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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Courgette, Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

Why the frick do you all recoil in horror when I mention a courgette cake?

I mean seriously, you eat carrot cake with all the zest of a sponge-addicted fiend. Rhubarb crumble by the forkful – yes it’s (largely considered to be) a vegetable. I’ve even discussed the merits of adding baked beetroot to brownies – my dad’s speciality. Yet why is it that when a soft, pillowy sponge sandwiched with a tart creamy frosting is presented on the table, the first instinct is a wrinkled nose and a quizzical: “Courgette?”

I haven’t a precise date for when I first made this cake, but it has been a firm favourite for a good many years. The moisture in the courgette makes this cake very soft, helping it keep for days. In fact I baked this cake two days before I presented it and it still maintained a soft crumb without going stale. Not that if it sat in the house it would go spare I hasten to add.

I think what is so perfect about this cake is that there are so many stages, but that they can be broken down into manageable chunks. Squeezing the moisture from the courgettes and letting them dry gives your arms a good workout for 10 minutes. Folding the mix together then baking takes another hour. Then a tart lemon drizzle to steep into the cakes, and finally finishing with a smooth creamy icing that completes the whole cake perfectly.

It may be slightly rustic and unfinished looking – a ring of poppy seeds sorts that crime out – but the first slice reveals a speckled cake filled with forest green flecks of courgette. Perhaps that is the mystery of this cake’s changing appeal, a sort of shudder-inducing idea of eating your greens enrobed in a classic sponge. If that is the case then pass me another slice, I want more of my five a day.

 

Adapted slightly from BBC Good Food

 

You Will Need

2 small courgettes

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g caster sugar

3 eggs

2 lemons, zested plus 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla paste

100g self raising flour

100g wholemeal flour

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

 

For the Lemon Drizzle

25g icing sugar

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

 

For the Frosting

50g unsalted butter, softened

50g icing sugar

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

250g cream cheese

ingredients for courgette cake

Preheat an oven to 180oc/160oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins and set aside. Coarsely grate the courgettes onto a clean tea towel then gather up and squeeze as much water as possible from the vegetables into a sink. You need to be firm at this stage, otherwise the batter will become too wet and the cake soggy. Unravel the tea towel and pat the shredded courgette to remove any surface water. Ideally leave to air dry slightly as you weigh the other ingredients.

Courgette Cake ingredients

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand held whisk, cream the butter and sugar together until thick and creamy. Beat in the eggs one by one until fully combined. The mixture may split a little at this stage but the flours will bring it back together. Add the dried courgettes, vanilla paste, lemon zest and juice then stir to combine. Whisk together the flours, poppy seeds, baking powder and salt then add all at once to the wet mix. Fold in carefully then divide between the two cake tins. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

courgette cake batter

Once the cakes have cooked, leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. Remove the lining and prick with a fork all over. Whisk together the drizzle ingredients then paint over the cakes using a pastry brush. Leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whisk the butter in a stand mixer or with a handheld whisk then add the sugar and beat until creamy. Add the lemon zest and juice and the cream cheese and beat until a runny icing has formed. Although it may seem rather drippy, the lemon juice will set the frosting so don’t be tempted to add extra sugar. Add 1/3 of the icing on top of one cake and spread evenly across. Place the second cake on top then smooth over another layer. As the icing can be quite wet, I tend to do this in layers rather than all in one go to give the frosting time to set. Once you are happy, decorate with poppy seeds then serve.

Instagram Pic of Courgette Cake

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

There is a paper bag. A hand opens it up, pursed like a pair of lips that seem eager to devour the delicious contents it is about to be filled with.

“What will it be?”

Hands are pressed against the faux-glass plastic that sits between you and the cookies. Scanning your eyes across the flavours, you pick out so many variations on classic chocolate: Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, Toffee Chocolate Chip, Triple Chocolate Chip.

But there’s one more to choose.

