Cream Rolls with Apple Mousse (Šamróle)

If somebody writes a food blog, it’s probably fairly safe to assume he or she doesn’t mind spending time in the kitchen. In my case that’s definitely true. I’d cook and bake 24/7 if my back would cooperate, and if I didn’t have to clean the kitchen afterwards. Cleaning is one aspect of culinary endeavors I could absolutely live without, but thankfully I have people in my life who are quite willing to load the dishwasher and clean the counters in exchange for good food.

Years in the kitchen have made me into quite a foodie, which is probably just a nicer way of saying that someone is a bit of a culinary snob 🙂 I won’t touch boxed anything and prefer to make what I can from scratch. It makes sense, especially in light of our family’s dietary restrictions: Gluten-free grub isn’t the cheapest, but when you make it at home, this way of eating is actually quite doable. I like knowing what I’m feeding my men (so they have the strength to clean the kitchen for me!), I like saving money (so that I can buy more good food), and I absolutely and positively love playing with food.

My obsession with all matters culinary was the main reason why I’ve been stubbornly resisting Mr. Photographer’s suggestions to buy a pressure cooker. You see, for years he’s been singing praises for melt-in-your-mouth tender meats his Mom used to make in her pressure cooker, and trying to convince me just how much time would that little gadget save me. But I’ve bravely opposed the pressure (pun intended). I don’t need darn pressure cooker and I don’t care for less time in the kitchen, thank you very much! And what, you want to tell me I can’t make the meat tender with just the good old stove and oven?! All the pressure cookers and crockpots and similar nonsense are for people who don’t have time to cook or who hate cooking! Poor souls who haven’t yet discovered that chopping and stirring and tasting can be fun! (Can you feel the foodie snobbism just dripping from my lips? Yup, and as it’s often the case, I was about to fall from my high horse and it was going to hurt.)

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine called me saying she got herself the Instant Pot, the mighty machine that does the work of seven kitchen gadgets. It was before Christmas, it was on sale, and so I thought: “What the heck, I’ll buy one too. I’ll play with it a little, declare it not good enough for what my needs, and swiftly return it. I’ll prove to Mr. Photographer that such gadgets have no place in life of a self-respecting good cook, and he’ll forever hold his peace.

Yes. Well. That was the plan.

Ever since that little devil of a machine showed up in its brown box on my doorstep, it’s been plugged in pretty much non-stop. Holy jackpot! It’s a slow cooker. It’s a pressure cooker. It’s a rice cooker. It’s a yogurt maker. It sautées, it cooks, it bakes. It doesn’t constantly ask me questions like my men do (How much oil? Is that enough water? How long do I cook it for? And do I need to stir it or not?). It. Just. Knows. Everything. By. Itself. Remember the old fairy tale about a little girl who was gifted a porridge making magic pot? She just said, “Cook, little pot, cook!” and when she had enough, she ordered it, “Stop, little pot, stop!” Well, I feel just like that little girl, except my pot doesn’t even need to be told to stop – it stops by itself when it’s time! (No sticky porridge running down my counters, woot!)

Please, I’m begging you – do yourself a favor and don’t just go, but run to buy the Instant Pot. (I just accidentally typed Magic Pot, but could’ve just left it, because, well, it’s true!) It’ll make your life so much easier, and if you want to stay in the kitchen, no one is stopping you. The pot just frees you to do something else while it cooks dinner for you. It’s as if you hired an assistant chef!

And that’s exactly what I’ve done this weekend. While the soup was bubbling away in the pot on the counter, I wrapped puff pastry around the metal molds and licked the cinnamon-y apple mousse off my spatula. And these little cream rolls are the result. My grandma used to make them each December and send them to us as a part of her Christmas cookie assortment, but I think they’re good any time of the year! They’re pretty easy to make too, especially if you buy puff pastry from the store. The baked apples will fill your home with the most delicious aroma, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to use all your willpower not to gobble them all up just as they are coming out of the oven, and leave at least some for the mousse. Be strong. I promise, when you’ll taste the crispy cream roll overflowing with the smooth sweet filling it’ll be all worth it!

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Cream Rolls with Apple Mousse (Šamróle)

(adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk; makes about 12 – 15 cream rolls)

Quick Puff Pastry for the rolls – makes about 500 g (1 lb.) of dough:
  • 235 g (7.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 60 g (2 oz.) cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 250 g (1/2 lb.) cold unsalted butter
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) iced water
Apple Mousse:
  • 2 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 big apples (I used a mix of Granny Smith and Honey Crisp apples)
  • ½ teaspoon each vanilla extract and ground cinnamon

+ 2 egg yolks, mixed with 1 tablespoon water (egg wash for brushing the rolls)
– extra powdered sugar for sprinkling the rolls if desired

