Sunday, December 30, 2012

On my Bookshelf: Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache

I want to share with you what I spent most of Christmas Day reading. The book that has inspired me to get back into the kitchen after my marathon Christmas cooking bout, and to get back to writing again to boot!

Really, what's not to love about this book? From title, to photos, to the writing and recipes. This book is proudly devoted to the total indulgence of the senses and is written by a woman who understands cake completely - from its chemistry to its soul, via the emotional needs it fills. 
"Of all foods, cake is the most fun and, as such, shouldn't belong only to the elite (those with fast metabolisms who just "don't diet", those who have no intolerences to wheat or dairy, or who have never had to take into account gall-bladder or cholestrol related concerns.)"
This is no ordinary book of cakes, with the same old recycled recipes. No ma'am! These are cakes which are good for the body and the soul. A must-have for all those needing low fat, low GI, dairy free or gluten free recipes. Instead of  butter and wheat flour, she uses a combination of ground almonds, rice flour and vegetables - sweet potato, carrot, courgette, pumpkin, butternut squash, potato and even swede!

Usually healthy baking books are written by health nuts whose taste buds have been killed off by years of dedicated tofu eating and wheat grass smoothies, and so flavour or texture are compromised, because having been sugar, dairy and everything else free for so long, they are frankly delighted to find anything sweet that they can eat. 

Not so Harry, who reassuringly says: "I didn't write this book because I'm obsessed with healthy food. I wrote it because I adore cake." And this love of cake shines through the pages. It's pretty, girly and voluptuous!

Recipes include: Forbidden (beetroot) Brownies, Steamed Golden Syrup Pudding (turnip),  Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake (courgette), Parsnip Vanilla Fudge, not forgetting the eponymous Chocolate Heartache (aubergine!) and Red Velvet (beetroot) cakes.

These recipes have been tried and tested meticulously, and as an avid baker, reading her testing diaries was fascinating. I can't wait to try most of them. And share them with you here!

Harry Eastwood first launched her career co-presenting the TV series and book Cook Yourself Thin. She has built her reputation on real food that's better for you. Having previously known her from TV, I had no idea what a superb writer she was. The way she describes the personalities of each of the cakes is inspired. Take her "Autumn Apple and Cider Cake": 
"This cake is dignified. She takes her time but is never late, and hates shop-bought marmalade. She always remembers your birthday, and her presents are tied with real ribbon. Patient and wise, this cake is a warm shawl against the biting wind and the death of the year."
Though full of virtuous cakes, which will top up your fibre and micro nutrients, rather than your cholesterol, this book is anything but worthy. True decadence!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Traditions: Fresh cranberry choc chip cookies

These are a recent Christmas tradition for me. A discovery from Rose Levy Beranbaum's festive book: Rose's Christmas Cookies. They are by necessity a seasonal treat in a world where you can have anything you want year round, as they require fresh cranberries which we can only get for a couple of weeks in early December. Frozen cranberries don't work and dried cranberries just don't cut it for these jewelled wonders.

Just a gentle suggestion, but you might want to double the quantities. That's if you're willing to share. But the heavenly smell wafting from the oven of chocolate, orange and toasted walnuts will mean that your secret won't be safe for long!

Makes 30

Preheat oven to 170C
50g walnuts, toasted
160g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Zest of one orange, removed with potato peeler and finely chopped
75g granulated sugar
80g soft light brown sugar
110g soft butter
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g fresh cranberries
150g dark or white choc chips or chunks

Cream the sugars and butter with an electric whisk till light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest. Add flour and baking soda, mix till combined. Chop the cranberries (the bigger they are, the juicier, and therefore soggier, the final cookies) and walnuts, add and stir by hand to combine.

Spoon mix out onto lined baking sheets, a heaped tablespoon for each. Don't overcrowd. It will make 30, so you will need to use 3-4 baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-15mins, turning the sheets halfway through cooking. They should be golden and still soft. Leave to cool for a couple of mins on the baking sheet before tranfering to a wire cooling rack.

Christmas Traditions: Our Simple Gingerbread House

One of our Christmas traditions is making a gingerbread house. We never had gingerbread houses in my childhood, but I loved the magic of them in stories of Hansel and Gretel: an edible house, covered in sweets - the food of every child's dreams.

This is a quick, simple melt-it-down, one pan method for yummy gingerbread, which I originally got from a kids' TV show! I have adapted it a little, but it's still super simple.

My children range from 2-7 and all helped in all the processes bar one. Sticking the house together with molten toffee is an adult's only job. Please be careful! I manage to burn myself every year!

We decorate it all together, so it is homely rather than super-fancy, but if it was too pretty we wouldn't want to eat it, and that's half the fun! My children love making it as much as eating it. It gets softer and chewier the longer it is left out. We usually admire ours for a couple of days before demolishing it with friends for a festive tea party.

See my personal blog for the mayhem that ensued when we made ours this year: Those Infamous Words: Let's Make a Gingerbread House

Preheat oven to 180C


100g butter
50g white sugar
50g soft brown sugar
200g golden syrup
400g self raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

150 g caster sugar

1 pack of royal icing mix or 300g icing sugar sieved and mixed to a thick icing with a little water (and a couple of drops of lemon extract)

To decorate - chocolate buttons, Smarties, dolly mixtures...

First make the gingerbread. Melt sugars, syrup and butter gently in a pan. Remove from the heat. Stir in flour and spices. Stir until combined.

Pour onto a non stick sheet of parchment. Roll out to about 2mm thick. Cut out.

You will need:
2 long walls 10 cm x 25 cm - you can cut doors and windows out of it now, or ice them on later.
2 end walls 10 cm wide with a triangle on top.
Two roof pieces 25cm x 8cm.
Chimney:four pieces 2cmx 4cm, cut a triangle out of the base of two so it  attaches to the roof.

Cook for 10-15 mins, keep a careful eye on them so they don't go too dark around the edges. Cool on a wire rack before icing. Un-iced they keep well for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin, and are crisp. Iced they keep fine but are soft.

Whilst they are cooling, melt the sugar for the toffee in a pan until it is light conker colour. (remember no kiddies involved here!) Do not stir! Take off heat as it will continue cooking. Plunge into a bowl or sink of cool water. Then quickly, but carefully, use a spoon and run a line of toffee down the inner edge of one of the long wall, super fast, attach a short wall to it. Do the same with the other two walls. Then the rooves, and then stick the chimney together in one piece before attaching it to the roof. If the toffee starts to cool and get too hard, just pop it on the heat for a couple of minutes to soften.

Then mix up the royal or water icing. Use a piping bag, or spoons to cover the roof, make snowy windows etc. Cover with sweets as you go. Chocolate buttons cut in half or overlapped make great roof tiles!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...