Spiced Honey Plum Cake

The Fall has fallen upon us. I tried to put it off and keep the summer with me for just a bit longer by driving south to the ocean. It was sunny and sticky hot over there, and it felt great walking along the beach listening to the crashing waves and seagulls circling above the water. But even though the temperature still sometimes shoots up pretty high during the day, the mornings are already cold as if the sun wasn’t sure if it wants to roll out of the bed, and even if it decides to honor us with its presence, it goes down way too early. The leaves are turning and summer is slowly but surely passing away. Pretty soon, the sandy beaches, cold drinks, and flowing sundresses will be just a distant memory.

But breezy autumn bursting with colors is still a wonderful season on its own. Mellower than the summer, it is a time of harvest and time of abundance when it comes to fresh produce. I think I love the farmers markets in the fall even more so than during summer. The tables are overflowing with fresh and fragrant fruits and veggies, from squash and sweet potatoes to apples and pears. A true cook and baker’s paradise.

This week’s dessert features plums – sweet autumn delicacies that come in many types and colors. I adore plums with their juicy sweet flesh, contrasted by the tart skin. They’re awesome in every single way: eaten raw, cooked into jams, or baked into tarts and cakes. For baking it’s best to find a less juicy variety, such as Italian plum. When making a plum tart, it’s better to prebake the empty shell and give it a coat of egg white before filling it with fruit. I made a yeast cake, which is sturdier than a tart and thus better equipped to withstand the juiciness of plums, but I still sprinkled the dough spread in the pan with a mixture of cookie crumbs and ground almonds to ensure the cake wouldn’t get soggy. This simple plum cake is baked in every household back home when plums are in season, scented with cinnamon and sprinkled with streusel made from butter, flour, and powdered sugar. I took the basic recipe of my childhood and played with it a bit more: I coated the plums in a mixture of honey, lemon juice and brown sugar before arranging them on the cake, and used a touch of garam masala together with cinnamon to give the cake a wonderful aroma. I think it would be wonderful served with a dollop of brandy whipped cream, but I didn’t get to it – the boys wolfed it down just as it is. Give it a try if you get your hands on some Italian plums – it’s a perfect dessert to usher in Fall 🙂

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Spiced Honey Plum Cake

Yeast Dough:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) all-purpose flour (or bread flour)
  • 50 g (1.78 oz., ¼ cup) granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 50 g (1.78 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) whole milk, mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1.25 teaspoons active dry yeast
Filling:
  • ¼ cup each  ground almonds and cookie crumbs
  • 4 cups Italian plums, pitted and quartered
  • scant ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala
Streusel  Topping (optional):
  • 15 g (2 tablespoons, 1/8 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 15 g (2 tablespoons, 1/8 cup) powdered sugar
  • 15 g (0.5 oz.) cold butter, cubed

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Method:
  1. To make the yeast dough, combine lukewarm milk with 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place all the remaining ingredients for the dough into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, add it to the bowl. Knead the dough on a low speed until it comes together and forms a ball. The dough should be soft, smooth, and elastic – if it’s too dry, add in some more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if it’s too wet, sprinkle in some flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. Transfer it into an oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until it doubles in volume – 50 – 60 minutes.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling: Pit and quarter the plums. Whisk together honey, lemon juice, brown sugar, and the spices; pour over plums, set aside. Combine ground almonds with cookie crumbs in a small bowl; set aside. Butter and flour a 11 inch (27 cm) springform pan or tart pan.
  4. When the dough has risen, roll it out into a circle and fit it into the prepared pan. You can vary the thickness of the dough according to your preference – the thinner dough will produce a crisper cake. Discard the leftover dough. Sprinkle the dough with almond/cookie crumb mixture.
  5. Strain the extra juice from the plums and arrange them on the cake, pressing them slightly into the dough. Cover the cake and let it rise at a room temp again while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  6. Make the streusel topping, if using: Combine flour, sugar, and butter, and mix them with your fingers into coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping over the fruit.
  7. Bake the cake until the bottom is golden brown and the plums are soft, about 35 minutes. Let cool before serving. Serve with brandy whipped cream if desired.
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Vanilla Cake with Sour Cream Yogurt Frosting and Fresh Fruit

September is a celebration month at our house. No, I don’t celebrate the boys going back to school… 🙂 Truth to be told, I’ve gotten used to the extra chatter, extra pairs of hands, not to mention the extra sleep I’ve been getting in the mornings. I’m always a little nostalgic at the end of August – I’m a summer girl at heart, and even though I enjoy the fall here in the Pacific Northwest and love the beautiful color show the turning leaves put out every year, I know we won’t be able to escape the rain that’s coming after. But as fate would have it, all my men were born in September (two within days of each other!), and so we can’t really be too sad about summer being over around here, because we’re too busy counting down until someone’s birthday.

