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Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

This Holy Week, my contribution to my Aunt Ven’s Easter meal is a lemon cake layered with lemon curd and raspberry preserves covered in white chocolate buttercream frosting. I will decorate the outside of the cake with homemade sugar cookies in the shape of bunnies and easter eggs.

This is a little kitschy for me- I usually like my desserts minimal and elegant in decor. But I saw a picture of an Easter cake once decorated this way and it has stuck in my mind. It feels like summer outside and as a believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder- the sunshine makes me in the mood to make a happy cake.

I still have a lot of writing to do this week, so I am just doing a little at a time. Today I am making the sugar cookies that will stick to the icing all around the cake.

I bought these great cookie-cutters from Cookshop. (They should be paying me advertising fees!) That store is like heaven to me. They have great ceramic pots, a million different types of pepper grinders, a long row of pastry tools… The saleslady must have thought I was crazy, because I grazed through the store for an hour…do I have that kind of time? No, but I guess I made time!

Anyway, making sugar cookie dough is so easy and quick. It’s basically two cups flour with a dash of salt and a 1/2 tsp baking powder. I blended 1 cup sugar with 1 stick butter and then added 1 egg and 1 tsp real vanilla extract. Then the flour gets incorporated little by little until you have a nice soft dough. Make it into a disk and then refrigerate for an hour to get cold.

I rolled out the dough 1/8th inch thick and cut out my shapes! Then I sprinkled some with pink sugar crystals and others with purple sugar crystals. I put the shapes back in the fridge to get cold again for another 15 minutes.

Then I bake for around 12 min in a 170C oven. They must be covered in a tight tupperwear container. I double cover them in a ziplock bag and then inside a tupperwear container. I’m sure this is not necessary, but I just really want them to stay crisp until Sunday!

On Friday I make the lemon curd, Saturday the cake, and Sunday I will bake the frosting and assemble. 🙂 I’ll share the steps with you all along the way…

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These are the plums I cut up today, in a bit of a rush. This has been a busy week. So when I’m this busy, it’s all about simple pleasures.

I’m not sure if this sounds like a wierd breakfast, but I’ve been craving Roasted Plums. Craving dessert in the morning comes naturally to me.

Sometimes I just cut them in half, add vanilla bean, pour honey, sprinkle a little brown sugar, maybe a dot of butter…and serve warm with either thick Greek yogurt or ice cream.

I was in the mood for something a bit different. I picked up a bag of chestnuts on the street yesterday. I have some leftover Port in my wine cabinet. Eureka! I tossed cut plums in a small baking dish with a drizzle of port wine, scraped vanilla bean, and sprinkled a small amount of brown sugar. If you want, you could also dot the plums with butter. I chose not to.  They roasted in a 180C/375F oven for 15 minutes or so. They should be tender and releasing juices, but not mushy.

While the plums were roasting I dropped the chestnuts in a food processor. Once roughly chopped (do not let them get too fine- then there is no texture!) I toasted them a bit, and added a tiny bit of sugar to the pan while roasting. Hey, I didn’t add any butter, can’t I have some sugar?

I plated my plums with a little yogurt and topped with the chestnuts. I drizzled the released juices from the pan over the yogurt.

An even nicer presentation would be making this into a trifle. In a glass you could layer the plums, yogurt, and nuts elegantly.

I had a nice breakfast with a serving of fruit and protein for the day. Sorry I didn’t take a pic of the finished plate.

When you find flavors that work well together, vary your recipes up. For example, with the same ingredients, I could have made chestnut mousse and a reduced port syrup to accompany the plums. Or I could have poached the plums in port and topped with chestnut ice cream. You get the idea.

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This morning I woke up to thundering rain. Although I’ve enjoyed my long lovely summer, I’ve been quite in the mood for a change of season. Today was the first day it really felt like fall.

With a hooded sweater I walked to the grocery store to prep some meals in the morning while I work in the afternoon. Tonight my boyfriend is coming over and I want us to have a relaxing, cozy dinner in the house. The idea of French Onion Soup feels like a perfect choice.

