Daring Bakers - Christmas Stollen


Again I'm late with my season's greetings. Let me start wishing you all a delicious 2011! Now on to the cake. Stollen is a traditional Christmas cake made with mixed peel, fruit and citrus zest. It was on my to do list for a while, just waiting for the opportunity. This Christmas I finally baked Stollen, and we all enjoyed it very much.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.


Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves.

Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.

To make the dough

Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

1.Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2.Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3.Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
4.Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.

Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape. Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- I really enjoyed this Stollen recipe. Thank you Penny!
- I've made 2 wreaths with crystalized pear, raisins and cherries and Kirsch instead of rum to soak the raisins.


Daring Bakers - Crostata!


It's getting chilly in Lisbon. Autumn has been nice, sunny and warm but it's now behind us. Winter is making its way calling for a blanket. When the weather gets cold, I crave nice warm sweet consolation in fruity tarts and crumbles. A crostata di marmellata is the perfect treat with a nice cup of tea. Grazie, Simona!

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Outono // Autumn
Maçãs e framboesas // Apples and raspberries

Pasta frolla

1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Making pasta frolla by hand:

Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

If you choose to make a crostata with a jam filling, you will need:

1 and 3/4 cups [415ml, 600 gm, 21 oz] of jam or fruit preserves, whatever flavor you like (Note: I use my homemade fruit preserves, which have a low sugar content. I recommend you choose a good quality product, made with mostly fruit.)

Assembling and baking the crostata di marmellata:

Heat the oven to 375ºF [190ºC/gas mark 5].
Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make the lattice top of the crostata. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base.
To help roll the crostata dough, keep the dough on top of the plastic wrap that you had it wrapped in. This can help rolling the dough and can also help when transferring the dough to your pan. You can also use parchment paper for this. However, you can also roll the dough directly on a work surface if you prefer. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.
Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places. Take out of the fridge the reserved pasta frolla you had cut away earlier. Roll it with your pin and cut into strips or use cookie cutters to make small shapes (this is not traditional, but it looks cute); or roll with your hands into ropes.
Lightly dust the top of the dough and your work surface (if you’re rolling directly on a work surface) with flour. Keep some flour handy to dust the dough as you go along.
If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin's width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.
Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick.
If you used the plastic wrap or parchment paper as rolling surface, flip dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap.
Spread the jam or fruit preserves evenly over the bottom of the crostata. Use the prepared strips or rolls of dough to make a lattice over the surface, or decorate with the cut shapes.
Brush the border and strips of dough with the reserved beaten eggs. You can add a drop or two of water to the beaten eggs if you don’t have enough liquid.
Put the tart in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, check the tart and continue baking until the tart is of a nice golden hue.
When done, remove the tart from the oven and let cool. If you have used a tart pan with a removable bottom, then release the tart base from the fluted tart ring. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- I used version 1 of pasta frolla. Made it by hand, no troubles to report. Worked really well. By mistake I've used self rising flour and it got a little puffed but no problem really.
- My filling is homemade vanilla apple compote.


Daring Bakers - The best doughnuts

Donuts // Doughnuts

Where did time go this Summer and Autumn? I'm not sure. I'll be back soon with the news on what I've been doing lately. But today is Daring Baker's day! The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious. Thanks, Lori!

Yeast doughnuts
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

Milk 1.5 cup / 360 ml
Vegetable Shortening 1/3 cup / 80 ml / 70 gm / 2.5 oz (can substitute butter, margarine or lard)
Active Dry Yeast 4.5 teaspoon (2 pkgs.) / 22.5 ml / 14 gm / ½ oz
Warm Water 1/3 cup / 80 ml (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C)
Eggs, Large, beaten 2
White Granulated Sugar ¼ cup / 60 ml / 55 gm / 2 oz
Table Salt 1.5 teaspoon / 7.5 ml / 9 gm / 1/3 oz
Nutmeg, grated 1 tsp. / 5 ml / 6 gm / ¼ oz
All Purpose Flour 4 2/3 cup / 1,120 ml / 650 gm / 23 oz + extra for dusting surface
Canola Oil DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you want THREE (3) inches of oil (can substitute any flavorless oil used for frying)

