Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Light Opera Cake

It's that time again, reveal day for The Daring Bakers. For the second month in a row we have a recipe that was easy to convert to Gluten Free as it uses little flour. However the recipe goes on forever so at first reading is very daunting. In fact because each element can be made in advance it is really very do-able for a special occasion and I'd recommend anyone trying it however skilled they consider themselves.

Opera Cake is normally almond cake with chocolate and coffee favours but in honour of spring we were challenged to make a light flavoured version. The Daring Bakers were well up for this challenge and you can see many wonderful flavour combinations if you check out the blogroll. The other reason for the light colours is that the challenge this month is dedicated to Barbara of She hosts A Taste of Yellow, which is an event that unites food bloggers everywhere in the fight against cancer, while I didn't participate in it this year I do support the idea. My dad and both grans died of cancer so it is something that has strongly effected my family.

Opera cake is a cake of many parts but each part on it's own is actually quite easy. It is very much a presentation cake and I thought getting the layers nice and flat and professional looking would be hard but apart from the baby waking as I was trying to glaze the cake it turned out to be easier than I expected. One tip I picked up is have the cake cold and heat the knife, this really does help to have a smooth cut rather than the moose squishing downwards. Also it is a cake to take your time over putting together the various chilling stages do make a difference from what other bakers have said.. this is one of the great things about Daring Bakers with so many people making the same thing pretty much everything happens to someone !

We now have a shiny new forum, part of which is open to none members but do considering coming and joining us. It is only one recipe a month and I have certainly learnt a lot about techniques etc I'd never have thought to try. You do have to do the recipe as given unless the hosts give other options but us Alternative Bakers can always adjust for our specific diets and we even have our own section of the forum to discuss how to adapt recipes..

On to the Cake. (the recipe as given to us can be found here)

It comes in several parts
Joconde - Almond based cake using whisked egg whites to give volume (I did a hazel nut one instead)
Syrup - to wet the cake with (flavoured with Frangelico a hazelnut liqueur)
Buttercream - I used a different buttercream than the suggested one which was allowed, mine was by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty and found here. This is a honey buttercream.
Mousse - White chocolate which I flavoured with crushed raspberries
Glaze - White chocolate

I made the various parts over a couple of days to fit in with the baby. I am so glad I now have my mixer it made things much easier and I think I would view the cake very differently if I was still whipping egg whites by hand and so forth.

The joconde came out well however I will adjust the cooking temp next time as it coloured too fast before the base was fully cooked in the middle so one of them ended up going back in upside down for a min or two as the middle still had an uncooked egg feel to them. Because my swiss roll tins were smaller than specified I also did a few spoonfuls in bun cases which didn't rise much but were nice little bites particularly when topped with spare mousse.

The syrup was just a matter of boiling everything up together.

The buttercream went together quite easily. Not sure I liked it enough to use it in quantity but as a thin layer in the cake it worked well and I liked the fact there was only honey and no sugar in it.

Similarly the mousse was easy, melt white choc with some cream then once cool mix with raspberries and whipped cream. This was so good I have it on my list of possible puddings just as is or with some shortbread biscuits. In this combination the white chocolate worked very well. The picture is one of the cupcakes topped with mousse.

The chocolate didn't work so well as a glaze for me. I felt it was the weakest part of the cake , too solid and cloy to go with everything else. I think with the more robust flavours of the traditional version it would work but with these sort of flavours I'd go with a fruit glaze next time.

The assembly went well, as I mentioned before chilling between stages is important to firm thing up.

Next time and I am sure there will be a next time I am tempted to stay with the hazelnut cake but team it with chocolate to make a Nutella Opera Cake!