Birthday is always a highlight of a person’s year, I suppose, regardless of the day it falls on. Having said that, growing up I always felt a little sorry for the kids whose Christmas and birthday were rolled into one… I couldn’t help but feel they were a bit cheated. But early September Birthday? Awesome! It’s not so hot anymore that you have to worry about the buttercream frosting melting and the cake you spent hours on falling apart before your guests even finish singing Happy Birthday, but you can still celebrate outside and won’t get drenched or freeze to death. Oh, and if you were born in September, you can have your cake and eat it too! Just think about it – the bikini season is over, no need to fret over some fat around your waistline. Any potential muffin top can be easily and comfortably hidden under those wonderfully loose fall sweaters.

Not that it would ever occur to my men (or any man, really!) to worry about something like that. Mr. Photographer asked for a light fruity cake, and I’m sure he didn’t go for it just because the contrasting berries and grapes would look good in pictures. If he sees cake (or cheese! or wine!), you bet he’s going to have some, even if it’s five minutes before midnight. He truly is a carpe diem person, and I love that about him. The cake I made for him (and my other man-son that almost shares birthday with his father) is rather simple: Lemon scented vanilla cake with yogurt – sour cream filling, filled with summer fruit galore. This kind of cake is quite often baked back home during summer, and for a very good reason – it’s simple and quick to make, a little sweet, a little tart, and a whole lot creamy. Go bake some, and then cut yourself a slice, put your feet up, and enjoy life: every day of it it’s delicious, and on your birthday it holds true twice as much!

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Vanilla Cake with Sour Cream Yogurt Frosting and Fresh Fruit

Cake:
  • 4 eggs, room temp, separated
  • 120 g (4 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 100 ml (3.3 oz.) mild tasting oil (melted & cooled butter)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan/guar gum (omit if your mix contains it already)
  • 1 pkg. Dr.Oetker Vanilla Pudding (37 g), or other powdered gluten-free pudding by weight
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 g (0.35 oz.) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Filling:
  •  500 ml (about 2 cups) full-fat sour cream
  • 250 ml (8 oz., about 1 cup) full-fat Greek yogurt (yogurt and sour cream can be used interchangeably)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 60 g (over 2 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) heavy whipping cream
  • 20 g (almost 3 pkg.) Knox powdered gelatin
  • 100 ml (3.3 oz.) cold water
Lemon Syrup:
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
Gelatin Glaze:
  • 1 pkg. Knox unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ¼ cup very hot water
  • 1 tablespoon liquid honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

+ ¼ cup apricot preserves, to spread on the cake before fruit and filling
mixed fruit of your choice for filling the cake and for decoration (I used 2 sliced bananas and 2 cups sliced strawberries inside the cake, and decorated with peaches, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries

