09 November 2018

CHOCOLATE LEMON CAKE BARS

Bar desserts have been around for a long time, and they are irreplaceable when it comes to catered events, or even casual weekend picnics, as they are incredibly easy to transport and serve. Even more so if serving little ones who are very prone to making their little hands and faces messy with desserts.
These old-fashioned cake bars are just the right combination of sweet and tangy, topped with a thin, crunchy layer of dark chocolate. A feast for all senses.
The gorgeous sponge cake is paired with lemon purée, honey, and vanilla bean paste, creating a unique style of frosting, typical for olden desserts. You can even embellish the frosting with a splash of Limoncello, if you so desire. Chill the bars well, then serve them with lemonade or strong coffee.


Ingredients
For the cake
3 medium eggs
100 grams light brown sugar
50 grams granulated sugar
200 grams sour cream
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
125 grams plain flour
25 grams cornflour
3 teaspoons baking powder
For the topping
100 grams granulated sugar
100 ml cold water
2 medium lemons
30 grams thick honey
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the glaze
100 grams dark chocolate

Preparation
Place the eggs into a large bowl, and beat with an electronic whisk on high, for about 2 minutes, until they start thickening up. Add in the light brown sugar, as well as the granulated sugar, and continue whisking on high until the sugar has dissolved, and the batter is fluffy, pale, and thick. Add in the sour cream, vanilla, and the oil, and blend well on low speed. Finally, sift in the flour and the baking powder, and blend well on low speed.
Line a square baking tray (20x20 cm) with baking parchment, pour in and level the batter, then bake in a preheated oven, at 180˚C, for about 20-25 minutes. Check the cake with a skewer or a toothpick, to make sure it doesn’t stay undercooked in the centre. The top will brown considerably, but that is to be expected. Let the cake cool down completely, then split it in half, as you would for a sandwich cake. Return one cake layer to the tin, and reserve the other.
For the topping, peel the lemons entirely, removing all the seeds and membranes. You can segment them, but it is not mandatory. Blend them into a puree, then reserve. Add the sugar to a heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in the water, and place the saucepan over high heat. Let the syrup come to a boil, then let it cook, still on high heat, without stirring, for 3 minutes. It will reduce, but it shouldn’t change colour. Remove from the heat and let it cool down slightly.
Take a large bowl, and crumble in the reserved cake layer. It does not have to be finely crumbled. Add in the lemon puree, sugar syrup, honey, and vanilla, and blend it with an electronic whisk on medium speed until it becomes uniform and relatively smooth. Carefully spread this topping over the cake layer in the tin, level it as much as you can, then place it in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
For the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, remove the cake from refrigerator, quickly glaze it and tap the tin on the counter so it settles nicely, then return it to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Serve well chilled. Yields 9 servings.

02 November 2018

SOUR CREAM PARMESAN BREAD

Bread has always been a household staple. With colder weather approaching, freshly baked bread not only compliments the food on the table, but it also warms the soul. It is as much about the meal as is about the tradition of home-baked bread.
I am a great believer in slow rise when it comes to baked goods, because nothing really compares to well-developed flavours that come from longer rise times. This lovely, decorative loaf is enriched with soured cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and it is a hearty addition to any lunch or dinner.


Ingredients
550 grams soft bread flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast
200 grams soured cream
240 ml tepid water
100 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
80 ml olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon salt
sesame seeds (optional)

Preparation
Sift the flour twice, add in the dry yeast, stir it through, and set it aside. Take a large bowl, add in the sour cream, 50 ml oil, tepid water, and salt, whisk it well, and let it sit for about 5 minutes, so the salt dissolves. After resting, whisk it again, then add half of the flour, and mix very well with a wooden spoon, until a creamy batter forms. Sprinkle in the freshly grated Parmesan, and stir it through completely. Slowly start adding the rest of the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon at first, then kneading with your hands, until all of the flour is used.
The dough should be slightly tacky, but it shouldn't stick to your hands. Wrap the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The dough will rise and become very soft and aerated. Take the risen dough out and knead it on a well-floured surface for a few minutes, then divide it into four equal portions, shape each one into a ball, cover them with a clean kitchen towel, and let them rest for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, prepare the baking pan. Take a round baking pan (23 cm), and butter and flour it generously. This will prevent the bread from sticking to the pan and potentially not coming out in one piece once baked. When the dough has rested, roll out each of the dough sections into a long rope shape, then carefully slice it in half length-wise, using a sharp knife. Twist the two cut pieces around each other, then make a coil shape out of it, and place it in the centre of the pan.
Slice another rope shape in half, twist the halves, and continue making the coil in the pan. Continue wrapping the dough pieces in this fashion until all of the dough is used. Let the bread rise for another 30 minutes in the pan, covered with a dry kitchen towel. Just before baking, brush the whole surface of the bread with the reserved oil, and generously sprinkle it with sesame seeds (if using), and bake in a preheated oven, at 220°C (430°F), for about 25 minutes. Take the baked bread out of the oven, at let it cool down to at least room temperature, then serve.

