La Bête Noire with Chocolate Ganache and Black Cherry Sauce

I used to wait for happiness, imagining it will just tap on my shoulder like a mysterious visitor one day and then suddenly I’ll be completely happy. I thought that to be happy I first needed to get all my ducks in a row: I’ll be happy when I find my perfect mate. I’ll be happy when I get my degree. I’ll be happy when I get to be a mother. And even though one by one I kept achieving those things, and they made me happy, it never lasted too long, and I promptly found some other thing that was missing from my perfect mosaic. At each given moment there was always something that wasn’t exactly right in my life – my body was giving me grief in one way or the other, my relationships weren’t going the way I wanted them to, people I cared about were facing problems. And so I kept waiting for each of these things to resolve so I could let out a sigh of relief and give myself permission to be happy. I kept waiting for that mysterious visitor to please finally knock on my door…and it never did.

It took me years to stop waiting. It was obvious the waiting game wasn’t working too well, but it still took me forever to *get* that nothing and nobody from outside will ever bring me happiness, and that by waiting there is nothing to gain and everything to lose. The moment I stopped looking far away into the future and shifted my eyes to here and now I was astonished to see I was surrounded by good things, and I felt grateful. And happiness? There it was… It was me who’s been pushing it away waiting for something else…something big… something who-knows-what. It was a revelation, really. I was in charge, I could let it in or keep it out. Just by shifting my focus, or doing things that bring me joy I’m able to make myself happy. Not for long, just in this moment… but if I so choose, then also the next… and the next.

This weekend’s happiness project is simple: La Bête Noire, flourless chocolate torte. Nothing but butter, eggs, and tons and tons of dark chocolate. Bête Noire translates to Black Beast, and the name suits the dessert well – each slice tastes like a delicious giant truffle. You can serve it as it is, and it certainly won’t be missing anything, but I added a chocolate ganache topping and pooled dark cherry sauce around, because we had it served that way at a restaurant. It was delicious – the tart cherry sauce complements the chocolate beautifully, but since the torte itself is very-very rich, it was a bit too much I think. I liked it better with just a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream and some raspberries on the side. Either way, it’s a wonderful dessert and a great way to sweeten up your weekend and get more chocolate into your life. And as I cut into its creamy smoothness,  I’ll let you on a secret: Happiness is chocolate. And three guys each with a spoon in hand eagerly waiting to devour the edges of a cake. Who knew? 🙂

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La Bête Noire with Chocolate Ganache and Black Cherry Sauce

Torte:
  • 1 cup (250 ml, 8 oz.) water
  • ¾ cup (150 g, 5.25 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 9 tablespoons (126 g, 4.5 oz.) unsalted butter, diced
  • 6 eggs
  • 500 g (18 oz.) good quality bittersweet dark chocolate, grated or chopped
Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 cup (50 ml, 8 oz.) heavy cream
  • 225 g (8 oz.) good quality bittersweet dark chocolate, grated or chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g, 1 oz.) unsalted butter
Black Cherry Sauce:
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved (I used frozen)
  • ½ cup (125 ml, 4 oz.) water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons kirsch (cherry brandy)

+ whipped cream/raspberries/strawberries – for serving

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Method:
  1. To make the torte, line a 10-inch (25 cm) round springform pan with parchment paper and butter and sugar the sides. Lightly butter the parchment paper as well. Take three layers of heavy duty aluminum foil and place the springform pan on top. Bring the foil up and around the pan, and crimp and press it into place. The cake will be baked in water bath, and the foil serves as a protective barrier, ensuring the water won’t seep into the batter. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176 °C).
  2. Combine water and sugar in a deep saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan melt the butter. Add in the chopped chocolate and stir to melt the chocolate. Whisk sugar syrup into the chocolate. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm. One by one add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the springform pan and place the springform pan into a large roasting pan. Carefully pour water into the big pan, so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
  4. Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, until the center no longer moves when the pan is gently shaken. The cake will look moist. Remove the springform pan from the bigger pan, and leave the cake in the springform pan to cool completely.
  5. After the cake has cooled, it will pull away from the sides of the pan. Carefully remove the cake from the springform pan, invert it, and take off the parchment paper. Wash the pan and put the cake back in and close the springform mechanism.
  6. Make the ganache: Bring cream and butter to a boil. Remove from heat, add in the chopped chocolate, and whisk the mixture until it’s smooth and shiny. Let the ganache cool a bit before pouring it onto the cake in the pan. Shake the pan gently; the ganache will spread nicely all over the cake and the sides. Place the cake, still in pan, into the refrigerator, and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  7. To make the Black Cherry Sauce, blend the cherries with water and sugar until smooth. Transfer the fruit mixture into a saucepan, add in the remaining ingredients except the kirsch, and cook, stirring, until the water evaporates and the sauce thickens to your liking – about 10 minutes. Take the sauce off the heat, pour in the kirsch, and let cool. (The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated; warm up a little before serving.)
  8. When ready to serve, run the knife around the edges of the cake, release the springform mechanism, and carefully remove the cake out of the pan. Cut the cake into small portions, and serve with whipped cream, raspberries, or the black cherry sauce.
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Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

