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Named, apparently, for the tiny oblong tins these should be baked in, financiers, when made correctly, resemble gold ingots. Personally, I don’t find that thought all that appetising. Which is why mine resemble tiny little cupcakes with a blackberry smooshed into the top of each one. Much more appealing, and to my mind much more dainty. I just can’t reconcile the image of elegant Parisian ladies delicately nibbling big, heavy bars of gold with their afternoon coffee.

The wonderful thing about financiers is they are almost gluten free already, only requiring a couple of tablespoons of flour to accompany the ground almonds. Even better, they only use egg whites, not egg yolks, so when you are fed up of making meringues to use up all those leftover egg whites you have from making custards, ice creams and all sorts of rich cakes, make financiers instead.

Blackberry financiers
From Joy of Baking

100g butter
60g ground almonds
30g gluten-free flour blend
40g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg whites, lightly whisked
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
15 blackberries

1. Put the butter in a saucepan and allow to melt over a low heat. Once it has all melted turn the heat up to medium and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes, until the milk solids separate, fall to the bottom of the pan, and turn medium to dark brown. Set aside to cool a little.

2. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Butter a 12-hole bun tin with plenty of butter. In a large bowl stir together the ground almonds, gluten-free flour, icing sugar and salt. Gently fold in the lightly whisked egg whites and the vanilla extract. Very slowly whisk in the browned butter, then spoon the mixture into the bun tin, filling each hole almost to the top.

3. Bake the financiers for 4 minutes, then remove from the oven and working quickly press a blackberry into the top of each one, so it just breaks the surface. Return to the oven for 7 more minutes until golden brown on top.

4. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then lever out and serve on a dainty little plate. Pretend you’re Parisian and eat them with French accent.

Makes 12-15. Best eaten the day they’re made, though they last a couple of days in an airtight tin at room temperature.

Written by guffblog

4th September 2011 at 21:08

Hostess with the mostest

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Another cake, yip, I told you there were going to be a lot coming up. This one was chosen for its freezability. We all know that cakes and biscuits freeze surprisingly well, but bar cakes like this one actually benefit from freezing, as if you cut them while still frozen you get a lovely clean slice, rather than a rather mangled slice with crumbs and popped blueberries leaking everywhere. Make in advance, store in the freezer, pull out, slice and leave to defrost while you beautify yourself/your home. Then bask in everyone’s amazement.

Lemon blueberry bars
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

I had to increase this recipe by one-quarter to fit a 9-inch square pan rather than an 8-inch pan (64 versus 81, come on people, keep up), and the result was, well, it worked, but lets just say doing maths in your head as you’re bringing a recipe together is a very bad idea. Chances of missing one ingredient or reverting back to the original recipe for just one item are very large. Do your sums beforehand, before you have a kitchen disaster. The original recipe had coconut which I thought would muddy the waters a bit much, so I layered lemon zest over the base instead, and upped the number of blueberries, so there was a nice even layer over the base. When I added the lemon topping the blueberries floated slightly and it was easy to see where the gaps were and add a few more.

75g (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) butter
40g (scant 1/4 cup) sugar
190g (1 1/4 cups) gluten-free flour blend
Pinch of salt

Zest of 1 lemon
350g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
150g (v scant 1 cup) sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
2 eggs
Plus 1 egg yolk
75ml fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the gluten-free flour blend and the salt and using your fingertips press the mixture into the base of a 9×9-inch silicone (or parchment-lined) baking pan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until it smells nice and has the faintest golden tinge to it.

2. Meanwhile zest a lemon onto a plate. Wash and drain the blueberries. Then in a large bowl beat together the sugar, cornflour, baking powder, salt, eggs, egg yolk and lemon juice until smooth and homogenous.

3. Sprinkle the lemon zest onto the baked base and top with the blueberries. Spread them out so they’re in a single layer. Pour the lemony custard mix over the top and bake the whole lot in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden on top and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre might come out clean if you’re lucky, though it’s more likely to come out covered in blueberry juice. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, before moving to the freezer. Once frozen, turn out of the pan, wrap tightly in clingfilm and freeze until required.

