin tins.

2.  Melt the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Meanwhile, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger and salt together into a large bowl and whisk together with a fork.

4.  Add the milk, egg and lemon zest to the bowl of butter and whisk together with a fork.  Add to the bowl of dry ingredients and fold through with a metal spoon until just combined (you don’t want the mixture to be super smooth and traces of flour is good).  Add a heaped spoonful of batter to each muffin mould or hole.  Bake for about 12 mins until lightly browned and the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

To make the glaze:
5.  Whilst they are baking, add the lemon juice and caster sugar to a small bowl.  Don’t mix.

6.  Once the muffins are out of the oven, brush the tops with the glaze using a pastry brush.  Try not to stir the glaze to minimise the sugar dissolving.  Repeat until all the glaze is used up.  Allow the muffins to sit in their moulds/tin for 5 mins before lifting them out onto a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.

Enjoy!

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Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake

As this post publishes, I should be about 10,000m in the air.  On a plane, obviously.  Specifically on a plane somewhere between Sydney and Heathrow.  Which doesn’t really narrow things down much.  And actually, my exact geographical location is largely irrelevant – the point is that I’m off to Edinburgh for a month.  It won’t really be a holiday, but I’m still excited to see my mum and family.  I’m just hoping that the UK’s sudden recent bout of real summer carries on whilst I’m there.  Whatever the weather, posts are likely to be even more sporadic than they currently are.

Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake 1

Going away for a month means having a serious fridge and pantry clear out.  I had done a rather good job of using up all my perishables without having to resort to any bizarre combinations, but still had a few nashi pears (aka Asian pears) kicking around.  Since I had more nashi pears than days left to eat them in and I knew that my housemates wouldn’t eat them, I decided to bake with them (big surprise there…).  I happened across a nashi pear and ginger upside-down cake recipe which, aside from making me salivate, also called for 200g of yoghurt, which is precisely how much I had left in the fridge.  A clear sign from the, uhm, pantry gods (uhm, yeah…), that this recipe just had to be tested.

Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake 2

I adore the combination of pear and ginger, and nashi pears are no exception.  Like any decent upside-down cake, the sides go a little crispy and all caramely and delicious.  The cake itself is basically gingerbread, which to me just smacks of a perfect winter treat.  The slice that was missing by the time the cake got to the lab was obviously an offering of thanks to the pantry gods and nothing at all to do with my breakfast.  I mean really, who would ever eat cake for breakfast?  Definitely not me, nope.

Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake 3

Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from Anna Eats Auckland

This would work equally well with normal pears or even apples (choose a variety of pear or apple with pretty firm flesh so that they keep their shape and don’t go all mushy).  The Chelsea golden syrup here in NZ seems to be a little richer in flavour than that in the UK, so if you’re using Lyle’s perhaps think about substituting a little bit of the golden syrup for treacle.  I prefer eating the cake the next day so that the caramel can soak in, but it’s also delicious served warm, perhaps accompanied by a scoop of ice cream.  The cake will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the cake:
125g unsalted butter
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
250ml (340g) golden syrup (not the easy-pour stuff)
175g light brown sugar
2 eggs
200g plain Greek-style yoghurt (normal would be fine, too)
75g crystallised ginger

For the caramel:
100g unsalted butter
125g light brown sugar
3 medium or 2 large nashi pears

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Line the bottom of a deep 24cm round cake tin (mine is 5cm deep).  Line a baking tray larger than the cake tin with tin foil.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat.  Take it off the heat as soon as it is melted.  Meanwhile, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into a medium mixing bowl and stir together.

3.  Add the sugar, golden syrup, eggs and melted butter (you’ll need to melt more butter later so save yourself some washing up by re-using the same saucepan) into a large mixing bowl and whisk together until smooth.  Fold in the dry ingredients with a metal spoon until just combined.  Roughly chop the crystallised ginger, add to the batter with the yoghurt and stir until combined.

To make the caramel:
4.  Add the sugar and butter to the small saucepan from earlier and melt together over a low heat until smooth.  Meanwhile, peel and core the nashi pears.  Slice medium-sized pears into eights or large pears into twelfths.

