Watalappan (Sri Lankan coconut milk custard)

Sri Lankan watalappan with mango and bananaAnother week, another Sri Lankan feast! This time, my husband cooked lots of rice and curry for our friends, and I made a dessert that we had a fair bit of when we were on honeymoon – watalappan, a set custard made with jaggery, coconut milk and lots of spices.

This is a great dinner party recipe, as it can be made in advance and left in the fridge until required. I used this recipe by Peter Kuruvita, who has also written a brilliant Sri Lankan cookbook that we use and that apparently is considered something of a bible by chefs in Sri Lanka!

I followed the recipe exactly, but I served it with toasted fresh coconut, in-season Indian mango and sliced Keralan bananas, which were the closest thing we could find to the bananas we ate a lot of in Sri Lanka. I also drizzled the plate with golden syrup as recommended by Kuruvita as a substitute for palm syrup.

The only tricky thing was baking the custards – they seemed to take longer than stated, but I reckon that’s just my oven rather than the recipe being at fault. They did eventually cook after I turned the heat up slightly.

The resulting dessert was rather wonderful – the sweet, spiced coconut custard combined with juicy mango and flavoursome bananas offered a perfect balance of flavours. It’s a great recipe to use if you’re planning a Sri Lankan or Indian feast and want an easy dessert that will impress!

Save

Caraway seed cake

Caraway seed cakeI’ve been meaning to make this Victorian caraway seed cake ever since I got my hands on Paul Hollywood’s British Baking recipe book. There’s nothing much to shout about in terms of huge flavours and spectacular presentation; it’s just a simple, old-fashioned cake to have with an afternoon brew – but that’s exactly what appeals to me about it!

The cake is very similar to a Madeira cake in terms of the texture and flavour of the base sponge. The crumb looks very dense, but it’s actually very light and not at all onerous to eat. The addition of caraway seeds (which have a citrusy, aniseed flavour), lemon zest, brandy and nutmeg, however, make this a different beast to your standard Madeira cake.

Caraway seed cake
The cake should have a flat top after it’s baked, but mine ended up with a rather spectacular peak in the middle, which I’m just going to put down to my uneven oven:

Caraway seed cake
Isn’t that rather impressive?!

Anyway, overall I would say that this cake gets a definite thumbs up from me. It does sound a bit dull, but it’s anything but. The aniseed flavour is really unusual, and the lemon and nutmeg really do prevent the cake from being a one-flavour wonder. If you like old-fashioned cakes, you can’t go far wrong with a caraway seed cake!

Caraway seed cake
I can’t find the recipe I used online, as I got it from the book, but I think you could take your pick of any of the other seed cake recipes out there and simply add lemon zest and nutmeg if they’re not already in there. This recipe looks like a good starting point!

Jamaican ginger cake

Jamaican ginger cake
Like many people, I have fond childhood memories of my mum bringing home a certain brand’s Jamaican ginger cake from the shop as a treat, before we all demolished it rather quickly over a nice cup of tea. I’ve made a few ginger cakes before that recall the unique flavours and/or texture of Jamaican ginger cake, but I thought it was about time that I actually attempted to bake the real thing!

I used a recipe from my Delia’s Cakes book for this – it’s also available online on her website. I stuck to it faithfully, except for substituting dark brown sugar for dark muscovado – I don’t think it made that much of a difference, really.

Jamaican ginger cake
The only other thing I mistakenly did is use a too-large loaf tin. I’m so used to baking with metric measures that I mistook Delia’s instruction to use a 2lb tin for an instruction to use a 2kg tin! As it’s the only loaf tin I own, I pressed ahead and just removed the cake from the oven a little early to prevent over-baking.

The method for making the cake itself is really straightforward. I was most excited by the array of spices that go into the cake – not just ginger, but also cinnamon and nutmeg. Not to mention the inclusion of both golden syrup and black treacle. Oof!

Jamaican ginger cake
The resulting bake really was just like the Jamaican ginger cake from my childhood – but nicer! I seem to remember the shop-bought version as being quite soft in texture with a large crumb, while Delia’s take makes for a more close-textured cake that’s still incredibly moist. The top of the cake is still nicely sticky, as it should be!

Rock cakes

Rock cakes
I fancied making something quick and easy the other week, so I opened my newly acquired Delia’s Cakes book and landed on this recipe for rock cakes.

I can’t really remember the last time I had a rock cake, but I had a vague idea of them being a bit cakey and a bit biscuity (but most likely to be biscuity if they’re not homemade). This recipe actually gets the balance spot on – especially when you have one that’s still a bit warm from the oven!

Rock cakes
The main flavours come from mixed dried fruit, nutmeg and mixed spice. I used flame raisins and mixed peel for the dried fruit, and stuck to the spices specified by Delia (although you could use anything you like, really).

You start making the dough as if you’re making scones or shortbread – by rubbing butter into flour and sugar to create ‘breadcrumbs’. Everything else goes in to create what Delia calls a “stiff dough”, but what I call a bit of a crumbly mess! Luckily, it’s a crumbly mess that holds together long enough to shape into rough peaks.

