DB#25 or a Caramel Dream!

Caramel Cake

When I was a kid my drawings were always full of colour but I've never managed to keep them clean and tidy. It could be a stain, a colorful fingerprint or just everything a bit uneven on the page. Every time I'd complain, my mum would say my drawings were beautiful and perfect the way they were. I would roll my eyes, and start over (stubborn, me?). One day, after she gave me the same answer, I've explained her that I wanted my drawings to be "perfect BUT perfect in a perfect way". I was 4 years old. The "perfect in a perfect way" became a family mockery that has survived all these years. Even today, when I say something is perfect, there will certainly be a member of my lovely family to quickly ask "but is it perfect in a perfect way or just perfect?". And we all laugh.

As much as I wanted my cakes to be "perfect in a perfect way", I've learned to like their rustic appearance. They have a thing of their own, some sort of perfect imperfection... and I like that! Of course, I still dream of caramel buttercream spread across without a single flaw, and luscious decorations running the sides and top of a tall, even cake. A girl can dream, right? ;-)

Let me welcome you to a Caramel Dream, pardon, to a caramel cake with Shuna Fish Lydon mark. I came across Shuna's blog, and work, through my friend Fer a while ago. It made me really happy to know an enormous bunch of talented people would bake her signature caramel cake... So let me welcome you to the Daring Bakers November challenge! This month we have a lovely hostess: Dolores of Chronicles of Culinary Curiosity, co-hosted by Alex of Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo, Jenny of Foray into Food, and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go. Check all the other Daring Bakers Caramel dreams!

Caramel Cake & Mulled Pears

Shuna Fish Lydon caramel cake's recipe can be found here, and some tips from Shuna over at Eggbeater.

My thoughts on the challenge:

- The cake is moist, and has a great texture.
- My idea for the cake was to keep it caramel only. My only concession was a handful of tiny little bits of dulce de leche on top of the cakes.
- As many people said it was extra sweet, I've reduced the sugar in the cake to a little less than 1 cup.
- I thought it was very important to cream the butter for the cake for a long 7-8 minutes. The 'dry, wet, dry, wet, dry' method was also very simple but important for the outcome. My batter was soft and light, with a beautiful golden colour.
- Instead of a large cake, I've made a medium one, and 6 individual cakes.
- I've halved the buttercream recipe, and again cut dramatically the amount of sugar (1/2 cup) but used the higher amount of syrup stated (plus a little more!). It worked fine, despite of all.
- The medium cake was a major success with my dad-in-law, covered with the buttercream on top, and some caramel syrup running.
- The day after, I served the individual cakes halved, with buttercream between the layers, dulce de leche crumbled on top, and paired with mulled pears. It was surprisingly good!
- Unfortunately, I didn't find the time to make Alice Medrich's Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels.

Mulled Pears

Mulled Pears

4 large, ripe pears (I used the portuguese variety Rocha), whole, peeled
4 Tbsp light muscovado sugar
400 ml red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 star aniseed

Put the sugar, wine, cinnamon, and star aniseed in a large saucepan. Heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears to the simmering syrup. Poach for 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Set aside to cool completely. Keep the pears in the syrup overnight. Serve with the cake.


Streets & Pies


Walk the streets. If I had to point out a favourite thing when I'm abroad, it had to be lurk around. To have a sneak peek at non-touristic places, and somehow blend with the locals. Quite easy, if you're in a big city like London, and know your way around the language. Not so cool, when you're in Paris with my lousy French. But a closed mouth with an enigmatic smile, nice clothes and an extra colourful scarf will put you trough. Now try to blend in Cambridge or Bury St Edmunds or make an attempt to pronounce 'Kenneth' like a local... I've mentioned my flash trip to the UK last summer to meet my friend. N. lives in the Suffolk. Although I know the south of England fairly well, I had never made it to the center north of the country before. My day spent in Cambridge was lovely, and my visit to The Theatre Royal in Bury most memorable. As a good British girl, N. served me a pie for dinner. A few days ago I made a fish pie for dinner (hence the awful photos), and just couldn't stop all the memories that popped up.

Fish Pie

Fish Pie
Slightly inspired from Jamie's Ministry of Food, original recipe here

Serves 4

4-5 large potatoes, peeled, and cut into large chunks
1 large carrot, peeled, and grated
150g Mascarpone cheese
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
400g white fish fillets, cut into large chunks
8-12 king prawns, raw, peeled
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and add the potatoes. Cook for 12 minutes or until soft. Grate the carrot into an oven dish. Place the fish an the prawns on top of the carrot, and sprinkle with chili flakes. Add the lemon zest and juice. Drizzle with the olive oil. Mix everything together.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and return them to the pan. Mash until smooth, then mix in the Mascarpone cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly over the top of the fish and grated veg. Place in the preheated oven for around 40 minutes, or until cooked through, crispy and golden on top. Serve with steamed vegetables or a green salad. I served mine with caramelized butternut squash.


