Monday, 29 December 2008

Spiced Christmas Cake Revisited!

Am really getting into this gluten-free business. Except for the waffles on Christmas Eve, the last two cakes I've baked over the Christmas period have been without wheat flour, and I reckon they taste better than cakes with wheat.

This is basically an adaptation of the 'Spiced Christmas Cake with a flourless twist' from last week, otherwise known in my family as "Signe's new favourite cake"! All I did differently was replace the spices, with 4 tbsp cocoa powder to the butter while it was melting, and instead of whisky, I used the equivalent measure of brandy. Oh, and a bit more coffee (closer to half a mug). You could leave the spices in of course, if you like that Germanic Christmas cake flavour, but I went for the chocolate bonanza!

So, here's a redacted version of what is undoubtedly my new favourite cake of 2008! See below for how to make the icing...

Mocha Glaze:
  • 80g icing sugar, sifted
  • 80g butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp strong coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Simply place all the ingredients in a bowl, stir til it looks like a glaze, adjust ingredients to taste - I like mine quite strong, not too sweet - and then glaze the cake in as messy a fashion as you wish...

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

God Jul...

Or for those not fluent in Norwegian:  Merry Christmas!

Santa's arrived, we've had some delicious panettone for breakfast and all is right with the world. It occurred to me that nary a day's gone by this December when I haven't cooked or baked a dish using the following spices:
  • cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • nutmeg
  • cloves
And I hope to continue doing so into the new year...It's been wonderful re-discovering cloves, a pungent, rather medicinal spice integral to all Scandinavian and Germanic Christmas baking. But why shouldn't one use it throughout the year - in marinades when roasting pork, in cakes and cookies, or - as winter seems to be particularly fierce this year - in hot drinks? By mid-January I'll invariably grow bored of cloves but for the time being it's high on my list of ingredients.

Anyway, this family's been feasting, thankfully not just on cloves, in fact today the beloved waffle iron made an appearance - I've posted about Norwegian waffles before, and I'll probably do so again. Suffice to say we're fans of the humble waffle, and the recipe I posted in July was today given a yuletide boost by adding the aforementioned spices to the batter. Despite waxing lyrical about cloves, I erred on the side of caution and used only a pinch whilst adding double the cardamom, but you choose which you prefer. 

Waffles eaten warm with a dollop of brandy cream and some plum compote really is Christmas bliss...God Jul, as we say in Scandiland!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Spiced Christmas cake...with a flourless twist

Christmas can be quite unforgiving for those with a wheat intolerance, or Coeliacs. But given the array of fruit, nuts and spices on offer this time of year, it's actually the ideal occasion to bake gluten-free cakes - they can be wonderfully rich and moist, and usually keep better than their wheaten siblings.  I'm not coeliac myself, but a few enquiries about gluten free baking got me thinking it was high time I experimented with some alternatives to wheat flour.

So I thought I'd concoct this festive recipe using ground almonds and a very fine corn "flour" which resembles corn starch. You could also use gluten-free flour if you have it, or potato starch, but I happened to have the first two ingredients in the larder. 

The result? A light, yet moist yuletide cake, replete with all the good things in life - brown sugar, fragrant Christmas spices and a hint of whisky. Fabulous eaten on its own, or with a dollop of greek yogurt. Excellent, of course, with a steaming cup of tea or coffee...

Good tidings everyone!

  • 180g ground almonds
  • 120g corn Flour
  • 180g brown sugar
  • 1 pot (125g) greek yogurt
  • 100g melted butter
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 small shot espresso or 2 tablespoons strong coffee
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp clove
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp whisky or brandy (not essential, but this really deepens the flavour)
  • pinch salt


Preheat oven to 190C. Lightly grease a 22cm diameter cake tin, or a heart-shaped tin like you see in the photos (am spending Christmas with my parents, this is all I could find...)

You'll need a couple of mixing bowls: in the largest, sift all your dry ingredients: almonds, corn flour, sugar, spices, baking soda and salt

In the medium one, place your egg whites

In a small one lightly break up the egg yolks, and add the yogurt 

Start whisking the egg whites and bring them to stiff peak - see photo below. Add a teaspoon of sugar and whisk again to stiff peak

In the dry ingredients bowl, make a well and add the melted butter, coffee, whisky and egg/yogurt mix. Stir through so everything is evenly incorporated

Then take a spoonful of the beaten egg whites and add to the mixture to loosen it. Once you've done this, fold in the remaining egg whites, carefully circulating your spoon (like a figure 8 I was once told) until the egg white is mixed in and the mixture resembles a mousse consistency. This adds a bit of levity to your cake, so try not to over-fold at this point. If a few egg white splodges here and there pop up then panic not...