5.  Pour the melted caramel into the prepared cake tin.  Arrange the pear slices over the caramel and then carefully pour and spread the cake batter over the top.  Place on the prepared baking tray (this will catch any caramel that might bubble over) and bake for 55-65 mins until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6.  Allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out onto a serving plate.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Enjoy!

Nashi pear & ginger upside-down cake 4

 

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Wonderfully wintery parsnip & ginger soup

Yesterday was the winter solstice.  Shortest day of the year, and rather cold to boot.  That said, our 9°C and intermittent downpours was rather paltry in comparison to a large part of the rest of the country which was either snowed under or being battered by truly ferocious winds (or both).  Given the large swathes of the country that are (still) cut off or without power, I can hardly complain.  Instead, I think we can all just agree that 9°C is excellent soup weather.

Parsnip & ginger soup 1

Random RecipesFor this month’s Random Recipes challenge, Dom chose the theme of “healthy & happy” – poor Dom has had a bit of a rough time of it lately, so healthy recipes are the order of the day over at Belleau Kitchen at the moment.  I plucked my copy of River Cottage Veg Everyday! off the shelf on the basis that vegetables = healthy  (I would obviously make an excellent nutritionist), followed the instructions of the random number button on my calculator and landed on on page 157: parsnip and ginger soup.  Excellent choice, calculator – soup certainly makes me happy in this weather, and ginger is full of health benefits, so that’s both bases covered.  Sure, there’s milk and a wee bit of cream in it, but I’m all about dairy products, so that makes me happy, too.  And calcium is important, right?

I love creamy, velvety soups, so this one was definitely right up my street.  The ginger is really what makes this soup – it adds a fiery dimension, and is definitely warming.  I had more ginger in the cupboard than specified in the recipe and decided to throw it all in, which was slightly too keen – it may have blown my socks off, but I guess at least it cleared my sinuses.  So I’ve given the quantities specified in the original recipe, not the ones I used.

Parsnip & ginger soup 2

Parsnip & ginger soup

Serves 4-6
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

The ginger is quite fiery (and thus warming – excellent for winter!), so the amount you should add will depend on your taste.  If you want to freeze the soup, do so at the end of step 3, before adding the milk.  You can add either unsweetened yoghurt or double cream to serve – I personally preferred the yoghurt option as I found it cut through the fieriness of the ginger rather nicely.

Ingredients

500g parsnips
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
4-5 cm piece of ginger
Extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin
500ml vegetable stock
200ml whole milk
2-3 tbsp flaked almonds, to serve
1-2 tbsp thick unsweetened yoghurt or double cream, to serve

Directions

1.  Prepare the vegetables.  Peel the parsnips and chop into roughly 1cm cubes, set aside.  Peel and finely chop the onion, set aside.  Finally, peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger (top tip for peeling ginger: use a teaspoon.  Sounds really odd, I know, but it works wonderfully), set aside.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat.  Add the onion and sauté until softened and translucent.  Add the garlic, ginger and spices, and stir for a few minutes before adding the parsnips.  Stir to coat the parsnips with the spices.  Add the stock and 300ml of water, season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 15 mins until the parsnips are very soft.

3.  Remove the soup from the heat and blend either in a food processor or using a stick blender, until smooth and velvety.

4.  Return the soup to a low heat, add the milk and add more salt and pepper if necessary.  Whilst the soup is warming, toast the flaked almonds in a small frying pan, until just golden.

5.  Serve immediately, adding a drizzle of cream or yoghurt to each bowl, and topping with the toasted almonds.

Enjoy!

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Bring in some pears, I’ll bring back a cake

Ten days ago it was suddenly so cold that I got my winter sheepskin slippers out and was considering changing over to my thicker duvet.  Today it’s so warm that I’m back to rocking shorts and jandals… but with my Barbour thrown on because of the rain-in-every-possible-direction that we’re currently being treated to.  This topsy-turvy weather is difficult to deal with.  We’ve had some rather full-on stormy weather the last few days – rainy, blustery gales that make me feel like I’m in Scotland in November… if I ignore that it’s 22°C at the moment, April and we have palm trees in our garden.