Light Opera Cake

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) swiss-roll (jelly-roll) pans (Note: Mine were smaller so I just put some of the mix in bun cases)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground hazelnuts(Note: Ground in food processor with a little gluten fre flour to stop it getting to oily)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose GF flour mix
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C). (I will lower this next time but I have a very efficient fan oven)

3.Line swiss-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the hazelnut, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the hazelnut mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one swiss-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second swiss-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup honey

  1. Place the butter into a medium bowl and cream, using a handheld electric mixer, until completely softened and smooth, set aside.
  2. In a 4 1/2-quart bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with wire whisk attachment, beat the yolks on medium speed until pale yellow in color.
  3. Spray a heatproof glass measure or ramekin with nonstick cooking spray. Place the honey in a small saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring the honey to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Immediately pour the honey into the empty glass measure or ramekin to stop the cooking. Pour half of the honey onto the yolks, turn the mixer to high, beat for 1 minute. Turn off the mixer, add the remaining honey and beat until the bowl feels cool, for about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well with a rubber spatula. Add the softened butter and beat until completely smooth. Scrape into a small bowl, cover, and reserve.
For the white chocolate and raspberry mousse

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
small punnet of raspberries

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4. Crush raspberries well.
5.Gently fold the whipped cream and raspberries into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
6.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
7.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Gluten Free Menu Swap

Gluten Free Menu Swap Monday

"Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad"

Well this is my first time hosting this very useful and interesting weekly event that Natalie over at Gluten Free Mommy started. I do hope I do it justice and if you want to add your menu to the list this week please email me on the address you can find in my profile or leave a message in the comments.

Every week the host chooses a ingredient to highlight and I was very surprised to find tomato has not yet been picked. We use tomatoes day in, day out be that from a tin, fresh or in the few premade things we buy such as tomato ketchup. I try to use mostly local, seasonal produce but we do buy tomatoes whatever the season, not just tinned ones but fresh to even if they have to be imported.

The tomato is part of the nightshade family which has many other vegetables in it including potatoes, peppers and aubergine (eggplant), most members of this family are poisonous in one way or another so it pays to be careful with them, for instance the fruit of the potato looks very like a small tomato but it would be very unwise to eat it. That said tomatoes are good for you both in terms of the vitamins etc they hold and the fact they add much needed colour particularly in winter. While it may be different in other places here in the UK in the winter if you eat seasonally most meals take on a very beige and green colour pallet so anything that adds to that is welcome. They are claimed to be one of the best sources of lycopene, which has cancer-fighting properties, apparently this is best absorbed in a lightly cooked form rather than raw. If eating raw combining with a little oil such as olive oil helps.

This year we are growing our own tomatoes, currently they are sitting in the house waiting for us to put up the greenhouse at the allotment. I have got four plants from Ryton the home of Garden Organic.. between those I have cherry or as we call them sweetie tomatoes, more normal sizes and I think three different colours including a striped green one. I have been a member of Garden Organic for years and they run a heritage seed library to conserve old types of vegetables, these four tomato plants were grown from seed in that collection. Next year I might even fill in my form in time to get my free seeds ! They give seeds away free because in the European Union we can't sell vegetable seeds unless they are registered which costs a noticeable amount of money so only the big sellers are financially viable, it really is a bit crazy.

Anyway on to the weekly menu.
This week we start with a bank Holiday on Monday and the Small is home from school all week as it is half term. My mum is visiting for a couple of days and she is allergic to maize so I have to remember not to make anything with the Dove farm flour. Then later in the week Small is off to stay on a different set of grandparents canal boat for a day or two.

Monday - Potato and cauliflower soup which we failed to have last week with cheese and sundried tomato scones.

Tuesday - (Out in the morning to do a nature trail thing with Small. )
Salad platter based on one in a book by Raymond Blanc which I have mislaid. Various chopped vegs, boiled eggs, cheese etc. Possibly a tomato salad as I learnt to make it in France using oil, vinegar and black pepper.

Wednesday - (probably on my own most of the day with both kids so something easy, Also our boiler is broken and the man should be round with the new parts that day.) - Pasta with tomato sauce and cheese.

Thursday - Small off to the boat - Thai style chicken curry and rice .. probably no tomatoes in this one !

Friday - Either pizza or tomatoes and eggs.

I'd like to make tomato and cheese bread again
If I am feeling really adventurous and have the time I will try Tomato tart, The reason it's adventurous is I'd have to make puff pastry from scratch something I've been wanting to do for ages but don't hold your breath it's more of a wish than likely to happen. If it does I will swap it for one of the days meals.