There are three things I can’t imagine my domestic goddess career without: Vitamix blender, a big enough food processor, and a strong stand mixer. In my book, they’re like the holy trinity of kitchen gadgets and I have an undying love for each one of them. Having said that, last Monday was a sad, sad day: My beloved KitchenAid, a trusty companion and mighty helper quite unexpectedly bit the dust. I put it on my Christmas list some ten years ago and it proved to be a true workhorse: it never let me down, managed to keep up with my crazy pace of one loaf plus some muffins (or rolls, or pasta) a day and did everything I asked for without a single glitch.

But then the fateful Monday came: out of the blue it breathed its last and left me to my destiny – with sticky hands, counters covered in flour and a sourdough starter bubbling away by the fireplace, ready to make some bread. Mr. Photographer took one glance at my sad puppy face and bless his heart, didn’t hesitate one second. He knows too well that a PMS-stricken woman that can’t calm her all-over-the-place emotions by much needed baking is nothing but bad news and presents a potential threat for the entire family, so he told me to promptly go order a new one and pay for express shipping. What can I say – I married a wise man 🙂

Thirty six hours later (not that I was counting!) my late KitchenAid’s red-colored cousin arrived to my doorstep and I’ve been a happy camper ever since. And this weekend the cheerful newcomer helped me to bring forth some homemade happiness: Slovak crescent rolls to accompany a traditional cod fish salad. Cod fish salad, with finely chopped onions, crunchy carrots, and loads of mayo, most often wolfed down with crispy crescents is a Slovak man’s food, and any guy back home could easily live on it for months on end, especially if he has some cold beer to wash it down with. The homemade version is million times better than the salad sold at delis and grocery stores, of course, and the crescents – crispy from the outside and soft and chewy on the inside – are a must; they round up the whole meal very nicely. The salad needs to be made a day before, so the flavors have time to marry… and the crescents are best fresh, straight from the oven 🙂 Please give this simple meal a try when you’ll be feeling adventurous and will want to branch out a little from the usual tuna salad sandwich!

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Slovak Cod Fish Salad with Homemade Crescent Rolls

(crescent recipe adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk; recipe makes about 1 kg (2 lbs.) cod salad and 8 big crescent rolls)

Cod Salad:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh cod fillet
  • 3 l (qt.) water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) + 5 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • approximately 250 g (1/2 lb) good quality mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
Crispy Crescents:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • coarse salt & caraway seeds, for sprinkling
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Method:
  1. For the cod salad: Place 3 l (qt.) water with 1 cup vinegar into a deeper saucepan; add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add in the cod fillets and continue to simmer for 10 additional minutes.
  2. While the fish is cooking, peel the carrots. Set aside.
  3. With a slotted spoon, take out the cooked fish from the water; set aside to cool. Place two whole carrots into the same vinegar water, and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until still crunchy.
  4. Grate/finely chop the carrots into a big bowl. With a fork, tear the cooled fish meat into small pieces and add it to the carrots together with finely chopped onion.
  5. The quantities of the remaining ingredients are approximate; add as much mayo as to make a moist salad, and salt/pepper/vinegar to taste. Cover and let the salad rest in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
  6. For the crescents, combine yeast with lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon sugar; set aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast “bloom”.  Place flour, oil, honey, and salt into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook.
  7. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix/knead the dough until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple tablespoons milk/water – 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in some additional flour. (Mine was a little dry and I added in about a tablespoon of sour cream that needed to be used up).
  8. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 50 – 60 minutes. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. When the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a big wooden block (I didn’t even have to flour the board, the dough was very easy to work with.) Divide the dough into smaller balls, depending on how many/how big crescents you’d like to make – I  weighed it and divided it into 130 g (4.5 oz.) portions.
  10. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the rest of the dough balls covered, roll out each ball into an oval. Don’t roll out all the way, and keep one end of the oval thicker. Starting from the thicker end, start rolling the oval into a crescent, pulling the opposite end away to elongate the oval as much as possible without tearing it. Roll the crescents fairly thin (about 3 cm, a little over 1 inch and 15 cm, 6 inches long) – they will rise substantially during their second rise and while in the oven; making them longer and thinner is better. Place the crescent onto the parchment lined pan and continue making the crescents the same way.
  11. Cover the crescents with a clean dishtowel and let them rise the second time for about 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Brush the crescents with egg wash and sprinkle them with coarse salt and seeds. Bake for about 15 – 17 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crescents to a cooling rack to cool (and try not to eat them all while they’re still hot and crackly 🙂

