15 February 2019

OLD-FASHIONED APPLE HAZELNUT CAKE

I have spoken of my love for old-fashioned desserts before, of my love for their simplicity and humbleness of their ingredients. Just like the name says, this rustic, crumbly cake is modest in ingredients, but abundant in flavour, with roasted hazelnuts, fragrant apples, and warm, earthy cinnamon and vanilla.
A classic for the colder weather, usually prepared during winter, from hazelnuts carefully stashed away in the freezer, and apples still available to buy in the farmers’ market. Apples provide lots of moisture to this cake, and that is greatly aided by the flavourful vanilla-lemon syrup.
This simple, wholesome cake doesn’t need any further adornment, it is beautiful it its simplicity. It is a true old-fashioned dessert, which is meant to be enjoyed for a few days at least, because it keeps very well when stored in a cool place, always with a small cup of very strong, freshly brewed coffee.


Ingredients
For the cake
250 grams grated apples
100 grams caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
150 grams ground toasted hazelnuts
100 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
60 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the vanilla-lemon syrup
150 grams caster sugar
200 ml cold water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
To decorate
50 grams ground hazelnuts

Preparation
Start by peeling and roughly grating the apples, placing them into a large bowl, along with the caster sugar, ground cinnamon, and baking soda, and mix very well. Cover the surface tightly with cling film, and place the apples in the refrigerator for one hour. When the apples are ready, remove them from the refrigerator, and add in the vegetable oil and the vanilla bean paste. Mix well, and add all the dry ingredients. Gently fold everything through until combined, and pour into a square baking tin (20x20 cm) lined with baking parchment. Level the batter as much as possible, and bake in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for about 20-25 minutes. The cake should spring back when lightly touched, and a toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the vanilla-lemon syrup. Place the caster sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in the water and the lemon juice, and place it over high heat. Bring to a boil, and let it cook for 4-5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup becomes slightly thickened. Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Remove the baked cake from the oven, and immediately start pouring the syrup over the hot cake, spoonful by spoonful, until all of the syrup is used up. Sprinkle on the ground hazelnuts, and let the cake cool down to room temperature, then store it in a cool place, but not the refrigerator, for at least 8 hours. The longer the cake stands, the more flavours will develop. Serve with strong coffee. Yields 9 large servings.

08 February 2019

SUGAR COOKIES

Very modest in ingredients, the humble sugar cookie has flour, butter, eggs, and sugar as its main components. Usually found on every cookie platter, in pretty much all occasions. Rich, buttery, ever so slightly crispy on the edges, perfect for the afternoon tea, or with a cup of strong espresso.
After many batches of cookies, I have found that my personal favourite is the chilled cookie dough. Chilled for 30 minutes, to be precise. Even though there is a debate whether cookie dough does require chilling or not, I found that chilling the dough before baking does make a difference in the finished cookie. If the dough is not chilled enough, it will spread more while baked; if the dough is chilled for too long, it will brown more during baking. Hence my middle ground is 30 minutes. After chilling, the dough should seem just ever so slightly tacky, but should not stick to your hands.
And on a final note, if you wish to make them in different colours, feel free to add any food colouring to the dough itself. And speaking of the colours and the icing, the strawberry liqueur in the icing will give them a faint strawberry flavour, but feel free to replace it with any liqueur of your choice. Or, if serving these to the little ones, replace the liqueur with strawberry cordial (squash).


Ingredients
For the cookies
250 grams plain flour, sifted
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
120 grams butter, softened
100 grams caster sugar
1 small egg, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
½ teaspoon dark rum
For the icing
200 grams icing sugar, sifted twice
2 tablespoons strawberry liqueur
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
assorted food colouring and lustre dust, optional

