Tuesday 10 July 2012

Cheesecake brownies

It’s now July and whilst everybody else is looking forward to their summer holidays, I, rather forlornly, am looking back at mine.  Yes, I’ve already had my two weeks of fun, so for a while at least, the closest I’m going to get to feasting on foreign culinary delights is through repeats of the 'Hairy Bikers’ Bakeation' (by golly, I love that programme) on the telly-telly bunkum box.

Still, I mustn’t really grumble as I got to go to Boston this year.  Twinny lives there you see.  I’ll be honest with you, for about 355 days of the year, her living so far away is something I look upon ruefully, but for about 10 days of the year, it has its benefits.

Anyway, as this was my second trip to Boston, I decided that rather than exerting myself with strenuous touristic activities, this time I would take my own bakeation of sorts.  So each day, armed with my laptop, I chose a different bakery in which to while away the hours, surfing the net and sampling the all-Amreekan* goodies the bakeries had to offer.
One such  goody was a brownie.  It is said that brownies actually originated in Boston, so upon my return, to remind me of my holiday, and more importantly of twinny, I thought I would bake some.  These are with a twist as they are cheesecake brownies, which also contain chocolate chunks just for good measure!

The recipe below is one by David Lebovitz and it works a treat as long as you follow my basic rules, which, if you take my advice, should really be adhered to for any brownie recipe:
  1. Always use good quality, high cocoa content chocolate (minimum 70%) for melting with your butter, otherwise your brownies just won’t be rich enough and will taste sweet rather than chocolaty.
  2. Resist the temptation to over-bake.  Brownies should be dense and fudgy in consistency, not cake-like.  If you can bring yourself to take them out of the oven a couple of minutes earlier than the stated time, do so; if you’re worried they haven’t set, put them in the fridge for a few hours before cutting, they’ll be fine.
  3. If adding solid, unmelted chocolate, as called for in this recipe, I implore you not to use poor quality chocolate chips.  They are, quite frankly, pish tosh.  It’s worth the small effort of cutting chunks from a bar of solid chocolate instead.  Besides, that way you get substantial chunks of semi-melted chocolate in your mouth rather than tiny pip-sized chips!
*Amreekan = American in Urdu.  Sometimes, it just works.  Go with it.

Adapted ever so slightly from David Lebovitz

I got 25 mini brownies using an 8"x8" tin

For the brownie batter:
85g unsalted butter
115g chocolate (70% cocoa)
130g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
70g plain flour
1tbsp cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
80g chocolate (40-70% cocoa), chopped into small chunks

For the cheesecake batter:
200g full-fat cream cheese
1 large egg yolk
75g granulated sugar
Few drops of vanilla extract

Line an eight or nine inch square tin with foil, ensuring the foil comes up over the sides of the tin, then grease lightly with an unscented oil (I used sunflower).

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).

For the brownie batter, melt the butter and chocolate together, either in the microwave or over a bain marie.  Once melted, stir together to combine, then beat in the sugar followed by the eggs (I used a wooden spoon for the entire recipe, saving on washing up fiddly whisks and electric beaters).

Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, mixing it all into the batter before adding the vanilla paste and chocolate chunks and giving it all another good mix.  Spoon the batter into your tin, smoothing it over so that it's nice and even.

For the cheesecake batter, beat the cream cheese, yolk, sugar and vanilla extract together in a bowl.  Roughly divide this into eight and spoon the eighths into dollops onto the brownie batter in the tin.

Using a spatula (works well if you have an offset spatula), swirl the two batters together before baking in the oven for 30-35 minutes (see below picture to compare the raw and baked swirled batter).

Allow to cool fully before lifting the foil out of the tin, peeling it away and cutting your baked brownies into small squares.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Almond roulade with strawberries and cream (gluten free)

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend the day on Centre Court at Wimbledon, watching the likes of Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and yes, the man the whole nation is pinning its hopes on, Andy Murray smashing the ball with the same kind of vehemence and enthusiasm I reserve for eating chocolate cake.  I’ve always been entirely useless at sports myself; much as I dreamt of being a sports prodigy when I was a teenager, the fact that I was the kid picked last for every single sports event going soon made me realise my skills clearly lay elsewhere!  As such, I could only marvel yesterday at the sporting prowess of those I was watching.

Of course, when it comes to Wimbledon, I’ll be frank with you, my first thought is not really about the tennis and who I might get to see play, but the fact that I will get to eat strawberries with lashings of cream!  Strawberries, like all food, seem to be available virtually year-round nowadays, but it’s actually only during six or so short weeks - within which Wimbledon falls - that they are really in season and at their best.  So feeling inspired by my little jaunt to the All England Lawn Tennis Club, today I seized the opportunity to bake with these little jewels of berryness.

I make this roulade a lot, particularly for dinner parties, as it makes a great dessert.  Please don’t let the thought of having to roll the sponge put you off – honestly, it doesn’t matter if the end product doesn’t look like something Mary Berry has made, it will still taste lovely.  An added bonus is that the light and airy sponge is gluten-free, so if, like me, you have friends and family who are wheat-intolerant, it’s the perfect thing to whip up.

If I’m entirely honest, my favourite variation of this dessert is when I gently fold some lemon curd into the whipped cream and scatter raspberries on top before rolling the sponge, but, when in Wimbledon…

Adapted from 'Ideal Home Entertaining' by Susan Spaull
100g caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
100g ground almonds
Pinch of salt
55g flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting
300ml double cream
225g fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat oven to 190C (170C fan).  Line a shallow roasting tray with baking paper (I use one that is approximately 14"x9").

Reserve 1 tbsp caster sugar for the egg whites.  Whisk the remainder with the egg yolks in a bowl until light and thick, then stir in the ground almond mixture.
Whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until just stiff, then beat in the reserved 1 tbsp of sugar.

Dollop a large spoonful of the whites into the almond mixture, giving it a good stir to loosen up the mixture, which will be fairly stiff.  Fold in the remaining egg whites carefully.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle over half of the flaked almonds.  Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown and risen, then cool on a wire rack.

Dust a large piece of greaseproof paper with icing sugar.  Turn out the roulade into the paper.
Whip the cream until it just holds its shape and spread it over the roulade.  Cover the cream with the strawberries, then roll the roulade up and place it on a serving dish.  Decorate with the remaining flaked almonds.

(For my lemon and raspberry version, when assembling the roulade, fold a couple of heaped tablespoons of lemon curd gently through the whipped cream before spreading it over the roulade. Then zest a lemon evenly over the cream before scattering raspberries on top. Finish by rolling the roulade as normal and decorating with flaked almonds)