Sea over at Book of Yum is busy redesigning her site so says her menu is mainly things she didn't get round to last week but even so it still sounds yummy.

M-Elle at Cooking and UNcooking is much more organised than me and has ALL her meals for each day planned which sound great. As a Brit the idea of apple sauce for breakfast is unusual what we know as apple sauce is normally eaten with roast pork.

Amanda from Asparagus Thin joins us again with a wonderful selection of dishes from various countries.

Cheryl at gluten free goodness is also growing her own tomatoes and has some great sounding dishes, I may have to try a tomato and caramelized onion soup too if our weather stays as wet as it is today and I shall be looking out for her Spiced black rice pudding recipe.

A little late due to travelling is Ginger from Fresh Ginger. She has thirty tomato plants growing makes my four sound very minor. She is planning some great dishes with a variety of cultures represented.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Spring Rolls

Well as I thought I might by Monday night I'd change my mind about what to eat. I've been meaning to make spring rolls for ages and had a couple of packets of rice wraps that needed using up.

So we finely sliced some carrot, cucumber and leek then chopped some bacon finely and cooked of some fine rice noodles. The rice wraps turned out to be rather ripped but I manage to make rough parcels with a bit of everything and a sprinkle of soy sauce in each. This were then brushed in butter and cooked in the oven an idea I picked up in Super Natural Cooking. This had the advantage of helping keep the parcels together as I don't think they would have survived deep frying.

They tasted great, possibly not very asian partly because of the bacon but we didn't mind that.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Weekly Menu 19th to 23rd May

Where has the month gone? I suppose that's having a small baby for you! Rather behind on the allotment, I think this year is going to be mainly doing things like putting up shed and greenhouse and growing anything we get given plant wise rather than much from seed. We have a good start on the fruit bushes though and the strawberry plants should turn up soon too.

On to cooking and the pink mash never happened as I managed to burn the beetroot by boiling it dry! Oh well.

Menu this week is based round using up the vegs that have been building up from our veg box faster than we are using them so I think I'll be cancelling it this week. We have a LOT of cauliflower but also plenty of root vegs, onions, greens and various other vegs.

This week the Gluten Free Menu Swap is hosted by M-Elle over at Cooking and UNcooking and her ingredients is avocado about which she has some great facts. This was one of my gran's favourite foods and when she was in hospital and could order what she liked she asked for it most days. I like avocado but don't get it often as they are never cheap here but if I see one this week I might treat myself.

The weather is rather changeable at the moment so things might change if the weather does. We had nearly a week of real hot summer type weather all of a sudden but it has now gone back to being much greyer and colder and my menu rather reflects that.

Monday - Chops with curried caulifower fritters

Tuesday - stirfry with rice noodles

Wednesday - Chicken and apricots with greens

Thursday - Creamy cauliflower soup with brazil nut pesto from Super Natural Cooking

Friday - veg and bean stew or Red Onion Risotto

Monday, 12 May 2008

Weekly Menu 12th to 16th May

Didn't manage the pink mash last week but I still have the beetroot so I am going to try again this week.

Another late shift week so easy stuff most nights due to lack of hands to help till after Small's bedtime.

This weeks Gluten Free Menu Swap is hosted by Terri at Faking it Gluten Free style and the ingredient she has picked is strawberries.I don't have any in as yet but will be checking out the local greengrocer later in the week, I'm hoping with the recent sun there should be some local ones starting to appear rather than imported ones from Spain or similar. If there is Small and I will probably just eat them as is.

Monday - meatloaf, pink mash and veg.

Tuesday - cauliflower cheese (generally has more vegs than just cauliflower and sometimes bacon too)

Wednesday - veg curry and some form of dhal.

Thursday - pre-made chicken kievs and rice (roleplay night)

Friday - omelets or tomatoes and eggs

Friday, 9 May 2008

Candy Melts

Until I read a recent post on Bakerella I'd never heard of candy melts but the flowers she made looked so fun that I thought I'd go look for some.