To serve, cut into slightly smaller than 2-inch squares while still frozen, then bring up to room temperature (about an hour).

Written by guffblog

3rd August 2011 at 16:23

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Have a heart

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Apparently in engineering you should always leave at least 2.5 times the diameter of the hole you are creating around the edges of the hole, to ensure structural stability. So said the boy as I held in my hands the wreck of what had been, mere moments earlier, a functioning square of chocolate brownie. Now it had a mangled hole in its centre and was broken in at least three places round the edges. Whoever decided on this particular rule was evidently not a baker. Or if they were, they had no eye for detail, since that would necessitate a 6-inch square brownie with a 1-inch heart in its centre. Who eats half-foot brownies?

This issue wasn’t helped by my cookie cutter being too short for the brownies which were essentially cubes, being as tall as they were wide. Whilst I could cut most of the way through them, the final few millimetres remained unscored, and thus I had to prod quite firmly to get the heart centres to come out. Cue more crumbled brownies, hastily stuffed into my mouth. A solution was finally thought of, which was to slice the brownies in half lengthwise to make them thinner, so the cutter could go all the way through them. A task which would have been moderately simple, if I hadn’t just chopped my brownie blocks into 16 squares each. An hour or so later, after much slicing, delicate fiddling, returning brownies to the freezer to cool down and mopping of sweaty brows, I had about 50 little brownie slices that looked quite cute, moderately edible and not too garishly pink either. Plus a lot of crumbs.

The morals of this story are clearly manifold, but the main takeaway should be these are quite fat brownies so make sure your cookie cutter is tall enough; failing that, slice the brownie blocks in half, before dividing into squares.

Dark and white chocolate brownies with a heart
From Smitten Kitchen

The white chocolate brownies weren’t as pink as I would have liked, though actually, unless these are for a special event and need to be pink, they are quite cute enough without the colouring. The white ones turned out a bit more cakey, making them easier to cut and handle without breaking; the dark chocolate ones were a little more fragile. I’d probably cook them for slightly less time in future (23-25 minutes instead of 25-30) in the hopes of making them a little more malleable.

Ingredients (white chocolate brownies)
85g white chocolate
113g butter
125g sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
105g (2/3 cup) gluten-free flour blend
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 drops red food colouring

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line an 8×8-inch baking tin with buttered foil.

2. In a large bowl in the microwave melt the butter and the white chocolate until 80% melted. Remove, and stir until completely melted.

3. Stir in the sugar. At this stage the mixture will look curdled, messy and generally like it’s going to turn into a big disaster. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and it should all come together into a beautiful glossy batter. Breathe again. Stir in the vanilla.

4. Mix together the gluten-free flour, salt and xanthan gum, then stir these into the batter. Add 2-3 drops of red food colouring, stir until the mixture is light pink, then scrape the batter into the lined pan. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until browned and slightly puffed up on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan, then remove from pan, peel away foil, wrap in greaseproof paper (don’t freeze them in the foil or you’ll never get the bloody stuff off) and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

5. To make the dark chocolate brownies follow the same instructions, using 85g dark (70% cocoa) chocolate instead, and not adding the food colouring, and reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

6. When both batches of brownies are cooked and frozen, remove them from the freezer and using a sharp knife cut each brownie block into 16 2-inch squares. Working quickly, but delicately, cut out 1-inch hearts from the centre of each brownie using a heart-shaped cutter. I found the white (pink) brownies were easier to cut; the dark chocolate ones are a little more crumbly. Carefully swap the heart centres and insert the pink hearts into the dark brownies, and vice versa. Wrap the brownies in clingfilm and foil and freeze until required, for up to a month. Defrost for an hour at room temperature before serving.

Makes 32.