 

Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

With the Valentine’s Day just around the corner we’re bombarded left and right with links and articles about love, relationships and marriage. Seven keys to finding the love you want. How to find your perfect mate. Secrets of happy couples. 15 ways to improve your marriage. Everybody is an expert and offers you a surefire way to a satisfying relationship we all long for, and most of the psychologists and therapists base a successful relationship on a mix of love, respect, common goals, communication, and willingness to work as a team.

We’ve got the teamwork down pretty early on – I guess there is no way around it when it’s just the two of you plus a kid (or two) in a world of strangers. When you are an expat that left all family behind, there is no mom to call when you’re sick as a dog and would appreciate a bowl of good old chicken soup, or if you just dream of an hour of non-mommy time. (I remember that even the time in a dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned used to feel like a vacation!) You learn quickly to pull your fair share and do what you can so that your life would run as smoothly as possible.

The thing is, life is busy, and in trying to meet all the responsibilities it keeps throwing at you it can easily start to feel like you are just two people leading separate lives next to each other. And when that happens, it all starts going south: The warm and fuzzy feelings all but disappear, and all you see around are problems. Yet you don’t have time nor energy to deal with them, and you don’t have anyone who’d figure them out with you, either, because your plus one is running in his own hamster wheel.

Heck, I tried. I made Mr. Photographer stay up till the ungodly hours, talking about anything and everything I perceived at that moment as a road block in our relationship. In reality it meant that I was talking and he was talked at and quiet. The more I talked, the more worked up and loud I was getting, and the more clammed up he was in return. Which put another extra problem on top of the first one, because what all the experts say is one of the keys of a good relationship? Communication, right?! 🙂

It took me a good long while to figure out that in moments like this I didn’t need to try to solve the problem(s) I suddenly saw booming in front of me. They were there and probably always will be on this side of the ground. What I really needed was to get off the squeaky wheel (even if I felt I couldn’t afford to!) and take a break from all the busyness – find time to just be together. Life is serious enough as it is, and regular doses of fun do more for a relationship than heated “problem solving” till three in the morning.

So that’s what we’ll be doing as this post is going up! I can’t wait to leave behind the everyday – report cards, laundry, and sticky kitchen floor, and going away for just a bit to recharge. But before I go, here is my last Valentine’s day recipe: Coeur a la Crème – creamy heart in a pool of tart raspberry coulis. You’ll still have time to make it on Saturday night, and surprise your sweetie with it on Sunday morning. Coeur a la Crème is made in a special heart mold, which is perforated, so that the creamy mixture can drain and firm up overnight. You should be able to find it in a specialty kitchen stores at this time of year, but if you don’t care for the heart shape all that much, you can make this dessert also in a colander lined with cheesecloth. The taste will be the same of course – it’ll be sweet and creamy with hints of citrus and vanilla, and the tart raspberry sauce pooled around it complements it so well. (I actually doubled the sauce, and I don’t think it harmed anything!) I love how it turned out, and I especially like the texture that the cheesecloth imprinted on the heart. Please give it a try, whether you’re celebrating the V-day or you’re just planning to enjoy a nice relaxing Sunday with those you love.

