Sunday, 1 March 2015

Foodie Finds in Cambridge

My aunt has a flat that she rents out in Cambridge and a couple of weeks ago it became vacant for a few days in-between new tenants arriving. She kindly offered it to us to use as a base for a few days. My mum and I jumped at the chance and enjoyed a lovely girly weekend away.

Central Square Market
The first day we spent shopping, exploring the famous outdoor market, winding passageways and arcades. We decided to eat out at lunchtime and then buy some goodies to take back to the flat to enjoy for dinner. We couldn’t resist getting these grapes off the market – just look at the size of them, absolutely gigantic! I’ve never seen such large grapes in my life, and they only had 2-3 tiny seeds inside too. They were deliciously crisp and sweet. We went back at the end of our stay to try and buy some more but sadly he wasn’t there that day.

There is also a fantastic bread stall called The Earth’s Crust, for those lucky people who can eat gluten. My mum bought a delicious walnut bread and sourdough from here which she enjoyed with our giant grapes and some local cheese in the evening.

I’d planned ahead and taken my own gluten free bread, but also indulged in some delicious artisan cheese from the CambridgeCheese Company. This is hidden down a side alley and well worth hunting out. It’s a real treasure trove of cheeses, meats, olives, oils and other assorted gourmet ingredients.

Rainbow Café – King’s Parade
For lunch we decided to try Rainbow Café. It’s an entirely vegetarian café that also caters magnificently for vegans, coeliacs and dairy free diets. It’s almost a secret restaurant, as it has no obvious shop front along the street but is secluded down a narrow alleyway, situated directly opposite the famous Kings Collage Cambridge. So if you see this you know you are in the right location.

Look out for the Rainbow Café sign down the alleyway and follow it down until you get to a door surrounded by hangings baskets filled with flowers. Open the door and walk down the steps into the depths below. This opens out into a few interconnecting rooms, hidden beneath the street above. The ceilings are low and the wooden tables are clustered into nooks and crannies. The walls are brightly coloured and adorned with mirrors giving it a very inviting and cheery atmosphere. You really feel like you have stumbled upon a hidden gem.

It may have a secret location, but it’s by no means a secret to the locals – we got there early and within minutes all the tables were taken. Some people have a set, somewhat negative view of what vegetarian food is. If you know of any such doubters – take them here – the food is outstanding, a real mix of international flavours and dishes, and not a boring mushroom risotto or goats cheese tart in sight! Instead you have dishes like Jamaican Roti Cups, Latvian Potato Bake or Enchilladas.

I should think 70% of the menu was naturally gluten free, which made me very dithery and indecisive over what to choose from the menu – I’m not used to so much choice! In the end I had Pepper Pot: A West Indian favourite - fiery hot as the Caribbean, jewel peppers, seasonal pumpkin, carrot, onion, garlic, tamarind and coconut. This was served on rice’n’peas and topped with a large wedge of fresh pineapple and a side salad. The photos don’t do it justice, but being underground doesn’t lend itself well to photos.

It was amazing. Sweet yet slightly spicy, the heat growing as I ate it. It was creamy from the coconut and a generous amount of nutty brown rice underneath. The fresh pineapple was sweet and juicy and was great to take bites from in-between spicy mouthfuls. I’ve never had a dish like it.

We were both full after our lunch but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try one of the desserts from the specials board – not when 10 of the 13 dessert specials were gluten free – what choice!

We decided to share the Lime & Zucchini cake as this sounded a bit different. It came in a generous wedge and had a fabulous pudding-cake texture. It was moist, dense and fudgy. The top was doused in a zingy lime syrup and flecks of courgette/zucchini were visible speckled throughout the cake. It reminded me of sticky toffee pudding in texture, and we think we picked up on a subtle hint of ginger too. Amazing, especially as it was gluten free, dairy free, egg free and vegan. I’d love the recipe. This place really is a must visit for the charm, food and fun top secret location alone – whether you have dietary requirements or not.

Afternoon Tease – Kings Street
Afternoon Tease (love the name) is a buzzing café located just outside the main shopping square in Cambridge. It serves a wonderful selection of brunches, lunches and of course plenty of mouth-watering cakes for afternoon tea. Everything is made fresh daily on site, and the menu is always changing according to seasonality and what the team feel like trying out on the day. I think this is a wonderful idea and keeps it fresh and exciting. You never know what’s going to be on offer each visit. Look at their facebook site for some very drool-worthy photos.

We visited Afternoon Tease for morning coffee and cake on our final day. I’d emailed the lovely owner Jo in advance to ask about gluten free cake, and was told they always had at least one offering. Sure enough when we arrived there was a choice of gluten free pistachio lemon drizzle loaf cake or almond financiers. It was so nice to see something other than the bog standard gluten free brownie.