Rock cakes
The rock cakes were baked in just under 20 minutes and were ready to eat not long after that. They were absolutely delicious – buttery and soft on the inside and crumbly on the outside. The fruit and spices went very well together – the flavours reminded me a bit of Christmas! I can imagine the recipe working well with other spices too, such as cinnamon and cardamom.

This is a great recipe to make if you want something nice with a cup of tea, but can’t be bothered making a proper big cake – and do try the rock cakes warm!

Rock cakes

Ginger nut biscuits

Ginger nut biscuits
Well, hello! It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve finally got my act together to blog about these rather stupendous ginger nut biscuits I baked yesterday.

I have been baking – I’ve actually made three (!) batches of mince pies since I last posted! As I’ve already said pretty much everything there is to say about them, though, I won’t subject you to more of the same.

Back to the ginger nuts. Felicity Cloake of the Guardian wrote a column earlier in the week with a recipe for her perfect ginger nut biscuits, based on extensive research as always and with copious amounts of spices, including two types of ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. I do love a good ginger nut or five (with compulsory tea dunking) and just so happened to have all of the ingredients in, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The recipe starts off with a pretty basic method for making biscuit dough. I used my stand mixer, which took a lot of the legwork (or should that be armwork?) out of things. I hit a stumbling block when it came to the rolling and chilling, though.

Ginger nut biscuits

Ginger nut biscuits, pre-baking

The recipe calls for the dough to be rolled out to 1cm thick before being wrapped in clingfilm and refrigerated for a couple of hours. Now, the thought of attempting to wrap a large, fragile piece of flat dough in pesky clingfilm worried me somewhat, so I thought I’d split the dough in two to make things simpler. It was still a faff, though, and the dough kept breaking. Next time I’ll cut out the biscuits first and chill them on the trays to make things a bit simpler.

It was plain sailing from then on. Baking was straightforward and the biscuits were indeed baked to perfection after 25 mins (although you can’t really tell because the dough is already dark by this point, and doesn’t change colour in the oven). This is only if they stay on the top shelf for the duration – I did a bit of swapping of trays across the top and middle shelf to try to get an even bake, but ended up with some slightly softer ones – ideally, the biscuits should have a bit of a snap to them.

Ginger nut biscuits
Regardless of whether they were properly baked or not, the biscuits ended up being absolutely delicious. I found them to be a bit spicier than your average shop-bought ginger nut, which is excellent, and perfect for dunking in a good strong brew. The crystallised ginger really makes these biscuits special, and well worth the effort if you have a craving for a good quality ginger biscuit. All in all, I would most certainly make these again!

Ginger nut biscuits
The recipe

Can be found on the Guardian website here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/nov/20/how-to-make-perfect-ginger-nut-biscuits

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake
As mentioned in my last post, I had to spend a good deal of time breaking into a hefty pumpkin for the sake of 250g of flesh. I had much, much more left over, so I poked around the internet looking for a recipe ideal for using it up until I came across this pumpkin and coconut loaf cake recipe.

You can guess why I seized upon it – yep, it was the coconut that did it. Most of the other recipes I’d looked at were variations on pumpkin pie/bread/pasta in predictable flavour combinations, so this stood out to me for being a little different. And for containing coconut.

One thing I should stress straight away is just how MASSIVE this loaf cake ended up being. There’s no indication of the sheer size of it in the method, but the ingredients list should have tipped me off – 600g of pumpkin? 500g of self-raising flour? Yep, massive. Luckily, it all fit in my standard sized loaf tin (900g/2lb), although there was a fair bit of ‘puffing’ over the sides. I scoff at the recipe’s statement that the loaf serves six people. Six very very hungry people, maybe!

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake

LOOK AT HOW BIG IT IS

During the prep, I did find that the chopped pumpkin wasn’t cooked through within the time specified in the recipe, so I whacked the heat all the way up to gas mark 3 and left it in for a bit longer, which did the trick. Ditto when it came to baking the cake – there was SO MUCH MIX that it took far longer than 50 minutes to cook. I would say it was close to 1.5 hours when it was done (and I had to cover the top with foil to stop it burning at around the 1 hour mark).

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake mix

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake mix

I thought it was a little odd that the recipe calls for relatively little coconut compared with all the pumpkin and flour, but I actually stuck to the recipe for once in my coconut-obsessed life and didn’t chuck in loads more. I should have gone with my instincts, as the coconut flavour ended up being rather subtle for my tastes.

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake

Still, it was a delicious cake, especially with all the spices. I love baking with cloves and truly appreciated the delicious smells wafting through the house while the cake was in the oven!