Written by guffblog

26th July 2011 at 13:21

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If things get a little cake-heavy round here for the next week or so I can only apologise; it was big sis’s hen do at the weekend, and I made a shedload of cakes for afternoon tea. The centrepiece, and most technical was this, my first attempt at wrapping a cake in fondant. It was not as easy as I had expected. Nothing in cakeworld is. Turns out fondant, though it rolls out beautifully, gets sticky very quickly if you play with it too much. Plus, because it clings so well to cakes it highlights every lump and bump underneath. I was planning on just coating the cake with a thin layer of jam to help the fondant stick, but I actually needed copious quantities of buttercream to even out the not so geometric lumps of sponge. Torting frozen cakes is not as easy as you’d think.

Quantities were also tricky. To make an L-shaped cake I needed rectangular pieces of cake. My 8×4 loaf tins were roughly the right size, as compared with the 7-inch sandwich tin called for, but I needed three cakes in total, not two, and wanted them slightly thicker, so I could cut them in half lengthwise, so I opted to double the original recipe. I ended up with an L which was the perfect size, plus a little mini layer cake left over for me to munch on during the week.

Apologies if the recipe seems a little long-winded; I’ve tried to add in all the helpful things I learnt along the way to save you having to discover them yourself.

Triple-layer L-shaped sponge cake
Cake recipe adapted from Healthy Gluten-Free Eating; Buttercream adapted from Wilton

280g butter
275g sugar
6 eggs
220g gluten-free flour blend
100g ground almonds
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 tablespoons milk
3 drops red food colouring

To decorate
1 12-inch cake board
4 tablespoons strawberry jam
180g butter
330g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
400g pink fondant icing
Sugar decorations, if required

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Lightly grease and line the bottom of three 8×4-inch loaf tins with greaseproof paper.

2. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

3. In a medium bowl stir together the gluten-free flour blend, ground almonds, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum. Slowly add to the egg and butter mixture, stirring carefully, and add the milk to make a smooth batter of dropping consistency.

4. Spoon one-third of the mixture into another bowl and add the red food colouring to the remaining two-thirds of the batter. Stir well. Divide the mixture evenly between the loaf tins, so you have two pink cakes and one white cake. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes, before tipping out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

5. Once cool, using a sharp serrated knife, slice the cakes in half lengthwise, so you have six 8×4 cakes. Trim the sides and top of the cakes so they are rectangular then wrap tightly in clingfilm and freeze until required, for up to a month. If using straight away it’s still a good idea to freeze them as frozen cakes are easier to ice.

6. To build and layer the cake first lay the cakes out on a chopping board. Layer a pink cake on top of a white cake on top of a pink cake. Do the same for the horizontal arm of the L, then cut about one-third of the cake stack off, so your L doesn’t have a freakishly long bottom. Check that both arms of the L are roughly the same height. I failed to do this and ended up using a lot of buttercream to fill in the cracks. When the cake is as neat and geometric as you can make it, spoon the jam into a bowl and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt it slightly. Stir and set aside.

7. In a large bowl beat the butter until soft, then beat in the icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and milk and beat into a smooth, homogenous cream. Dot a little of the buttercream onto the cake board and use it to stick the first cake layer onto the board in the L shape. Dollop about 3 tablespoons of the buttercream on top of the first cake layer and smooth with a palette knife. Make sure the buttercream fills in the crack between the two cake pieces as well. Take the two white cakes and using a different knife spread about 1-2 tablespoons of the melted jam onto their underside. Gently place the jammy-bottomed white cake on top of the buttercreamed pink cake layer. Repeat the process with the remaining cake layer – spread buttercream on top of the white cake layer, then place a jam-covered pink layer on top.

8. This process should only use about 3/4 cup buttercream, if that. The remaining two-thirds of the buttercream I used smoothing out the profile of the cake. Of course, if you’ve done a good job of torting the cake, you won’t need all the buttercream. The fondant will highlight every uneveness in the surface of the cake so use the remaining buttercream to fill in any cracks or dents and to build up areas that are a little lower. If the cake is perfectly smooth, then just cover it with a very thin layer of buttercream, or if you like a little more jam. Then place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes for the crumb coat to firm up.

9. Meanwhile roll out the fondant icing into a 12-inch square. Carefully using the rolling pin lift the fondant onto the cake. Using a palette knife carefully press the fondant down onto the surface of the cake, then working round the edges press the fondant into the sides of the cake. Using the edge of the palette knife remove any excess fondant at the base of the cake and tuck the edges under. You may need to fold the fondant round at least one of the corners to get it to fit neatly.