Preparation
Place the softened butter into a large bowl, and beat it for a minute or two with an electronic whisk on high, or until it becomes lighter in colour. Add in the caster sugar, and continue whisking on high until very light, fluffy, and creamy in texture; about 2-3 minutes should be enough. Add the room temperature egg, vanilla, and the dark rum, and blend very well. Sift the flour with the baking powder and add it to the butter batter in two additions, beating constantly on the lowest setting. The dough should be lovely and soft, but ever so slightly sticky. Wrap it tightly in cling film, and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured surface, roll it out to 5 millimetres thickness and cut out the desired shapes. Gently transfer the cookies onto a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Gather the dough scraps, reroll them, and continue cutting out shapes until all the dough is used up. Bake the cookies in a preheated oven, at 180˚C (350˚F) for about 10 minutes, or until very lightly coloured around the edges. They will be very fragile once removed from the oven, so allow them to cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, add the icing sugar into a medium bowl, and pour over the strawberry liqueur mixed well with the vanilla bean paste. Whisk this with a small wire whisk until well-combined. The icing should be quite thick, but still relatively pourable. Depending how fine your icing sugar is, you may need to add another teaspoon of strawberry liqueur (or water). But make sure you add any additional liquid slowly, to make it easy to decorate. Add in any food colouring, if you wish, along with the lustre dust, and decorate cooled cookies as desired. Yields 20 heart-shaped (7 cm) cookies.

01 February 2019

CHOCOLATE DISARONNO SNACK CAKE

There is a belief that simple, everyday cakes have to be plain, usually lightly flavoured, and prepared incredibly quickly. Now, they are quick to make, but that most certainly does not have to mean they are plain or that they lack the depth of flavour.
Ever since I have delved into the world of baking and sweet treats, snack cakes have been the epitome of everyday desserts to me. Usually made with ingredients that are already in cupboards, they are so very delicious, yet simple to prepare.
When a situation calls for a snack cake, chocolate cake works best, as it is the classic, and loved by most, if not all. Moist, flavourful chocolate cake, soaked with chocolate syrup, and then adorned with chocolate whipped cream. Disaronno adds slightly bitter notes that deepen the chocolate flavour, making this sweet treat perfect alongside a cup of tea or coffee.


Ingredients
For the cake
120 grams plain flour
100 grams granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
200 grams vanilla yoghurt
50 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon Disaronno liqueur
For the chocolate syrup
90 ml cold water
60 grams granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons Disaronno liqueur
For the decoration
200 ml double cream
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Preparation
Take a large mixing bowl, and sift in the plain flour and the cocoa powder. Give them a quick whisk to blend, then tip in the granulated sugar and the baking powder, and whisk again. In a separate bowl, mix together the yoghurt, oil, vanilla, almond extract, and Disaronno. When thoroughly whisked, pour this over the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Do not overmix, because there isn’t a lot of the cake batter, and the finished cake will be tough. Pour the batter into a lined square cake tin (20x20 cm), and bake it in a preheated oven, at 200°C (400°F), for 12-15 minutes. It has to spring back when lightly touched.
While the cake is baking, make the chocolate syrup. Place the sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and sift in the cocoa powder to get rid of any possible lumps that are there. Mix well with the sugar, and pour in the water, then mix to combine. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and let it come to a boil without stirring. Once it starts to boil, start whisking the sauce, because it can easily burn. Continue cooking and whisking until the sugar fully dissolves, for about 5 minutes. Remove it from the heat, add Disaronno, and stir well, then reserve.
Once the cake is baked, remove it from the oven, and very carefully and gradually soak it with the chocolate Disaronno syrup. Pour the syrup slowly, by spoonful, waiting until the cake absorbs the amount you poured before adding more syrup. Once all the syrup has been used up, set the cake aside until it cools down to room temperature, then place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably longer. Just before serving, whip up the cream with the sifted cocoa powder until soft peaks form, spread it over the cooled cake, slice it into four big slices, and serve. Yields 4 servings.