It's a wee bit wavy out in Matheson's Bay…

I do love watching the sea when it’s all ferocious like that.  Aside from dramatic sea views, there are a couple of good things about this weather.  Firstly, the rain has filled up our water tank (yay, showers and clean hair all round!*) and secondly, somebody brought in a glut of pears to the lab yesterday that had all been blown off their tree in the wind.  I’ve had an upside-down pear cake recipe bookmarked for ages, just waiting for pear season to start, so as soon as I saw the small mountain of pears, I knew some of them would be reappearing in the lab today in the form of cake.  Well, assuming the recipe worked of course…

And this is what I'll turn a small mountain of pears into…

I had a moment of panic when, having popped the cake in the oven, I decided to have a little munch on a sliver of leftover pear and discovered that it was sour as (let’s not dwell on why I didn’t think to try the pears before I baked with them).  Oh no, I thought, what have I done?  I can’t possibly bring a horridly sour cake into the lab.  I needn’t have worried though; the caramel completely mellowed out the pears.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that firm, slightly sour pears are the best to use in this cake, as they’ll hold their shape when cooking and retain their pear flavour but the sourness will get baked out.  The cake went down an absolute storm at the lab – I even overheard claims from several people that it was the best cake they’d ever tasted.  I’m not sure that I quite believe that, but I’ll still take that as very high praise.  Unfortunately, the cake went so quickly that I didn’t really manage to get any decent photos of it.  A victim of its own success, clearly.  No doubt I’ll be making it again soon, so I’ll update the photos then.

This would have been a good time to test the pears.

Upside-down pear & ginger cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Firm, slightly sour pears would be the best to use for this recipe – the baking will mellow their sourness but they’ll still keep their shape and won’t disintegrate into mush.  The actual number of pears required obviously will depend on their size and the size of the cake tin.  Whilst utterly delicious as a snack (or breakfast…), this cake would also make a wonderful dessert, served with whipped cream or a caramel sauce.  The cake is best eaten the next day so that the caramel can really soak in, and will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g unsalted butter, softened
300g light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
250g all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
3 or 4 firm pears

For the caramel:
100g unsalted butter
130g light brown sugar

Directions

To prepare the cake:
1.  Line the base of a 24 or 26cm round deep cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt into the egg mixture and stir together with a spatula or large spoon until just combined.

4.  Peel, core and cut the pears into eighths.  Set aside.

To prepare the caramel:
5.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together to make the caramel.  Once the sugar has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, pour into the prepared cake tin.  Arrange the pears over the top of the caramel, then cover with the cake batter, smoothing the top (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

6.  Place the cake tin on a baking tray large enough to catch any caramel that might bubble over the sides (way easier than cleaning a caramel-encrusted oven…) and bake for 50-55mins until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool in the cake tin for about 5 mins before turning out onto a serving plate to cool completely.  The cake is best eaten the next day.

Enjoy!

My housemates got to the cake for breakfast before I did…

*Just to clarify, we have actually been showering over the past three months.  Just quickly and not necessarily at home.  And there may have been some scrimping on the hair-washing.  Isn’t that a lovely note to end on?

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Happy ever-so-slightly belated Chinese New Year!

I’m afraid that life has completely gotten in the way of blogging.  Again.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past few weeks in the lab fighting the incredible slowness of the one computer that runs the programme that I need for my research.  Which doesn’t really make me want to come home and spend more time staring at a computer screen.  Then there’s the minor detail that I’ve decided to move up to Leigh permanently (well, until the end of my MSc) because I love it so much here.  So I’ve been back and forth between Auckland and Leigh over the past two weeks to pack up my Auckland flat and also deal with visa extension applications and other such joys.  And between all of that, please don’t hate me too much (especially if you’re in the northern hemisphere) but we’ve been having such a wonderful summer that it’s been impossible to resist the call of the outdoors.

Any post with dragons in is automatically awesome, right?

