Tag Archives: Nutmeg

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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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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Getting mildly tipsy off cake: Spiced banana & rum loaf

The majority of my baking gets taken into the lab, where it gets enthusiastically devoured by students and staff alike.  But I’m always a bit stuck when it comes to alcoholic baked goods.  Getting people a little tipsy off cake seems to be a particular skill of mine, and whilst the lab would no doubt happily scoff any alcoholic offerings down, particularly on a Friday when nobody really gets much work done anyway, the lab manager might not be too happy.  Since he wasn’t in the best of moods last week, I decided that the spiced banana and rum loaf that I wanted to try out should probably wait until poker night, since not all the rum bakes out.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 1

If I’d played my cards right (badum-tschhh!), this loaf could have been a sneaky ploy to get people tipsy in a vague attempt to increase my chances of winning.  But I ate just as much as everybody else, so I obviously missed a trick there.  I was actually expecting to have a few slices left over, but by halfway through the evening, a few crumbs and a slight increase in noise levels were the only evidence of the cake’s previous existence.  The spices both in the bread and the spiced rum really make this a perfect winter offering.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 2

AlphaBakesThis month’s AlphaBakes is being hosted by Ros, The More Than Occasional Baker and the challenge letter is “R,” so I’m sending this in as my entry; R for rum.  As I said previously, the rum does not all bake out, though I’ll admit that I couldn’t actually taste the alcohol itself, which probably says a fair bit about me.  All bar one fellow alcoholic other person could taste it though – not overwhelmingly so, but they could tell it was there, and it gives the bread a lovely warming feeling.  I briefly considered adding nuts to the bread as well, but decided to let the spiced rum take centre stage.  Sometimes simple is best.

Spiced banana & rum loaf 3

Spiced banana & rum loaf

Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Pastry Affair

Defrosted frozen bananas would work perfectly well.  Use whatever spiced rum you like, though remember that the flavour really does come through, so supermarket own brand is unlikely to be a good idea – paint-stripper will always taste of paint-stripper, even if you bake it.  The loaf is best at least one day later, so that the rum flavours have had time to develop.  It will keep well wrapped in tin foil or in an airtight container for several days.  Remember that not all the rum bakes out, so perhaps don’t serve any to children.

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, softened
150g light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large, ripe bananas (defrosted frozen bananas are fine)
250g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
150ml spiced rum (I used Kraken spiced rum)

Directions

1.  Butter a medium or large loaf tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs in one by one, mixing well after each one.

3.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then add to the butter mixture with the vanilla extract and beat together with the electric whisk, until fully mixed together.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into the butter mixture bowl and stir together.  Once fully mixed, stir in the rum.

5.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 1h-1h10 mins, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Enjoy!  (Responsibly, of course.)

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A snack fit for a hungry hobbit

Happy Waitangi Day for yesterday to any New Zealanders out there – I hope you all enjoyed your day off and had the same beautiful weather as we did!  I was actually in the lab trying to fix up some of the cameras I need for my experiments.  It might not sound like the most thrilling way to spend a public holiday, but at least it didn’t require too much intense thinking and I knew that I’d be going for a lovely long swim once I got back.  Until a tsunami warning was put out after the earthquake in the Solomon Islands.*  Having to stay away from beaches and out of the sea thwarted my plans for a swim somewhat.  So instead,  I made a slight dent in the backlog of blog posts from the safety of our hilltop house.  Because blogging and exercise are totally interchangeable, right?

This post has nothing to do with tsunamis by the way.

Today’s recipe dates back from Kat was visiting over New Year’s.  (What blogging backlog?)  I’ve previously mentioned that we went on a little trip to Hobbiton whilst she was here.  Neither of us survive day trips without some sort of snack to keep us going – much like any self-respecting hobbit, actually – so we decided to make some homemade granola bars to take along with us.  I have a jar of raisins permanently soaking in rum, so we decided to dig into that and throw some into the granola bars.  Because why wouldn’t you?  Adding rum to granola bars obviously means that we’re winning at life.

Why would you use normal raisins when you can use rum-raisins?

Oats, nuts and (rum-soaked) dried fruit all contribute to a good snack that keeps you going, and we added some dark chocolate chips just because.  We threw in some macadamia nut butter that I had loitering in my cupboard, which turned out to be a rather excellent idea.  If you don’t happen to come across some on offer at a farmers’ market, I’d suggest almond butter or even peanut butter (although peanut butter would have a much stronger flavour).  These granola bars are pretty soft so they may crumble a little with transport, but if you wrap them up well in baking paper, it won’t be a problem.

We had planned on taking photos of the granola bars in Hobbiton…  But we got a little distracted and forgot.  Woops.