Baker’s note: Keep in mind that Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is salty, and adjust the amount of salt to your preference. You may wish to add more, or omit the additional salt altogether.

26 October 2018

SPECULAAS PUMPKIN TRUFFLES

I consider truffles to be a perfect party treat - quick and effortless to make, and almost everyone loves them. And, since it's October, it is only natural to make them pumpkin-flavoured. Pumpkin purée is used as a flavour base which is then enriched with warm and inviting Speculaas cookies, cinnamon, and coconut. Warm autumn spices tie everything together, and vanilla makes them taste almost candy-like. They will stay soft at room temperature, but they do not lose their shape, although I recommend keeping them refrigerated until serving time.


Ingredients
250 grams pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
100 grams Speculaas cookie crumbs
75 grams icing sugar
75 grams desiccated coconut
50 grams desiccated coconut or Speculaas cookie crumbs, for decorating


Preparation
Add the pumpkin purée into a large bowl, add in the rum and vanilla, as well as cinnamon (if using), and then whisk everything until combined. Sprinkle in the desiccated coconut, and blend it completely into the pumpkin puree. The batter will become somewhat solid at this point, but that is normal. Sift in the icing sugar, and whisk again.
The batter will become stickier, so start adding the cookie crumbs, while whisking. Finished batter needs to be ever so slightly tacky, but not so it sticks to your hands. Using a small cookie scoop, take out portions of the batter, roll them into neat little truffles, and then roll them in some additional coconut or cookie crumbs. Store them in the refrigerator until serving, I recommend at least 4 hours, best overnight, for the flavours to develop. Yields 20 truffles.

19 October 2018

CARAMEL MACCHIATO CAKE

It is not a secret that I love coffee, nor that I love using it in desserts. Back when I started drinking coffee, I used to love flavoured coffees, especially latte macchiato. Although today I prefer doppio espresso without any sugar or milk, sometimes a flavoured latte macchiato can be a nice change, especially if flavoured by freshly made caramel sauce.
Coffee and caramel make for such a wonderful flavour pairing, so it is only natural to make it into a charming little cake, perfect served with strong espresso, and additional homemade caramel sauce. The richness of the caramel filling is cut by the flavourful espresso cake layers, yet delightfully balanced by the fragrant vanilla syrup. A complete dessert experience for coffee lovers.


Ingredients
For the espresso cake layers
150 grams unsalted butter, softened
150 grams granulated sugar
3 medium free-range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
150 grams plain flour
15 grams cornflour
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
200 grams sour cream
For the vanilla syrup
50 grams granulated sugar
50 ml cold water
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
For the caramel filling
200 grams granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
40 grams cornflour
30 grams plain flour
700 ml whole milk
250 grams unsalted butter, softened


Preparation
Because the luscious filling starts with a rich caramel custard that needs a bit of time to cool down, start by taking away about 200 ml of whole milk, and whisking it really well with sifted cornflour, plain flour, and the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and set it aside. Pour the granulated sugar in an even layer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or a skillet, then place the saucepan over medium heat and let the sugar melt slowly. Do not rush this process, turn up the heat, or stir the sugar at this point. It is a quite slow process at this point, and it will take some time for the sugar to start melting. Once it does start to brown around the edges, slowly and gently move the melted parts towards the centre.
Keep cooking the sugar over medium heat, whilst keeping a close eye on it, until it starts to turn darker in colour and become very fragrant. Once it becomes a deep amber colour, very carefully, in a slow stream, pour the rest of the milk, and let it come to a boil. If you notice the caramel hardening at this point, fret not, it will completely melt into the milk by the time it starts to boil.
When the milk starts bubbling up, add in the mixture of corn starch and egg yolks in a steady stream, and cook until it thickens up, about 2-3 minutes, and it will become a rich, fragrant custard. Remove it from the heat and strain it through a mesh strainer, just in case there are some pieces of hardened caramel. Pour it into a large container, cover the top of the cooked custard with cling film, and let it cool down to room temperature.