Chocolate & Cardamom

Cardamom Chocolate Cake

Bakery's open on weekends here at home. I often ask my husband (aka Mr. Taster) what kind of cake he wants for the week. He always comes up with a couple of suggestions, depending on if we have extra fruits or any new recipe bookmarked. Last week I didn't even have to ask. Do you know you have 5... FIVE! different brands of chocolate bars in the pantry, plus 2 halved?? The remark was meant to express how he hates my (very) untidy pantry, and my messy shopping habits. Oh do I? I had no idea. (I can play the angel role with a fairly convincing voice when I want...) What do you think of a chocolate cake? I asked. Sure! All's well when it ends well. Except I wasn't in the mood to bake a layered, decadent, creamy chocolate cake. My gut feeling kept pushing me to the spice stand... Spices love chocolate. Cardamom loves dark bittersweet chocolate! I remembered Sue Lawrence's On Baking had a recipe featuring cardamom and chocolate. I did a few changes to suit our taste. This is a very fragrant cake. Decrease the cardamom amount if you dislike strong flavoured cakes.

Cardamom Chocolate Cake
Slightly inspired from Sue Lawrence's On Baking

1 Loaf (or 12 tea cakes)

125 grs unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup soft light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, beaten
100 grs dark chocolate (I like Lindt 70% cocoa), cut into large chunks
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
2 Tbsp milk
3-4 large green cardamom pods (or more, to taste)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (360ºF). Sift the flour into a bowl. Tip the the cardamom pods into a pestle and mortar and crush. Use a sieve to mix only the ground cardamom into the flour. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, until light. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, until thoroughly combined. Stir in the flour and milk, and beat well. Add the chocolate chunks to the cake mixture and stir to combine. Spoon into a buttered loaf tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

You can dust the cake with powdered sugar and good quality cocoa or leave it plain. Serve with whipped cream or lemon curd.

Cardamom Chocolate Cake

I'm sending this over to Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella for The Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge! Not sure this is my Best Ever Chocolate Cake but it was a success for tea.


5 Books + 10 Images

5 favourite cookbooks

Books are living souls here at home. The space is filled as if real beings shared their life with us. They spread across the walls, remain on the floor, get forgotten on the tables. My piles of books are messy, unsteady, and always about to crash while Mr. Taster's piles are tidy, always stable and sometimes thematic... We offer each other books and tell our (hi)story from them. We deliberately forget some and refuse to hide others. We celebrate (with) books, and can't live without them.

The Portuguese speaking foodblog world is hot with a challenge to choose 3 of your favourite books. I've been tagged by Marcel Gussoni of Sabor Sonoro and Dani Oliveira of Cozinha Travessa. As my head is like my book piles, messy and about to crash, I got the idea that we were to choose 5 books... Oh well. These are my 3 possible book choices of yesterday, posted today and surely different from tomorrow's.

A Platter of Figs

My last crush is called David Tanis. I have this silly way to fall in love with men I don't know... And it's not sick because therapy is quite easy, with me cooking their recipes, and moving forward. This A Platter of Figs & Other Recipes is a beautiful book. Stunning simplicity. I warmly recommend it.

My favourite Jamie Oliver's book has to be Jamie's Italy. In my recent trip to London, I've got his new Jamie's Ministry of Food. I'm quite impressed with the concept, and the idea of sharing recipes, and put people to cook. Cooking is/should be a pleasure. A society that doesn't cook, and worst than that forgot how to, is intrinsically wrong.

And last but not least, Nigel Slater's little book Real Fast Food, a book I always grab to look for ingredient combination, and that reads (it has no photos) like fiction.

Because I'm really curious to know what books they'd choose, I'm tagging:
Louise of Gato Azul,
my buddy Rita, aka Clumbsy Cookie,
Joey of 80breakfasts,
Dee of Choos & Chews,
and Andrea of Cooking Books.

Can't resist to show you, "out of competition", Tessa Kiros' delicious book about Portugal. Piripiri starfish is a book that makes you dream. When I become a food writer, I want to be like her!

Tessa Kiros' Piripiri Starfish

A long, long time ago Sylvia of La vida en Buenos Aires y afines challenged me to share 10 favourite images from this blog. With a lot of delay, and choices of another time, here they are.