Today’s post should have gone up about two weeks ago.  For Chinese New Year.  Evidently that didn’t happen.  However, since today is the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is still part of the New Year celebrations (from what I understand), I’m totally letting myself off on that one.  We went to the Lantern Festival in Auckland yesterday, and there were some super awesome lanterns (funny that).  Including a whole montage of penguins and polar bears, which, before anybody gets upset about the ecological inaccuracy of that (I totally did before I read the explanatory panel), was apparently meant to symbolise China’s scientific interest in both polar regions.  Still not sure how that’s quite relevant to New Year, but it sure looked awesome!

Penguins and polar bears – always so closely with Chinese New Year…

One of my housemates is Chinese and another is Chinese-Malaysian, and they cooked a big Chinese New Year’s Eve meal for us (which was totally amazing).  I was asked to make a dessert (it took my housemates about a week to figure out that I’m not half bad in that department).  I wanted something fairly light and bite-sized – I had no idea how many people would be coming, but was sure that the main meal would be pretty filling – that I could preferably prepare the evening before so as not to get in the way of my housemates’ preparations on the day.  In the end I settled on that most Chinese of desserts: chocolate and ginger macarons.  Because ginger is totally a Chinese flavour, and I made the shells red and piped Chinese characters in gold on the top of each macaron, which means they’re clearly Chinese New Year-themed.  Ok, so it’s a little tenuous, but everybody loved them and they went down an absolute treat.  (Phew!)

A very Chinese dessert.  Ahem.

I didn’t just pick some totally random Chinese characters by the way.  One of them is which means prosperity or blessing – obviously an important symbol for New Year – and the other is shé which means snake – because it’s the year of the snake.  My housemates wrote them out for me to copy, so any mistakes are totally not my fault.  I’m really happy with how they turned out though – adding the characters really just made them that little bit extra special.

Mad Chinese piping skills!

We Should CocoaI’m submitting these macarons to this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being hosted by Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen “ginger” as the special ingredient to be combined with chocolate.  An awesome choice, might I add, since I do love ginger.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate in the ganache cut through the heat of the ginger wonderfully and also went some way to counterbalancing the sweetness of the shells.  The ganache is pretty intensely chocolatey though, so if you’re not a huge dark chocolate fan, be warned that you might not be able to wolf down a whole batch.

These all disappeared rather quickly over the course of the evening

Chocolate & ginger macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves
Royal icing recipe adapted from Joy of Baking

Colouring the shells and piping Chinese characters on them is obviously totally optional.  The recipe for the royal icing decorations on top makes far more than you’ll need, but any leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a few weeks.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden. If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Red food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
20g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
40g Frangelico (or Amaretto)
1 tbsp ground ginger

For the royal icing decorations:
1 egg white
1 tsp Frangelico (or Amaretto)
250–280g icing sugar
Yellow or gold food colouring paste or gel

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the butter and chocolate chocolate (broken into pieces), the Frangelico and sift in the ginger.  Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

9.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

10.  Leave in the fridge for a few hours in an airtight container to set before piping decorations on top.

To decorate the macarons:
11.  Prepare a piping bag with a very thin round tip.

12.  Sift 250g of the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl, and add the egg white, Frangelico (or Amaretto) and a drop or two of the food colouring gel (the amount to add will depend on how intense you want the colour to be, obviously).  Whisk them together with an electric mixer until the mixture is stiff and can be used to pipe without running.  If the mixture is not reaching a stiff stage, add more icing sugar a little at a time and keep mixing.

13.  Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe the decorations on top of the set macarons.  Allow the mixture to set before returning to the fridge so that the macarons have spent at least 24h setting before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Pepernoten revisited!

Do you know what today is?  It’s Sinterklaas!  Which, unless you’re Dutch, have Dutch friends or have spent time in The Netherlands, probably doesn’t mean terribly much, and you can read a brief (and minorly sarcastic) explanation here.  I was born in The Netherlands and have lived there for a few years, and even when we didn’t live in NL we had Dutch friends, so Sinterklaas always featured on my calendar when I was growing up.  My favourite thing about Sinterklaas are pepernoten, which are little biscuits packed full of spices.  They’re amazing.  And they’re really difficult to find outwith NL.