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Method:
  1. For the cake, line a 26 cm (10-inch) round springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the sides of the pan. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (176 °C).
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pudding powder, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a bowl of your stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks with sugar until very thick and light yellow in color, about 10 minutes. Gradually start adding the oil (liquid butter), whisking constantly. Mix in the lemon peel and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. Whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until firm peaks form.
  5. In three additions, fold the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture alternatively with the whipped egg whites. (Take care not to deflate the egg whites.) Pour the mixture into your prepared pan, smooth out the top, and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, and the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer it onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely. Wash the springform pan and set it aside.
  6. While the cake is cooling, cook a simple lemon syrup: Bring the water with sugar to a boil, and mix in the lemon juice. Let cool. (The syrup can be made in advance and refrigerated; I used about half and reserved the rest for later).
  7. When the cake is cool, remove the dome from the top if any, and return the cake into the springform pan lined with clean sheet of parchment. Spoon the syrup over the cake to moisten it, and spread the cake with apricot preserves. Cover the cake with sliced bananas.
  8. Prepare the filing: Combine gelatin powder and water in a small bowl; let stand for 10 minutes to bloom. Mix yogurt and sour cream together until well combined and no lumps remain; add in sugar and vanilla, and combine. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until firm peaks form; carefully fold the whipped cream into the yogurt-sour cream mixture.
  9. Heat the gelatin mixture in a water bath until very hot and the gelatin dissolves, stirring constantly. Do not boil, or the filling won’t set. Add 3 tablespoons of the filling into the hot gelatin to temper it, and pour it back into the remaining filling. Mix well. Pour about half of the filling onto the cake in the pan, covering the bananas. Put into the refrigerator for couple of minutes to partially set the filling. Leave the remaining filling on the counter so it remains pourable.
  10. Cover the partially set filling with sliced strawberries, and pour the rest of the filling on top. (I had some filling left over.) Refrigerate for couple of hours (up to overnight) to set the filling completely.
  11. Decorate the cake with fresh fruit. Make the gelatin glaze: Combine gelatin with cold water, and set it aside to bloom. Add in the hot water, honey, and lemon juice, and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved and the mixture looks clear. Put the mixture into the fridge for couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. When the gelatin mixture has a consistency of raw egg whites, spoon it carefully over the fruit on the cake (I used a paintbrush). Let the gelatin set.
  12. Remove the cake from the springform pan, and place it onto a serving plate. Decorate the cake with additional whipped cream if desired and serve.

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Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

I have a confession to make: I’m not a gardener. Plants and I simply don’t mesh. There are all these studies out there saying gardening is good for you, how digging in the dirt leads to a strong immune system and a better mental health… But alas, despite to being born to avid gardener parents, I was definitely endowed with a brown thumb… or two. My aunt, whose apartment looked like a jungle full of luscious green foliage plants, used to say that the secret is to talk to your plants. It was an interesting theory… but the more I thought about it, the less I was sure I was buying it. I mean, I talk to my kids, and have been doing so for years… prattling on and on about how to behave and what I thought they should be doing and why. In the end they pretty much always did what they wanted anyway. So if the offspring, flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood don’t listen, why should I believe some shrubs from the Home Depot would?!

But talking or not talking method aside, I’ve tried many things to overcome this shortcoming: I tried to buy hardy plants, supposedly able to withstand unintentional manhandling. I tried to water them more and water them less; give them attention, or give them space and let them do their thing… but “their thing” in my care always seemed to just be dying. Sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but eventually I always managed to kill them all. They say the first step to overcome anything is to embrace the truth, so I may just as well come out and say it like it is: Hi, I’m Daniela, and I am a prolific plant killer. I’ve come to terms with this; in fact, we all have. Instead of flowers, Mr. Photographer buys me chocolate, and if he does bring me a potted plant from time to time, we have an unspoken agreement it will be up to him to take care of it for me. I enjoy admiring its beauty from a safe distance, casting furtive glances at it from the other room, but won’t dare to come much closer.

I rather stick to doing what I’m good at, which is processing the fruit of edible plants somebody else managed not to do in. I enjoy walking through farmers markets on lazy Saturday mornings, looking at all the beautiful abundance Mother Nature decided to give us, touching and smelling it, and then bringing some of it home and transforming it into something else. And this weekend, we’re jamming, which is probably my most favorite way of succulent produce transformation. Jam making is easy, relatively fast, and I get to play and come up with new and unusual yummy combinations. Plus, my men like pancakes 🙂 Here is a glimpse of what I made: The first one is a peach and cantaloupe jam, which turned out the most beautiful sunny yellow color. It’s also a little runnier (probably thanks to the cantaloupe and its high water content), and therefore awesome to spread on crepes. The boozy fig one is the real winner though. Sweet and a little tart, with just a hint of cinnamon. I threw in some fresh lemon peel and divided the brandy in half – half was poured into the fruit right at the start and left to macerate, and the second half I added at the end of cooking (I didn’t want all that boozy goodness to evaporate!) We tried it right away on some grilled cheese sandwiches, and although it may seem like an odd combination, it was delish! If you decide to only try making one jam this year, this should be it!