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. (Make sure the shortening is melted so that it incorporates well into the batter.)
Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. It should get foamy. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.
Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (if you have one), combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.
Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well.
Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes (for me this only took about two minutes). If you do not have a dough hook/stand mixer – knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch (9 mm)thick. (Make sure the surface really is well-floured otherwise your doughnuts will stick to the counter).
Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) doughnut cutter or pastry ring or drinking glass and using a 7/8-inch (22 mm) ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 °F/185°C.
Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side or until golden brown (my doughnuts only took about 30 seconds on each side at this temperature).
Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- I've made 1/4 the recipe, and it was good enough for 4 of us (2 large doughnuts each);
- I've made the recipe by hand with a wooden spoon and a little kneading. Worked like a charm!
_ I've said before deep-frying is not something I'd do every week or every month for that matter. In the end I was quite happy with the outcome: crispy yeast doughnuts coated with sugar and a dash of cinnamon. :)


Daring Bakers - Delicious petit fours

petit fours

August means holidays, seaside, picnics and being away from home. It also means very needed rest and time to do nothing except walk, read and sleep after such a stressing school year. This August wasn't very different with a getaway in between to check some exhibitions and see some dear friends. Petit fours make the perfect little treat for hot weather like we had this Summer, and I absolutely love brown butter pound cake! Thanks for choosing such a yummy theme, Elissa!

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

Petit fours

Brown Butter Pound Cake
Adapted from the October 2009 edition of Gourmet
19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) (See “Note” section for cake flour substitution)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.

Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Glaze (For the Ice Cream Petit Fours)

9 ounces (250g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (250 ml) heavy (approx 35% butterfat) cream
1 1/2 tablespoons (32g) light corn syrup, Golden syrup, or agave nectar
2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla extract

Stir the heavy cream and light corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add the dark chocolate. Let sit 30 seconds, then stir to completely melt the chocolate. Stir in the vanilla and let cool until tepid before glazing the petit fours.

David Lebovitz's vanilla ice cream here

Assemble the Ice Cream Petit Fours

Line a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) pan with plastic wrap, so that no sides of the pan are exposed and so there is some extra plastic wrap hanging off the sides. Spread 1 ¾ to 2 cups (450ml to 500ml) ice cream into the pan. Cover with more plastic wrap and freeze several hours.

Once the brown butter pound cake has completely cooled, level the top with a cake leveler or a serrated knife. Then split the cake in half horizontally to form two thin layers. Unwrap the frozen ice cream. Flip out onto one of the layers of cake and top with the second layer of cake. Wrap well in plastic wrap and return to the freezer overnight.

Make the chocolate glaze (see above.) While the glaze cools, trim ¾” (2cm) off each side of the ice cream cake to leave a perfectly square 7.5” (19cm) ice cream cake. Cut the cake into twenty five petit fours, each 1.5”x1.5” (4cmx4cm). Glaze the petit fours one at a time: place a petit four on a fork and spoon chocolate glaze over it. Place the petit fours on a parchment-lined baking sheet and return to the freezer for one hour.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- My time this August was very limited. I went for the petit fours just because I could make them in small portions and use the rest of the cake to something else.
- The ice cream, chocolate sauce, and brown butter pound cake recipes were very straight forward.
- I've made David's vanilla ice cream before, so this time I added a raspberry swirl to have more colour and a different flavour.


Daring Bakers - Beautiful pavlova

Chocolate Pavlova

I wished days could be longer when June comes by... Every year, this month arrives with tons of things to be done at work, short nights and very long hours. If only there could be more time for the good things of life. In between I've watched a few Wimbledon matches, cheered for Portugal at the World Cup and shared a lovely chocolate pavlova with dear friends. All in all, not a bad month!

