Chocolate Expresso Cheesecake

Having a BBQ tonight with friends so have made a cheesecake for dessert. Have made it many times and we love it because it's chocolate, but also has a hint of coffee in it.
 It's an American recipe which I've changed from cups, so there are some odd sounding amounts! I use ordinary digestive biscuits with cocoa powder to get the chocolate base, as I find this works better than using chocolate biscuits; I think it gives a better chocolate taste.

You need a 23cm springform tin.  Preheat oven 160C/gas3

Put 125g digestive biscuits in a processor and blitz till crumbs. Add 60g butter and 1 tbspn cocoa and blitz again till the mixture clumps together. Press this into the cake tin and put in the fridge.

Whisk 140g caster sugar and 1 tbspn of expresso powder [or a good instant powder] together in a little bowl.

Melt 350g dark chocolate [or a mixture of dark and milk] over simmering water or in the microwave. Keep this fluid but not hot.

On a low speed on a mixer or a handheld mixer beat 4 packs of Philadelphia or other cream cheese [at room temperature, so take out of the fridge beforehand] till smooth.

Gradually add the melted chocolate till it's all mixed in. Add the sugar and coffee mixture and 3 tbspn of double cream. Beat together, then add 3 large eggs [room temperature] one at a time and beat in on a low speed and finally add 1 tspn vanilla extract.

Pour into the tin and bake for 40-50 mins .Take it out when the top looks slightly dry, but there's still a wobble in the middle. Don't overbake it.

Cool in the tin then put in fridge overnight or for a couple of hour, before sliding a spatula round the inside of the tin before undoing the side.

I decorated the top with some chocolate curls I made from milk chocolate using my potato peeler. The curls are quite fragile, so use a spatula or suchlike to lift them onto the cheesecake.

A rich creamy chocolate cheesecake with a hint of coffee. I like the creamy texture and the contrast with the crunchy base. I hope my friends will enjoy it.


Sweet Potato Cake with Chocolate Frosting

I'm not usually a fan of American frostings, finding them too sickly, but my daughter wanted me to make her a cake with frosting for her birthday. I decided on a sweet potato one because it's been on my list of 'to make' for ages, and I had bought a bag of sweet potatoes with my weekly shopping. I tasted a cake like this for the first time recently, and thought it was reminiscent of a carrot cake, one of my favourites, but without nuts!

This is another recipe from an American paperback I brought back on one of my visits, 'Cakes my Mom used to make'. There are only a few photos in the book, and not one for this cake, so I had to use my imagination; the recipes are very basic so you need to work out exactly what you have to do - not really an ideal baking book.

It's a 3-layer cake, filled with an orange cream and covered in a chocolate cream cheese frosting - so not many calories!

Preheat oven 200C/gas6.
Prick 350g sweet potatoes [ 2 medium or 1 large] and put on a tray and bake for about an hour till very soft. Cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 180C/gas4
Peel the potatoes and purée them in a food processor [or mash them].

Grease and line 3x20cm cake tins.
Sift 360g sr flour into a bowl with 11/2 tspn cinnamon, 3/4 tspn ground nutmeg and 1/4 tspn ground cloves.
Separate 5 eggs and using a mixer, beat the whites till frothy. Gradually beat in 50g caster sugar.
In another bowl put the potato purée, 150g butter, 200g caster sugar and 1/1/2 tspn vanilla extract, and beat till light and fluffy. Add the 5 yolks one at a time, then add the flour mixture and 300 ml of milk, alternating between the 2, starting and ending with the dry mixture.
Fold in 1/4 of the egg whites with a spatula, then fold in the rest being very careful NOT to over mix.
Spoon the batter into the 3 tins and bake for 25-30 mins. Cool in the tins for 10 mins then turn onto a wire rack.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
300g cream cheese, 125g butter, 450g icing sugar - beat butter and cheese then add sieved icing sugar and beat till smooth and fluffy. Take out a cup of this frosting for the orange filling.
Add 45g melted chocolate and beat in.