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Method:
  1. Prepare the puff pastry: In a bowl of a food processor, combine cake flour and salt; pulse to aerate. Add in the cold butter, diced, and pulse until the mixture resembles peas (you should still see pieces of butter throughout the dough). Lastly, with the processor on, slowly and carefully pour in the icy cold water, just enough so that the dough comes together. Wrap the ball of dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. While the dough is chilling, bake the apples: Wash the apples, but don’t peel or core them, leave them whole. Place them on a baking sheet, add in a little water (about ½ cup) and bake them at 375 °F (190 °C) for about 50 minutes until soft.
  3. Let the apples cool a little and then scrape out the pulp, leaving peel/core behind. Place the scraped out pulp into a food processor and give it a little whirl to make smooth and thick apple sauce. Transfer the apple sauce into a glass bowl, mix in vanilla and cinnamon, and set aside.
  4. Making the puff pastry rolls: Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, lightly butter your cream roll molds and preheat the oven to 360 °F (180 °C). Take the chilled puff pastry dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 3 mm thickness. Work fast, and try not to handle the dough too much – you want it to stay as cold as possible. Cut the dough into stripes about 2.5 cm ( 1 inch) wide and 30 cm (12 inches) long.
  5. Working with one strip at a time, wrap the dough around the mold, overlapping the dough slightly. Brush the dough on the molds with the egg wash and bake them for about 15 – 20 minutes, until they puff up and are nice golden brown in color. Take the rolls out of the oven, let them cool on the molds for about 5 minutes and then take them off the molds and let them cool completely.
  6. Make the apple mousse: Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into a glass/metal bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer), and then set the bowl over a pot of boiling hot water. Whip the egg whites in the water bath until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Transfer the egg white mixture into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment and with the mixer on a medium speed gradually start adding the powdered sugar.
  7. Heat the apple sauce in a microwave for couple of seconds until lukewarm/warm, but not hot. With the mixer still on, by small increments start adding the lukewarm apple sauce to the egg white mixture, whipping constantly, until you use up all the apples and the mousse forms very firm peaks.
  8. Assembling the cream rolls: Transfer the apple mousse into a piping bag. Fill the cream rolls with the mousse, dust the tops with powdered sugar if desired, and serve.

Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

The days are getting shorter – and colder – and rainier! – as we slowly move toward winter. This weekend we even get to turn our clocks back, so as of next week, it’ll be dark by 4 p.m.! The kids will be waiting for their school buses in the pitch dark in the morning, and by the time they get home, it’ll be dark again. Yay! Can you tell how excited I am?! I so wish we could just move our clock forward to May right now!

Thankfully, there are things that help me to get over my rainy blues, namely lots and lots of wonderful fall produce that we have at our fingertips these days. And even though apples are often praised as the perfect autumn fruit, I want to kick them out of the spotlight for a minute and instead focus on their humble cousins, pears, because I think they’re being undeservedly ignored. To me they’re way cooler than apples; they can be crunchy, sweet, or buttery, and with so many varieties we can find at the stores these days, there really isn’t anything they wouldn’t be great in. Salads, relishes, tarts, sweet or savory dishes, pears are extremely versatile and work in everything!

I paired them up with puff pastry and made a simple but elegant dessert. Either homemade or store-bought, I adore puff pastry, because it’s just so easy and when it puffs up high, coated with golden egg wash, it looks terrific. And I also added wine, honey, and cinnamon for a good measure. As it gets cold outside, I start going through cinnamon like crazy. It’s a wonderful warming spice and even when there is a scary wind storm or horrible downpour banging against the roof, as long as we’re warm and there is a waft of cinnamon in the air, I feel that everything is ok with the world 🙂

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Pear Dumplings with Walnut – Raisin Stuffing and Honey – Wine Sauce

(4 servings; adapted from Nejlepší recepty 3/2015)

Quick Puff Pastry – makes about 500 g (1 lb.) of dough:
  • 235 g (7.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 60 g (2 oz.) cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 250 g (1/2 lb.) cold unsalted butter
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) iced water
For the pears:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) puff pastry (reserve remaining pastry for later use)
  • 4 smaller firm Bosc pears
  • 800 ml (27 oz.) pear juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 50 g (2 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 50 g (2 oz.) golden brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk – for egg wash
Walnut – Raisin Stuffing:
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey Wine Sauce:
  • 125 ml (4 oz.) liquefied honey
  • 5 tablespoons sweet dessert wine
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 50 ml (2 oz.) water
  • 4 – 5 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon

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Method:
  1. Make the puff pastry: Place the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor; pulse to combine. Cut in the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles large peas. Lastly add the iced water and pulse just until the dough forms a ball. Wrap and chill the dough until needed.
  2. Prepare the walnut – raisin filling by combining all of the ingredients together; chill until needed.
  3. Cook the pears: Combine pear juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a deep saucepan. Peel the pears. Remove the core, leaving the top with the stem intact. Place the pears in the syrup so they are completely submerged. Cook the pears for about 10 minutes until soft. Don’t overcook. Remove the pears from the syrup and let them cool.
  4. Assembling the pears: Fill the pear cavities with the walnut – raisin filling. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pastry and cut it into long thin strips. Cover the opening on the bottom of each pear with a piece of dough, and then carefully wrap the dough strips around the pears. Place the pears on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill while preheating the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  5. Brush the dough with egg wash and bake the pears for about 15 – 20 minutes until the dough is puffed up and golden brown.
  6. While the pears are baking, prepare the honey wine syrup: Combine all the ingredients together and cook until the syrup thickens.
  7. Serve the pears with the syrup, warm or at a room temperature.

