February 21, 2011

Sooty Cake

21 Aug 2010, Robin ‘Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote!!!!’.

125g butter

2 c plain flour

250 ml stout or porter: you want the darkest, richest beer you can find. The kind that has echoes on your tongue long after you’ve finished swallowing a mouthful. I live near the Best Pub in Hampshire and it makes a porter to die for. Except they don’t make it all the time. Sometimes you have to settle for draught Guinness.

2c dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/4c + cocoa: I use about 5T. You could try 6. I probably will the next time I make it.

1 tsp baking soda

Grease and flour an 8” cake pan with collapsible/detachable sides, although if you line it with parchment paper I’m sure you’d be fine with the solid kind. Heat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, and beat furiously. It’s going to curdle the minute you add the beer, so you want it as homogenous as possible at this stage.

Blend cocoa with a little of the beer in a separate bowl to make a kind of runny paste, then beat the rest of the beer into the butter/egg mixture. Beat in about half the flour, then sprinkle the baking soda over with about half the remaining flour and beat all that in. Then beat in the beer-cocoa, and last the final one-quarter of the flour. Beer is variable, like so much else in life and baking, and if your batter seems excessively liquid, add some more flour. First time I made this it didn’t rise properly—or rather it rose and then fell in the middle—but it cooked through and tasted great and even the texture was fine. Once I cut it up (supposing you are a master at the craft of cutting up fallen cakes to not show their fallenness, which I am) no one would guess. Next time I made it I allowed myself to paranoiacally add about another ¼ c of flour, and it behaved itself, but beer varies, especially, I think, home-made beer from the Best Pub in Hampshire. You’ll get a finer crumb, the less flour you think you can get away with, but this isn’t necessarily a cake that needs to be very fine.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 60-70 minutes, till it’s risen but (you hope) fairly firm in the middle and pulling gently away from the sides of the pan. Let cool a good half hour before you even try to get it out of the pan.

It’s very good with Earl Grey tea (if you like Earl Grey. Good Earl Grey, not perfumed floor sweepings). Just by the way.

Iced Chocolate Cookies

30 Oct 2010, Robin ‘PEGASUS and Cake, continued’.

3 c sifted plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

pinch salt‡

½ c cocoa powder

½ c butter

1 c granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

½ c buttermilk or soured milk

Sift the dry and set aside, mush‡‡ the butter and sugar together, beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Add half the sifted dry, beat, then the buttermilk, beat, then the rest of the dry. Beat hard. Drop on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets: 350°F about 12 minutes. They’ll still be softish, but the bottoms will be firm. (They may also subside a little as they cool. Don’t worry.)

Before they cool completely, ladle some frosting on them. Quantities and texture are up to you. If you want them to be really decorative, make your icing thin enough to pour, put the cookies on a rack that will be easy to wash later, and pour over. Finish the job with grated chocolate (after they’ve finished cooling). I tend to prefer the less artistic but more graphic approach, which is to say lots of frosting. I usually use about 3T butter, 3c icing sugar, 4 T milk and 1 ½ tsp vanilla.

‡ I have mixed feelings about salt. It does heighten the chocolateyness of chocolate, but . . . salt is everywhere. Like sugar. And here we’re concentrating on the sugar. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon salt. Good grief.

‡‡ The more you mush, which is to say cream, the smoother the eventual result. I find that beautifully thorough, cooking-school creaming is a bit wasted on cookies. It’s even more wasted on cookies that are about to be curdled by soured milk anyway. Cream enough to produce something relatively homogenous, and don’t sweat it.

Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie

30 Nov 2010, Robin ‘Morning-after Pumpkin Pie’.

1 9” unbaked pie crust

1 c mashed cooked or tinned pumpkin (DON’T use so-called ‘pumpkin pie filling’)

1 c apple butter: herewith begins the lecture. It all depends on your apple butter. You want something as thick as possible, and preferably not too sweet, but use what you like

¼ to ½ c dark brown sugar, depending on your apple butter

Again, the amount of spices you use will depend on the spiciness of your apple butter. So, approximately ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp ginger. I like sweet spices and would expect to use 1 tsp cinnamon, but if I’m using apple butter that I also made, this may be overkill

