Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sticky Toffee Cake

I don’t remember the first time I ate sticky toffee pudding. Most of the time when I’ve been tempted by it as a menu option, it has followed a hearty pub meal, and these are times when I am more tempted by options such as brownies and ice cream or lemon tart. However, once I tried it I was sold on it. Not so sold that I’ll never again choose brownies and ice cream or lemon tart over sticky toffee pudding, but sold enough for it to always be a viable contender. A couple of weeks ago, it won the pudding-menu-option-fight and I had an average to good sticky toffee pudding. Since then, I’ve been craving more sticky toffee pudding. However, I decided to try making it in cake form rather than as a steamed pudding. This had the advantage not only of being much quicker to prepare but also meant that I was able to sneak a quick slice for ‘elevenses’ yesterday morning (not something I usually have). This is good served hot from the oven in the same way you would serve sticky toffee pudding (my preference is with custard, but, if you’re not familiar with this pudding, cream or ice cream also work well) or cold. The sauce on top sinks to the bottom to make a thin gooey layer, although this does seem to dry pretty quickly once the cake has been cut. The cup measurements below are all based on a 250 ml mug as equal to 1 cup and I baked it in a baking pan (actually a roasting tin) which measured about 12 inches long by 9 inches wide by 2 inches deep. This cake is quite sweet – decrease the sugar slightly if you’d prefer yours less sweet. You can also vary the taste slightly by using ground ginger in place of the mixed spice and/or add a generous handful of nuts, such as walnuts of pecans, either to the cake batter or sprinkled on top after adding the sauce. If you’d like extra sauce to serve alongside the cake, make another batch using the same quantities as those given below, but with extra milk or cream to bring it to an easy pouring consistency.


What you’ll need:

For the cake:

250 gram package of stoned dates

3/4 cup boiling water

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups self-raising flour

Pinch salt

1 heaped teaspoon ground mixed spice

For the sauce:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

What to do:

1. Roughly chop the dates. Put them in a heatproof bowl and then cover them with the water and set them aside for later.


2. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (180º C or 350º F) and grease the pan well with butter or margarine.

3. In a new, clean bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer.



4. Beat the eggs into the creamed butter and sugar, one at a time, with an electric mixer.





5. Sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and fold in.



6. Tip the soaked dates and any unabsorbed water into the butter/sugar/egg/flour mixture and fold in thoroughly. My batter looked slightly curdled at this stage – probably because my butter and eggs were pretty cool; however, it did not seem to affect the cake so don’t worry if yours looks curdled too.



7. Tip the cake batter into the greased pan and spread out evenly across the pan and then set aside whilst you make the sauce.


8. To make the sauce, put in a small saucepan the butter, sugar and milk and then put the pan over a low heat. You may need to give it a quick mix once or twice or swill the milk/melting butter around the bottom edges of the pan to ensure that all the sugar is incorporated. The butter and sugar should soon melt fully and the mixture will reach a rolling boil. Once this point is reached, keep the pan over the heat for a further minute or so, at boiling point, and then remove from the heat. Leave the sauce to cool in the pan for a minute or two.



9. When the sauce has cooled slightly, pour it over the top of the cake batter and then swirl it into the batter with the end of a butter knife.





10. Bake the cake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until done. You will need to test it but checking to see that it is beginning to pull away from the sides and is springy to the touch – a skewer may not come out clean as the sauce will have settled at the bottom of the pan and made a thin layer of gooey goodness. Please excuse the little bit of ‘quality control’ in the corner of the pan – I was initially confused when this came out of the oven as the cake looked cooked but I didn’t expect the gooey layer at the bottom and so was confused about why my skewer wasn’t coming out clean…


11. When the cake has cooked, remove it from the oven and either leave to cool in the pan on a cooling rack or serve immediately with your choice of sauces and accompaniments.



Monday, 10 September 2012

Hamburgers and Mustard Mayonnaise

I almost feel like this recipe is too simple to blog. But, unfortunately, after a couple of weeks of very little motivation to be in the kitchen and multiple failures when I have ventured into that particular room of the house, this is all I have to offer. I used to make hamburgers and meatballs with dry breadcrumbs and by adding raw onions and, when I used it, raw garlic to the raw meat mixture. However, that all changed when I made keftedes, Greek meatballs, from a recipe in an awesome Greek recipe book given to me by J. The book, which I would recommend highly, is called Culinaria Greece: Greek Specialities, edited by Marianthi Milona and published by h.f.ullman (2004/2007). This recipe uses the great ideas of pre-cooked onions and pre-soaked bread learned from that recipe. This makes six good sized burgers.
What you need:
1-2 slices of white bread
1 onion
500-600 gram pack of beef mince
1 egg
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh or dried herbs – I used dried oregano
Salt and pepper
3 dessertspoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Squeeze of lemon juice
6 hamburger rolls and trimmings of choice, such as sliced lettuce and tomato.
What to do:
1. Put the bread in a bowl and cover with cold water to soak.
2. Chop the onions finely. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and then soften the onions in the hot oil.
3. Squeeze the water out of the bread (if you’re not sure, gather the soaked bread together in your hand and then squeeze it gently in the same way you might squeeze water out of a sponge) and then put the bread, cooked onions, mince and egg into a large mixing bowl with a generous sprinkling of herbs and some salt and pepper. Mush all the ingredients in the bowl together until they are fully combined. I do this by hand. It is a messy but fun business!
4. Divide the meat mixture into six roughly equal portions and then shape each portion into a hamburger patty. I find that the best way to do this is to shape each portion into a large ball and then to pat the ball flat, smoothing the edges into a circle every so often as I pat down the top and bottom.
5. Cook the hamburger patties by shallow-frying them in a frying pan with more hot oil, or lay them on a baking tray, on a sheet of greaseproof paper and bake in a pre-heated oven on gas mark 5 (190º C or 375º F) for about 30 to 40 minutes, turning once, or until brown on both sides and cooked through. Please excuse the terrible picture below – natural light had pretty much disappeared for the day by the time these had finished cooking.
6. To make the mustard mayonnaise, mix together thoroughly the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice. Taste and adjust each ingredient according to your preference.
7. To assemble, prepare your hamburger rolls according to your preference – my preference is lightly toasted and buttered – and then add a patty and a generous dollop of mayonnaise to each roll along with any other hamburger trimmings I have to hand. Eat immediately.