January 31, 2013

Polenta Chocolate Cake

Robin, 9 January 2013, “Varieties of Short”

8 oz dark chocolate, preferably G&B’s own either 70% or—recommended—the blow-your-socks-off 85% cocoa solids dark chocolate, which is intense.  I find it a little too intense for plain eating but the sock-blowing thing happens when you bake with it.

125g (4 ½ oz) good quality slightly salted butter

5 large eggs, separated

150g (5 oz) granulated sugar.  The original recipe calls for caster, which is finer-grained.  I like granulated, which seems to me to leave a faint residue of grittiness even after baking, although I may be hallucinating this.

100g (3 ½ oz) polenta.  Again, the original recipe stipulates fine.  In my experience this cake doesn’t really rise anyway, it falls.  It’s going to be gooey and sticky whatever you do.  I like the slight grittiness of not-quite-fine polenta.  All those eggs will stop it from being heavy, so if you like gritty, go for not-quite-fine.  I also prefer yellow to white.  This may also be hallucination but I think the yellow has a stronger flavour.

The original recipe also calls for rum.  Feh.  I like rum, in its place, but this isn’t its place.  I use about two tsps of good vanilla—and I haven’t posted a recipe in a while, but you all remember my doodah about GOOD vanilla, right?  None of this vanilla flavouring scam.  Get the real thing.

The original recipe tells you to butter and flour a 10” deep-sided springform cake tin.  I don’t.  This is going to be STICKY so I want it shallow so I can get it out better.  Springform is fine but I don’t think they make shallow springform?  Dunno.  But you could have chocolate-polenta goo all over your counter if you took the sides off too soon.  I use an ordinary big flat cake tin, butter and flour it AND THEN line with parchment paper and butter and flour again.

Melt the chocolate and butter in your bain-marie, let cool, vigorously beat in egg yolks one at a time, and then beat in about half the sugar.  It should be so gorgeously thick and creamy you have trouble not saying ‘bag the polenta’ and eating it as is.

Beat the egg whites with the rest of the sugar.  You want it as airy as possible but as I say, this cake is going to fall so don’t kill yourself over this.

Stir the polenta and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.

Finally ‘fold in’ the egg whites as the cookbooks always say, like this is going to work. You do want to preserve as much of the air and structure as possible, but it is going to collapse, so don’t let this disturb you.  Stir gently, till it’s shiny and homogenous.

Pour, still gently, into the cake pan, smooth the top, and bake at 350F/180C.  The original recipe says 40 minutes, but it’s supposing a deep-sided pan.  Because I am a twit, I have not written down how long I expect it to take.  I’d guess about half an hour.  It will change colour and look like it’s trying to turn into a cake . . . but as I say, think sticky.  Then take it out of the oven and let sit FOR A VERY LONG TIME.  Unless you want chocolate-cornmeal soup.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It WILL SINK as it cools.  Not to worry.

Dust it with icing sugar.  Then cut it up kindly and patiently into squarish globs.

Rhubarb Bars

Robin, 31 January 2013, “Cheerful Things”


¾ c plain/unbleached white flour

¼ c ground oatmeal:  whizz ordinary porridge oats in your blender or food processor.  You can also leave them whole, but in this case I like the texture better ground.

8 T lightly salted butter, room temperature, chopped up in preparation to being smushed into the flour and oatmeal

5-6T icing/confectioner’s sugar

1 egg white for glazing


1 large egg, room temperature

½ c caster/granulated sugar.  I know, caster is finer grained.  It’s not going to matter here.

¼ c dark brown sugar.  You can cut this down to 2 T and replace with 2 more T of the white.  I like dark brown sugar.

2-6 T ordinary white flour

4 c sliced rhubarb.  NOTE that both how thick you slice it and how much sugar and flour you use should vary with your rhubarb.  If it’s young and sweet and tender, cut big fat chunks and trim the sugar.  If the stalks look like the legs of sea monsters, slice more severely.  If it’s really wet, add more flour.  If it’s relatively dry, add less.