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard

Chocolate Pavlova

Chocolate Pavlova

Chocolate Meringue (for the chocolate Pavlova):

3 large egg whites
½ cup plus 1 tbsp (110 grams) white granulated sugar
¼ cup (30 grams) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200º F (95º C) degrees. Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment and set aside. Put the egg whites in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. (The whites should be firm but moist.) Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder over the egg whites and fold the dry ingredients into the white. Fill a pastry bag with the meringue. Pipe the meringue into whatever shapes you desire. Alternatively, you could just free form your shapes and level them a bit with the back of a spoon. ake for 2-3 hours until the meringues become dry and crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse (for the top of the Pavlova base):

1 ½ cups (355 mls) heavy cream (cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent)
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces (255 grams) 72% chocolate, chopped
1 2/3 cups (390 mls) mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp (30 mls) Grand Marnier (or orange juice)

Put ½ cup (120 mls) of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let sit at room temperature until cool. Place the mascarpone, the remaining cup of cream and nutmeg in a bowl. Whip on low for a minute until the mascarpone is loose. Add the Grand Marnier and whip on medium speed until it holds soft peaks. Mix about ¼ of the mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten. Fold in the remaining mascarpone until well incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse. Again, you could just free form mousse on top of the pavlova.

Mascarpone Cream (for drizzling):

1 recipe crème anglaise
½ cup (120 mls) mascarpone
2 tbsp (30 mls) Sambucca (optional)
½ cup (120 mls) heavy cream

Prepare the crème anglaise. Slowly whisk in the mascarpone and the Sambucca and let the mixture cool. Put the cream in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until very soft peaks are formed. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Crème Anglaise (a component of the Mascarpone Cream above):

1 cup (235 mls) whole milk
1 cup (235 mls) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow.
Combine the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat, bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off the heat. Pour about ½ cup of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep from making scrambled eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining cream mixture and put the heat back on medium. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. DO NOT OVERCOOK.
Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.

Pipe the mousse onto the pavlovas and drizzle with the mascarpone cream over the top. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and fresh fruit if desired.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- I've decided to go for a large dessert instead of individual pavlovas;
- my meringue didn't rise as much as I'd like to;
- half batch for the mascarpone chocolate mousse was more than in enough for the meringue (full recipe);
- Mascarpone Cream for drizzling was really good - I also made only half batch;
- I've added red fruits and I really think it made all the difference to balance the very rich pavlova.

Check all the wonderful pavlovas of fellow DB's here.


Daring Bakers - Ma [mini] pièce montée

Mini pièce montée

I have a thing for choux. I love everything made from choux pastry - savoury or sweet, filled or simply dusted with icing sugar, with a glaze or on its own. I've made choux before but never dared to think of a pièce montée... Unfortunately we didn't have any celebration this month, and a croquembouche is a bit too much for the two of us. So I made a mini pièce montée with a passionfruit vanilla filling + a chocolate glaze.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.


Patê a Choux

makes about 28

¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide. Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool. Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Passionfruit Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla
2 passionfruit

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Add passionfruit pulp and gently fold. Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Chocolate Glaze

8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced) Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze, and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- I made half a batch for the choux.
- My glaze is bittersweet chocolate as I adore it.
- The passionfruit cream was perfect. Although very subtle it added a nice tone to the combination.
- All in all a very satisfying challenge!

Check all the awesome versions at the Daring Kitchen.


Spring colours

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis

Winter was rigorous, Spring has been nonexistent around here. It's the middle of May and I'm yet to change my closet, moving winter coats and sweaters until the next cold season. Little dresses, light clothes or sandals are a far sight while temperatures refuse to go up and rain move to different latitudes. Today we have a glorious sun and the promise of a springy day... I'll let you know if my lighter clothes had the chance to see daylight or if I've been mislead by the beautiful sunshine outside. One perfect way to celebrate a sunny day is a colourful dessert. There's nothing easier to make than a panna cotta. C'mon Spring!

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis
Adapted slightly from Laura Zavan, Dolce, Marabout.

serves 4

200ml double cream
250ml whole milk
3 gelatine leaves
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
40g granulated sugar

Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water until soft. Heat the double cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan. Add vanilla pod and seeds and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add to the pan. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Remove the bean (clean, dry and use into sugar for flavour and aroma).