Almond, ginger & rum-raisin granola bars

Makes 12 bars
Adapted from BBC Good Food

The great thing about these bars is that all the ingredients are easily changed – substitute different nuts, different dried fruit, more (or fewer) chocolate chips or crystallised ginger, etc.  If you don’t have macadamia nut butter (I only have some because I came across some at a farmers’ market), almond butter would work well, as would peanut butter (though peanut butter will have a stronger flavour).  I used manuka honey for the flavour, but use whatever you’ve got available (or a mixture).  Soaking the raisins in rum is obviously optional, but highly recommended (unless you’re making these for kids, obviously…).  The bars are best wrapped in baking paper to transport them (they won’t stick to the baking paper), and will keep well for a few days in an airtight container (they’ll probably last longer actually, but we ate them all…).

Ingredients

100g raisins
Spiced rum
200g oats
100g slivered or flaked almonds
50g butter
50g light brown sugar
50g macadamia nut butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
50g crystallised ginger
50g dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)

Directions

1.  Add the raisins to a bowl or jar and cover with spiced rum.  Soak for at least 1h, but the longer the better (top tip: I always keep a jar of raisins soaking in rum.  You know, for emergencies…).

2.  Line a 25 x 19 cm baking tin with baking paper (otherwise you won’t be able to get the granola bars out afterwards).  Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C.

3.  Add the oats and almonds to a roasting tin or lipped baking tray, stir and toast for 5-10 mins in the oven, until fragrant.  Leave the oven on.

4.  Meanwhile, add the butter, macadamia nut butter, brown sugar and honey to a large saucepan and melt together.  Once smooth, stir in the spices, then add the toasted oats, chocolate chips, chopped crystallised ginger and raisins.  Stir together until well coated, transfer to the prepared tin, press down evenly and bake for 30 mins.  Allow to cool fully in the tin before cutting into bars or squares.  Wrap in baking paper to transport.

Enjoy!

Granola bars with rum.  Winning at life.

*The warning was eventually cancelled and no tsunami turned up, so nobody panic.

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When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

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

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

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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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Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

One of the things I love about New Zealand is the lamb.  The lamb here tastes wonderful.  So I was rather pleased when a lamb recipe was thrown my way by this month’s Random Recipes challenge.  The theme for this month was “random birthday number” – we had to use our birth date to pick our book – in my case, the 14th book on the shelf, which was Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant, a French student cook book which was a gift from my French aunt and uncle.  It’s a good book because it has a range of straightforward recipes for one, two and groups of people, so covers all sorts of occasions.  The random number button on my calculator directed me to page 147, which is a recipe for keftas, or North African lamb meatballs.

Now, the original recipe calls for ras-el-hanout, but I couldn’t find any – I have seen some here, but I can’t remember where, which is obviously super helpful.  So I had to make up a substitution based on various articles online.  Thankfully it worked out and the meatballs were actually fantastically delicious, although perhaps a little too oniony, so I’ve reduced the amount of onion in the recipe here.  What I also love about these meatballs is that they can be fried or baked (I personally preferred baked), and they’d probably work wonderfully on the BBQ as well.  I served the keftas with a side of raisin and almond couscous, which is easy to prepare whilst the meatballs are cooking.  I’m also submitting these keftas to this month’s Simple and in Season over at Fabulicious Food! since lamb is in season here, and this recipe is definitely super simple to prepare!

Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

Serves 3-4
Keftas adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant
Couscous recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

I thought there was a little too much onion when I made these, so I’ve reduced the quantity in the recipe given here (so yours won’t look quite as oniony as the photos in the post).  Don’t be put off by the number of spices in the recipe – if you’re missing one you can probably get away with leaving it out, particularly if it’s a spice that you don’t often (or ever) use.  The skewers are optional, but fun.  I’ve read that you should soak skewers in water before using them so that they don’t burn when cooking, but I forgot to do this and didn’t have a problem with burnt skewers.

Ingredients

For the keftas:
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
500g minced lamb
1 medium onion
Bamboo skewers (optional)
1½ tsp olive oil (if frying)

For the couscous:
75g raisins
½ tbsp olive oil
150g wholemeal couscous
50g flaked almonds
Knob of butter
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Place the raisins for the couscous in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave to soak whilst preparing the rest of the meal.

To make the keftas:
2.  If cooking the meatballs in the oven, pre-heat to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.

3.  Add the spices to a large bowl and stir together.  Add the lamb to the bowl and mix well with your hands so that the spices are evenly distributed.

4.  Finely chop the onion and mix it in with the lamb.  Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, slightly flattening them.  Slide the meatballs onto the skewers (this is optional, particularly if baking the keftas, but recommended if frying them or cooking them on the BBQ).