I went for the pistachio and lemon drizzle loaf cake and it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had out. It was damp and closely textured, yet wonderfully soft and light. It had a pale green tint from the nuts of which there were also a few chunks scattered throughout the cake, giving it a nice bite. The top had been doused in a zingy lemon syrup which complimented the pistachio flavour perfectly.

My mum went for a slice of ginger cake with lemon cream cheese frosting, which was also studded with chunks of glace ginger. She enjoyed it, but after tasting mine she got cake envy and has made me promise to try and recreate the pistachio cake at home. The coffee was excellent too. I’d love to go back to try their lunch options sometime.

Mill Road
Another place to explore is Mill Road which is a bit outside the city centre. It’s a long street lined with a whole assortment of independent shops, restaurants and cafés. I even found a vegetarian wholefoods and stocked up on some gluten free bread, noodles and crackers, all brands I’ve only ever seen online before.

The Sea Tree – Mill Road
Walk right to the end of Mill Road and over the railway bridge and you come to The Sea Tree which is a fabulous fresh fish and chip shop. They can cook you fresh gluten free fish and/or chips any day of the week. They have a separate fryer for their chips and also use this for any gluten free requests, of which they have a separate gluten free batter. They only serve fresh fish, no pizzas or burgers and you can get them to eat in or take away. Everything is fresh and you are not limited to cod or haddock either. If you want calamari, scallops or sea bass that’s not a problem and you can also have it battered, fried or grilled. You can’t beat a freshly cooked, piping hot crisp chip, eaten straight out the paper with your fingers. Another must if you are staying locally.

Fitzbillies – Trumpington Street
Finally, if you are not needing to eat gluten free then you must also stop by Fitzbillies. A traditional wooden fronted bakery/café that has been going since 1921, and is now run by the famous food writer Tim Hayward. They are famous for their huge (and my mum declares delicious) sticky Chelsea Buns.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Big Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

I’ve never had much success baking muffins. Everyone has that one recipe they just can’t quite master, their Achilles heel if you will. Muffins are mine. Most of my previous muffin attempts either turn out like cupcakes – tasty but not what’s called for, or else dense and dry. After much research and a few not-so-good recipes, I believe I may have finally mastered muffins. Behold the blueberry muffins of delight!

These muffins are light, soft, airy, tender, sweet, blueberry-packed and streusel topped. They have the classic ‘muffin top’ of crisp outer edge that has spilled over the rim of the paper case and a gently doming top. They are not cakey or bready, they are muffins!

I must give thanks to this recipe, which set me on the path to muffin mastery. I used this as my base, adapting it to be gluten free, experimenting with different flours and percentages and types of milk. I incorporated buttermilk for its moist and tender crumb giving properties, replaced lemon juice with fresh vanilla and cut half the blueberries in half for a more even distribution and enhanced juicy purple pockets.

For the streusel topping I added oats and just a hint of cinnamon for a wholesome, slightly nutty crust.

These muffins were amazing. Perfectly soft and tender and I loved the perfumed floral flavour and fragrance that came from using the fresh vanilla. It worked so well with the sweet and jammy blueberries and slight tang from the buttermilk. Inside they had that classic muffin-esque soft open crumb texture.

The streusel topping was slightly fragile and crumbly, but this just means you have little nuggets of oaty crumbs to mop up with your finger after finishing the muffin, as an extra little treat.

I can’t wait to try this recipe out with other flavours, chocolate chip or banana walnut. Hopefully I’ve reached the end of my muffin misfortunes.

Big Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

150g fresh blueberries, half chopped
150g rice flour
25g cornflour
15g tapioca starch
½ tsp xanthan gum
150g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
75ml sunflower oil
1 fresh vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
100ml buttermilk
25ml milk
1 egg

Streusel topping
50g light soft brown sugar
40g rice flour
50g cold butter, cubed
¼ tsp cinnamon
20g gluten free oats

Start by making the streusel topping by combining all streusel ingredients in a bowl and rubbing the mixture together using the tips of your fingers until the butter is broken down into tiny pieces and everything is well mixed. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 9 paper liners.
Cut half the blueberries in half and leave the rest whole, set aside.
In a large bowl add the rice flour, cornflour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, sugar and baking powder together and mix until well combined. Gently stir through the whole and chopped blueberries.
In a large jug, measure out the oil, buttermilk and milk. Slice open the vanilla bean and remove the seeds. Add to the milk mix along with the egg and beat to lightly combine.
Pour half of the milk mix over the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a spatula. Once mostly incorporated, add the rest of the milk mix and fold together until only just incorporated. Do not over mix, a few lumps are fine.
Spoon the muffin mix into the paper cases, filling almost to the rim. Sprinkle a generous amount of the streusel topping over each muffin.
Bake for 25 minutes until risen and lightly golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave the muffins to cool in the tin for at least 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Eat within 2 days
Makes 9 large muffins

Monday, 16 February 2015

Celebrating 8 Years of Apple & Spice with Apple & Cinnamon Oat Pancakes with Caramel Sauce

Wow it’s hard to believe my little blog has been going 8 years! As is my tradition on my blogs anniversary, I was in need of an apple inspired recipe to celebrate. I always like to try and do something a little different and as Pancakes Day (Shrove Tuesday) is tomorrow, pancakes seemed the ideal treat.