Lightly oil the cups with a neutral-tasting oil. Pour the milk mixture and leave to cool. Place into the fridge for 2 hours, until set.

for the coulis:

200g strawberries, hulled and halved (reserve 2 or 3 smaller, prettier ones to serve)
25g caster sugar (or more, if your strawberries are on the tart side)
1 tbsp sweet white wine
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Bring the wine and sugar to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the strawberries and lemon zest (if using) and cook for 3 minutes or until soft. Pass the sauce through a sieve into a bowl and discard (eat!) the fruit pulp.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmold onto a serving plate. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with the reserved strawberries and extra blueberries (optional).


On broad beans and coriander flowers

Broad beans

It's that time of the year: broad beans are everywhere with their vibrant colour, soft texture and perfect flavour. If you're crazy about broad beans like I am, you sure understand all the fuss about them. The season is short! Of course if you dislike broad beans (like my mom) you won't really see all the joy that comes with a large bag and the promise of long hours shelling and peeling beans. No matter how unexciting the process is, I seem to never have enough -- creamy soups, crunchy salads or comfy stews, vegetarian or with a little bacon but always paired with the most perfect bouquet of aromatic herbs: garlic leaves, leek tops, mint and coriander flowers. Oh the joy!

Get a bowl and a spoon, I'm serving soup.

Creamy Broad Bean Soup with a Poached Egg

Creamy Broad Bean Soup with a Poached Egg

Serves 4-6

1,2Kg fresh broad beans (in the pod)
1 medium leek (or 2 small)
1 medium onion
2 tbsp olive oil
950ml vegetable stock
small bunch coriander (flowered, if you can get them)
few mint sprigs (optional)

4 fresh large eggs, organic
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Shell broad beans and remove the skin (yes, it's time consuming but necessary to get the velvety texture and bright green colour). Reserve. Make a bouquet with the leek top, coriander and mint. Tie the bunch together with kitchen twine. Coarsely chop the onion and leek's white part. Put olive oil in a large pot, add onion and leek and cook for 3 minutes, until soft. Add prepared broad beans and the bouquet. Pour the stock and cook, covered, for 10-12 minutes. Remove the herb bouquet. Using a hand blender, blend until creamy. Check seasoning. Add a little salt if necessary.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. When the water boils, add the vinegar. Lower the water to a slow simmer. Crack the egg into a small bowl. Carefully pour the egg into the boiling water. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove with a a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper kitchen towel. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Toast 4 slices of bread. Pour the soup into 4 large bowls. Put one poached egg and a toast in each one. Ground some black pepper on the egg. Add a dash of olive oil and serve.


Daring Bakers - Age of steam!

Apple Cinnamon Steamed Pudding

In my opinion British Cuisine is sometimes underrated. I love the simple approach to food, both savoury and sweet. Perhaps because I tend to think of some British traditional puddings when I'm craving something sweet as comfort food: a warm crumble, a splash of custard or a spoonful of sponge pudding. And Britons know their way around puddings, that's for sure! The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet. I've decided for a butter based version of steamed pudding with a fruit base.

A butter based version of steamed pudding

Apple Cinnamon Steamed Pudding
Adapted from BBC Good Food

350g apples, sliced
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
125g unsalted butter
few drops natural vanilla extract
2 medium eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour

Cook the sliced apples with 75g of the sugar and the spices over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until just starting to soften. Remove from heat.
Grease a 900ml pudding basin. Put butter and remaining sugar in a bowl and cream together. Stir in vanilla extract, then beat in eggs, a little at a time. Sift in flour and carefully fold into the mixture.
Spoon fruit into the bottom of the basin, then spoon the sponge mixture on top and level off surface.
Butter a piece of greaseproof paper slightly bigger than the top of the pudding basin. Make a pleat in the centre and secure over the top of basin. Repeat with a piece of foil, then secure the whole thing with string. Place in a pan half filled with simmering water. Cover and cook for 1½ hrs, checking regularly that the pan does not boil dry. Remove cover, invert the pudding onto a plate, then carefully lift off the pudding basin. Serve with crème fraîche or single cream.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- Suet is not my thing so I've decided to go with butter instead;
- This recipe is a charm to make, and very versatile if you use a different fruit/spice combination like I did;
- The cooking technique is quite easy if you follow instructions. Also called Bain Marie, it requires only a pot of simmering water and a bit of attention;
- I've served mine with plain greek yoghurt.

