Tag Archives: ginger

Triple ginger cake

Triple ginger cake

Last week, I made a batch of khobz for my friend Alex, who has started up a market stall. His operation (Kabak, named after a place he loves in Turkey) specialises in Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North Africa inspired foods and very fine they are too. In you’re in Lewes, look out for him Friday mornings at the market.

Coming home from helping Alex break-down the stall, I got to thinking about sweets inspired by similar cuisine. The classics are baklava and suchlike pastries, as well as cakes like the syrupy basbousa/revani. But I wanted to try something new, so reached for the cookbooks.

Arabesque* by Melbourne-based Greg and Lucy Malouf is subtitled “Modern Middle Eastern Food”, which is a good way of saying it’s not trying to be slavishly traditional or authentic. I’m not sure if his sticky ginger cake relates to any specific sweet the Middle East at all, but it’s a pleasing concoction that uses both powdered and fresh ginger. I like crystallised/candied ginger, so I added some of that too, hence the name.

Golden syrup

Golden age
It also uses golden syrup, arguably a quintessentially British ingredient and one I love, from a childhood of ginger biscuits and steamed syrup puddings.

It was invented in the late 19th century as a by-product of sugar refining. In Britain, we still mostly use the Lyle’s brand in the green and gold tin. The tin still bears an image of a (dead) lion and a swarm of bees, with the Biblical slogan “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”, as it did when it was first marketed in 1885. (See Judges 14 for the full peculiar, gruesome yarn.)

Lyle’s golden syrup became a popular product in early 20th century Britain. This is in large part, I suspect, as with two world wars and food shortages it was a cheaper, more available alternative to refined sugar and a sweeter, less bitter alternative to molasses and black treacle.

So golden syrup isn’t a terribly Middle Eastern ingredient, but I suspect Greg Malouf uses it as a way of emulating or echoing the stickiness many more traditional sweets from that area achieve with a syrup poured on after baking.

220g golden syrup
170g sour cream, or yogurt (I used a half-half mix of double cream and yogurt)
2 eggs
100g soft brown sugar
About 50mm of fresh ginger, finely grated
80g crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
Zest of one lemon
280g unsalted butter
130g plain (all-purpose) flour
130g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp powdered ginger

1. Grease and base line a 20cm tin, ideally spring-form.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C.
3. Warm together the butter and golden syrup until the former is melted then beat this with the cream or yogurt, sugar, eggs, grated ginger, crystallised ginger and lemon zest.
4. Sieve together the flours, baking powder and powdered ginger then sieve again, into the mix, and fold to combine. Try to mix in any lumps of flour but don’t beat it.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about minutes. Test to see if it’s baked with a skewer – does it come out clean? If not, return to the oven for a bit longer. If it’s starting to get too brown on top, cover with foil.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin, then turn onto a rack to continue cooling.

Arabesque suggests serving it with what they call ginger cream – which is really a ginger custard. It doesn’t look that appetizing in the pic, but – it’s custard! With ginger!

About 30mm section of fresh ginger, finely grated
150g double cream
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
40g soft brown sugar
2 egg yolks

1. Whisk together the egg yolks and brown sugar.
2. Warm up the cream and gingers in a saucepan, and heat to scald – ie just as bubbles appear, but don’t boil.
3. Pour the cream over the egg and sugar mix, whisking.
4. Put the mixture back in the pan and continue whisking, over a low heat, until it thickens.
5. Put in a clean bowl and allow to cool.
6. When ready to serve, whisk (or indeed whip) to increase the volume a bit.

Serve with the custard. It’s also very nice with clotted cream. But then everything is.

Anyway, this was good, but when it comes to Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern-inspired baking and sweets, what I really need on my bookshelf is the new The Baking Book from Honey and Co. Hopefully it will be there soon.

 

 

* Not to be confused with Claudia Roden’s book with the same title and similar theme.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Baking, Cakes

Cocoa nib and crystallized ginger cookies

Plate of ginger and cocoa nib biscuits

The past few years, my favourite chocolate bars have been those that contain both a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa nibs. I had a few brands I favoured in Italy, but back here in England I mostly eat Lordy Lord, from local Sussex chocolate company Montezuma’s. It’s “min cocoa solids 79%” and it contains nibs. I love the nutty crunch the nibs provide. Yet it’s taken me ages to get round to trying using nibs as a baking ingredient.

What are nibs?
Before I go any further, let’s clarify what cocoa nibs are. Chocolate is produced from the cocoa beans, the seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao, the first bit of which suitably means “food of the gods”. The pods containing the seeds are harvested then cracked open. The pulp and beans are  piled up and left to ferment, to reduce the innate bitterness of the beans. They’re then dried, before being roasted and cracked – the resulting fragments are the nibs.