Optional:  1 tsp cinnamon

Or handful of fresh mint leaves, slightly shredded

If you have a food processor, you can make the pastry in it.  I have one but I still make pastry with a knife or the back of a spoon and one hand.†  Stir the flour and oatmeal and sugar (and cinnamon if you’re using it) together and then cut in the butter.  You want to rub it together till it’s reasonably homogenous but don’t suffer over it.  If you’re using unground oatmeal, add it last, after the pastry is mostly finished.  Press this into the bottom of an 8” square pan and glaze with the egg white.  The original recipe tells you to tip the pan back and forth.  My egg whites do not behave very helpfully.  I use either my fingers or a brush.  If you have any egg white left over—this should be a glaze, not a pond—tip it out.  Bake 350°F about 25 minutes.  Take it out and let cool.

Whisk the egg.  Whisk in the flour and sugar.  Stir in the rhubarb.  When the pastry is cool enough that you can pick the pan up in your bare hands, pour the rhubarb over, and put this in the oven for about an hour.  Cool COMPLETELY before cutting, and chances are, rhubarb being rhubarb, you’ll still be serving it in bowls.  Sprinkle mint leaves over, if you like mint leaves.

Less (Almost) Instant Chocolate Gratification, But Still Pretty Fast

Robin, 21 Jan 2012, ‘Death-deflecting Chocolate’

10 oz dark chocolate

6 T butter

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla

1 c granulated sugar

1 ¼ c plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

Reserve about 2T of the sugar.

Melt chocolate and butter together and cool. Beat the egg, then beat in the sugar till light and pale. Add the chocolate mixture when it’s cool enough not to cook the egg** and the vanilla. Then add the flour. If it gets too stiff to stir easily, knead the rest in.

Break off bits of the dough and roll cookies into big round pebbles the size of walnuts. (I do this between my palms. Some people prefer a table.) Roll in the reserved sugar. Then space out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I squish them very lightly with a finger so they don’t roll around. They will not be pretty if they turn themselves from free electrons into molecule clumps. Ahem. You can get the lot on a single baking sheet, but use all the space, they do spread.

400° for 8-10 minutes. They crack all over.

They don’t take nearly as long to cool as the refrigerator bars do to set.

Mettlesome Muffins

Robin, 18 June 2011, ‘Really Ratbaggy Weather and Suitable Distractions’

1 egg

3 T butter

¾ c strong tea

1/3 to ½ c honey:  this is going to vary both with how sweet you want your muffins and how runny your honey is.  I’m always going on in my recipes about how individual ingredients vary.  Honey more so than most.  Honey is actually fairly tricky to bake with, but muffins are pretty accommodating.

Melt the butter, let cool;  beat the egg, add the honey, then the tea, then the melted butter.

1-2 c wholemeal/wholewheat flour.  You want about 1 ½ c flour total, but if you want to use some white flour to lighten it, use up to ½ c.

½ c (dry) oatmeal

1 T baking powder

If you like cinnamon (I often put cinnamon in my tea), you can add 1 tsp ground

Mix all this dry stuff together, then stir in quickly to the wet.  I recommend using a whisk.  It’s true that lumps will (probably) bake out, but they make me nervous.†††

Plop in about 12 muffin cups, which you’ve either buttered first or put paper muffin cups in.  About 20 minutes at 400°F.  They should puff up beautifully, and the tops should be pretty hard.  And if you wanted to brush them, when they come out of the oven, with a little honey thinned with a little water, that would be good too.  If you want to you can run them back in the oven again for just about a minute more, to get a nice crackly effect from the honey wash.

††† I personally think the whole ‘don’t overbeat your muffin batter’ is kind of a bugbear.  But it’s true you beat only minimally, unlike a cake batter, say, where you want to see the batter change colour.

Cherry (Almond) Ice Cream

Robin, 12 July 2011, ‘Summer Fruit and Squishiness’

2/3 c milk

1 egg plus one extra yolk

½ c granulated sugar

¼ tsp vanilla

1 lb sweet cherries

1 ounce slivered almonds

2/3 c whipping cream

Scald milk, set aside to cool.  Mix the egg and the yolk in the top of a double boiler/bain marie with the sugar and beat like mad, till it turns pale and ribbons off the spoon.  (Your electric mixer is your friend.)    Pour on the slightly cooled milk;  place over gently simmering water and stir till thick.  Stir in the vanilla and leave to cool.