Have a look at all the wonderful puddings at Daring Kitchen!


Food for uncertain weather

Spicy sweet potato chips

Spring is not the best of seasons.
Cold and flu are two good reasons;
wind and rain and other sorrow,
warm today and cold tomorrow.

Its author unknown, its style almost puerile - these verses are anything but an ode to Spring! I love shinny bright springy days and green and white trees with the promises of summer fruit as much as I love the beautiful white-ish flowers of my thyme. But that doesn't stop me from being unsure with the weather and crave comforting oven dishes: food for uncertain weather! I also pack a sweater and an umbrella every time I leave the house, just in case... Nothing like enjoy the moment and be ready for whatever the weather brings!

Sweet potato chips + Thyme flowers

Baked Sweet Potato Chips

serves 2

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
salt, ground cumin, paprika, ground ginger, to taste (about 1/3 tsp each)
1 tbsp olive oil
fleur de sel to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, olive oil, and spice mixture. Toss until potatoes are evenly coated. Arrange potatoes in a single layer in an ovenproof shallow dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and crisp. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve immediately.


City of your dreams?

MACBA Barcelona

To some it must have palm trees and open waters reaching for the infinite, to other it's just memories sedimented, coming and going like the sea. The city of your dreams is where you want it to be, at your doorstep or on the other side of the world - the exact spot where your brain becomes your heart, and as they say keeps passions forever.

[Pictured above is the work of John Baldessari in the exhibition Pure Beauty presented by MACBA - Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. All Barcelona photos by Mr. Taster, aka the husband.]


It was in another century that Mr. Taster and I fell in love with Barcelona. Still living fame and fortune of having held the Olympics a couple of years before, the city was full of interest and life. We were twenty years old and an entire life to be back. In our bag we packed Frank Gehry's fish, the narrow streets of Gothic Quarter, the atrium at the Textile Museum and the sea view from the Olympic Port [all above]. We also took the hot chocolate aroma and some spoonfuls of crema catalana with the promise to taste it again and again. Fifteen years went by whilst we (re)arranged memories to make them perfect. Last week we arrived to a very different Barcelona - one we didn't quite remember. Strange, long lost memory. No city survives the expectations built over a decade and a half of wait. Our only hope was for the passion to happen once more...

1929. The Barcelona Pavilion

And it did one morning when visiting the German National Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. Considered an example of Modern architecture, it was designed by Mies van der Rohe and reconstructed on its original site on Montjuïc in the 80's. It started here the story of an unknown city that won our heart. For the second time.


Wild, wild... rice!

Wild Rice Salad

Wild rice is not really rice. There you go. My favourite way to bring bad news is always to just say what I have to say, and then try my best to prove it's not actually that bad... Wild rice is in fact the seed of a plant, usually sold and cooked with (normal) rice. It's also my top ingredient of the moment - I *just* love it! Today's recipe is a salad. Easy to make, good with fish or meat as a side dish or on itself, eaten on the kitchen bench, with the music on and your mind elsewhere.

Wild rice Salad with Cashews
Adapted from Patricia Cornwell and Marlene Brown, Food to Die For - Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen

Serves 4, as a side dish

½ cup wild rice (about 80g)
500 ml (2 cups) chicken or veggie broth
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 large green pepper, chopped
½ cup cashews, coarsely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped

for the dressing:
1½ tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp toasted sesame oil
½ garlic clove, very finely minced
salt and black pepper

lettuce leaves to serve

Wash and drain the wild rice. Heat broth in a medium pot. Cook rice until soft (follow the instructions on the packet for cooking times). In a large saucepan. heat olive oil. Add pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chopped cashews and green onion. Mix until cashews become golden. Remove from the heat. Add cooked wild rice and fold gently, just to mix everything.