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Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

(Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

For the heart:
  • 12 oz (340 g) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ cups (750 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Raspberry Coulis:
  • 6 oz. (170 g) fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

+ extra raspberries/strawberries/pomegranate seeds for decoration

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Method:
  1. To make the Coeur a la Crème: Line a 7-inch (18 cm) Coeur de la Crème mold (or a sieve) with cheesecloth or paper towels, so that the ends drape over the sides of the mold. It helps to moisten the cheesecloth or paper towels with water so that they adapt better to the form of the mold. Suspend the mold over a bowl, making sure there is space between the bottom of the mold and the bowl for the liquid to drain.
  2. Place the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a bowl of a electric mixer fitted with a paddle; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle with a spatula, and change the paddle for a whisk.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the heavy cream, vanilla, and add the lemon zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick and resembles whipped cream.
  4. Transfer the mixture into the lined mold, fold the cheesecloth over and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To make the Raspberry Coulis: Place raspberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan, and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Transfer the raspberry mixture together with all the remaining ingredients into a bowl of your food processor fitted with an S – blade, and process until smooth. Take out the seeds if desired, and chill the sauce until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, unmold the dessert on a serving plate and carefully pour raspberry sauce around the base.

 

 

 

Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

Last week’s gluten-free punch cake really punched me out. Mr. Photographer claims it’s his favorite (although apparently he must have several of those, ranging from somewhat favorite through a bit more favorite to the favoritest), and with the Valentine’s Day approaching an outburst of loving kindness towards him swept over me and I set out to make him this overly sweet, overly pink, and overly boozy treat. I didn’t know much about punch cake beyond that, so I spent hours looking for recipes, comparing ingredients and baking methods, and the more I read, the less I knew what to do. The instructions varied widely, so I did what I do quite often when I feel lost in life: I called my Mother. And she, being the kind soul that she is, put me in touch with a professional pastry chef, and saved the day.

Armed with a new knowledge I woke up the next day with a mission: In the name of love let us de-glutenize punch cake. I started with the boozy punch the cake was to be soaked in, and the more I stirred and tasted it, the more awesome it seemed, and the more courageous I felt. How hard can it be? It’s just a simple vanilla cake, really, with some mighty tasty alcohol thrown in. Piece of cake.

Please, never-ever underestimate gluten-free baking. The gluten-free gods are vindictive nasty creatures, and the moment the thought it’s going to be easy just crosses your mind, they start plotting their revenge against you. How? Let me count the ways.

First, the batter I made following Ms. Confectioner’s tried and true recipe and using supposedly the best gluten-free flour on the market ended up so thick I wasn’t even able to get it out of the bowl. We’re talking “stand the spoon in it” thick, and getting thicker by the minute. Obviously it was going to take more than just sub the gluten flour with the outrageously expensive gluten-free mix, even if the package clearly stated to measure “cup-for-cup”! But I was just starting out and my fighting spirit was still going strong. I’m simply going to recalculate and make some adjustments. I can do that. Especially in the name of love.

The second attempt at the batter looked much better – until I transferred it onto the baking sheet, that is. Then it just sat there in the middle of the parchment paper refusing to move, like a stubborn toddler at a toy store. No and no, you can’t make me. Well, I raised two stubborn determined toddlers in my lifetime, so some eggy batter won’t throw me. It might’ve taken a lot of convincing with spatula dipped into water, but eventually I had the batter where I wanted it, spread on the entire sheet. Looking through the oven door it was wildly bubbling up in the pan, and I was slowly starting to lose my patience and getting more and more frustrated. Come on! The cake batter is supposed to rise in an orderly way and not behave this erratically. This is no fun.

Despite everything the cakes emerged out of the oven looking surprisingly normal. OK, so it’s not the best baking experience I’ve had, but we’re halfway there. I’ll let the cakes cool, in the meantime I’ll regain my cool as well, we’ll spread some jam on and pour the oh-so-good punch over, and we’re done. And tomorrow upon taking a bite Mr. Photographer will declare me the best wife ever.

