Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Orange and Cranberry Muffins

One batch of muffins is never enough when I come home which explains the two muffin recipes back to back. Orange and cranberry muffins are by far one of my favourites and I always look forward to making them at this time of year when there are fresh cranberries in the shops.

I first discovered the tangy orange and cranberry combination at, ahem, Starbucks quite a few years ago as one of their Christmas limited editions and was entirely addicted for a whole winter. However I wasn’t going to let the obsession burn a hole in my pocket a second winter running so it became only wise to attempt to make my own. I played around with various recipes, some using marmalade, some using cranberry sauce, and the one I settled on draws from a couple. It makes gorgeous muffins that are not too sweet so the tartness of the cranberries really zing on the tongue which is just the way I like these. Although dried cranberries would do fine I’ve only ever wanted to make these with fresh berries for all their brightness, tanginess, juiciness and loveliness. They burst and wrinkle in the heat of the oven oozing their juices everywhere so when I pull the muffin tray out the whole thing looks like a delightful pink and orange explosion. These muffins don’t rise into the cute mounds I’m used to I think because of the weight of the cranberries. Instead they tend to ooze over the sides onto the tray further adding to that look of explosion but don’t let this dissuade you because they are still wonderfully moist and the scent that fills the kitchen as they bake is so uplifting. In fact I love to savour the scent of one of these first before I tuck into it.

Orange and cranberry can’t help but refresh the taste buds with their zest and sharpness combined. But I also love how their bright deep pink and orange together dance at the eyes and their tangy aroma awakens the nose. If like me you are not a morning person in the slightest, one of these muffins along with a strong cup of caffeine will at the very least give you enough zing to get you out of bed.

Orange and Cranberry Muffins

Adapted from ‘Muffins Fast and Fantastic’ by Susan Reimer

Makes 10-12

280g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate soda

½ tsp salt

110g caster sugar

1 egg

Finely grated orange zest of 3 large oranges

Juice of three oranges (about 260ml); add water to make total of 260 ml if not enough juice

85g butter or 90ml vegetable oil

110g fresh cranberries left whole, plus more for topping (increase the volume of liquid by 3 tbsp if using dried cranberries)

Preheat oven to 190-200˚C (375-400˚F, Gas Mark 6) and prepare muffin tray with muffin cases. In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl beat egg with a fork then add zest of orange, juice (plus water if needed), followed by oil/melted butter. Pour all of wet mixture into dry and stir until just combined, adding the cranberries during the final strokes. Batter will be lumpy. Spoon immediately into muffin cases and top each with a few more cranberries. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until tops are lightly browned and spring back when pressed gently.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chocolate Muffins with Chestnut Filling

I’m back home for a couple of weeks now to spend Christmas with my family which is a great excuse to get muffin-baking not least because I have plenty to share them with and my muffin tray is at my parents’ place. As a fan of chestnuts especially at Christmas I wanted to incorporate some into a muffin recipe. Chestnut puree is quite often used as a layer in gorgeous Chinese cakes and this combined with the idea of muffins with fillings - think rhubarb muffins with custard inside - led me to chocolate muffins with chestnut filling.

Chestnut puree goes really well with delicate vanilla sponge in Chinese cakes because the cream enveloping the cake tempers the puree down to a lighter, milky chestnut flavour and the fresh fruit topping maintains the lightness of the overall cake. The muffin however lacks this room for manoeuvre so I felt the chestnut needed to be paired with something heady enough not to be overpowered by it, chocolate being the most obvious, although I think coffee would work well too. Chocolate it was and the result went down a treat with my only regret being that I didn’t fill the muffins well enough with the chestnut. I was quite hesitant in putting more than a small-sized blob into each because the chestnut filling was a culmination of guesswork and my faffing with a blender and some chestnuts. The materialisation of my efforts in the bowl therefore initially didn’t taste as good as I was expecting. It was a strange mixture of sickly sweet vanilla and salty however to my relief once baked in the muffins it mellowed out a lot to let the earthy nuttiness come through. My mum who loves chestnuts but has an odd aversion to chocolate still managed to gobble a couple of these down and like me would have preferred more of the chestnut please!