Raspberry and White Chocolate. Fuzzy muted tones of bitter raspberry swept through cookie dough and piled high with white chocolate. Slightly caught on the edges, but the middle dense and chewy. Light and pretty, it is a cookie to be proud of. The perfect final addition to a bag of Millie’s Cookies.

I’m not sure anyone quite has chain-bakery memories like I do. When I was younger, shopping trips with my mum and sister would always follow a pattern; H&M, Gap, Claire’s Accessories (hairclips and earrings ftw). Then a baked tattie; cheese and coleslaw for mum, tuna for Emily and prawn mayo for me. Then more shopping. All of a sudden 4pm hits and a stop at Millie’s Cookies is inevitable

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies evoke memories of those teenage shopping trips with my family. My sister and I would snaffle the remaining two from a bag of five in the car home, but the first choice in the cafe was the raspberry. I guess when you are younger, you have inexplicable favourites, the way you have a favourite nail polish colour, favourite pizza toppings and a preferred Bacardi Breezer flavour. You don’t know why, but it’s the colour, combo and neon-pink of watermelon you always go for.

I think I had forgotten about my teenage inexplicable favourites until I found freeze dried raspberries the other day. Parked next to a creamy packet of Chocolat Patissier Menier, the temptation was too much to resist. This version modifies my favoured cookie recipe, a slow-baked version that doesn’t catch the raspberry pieces the way they would on a higher setting. The brown sugar adds a caramel-like sweetness to the mix and the melting white chocolate oozes class. I may not be a teen anymore, but my inexplicable favourite has just grown up.

You Will Need

250g unsalted butter, room temperature

130g caster sugar

130g soft light brown sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

338g plain flour

100g good quality white chocolate, finely chopped.

3 tbsp freeze dried raspberry pieces (I found mine in the baking aisle of Sainsbury’s)

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookie Ingredients

Place the butter and two sugars in a large bowl and beat in a stand mixer or with a handheld whisk until creamy. Add the eggs and beat again. Whisk together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda then beat into the egg mix. Stir through the chocolate and raspberry pieces with a spatula until thoroughly distributed. Cover the bowl in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookie Dough

Preheat an oven to 180oc/160oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and set aside. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge and place heaping tablespoons spaced widely apart onto the baking sheets. Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden round the edges. Cool for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

Cherry Tomato Rocket and Pesto Pizza

On Monday I woke up at 5am, sunshine blazing through the sides of my bedroom blinds and radiating a blistering heat throughout my room. Later at 8am, I peeked behind the blinds as I got ready for work and lo and behold a bright blue sky awaited – spring had finally sprung. I celebrated by not wearing a scarf to work.

The eventual delivery of spring has been tied up in ‘Sorry You Were Out!’ cards and Return to Sender stamps, each hinting that bright ball of sunshine was just around the corner. But instead all we’ve been given is sleet, snow, hail, rain and wind, alongside a healthy dose of duvet days. So when that crack of sunshine told me I might get to wear sandals this year, I immediately turned my thoughts to this spring-like pizza.

I’ve experimented with pizza dough’s in the past – packet mixes, self raising flour cheats and sneaks of baking powder. But none compare to a simple Sunday making fresh yeasted dough. At first this dough seems shaggy and unusable and looks like it would never rise. But hide next to the boiler, go watch a film and it will magically double into a pillow-soft pizza base in just two hours. Productive proving.

This pizza topping recipe is also adapted from Shutterbean, where I found the dough recipe, but with a few tweaks. In my mind a rocket salad needs balsamic and parmesan shavings and a fresh torn ball of mozzarella triumphs over goats cheese any day. But the base of this pizza is really lifted by a layer of fresh pesto, using this recipe here. Light and fresh, this pizza makes for the perfect springtime meal to share or to hoard. Personally, I’d stick a ‘Sorry You Were Out!’ through your dinner mate’s door and watch the last episode of Gossip Girl on repeat with this pizza. Sometimes spring comes with its own duvet days too.