I didn't really have any Sinterklaas-themed backgrounds to use, so I went for orange-y for Dutchness.  Flawless logic.

We left NL for the last time when I started uni in St Andrews, and luckily in my first year Keely sent me a massive packet of pepernoten.  But then her parents left NL.  Which meant that my only source of pepernoten was if I made them myself.  And so I turned to my recipe book which contains several different pepernoten recipes pilfered from various Dutch friends, and combined them.  I discovered that pepernoten are actually remarkably easy to make, although rolling all the little balls does make them a little time-consuming (so worth it though, and if you have the time, I’d definitely suggest doubling the recipe from the offset).

This bit takes a while.  But it's strangely therapeutic, too.

The most crucial part of pepernoten is the spice mix, and in NL you can buy a specific spice mix for them.  I obviously don’t have the special spice mix, but it’s easy enough to make using spices that you probably already have in your spice cupboard.  Incidentally, these are technically called kruidnoten, but most people just call them pepernoten, myself included (so no need to get all pernickety with me).  I make pepernoten every year now and attempt to spread general enthusiasm for Sinterklaas amongst whoever happens to be around to eat them.  Although I don’t go the whole hog and dress up as a Zwarte Piet and throw them at people…  (Although I’m sure the perplexed reaction would be highly entertaining, if awkward.)

Spices: the key bit of a biscuit that's all about… wait for it… spices.

This year my poor labmates fell victim to my general over-enthusiasm for Sinterklaas.  To be honest, they were pretty willing victims because all it involved was scoffing pepernoten.  Which is a remarkably easy task since they’re bite-sized and utterly moreish.  I’ve actually posted about pepernoten before, in my very second post.  I had a look at said post the other day and you can definitely  tell I was new to blogging.  Not that I’m any kind of expert now, but I like to think I’ve improved a little since then (although not in the conciseness department).  So I decided I’d repost the recipe, this time with slightly more detailed instructions, an indication of how many pepernoten it actually makes and perhaps a few better photos.

Those three pepernoten didn't last very long after the photo was taken…

Pepernoten

Makes about 170 pepernoten
Adapted from various recipes in my recipe folder

I’d suggest just doubling the recipe from the offset because these are bite-sized and moreish – a dangerous combination!  Dark brown sugar would probably work well instead of light brown sugar, but would result in a slightly more pronounced treacle-y flavour, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Pepernoten are all about the spices, so feel free to be liberal with the quantities.  The aniseed is optional – I’m not a huge aniseed fan so tend to leave it out, because I know I won’t use the rest of the jar, but the aniseed flavour itself doesn’t come through very strongly.  These will keep well for a week or so in an airtight container (they would probably keep longer, but they’re unlikely to stay uneaten for more than a few days anyway).

Ingredients

175g light brown sugar
110g butter
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp black treacle
275g self-rising flour + ½ tsp baking powder OR 275g all-purpose flour + 3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground aniseed (optional)
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground coriander
2 pinches of salt

Directions

1.  Butter a couple of baking trays.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Add the brown sugar, cubed butter, milk and treacle in a saucepan.  Melt together on a low heat, stirring.  Remove from the heat once smooth.

3.  Mix together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.

4.  Once the treacle mixture has cooled a little (because enthusiastically plunging your hands into hot treacle just off the stove is not a smart idea.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, ahem), pour it into the bowl and knead together until it forms a smooth, fairly firm dough, adding pinches of salt during kneading.

5.  Pinch of little bits of dough and roll them into small round balls about the size of a marble.  Place them on the prepared baking trays leaving about 1.5 cm space between them.  Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden (it’s normal if they look slightly cracked).  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely – they’ll harden as they cool (I find that the pepernoten tend to slip through the wires on my cooling rack, so I usually place one over the top of the other, but perpendicular so that the wires cross over each other and stop any pepernoten from falling through).

Eet smakelijk and happy Sinterklaas!

Pepernoten everywhere!