I would make this again if I ended up with a ridiculous amount of pumpkin to use up again, but I would probably put in at least 75g of coconut, just to make sure…

Pumpkin and coconut loaf cake
The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Food website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/pumpkin_and_coconut_loaf_07996

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
We had our office Halloween bake sale yesterday, and I was still dithering over what to make up until last weekend, when I saw these rather lovely-looking spiced pumpkin brownie pies on Sunday Brunch.

I have to admit that I do roll my eyes a little whenever I see a recipe combining two or more things that should really be separate – anyone who’s on Pinterest will know what I mean when I say something like ‘salted caramel brownie cookie cake pie with muffin buttercream’. It’s just overkill and, as much as I like a calorific snack every now and then, those kinds of recipes really do sound like a heart attack waiting to happen.

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies 7
However, I was rather taken with these pies, particularly the spiced shortcrust pastry and the pumpkin puree combined with maple syrup. The recipe was cooked on Sunday Brunch by a chocolatier, so his main focus was on the brownie topping and how to get that exactly right with the best chocolate. He also made a praline with pumpkin seeds to go with the pies, but I didn’t – which I’m rather glad about, because I found the pies time-consuming on their own!

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Spiced pastry

I started off by making the pastry the night before doing the rest of the legwork. It’s a rather rich pastry with egg yolks, so it seemed a little too ‘wet’ before I put it in the fridge. However, it was perfectly alright when I took it out of the fridge the next day. The recipe on the Channel 4 website doesn’t tell you when to put the spices in, but I just added them with the flour. I didn’t have any mace so I used ground ginger instead.

Pumpkin puree for spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Pumpkin puree

The next day, I *deep breath* hacked apart an entire pumpkin just to get 250g of flesh, roasted it, pureed it with maple syrup, reduced it in pan to get rid of the excess liquid, made the brownie mix, rolled out the pastry, cut out discs to go into a muffin tin, spooned the puree in the bottom of each pie then added the brownie mix on top. And then I baked the pies. *and exhale*

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
The pastry looks rather thick in the pictures here, but I actually ended up with enough pastry for 14 pies rather than just 12, so imagine how many pies I would have had if I’d rolled it out any thinner!

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
One thing I was surprised about was the lack of a raising agent in the brownie mix, but it was actually fine and I didn’t end up with any horribly hard brownie crusts. Phew. I used some posh chocolate with 85% cocoa solids from Asda.

Brownie mix for spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Brownie mix

I thought there was a good amount of pumpkin puree in each pie, but after baking the weight of the brownie crusts flattened the pumpkin layer considerably. I think I would make more of the pumpkin puree next time, and less of the brownie mix (I had some left over even after filling 14 pies with it – but I didn’t let it go to waste!).

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies

Can you see the pumpkin layer?

The baking time specified in the recipe seemed about right. I’m not particularly experienced with pies so I found it hard to tell when they were done, but I trusted that the slight browning around the edges was a good sign! I’m not sure whether they would have passed the ‘soggy bottom’ test, though!

The pies went down very well in the bake sale and I managed to sell all of the 12 pies I brought in. I’ve just tried one of the remaining ones for the first time and it was delicious, particularly the decadent brownie. I think the pumpkin could come through a little more, but the spices in the pastry are absolutely lovely.

Spiced pumpkin brownie pies
I’d like to say I’ll make these again, but I have the rather pressing matter of what to do with all the leftover pumpkin I have in the fridge and I don’t think I can face going through all the different steps again any time soon… a simple loaf cake beckons!

The recipe

Adapted/corrected from this recipe on the Sunday Brunch website:

Makes 12 pies

For the spiced crust:

  • 175g salted butter, softened
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 25ml water, at room temperature
  • 250g plain flour
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger

For the pumpkin puree:

  • 250g fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 25ml maple syrup

For the fudge brownie topping:

  • 50g butter
  • 40g golden syrup
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 140g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 35g plain flour

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3. For the puree, place the pumpkin on a baking tray, cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes until very soft.
  2. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth, then add the yolks and beat well, then add the water mixing well.
  3. Mix the spices with the flour and add in 3 additions, taking care not to over mix.
  4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (you can make the pastry in advance and chill overnight).
  5. Blend the soft pumpkin with the maple syrup, then tip into a saucepan and cook until it reduces, around 5 minutes.
  6. For the brownie topping, melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan until smooth. Take off the heat and add the chocolate, mixing well until very smooth. Add the eggs and beat well, followed by the flour.
  7. Once the pastry is chilled, roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut into discs to line all 12 cavities in a greased muffin tin. Tip: cut small strips of greaseproof paper and place them across the middle of each cavity so that when you put the pastry disc in, the ends of the strip of paper are poking out of the top. This will make it easier to get the pies out after baking – you can simply pull the two ends of the paper to lift the pie out.
  8. Place a teaspoon of the puree into the bottom of each pastry case, then top with the brownie mix, covering the puree completely.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes (keeping the oven setting the same as when you roasted the pumpkin), or until golden-brown and set. Allow the pies to cool in the tins then turn out. When they’ve completely cooled, dust with a little icing sugar and serve.