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid. Put the lid on and shake vigorously until blended. Pour over the salad. Serve on lettuce leaves.


Daring Bakers - Pick me up, please!


My grandma (who was an excellent cook and a brilliant baker) didn't care much for what she'd call "fancy spoon desserts". Grandma would bake a pudding or a tart or even a layered cake but would pay no attention to such thing as a charlotte. When I was 15 years old I've lived for a few months in England without my family - it opened my mind in many different ways (some of which I'm not about to disclose, fear not!!). The first time I set eyes on a Tiramisu it looked pretty much like a trifle to me... A trifle without fruit! Tasting it made me think again how trifle-ish it was but the beautiful addition of cheese and coffee made it into something completely different. To this day I still have trouble adding fruit to a tiramisu, although nutty flavours make a perfect pairing to mascarpone. Back home, I've decided to make a Tiramisu for a family lunch. Not taking my eyes off grandma, I've seen her having a second helping without a blink! It became a family favourite and my very own "speciality". My recipe is very different from this month challenge, it uses raw egg and no cream, so trying a new approach at an old favourite made it quite exciting.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.


Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007

Serves 6

For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk

Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk. Whisk until smooth.
Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract

Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder

Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.
Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.

Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered.
Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.
To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please. Cut into individual portions and serve.

Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese

Makes 12oz/340g of mascarpone cheese

474ml (approx. 500ml)/ 2 cups whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.
Vera’s notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it’d been cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.
Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.

Savoiardi Biscuits

Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home
Makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2" to 3" long) ladyfingers.

3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
6 tablespoons /50gms confectioner's sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C) degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- Every recipe was quite easy to make. This is a somewhat laborious dessert but by no means difficult.
- The ladyfingers were super nice. I'll definitely keep this recipe instead of the one I've used for several years.
- I've used Amaretto instead of Marsala, just because it was what I had on hand. It worked fine!
- As I said before, my recipe uses raw egg (yolks and whites) and no cream. I find the texture better this way, and assuming you have a trustable supplier of fresh eggs it really isn't a problem (at least not for me).


A Moroccan Supper

Moroccan Supper

It has been cold in Lisbon for the last month or so. I get cranky when skies are gray and temperatures get to one digit, and student papers seem to grow from my desk! Although I like wintertime, I'm not happy with rain every other day, cold feet and a running nose. There's just one way to get my mood right when that happens: hot spicy soup! For the record, I'm yet to make it to Morocco. No idea why I haven't really since it's just around the corner... The smells and flavours of ras-el-hanout couldn't be more perfect to cheer me up!

Moroccan Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Rachel's Food for Friends

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion (125g), chopped
2 stalks celery (100g) chopped
salt and pepper
2 ½ tsp freshly ground cumin
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
a pinch of sugar (for the tomatoes)
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
600ml vegetable stock
juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp coriander leaves and stalks, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and celery, and season. Cook with the lid on until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the ground cumin and stir. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the pinch of sugar, the chickpeas and vegetable stock. Allow to simmer for a few minutes before adding the lemon juice and chopped fresh coriander. Season to taste.

Moroccan Supper

Vegetarian brick crispy bags

4 small potatoes, cubed
200g frozen peas
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic glove, finely chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil + 2, to brush
1 tbsp ras-el-hanout
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ cup chopped fresh coriander
8 sheets pastry brick
lemon pieces, to serve

Boil peas and the potatoes in separate pots in salted water. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and green pepper. Cook for 3 minutes or until soft. Add spices and stir. Drain peas and potatoes. Add to the saucepan. Season to taste and set aside.

To make triangular pastry pockets, fold like this. Add a spoonful of the veggie mixture. Brush with olive oil, both sides. Preheat a heavy bottomed saucepan. Place the little bags on the hot saucepan, 2 minutes each side. Serve hot with the soup and a piece of lemon.