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Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

I got all excited last month about the new blog challenge dreamt up by Janine at Cake of the WeekBaking with Spirit (so excited that I entered it twice…).  Apparently I must come across as a bit of an alcoholic since it turned out that Janine expected my enthusiasm – in the September round-up she admitted/confided that she’d hoped the challenge would be “right up my street.”  For the record, that comment amused me no end – Janine clearly knows me remarkably well!  My enthusiasm for the challenge hasn’t abated, and the alcohol of choice for October is… can you guess?  It’s “beer!”  Because, you know, Oktoberfest.  Clever, eh?

Now, I have a little confession: I don’t like beer.  There are a couple of exceptions – I do quite enjoy fruit beers (although I’m not sure they really count as beer), and I’ve had one or two beers that tasted pretty good for a few sips but then they warmed up too much and the hoppy flavour started coming through too much for me to finish the bottle.  I really wish I did like beer though – I suspect that there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in good beer and I feel like I’m missing out.  And I don’t like being left out.  I think part of the problem is that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about beer, so I wouldn’t know where to start.

Luckily, Baking with Spirit is about baking or cooking with beer rather than drinking it.  I baked some rather scrumptious chocolate Guinness cupcakes about a year ago, but that’s been my sole foray into baking with beer.  I really had no idea what I was going to make, so I was sort of hoping that something would magically come to me.  And then, a few days ago, I came across a recipe for Guinness gingerbread cupcakes.  Bingo!  The combination of Guinness and gingerbread completely intrigued me – I would never even have thought to pair them together.

Boy am I glad that I tried the recipe out, because these cupcakes are phenomenal.  It’s a dark gingerbread, packed full of spices, wonderfully gingery and with a fabulous undertone of treacle that is perfectly matched by the Guinness, which comes through subtly enough but definitely adds depth to the flavours going on in the cupcakes.  They’re also surprisingly light.  I was initially going to make the recipe as one large cake, but after a stressful day I decided that cupcakes were the way forward since the piping bit calms me.  Don’t be put off if you don’t like Guinness – I cannot stand it as a drink, yet I can’t get enough of these cupcakes.

Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

Makes 24
Adapted from Tea with Bea

In the icing I used the Equagold vanilla extract with star anise that I won in a giveaway the other week as I felt the hint of star anise would complement the spices in the gingerbread, but normal vanilla extract would also work, and is what I would ordinarily have used (I don’t usually have vanilla extract with star anise).  These cupcakes will keep for a few days in an airtight container kept away from any direct heat or sunlight (the icing will get a bit melty if it gets too warm), but not in the fridge.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
250ml Guinness
250g black treacle
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
280g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch salt
1 heaped tbsp fresh finely grated ginger (a piece of about 2-3 cm)
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g dark brown sugar
200ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)

For the icing:
225g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
175g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla extract with star anise)
2 tbsp honey
Crystallised ginger pieces, to decorate (optional)

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Add the Guinness and black treacle to a tall saucepan (it needs to be tall because the mixture will bubble violently in the next step, and you don’t want it to overflow) and heat over a high heat.  Remove from the heat once the mixture comes to the boil, and stir in the bicarbonate of soda (this is the bubbling violently bit).  Set aside to cool completely whilst preparing the rest of the cupcake mixture.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C.  Line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners or set out 24 silicone liners on baking trays.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir together.

4.  Peel the ginger and finely grate it, adding it to a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and two sugars and whisk together.  Make sure there aren’t any little clumps of brown sugar left, then gradually mix in the oil.  Whisk in the cooled Guinness syrup.

5.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or spoon until just combined (it’ll be quite a liquidy mixture).

6.  Spoon the mixture into the the prepared liners or moulds, filling them about ⅘ full.  Bake for 25-35 mins until the tops are springy to touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the tins or silicone moulds and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To make the icing:
7.  Prepare a piping bag with your chosen piping nozzle (I used a Wilton 1M large star nozzle).

8.  Whisk together the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl with an electric whisk until smooth.  Sift in the icing sugar and add the vanilla extract and honey and whisk until light and fluffy.  Transfer to the prepared piping bag and pipe swirls onto the cupcakes.