I thought about doing traditional pancakes, but also wanted something a bit more healthy and substantial to eat for brunch and decided instead to create pancakes using ground up gluten free oats in place of any flour. They are also sugar free, being naturally sweetened with freshly grated apple (skin on) and a dash of cinnamon for a flavour boost. I’d consider them fairly healthy – just don’t look too closely at the caramel sauce I then drizzled over them!

Using the oats as the only ‘flour’ base worked well, and together with the grated apple, gave the pancakes a nubbly soft texture and a delicious slightly nutty flavour where the outer edges had toasted in the pan. The inside texture wasn’t quite as fluffy as regular pancakes, but softer and moister with a definite porridge flavour. However, as a porridge and breakfast lover I was delighted with this. I think these would make fantastic breakfast fodder with a little yoghurt and fresh fruit.

The batter won’t win any awards in the looks department, it is a little lumpy and brown in colour, but the taste and toppings soon perk them up.

I decided to use almond milk in the pancakes as I like its subtle nutty flavour and creaminess, but you can use regular milk too. As they stand the pancakes themselves are also dairy free, but you’d have to use a different sauce if you wanted to make the whole dish dairy free. Maple syrup would be a delicious alternative! Oaty, apple packed and lightly cinnamon spiced these pancakes were a tasty way to celebrate 8 years of Apple & Spice.

This year I’ve managed to combine 3 of my food loves – apple, spice and breakfast all in one – hurrah! See below for my previous years apple inspired treats.

1st yearSpiced Apple Cake

4th yearFruity Tea Loaf

This Years Apple & Cinnamon Oat Pancakes with Caramel Sauce

50g gluten free oats
1 large red eating apple
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
100ml almond milk
1 egg
1 tbsp sunflower oil

½ tin carnation caramel
3-4 tbsp almond milk
Handful of pecans, to serve

Heat the oven to 100C. Lay a piece of kitchen roll over a large plate and place into the oven to warm. Also add a couple of serving plates.
Start by making the sauce. Heat the caramel and milk together in a small pan until a nice warm drizzling consistency. Transfer to a small serving jug and set aside.

To make the pancakes, blitz the gluten free oats in a processor until they are broken down. They should resemble coarse flour, you don’t want it completely powdery. Add to a mixing bowl.
Quarter the apple, remove the core and grate it into the bowl, keeping the skin on.
Add the cinnamon and baking powder and stir together.
Measure the milk, add the egg and lightly whisk together. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mix and beat together to incorporate. You should have a fairly thick dropping consistency batter. Add a little more milk if too stiff.
Heat a large frying pan and brush the base with a little oil. Add heaped tablespoons of the pancake mix and form into round shapes with the back of the spoon.
Allow to cook over a low heat for 1 minute before flipping over with a pallet knife and cooking for a further 30 seconds, or until slightly puffed and browned.
Remove from the pan and transfer to the large plate covered with kitchen roll in the oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining batter.
When ready to serve divide the pancakes between the plates, top with a handful of pecans and drizzle with the caramel sauce.
Makes 8 small pancakes

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Swirled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies are dangerously addictive. Brownie and cheesecake on their own are delicious, but combine them together and they are amazing! So rich fudgy, chocolaty, creamy indulgence. These were so good my family nearly came to fisticuffs over the size of the slices people were devouring in one sitting.

I’ve never made cheesecake brownies before. It decided to make them on a sudden whim and after adapting my favourite brownie recipe to be topped with a creamy dreamy cheesecake layer these brownies were born. It was one of those light bulb moments where I suddenly realised I’ve been missing out on something so delicious, all these years, followed by the realisation that regular brownies just aren’t going to cut it any more.

I know you must be thinking ‘come off it, it’s only a brownie’ but trust me, these are good! Just look at those soft swirls of creamy cheesecake mingling with the deep fudgy chocolate brownie. A perfect pairing, a marriage made in heaven, the ying to the yang – however you want to say it this is one tasty combo.

These are best eaten straight out the fridge, when the brownie has become almost fudge-like. Dense, rich and intense. If you like cakey brownies then these are not for you.

If you leave the brownies to come to room temperature they are a little softer and lighter. I have also discovered that if you give them a 10 second blast in the microwave they are transformed into a soft, melting, gooey molten chocolate pudding which is also amazing.