I have found a couple of UK sites that sell them and am now being tempted by other cake and chocolate making items but I can't find out what candy melts are made of and if they are gluten free. I have emailed one of the companies as they sell additive free sprinkles of various sorts which do have the ingredients listed (and are on my shopping list) but not for the candy melts. So anyone out there know?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

weekly menu 5th - 9th May

We pretty much stuck to the menu last week except we had roast chicken instead of bean stew on Friday. I did a post about the chicken pie with scone topping as several people commented on it.

This week's featured ingredient is potato and the gluten free menu swap is being hosted at Cooking Illustrated. Potato is such a staple here I can't imaging not using it several times a week even if it's just a microwaved baked potato for a quick lunch or frozen hash browns or smiley faces at tea time when it's just me and Small. However I am very tempted to try pink mash this week, we often have cheesey mash but I've never tried this version before.

On to the menu
Sunday and Monday we have a friend staying who is vegetarian. As I'm not sure what we are doing I have several alternative dishes penciled in. Monday is a bank holiday here so everyone is home.

1) nut roast (I've never made nut roast before but have been getting very fond of cooking with nuts recently), pink mash and oven roasted veg.

2) Broccoli and cauliflower cheese.

3) butternut squash soup and scones

The rest of the week there will be just me and the kids till after bedtime so I want very quick and easy recipes. We have alternate weeks where Tom is at work late and the other week he is home just after I pick Small up from school.

Tuesday - pasta and sauce, mince based.

Wensday - sausage and either mash or chips with mustard cabbage

Thursday - we have friends over for a roleplay night so will be ordering in pizza (i have GF ones in the freezer)

Friday - possibly one of the dishes we didn't have earlier or stew of some sort.

Baking - Apart from the possible scones, we will be making biscuits (there is so dough in the freezer). I'd also like some brownies or muffins or similar for snacking this week.

If you haven't spotted it my favorite recipe site for this week is I think I will be referring back to them regularly from now on.

Chicken Pie with Scone topping

I put this down on last weeks menu and a couple of people commented on it so I thought I would report back on how it went.

I decided to do it on a whim after seeing a recipe somewhere, though that was a gluten based one of course and had the chicken part made with chicken stock and so forth. I'm getting a bit more time and brain power than before but it's still very limited and I didn't have time to sort any stock so the pie filling became white sauce based.

I cooked off some leeks in butter till soft, added chicken chopped into bite size chunks to seal and then added some peas. Finally I made a sauce with butter, gluten free flour (Dove Farm Plain flour) and milk, once that had thickened I seasoned it and poured it over the vegs and meat in a deep casserole dish.

Then I pulled out my scone recipe and started to mix it up. At this point the baby woke up and needed feeding, how do they sense such things? His brother always woke just before I was ready to eat myself so I ended up with cold food all the time! I passed the making of scones to himself which went fine, he cut out scones and put them on top of the mix then put it in the oven.

By the time I'd finished feeding he was dishing up it was only when I went to eat mine I realised there was a bit of a problem. He had based the cooking time on the normal scone recipe and of course being on top of the chicken mix they hadn't cooked all the way though and the bottom half was mush. You may be able to see the uncooked part in this picture.

Luckily there had been a spare one that he cooked off separately so I quickly removed the uncooked ones off Small's plate and gave him the cooked one as the chicken itself was fine. The rest went back in the oven and a little while later us adults could eat to.

All in all the pie was really nice but think when I do it again I will replace the gram flour in the scones with something more neutral. While I love the depth of flavour it gives the scones on their own with butter or more cheese that same flavour is a disadvantage in this situation because any bits that don't fully cook are very obvious and distract from the quite mild flavours of chicken and leek.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

a quick note

Because I am officially mad I thought I'd have a good at Allsorts's a post a day in May challenge. To be fair I end up sitting with the computer near me a fair bit feeding the baby so as long as the wireless doesn't flake out like it has been this evening I should be able to do something. However it may not be on this blog every day as I am planning to do it either here OR on my craft blog. I could of course have one blog that covers both subjects but I prefer to split them up as different people are interested in the two subjects plus it helps me find things too !!