9.  Chop the crystallised ginger pieces and sprinkle them over the cupcakes to decorate.

Enjoy!

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Getting rid of the unseasonal October pumpkin-baking itch

So…  I’ve managed to acquire cuts on the tips of both my index fingers.  One resulted from struggling to get into a plastic carton of grapes (nope, I’ve no idea how I managed it either, but so much for being healthy and eating fruit).  The other came from a minor altercation with a cable tie (again, I’ve no idea either).  Now that we all know that I’m rather skilled at picking up random injuries (you’re perfectly welcome to laugh), my main point is that it hurts a little to type, so I’m going to try and keep this post short (ya, I know, ha ha ha – try is the key word there, ok?).

The majority of the bloggers that I follow are based in the northern hemisphere, so for the last few weeks my Google Reader has been awash with autumnal flavours, pumpkin recipes in particular.  Down here in the southern hemisphere it is, of course, spring, but it feels really strange to me not to be baking with pumpkins and apples and plenty of wintery spices in October, particularly with Hallowe’en coming up.  It’s not so easy to completely reverse seasonal habits and expectations.

To get the need to bake with pumpkin in October out of my system, I decided to bake with kumara (sweet potato).  I know that kumara and pumpkin aren’t the same thing, but pumpkin isn’t really in season any more.  In terms of baking, I think they’re more or less interchangeable anyway.  So I whipped up some spiced kumara cupcakes which turned out lovely and moist, thanks to the kumara.  I love baking with kumara for precisely that reason.  The spices come through wonderfully with the kumara in the cupcakes.  All those flavours are beautifully balanced by the cream cheese icing and the subtle freshness of the lime zest.  And as if they weren’t yummy enough already, I decided to top the cupcakes with roasted pumpkin seeds, just because.  I think I’ve got the need for pumpkin-baking out of my system now.  At least until Hallowe’en…

Spiced kumara cupcakes

Makes 16-18
Cupcakes adapted from Hello Cupcake!
Pumpkin seeds adapted from Serious Eats

The roasted pumpkin seed topping is entirely optional, but does add a lovely little extra something.  There will be leftover pumpkin seeds, and they are great for a snack – store them in an airtight box.  The cupcakes will keep for about two days in an airtight container, but are best eaten sooner rather than later.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
550g kumaras (sweet potatoes)
300g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
150 ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the roasted pumpkin seeds (optional):
50g pumpkin seeds
2 tsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
150g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lime

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Preheat the oven to 205°C/fan 185°C.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.

2.  Scrub the sweet potato and pierce the skin with a fork.  Place on the baking tray and roast for about 40 mins until there’s no resistance when a knife is inserted through the thickest part.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool until it can be handled.  Peel the skin off and roughly mash the flesh in a small bowl with a fork.  Set aside.

3.  Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C/fan 155°C.  Line a couple of cupcake trays with liners or set out silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and very fluffy (this can also be done by hand, although it will take longer).  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Then add the mashed sweet potato, oil and vanilla extract to the mixture and fold in until combined.

6.  Split the mixture between the cupcake liners or moulds, not filling them more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-25 mins until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes from the oven but leave the oven on.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack.

To roast the pumpkin seeds:
7.  Line a baking tray with tin foil (aluminium foil).  Mix together the pumpkin seeds and oil in a small bowl until the seeds are well coated.  Then add the sugar and cinnamon and stir well.  Spread over the prepared baking tray and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mins or until the seeds are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.

To make the icing:
8.  Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, prepare the icing.  Prepare a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice (I used an open star Wilton 1M nozzle but a round one would also look pretty).  Place the bag in a tall glass (this makes it much easier to fill).

9.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the rest of the icing ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk (if you want to do it by hand, I’d advise using room temperature cream cheese – it’ll be a bit easier) until smooth and pale.  Fill the prepared piping bag and then pipe sparingly onto the cupcakes (you’ll need all the icing).  Sprinkle roasted pumpkin seeds over the tops of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

PS – Ok, so I didn’t manage to keep the post that short…  But I realised that if I wrote most of the post on my phone, only my thumbs were required to type – sorted!