Daring Bakers - Welcome to Canada!

Nanaimo Bars

I have a thing for cookbooks. You too? Good. I hate to be alone with my addictions. In my kitchen there are dozens of cookbooks with thousands of recipes (mainly in Portuguese, English and French) that I'm yet to read, not to mention try. Sometimes I grab one and pass my hand on the cover as if I could feel all the vibes... The shelves on top of my sink hold my Marabout collection of small books like this Trish Deseine ode to chocolate. The book features Nanaimo Bars on the cover. I couldn't tell how many times I've grabbed it, and felt compelled to look at those bars. Thanks Lauren for the challenge!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

Nanaimo Bars / Gluten Free Graham Wafers

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 cup (138 g) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder
2 cups (254 g) Icing Sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) Unsalted Butter

For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

My thoughts on the challenge:

- I've halved the recipes (Graham Wafers and Nanaimo layers) and didn't have any problem with that, except maybe a little for the middle layer, as it's not so easy to cream small quantities of butter.
- I was thrilled to try Gluten Free baking! Sorghum Flour was a pain to get. I used soya flour and it worked just fine. Will definitely try Gluten Free more often!
- The Graham Wafers on their own are too sweet for me. I'll reduce the sugar a bit next time I make them.
- My bars are hazelnut flavoured. Instead of almonds I've used hazelnut meal - actually the only change I did to the original recipe.


Welcome 2010!

Coq au Vin

That I love French Cuisine is no secret... Is there a better way to start the new year than to cook Coq au vin for the first meal of 2010? I thought so! We had a family meeting to celebrate and welcome a brand new year, and share our best wishes and resolutions. It was a slightly french meal -- the perfect theme to use the new Le Creuset pan I got for Christmas. For dessert, there was Pumpkin Pudding with Almonds... moist, sweet, and nutty. What else could I have asked for? Happy 2010!

Coq au vin

Serves 4

1,2 Kg free-range chicken, cut into large pieces (or 8 thighs + legs)
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter, separated
1 onion, chopped
1 glove garlic, chopped
150 ml dry white wine*
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
200 gr wild mushrooms
parsley, to serve

Wash each piece and dry with paper towels. Place flour in a plate and rub the chicken, until covered. In a heavy pan, heat 1 tbsp butter. Working in batches, sauté the chicken for 3-4 minutes, each side. Set aside. Pour a little chicken stock (or water) into the pan, and remove any brown pieces from the pan walls and bottom. Add onion and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the browned chicken to the pan. Season with salt and ground black pepper and dried thyme. Add half the wine, let it steam and mix. Add the remaining wine, and cook, covered for 35-40 minutes. Stir occasionally. If it's dry, add some chicken stock or water.

Whilst the chicken cooks, prepare the mushrooms. Preheat a large saucepan. Add 1 tbsp butter, the garlic and half the mushrooms, sliced. Be careful the saucepan is not too crowded. Season with salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Set aside in a heated plate, and repeat.

To serve, add the mushrooms to the pan, garnish with parsley and serve with boiled potatoes and a green salad (optional).

* Coq au vin is traditionally made with red wine, mas there are all kind of versions with different wines. My choice for this recipe is a dry white wine.

New Year Lunch

Pumpkin Pudding with Almonds

250 gr baked pumpkin, smashed with a fork
100 gr dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
150 ml cream
1 tsp quatre-épices*
2 tbsp raisins
caramel for the mould
2 tbsp slivered almonds, toasted

Mix pumpkin, eggs, spices and sugar. Beat until combined. Add cream and raisins. Mix well. Cover a ring mould with caramel. Pour the batter and cover with a lid. Place the mould into an ovenproof dish and fill with hot water to cover half the wall of the mould. Cook in a preheated oven 180ºC, for 30 minutes. Remove to a serving plate when completely cooled. Garnish with toasted almonds.

*quatre-épices is a spice mix. You may use half cinnamon and equal parts of ground ginger, ground gloves and ground nutmeg.

New Year Lunch