Thursday, 20 February 2014

Banana Bread

I've made some pretty dire attempts at banana bread in my time. Seriously, how is it that you can follow a recipe down to a tee, and it'll still manage to bake into a dense and rubbery mess? Like, every time. There are certain things in the baking world I remain cautious of, namely breads. This mostly means yeast doughs (but I am getting better!) but extends to anything with a sketchy 'bread' in the title. So, after a few years of no luck, I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to one of those things I just couldn't crack. Every baker has their weakness...

That was until my flatmate Ieva made this banana 'bread' for a flat birthday. I use the term 'bread' here loosely, because this is more of a cake than a stodgy loaf. It's definitely sweet, and has a lovely moist crumb and strong banana taste.

This cake really doesn't need an icing, but appreciates a little prettying-up with some icing sugar. I just cut out a star shape from paper, layed it on top of the cooled cake, and dusted icing sugar over it with a sieve. Remove the paper star and you're left with a cute cake that's casual enough for afternoon tea, tasty enough for birthdays, and could even stretch to a post-party mid afternoon breakfast (well, it has got fruit in it...). That said you can also choose to this bread with some chocolate icing, but I'm more than sure vanilla would work well too.

After asking for the recipe almost as soon as I'd tasted the bread, I was *slightly* nervous at trying out the cake at home. WHAT IF IT GOES WRONG?! I suspected I just was not born to make banana bread. But lo and behold! It emerged glorious from the oven, risen, spongy, and delicious. I suspect it was the bicarb that saved me. Half of it was gone before it was completely cooled. I'm sorry to have ever doubted you, banana bread.

This cake keeps exceptionally well, the bananas not only make the cake crumb moist and delish, they keep it fresh for days afterwards. As in, it was still delightful about 4 or 5 days after (the only reason it hung around that long is because it was Christmas and our kitchen was laden with treats).

Banana Bread

285g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp salt
110g butter, softened
225g caster sugar (or brown sugar also works well, to give a caramely taste. Try a combo of half and half)
2 eggs
4 bananas
85ml milk
1tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, or gas mark 4. Grease and line a deep 8-10'' tin. Mash the bananas well in a bowl with a fork.
2. Sift the flour and bicarb together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
3. Add the eggs one by one to the butter and sugar mixture, stirring between each addition. Mix in the bananas, milk and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Carefully fold in the flour. Pour mix into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours (this will vary depending on your oven, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes our clean.
5. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Decorate as desired.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

White Chocolate Baileys Ganche Cupcakes

It looks like I've just thrown all the most wonderful food words together, in one title, but this recipe is for real.Want something that looks wonderful and tastes even better? Keep reading...

These were a cheeky little experiment for (you guessed it!) a family meal. After Christmas, and accidentally (I swear) stocking up on waayy too much white chocolate for my Christmas specialty White Chocolate Fudge I thought I'd make a cake with some sort of white chocolate frosting. Then I thought 'but cupcakes are so much cuter!' and they lessen the chances of extra delicious cake lying around that is just waiting to be eaten (it is New Year(ish) after all)...Plus, I wanted an excuse to use those darling cupcake liners. *So artisinal*. I then got to thinking what icing I could make for these little cakes. A normal ganache buttercream? No, White chocolate frosting? Nah. BAILEYS ganache buttercream. Hells yes.

The recipie for the cakes is my standard chocolate cake one that is tried and tested, and ALWAYS come out perfect. It's great for use with cakes, or in smaller quantities with muffins or cupcakes as here. It stays moist and fresh for days and is honestly one of, if not the best recipe I've ever used. What's more, it's so so simple to remember, just mix equal quantities of everything. Refer to my recipe on the Wedding Cake post section, and I think I used a 3 or 4 egg quantity of that mixture (it'll make sense if you read the description there) for around 10 or 12 very large cupcakes.

The star of the show, the icing, is relatively simple. Make the ganache as you would normally, except with Baileys instead of cream, then whip, whip, whip, adding icing sugar and a little butter or margarine as you go to help it set up into a lovely creamy, light pipeable icing. It tastes seriously great. I imagine this would work well with a lot of cakes, so go wild with experimenting! I finished my cupcakes with a sprinkling of grated milk chocolate, but that was just for show, really. Swirl this icing between layer cakes, or pile it high on muffins, cupcakes, and even brownies (now that would be seriously epic), whatever you use it for, it's only gong to make your dessert taste better.