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Mint & ginger mini palmiers

Something terribly exciting happened on Wednesday – the Bookshelf Saga which has been ongoing since I moved into my flat at the beginning of March came to its conclusion.  To cut a long rant story short, my landlord didn’t consider a bookshelf to be a fairly standard piece of furniture and decided that it would “overcrowd the flat” (which is total nonsense by the way – somebody is clearly just being stingy).  However, since I really do need a bookshelf, I had to buy one myself, and it (finally) arrived on Wednesday.  Definitely the highlight of my week (I need to get out more) and now all my books, folders and DVDs are neatly arranged on shelves instead of being unceremoniously piled up in a corner.  And guess what?  The bookshelf doesn’t overcrowd the flat.  Not even remotely.  In fact, it has uncrowded the flat by freeing up all that space that the piles of books, etc. were taking up.  Just as well I don’t have my landlord’s email address or I would seriously consider emailing him a photo saying “I told you so.”  Not that I’m petty like that or anything.  Obviously.

My new bookshelf means that all my cookbooks are now neatly lined up – much more practical for choosing my Random Recipe entry than trying to count books scattered about in various piles.  This month’s theme is “first and last” which means randomly picking a cookbook and then making either the first or last recipe (or both, if you’re feeling keen). The random number button on my trusty calculator directed me to book number 5, which turned out to be Cusine Express, a French book full of quickly-prepared recipes.  I wasn’t too enthralled by anything on the first page of recipes, so I flipped to the very last page, where there were eight recipes to choose from (spoilt by choice, I know).  I opted for the mint and ginger mini palmiers, partly because I was intrigued by the combination of mint and ginger together, and partly because I’ve been a big fan of palmiers since I was a little girl, but never actually tried making them myself.

These aren’t quite like the slightly sticky palmiers you get in French pâtisseries, so I was a tiny little bit disappointed initially, but once you get past that, they are rather tasty in their own right, and I can’t wait to have a couple for my afternoon snack later.  The mint and ginger go together remarkably well – the freshness of the mint counterbalances the slight hotness of the ginger.  They’re missing that slightly caramelised covering that I loved when I was little (and still love) – next time I might try sprinkling some brown sugar over the top before baking, or lightly brushing a sugar syrup over the top as they come out of the oven.  I’ll definitely be trying these again – they’re so straightforward and hardly take any effort.  Except grating the ginger, which does take effort if you do it by hand, but it’s worth it.

Mint & ginger mini palmiers

Makes about 30
Adapted from Cuisine Express

You can, of course, make your own puff pastry, but I don’t really have the time for that, so I nearly always use shop-bought puff pastry, and I find that it works just as well, though make sure that when buying it, you choose puff pastry that has been made with all butter.  These make a wonderful afternoon snack, accompanied by a cup of tea.  These are best eaten on the day that they are made, but will keep overnight in an air-tight box (although they may lose a little bit of their crunchiness).

Ingredients

6 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves (about 18-20 g)
4 tbsp finely grated ginger (about a 5-6 cm piece)
5 tbsp organic rapeseed oil
Icing sugar
350g all-butter puff pastry

Directions

1.  Mix the mint leaves, ginger and oil in a small bowl to make a paste.

2.  Roll the puff pastry out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar into a rectangle of about 30 x 40 cm.

3.  Spread the mint and ginger paste over the surface of the pastry.  Fold or roll the pastry along a long edge to the middle, and do the same from the other side so that the two rolled/folded bits meet in the middle.  Press the whole “log” of pastry into a roll, wrap in cling film and chill in the freezer for 25 mins.

4.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 210°C.

5.  Remove the puff pastry log from the freezer and cut into 10-12mm thick slices (don’t worry if there are little gaps between the pastry rolls – they pastry will expand in the oven).  Place on the baking trays and bake for 15 mins until golden.  Transfer the palmiers to cooling racks and dust with icing sugar.  Allow to cool fully.

Enjoy!

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