Orange cream icing:
to the cup of reserved frosting add 2 tbspn orange juice and  1/2 tspn orange extract and beat together.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer flat side down onto your serving plate. Spread half of the orange cream on top, add another cake layer and do the same. put the last cake layer on top and cover the top and sides with the chocolate cream cheese frosting.

The cake has a good texture, firm but moist; the sweet potato isn't dominant and the spices blend well together and add a lovely flavour to the cake. The orange cream is pleasant, but I think if I made this again I'd just make a bit more of the chocolate frosting and not bother with the orange one.
The chocolate cream frosting is sweet, but adds a luxury feel to the cake, especially as it's for a special occasion.
My OH didn't see me making the cake and couldn't guess what the unusual ingredient was in it.


Mascarpone and Strawberry Traybake

This is an unusual American recipe as it has a pastry/dough layer, then jam, then fruit and finally a cream topping. It's a good way of using the strawberries that are around in the shops. I think a good quality jam makes a difference to the finished taste - I bought some from a local WI market.

Preheat oven 180C/gas4 and grease a  large rectangular tin, about 23 x 30cm and line it with a long strip of foil with the ends hanging over the short edges;  this is to get the cake out of the tin more easily.

Using an electric hand beater or a stand mixer, beat together 200g butter and 50g light brown sugar, mixing together for about a minute. Add 280g plain flour and mix together on a low speed. Turn the speed up a bit and beat together till you have a dough.
Press the dough roughly in a layer in the foil lined tin.
Bake the dough for about 20 mins till it's just starting to puff up. Take it out of the oven and cool while you get on with the rest of the cake. Leave the oven on.
Brush some melted butter on the foil just above the crust all round the pan - this will help to remove the traybake from the tin.
Spread a layer of jam over the whole crust - you need about 3/4 of a jar, then sprinkle with 300g chopped strawberries.
In a mixer beat together 250g mascarpone cheese and 125g cream cheese, then add 100g caster sugar plus a tbspn plain flour. Mix till blended. Add 1 large egg and a yolk, 1 tspn lemon zest, 1 tspn lemon juice and 2 tspn vanilla extract and beat till smooth.
Spoon this mixture evenly over the strawberries.
Bake for 30 mins till set.
Cool in the tin for an hour, then cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Sieve some icing sugar over the top.
When ready to cut into slices, lift out of the tin using the foil. Cut into pieces with a sharp knife.

Lovely textures - the crunchy base, soft layer of jam and fruit, then the creamy topping. It's not easy to cut even using the foil, and my photos of the slices weren't very good, hence one of the bake in its tin. It makes a good dessert - we ate it with some vanilla ice cream; a strawberry coulis would be good with it. You could change the fruit and jam and use raspberry, plum, blackcurrant or blueberry. It's a versatile recipe.


Rhubarb and yoghurt cake

This is another variation on the French yoghurt cake, but as I have rhubarb to use I thought it would be a change from a crumble or meringue. It's very easy  - you use the yoghurt pot as a measure.

250g rhubarb cut into smallish pieces plus 1 tspn cinnamon [or more if you like it]
1 small pot natural yoghurt [the pot is then the measure]
3 pots caster sugar
3 pots plain flour
3/4 pot of veg oil [I used sunflower]
1/4 pot milk
2 eggs
2 tspn baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat oven 200C/gas6
Grease and base line a 20cm round tin.

Put all the ingredients except the rhubarb into a bowl and beat together.
When it's all mixed, add the rhubarb and stir in.
Spoon into the tin and bake for 30 mins till golden.

Nice moist cake, so easy and quick to make. The rhubarb gives it a nice texture and some sharpness. I like these yoghurt cakes as they're simple to make and you can use so many different ingredients. You can change the yoghurt for a flavoured one and use appropriate fruit; I've even made a chocolate one. 


Almond and Semolina Cake

This is another bake which came about because I wanted to use up something lurking in the back of the cupboard. This time it's a packet of semolina, getting very close to it's 'use by' date.
This recipe is a variation on Nigella's semolina cake which I've made a few times.