Finally pour this into your prepared cake tin and place on the central shelf of your oven. Turn down the heat to 180C after the first 10 minutes and continue to bake for 35-40 minutes. The photo here is of the mixture before it went in the oven:

and voila! here's the finished result:

* NB Ground almonds can be quite expensive, what I did with this cake was simply grind whole almonds in one of those Braun handblenders that has a chopping/magimix function. Works a treat! Also allows you to grind the almonds to a coarse consistency, rather than a fine, floury one...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A Festive Plum and Gingerbread Dessert

This is what happens when one has a hankering for something sweet, and there's no chocolate to reach for! 

I had the following ingredients:
  • Pepperkaker, or gingerbread as they're known in English 
  • Plum compote from my grandparents' farm
  • Plain yoghurt and a tub of Quark
The pepperkaker, I'm sorry to admit, are not homemade but from Ikea. Nothing wrong with Ikea, in fact these spicy cookies are delightfully crisp and moreish, but really if one's going to blog about baking well there should be some baking involved.

But if you happen to have an abundance of cookies in your larder this yuletide season, try this devilishly simple dessert:

All you do is combine equal quantities of yoghurt and quark, stir them together really well to get rid of any lumps.

Place this in a glass, either a pretty martini one as I did (see photo) or in any small cup/glass you have.

Then swirl some plum compote on top, or a compote of your choice - apple, pear, cherry or blueberry would all be excellent I reckon - then crush the gingerbread, sprinkle on top and voila! you've made the easiest, tastiest little dessert this Christmas...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Hurray for Waitrose Food Illustrated!

Waitrose Food Illustrated has a feature on the joys of Scandinavian baking! And long overdue it is too.

lf memory serves me right, the countdown to Christmas in Scandinavia tends to be less frenetic than here in the UK - there's lots of seasonal cheer and sociable gatherings, but not quite so much emphasis on getting absolutely sozzled. No offense to the Brits, but I wonder how some of you make it to the 25th without your livers going kaputt. 

Anyway, amidst the cold, snowflaked December days, Scandis sing their own version of Gloria or Tannenbaum (in my case, rather off key!) and many will bake goodies for their family and friends. The feast of Santa Lucia, celebrated on December 13th, is when we bake saffron buns and walk around with wreaths and candles in our hair. Or at least I did at the age of five...possibly not allowed anymore in these days of militant health & safety laws! And during the next few weeks many Scandinavian bakers will make cookies galore - everything from butter biscuits, gingerbread to lovely almond pastries (the latter were definitely my favourite), not to mention a whole host of raisiny yeast loafs. 

None of these beat the classic gingerbread house, or pepperkake hus which you might have noticed on the cover above...

What an excellent way to kickstart the yuletide season Waitrose! God Jul...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Lady Grey Chocolate Pudding Cake

A slightly bonkers recipe, am afraid dyslexia got the better of me on this one. Originally this was a recipe for an Earl Grey chocolate cake I found in a French chocolate recipe book. It sounded like the perfect rich cake with tons of dark chocolate and lots of fragrant bergamot from the Earl Grey to add a bit of pizazz. Lady Grey, the orange version of Earl Grey tea, is a particular favourite of mine so I decided to swap the latter for the former. Off I went, measuring the ingredients, happily steeping the tea in hot milk as instructed and then when it came to mixing everything together I had...chocolate soup. 

Now, I may be mistaken, but great chocolate cake generally does not start life as a soup. It should really be like a thick batter rather than liquid. However, having assembled said soup I thought I'd better go ahead and bake it. Hence the title - chocolate pudding cake. You see, I'd misread the measurements of milk as being 5 dl (500ml) instead of 5 cl (50ml), so there was 10 times as much liquid in the recipe as the recipe required!

The net result? A lot of chocolate pudding, with a rather delicious Lady Grey flavour! Plus ca change, baking wouldn't be fun if one didn't make mistakes now and again! 

Original recipe (probably delicious, just don't increase quantity of milk by 10x!)

180g butter
3 eggs
120g dark chocolate
1 tea bag - earl or lady you choose
150g sugar
180g flour
3 pinches salt
50ml milk

Preheat oven to 200 Celsius. Lighlty grease a tin.

In a saucepan, scald the milk and add the tea bag to infuse for 2 mins, or use loose tea if you have it.

Melt the chocolate in a bain marie. Cream the butter, add the yolks, the melted chocolate, then the flour and salt. Finally add the milk and stir through until it forms an even consistency

Separate the egg white from the yolk and using an electric whisk, beat the whites in a medium bowl til stiff peak. Add the sugar and bring the mixture to stiff peak again. Add a spoonful of this to the first mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest.

Bake for 45 mins to 1 hour, turning the heat down to 180 after 15 minutes. Enjoy with a cup of tea...