Friday, 14 May 2010


Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

When I first read the details of this challenge I honestly did not think that it would be all that challenging (this months daring bakers has been the one giving me nightmares!). How little did I know. My first challenge was sourcing ingredients. The only tomatillos that I could find ANYWHERE were the tinned variety. As i have never seen these before let alone used them in my cooking I was not certain that these would suffice, but I did not really have much of a choice. The next challenge was the chillis to use for teh green chilli sauce. Nowhere I hunted had large, no-so-hot green chillis of the type described in the recipe and in all my online research I could not find any alternatives locally available. So I had to get creative with the ingredients.

I also thought that I'd make my own tortillas which was not a requirement but I thought would be fun (ha!) and not that hard (ha ha!). This, was a disaster, to say the very least. The first batch were a total write off and the 2nd batch were barly passable because we were so tired by that stage that we did not much care what we were going to eat as long as we could eat and then go to bed! I don;'t know whether it was my lack of tortilla pan that was the issue or some part of my dough-mixing technique but the tortillas did not look pretty and they tasted barely edible.

But, it was a good laugh so I can't really grumble. My chilli sauce ended up being a red chilli enchilada sauce rather than a green one due to the (un)availability of ingredients but it had a good flavour and packed quite a kick which went really well with the chicken, tortillas and cheese (although I ran out of cheese so had none left to put on the top). I also made mango salsa and guacamole to go with the enchiladas as no mouthful of enchilada is complete without them. My final verdict? I do love a good enchilada, but (and I know its complete and utter sacrilege) I may stick to the Old El Paso kits in future!

Or at least that is how I was feeling at 9pm after making overly hot chilli sauce, bizarre tasting mole sauce and the ugliest tortillas that I have ever seen. Honestly, I will probably attempt these guys again some time, maybe when I have a whole day to spare and not feeling under the week-day pressure. I may resort to store-bought tortillas though as mine were just too horrendous for words.  That will teach me to underestimate the challenge of a DC challenge!

I am now determined that next month will be better and I will NOT underestiamte the challenge and I WILL make a sucess of it!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chocolate & Pumpkin Brownies

The English and the South Africans for that matter do not have the tendency to use Pumpkin in sweet dishes like the Americans do. In fact, I have not seen ANY sweet pumpkin dishes while I have been in the UK and the only Pumpkin Pie I ever saw in South Africa was made by the American mother of my American friend. I do have fond memories of that pumpkin pie however so when I came across this recipe for Chocolate and Pumpkin Brownies, I was fascinated and it certainly appealed to the adventurous side of my baking persona. So I thought I'd give it a try. The first obstacle was finding tinned pumpkin, not a common ingredient in Manchester, England. I did manage to source it from an online American food shop.

So on Saturday afternoon while taking a break from my latest pewtering project, which I'd been working on for a good few hours and was getting rather achey hands & wrists, I set to work on the brownies. I find that there is something incredibly soothing to me in the baking process. I find myself in a sort of relaxed trance while pulling out all the ingredients, measuring, weighing and even lining the baking tin. I know many people who find baking very stressful, so call me a freak if you will but I simply love it.

The initial process was much the same as any other brownie recipe. Chopping chocolate, melting it with butter, mix the dry ingerdients together, etc. but I was absolutely fascinated by the step where it came to dividing the mixture in half and adding the chocolate to one half and the pumpkin to the other half. The recipe had warned that the chocolate half of the mixture may be very stiff and hard to spread in the tin but luckily I had no such problem. Things did get interesting though when in my baking-induced coma I threw the whole tin of pumpkin into the mixture, mixed well, and then realised that I was only supposed to use a cup and a half. But as it was too late by this time to turn back, I just carried on and hoped for the best whith crossed fingers (and toes!).

Luckily while lining the brownie tin I had left a good 5cm of baking parchment up all 4 sides and this rescued my very full brownie tin from overflowing. If it had not been for that I would have had a very, very messy oven and baking tin and I may have been scared off using pumpkin for like. So after layering my 2 mixtures in my very full tin, it went into the oven for the allocated time (with me peeking in every 5 minutes to see whether the rather flimsy baking parchment enclosure was holding). Luckily all was well and when I took them out of the oven they looked fantastic, all orange and brown marbled, and they tasted fantastic!

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
From Martha Stewart Living


(Makes 16-20, depending on how big you cut them and whether you add a lot more pumpkin than you're supposed to!)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don't set.

With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Twisted Black Bottom Cupcakes

I don't know anyone who does not like cupcakes. That is not to say that such people do not exist, but they certaibly do not exist in my little world and certainly not in my office where most of my kitchen-creations end up. I can always count on my dear colleagues to help me finish that batch of cupcakes biscuits or pies that I just cannot bring myself to indulge in any further, and my waistline thanks me for it. I absolutley love cooking and baking. To be honest I do not know what I would do without it as a hobby, but if I were to eat each and every one of my creations, I would undoubtably be the size of a house, especially because I have absolutely no willpower whatsoever. So thankfully I can treat myself to a sample of each biscuit, cake or tart, and the rest comes along with me to the office to be devoured by my fellow workers.