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Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves

(makes about four ½ – pint jars)

  • 450 g (1 lb.) peeled and seeded cantaloupe, diced
  • 450 g (1 lb.) yellow peaches, stoned, peeled, and diced
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup (125 ml) fresh orange juice
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
Method:
  1. Process the cantaloupe and peaches in a food processor or a blender. Pour the mixture into a deep saucepan.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients, and bring the fruit to a boil. Cook, stirring almost constantly, for about 20 minutes, until the jam thickens to your liking. (For more info about how to know if the jam is ready, see this Mirabelle Ginger Jam post).
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving about ¼ – inch space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process the jars in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes.
  4.  Remove the jars from the water and let them cool upside down. Store the jam in a dark, cool place for up to a year.

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Boozy Fig Jam

(adapted from http://www.epicurious.com; makes about six ½ – pint jars)

  • 2 kg (4 lbs.) fresh purple figs, divided
  • zest from 1 organic lemon
  • 10 tablespoons (about ½ cup) fresh lemon juice (to taste)
  • 4 cups (about 800 g, 28 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup (about 175 ml) brandy or cognac
Method:
  1. Process half of the cleaned and stemmed figs in a blender. Cut the remaining figs into ½ – inch (1 cm) pieces. Transfer all the figs into a deep big saucepan. Add in the sugar, lemon juice & zest, cinnamon & salt, and half of the brandy or cognac. Mix together, cover, and let stand at room temp for 1 hour.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook, stirring often, for about 30 – 35 minutes, until the jam thickens, breaking up the large fig pieces into smaller bits. Add the remaining brandy or cognac at the end. Remove from heat.
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving ¼ – inch space at the top of the jars. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands.
  4. Process in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool jars completely turning them upside down. Store in a cool dark place for up to a year.

 

(Raw) Blueberry and Fig Torte

We’re apparently getting slammed by a heat wave. The temperatures are climbing into the 90’s during the day and we’re being warned about excessive heat and the need to take precautions everywhere we turn. It amuses me the same way as when we’re blessed with a random sprinkling of snow in December and the moment it happens they close schools and life in general comes to a halting stop until the last trace of the white intruder disappears from the roads. The high temperature of 92/34 is hardly a looming catastrophe and I don’t think we should treat is as something that it isn’t. C’mon, folks, slather on some sunscreen and be grateful for an extra dose of vitamin D – we have to gulp down pills for it the rest of the year around here!

Personally, I’m soaking up every bit of sunshine I can get these last couple of days. My middle name must be Lizard… I feel like I’m finally not shivering and my hands and feet are not deathly cold as they usually are. Plus I get to air out all my sundresses and play with sunhats which have become my latest obsession. (I know not everybody must be a hat person, but if you simply haven’t had a chance to play with hats yet, you should absolutely give them a try: I’m convinced a hat can take just about any outfit from ordinary to something special and fun!)

But let’s put our chef’s hat on for now, shall we? It is hot out there, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to forego desert, nor that we should! Many people seek refuge in ice cream on summer days, but I have to confess I’m one of those weirdos that dislike ice cream (too cold!). Maybe I’m the only one in the whole wide world, but on the slim chance you’re with me, I have a desert for you – and one you won’t have turn your oven on for, no less!

I love berries – strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries – anything ending with an -erry pretty much. This weekend’s treat showcases blueberries – plump, juicy, and sweet little gems that prove that the best things come in small packages (as someone who’s barely 5’3” on a good day, I’m absolutely positive about that). Blueberries are nutritional powerhouses – they aid digestion, lower heart disease risk, improve vision, act as natural anti-depressants, they even have the ability to reduce belly fat. The last bit won’t apply if you mix them with a cup of coconut cream as we’ll do here I guess, but when you’ll taste the wonderfully rich and creamy filling, you won’t care about that – at least until you devour every last bite on your plate 😉 But blueberries are just the beginning; for this desert they joined their forces with another awesome member of the purple fruit family: figs. Although I haven’t met fruit I wouldn’t like yet, figs are definitely up there on my list of great summery treats. I think they’re one of God’s best creations – fig leaves can even double up as underwear as referenced by the Bible, which might come in handy on days when we’re drowning in dirty laundry…, and the fruit is simply to die for. If figs aren’t plump, juicy, and sweet, I don’t know what is!

As I said, don’t bother turning on your oven, and don’t plan on spending hours in the kitchen, either: If you remember to soak your dates and cashews a couple hours in advance, this torte comes together in a snap. It’s best to make it a day before you want to serve it, but after it’s assembled, you can just stick it into the freezer and forget about it. Take it out ten minutes before serving, top it with handful of blueberries, some fresh figs and dry coconut shavings – and voilà! Rich and creamy purple haze for a hot summer day!