Unfortunately, the gluten free gods were nowhere near finished with me and the worst was yet to come. When I carefully started soaking the cake with punch, the once very sturdy cake started literally falling apart in front of my eyes, and I very nearly followed in its footsteps. In my head I quickly counted how many eggs, flour, time and energy I put into that cake, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry or start throwing my dirty bowls and spatulas around. I briefly considered slurping up all the boozy liquid instead of wasting it on the darn cake, leaving the kitchen disaster for Mr. Photographer to deal with and call it quits. But I guess I’m too bull-headed for that 🙂

I admit to shedding some angry tears. I admit not being so gentle with the cake anymore. I splatted the booze in splotches onto the cake, slapped the top layer on, shoved the thing into the fridge, weighed it down, and went to bed. Tired, furious, and disappointed. The next day I sheepishly took it out, and cut away the edges. And to my amazement it was a-OK. It wasn’t the most gorgeous cake I’ve ever made… but the layers melded together, the punch-soaked center firmed up, and the cake smelled heavenly: it had hints of lemon, orange, raspberry… and rum. Don’t forget the rum.

The punch cake lesson the gluten-free gods taught me is three-fold: (1) Gluten-free baking will never be the same as gluten baking. It has its own principles, and it will take time to learn them all. Humility and patience is the name of the game. (2) Things are never as bad as they look at a first glance, and it’s best not to make hasty decisions (like wanting to throw unfinished cake away). (3) Things don’t always work out as we want them to, and we (I!) need to learn to roll with the punches baking and life will throw our way. Wish me luck in all of that!

 *****

To gain back some self-confidence after last week’s “pink nightmare” I’ve decided to make something simpler this weekend: Bavarian crème with coffee and white chocolate coupled with cute chocolate cut-out cookies. I went for hearts to keep with the Valentine’s Day theme, and once again made them gluten-free for my guy. The process is very simple. Unlike crème anglaise, which is custard crème thickened with eggs, Bavarian crème is lightened with cream and firmed up with gelatin. You pour it into a springform pan lined with parchment and let it set. When unmolded, the dark chocolate cookies look beautiful standing out against the beige coffee crème, and provide a nice crunchy contrast to the smooth sweet crème. It’s a simple dessert, but decorated with couple of fresh raspberries/strawberries it offers despite relatively few ingredients a cuteness overload, and is good not only for Valentine’s Day, but any time your heart longs for something sweet!

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 Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

(cookie recipe adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com; cake recipe adapted from http://www.ricette.donnamoderna.com)

 

Chocolate Heart Cookies:
  • 140 g (1 cup) good quality gluten-free flour mix
  •  1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains gums already)
  • 40 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 56 g (4 tablespoons, 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, room temperature, beaten
Bavarian Crème:
  • 20 g Knox powdered gelatin (almost 3 whole packets; 7 g each)
  • ½ cup water
  • 500 ml (2 cups) half-and-half (or whole milk)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100 g (5.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white chocolate, chopped
  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
Liqueur syrup for brushing the cookies:
  • 8 tablespoons Crème de Cocoa liqueur
  • 100 ml (3 oz.) water
  • + 1 egg, beaten – for egg wash to brush the cookies (optional)
    – 200 g (7 oz.) fresh raspberries

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Method:
  1. To make the chocolate cookies: Line a cookie sheet with parchment; preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C). Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
  2. Whip butter and sugar together until fluffy, gradually add in vanilla and beaten egg; mix well.
  3. Combine the butter-egg mixture with dry ingredients until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 6 mm thickness; freeze the dough until firm, about 5 minutes.
  5. Cut out cookies, arrange them on the parchment lined sheet (they don’t need much room, as they won’t spread much, if at all.) Freeze the cookies until firm, about 5 minutes.
  6. Bake the cookies for about 9 minutes, until the centers are opaque and not shiny anymore. Don’t overbake. Brush the still hot cookies with egg wash, if desired. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for couple of minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. (The cookie dough as well as the cookies can be made in advance and frozen. Let the cookies come to room temperature before proceeding.)
  7. Bavarian Crème: Combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin “bloom.” Line the bottom of a 18 cm (7 inch) round springform pan with parchment paper; lightly butter the sides.
  8. Whisk egg yolks with sugar and vanilla for couple of minutes until light yellow and thick. In a deeper saucepan, heat up the half-and-half/milk with coffee until hot.
  9. Prepare water bath by placing the saucepan with milk into a bigger pan filled with water. Pour some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper it, and then pour the warm egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with milk. Cook the crème in the water bath for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the crème thickens somewhat and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  10. Add chopped white chocolate to the hot crème; mix thoroughly to melt the chocolate. Let the crème cool a bit, and then add in the bloomed gelatin while the crème is still hot. Mix well to melt the gelatin into the crème. Strain the crème into a bowl, and let it come to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  11. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. With a spatula, carefully fold the whipped cream into the crème.
  12. Assembling the cake: Carefully pour some of the crème into the springform pan to cover the bottom, and place the pan into the fridge for 5 minutes to let the filling set a bit. (Leave the remaining crème on the counter; you don’t want it to start setting just yet.) Sprinkle the crème with raspberries. Continue layering crème and fruit, letting each coffee layer set in the fridge for couple of minutes, and ending with the crème on top. Let the cake chill in the refrigerator until the crème is well set, at least 4 hours.
  13. Carefully unmold the cake onto a serving plate. Brush the chocolate hearts with syrup and press them against the sides of the cake. Decorate the cake with grated chocolate and fruit if desired, and serve.