25 January 2019

RED WINE BROWNIES

Brownies, being one of the most popular and loved sweet treats, can be very dense, or lighter, cakey in texture. And although those big, cakey brownies that are offered in shops and bakeries are eye-catching, my choice will always be fudge brownies, just like these. Tremendously squidgy, with a deep chocolate flavour, and just a hint of lush red wine.
Rather than adding the red wine straight into the batter, I like to reduce it a tad, making it slightly more intense in flavour. Choose a wine that is relatively low in acidity, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is always my choice, as the wine's naturally sour taste will become slightly more prominent as you cook it down for the brownies.
Whenever the topic of brownies arises, I feel I need to emphasize how vital it is not to overmix the batter, and not to overbake them. If you overmix the batter once the flour is added, that will create a cakey texture or even tough brownies, and that is not how brownies should be.
Another thing to keep in mind is the baking time. The true nature of brownies is to be soft and fudgy or light and fluffy, but never dry, so make sure you test them with a toothpick. As with any traybake, they will continue to cook even after you remove them from the oven, so do not leave them in for longer than necessary. It is fine even if they are ever so slightly underbaked, they will still taste great.
Serve them with some chocolate sauce, whipped cream, or even some ice-cream. I served them with a homemade plum, forest strawberry, and Cabernet Sauvignon sauce.


Ingredients
120 grams unsalted butter
100 grams dark chocolate
200 grams granulated sugar
2 medium eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
120 ml red wine
40 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
50 grams plain flour

Preparation
Start by reducing the red wine for the brownies. Place a saucepan over medium-low heat, pour in the wine, and let it slowly simmer until it reduces by half. It is better to do this slowly, checking the volume of the wine as it simmers, then to rush. Once the red wine has reduced by half, set it aside so it cools down slightly.
Place a saucepan over medium-high heat, add in the diced butter, and let it slowly start melting. Chop up the chocolate and add it to the butter. Swirl and stir as it melts, being careful it doesn’t come to a boil. Once melted, remove from the heat, add in the sugar, and set it aside for about 5 minutes, so the sugar starts to dissolve in the hot butter and chocolate. When it has dissolved slightly, add in the eggs, one at a time, whisking vigorously after each. Add in the vanilla and the wine, and mix well.
Finally, sift in the flour and the cocoa powder, and whisk to incorporate. Do not whisk for too long, only until the last streaks of flour disappear. Whisking for longer will make the brownies dry and tough. Line a square baking tin (20x20 cm) with baking parchment, pour in the batter, and bake it immediately in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the brownies comes out mostly clean, with only a few moist crumbs attached to it.
Since every oven is slightly different, check them with a toothpick around the 20-minute mark, to make sure they do not overbake. They need to stay fudgy and moist. Once baked, remove them from the oven, let them cool completely on a wire rack, slice them up and serve. Yields 9 brownie squares.

18 January 2019

OLIVE OIL MASCARPONE GRISSINI

Mascarpone, a delicious Italian cheese, is widely popular for its use in desserts such as Tiramisu or cheesecakes; but mascarpone has its use in savoury recipes, as well. It is very creamy and mild in flavour, making it perfect for recipes such as this one. The ingredients are humble, but once baked, these grissini are amazingly delicious, especially dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Although I have been making them this size for years, they are quite easy to be adjusted to your needs. You can make them larger, by dividing the dough into ten or less pieces, making them proper, restaurant-style grissini. Just be mindful of the baking time so they remain soft. The very best way to serve these breadsticks is, of course, with dips or as canapés with all cheese-based sauces, or as a simple, flavourful snack.


Ingredients
100 grams Mascarpone cheese
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
100 ml warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon dry yeast
250 grams plain flour
20 grams salted butter, for brushing

Preparation
Place the mascarpone into a medium bowl, add in the salt and the olive oil, and mix very well, until combined. Pour in the warm water, and blend it well. Sift the flour into a large bowl, sprinkle in the yeast, and mix well. Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. The dough should be soft, yet it shouldn't stick to your hands. If it does, add another tablespoon or so of flour. Flour your work surface well, transfer the dough and knead it by hand for about 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a smooth ball, cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Once the dough has rested, transfer it to a floured surface and knead it for a minute or two, just to make it elastic.
Divide the dough by weight into 20 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a log shape, about a centimetre in diameter. Arrange them on a large baking sheet lined with baking paper, making sure you leave enough space between them. Cover with a kitchen towel, then tightly in cling film, and place them into the refrigerator to rise slowly, overnight. Next morning, take them out of the refrigerator an hour before baking, so the dough can come to room temperature and rise a tad more. Bake them in a preheated oven, at 200°C (400°F) for about 12-15 minutes. As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them with butter so they are nice and soft when they cool. Yields 20 grissini.