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(Raw) Blueberry and Fig Torte

(recipe adapted from www.coconutmagic.com)

 Crust:
  • ½ cup shelled raw pistachios
  • ¼ cup raw hazelnuts
  • 5 – 6 dates, soaked in hot water for at least 15 minutes
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch salt
Filling:
  • ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours in water or coconut milk
  • ¾ cup canned coconut cream (not milk)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut nectar (I subbed maple syrup)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 fresh purple figs
  • pinch of purple coloring, such as TruColor Natural Food Color Powder (optional)

+ fresh berries, figs, and dried coconut shavings for decoration

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Method:
  1. For the base, line a 7-inch (18 cm) springform pan with parchment; lightly grease the sides if you wish.
  2. Process all the crust ingredients listed in the food processor until they form a sticky paste. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate or freeze while you make the filling.
  3. For the filling, blend all of the ingredients except food coloring in a high power blender until smooth. Transfer the filling into a bowl and gradually add the food coloring if you wish (The color of the filling will depend on the blueberries used; the smaller/darker ones will usually give you darker and more pronounced shade of purple. My filling looked kind of grayish, so I ended up using a bit of coloring, even though I usually try to avoid it in my baking.) Pour the filling onto the prepared crust, smooth out the top, and place the torte in the freezer for at least 5 hours (overnight is better).
  4. To serve, remove the torte from the springform pan onto a serving plate about 10 minutes before serving, and decorate with fresh berries and figs and dried coconut flakes.
  5. Dig in 🙂 Store the leftover slices in the freezer.

Yeast Crescents with Walnut Filling

I just came back from a month long trip to Europe to see the family. I must say there wasn’t much baking going on while I was there – the kitchen in the apartment I was renting was so tiny I wouldn’t’ve even been able to place two baking sheets side by side on the counter – but the less time I spent in the kitchen, the more I enjoyed visiting with friends and family. I’ve missed them all more than the words can say, and I treasured every moment: The hugs, chats, and laughs we’ve shared together will now have to carry me over for a whole year, at least.

Living an expat life is not easy. Sure, it is exciting to be able to travel new places and get to know new people, and it’s exhilarating to rise to the challenge to build a completely new life from scratch somewhere else. It binds you to the person you’re in this adventure with – after all, at least in the beginning there won’t be anyone else you could depend on for a while. But this life also comes with an inevitable sense of loneliness: there are birthdays you are going to miss, weddings you won’t be able to attend. Not to mention Christmas holidays when you try your hardest to replicate the magical atmosphere you used to know from home, but despite the traditions you try to keep alive and cookies you bake with your kids exactly the same way your mom used to, somehow it still doesn’t work: the cookies taste different, the Christmas tree doesn’t smell quite so fragrant, and deep down, you know it’s not the same. It can’t be – it’s about the people, and they’re not there with you.

But you keep keeping on, and after a while you learn to adapt. Little by little you put down roots. You start making the new place your home and just when you think you might’ve finally gotten it down, something happens: a conversation in the grocery store or chit-chat with your hairdresser perhaps, which will remind you again that even after all these years you’re still very much a foreigner. You think differently, and no matter how much you try, in many ways you are still unlike the people around you. At that moment you can’t wait to go back “home”, even if for a short while. You get up, fly across the globe and eagerly step off that plane… and within hours you realize the strangest thing: The life you’ve been building somewhere else has changed you, and now even here, in a place you grew up in and used to know so well, you’re different. There are things you don’t understand anymore, some that annoy you, or downright drive you crazy. You might be home, but you’ve become a stranger in your own land.

You’re now officially an expat: a person whose home is neither here nor there, or who has home in both places at the same time. I still haven’t quite figured out how to have two homes. It feels weird to fly out to go “home” and then to be returning “home” when the trip is over. But that’s exactly how it is and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Home is where people you love are, and as long they will be here and over there, thousands miles apart, so will be my two homes.