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Note:

You can also cut the cooked pears in half, fill the small cavity with stuffing and place them cut side down on the rolled out pastry, and trace the dough around them with a sharp knife, outlining the pear form. Add a small cut out leaf, brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 375 °F (190 °C)  for 20 minutes.

Salted Peanut Chocolate Caramel Cups

Becoming a Father is quite easy. Being one can be much more complicated. I’m quite sure Mr. Photographer didn’t expect to become a Father quite so soon, but he took to his new role with pride and determination. Bottles, diapers, nighttime waking, you name it, he did it. Many times the only thing I had to do at 3 a.m. was to attach the already changed baby to the boob and could continue to snooze, only to find out in the morning that *someone* had to detach him from the milk source  at some point and take him back to his crib, because he was not next to me and I didn’t remember doing so.

And babies were just the beginning.  Then there were slides, roller blades, and countless school projects I had absolutely no idea what to do about. You see, I have a confession to make. I am not artsy. At. All. I mean, I bake, and am able to do so reasonably well, but hand me scissors, and you risk I’m going to have a panic attack. So from the first day of school Mr. Photographer took all these things on his shoulders. I don’t know if he lovingly wanted to make my life easier, or was simply afraid the kid would fail the class if he didn’t, but honestly, I don’t really care. I hate scissors. And needles. And glue.

But that’s still not all. You know how they say that home is an oasis of peace? Well, not quite. At least not all the time. I don’t care to count how many times Mr. Photographer walked in the door in the evening and stepped right into a heated Mother – son squabble. I’m sure it wasn’t what he’d prefer, but he took my hand, walked me into an empty room, sat me down, and closed the door behind him. And then he found his son and dealt with whatever problem we were passionately discussing. I’m telling you, in such moments it’s very handy to have someone who can actually, you know, think 🙂 Not just feel.

He taught them to ride their bikes. He explained how to calculate the vertex of a parabola and the probability that two brown-eyed parents will have a blue-eyed kid. But more importantly, he taught them to get off their butts and do the work, even if they didn’t feel like it. He taught them that things don’t have to be perfect, but it’s important to try. He taught them it’s OK to rest, which is something their Mother the locomotive still doesn’t know all that well. I either go full speed ahead or crash big time because I forgot where the brakes are. He taught them that women are not men; that when a woman talks, a man needs to look at her; and sometimes the best thing for him to do is to hand her a bar of chocolate and leave her alone.

Fathers just have a way of putting everything together. They are our rocks and our lightning rods. If we don’t understand, they come and figure it out, time and time again.  So here it is to Mr. Photographer – the best Father my sons ever had 🙂 Thanks, Dad. We love you to pieces 🙂

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Salted Peanut Chocolate Caramel Cups

(adapted from http://www.davidlebovitz.com)

  • 340 g (12 oz.) best quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (if making the cups for someone who’s gluten – intolerant, make sure the chocolate is gluten – free)
  • ½ cup (125 g; 4 oz.) salted peanut caramel
  • flaky sea salt
Salted peanut caramel:
  • 1 cup (250 ml; 8 oz.) heavy cream
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (200 g; 7 oz.) white sugar
  • pinch salt
  • ¾ cup (100 g; 3.5 oz.) roasted salted peanuts, chopped

+ about 20 small paper or foil baking cups

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Method:
  1. First, make the salted peanut caramel: Combine the sugar with water and salt in a deep pan, and heat it up. Cook on a medium heat, swirling gently only if necessary, until the water evaporates and the sugar turns nice golden brown. Do not stir; stirring encourages crystallization.
  2. While the sugar syrup cooks, heat the heavy cream until hot. Set aside.
  3. When the sugar turned to caramel, remove it from heat and carefully add hot cream. The mixture will sizzle (you need a deep pan, so that the caramel – cream mixture won’t boil over at this point). Stir gently until combined and smooth.
  4. Let cool slightly and stir in the chopped peanuts. Chill until ready to use. (The salted peanut caramel can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator until needed.)
  5. Make the chocolate cups: Over a water bath, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly.
  6. Spoon the chocolate into the cups, covering the bottom and sides (I used a paintbrush for this). When the chocolate is set, add a dab of salted peanut butter caramel into each cup, and cover it with more melted chocolate.
  7. Sprinkle some flaky salt on top and chill until set.
Note:

The salted peanut caramel recipe makes more caramel than is needed for the cups. I never bother to halve the recipe and simply make more, adding peanuts to portion of it; and keep the rest in the fridge. It is wonderful in coffee or drizzled over ice cream! When needed, just heat it up a little until pourable and enjoy.

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