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Courgette Cake

This past weekend was so sunny and warm, a proper sign that summer is here. And, if we ignore the forecast for crappy rain this week and skip straight to next week’s outlook, there’s a heatwave on the way! Could it be time to dig out the dusty barbecue? Alfresco dining (with beer) is truly one of the best ways to pass a summer’s evening. And, let’s face it, we’re well overdue a good sunny spell here on the west coast! Roll on heatwave, I say. 🙂

This is a recipe I’ve had my eye on since it featured in the boards.ie Cooking Club last year. Courgettes are in season at the moment, and the supermarkets and market stalls are awash with them. Courgette cake is very similar to carrot cake in consistency and flavour. You could certainly go the whole hog and smother the courgette cake with cream cheese frosting, though you probably don’t have the “it’s got vegetables in it so it’s good for me” excuse anymore.

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Back to Basics

What has happened to the last MONTH?! I really can’t believe that it’s been that long since I last sat down to write a post here. Life has been busy. Busy busy busy. Pushing the thesis to the final stages has taken all the wind out my sails of enthusiasm (so to speak). But now I am back, fresh from a weekend of pork, cake and beer in Prague, and plan to use my increasing spare time to get back to the kitchen.  I have so many recipes piled up to try out, a pasta maker and an ice-cream maker to get into action (yes, they have been sitting in their boxes since Christmas. For shame.) and as summer is birthday season (among my friends at least) there are lots of fancy cakes on the horizon.

So it’s time to get back to basics. And what is more basically fantastic than a deliciously dark chocolate cake (with frosting to die for)? This is a Devil’s Chocolate cake, taken from Nigella’s latest book, Kitchen. It’s a great book, but my one grumble is the layout. For this recipe the ingredients are on one page and you need to use your chocolatey fingers to turn over to the next page to see the method. Annoying. But the end result makes this annoyance forgivable.

What You Need:

50g cocoa powder, sifted

100g dark muscovado sugar

250ml boiling water

125g unsalted butter

150g caster sugar

225g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

For the frosting:

125ml water

30g dark muscovado sugar

175g unsalted butter, cubed

300g best quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

Firstly, prepare your tins. Nigella recommends two 20 cm (about 8 in) sandwich tins. I used two 9 inch tins and baked the batter for a little less time. Grease the tins, and line the bottom of each tin with parchment paper. Pop on the oven to preheat at 180C.

Put the cocoa and 100g muscovado sugar into a bowl and add the boiling water. Whisk until smooth and set aside.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy. Meanwhile, stir the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl and set aside.

Dribble the vanilla extract into the butter and sugar mixture. Then drop in one egg, immediately followed by a tablespoon of flour, then the second egg. Keep mixing, adding in the rest of the flour mix, and finally add in the cocoa mixture.

Divide between the two tins and bake for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester emerges clean and the cake is beginning to come away from the sides of the tins.  Cool in the tins, on a wire rack, for 5 – 10 minutes before turning out of the tins and leaving to cool completely.

As soon as the cakes go into the oven, get started on the frosting as it needs to sit for an hour or more before it can be used. Put the water, 30g muscovado sugar and 175g butter in a saucepan over a low heat to melt. As soon as this mixture begins to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, swirling the pan so that all the chocolate is hit with heat. Leave for a minute to melt before whisking until smooth and glossy. Leave for about 1 hour, whisking every now and then while the cakes cool.

By the time the cakes were cool, it was about midnight (my schedule is crazy) so I popped the still not fully cooled frosting into the fridge. If you do this don’t forget about it! After only 5 minutes in the fridge, the frosting had set considerably.

Set one of the cooled cakes, top side down, and spread with about one third of the frosting.

Place the second cake on top and cover with the remaining icing. Make it all swirly because it’s much easier than trying to get it perfectly smooth.

Eat and enjoy! The frosting is so incredibly chocolatey you will want to eat it all. Promise.

x

It’s a cake. It’s a crumble. It’s got rhubarb in it. A cake that’s a cake and also a crumble. With rhubarb. What’s not to like?  We had our first slice served warm with custard (it seems summer happened in April and it’s back to rain and wind = custard weather), but it was just as delicious eaten cold with a cup of tea.