This time it was another Smitten recipe, for Black Bottom Cupcakes. Now my baking rarely turns out the same as the picture and this was certainly true in this case. They overflowed despite me using rather large cupcake-cases. But even though a portion of tasting is with the eye, my colleagues had never seen the picture of how they were supposed to look and well, ignorance is bliss and all that. They went down very well.

I only made one teeny tiny change to the recipe, and that was in the chocolate I used in the cheesecakey mixture. Rather than regular dark chocolate I used Green & Black's Mayan Spiced chocolate. I mainly picked it up while browsing chocolate in the shop on the weekend because I recalled someone telling me that it was very good, so I thought it could only add an interesting twist to the cupcakes. And it certainly did. The spicy undertones that permeated through the cheesecake and chocolate parts of the cupcake gave it a very unusual taste and one that pleasently surprised the tastebuds. I am now an official fan of the spiced chocolate and will definitely be venturing to use it again in the occasional unsuspecting chocolatey recipe.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

The Great Book of Chocolate, David Lebovitz via Deb at Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 12 full-size cupcakes
(this is the official spin, but as mine overflowed rather a lot, I'd spread the mixture out more to 15 or so full size cupcakes)

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.

Make the cupcakes:

1. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.

2. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring until just smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.

4. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely, which is (not in my experience!)fine (so spread them out a little more)

5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed. These moist treats will keep well unrefrigerated for 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Smitten Pop-Tarts

Over the last few months I have totally fallen head-over-heels for a blog called Smitten Kitchen. The recipes, photography and witty prose are everything that I could only ever dream that my blog could be. She also happens to have thousands, or maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands of readers and I have none really (in effect I am talking to myself which is both a bit weird and a bit sad). The author Deb truly is a fantastic writer and manages to transport her readers to her tiny little oven of a NYC apartment. After reading her posts for a while you feel like you come to know her husband and darling baby son and you just want to be invited round for dinner. I suppose that this is one of the amazing things about the internet. It can make people who are on opposite sides of the globe feel like they are neighbours.

I have tried a few of her recipes recently and I will eventually force myself to move on to another recipe source, but her creations just look so absolutely fantastic I just want to make them immediately so that I can 'taste the picture'. The latest re-creation is pop-tarts. Living in the UK and never having been to America (only Canada which is not the same) I have not had very much exposure to pop-tarts. I do believe that I have had them once before on a long-ago trip to Canada where upon seeing them in the shops, we just had to get some as pop-tarts for breakfast is what they do on TV. I honestly do not really remeber what they tasted like, so they cannot have been particularly awful or particularly great. Simply forgettable. Besides, my appreciation for food was not as developed all those years ago so I did not have the sense to read the lable to see the horrors in the ingredients list.

So pop-tarts is was this weekend, and previously having been terrified of pastry due to a couple of long-ago super-glueishly stick or sandy dry pastry attmepts, I had mot made any in SO long until last month. Now, after a couple of attempts I have made friends with the pastry gods and now am feeling quite comfortable with it (I know that saying this will probably jinx me but I'll chance it).

Homemade Pop Tarts

Adapted from King Arthur Flour by Deb at Smitten Kitchen (baking goddess)

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk
1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

Cinnamon Filling (enough for 9 tarts)
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Jam Filling
3/4 cup (8 ounces) jam
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

Alternate fillings: 9 tablespoons chocolate chips, 9 tablespoons Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut paste or 9 tablespoons of a delight of your choice, such as salted caramel or a nut paste

To make cinnamon filling: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

To make jam filling: Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter with your fingers, pastry blender or food processor until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. If you’ve used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Whisk the first egg and milk together and stir them into the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive, kneading briefly on a well-floured counter if necessary.

Divide the dough in half (approximately 8 1/4 ounces each), shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3×5 inches. You can roll this out immediately (see Warm Kitchen note below) or wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Assemble the tarts: If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. [You can use a 9" x 13" pan, laid on top, as guidance.] Repeat with the second piece of dough. Set trimmings aside. Cut each piece of dough into thirds – you’ll form nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

Beat the additional egg and brush it over the entire surface of the first dough. This will be the “inside” of the tart; the egg is to help glue the lid on. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each rectangle, keeping a bare 1/2-inch perimeter around it. Place a second rectangle of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Repeat with remaining tarts.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Charming tip from King Arthur: Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.

Bake the tarts: Remove the tarts form the fridge, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Cool in pan on rack.