Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Velvety Beetroot Chocolate Brownies

If the thought of beetroot in baked goods leaves you somewhat bewildered, let me tell you one thing - whoever first used beetroot in brownies was a genius! They are velvety, super chocolatey, sweet but not excessively so and they are also quite pretty. I think they even beat the double chocolate ones and the vegan ones. And I would say they are about equally awesome as the aubergine chocolate cake. And they are adapted from a recipe from the same cookbook (Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache). A couple of years ago a few of us in St Andrews were somewhat obsessed with this book. All the cakes in it are made with vegetables (mostly root vegetables) and the all have an amazing texture and taste even better. Most of them actually taste way better than their non-vegetable cousins.
Beets, carrots and courgettes lend these cakes structure and airiness and a sweetness that you don't really get when you are using normal sugar. For those of you who like using agave syrup for baking. I feel like the effect is similar to the one you get when you replace sugar with dark agave in a cake.
Anyhow....I made these brownies after a long day at work. When I came home I found a couple of beets looking at me wanting to be eaten but I had no motivation whatsoever to roast them so I chopped them up, stuck them in the microwave and made some brownies. And after brownie number two I felt like it had been a good day after all :)

Velvety Beetroot Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Harry Eastwood)
400g Raw Beetroot (weigh them after peeled, topped and tailed them)
100g Almond Meal
3 Eggs
220g Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
150g Cooking Chocolate (the dark kind)
70g Cocoa Powder
2 tbsp Potato Flour or other kind of starch (rice or corn will work just as well)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 160˚C. Line a large gratin dish (approx. 27x20cm) with baking parchment.

Cut the beetroot into 2 cm pieces, place it in a microwaveable bowl with a tablespoon of water, cover with some cling film or a plate and microwave for 7 minutes (the original recipe says 10, my microwave is from the stone age (a.k.a. really slow) and whenever I have made these brownies and left them in there for 10 minutes I have ended up with mush, after 10 they are cooked through already).

While you are waiting for the beetroot, break the chocolate into pieces and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt until their volume has tripled. If you are using an electric whisk, this should take about 3-5 minutes, if you are using a balloon whisk and are using your own muscle power, I am a) totally impressed with you and b) have no clue how long things are going to take so whisk away until the volume has tripled or your arms fall off :)

Drain the water the beetroot has been cooking in, then puree until smooth. A hand held immersion blender works wonders here. Once you have beetroot puree staring at you, mix in the chocolate, recover the mixture and set it aside so the chocolate can melt.

Fold the almonds, starch, cocoa powder, baking powder and vanilla extract into the eggs. Make sure you have a homogeneous mixture.

Follow this by folding in the beetroot-chocolate purée until combined.

Pour the batter into the gratin dish and smooth out the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Allow the brownie to cool before you cut it into pieces because it breaks quite easily while it is still hot.

Milk obviously works really well here, but so does wine :)

I hope you have a fabulous rest of your week and that your Halloween costume was less ridiculous than mine (the 80s were somewhat alive). I will be back with another (yes, another) chocolatey recipe :)

Friday, 26 October 2012

Grown-Up Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I moved into my flat, 6 other people moved into the building as well. A few of us bonded over the fact that whoever did the renovations had a different concept of what a finished flat should look like (we think it should include ceilings without holes, working lights, oh, and warm water and working radiators tend to be a plus as well...) anyhow in the midst of stressing about builders and not being able to go and buy furniture, I met some really lovely people.
The cool thing about this rather lame story is that a few of us have started inviting each other over for dinner. This week we had a mean shepperd's pie one floor down and I made cookies. But I decided to make cookies 45 minutes before I dinner started and had no eggs or butter left. That's when I remembered that I could just make vegan cookies (well they would have been vegan if there had been soy milk in my kitchen...this way they were just egg free).
These cookies feel somewhat more grown-up than normal chocolate chip cookies because the chocolate flavour plays really nicely with the peppery notes and they are not overly sweet (that said....they're cookies, you'll still get over any kind of afternoon-lull with one or two of these).
The recipe mine is based on is the 'Chocolate Chocolate Walnut Cookie' (cool name, isn't it?) recipe from the fantastic Veganomicon (the original is lovely as is but I didn't have walnuts or almond extract either...) and  in case you are wondering - I like using fleur de sel in cookies because it seems to stay somewhat separate from the dough and you get those lovely bursts of saltiness (not excessively so, but enough to bring out the sweetness of the other ingredients).  