3 eggs

½ c evaporated milk

Probably a tablespoon or two of ordinary milk

Combine pumpkin, apple butter, brown sugar, spices. (Mush up the brown sugar in a little of the pumpkin first, so it’ll beat in smoothly.) Beat eggs together vigorously, then lightly into the pumpkin. Stir in about half the evaporated milk and look at what you’ve got. It should look gloppy but not runny. (It helps if you’re used to what ordinary pumpkin pie filling looks like raw. This will be darker and have more texture because of the apple butter, but it should be about the same consistency.) If it’s already runny, stop now. If it still looks kind of La Brea Tar Pitsy, stir in the rest of the evaporated milk. Now look at it again. If it’ll actually keep its shape in a spoon, that’s too gloppy: add a little milk. If it slowly oozes over the edge of the spoon—perfect.

Pour in the unbaked pie shell. I cover the edges with tin foil so they don’t burn. 400°F for about 10 minutes, then lower to 350° and start checking after about 20 more minutes. You want it set but not shrivelled, and you want to take the tin foil off the edges of the crust about 15 minutes before you take the pie out. I usually figure 45-50 minutes total.

As I recall it took me four days to get through it. It was gone by the weekend—I did have a friend round once for a cup of tea and a slice of pie. That was back in the days when I had a metabolism however . . . and also I lived alone, so if I wanted to have a glass of cranberry juice and a quarter of a pie for supper, it was my business.

Apple butter

4 Dec 2010, Robin ‘Pumpkin, winter, etc’.

Grah. I keep meaning to look for my old apple butter recipe, and keep forgetting. However. You don’t really need a recipe: Take your apples. Core, peel and chop them—and you don’t have to chop them fine, just chop them—put them in a large, heavy, wide-bottomed pan with as little water as you can get away with—or better yet, apple juice—and boil, gently, till they go mushy. At this point use a potato masher on them. I personally find this a lot less effort than all that chopping-small stuff. Depending on the tartness of your apples and how sweet you want your butter you’ll need somewhere around ¼ to ½ c sugar (brown or white: I like brown) per cup of apple pulp, and if you mix it in with a whisk you’ll get the last of the lumps out. Again, depending on how spicy you like your butter, you’ll want anywhere from about ¼ to 1 tsp of cinnamon per cup, and about half that of allspice Then turn the heat down to low and let it cook forever. If you want to stand there and stir it you can have the heat a little higher, and it’ll take a little less time but . . . not enough less. Stirring is one of the most boring occupations on the planet.† You should be in the same house with it, however, your large, heavy, wide-bottomed pot with your future apple butter in it, because you need to stir it occasionally and make sure it’s not sticking. It will eventually congeal into . . . apple butter. I don’t remember how long it takes, but it’s one of these put it together before lunch and it’ll be done by dinner things, and then you’ll have fresh apple butter for breakfast tomorrow. As you’d expect with something that slow-cooks and is full of spices, it improves with a little age.

I never bottled it the way you’re supposed to. A couple of big jars of apple butter in the back of the fridge didn’t last long enough to be a nuisance. And the way I make it—without stirring—if you made it in a big batch it would take FOREVER to cook down to sludge. My way it’s simple enough that doing it again is not a big deal.

One more warning: you lose a lot of pectin—the stuff that stiffens the applesauce it into something you can spread—by peeling and coring. The first time I made it I’d automatically peeled and cored, because that’s what you do before you cook apples, and then I reread the recipe and thought, oh, frell . . . and besides, sieving the muck to get the peels and cores out is again to me way too much like work, like endless stirring. So I did it my way and it still came out butter, and has always come out butter†† every other time I’ve made it my way. I don’t know if I’ve been extremely lucky in my apples, or what. So you might want to follow a proper recipe.

Sweet Cranberry-Cider Sauce

1 Jan 2011, Robin in ‘Happy New Year’.

1 lb cranberries

16 fluid oz British cider. Which is to say, alcoholic. If you can get British/hard cider, use whatever kind you like to drink, which is to say this is not the time to go cheap. If you can’t get hard cider, use about 1 ½ c ordinary cider and ½ c port, Madeira, sherry, or whatever of that kind of thing you have around. You ought to have something of this sort because it’s great for enlivening dull food. You could certainly use Calvados or some such but I think that’s getting on for apple overkill myself.