I bought large yellow onions, a baguette, gruyere cheese and some fresh thyme. (I’ve tried to grow herbs in my garden for the past two years but it just isn’t fair to the poor plants to keep trying…:-/) I sliced the onions quickly and let the caramelize slowly while I got back to my editing. Later I flavored the soup by deglazing with with beef stock and brandy (I forgot the sherry), and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and sea salt. Once Niko gets here, I will broil his ceramic bowl of soup with a baguette slice covered in shredded gruyere. I will eat mine without the bread and cheese, because I am trying to shed some pounds. No need to take pity.  It is still an incredibly flavorful soup this way, and I have some wheat bread I will use to dunk. 🙂 I don’t know if you will think I’m crazy, but I actually like to grate clove into my french onion soup before eating…I like it, what can I say?

Now onto my favorite part of the meal…dessert, and the real point of this post!

I’m very sorry I don’t have a real picture of the dessert and used a copout Rembrandt painting! But my camera is on the fritz, I have no clue whats wrong with it…

Let me say first that I used to grocery shop prepared with strict lists and a strict idea of what I would be making. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to see what is available and what is fresh the day you are at the market. I am now less dependent on recipes, and more inclined to creativity. Today I bought apples because they smelled great and it’s another great ingredient to celebrate autumn. When I turned the corner and smelled the fresh wild mint from 3 feet away, I knew I had to get it! Every few minutes while I strolled the store,  I lifted the bunch up to my nose for a deep breath of the intense mint aroma. This was not the pre-packaged herb variety!

Well, this combination of apples and mint in my buggie led to a new experiment. I wanted to pick something relatively healthy while still tasting indulgent. I decided to make Calvados Baked Apples with an Oatmeal Crumble and Apple-Mint Sorbet. This combo has not only a play in textures but also temperature, which I love.

First I start on the sorbet:

I am making a small portion for two, but you can of course double or triple this recipe:

APPLE MINT SORBET (4 servings, i will have some left over maybe for tomorrow morning) 🙂

  • 4 apples, peeled and diced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup calvados liquor
  • juice of half of a lemon
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs honey or 4 tbs sugar- or a mix- be careful not to overextend the honey, because then it will taste like honey sorbet! I’ve made that mistake before.
  • 7 big mint leaves, finely chopped.

Ok, I do not have an ice cream machine yet, so I made mine the old fashioned way!

Blend the apples with the wine, liquor,  and water. Then stir sugar/honey and lemon juice and dash of apple cider vinegar.

Stir well and place in an air tight container to freeze for an hour.

Stir well again; then freeze again- check it every 15 minutes or so to stir until its set. I can’t give you an exact time on this, you have to keep your eye on it.

When you see it’s almost ready to set, stir in the chopped mint leaves.

I love adding calvados to any apple dessert because the flavor is Apple X’s 10!

CRUMBLE

In a bowl, mix with your hands 1/4 cup oatmeal, 2 tbs honey, 1-2 butter(cut into tiny bits)- you can adjust this to your liking as well-this is just a ratio to help you if you need. I would advise to pour as much oatmeal into the bowl, add a little honey, put a few bits of butter, and see how it goes. You want a sticky, crumbly mixture. This makes very little. If you want more, double or triple this. Don’t be afraid to do this by sight and not strict measurements.

Before serving, toast the crumble in the oven on 375 for just 8 min or when it looks toasted and golden.

BAKED APPLES

2 whole apples, peeled and cored

a sprinkling of juice from a half of a lemon

1/4 cup apple juice or cider

1/4 cup calvados liquor-or brandy

2 small dots of butter- or big dots 🙂

4 tbs sugar

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Wash apples and score them on top (slice a shallow X on the top)

Place apples in a small baking dish

In the cored holes, but the dot of butter and pour the juice-calvados liquids over the apples

Sprinkle 2 tbs of sugar on each apple

Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on how strong your oven is- keep an eye after 20 minutes. you want them fork tender, but not mushy! There should be a nice bite, so there is a contrast to the soft sorbet.