White Chocolate Baileys Ganache Cupcakes

1 batch chocolate or plain cupcakes

200ml Baileys
400g White Chocolate
Butter, slightly softened
Icing sugar, sifted

1. Heat the Baileys gently in a saucepan over a low heat until hot, but not boiling. Chop chocolate into small pieces.
2. Remove liquid from heat, stir in chocolate and mix until melted and smooth.
3. Begin whipping mixture with an electric or stand mixture until slightly cooled. Add icing sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time until the icing begins to thicken. Continue to beat as you add in more icing sugar, alternating with spoonfuls of butter. Measurements are very hard to give here, but I'd say you'd want to add anything from about 100-150g of butter, and 300-500g icing sugar, but you'll have to feel it out. Basically, you're looking for something that isn't too too stiff, and that will be either pipeable or spreadable, but that will hold its shape well. If you're in a bit of a rush and having problems with the icing being too runny, like I did initially, stick the bowl of icing in the fridge for about 20 minutes to help the butter and chocolate cool. Be careful though, too long in the fridge and your icing may set solid. The finished icing should be very light and fluffy.
4. Spread or pipe icing on cupcakes or use to sandwich
a sponge.

Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks, but should be re-whipped and possibly thinned down with the tiniest bit of milk before using again.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Salted Peanut Brittle

Don't be scared (like I was, at first) by the thought of sticky sugar disasters. This recipe is a lot easier than you think, I promise. 

I've tried my hand at many different sweets in the past, to varying degrees of success, but this, I think, I've nailed. It's taken a while though *flashbacks to horror stories of burnt, bitter sugar lumps and caramel welded onto saucepans* but, if you're patient and sensible, you can crack this too (no pun intended). Best part is, you don't even need a sugar thermometer! 

This brittle makes a wonderful gift, and is extremely easy to make in large quantities. It's my Nan's favourite, and the gift I give to her for Christmas and Birthdays, and she raves about it for weeks! This sugary-salty treat is great for people (like her) who aren't that into chocolate, and even for those without much of a sweet tooth, as the salted nuts balance out the toffee taste well. It takes less than 10 minutes to make from start to finish, and uses only two ingredients, which you most likely have lying around your kitchen anyway. All you need apart from sugar and nuts is a good eye!

You can, of course, use any kind of nut you want, salted or unsalted, but as I say, the salt provides a wonderful contrast to the crisp caramel. Alternatively, you could use a different kind of nut and sprinkle the surface with sea salt when still warm, which I imagine would look very fancy.

wipe down the sides of the pan with a damp brush to avoid crystalising 

Salted Peanut Brittle
200g caster sugar
200g salted peanuts (or any kind of nut)

1. In a stainless steel pan (a pan that's silver in colour will make it MUCH easier to see what stage and colour the caramel is at, which is key), gently heat the sugar, swirling the pan often to avoid sticking. 
2. At first, the very edges of the sugar will start to melt and bubble a little, keep swirling the pan, moving uncooked sugar out to the edges. DO NOT STIR!! Stirring will cause the sugar to crystalise and you'll have to start over. Once again. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES STIR THE SUGAR. Just swirl it, baby. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a dampened pastry or silicon brush to avoid crystalising or burning.
3. After a while the melted sugar will start to darken. At first to a light honey colour, then slightly darker, until you get a lovely caramel tone. This will happen slowly at first, but will speed up as the sugar continues to heat up. You still may well have some bits of unmelted sugar in the middle, and possibly some lumps. Still don't be tempted to stir, just tilt the pan until they fall to the outer edge and put the pan back on the heat, they'll melt soon enough. Work over a low-medium heat to ensure your sugar cooks evenly, and bits don't burn before others have a chance to melt.
4. Once all your sugar is melted you'll be left with a lovely pan of caramel. Here's where it gets serious. Keep the pan over the heat until the mixture reaches a very dark golden colour (see pics). Leave your sugar a moment too long and you'll end up with a burnt bitter mess, take it off too soon and it won't set. Use your judgement, my advice would be, let it go a tad darker than you think it needs to go, but you definitely don't want it to be brown, and much less black! Swirl occasionally to avoid burning.
5. Once your caramel has reached the right colour, remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the nuts. Work quickly, as the sugar will continue to cook and darken, you don't want it to burn! Once all the nuts are stirred in, pour the mix onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof, non stick paper, or a silicon mat. Please don't use foil, you'll never be able to get your brittle off if you do.
6. Let the brittle cool completely and break into shards once fully set. Store wrapped in more greaseproof paper in an airtight tin or box (if you don't the sugar will begin to melt again after a few days in the air).