10. Return the cake to the fridge for at least 30 minutes before adding any additional decorations. I added a few sugar stars at the corners for colour and interest. To attach them I used a cocktail stick to put a dab of buttercream on each star, then pressed them lightly into the fondant with the tip of a clean cocktail stick.

The cake will keep well in the fridge, as long as the fondant is in tact (up to a week). Once the cake has been cut be sure to cover any exposed surfaces with clingfilm to prevent it from going stale. The cake will survive outside the fridge for up to a couple of days, but the buttercream will be very soft when the cake is cut and the moistness from the jam will encourage mould after a few days.

Written by guffblog

24th July 2011 at 15:18

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 I have mentioned before on this blog the woes of pitting cherries without a cherry pitter. For some reason cutting the cherries in half and simply flicking the pits out of them did not cross my mind then. Turns out this is much easier, and on the whole much safer (I’m sure, like avocado stones, cherry pits have claimed a few nerves and the odd finger in their time, but not mine this time round). Alas, I did discover after halving my cherries that they packed down more than I had expected (one of the problems with using recipes based on volume measurements) and instead of the hoped-for 1 1/2 cups I had slightly less than a cup. As you can see, once the batter went on top of this paltry amount of fruit it all ended up smooshed to the sides of my chosen baking vessel, giving the finished product a halo of fruit, rather than the desired, or at least intended, full head covering. For a full-on cherry experience next time I’d almost double the amount of cherries I used to a 300g box (slightly less when pitted). Cherry halo aside, this was still a good cake, dense and yet light at the same time; that sounds ridiculous but I can’t explain it any better. It was sturdy, but not heavy, a little crumbly from the cornmeal, but not overly dry and when paired with hot, thick and, because I took my eye off the stove for a moment, rather lumpy custard, the perfect antidote to a rather grey evening.

Cherry cornmeal upside-down cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

I made quite a few changes to this recipe. Firstly I got rid of the balsamic caramel coating for the cherries, since most of the comments seemed to suggest this flavour didn’t come through very well. Secondly, I added in a little bit of almond essence to the cake since almond and cherries are a perfect match; in fact did you know that most almond liqueurs such as Amaretto are made not from almonds but from peach and cherry stones? Yeah. I upped the cornmeal since it’s a great gluten-free ingredient and then to balance out the gf flours and make it a little more moist, and rise a little higher, I doubled the egg quota. Oh and played around comprehensively with the quantities to make it fit a 6 1/2-inch casserole rather than an 11-inch skillet. Phew yeah, but it’s still based on the same recipe.

2 tablespoons butter
250-300g (1 1/2 cups) cherries, stoned and halved
80g (1/2 cup) gluten-free flour blend
45g (1/4 cup) medium-fine yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
Pinch salt
60g (1/4 cup) butter
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
2 eggs, separated
3 drops almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
60ml milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a 6-7-inch casserole dish heat the 2 tablespoons butter over a high heat until sizzling and turning slightly brown. Add the cherries, leave to cook for about 2 minutes, then remove from the heat.

2. In a small bowl whisk together the gluten-free flour, cornmeal, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl beat the remaining 50g butter until soft. Beat in the sugar until light and fluffy, then add both the egg yolks and the almond extract and beat well.

4. In another small bowl whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

5. Gradually fold the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, until all the flour and milk has been mixed in and the batter is thick. Stir in about a quarter of the whisked egg whites to lighten the batter slightly, then slowly fold in the remaining egg whites, a little at a time. Finally spread the batter over the top of the cherries in the casserole dish, smoothing the top carefully with a knife. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until browned on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6. Remove from the oven when done and leave to cool for at least 5 minutes in the casserole dish. Run a knife round the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then carefully invert on a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Excellent with custard.

This lasts a couple of days covered in the fridge, though will go a bit stale and dry if you leave it any longer than that.

Written by guffblog

20th June 2011 at 20:31

Posted in Cakes

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