You need to make a syrup first - 250g granulated sugar. 150ml water and juice of a lemon. put sugar and water in a pan on low heat till sugar's dissolved then add the lemon juice and bring to boil and boil for 5 mins. Cool, then chill in fridge.

The cake - preheat oven 180C/gas 4 and grease a 24cm square tin.

It's an easy to cake to make as you use the all in one method, except for the whole almonds.
So, put 300g semolina, 150g caster sugar, 125g butter, 1 tspn baking powder, 2 eggs, 2 heaped tbspn natural yoghurt, 1/2 tspn cinnamon, 1/2 tspn almond extract in a bowl and beat together. Spoon into the cake tin and level the top.
Put 25 whole blanched almonds in 5 rows of 5 on the top of the batter and bake for 30 mins till golden.
Pour over the cold syrup whilst the cake is hot and cool in the tin.
Cut into 25 squares, with an almond on each piece.

A nice crunchy texture from the almonds and the syrup and a slightly dense sponge. The syrup also makes it moist and you get both the lemon and almond flavours mingling together.
This works well both as a cake and as a dessert with a dollop of crème fraiche or ice cream.


Savoury Forest Cake

When the French use the word 'cake' they usually mean a savoury cake. My friend has quite a repertoire of recipes for them, and passed some on to me.

 I made two of them last weekend as part of a buffet in our local church hall.  They made a change from quiche, and people seemed to like them.

This recipe used mushrooms, shallots and smoked bacon pieces and is made in a 900g loaf tin.

Preheat oven 200C/gas6 and grease and line the loaf tin.

Clean and slice 300g mushrooms [I used chestnut ones but the choice is yours].
Chop 2 shallots finely and add to a non stick pan with 50g smoked lardons and the mushrooms.
Cook gently till all their water has gone. Leave them to cool.

Beat 150g butter and add 3 eggs one at a time. Add 5 cl of milk and 200g plain flour with 2 tspn of baking powder added.

Spoon in the mushroom mixture and add salt and pepper - careful with the salt - taste, as there's salt in the lardons.

Put into the tin and bake for about 40 mins till golden. Check it's cooked. remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

A variation on the cake which we love is a Burgundy version. The savoury mixture is 150g tiny onions, 300g white mushrooms and 50g lardons. Cook in pan for 3-4 mins then add 20cl Burgundy red wine and cook till the liquid has totally evaporated. Make the cake mixture using the same measurements as above.

I love the textures in the Forest cake - soft mushrooms, tasty bites of bacon, little hits of shallots and then the cake holding it all together.


Spicy Nutty Magic Squares

This recipe is one of my grandsons' favourites. They love to help make it as it's so easy.

The magic bit happens in the oven, as the layers meld together. Basically it's a biscuit layer, a nut layer, a chocolate layer and over these is poured a tin of condensed milk - so no calories then! It's not for the dieters, but great in small pieces as a treat. The nuts are healthy!

I've changed the ingredients so many times that I've forgotten what the original ones were. My Dutch friend gave me the recipe and the speculoos biscuits for the base, but any spicy biscuit will do, or plain ones if you prefer.

You need a greased and lined 20cm square cake tin.

Preheat oven 190C/gas5.

Break up 200g of spicy biscuits, but not into crumbs, leave them in small pieces.
Add 80g of melted butter and mix together.

Press this mixture into the bottom of the tin and press down well  - I use the back of a large spoon.

Chop 100g nuts - mixed or one type - your choice, but don't chop them too small.
Sprinkle these over the crumb base.

Chop 125g dark chocolate and sprinkle over the nuts.

Pour a tin of condensed milk over the chocolate, but don't mix anything together.

Put into the oven and bake for 20 - 25 mins till the top is set and lightly golden.

Leave to cool in the tin.

You can see the magic - it's all come together.
As I said earlier, the recipe is very adaptable and you can change the biscuits, the nuts, the type of chocolate you use, so really you can use what you've got in your cupboards.

It's sweet of course because of the condensed milk, but there's a good contrast of textures between the nuts, melted chocolate and biscuits. It's important not to crush the biscuits and nuts too fine or you wouldn't get any texture.