10 photos


Delicious Autumn

Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffins

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. George Eliot's idea sounds really appealing to me. Autumn is my favourite season of the year. I, too, could travel along the world seeking for the beginning of another Autumn, especially to those places where leaves go from yellow to reddish, and all tones of orange... Where apples, mushrooms, pears, and pumpkin are getting in season. A place where celery, clementines, and butternut squash come to hand easily. With Autumn comes a light blanket, and a cup of tea with a Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffin.

Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffins

Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffins

Makes 12

1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash, pureed*
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp (about 150ml) cream
1 large egg
1 1/3 cup (about 175g) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2/3 cup (about 150g) caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
powdered sugar, to dust (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (360ºF). Mix in the pumpkin purée with the cream, and the egg in a medium bowl. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, spices, and nutmeg into another bowl. Add the poppy seeds. Combine both mixtures. Add the butter, beating just until combined. Spoon the mix into a silicone muffin pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until well risen and golden. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

The purée gives a wonderfully moist texture to these spicy muffins. They don't keep well for long, and are best eaten within 2-3 days.

* Pumpkin or butternut squash can be boiled, steamed or roasted. I've used the latter, scooping the pulp after roasting half a pumpkin covered with aluminum foil for 45-55 minutes or until soft.

Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffins

"Muffin Monday" is the name of a French muffin-oriented event, organized by Dominique of Cuisine Plurielle. Its #11 edition is dedicated to Autumn. These Pumpkin Poppy Seed Muffins are my entry to this adorable event.


Raindrops keep fallin' on my head... in London

Portobello Market

Last Saturday, lovely British weather was at its best: rainy, windy, and cold. Just perfect. We had plans to go to Portobello Market, have a walk around Notting Hill, and meet some good friends. And so we did, checking British antiquities, all sort of posh 'junk', stylish clothes, and rain. Lots of rain. Cursing under my breath, I've bought some spices at the Spice Shop, and decided Books for Cooks was a nice place to reheat, drooling over beautiful cookbooks whilst waiting for my friends. What a joy to meet them all!

George Orwell's house

Now a group of 7, we left to walk around a bit more. We made it to Le Maroc, for tahini and pomegranate molasses, and finally gave up to freezing weather. A large wooden table in the next deli right after the Moroccan market offered the perfect spot for our meal. The cold, grey day was very much changed by Valentina's laugh, our endless chitchat, and comfort food: celery and carrot soup, marguerita toasts, lots of tea, and memories to keep.

Leaving the deli, we walked back to Notting Hill Gate, passing by Ottolenghi's beautiful stand. I kept thinking of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", the old movie. One of the romantic and heart-warming scenes in the film is when "Butch" (Paul 'gorgeous' Newman) takes "Etta" (Katherine Ross) on a bicycle ride under a blue sky, with no hint of rain. The music seems both unfitting and absolutely right, at the same time. Raindrops keep fallin' on my head playing in my mind with real drops on my face but what a day - happiness, joy, and friendship. Who cares about the rain?

Lunch with friends


Can you read my mind?

Made You Look

Can you read my mind?
Can you read my mind?

The teenage queen, the loaded gun
The drop dead dream, the Chosen One
A southern drawl, a world unseen
A city wall and a trampoline

I know London all too well to be easy to write about how mixed my feelings are every time I go back. There's this song by The Killers, Can you read my mind? (Check the cover by Portuguese musician David Fonseca - scroll down to the end of this post) that sums it up for me. London can always read my mind. I'm fifteen again when I walk by Trafalgar Square, and remember the first time I've seen punks and a Velásquez live - both on the same day, just a few meters away from each other. The big city's vertigo - the ultimate melting pot. Everyone fits. Even me, with my stubborn look wearing a flowered jacket, pink skirt and ballerinas... climbing the steps of The National Gallery. I'm back in Trafalgar Square, just a few years ago when London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games - shortly before the terrorist attacks that spread terror across the city. No, no, no, not again! My mind slides to my first crumble, a bread pudding or baked beans, and moves to the large bookstores where every book on Earth can be found.

British Breakfast

But not everything about London is dreamy. Visiting is always great, living there is quite a different matter. What feels organized when you visit becomes narrow minded after a while, the competitive struggle for little things is exhausting, the misty weather gets to your bones, and to your brain. Still. London is the city I'd want to live in if I was to leave my country. 'Cause nothing compares to this ability to find something new whilst walking the streets that lead to Convent Garden or Notting Hill. Wherever you go, there's a corner, a shop or a place steeped in the vibes of its area that grabs your soul. Unbelievable, this. It is exciting, shocking - even scary - to be in a city that reads your mind...

Oh well I don't mind, you don't mind
Cause I don't shine if you don't shine
Before you go
Tell me what you find when you read my mind

Almond & Cherry Muffin