Add nibs to dough

Cocoa vs cacao
Now reading about this online, I’m coming across the usual internet disagreement and misinformation about the difference between cocoa nibs and cacao nibs. Some sites insist the latter are the version where the beans bypass the roasting process; some health food sites say this results in a product that’s higher in antioxidants. This may well be true, but I can’t find any scientific reports. Plus, the words cocoa and cacao are often used as synonyms. Both words are translations, transliterations or fluid (mis)spellings of the word in the languages of the Mesoamericans (Mayans etc) who first cultivated the tree and added the term to European languages via the Spanish.

Indeed, in most Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French etc), the English “cocoa” is simply translated as cacao.

I’m using Organic cocoa nibs from Naturya, and they describe the product as “simply unprocessed cocoa beans, broken into little bits. Nothing more, nothing less.” With no mention of roasting. Or cacao.

Chocolate cake with coca nib sprinkles

Sprinkles and chips
So I’ve been using the nibs as sprinkles for chocolate cake (above), or as an ingredient for biscotti and cookies. Cocoa nibs are funny as, strangely, they’re reminiscent like carob, which, for those of us who remember the 1980s, was another fad food that health foodie types tried to promote as an alternative to chocolate. I like carob, as carob, but as an alternative to chocolate, it just doesn’t cut it.

So if I want a chocolate chip cookie, I have to use chocolate. But my cocoa nib cookies are great – as something distinct. I’m enjoying playing around with a recipe for cookies that uses the technique where you form a cylinder of dough then cut it. This can be called “slice cookies”, or “icebox cookie” (from keeping the dough in the freezer, or fridge). I first encountered it years ago via the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, but the ever-informative Alan Davidson, in the Oxford Companion to Food, writes, “The American habit of making rolls of cookie dough and keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer may have come from Germany; the doughs for some German biscuits such as Heidesand are made into rolls and chilled before slicing.”

Crystallized ginger

Crystallised ginger
Adding crystallised ginger was just a hunch I fancied playing with, and I’m pleased with the results. Ideas are rarely new in this day and age – seven billion plus humans, the internet – and I’ve definitely enjoyed ginger and dark chocolate combined before, so that led me to nibs and crystallised ginger, an ingredient I enjoy in steamed puddings and pear cakes.

Ginger is the root of Zingiber officinale, but rather than being dried and powdered, it’s boiled in syrup, rolled in sugar – another name for crystallised ginger is candied ginger. As such, it’s a cousin of things like candied peel or candied angelica (the stems of Angelica archangelica, a somewhat out-of-fashion ingredient).

Recipe

140g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp powdered ginger (optional)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
150g unsalted butter, softened
100g light brown sugar
100g granulated sugar [test with caster also]
1 egg, beaten (at room temperature*)
100g cocoa or cacao nibs
120g crystallized ginger, roughly cut up

1. Sieve together the flours, baking powder and powered ginger – only use the latter if you like the cookies a little bit more gingery. Stir in the salt.
2. In another bowl, cream together in the sugars and butter. Cream until light and fluffy.
3. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time.
4. Add the flour mix to the creamed mix and bring together, adding the nibs and chopped ginger.

Cookie dough

5. Bring the whole mixture to a dough. It should be a little sticky, not too much.

Dough cylinders
6. Form the dough into two cylinders, using slightly floured hands if you find it too sticky.
7. Wrap each cylinder in plastic and put in the fridge, for at least an hour. The cylinders will be fine in your fridge for a day or two, though the dough will dry and become slightly crumblier the longer you leave it. Some say this deepens the flavour, but that’s another discussion.
8. When you’re reading to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 180C.
9. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.

Slice the cylinders
10. Cut the cylinders into rounds, about 8mm thick. The mixture may crumble a bit, if it does, just gently squeeze back together. You won’t achieve perfect rounds, due to the nibs and chunks of ginger.
11. Place the rounds on the sheets, leaving some space for expansion between then, about 4-5cm.
12. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until nicely coloured.
13. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Cocoa nib and crystallized ginger cookies

 

* Always bake with your eggs at room temperature. I doubt it makes any difference to taste but it does help when beating eggs into a creamed sugar and fat mixture, reducing the chance of curdling. It’s also better when making things that require the egg, or the white, to be whisked, as the warmer egg incorpates air more effectively. Personally, I don’t generally store eggs in the fridge. Eggs have a great storage system already – it’s called a shell. If the egg is off, having it cold won’t make any difference. And, frankly, when was the last time you had an off egg? I’ve encountered them once or twice in my life. Plus, as I bake so much, and like omelettes and whatnot, eggs never last long in my house, so are are generally fresh, usually from these guys.

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Recipes

Lebkuchen in my new kitchen

Lebkuchen

So we’re in week 22 or 23 of our 12 week building project now, with the few final jobs dragging on and on. But the good news is that we got a kitchen back in the past few weeks. We’ve now got it in pretty usable order.