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp (ground) cloves

¼ tsp nutmeg

about ¼ c, somewhat depending on how dry your cider/etc is and how sweet you like your sauce, dark brown sugar

2 oz preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped, with its syrup

Put the cider in a pan with everything else except the preserved ginger. Bring to boil, boil gently till cranberries pop. Take off the heat, add the ginger. Let cool. Reheat just to warm to serve. You can warm the pudding too. I generally don’t, but you don’t want it cold from the refrigerator.

Linked in Robin’s post to ‘Sticky Cranberry Ginger Pudding’.

Spicy cranberry gingerbread pudding

1 Jan 2011, Robin ‘Happy New Year’.

The original recipe wants you to make eight individual puddings. You must be frelling joking. You’re already going to have to make the sauce as well as the pudding. Life is way too short to spend that much time buttering pudding basins, not to mention cleaning the suckers afterward, since in my experience putting them through the dishwasher is pretty futile. I don’t know, are there Miniature Pudding Basin Liners like there are paper muffin cups? The latter entirely revolutionised my baking half a million years ago when I discovered them, or someone started making them, which I think is what happened—some muffin-eating industrialist’s wife told him that paper muffin cup liners would not only mean he could have fresh muffins every day but that they would thereby be made wealthy***.

Anyway. In the absence of miniature pudding basin liners, you can make it in an 8” square pan, although a 6-cup Bundt is ideal because it looks pretty without being nearly so much work.†

1 ¾ c all-purpose flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp (ground) ginger

¼ tsp allspice

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

2 medium/large eggs, room temp

5 T soft butter

¼ c blackstrap molasses

¼ c dark brown sugar. If you’re a wimp you can use white sugar

1 heaped teaspoon freshly grated ginger root

4 oz preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped, with its syrup

about 1 c water

Sift the dry stuff together. Squash the butter and sugar together thoroughly, then add molasses, then eggs. Beat well. Then start adding flour alternately with water, and mixing each time, starting with flour: half the flour, then half the water, then half the flour . . . then stop. At this point add the two gingers (the ground went in with the spices in the dry), so you can judge how much water you’re going to need to make a good batter. I have found I need slightly less than the full 1c. Beat well again. If you are an electric-mixer person, use it. The batter should get very homogenous and very slightly paler.

Pour in your chosen WELL BUTTERED pan, and bake about half an hour at 350°F/moderate. It should look done like a cake looks done. Use a toothpick if you’re nervous. If it’s a Bundt, you’ll want to let it cool a bit and then turn it out; if it’s in a boring old brownie pan, you can just serve it from there.

Followed in Robin’s post with Sweet Cranberry-Cider Sauce

Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars

11 Feb 2011, Robin ‘Teeth, chocolate and bells’.

I realise that the concept of leftover chocolate is foreign to many of us, and once upon a time it would have been foreign to me too and at least mildly implausible to Peter. But that was Then. This is Now. Peter has mouth trouble and I have Post Menopausal Zero Metabolism. Meanwhile, however, we are notorious for loving chocolate, so people tend to give it to us. I do not wish to discourage this excellent habit. And furthermore now that I’ve invented Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars I may have to arrange for leftover chocolate henceforth.†

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 x 9” pan

¾ c butter

1 ¾ c sugar

2 large eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp REAL vanilla††

1 ½ c all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder††

½ c unsweetened cocoa powder

1 c chopped-up Leftover Chocolate. The point here is that it should be lots of different kinds. I had four or five different sorts plus some ginger fudge. Don’t chop too small or it’ll disappear in the baking.

Cream butter and sugar. I scrape with the spoon in my right hand and knead with my left. Better results sooner. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Then the dry stuff. Be sure everything is THOROUGHLY mixed. Then finally stir in the chopped-up chocolate.

Bake about half an hour. I started checking after about twenty minutes because there’s kind of a lot of chocolate involved and I wanted to make sure nothing untoward happened. It’ll still be slightly squidgy when you take it out, and I assume it’ll fall a little—mine did, but I was expecting it to. This is a sign of excellent chewy-squidginess-with-crunch-around-the-edges to come. I also wasn’t sure what the ginger fudge would do if it was baked so I sprinkled it over the top and put the pan back in the oven for five minutes, just to melt it enough to stick.

From a health and safety standpoint I have to admit these are not a great deal better than pure chocolate, but they are fearfully good. And they give you something to pass around during your handbell tea break.