 

Adapted slightly from Shutterbean

 

You Will Need

 

For the Pizza Dough

600g strong white bread flour

¾ tsp salt

¾ tsp caster sugar

335ml tepid water

7g sachet yeast

 

For the Toppings

2 tbsp fresh pesto (I used this recipe)

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, washed

1 ball of mozzarella, torn

2 handfuls rocket

A squeeze of lemon juice

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

A small handful of parmesan shavings

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

yeast pizza dough

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and sugar and yeast. Pour in all the water and bring together with your hands or a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a clean work surface and quickly knead until the dough is combined. Place dough back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for two hours until doubled in size.

Resting Pizza Dough

After two hours, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two. Leave to rest for a further 30 minutes.

If you want to use the other dough a different day, wrap tightly in clingfilm twice then refrigerate for a day or freeze for up to a month. I’ve frozen the second half and forgotten about it defrosting in the fridge for the day and it was fine. Be mindful to rest again before using as freezing can make the dough slightly sticky.

Cherry Tomato Rocket and Pesto Pizza Toppings

Preheat an oven to 240oc/220oc fan/ Gas Mark 7. Oil a large baking sheet with 2 tbsp of olive oil and carefully stretch the dough into a large rectangle. Smooth over the pesto and top with an even layer of mozzarella and tomatoes then bake for 15-18 minutes until crisp.

PIzza before it is baked

Meanwhile dress the leaves with the balsamic, lemon, remaining oil and parmesan shavings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once the pizza has baked, scatter over the salad and serve immediately.

Edge of Pesto Pizza

Pesto recipe from VSPP

Pesto is a funny little kitchen basic – in many respects it isn’t one. It isn’t essential for a risotto the way a pile of parmesan is, nor the backbone of salted butter in a pan of mashed potatoes. It isn’t the milk for your tea, the loaf for your morning toast or the instant coffee to perk up your mornings. But in the way that margarine isn’t as delicious on a scone or UHT milk curdles in your cuppa, jarred pesto is a stunted fridge essential that never really gets away from the aftertaste of preservatives and added rubbish.

The real deal is infinitely better, more so because you can put your own spin on it. You can add a hint of Asian tang with lime juice, like I have, or sub in a different nut like walnuts if you wish. You could choose untoasted nuts; half basil and half rocket or add decadent chilli oil to the mix. It’s a simple kitchen staple that is so personal to everyone, that this blog post isn’t really a recipe at all, merely a guideline. Pesto is the staple for mixing up the perfect sauce for your lunchbox pasta salad, a spread for your mozzarella and tomato panini or baked onto a pizza in place of a rich tomato sauce (coming later on this week!)

What is really essential is that you step away from the jars and step into the kitchen. Pesto making is therapeutic and painterly, watching the ingredients turn from milky white garlic, to forest green basil, to soft parmesan lime and a final dollop of jade that coats a strand of spaghetti beautifully. Of course, you could zap the ingredients in a food processor but where is the fun in that? Grab a mortar and pestle and crush your way to a tastier essential. You need never pick up a jar again.

 

You Will Need

50g pine nuts

2 garlic cloves

Pinch of sea salt

80g (one bag) fresh basil

25g finely grated parmesan

Juice of half a lime

Freshly ground black pepper

75ml olive oil

 

Heat a saucepan over a medium heat then add the pine nuts. Swirl around the pan to keep the nuts evenly toasted, which should take around 5 minutes. As the oils are released, the nuts begin to toast quicker. Once lightly golden, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Slice the garlic cloves and add to a mortar and pestle with the salt – slicing into smaller pieces helps to grind the garlic quicker. Once crushed to a smooth paste, wash the basil and add to the bowl, crushing again. Mix in the parmesan then crush in the nuts to form a pesto paste. Add the lime juice for a sour tang and season with black pepper. Pour in the oil and mix in with the pestle. Transfer to a jam jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Homemade Pesto by VSPP