If you want to really tip them over the edge, eat a piece cold from the fridge but drizzle it in warm salted caramel sauce…. mmmmmmmmmm…there are no words…

These would make the perfect treat for Valentines day next weekend. Feed your special someone these and you’ll have their heart forever*
*(scientifically unproved)

Swirled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

140g butter
170g dark chocolate, around 60-70%
180g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
65g rice flour
5g tapioca starch
10g cocoa powder
½ tsp gluten free baking powder

150g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g caster sugar
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 8inch/20cm square tin and set to one side.
To make the cheesecake layer, place the cream cheese into a small bowl and beat with a spatula until soft and smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and mix to incorporate. Beat in the egg until well combined and set to one side. It will be quite runny, this is fine.

To make the brownies, break the dark chocolate into pieces and place into a large bowl along with the butter. Melt gently over a pan of simmering water until smooth. (The water should not touch the base of the bowl)
Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the sugar. Beat the eggs in one at a time until glossy.
Sift over the flour, tapioca starch, cocoa powder and baking powder and beat with a spatula until no flour streaks remain.
Pour three-quarters of the batter into the tin and smooth into an even layer.
Pour all of the cheesecake mixture over the top. Use a spoon to place dollops of the remaining brownie batter in random blobs over the top of the cheesecake layer. Use a skewer or tip of a sharp knife to drag it into swirls. You want the cheesecake layer to still show through.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the top looks set but the cheesecake still has a slight wobble to it.
Allow to cool almost completely in the tin before removing. Transfer the brownie to the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. It can be made the day before.
Store in the fridge and eat within 5 days. Serve with warm salted caramel sauce for extra indulgence.
Makes 1 x 8ich/20cm brownie

Note: Eat straight from the fridge for a dense ultra fudgy brownie or allow it to come to room temperature for a softer eat. Slices can also be gently heated in the microwave which transforms it into a soft gooey molten chocolate dessert.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Choc Chip, Fig, Pistachio & Almond Brown Butter Financiers

Just saying all those ingredients you know these are going to taste good. This was a bake of firsts for me. I’ve never made my own financiers before and I’ve never made a cake using brown butter (beurre noisette) before either. After baking these tempting little cakes I can safely say I’ll definitely be making both again.

I decided to bake financiers as I had two egg whites leftover after making a lemon tart and wanted to use them up. I’m not much or a meringue fan and all my other egg white cakes I’ve made in the past required more than two egg whites, so I went blog browsing and stumbled upon financiers.

These cute mini cakes are often served as part of an afternoon tea or after dinner treat due to their size and pretty presentation. You can buy oval shaped financier tins, but I decided to use some petit fours tins I had recently rediscovered in a dusty corner of my cupboard. I think their little fluted edges make them look very dainty.

They are quite dense little cakes, but this doesn’t mean they are heavy. They are simply moist, soft almond packed little cakes that reminded me almost of marzipan. The use of egg whites keeps them moist and light with an elegant pale coloured crumb.

The browned butter enhanced their natural nuttiness and gave them a greater depth of flavour. It was subtle, but definitely made a difference. I’m going to have to try it again in some other bakes.

A slice of fresh fig and a scatter of chopped pistachios made for an elegant finish. There is something about figs that just scream luxury. The other half were topped with slivered almonds and dark choc chips which stayed wonderful soft and melty after baking. When presented together I was really pleased how they turned out, and I loved the flavours of both.

Next time you have some leftover egg whites, bake financiers!

Choc Chip, Fig, Pistachio & Almond Brown Butter Financiers

60g butter, plus extra for greasing
60g icing sugar
75g ground almonds
25g rice flour
2 egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 fresh fig
10 pistachio nuts
20 dark chocolate chips
2 tsp flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt some butter and brush the insides of 8 petit four tins or financier tins.
Put the butter in a small pan and heat gently, allowing it to melt and then come to a gentle simmer. Keep watch while it turns from pale yellow to a pale golden amber colour. Do not let it burn. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Put the pistachio nuts and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. 
Mix together the ground almonds, flour and icing sugar in a bowl. 
Lightly beat the egg whites until they foam, but not hold their shape. Add to the flour mix along with the vanilla and beat together whisk a whisk.
Mix in the warmed brown butter a little at a time, until combined.
Divide the financier batter evenly between the tins, filling three-quarters full.
Cut the fig into quarters or sixths (depending on size) and add a slice to the top of half of the financiers. Roughly chop the pistachios and scatter around the fig.
Top the other half of the financiers with dark chocolate chips and flaked almonds.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tops look ‘set’ and very pale brown around the edges. They do not brown much. (I found the choc chip ones took 12 mins and the fig took 15 mins).
Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully tipping out of the tins and leaving to cool completely.
Lightly dust with icing sugar before serving. Best eaten within 24 hours.
Makes 8 financiers