It’s a fairly slow process getting used to a new kitchen: the layout, your workflow in the space, the new equipment. In this case, the only new kit we got was an oven. As a baker, this is obvious the most important thing. Especially as, suddenly, we seem to be poised on the verge of that annual blow-out that is Christmas.

Now, I love seasonal and festival specialities, and over the years I’ve enjoyed trying various international seasonal baked goods like stollen, panettone and kringle. I did the latter, a Scandinavian sweet bread, while living in Italy, and the panettone, the classic Italian sweet seasonal bread, while living in England. I’m in the process of revising my panettone recipe but in the meantime, I wanted to try another classic European Christmas baked treat – lebkuchen, the traditional German biscuit or small cake that’s related to other European sweets like British gingerbread biscuits and cakes, Danish honning hjerter (honey hearts), Polish Toruń pierniki, and various international spice and honey cakes.

As biscuits, these were considerably less of a challenge than an enriched dough when trying to get used to a new oven.*

Lebkuchen were a big part of our Christmas eating when I was younger – perhaps strangely as we’re thoroughly English. But my dad had business partners in Switzerland and Germany and the latter would send us a bag or tin of these spicy, soft German biscuits every year, possibly starting in 1979. Indeed, one large tin, decorated with seasonal scenes, is still in use by my parents as a biscuit tin 15 or so years after it was gifted to them.

Despite enjoying them over the years, I’d never tried to make them. So it was nice to see a recipe in The Guardian’s Cook section last week, from 2013 Great British Bake Off contestant and now newspaper food writer Ruby Tandoh. This was the first of Tandoh’s recipes I’d tried, if memory serves, and it worked well. I tweaked a few things though, partly as I like a tad more spice than she was suggesting, and as I’m pretty sure lebkuchen need honey in them.

I would also say the spice mix is up to you. Yes, they need ginger, but you can mix up the other spices to taste: basically you’re going for that medieval winter feast vibe, and traditionally lebkuchen can involve aniseed, allspice, cinnamon, cloves. As fresh spices are always more alive with flavour, if you have a small spice grinder or pestle and mortar, that’s great.

Here’s the original recipe on The Guardian’s site, and here’s my tweaked version:

120g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
160g plain flour
1 t baking powder
5 t ground ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
6 whole cloves cloves
2 cardamom pods (freshly ground)
1/2 t aniseeds (freshly ground)
100g ground almonds
80g soft light brown sugar
A pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
60g runny honey

To glaze
20g water
100g icing sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (fan oven)
2. Grind any fresh spices you’re using.
3. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a large bowl, discarding any big bits of cardamom pod etc.
4. Rub in the butter, until it resembles crumbs.
5. Add the ground almonds, sugar and salt to the flour and spice mix.
6. In a separate bowl, beat together the honey and egg yolks.

Lebkuchen 1
7. Pour the egg and honey mix into the dry mix and bring together with a fork or spatula to create a soft, moist dough.

Lebkuchen 2
8. Take lumps of the dough and roll into a ball. Ruby said “conker-sized” pieces, but as any British schoolchild of a certain age will know, conkers can seriously vary in size so I scaled mine at 30g. This resulted in 19 perfectly sized biscuits.

Lebkuchen 3
9. Squash the balls with your palms, flattening them out on lined baking sheets leaving some space between for expansion.
10. Bake for about 8 minutes then swap the trays around on the shelves so they bake evenly.
11. Bake for another 8 minutes or so – you want them nicely coloured, but not too dark. This will depend on the fierceness of your oven.

Lebkuchen 4
12. While they’re still baking, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl then add a small dribble of water, about 20g, or 2 or 2 T. You want a runny, but not too runny, icing.
13. When the biscuits are baked, leave them on their trays and glaze by brushing on the icing “liberally”.

Lebkuchen 5
14. Leave to cool on the tray.

 

 

* A Rangemaster Professional + 110 Induction. My first impression is, sadly, that the ovens heat up slowly and are a good 10C less hot than it says on the dial. I should do a proper review at some stage as it’s not like you buy new cookers often, and it’s not like you can try before you buy.

2 Comments

Filed under Baking, Biscuits, cookies, Feasts, Recipes

Plum and almond muffins

Freshly baked plum and almond muffins

At the weekend, our next-door neighbour gave us a big tray of plums. We used the majority of them to make spiced plum ketchup (recipe at the bottom), but had some left over.

I don’t like plums. In fact, I don’t much like fruit generally… though I can eat it happily if it’s baked into something with evil refined sugar. Even better if it’s then served with vanilla ice-cream, gelato or cream (especially clotted cream: West Country caviar). So I was planning to use the plums to make some kind of torta di prugna (plum cake). I found some recipes, worked on them, headed for the kitchen and strapped on my apron – only to find the missus had left the bottom of my spring-form cake-tin at work. Gee, thanks wife.