For the chestnut filling

200g roasted chestnuts
1 tbsp icing sugar
150-200ml water, hot from the kettle
Couple of drops of vanilla essence
Tiny pinch of salt

Puree the chestnuts in a liquidiser or blender with the icing sugar and 100ml of the water. I wanted some texture to the filling so I avoided completely blitzing the chestnuts and retained a good amount of coarseness. Scrape puree into a bowl, add the vanilla essence and salt and combine. Add enough of the rest of the water to make a light paste and set aside.

The texture of the filling is down to personal preference but I found that once cooked in the muffins, it became very set which I hoped for over a runny filling (adding butter would have made a more fluid filling I think). The 200g chestnuts made more filling than I needed but next time I make these I plan to incorporate more into each muffin anyway.

For the muffins
Adapted from Muffins Fast and Fantastic by Susan Reimer
Makes 10-11

225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp salt
110g caster sugar
4-5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 egg
260ml milk – I intend to up this quantity a little next time as the muffins didn’t stay as moist as others I have made before
1 tsp vanilla essence
85g butter or 90ml vegetable oil
100g dark chocolate chips plus more for sprinkling – I use 53.8%

Preheat oven to 190-200˚C (375-400˚F, Gas Mark 6) and prepare muffin tray with muffin cases. In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, sugar and cocoa powder, then add the chocolate chips. In another bowl beat egg with a fork then stir in milk and vanilla, followed by oil/melted butter. Pour all of wet mixture into dry. Stir just until combined and no dry flour is visible. Batter will be runny.

Half fill muffin case with muffin batter. Spoon one slightly heaped teaspoon of chestnut filling onto middle of muffin mix. Cover chestnut filling with more muffin batter and fill to three-quarters full. Sprinkle top with a few chocolate chips. Repeat for rest of muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes or until muffins are risen and tops spring back when pressed gently.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Damian Allsop Chocolates

For a blog named 'Chocolate & Jasmine' it's been a long time coming but it's finally here: the first entry on chocolate! And what could be more inspiring than the Milsom Place Chocolate Festival that took place in Bath on Saturday. It was a tiny and quaint affair with only a handful of traders but there was still plenty of indulgence to be had: the sights, the smells, the samples. So many samples! And the skies gave us the most perfectly crisp Winter afternoon in which to amble around and admire the expertise and creativity behind everything on offer.

And when I speak of expertise and creativity I could not have been more intrigued by Damian Allsop Chocolates. Damian Allsop is a former pastry chef who has been creating a bit of a buzz in the chocolate world by adopting and developing the revolutionary method of using water rather than cream or butter in his chocolate fillings. This came across as very odd to me because as far as I knew, chocolate and water don't mix, and apparently the science behind making them work is far from simple. His reasoning however is that using flavourless liquids allows the purer flavours of the cocoa to come through more intensely, and the palate appreciates a flavour profile that is truer to chocolate as it should be. He himself was there to explain the thinking behind his concept and allowed us to experience it for ourselves by heating up his drinking chocolate mix with water into luscious, thick samples. So taken with the novel idea and always wanting to try something new I purchased a bag to explore and appreciate at home. Blended with hot water the mix made a thick and intense chocolate drink. It's not indiscernible that it has not been made with milk however the bitter tang of the chocolate definitely comes through with more clarity and as a lover of dark chocolate this can only be a good thing.

A bit of a google since the chocolate festival led me to a recent interview with the chocolatier himself which is an insightful and inspiring read. With such a passion for the alchemy of chocolate it comes as no surprise that he has been likened to Merlin, Willy Wonka and Heston Blumenthall. The flavour sensations of his water-based ganaches sound so exquisite and exciting I suddenly have a huge hankering for the beautiful long box of them that caught my eye on Saturday. Presented so elegantly and proudly like chocolate jewels I couldn't help but admire them. They are definitely one to put on the 'to try in 2009' list.