Punch Cake (Punčové rezy)

I’m sure you’ve noticed Valentine’s Day is upon us. It seems we just took down the lights, packed away the tree, the stockings and whatnot, and it’s already time to think pink and red! Santa with his reindeer crew departed back to the North Pole and all of a sudden love is in the air and there will be a two week buildup of expectations in anticipation of the most romantic day of the year. We ladies dream of nice dinner by the candlelight, jewelry, flowers, and chocolate. The guys? I’m sure most of them haven’t even registered yet that the world became shrouded in pink haze, much less to infer what it means and what their women might be thinking about. And then on the 14th they’ll be like, “Drat! Is it Valentine’s Day already?!”, and on their way home from work they’ll be hastily stopping at the grocery store and buying limp bouquets and broken chocolates.

Those darn expectations versus the reality 🙂

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care for Valentine’s Day much. To me it’s just too sweet, too artificial, too fake of a holiday. I refuse to get dragged into the hype, or measure the quality of a relationship by the actions of one day. Sure, Valentine’s Day is nice in theory; I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel special, loved, and appreciated? But way too often our mutual expectations clash and what was supposed to be a special evening only ends up with disappointment. Couldn’t he put in a little bit of effort for once? Couldn’t she just appreciate all that I do for her? Sounds familiar? The Hallmark industry would want us to believe Valentine’s Day is a huge deal – a once a year opportunity to show our partners how much they truly mean to us. But it’s just a huge pink bubble, really. In fact it’s just one single day in February. One day out of the whole year. And to be honest, I’d much rather feel my man’s love in gazillion small things throughout the year than see him trying to “prove” his love by something big on Valentine’s day. I don’t care for too many roses, too many kisses, and too many hearts.

I just want one. And I want it every day.

So even though people might call it Valentine’s Day, to me it’ll be just another Sunday. And in our home, Sundays are made for baking. I already know how I’m going to spend this years’ Valentine’s. With my guy, in the kitchen, doing what we both love: combining food and photography. And because there are many ways to show love to someone, in these three weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day all my baking will be gluten-free.

The first one of the Valentine-themed creations is punch cake, made per Mr. Photographer’s request. Punch cake is another cake we grew up with, readily sold in Slovak coffee shops. Even though it is Hungarian in origin, you’ll find it not only in Budapest, but also in Vienna, Prague, and Bratislava. It’s basically a layered vanilla cake with a punch soaked color contrasting middle layer. Punch – fruity liquid made of rum, lemon, orange, fruit syrup, water, and tea – is what gives the cake its name, and it’s also what makes it very moist. The process is a little time-consuming, mostly because you need to let the cake sit overnight to soak up all the punch goodness. You can make the punch as little or as much boozy as you like – just sub part of the water with alcohol if you wish. Thanks to the orange/lemon juice and zest the cake has a pronounced citrusy flavor, and the pink hue added to the glaze makes it very love-fest appropriate!