*of course you can add any spice you like- cinnamon, clove, etc. I am keeping it simple so there is just an intense flavor of apple, enhanced by sugar/honey and accented by the apple-mint sorbet.

**make sure the apples are warm when serving.

TO PLATE:

Cut thick slices of apple and plate them attractively-overlapping on a plate.

Drizzle some of the natural sauce from the baking pan over the apples. (If you want, you can reduce the sauce in a pan to concentrate before drizzling)

Scoop a delicate quinelle of sorbet over the baked apples.

Finish by sprinkling the oatmeal crumble over the dish and top with a vibrant green sprig of mint.

I hope you enjoy this, let me know what you think after trying!

(tomorrow I will post my Ta Kioupia review, a great restaurant in Athens)

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Every Friday, I will present an enticing dessert recipe!  They will be my own creations or adaptations from other recipes. Some will be pleasantly simple, while others will require more attention and skill. Both decadent and healthy options are in the mix. Most importantly, they will be stunning and distinctively flavorful.

Flavor always means more than looks, I know. But sometimes my favorite part of baking is delighting in the colors and composition.

I idealize this indulgent joy of pretty pretty desserts.

There is something about using my time and hands and creativity to create something special for people I love.

There’s nothing like experimenting with ingredients and techniques, and seeing my guests’ eyes widen at the sight of the creations. I’ll never forget the first time I got my homemade caramel at the exact right temperature to make shapes out of it. When I topped my homemade individual chocolate lava cakes with the caramel designs, I probably enjoyed the result of my labor more than the taste…Don’t ask how I cleaned the glistening globs of dried caramel in my pots and counters!

My boyfriend’s parents came to my house for a dinner a few weeks ago. I know they are not partial to rich desserts, and they love fruit.  We had a ton of apples in the fridge, so the perfect choice was simple: French Apple Tart.

I kneaded the dough.  I feel like I’m in another era when I use my hands this way, and I love it. With dough, it’s not just the recipe. Depending on temperature and level of humidity, you really have to feel through it. The texture should be elastic, soft, not very sticky, and easily malleable. Sometimes you may need a dash more or less of water, the same for flour. The more you make it, the easier it will be.

I chose a round pan, and decided to make a rose shape out of thin slices of apple. I had seen it done once on TV years ago.

There’s really nothing to it! You basically peel and core the apple, then cut it in half. Core-side down, slice the fruit lengthwise. Each time I finish with one apple, I start arranging it, slightly overlapping, in a circular patern around the pan. By the time you get into the center, you will be overlapping more tightly, and it will finish off the image of the rose exquisitely.

I think when the apple is a little soft (not too soft) it helps with shaping them this way.

Top the tart off with dots of butter and heavy sprinkles of sugar before you bake(it needs more sugar than you would think).

The traditional thing to do once its out of the oven is to brush warmed apricot jelly over the apples. Add some liquor to the jelly for more depth of flavor. Calvados is the obvious choice, but brandy works well too! Sprinkle some powdered sugar.

Sometimes I like to shave some clove for a different kick.

Try this, it is so satisfyingly elegant.

When serving, I got the wide-eyed reaction I always love to see. 🙂

Feel free to ask me any questions! Here is the recipe (adapted from Ina Garten)

TART DOUGH

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup ice water

You will need either 8 small apples or 5 big ones for a 9inch tart.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Instead of sifting, a nice trick is just to use a whisk, and whisk all the ingredients. This provides the same result as sifting, and its much less trouble.   Add the butter and pulse in a food processor 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. Pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/ 200C. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out a little larger than the pan you’re using. Place in the pan and refridgerate again. Then get the apples ready as I described above.

Once you form the apples oh-so-beautifully, dot the apples with butter and sprinkle a lot of sugar all over the apples.

Warm 1 cup apricot jam with 1/4 cup brandy or Calvados.

Bake for 25 minutes and then keep checking every 5 minutes until the apples are golden brown. You way want to turn the tart around every so often so the crust in the back of the oven doesn’t burn.

Once you take it out of the oven, brush the apples with the warmed jelly-liquor mixture.

Let me know how it turns out!

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