Grown-Up Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups Flour
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Bicarb
1/2 tsp Fleur de Sel
1/2 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper (if you use already ground pepper, you might want to use more)
2/3 cup Vegetable Oil (go for one that has a mild taste, canola is a good option)
1 1/2 cups Sugar
4 tbsp Ground Flaxseed
1/2 cup Milk (if you use a non-dairy alternative these cookies are vegan)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Pecan Halves
1 cup Dark Chocolate Chips (again, go for non-dairy and your vegan and lactose intolerant friends will love you)

Preheat your oven to 180˚C and line two baking trays with parchment.
On one of the trays lay out the pecans and roast them until they are dark brown (but not burned!). Allow them to cool slightly while continue with the next few steps.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, bicarb, fleur de sel and pepper in a bowl.
In a large bowl mix the oil and sugar, once you have a smooth mixture, add the flaxseed, milk, and vanilla extract.
Crumble the pecans into smallish pieces.
Mix the wet and the dry mix. If you start having issues combining them using a fork or whisk or spoon (or whatever you are using) switch to your hands :)
Add the pecan pieces and chocolate chips and make sure they are somewhat evenly distributed across the dough.
If you use a tablespoon measure and use it like you would use an ice-cream scoop (i.e. pile the dough up so you have something resembling a circular sphere) you should end up with 32 cookies. That means you end up with 16 cookies on each sheet and they'll be spaced out far enough.
Pat the cookie balls out a bit so you have cookie disks and bake them for 10-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.
I found that these cookies set quite late so even after 15 minutes I had perfectly gooey cookies after dinner. The next day at lunch I felt like I should have taken them out slightly earlier. So I guess the message is that it depends on when you are planning on eating the cookies.
Obviously, milk is amazing with these cookies, but they work really well with some red wine as well (since we're being all grown-up and stuff).

Do you have a favourite cookie recipe?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Spiced Brown Butter & Apple Muffins

Are you enjoying autumn as much as I am? We seem to be having a lot more gorgeous days than cold and rainy ones and the leaves on the ground are beautiful. Plus, the tomatoes that I planted way too late (i.e. when I got back from Florida in May) seem to be turning into mini-tomato-factories so I feel like it's still summer. That and the fact that I get to see some amazing friends in three weeks (DC and Williamsburg, VA, here I come!) and that I am finally making some progress with the whole blog-redesign mean I'm loving the world these days.
But let's talk muffins - I made these for science-lunch at work the other week and after a bit of a disaster involving sticky apple-cinnamon rolls where everything that could have gone wrong pretty much going wrong (how come the one time I actually follow a recipe it turns out to be a really horrible one?!?), I decided to not listen to recipes anymore and just do my own thing. I got the inspiration for these from the introduction to the brown butter scones in Amy Scattergood's Good to the Grain but I wanted muffins not scones and I had some apples that needed using know how that story tends to end. I like the crumb these muffins have because it is soft and springs back and there is a certain amount of lightness to it without being super fluffy like some shop-bought muffins can be.
Perhaps you should just try them yourself :)

Spiced Brown Butter & Apple Muffins
150g Apples, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
300g Flour
100g Raw Cane Sugar
1tsp Salt
1 tbsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1/4 tsp Cardamom
125 ml Single Cream
250 ml Milk
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (optional)
100g Butter + more for greasing
2 tbsp Almond Flour

