Monday, August 27, 2007

Moist Coconut Cake

Even though I am still not posting at the pace that I want to, I am glad that I have managed to post at least one recipe a week. Baby steps I suppose. This week I will post twice as Wednesday will bring a surprise post in this blog.

I have become very interested in the history of Brazilian cookery, the baking aspect to be more precise. Every time I go home to Brazil I buy a book and read, make notes. Our baking tradition has been highly influenced by our colonizers, the portuguese. And a lot of the ingredients we use in baking have either an European influence, an African influence – mostly West Africa, or influence from the Portuguese travels. Obviously there is a lot of local produce such as corn flour, manioc flour - hopefully I will be able to talk about that in future posts.

When it comes to coconut, I read that when the colonizers arrived in our continent they already found coconut trees along the Brazilian coast, but our native people did not use it in cooking. It was used mostly for drinking the water – which is very good for you and a habit highly cultivate up to this day, as well as for eating the coconut flesh. The cooking aspect, the use of coconut milk to be more precise, is an indirect influence of the Indian cooking. It was later adapted to baking.

We have loads of versions of coconut cake but this one in particular takes my fancy because it is not very sweet despite the fact that it uses condensed milk. The cake becomes really moist because it is drizzled with a mixture of coconut milk & sugar once baked. The end result is a lovely cake which can be consumed cold – if you have a fridge that is big enough you can leave the cake in there for a couple of hours before serving.

Moist coconut cake – brazilian style

4 eggs

¾ cup condensed milk – I used a 180ml ¾ cup

165g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

240g plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

To drizzle the cake:

240ml coconut milk

45g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven – 180oC/160oC fan assisted. Grease and dust with flour a 25cm round baking tray and reserve.

Beat the eggs for 5 minutes – they will double in volume. Then add the condensed milk, the melted butter, the sifted flour and baking powder. Mix with a spatula until the mixture is even, without any lumps. Be gentle when mixing. Pour the mixture in the reserved baking tray and bake for 30-35 minutes. As soon as you get it out of the oven use a fork/skewer to make tiny holes in the dough and pour the mixture of coconut milk and sugar on it. Let it cool in the tray for about 5 min and then transfer it to a cooling rack. Sprinkle it with grated coconut before serving. Use fresh grated coconut if available;if not dessicated will do fine.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

plum and pistachio cake

I have a good friend, with whom I worked in the past, who is again working with me. It is truly great. She is just a really nice girl and we do get on. Not that we always agree about everything, but we respect each other’s opinion. She also loves her food and we get to talk about food as well, and we share grocery shopping. Those things that you buy to keep in the office in case you have hunger pangs, cravings.We both care about food and the quality of what we buy.

The other week I really wanted to to bake her a cake. Loads of recipes came to mind. In the end I chose a recipe of plums, so abundant at this time of the year, and pistachio nuts. If anything the beautiful colours of green and red that the main ingredients bring to mind made my mind for me.

Cakes do not necessarily have to be covered in amazing decoration. They have to be made with lovely and fresh ingredients, and taste honest. Plums are such great fruit, and go really well in cakes. I already have a recipe that is a terrible success, simple, terribly honest.This one has the extra nutty element to it.

After being initally smitten by the ingredients I went to read the recipe and then fell even more in love with this simple cake when I learnt that there would be two layers of plums. Can you imagine how moist this cake will turn out – there is also added nuts to increase the moisture.

It tasted as lovely and moist as I suspected it would. Plus it had an added zest. It tasted even nicer the day after it was baked and it kept really well for about 4 days.

The preparation was dead simple which is another plus. And I share it here:

500g plums

50g shelled pistachios

175g softened butter

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

175g self raising flour ( or normal flour plus ¾ teaspoon baking powder)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/ 160oC fan assisted.

Butter and line the base of a 20-22cm cake tin with baking parchment. Halve and stone the plums, and then cut them in quarters.

Tip the pistachios into a food processor and finely grind. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, lemon zest and juice. Process for 1-2 mins until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Spoon half the cake mix into the prepared tin and smooth it over. Scatter half the plums evenly over the cake mix, then spoon the remaining cake mix on top. Smooth over and scatter with the remaining fruit.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the cake is firm and golden brown. Cool in the tin for 5 mins, then turn out and cool completely. Dust the top lightly with icing sugar for serving.

Recipe from Good Food Magazine, September 2007.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lime, clove and macadamia biscuits

It is a lovely feeling to be able to post here again after nearly two months – I think that is about that long. I had problems with my laptop initially – drowned its keyboard in red wine in a moment of excitement; it eventually stopped working properly; went away on a business trip which was meant to be for only 2 weeks and ended up being for nearly a whole month; came back and still had no laptop for about two more weeks. Paid many visits to different laptop shops and for quite some time gave up on my purchase after being confronted by very unhelpful shopkeepers.

Enough of complaining, here I am back. It feels great to post again, and this time a lovely, simple recipe. Ideal for an afternoon tea. A biscuit recipe.

The ingredients were the reason why I chose it: lime, cloves and macadamia nuts. How unususual!! I love limes. They are plentiful and cheap back home in Brasil. In the UK where I live they can be easily found in the region where I live but they are far from being cheap. However, I never go one week without buying some. Their flavour is equal to none. Sharper than the yellow variety.There was a time in my childhood when I enjoyed sucking them. I remember pretending that they were like a nectar to me - go figure!!

Then there comes cloves. I am a bit fascinated by cloves. I remember this nanny that my brother had who used to chew cloves for a few minutes before going out. It would give her a lovely breath.Fresh. Over the last few years I have developed the habit of having a clove-chewing session every so often. Just for the sake of the taste. I then discard it.

In this recipe by Peter Gordon, a new zealander chef who lives in the UK, the limes and cloves come together in this lovey,little recipe. Plus the macadamia. I could not resist it. The page where the recipe is printed on was ear-marked for quite some time and this morning these biscuits finally came to life. In addition to the loveliness of flavours, which go very well together, not in an overpowering way at all, there is also the fact that these biscuits melt in one’s mouth. After being taken from the oven they have to be handled with care when time comes to transferring them to a cooling rack. I didn’t know that and ended up sweeping the kitchen floor which got covered in biscuit crumbs.

Lime, clove and macadamia biscuits

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature

80g icing sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves

150g flour

130g cornflour

½ teaspoon baking powder

150g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 170oC ( 150oC fan assisted oven). Line a baking tray with baking paper and set it aside.

Cream butter, icing sugar, zest of lime and cloves until pale. Sift flours and baking powder and mix into butter, then stir in nuts. Divide mixture into 24 balls and place them on the baking tray leaving a lot of space between them – you might have to split them into at least two batches.

Lightly press mixture down with your thumb, then bake for 16-20 minutes, until they go just a little golden. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and leave to go cold.

If stored in an airtight container will keep well for about 5 days.