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Punch Cake (Punčové rezy)

Each of the two yellow cake layers:
  • 3 eggs, room temperature, separated
  • 135 g (5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons mild tasting oil (I used grapeseed oil)
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 180 g (6 oz.) all-purpose flour/ 150 g (5 oz.) gluten-free flour mix; see Note
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
 Middle punch layer:
  • 4 eggs, room temperature, separated
  • 150 g (5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons mild tasting oil
  • 4 tablespoons hot water
  • 220 g (7.5 oz.) all-purpose flour/ 200 g (7 oz.) gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • couple drops of red food coloring, see Note
Punch soaking syrup:
  • 100 ml (3.3 fl. oz.) water
  • 240 g (8.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 bag of strong black tea
  • 50 ml (1.5 fl. oz.) seedless raspberry jam (or thick syrup)
  • 2 organic lemons, zest and juice
  • 2 organic oranges, zest and juice
  • 100 ml (3.3 oz.) dark rum
 Glaze:
  • 250 g (8 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry juice/syrup

+ 400 g (14 oz.) thick apricot jam; additional rum for soaking the vanilla cake layers

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Method:
  1. To make the vanilla cake layer: Line the bottom of a 33 x 23 cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 F (176 C).
  2. Whisk the egg yolks with the granulated sugar until thick and light yellow in color, about 10 minutes. Gradually add in the oil and the hot water.
  3. Sift flour and baking powder together; set aside.
  4. Whisk the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until firm peaks form.
  5. Carefully fold the flour and the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the batter into the parchment lined pan and bake the cake for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the top springs back to the touch and the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Invert the cake out of the pan; do not remove the parchment paper for now. Let the cake cool.
  7. Prepare the second vanilla cake layer the same way; again, do not remove the parchment paper after you take the cake out of the oven.
  8. To make the red middle layer: Line the bottom of a 33 x 23 cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 F (176 C).
  9. Make the cake the same way as the yellow vanilla cake, adding the red food coloring together with oil/water to the egg yolks. Bake the cake for about 10 – 15 minutes until done, invert it out of the pan and let it cool with the parchment paper on.
  10. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the soaking syrup: Make a strong tea using one tea bag per 100 ml (3.3 fl. oz.) water.
  11. Combine the tea with rest of the ingredients except rum, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens a little, about 2 minutes. Add in the rum and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  12. Assembling the cake: Place the red cake layer, still on its parchment paper back into the washed baking pan. Carefully but very generously soak the cake with the punch syrup. Go slowly; you don’t want to overdo it with the syrup all at once. Let the syrup soak in for about 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
  13. Spread one of the vanilla cake layers (still on parchment) with half of the apricot jam and place it, jam side down, on the red cake layer in the pan. Carefully invert the cakes out of the pan on a big cutting board, and remove the parchment paper that is on top of the red punch-soaked layer.
  14. Spread the second vanilla cake with the rest of the jam and place it, jam side down, on the red cake layer. Place a baking pan on top of the cake, and chill the cake in the refrigerator for two hours. After two hours, weigh the cake down with some heavier books/bags of flour, and let the cake sit in the refrigerator overnight.
  15. The next day, make the glaze: Combine the boiling water, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup; add in the powdered sugar and make a smooth and spreadable glaze. (You can vary the proportions of the liquids if you prefer a darker/lighter color.)
  16. Finishing the cake: Take the cake out of the refrigerator, flip it again so the bottom layer Is now on the top, remove the parchment paper, and pour the glaze over the cake. Give the glaze time to set, cut the cake into portions, and serve.
 Note:

Since I was making the cake gluten free, the process was somewhat more complicated, and I (once again) encountered more than a few surprises along the way. I used Cup-4-Cup gluten-free baking mix, which is a high quality brand. As you can see, I had to reduce the quantities for the gluten-free cake; the cup-for-cup method just wasn’t working. The batter was still very thick, and it was hard to spread it onto the baking sheet; it kind of just sat there as a huge blob, refusing to move. I had to resort to my reliable method of spreading gluten-free batters, and spread/ push the dough around with a wet spatula (eventually even with my fingers, which I kept dipping into water). Since the dough was so thick, I wasn’t able to spread it as evenly as I would have liked. (I didn’t have this problem with gluten cake.) I also had to bake the gluten-free cakes about 5 min. longer than their gluten-full counterparts.

For the food coloring I used the red from India Tree Nature’s Colors Decorating Set, which is beet based. (I avoid chemical food colorings.) It didn’t give me the color I was after, unfortunately, and I ended up supplementing the color with freshly squeezed raspberry juice. For glaze I didn’t bother with coloring and just used raspberry juice.