While the custard is cooling down, make the espresso cake layers. Place the softened butter into a large bowl, tip in the sugar, and whisk with an electric hand mixer, until much paler in colour, and very aerated in texture. Crack each egg into a separate ramekin, then beat them into the butter and sugar, one egg at a time, until blended. Add in the vanilla bean paste, and combine it well. Sift in the flour, cornflour, instant espresso powder, and the baking soda, and mix only until combined. Finally, add in the sour cream, and mix on low until just blended.
Line four small round cake tins (15 cm), divide the batter evenly between them, and level it as much as you can. The batter will be thick, and almost resembling brownie batter, so it will need a bit of help with the levelling. Bake them in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through the baking. Check them with a toothpick around the 15-minute mark, just to make sure they do not overbake. Let the baked cakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then take them out, arrange them on wire racks, and let them cool completely.


To make the vanilla syrup, add the granulated sugar into a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and pour all of the water over it. Scrape the whole vanilla pod, and add all of the beans into the sugar. Place the saucepan over high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and let it cook until all of the sugar has dissolved, about a minute. Let the syrup cool down completely before using.
When the custard has sufficiently cooled down, take a large bowl, add in the room temperature butter, and whisk with an electric mixer on high, until it becomes very light and creamy, almost resembling buttercream. Whilst the mixer is running, add in the cooled custard, a spoonful at a time, until well-blended and looking silky and smooth.
To assemble the cake, level the cake layers if needed, then soak each layer with the vanilla syrup. Place the first cake layer on the serving platter, then add one fourth of the filling on top, and smooth it out completely. Place the second cake layer on top, and continue stacking the cake until you use up all of the cake layers. Use the remaining fourth of the caramel filling to frost the entire cake generously. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, before serving. Yields 16 rich servings.

12 October 2018

APPLE & PUMPKIN PIE

The older I get, the more I love and cherish old-fashioned dishes, especially desserts. There is something so comforting in the texture of crumb bars, sandwiched together by a flavourful filling. Apples are pumpkins are in abundance now, in so many varieties, and it is a pleasure to bake with them. With crisp apples, sweet pumpkin, fragrant honey roasted hazelnuts, as well as warm autumn spices, every piece of this pie is a little work of art on its own.


Ingredients
For the pie filling
350 grams fresh pumpkin
500 grams apples, peeled and cored
200 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon dark rum
100 grams honey roasted hazelnuts, coarsely ground
For the pie dough
250 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
75 grams butter
100 grams granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Preparation
To make the flavourful filling, start by peeling and cleaning the pumpkin. Dice it finely, add it to a large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot, sprinkle on the sugar, and then leave it to macerate for about one hour. Once it has softened up, place it over medium high heat, bring to a boil, and let it cook for 15 minutes, while you prepare the apples. Peel, core, and dice them, add them to the pumpkin, and sprinkle cinnamon all over the surface. Cook the filling, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. You want the fruit to be very tender, but not completely turn into jam. Remove from the heat, add the hazelnuts, rum, and vanilla, and mix very well. Leave the filling to cool down to room temperature.
To make the pie dough, melt together the butter and sugar, but do not let it come to a boiling point. Remove it from the heat, add in the oil, vanilla, and the egg, and whisk vigorously until well-blended. It will almost resemble a blondie batter at this point. Sift together the flour with the baking powder, then add it to the melted butter, and mix with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. It will hold its shape, but it will be very slightly sticky. Wrap it well into cling film, and place it into the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
When the dough and the filling are ready, weigh the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. Very lightly dust your work surface with flour, then roll each piece into an 18x18 cm square, and place one of them into a square baking pan lined with baking parchment. Using a fork or a toothpick, poke holes all over the dough, then place the filling evenly. Level it as much as possible, then very gently place the other dough piece on top. Brush off any remaining flour, and again, poke small holes all over the surface, and bake the pie immediately in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for about 25-30 minutes. Once baked, let it cool completely, generously with icing sugar, and serve. Yields 9 rich servings.