Plums

So instead, I thought I could use some of the fancy muffin cases1 I bought from a kitchenware stall on Testaccio market that’s full of lovely wood, enamel and crockery stuff; all a bit old-fashionedy-vintage-style-hip, but delightful. These cases are very handsome, though they don’t quite sit right in my muffin tray. Hence, some of the muffins turned out a bit wonky. Plus, I would have liked the muffin top to have peeked out of the case a bit more (ahem), but hey, this was – as usual – a fairly experimental recipe I adapted from other recipes, so you learn by doing right?

Making a sweetened, stewed, sloppy semi-puree of plums

As for the plums, I much prefer dark purple ones, but our neighbour gave us a yellow variety, possibly a Mirabelle or similar. They were over-ripe, but that’s fine. I wasn’t aiming for chunks, just some flavour in the form of a sweetened, stewed, sloppy semi-puree.

Also, I think some crystallised ginger or preserved ginger would have been nice in this recipe but I didn’t have any. Not even sure I can get it in Roma, though I did tend to have a few jars malingering in the back of the fridge when I lived in the UK.

Flour, ground almonds, ground ginger, cardamom

Recipe ingredients

A dozen-ish good-sized plums
50g golden syrup (use sugar if not available)
100g caster sugar
100g butter
1 egg
40g yogurt (none of that low-fat nonsense)
220g self-raising flour2
80g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 t ground ginger (or more, if you really like ginger)
1/2 ground cardamom (again, more to taste if you really like cardamom)

Cardamom pods and seeds

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Prepare a muffin tray and 12 (ish) cases.
3. Roughly chop and de-stone the plums.
4. Put the plum pieces in a pan with the golden syrup or sugar.
5. Good the plums for 10 minutes or so. It doesn’t matter if they break down.
6. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
7. Cream together the butter and caster sugar. (Using a hand blender, or food mixer, or good old-fashioned spoon.)

Beat in the egg to plum muffin mix
8. Add the egg and beat. If all your ingredients are at room temp, it shouldn’t curdle. If it does, don’t worry, just add a little of the flour.
9. Add the yogurt and beat.
10. Add the plums and their syrupy juice.
11. Combine the flour, ground, almonds spices, raising agents. Sieve together. The ground almonds probably won’t all go through the sieve. I wouldn’t worry about this, the sieving is more to loosen up and combine the powders than really aerate it (that’s the raising agents’ job, when you bake).
12. Add the powder mix and combine.
13. It’ll be a pretty wet, light mix (the bicarb starts working subito). Spoon it into the muffin cases, to about three-quarters full.

Plum muffin mix, all combined
14. Sprinkle the tops with flaked almonds.
15. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned and firm to the touch.
16. Cool, in muffin cases, on a wire rack.

Baked plum muffins

Footnotes, etc

1 The muffin cases are a brand called House Doctor. They don’t seem to have a clear online presence, but they’re available in the UK from this outlet, based on Brighton, Sussex.

2 If you don’t have self-raising flour, just use plain or all-purpose flour. Add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to every 110g of flour. So instead of 220g self-raising flour here, the recipe would require 220g plain flour with 2 extra teaspoons of baking powder (along with the other 1 teaspoon of baking powder and half teaspoon of baking soda). And if you don’t have baking powder, but do have baking soda and cream of tartar (tartaric acid) you can make your own baking powder too. See this page in the BBC baking glossary.

If you work in cups, there are plenty of conversion tools online, like here and here, though they all seem to vary a little. Instead, I’d urge you – buy some electronic scales! They can be very affordable and make life so much easier.

Spicy plum ketchup

This is a great recipe, especially if you have a plum tree and often find yourself with a glut. It’s from my friend Nadia in New Zealand. Old Man Mountain, the farm where she used to live, had a great big old purple plum tree and we’d make a batch every year. It’s a pretty versatile recipe though – although it’s best with purple plums, you can use any. We had a Mirabelle in our garden in London, and we used Mirabelle again this time round. Plus, as it’s hard to get malt vinegar in Italy, we also used red wine vinegar this year. Seems to have worked okay.

This is for a small batch – enough for a about 1.2 litres. So double or triple or quadruple it if you like it and have more plums!

1.8kg plums
2 large onions
30g allspice
8g cayenne
900g white sugar
30g whole ginger, bruised
75g salt
570ml malt vinegar

1. Stone the plums.
2. Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan.
3. You can put all the spices in a bag, but I don’t bother – I just add them to the mix.
4. Simmer for three hours.
5. Put through a mouli legume if you’ve got one. Alternatively, push through a sieve. (And discard the bits.)
6. Put in sterilised bottles (we used wine bottles with screw-tops or those bottles with olde worlde style clip/stopper).

4 Comments

Filed under Cakes, Recipes