Preheat your oven to 200˚C and butter 15 muffin cups out of 24 (I have two 12-cup tins) - space them out evenly (i.e. don't just use all cups in the first tin and only 3 in the second).
Sprinkle the bottom of each muffin cup with some almond flour. I had originally hoped that the almond mixture would form a somewhat separate layer from the batter and would form a nice contrast. That didn't really work but the almond flavour forms a really nice backdrop to the muffins so the almonds get to stay.
Heat the butter in a saucepan and allow it to brown. Wait until you have brown spots forming at the bottom of the pan and your kitchen smells like brown butter heaven. Take the butter of the heat and allow it to cool down slightly.
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. I really like how the spices pack quite a punch but it does have quite a Christmassy feel to it so if you want a toned-down version, I would use half the amounts of cloves, allspice and cardamom.
Whisk together milk, cream and eggs and once you have a smooth mixture, add the butter and the vanilla extract if you are using it. Combine the wet and the dry ingredients. Don't worry if you don't have a completely smooth batter - if you overwork the batter the muffins will become dense and chewy and simply not as nice as they turn out if you stop while there are still some small pockets of flour left in there.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester (or a dry piece of spaghetti) comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool down for 5 minutes or so before you turn them out on a wire rack to cool completely.
If you were to ask me I would recommend some coffee with these but I'm sure other stuff tastes really nice with them as well (it just won't keep you awake as well :) )

Monday, 15 October 2012

Plum & Bourbon Jam

I know it has been a while, and I wish I could tell you about all the exciting things I've done, but the truth is I was spreading myself a bit thin so I decided to focus on the 'important things in life' - work, sleep and practice. So it's pretty much been a couple of cereal-three-times-a-day weeks. Actually, that's not quite true - I went to a wedding near Paris a week ago where I had some of the best food I've ever had. We stayed at this amazing castle and it was simply amazing. I might not understand why you need not just one moat, but two of them...but hey...

Anyhow, I made this jam when I was still excited about fall (right now I'm just cold...) and to me it pretty much tastes like one of those sunny-but-still-foggy mornings that scream for warm jumpers and perhaps a hot toddy after a long walk through the woods. I got the idea from this jam but decided that booze is always a good idea, so in went the bourbon. I think any kind of whisky would work quite well here.
I used Zwetschgen rather than normal plums because I prefer them. But rather than writing a paragraph or two about the differences, this time I remembered to take a picture in case you still have no idea what I'm talking about.

A note on sugar. I use sugar that has pectin added so you use twice as much (weight-wise) fruit than sugar. I prefer the jams you get that way even though they are, technically, not jam anymore. I also like the 3:1 type because you get a super fruity spread but the one time I tried to make one myself it wouldn't set, so now I just try to convince people who are good at making that kind of jam to spread the love and give me a jar or two :)
Anyhow, what I am trying to say is - if you are using normal sugar follow the instructions on quantities somewhere like Food in Jars because both the cooking time and the amount of sugar you have to add change.

Plum & Bourbon Jam
1 kg Plums, stones taken out and cut into small pieces.
500g 2:1 Jam Sugar/ Gelling Sugar (Gelierzucker)
5 Star Anise Blossoms
50ml Lime Juice
80ml Bourbon

Mix the plums, sugar and star anise in a large, heavy bottomed pot and let it sit for an hour or two so you end up with a sirupy mixture that smells faintly of star anise.
Next you remove the star anise from the mixture and bring it to a boil over a medium heat. Don't worry, this will take a while. Once the the sugary mixture is boiling, set your timer to 4 minutes and keep stirring. After three minutes, add the lime juice and 50 ml of the bourbon, stir it in and taste. I feel like 80 ml was a good amount of bourbon but you might like things less smoky. If you feel like it could do with more than the 50 ml you just added, keep adding until you are happy with how the sweetness of the sugar and the plums balances with the tartness of the lime and the smoky flavour from the bourbon.
Take off the heat and fill into sterilised jars. I come from a family where we re-use old jam glasses and then seal them by letting them cool down upside-down (which creates a vacuum). I have seen a lot of blogs talk about how the jam won't last as long as it would if you added the extra canning step. I think you should do whatever you feel comfortable with but I have rarely seen a mouldy jar of jam (and the one I actually remember also looked like someone had been hoarding it since the 1950s...) so I think if you're planning to eat the jam within the next year or two it should be fine without the extra canning in a water-bath.

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