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Sugarcraft for Beginners

Last weekend, the lovely Grace from Grace Daniels Cakes held a sugarcraft course for beginners here in Galway. I was there, I learned so much, my cake looked fabulous (see above), and I think I found myself a new hobby 🙂

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When I first spied this recipe over on englishmum.com, I knew I had to make it. I love finding alternatives to butter in cake baking, and though I had started cooking with rapeseed oil, I hadn’t yet baked with it. This cake also has ground almonds, which I love. They give a great almondy flavour which isn’t overpowering, and I find a cake stays moist for much longer with ground almonds in it. I was so impressed with this recipe that I made it again, this time adding in a few tablespoons of poppy seeds and splitting the mixture between muffin cases. Another top result.  This is a really simple batter to put together – no waiting about for butter to soften – and the most time-consuming part is zesting the lemon, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t take very long at all.

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Rhubarb and Lemon Flan

Towards the end of summer last year, we went on holiday. We checked and double-checked the apartment, turning off unnecessary electricals, turned on the automatic feeder for the tropical fish, and headed off for 10 days. We came back to discover that my checking and double-checking in the kitchen had been so thorough that I had switched off the fridge and freezer.

Horrors.

Words cannot describe how I felt when I realised that all the Ben & Jerry’s I had been stockpiling had been reduced to a sad, gloopy puddle. The frozen worms for feeding the fish had also defrosted. Gross.

I had moved on from the tragedy a little when I discovered that the precious, end-of-season rhubarb I had lovingly cut up, bagged and placed in the freezer for a burst of sunshine in the winter months was also a casualty of my enthusiastic switch-flicking. Sob. You see, I really really love rhubarb. I remember a friend once remarked how apples are “poor man’s rhubarb”.  Ha!  It’s true, though.While I do love apples in all their cakey, bakey forms, rhubarb really takes things up a notch.  So I was very excited to see some in the supermarket last weekend. I thought about making another fabulous Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake, but decided I’d try something new with this precious new season rhubarb. This is quite a tart flan (heh), meaning if you like your desserts sugary, then this might not be to your taste. The lemon filling is just sweet enough to balance the tang of the rhubarb, but only just.  If you do make it and find it too tangy, a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream will go a long way to sorting that out.

Question: why is all the rhubarb I’ve ever seen here the green-y coloured rhubarb, and not the lovely pink-y coloured rhubarb that photographs so wonderfully? Am I just looking in the wrong places? It tastes the same, but green rhubarb just doesn’t look as appetizing. See above photo. The flan is actually tasty, I swear.

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The Baked Brownie

Phew! Where has the time gone? I honestly can’t believe that it’s almost April. It’s really great to see the hours of daylight (and, this week, sunlight) increasing and the mornings becoming brighter. It’s so much easier to feel enthusiastic about the cycle to college when it’s not against a practically-gale-force wind!

I’ve posted about brownies before. That recipe was for brownies that are fudgy and moist, and perhaps more ‘kid-friendly’ than the dark and densely chocolatey product of this recipe. The home of these brownies is the Baked coffee shop in Brooklyn, NY, a place I have unfortunately not yet visited, and, let me tell you, they are very good. The coffee brings out the dark depths of flavour in the chocolate and, just to see what would happen, I used chili cocoa powder instead of regular. Turns out I should have used more as the chili-ness was very subtle and in the background. I’ll ramp it up next time. The original recipe given below will fill a 9×13 inch baking tray or dish. I wasn’t sure that my waistline could handle that much brownie, so I halved the quantities and used an 8x8inch tin. I left the amount of coffee untouched as I don’t have any instant espresso (and I was damned if I was going to brew up a pot at 10pm) so I used regular, freeze-dried, instant, and I rounded up the halved egg quantity to 3. If you don’t have any unsalted butter, I think salted would work fine, just leave out the 1 tsp salt. When you read through the directions, the method can seem like a bit of hassle, but really, it’s all quite quick.

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