Stone your cherries.  Ugh.  This is the worst bit.  You will need more than a pound, of course, because you’ll eat some of them to sustain morale.  I’m not sure how to allow for this, since the original weight includes the stones, which you are discarding.  Make your best guess.  The original recipe tells you to put the stoned bits in a food processor and buzz them to puree, but I think this is unsporting.  I just kind of rip them up some in the stoning process.  You do want enough pulp to turn your ice cream red, but I don’t think you can avoid this with dark expoding-sweet high-summer cherries.  Stir them, in whatever form, into the custard.  Whip the cream till it forms soft peaks.  Fold into the cherry mixture.  Pour the lot into your ice cream maker and do what it tells you to do to produce ice cream.

While your custard is becoming ice cream, toast your almonds.  The original recipe tells you to fold them into the finished ice cream, but unless you’re going to eat it all in one go, I wouldn’t;  the almonds will go soft.  I sprinkle them on per serving.  This will, I admit, probably mean that you need more almonds, but hey.

Red Velvet Cake

Robin, 9 Oct 2011, ‘Geography and Chocolate’

½ c soft butter

1 ½ c golden sugar:  the raw, low-refined kind that isn’t the pure white of standard granulated.  It doesn’t have as much flavour as brown, but more than white, and it’s mellower than dark brown (and more interesting than light brown.  Say I).

2 large eggs

1 tsp REAL vanilla

2 c flour, or maybe a little more

¼ c unsweetened non-Dutch-process ‘natural’ cocoa powder

pinch salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 c buttermilk, or 1 c milk minus 1T, plus 1T vinegar to sour it.  I’ve been told many times this is cheating, but it’s a lot easier than finding buttermilk and then figuring out something to do with the rest of it.  Theoretically, I think, if you’re using vinegar, it should be skim or low-fat milk—‘butter’ milk is a misnomer—but I always used to use whole/full fat because that’s what I drank, and it worked fine.  Most of that soured-milk stuff works semi-interchangeably in baking—I always thought—you get a slightly different taste and texture if it’s sour cream or yogurt, say, but if your ingredients, especially your chocolate, are good quality it’ll all be silky—or velvety—and damnably excellent.

Standard cake deal:  cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Sift dry and add alternately with sour milk.  Beat hard, but don’t hang about either:  as soon as the vinegar hits the baking soda your batter starts expanding.  Turn into 2 8” or 9” round pans with removable bottoms which have first been buttered and floured with great enthusiasm and thoroughness.  (A greased and floured cut-out of parchment paper works just as well if you don’t have push-out-bottom pans.)  350°F about half an hour:  the layers should rise in the middle, and the edges start to pull away from the pan walls.  Let cool at least ten or fifteen minutes before you try and get them out of the pans.  I tend to think soured-milk cakes are more fragile than others, but that may just be my karma.

Frost when cool.  I recommend vanilla buttercream, myself, but as you like.

Baked ground-seed somewhat breadlike substance

Robin, 10 Nov 2011, ‘Bleeeech con’t, day two’

Start with an egg.  Beat it up.

Add ¼ c oil or melted butter.   Groundnut (peanut) oil is good.  If you like the flavour, olive oil is also good.  Beat together thoroughly.

Probably about 2c ground seed.  This is what Penelope used, and what I’ve used since:  http://www.linwoodshealthfoods.com/productdetails/36/milled_organic_flaxseed_sunflower_pumpkin_seeds.aspx And yes, it’s eye-openingly expensive—but your nonbread will be more filling than your average mere floury object too, and you can get away with thinking of it more as a vegetarian main course.  But stir in enough to make a softish but not runny batter—gooeyness more or less what you’d expect out of an ordinary tea or quick-bread batter.

You may want a little salt.  I like a little tamari.

When you’re happy with the texture, sprinkle or sift one or two (measuring) teaspoons of baking powder and one or two (measuring) teaspoons of dried herbs to your taste over your batter, and beat that in.

If you’d rather use fresh herbs, chop them up and add them before you add the baking powder because chances are they’ll dampen the batter a little more and you’ll have to adjust.  A big handful of parsley or coriander is good.  I don’t think fresh basil bakes all that well:  if you want basil, I’d use the dried.

Pour it into a round 8” pan.  I haven’t cared to find out just how sticky ground seed is, so I butter and flour the pan and put a circle of parchment paper in the bottom and butter and flour that too.

350°F for about half an hour.  It won’t rise, but the baking powder and the beaten egg seem to stop it from turning into a brick.  Bake till the edges are turning brown, and the middle is firm to a light touch.

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.

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