5.  If baking the meatballs then place them in an oven-proof dish and bake for about 25 mins until browned all over and cooked through.  If frying them, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the meatballs and fry for 7 mins before turning them over and frying a further 7 mins.  If BBQing, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.

To make the couscous:
6.  Meanwhile, prepare the accompanying couscous.  Drain the raisins and pour the soaking water into a measuring jug. Set the raisins aside.  Top the raisin soaking liquid up to 175 ml with water and to a saucepan.  Add the olive oil and bring to the boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, add the couscous, stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow the couscous to soak up the liquid (this should take about 10 mins).

7.  Toast the flaked almonds until fragrant in a frying pan over a medium heat, taking care not to let them burn.  Once the couscous is ready, add a knob of butter and fluff up the grains with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper and add the ground cinnamon, raisins and almonds and stir through.  Cover to keep warm until the keftas are ready.

8.  Serve the keftas immediately, accompanied by the couscous, sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

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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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An (utterly delicious) egg-free birthday cake!

It’s birthdays galore in the lab this week with both the technicians celebrating their birthdays – one yesterday, and one tomorrow, but she’s taking the day off so we celebrated today.  We’ve named it Technician Week.  Birthdays mean cake, and we don’t do things by halves in the lab so it’s been cake galore over the past two days.  Brownies and cake yesterday, and then two more cakes and biscuits today (plus all of yesterday’s leftovers).  We’re set for the week.  I was in charge of Monday’s birthday cake, which was for the technician who doesn’t eat egg.  The girl who was organising the present and card doesn’t like chocolate, so I needed to find a (reliable) cake recipe without egg and without chocolate.  Quite a challenge, particularly since I didn’t want to go down the vegan route – my limited experience with vegan baking so far hasn’t been particularly spectacular and a birthday is not the occasion to attempt to rectify that.

I searched for some tips on egg-free baking, and found several credible-seeming sites that suggested that you can often substitute half a mashed banana in cake recipes calling for just one or two eggs as apparently it has similar binding properties and still keeps the cake moist.  Obviously this won’t work if you need to separate the eggs or anything, but it’s a good to know.  The next step was to find a cake recipe that only called for one or two eggs (and didn’t have any chocolate), which was a little more elusive than I expected – most seem to ask for at least three.  A Treasury of New Zealand Baking came up trumps with a spiced date cake recipe requiring only one egg.  The original recipe was for a 20 cm cake, and that seemed a little small for a birthday cake so I doubled it.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% convinced that the banana trick was going to work, so I spent quite a while crossing my fingers whilst it was baking away.  The original recipe is supposed to be made in the food processor, adding ingredients as you go along.  Apparently my food processor had other plans, however, and instead of putting together a cake, it decided to make a strange noise, die and then emit a heck of a lot of smoke.  Marvellous timing.

So I reverted back to my trusty electric whisk to rescue the situation, which thankfully it did with flying colours (and no flying batter).  Luckily the taste of the cake wasn’t affected by the food processor mishap.  In fact, the cake was utterly delicious with the spices and the date flavours coming through wonderfully.  And it wasn’t at all dry, which is what I was most worried about (and had to wait until it was cut to find out whether it had really worked or not).  I covered it in cream cheese icing, piped some little fish on top and boom, a marine-themed birthday cake!  By the way, all the photos were taken on my phone and in the foyer or in our printer room (the only part of the lab we’re allowed to have food), so I apologise for the quality and slightly odd set-ups.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go claim the warranty on my food processor and then have a little lie-down after two days of cake…

Spiced date cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The un-iced cake will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight box, so it can be prepared in advance.  The iced cake will keep for about 2 days in an airtight box.  Any leftover icing will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge.  If you need the icing to be smooth for piping, I’d recommend using lemons extract instead of lemon zest.  The cake can also be decorated with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and a handful of toasted walnuts.

Ingredients

For the cake:
500g pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250 ml boiling water
220g caster sugar
220g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ mashed banana
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ¼ tsp lemon extract

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and place them in a heat-proof bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda.  Pour the boiling water over them, stir and leave to soak for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Set aside.

2.  Butter the base and sides of a deep (mine is about 5 cm) 24 cm round cake tin.  Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper (even if your tin is non-stick).  Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Add the mashed banana and mix well.

4.  Add the flour, baking powder, spices, dates and the soaking liquid to the butter mixture and whisk until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

5.  Bake for about 1h10 (start checking after 1h) until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is fully cooled, transfer it to a serving plate and prepare the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the cream cheese, cubed butter and the lemon zest or extract.  Whisk together with an electric whisk until white and fluffy (I kept aside about 2 tbsp for the orange piped icing), then spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife.  Decorate as you wish.

Enjoy!

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