I have to say I’ve missed my big kitchen while away. I’ve never appreciated it more than when I was bumping into Mr. Photographer when we randomly met in the teeny rental kitchen getting a glass of water in the middle of the night. As usual, I brought new cookbooks and tons of cooking magazines from the trip, and couldn’t wait to put them to good use. These little yeast croissants are a special dessert from the region I grew up in. The yeast dough they’re made from is very rich – traditionally, the weight of the butter should be about 30 % of the amount of flour used. The high amount of butter and no egg whites in the dough also make the pastries very soft. The croissants can be filled either with walnut or poppy seed filling. After they’re formed, they are given a coat of egg wash and quite unusually they’re left to rise not in a warm place, but in a draughty spot to make the egg dry up. When that happens, they’re brushed with egg yolk again – the double egg wash will give them their typical cracked glaze appearance. They should’ve had more of a horse-shoe shape; they were just right going into the oven, but still puffed up a little too much while baking. Oh well – they still disappeared in no time, and making them helped me to deal with the very fresh acute homesickness I’m feeling at the moment… so I guess they’ve accomplished what they were supposed to 🙂

(Note to self: When you’re scheduling to publish a post, it would be helpful not to forget to insert the pics! I’ll blame it on the jetlag… sorry about that.)

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Yeast Croissants with Walnut Filling

(recipe makes about 30 pastries)

Dough:
  • 390 g (about 13.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 scant teaspoon dry yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup lukewarm milk, divided
Walnut Filling:
  • 2 cups walnuts, ground
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 cup hot milk
  • handful of raisins (optional; not in the traditional recipe, but I always add raisins to nut- and poppy seed filling to keep it moist)

+ 3 egg yolks, beaten – for egg wash; 1 egg white – for brushing the edges of the dough

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Method:
  1. To make the yeast dough, first combine 1/3 cup of lukewarm milk, pinch sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for couple of minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. In the meantime, place all the remaining ingredients for the dough except milk into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it in, and with the mixer on a low speed, begin kneading the dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, carefully adding the rest of milk if necessary to make a smooth and soft dough. Let the dough rise, covered in a warm spot, for 30 – 40 minutes.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by combining all the ingredients listed. The filling should be somewhat sticky and hold together enough so that you can make a small cylindrical “snake” out of it. If it’s too dry, add a splash more milk, if it’s too wet, add in some plain breadcrumbs/cookie crumbs. Cover the filling and set it aside.
  4. Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface and divide it into small balls (each portion should weigh about 25 g/0.8 oz.) Cover the dough balls with a dish towel and always take just the one you’re working with to keep them from drying out. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. To form the crescents, take a ball of dough and roll it gently into an oval. Roll about 10 g/0.3 oz. of filling into a small cylinder and place it in the middle. Brush the edges of the dough with a little egg white and enclose the filling into the dough. With a palm of your hand, gently roll the filled dough into a thin cylinder about 10 cm/ 4 inches long and place it seam side down on the baking sheet, giving it a horse-shoe shape. Continue making the pastries, giving them enough space on the sheet to rise.
  6. Brush the croissants with egg yolk and let them rest, uncovered, in a cold drafty place until the glaze dries up (I chilled mine for about 20 minutes in the fridge).
  7. When the egg wash dries up, take the pastries out of the refrigerator and give them a second layer of egg wash. Let them rise for about 20 minutes on the counter while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  8. When the oven is ready, prick each croissant twice with a fork to prevent it from bursting open while baking, place the baking sheets in the oven, and bake the pastries for about 12 – 14 minutes until they’re darker golden brown.

 

Gluten-free Brie en Croûte

They say that secret to a happy marriage is a deaf husband and a blind wife. Mr. Photographer has suffered from selective deafness for years, just like any other man on this planet… and come to think of it, suffer is probably a bit strong of a word to use in this context – he’s perfectly content living with this condition; it’s me and millions of other wives around the world that suffer! So the male deafness part has been taken care of, now we just needed to deal with the sight in his wife to achieve that promised marital bliss. You see, I see everything. Everywhere. And what’s more, feel the need to comment on everything I see, which results in a near constant stream of words coming out of my mouth. Did you…? Have you had a chance to…? Can you do it now? I mean, I’d gladly see less; when I’m home, I actually quite often take off my glasses for just this purpose – as long as I don’t see the dust bunnies, cluttered desk, or unkempt yard, I’m fine. If I see, I talk. And delegate. I mean, I’d gladly talk less if it didn’t feel like our household and life in general would fall apart without all my monitoring questions and reminders! Men call it N-agging. We call it N-ecessity.

I’m not sure if God intended to make me blind to match my selectively deaf husband to let us experience a spousal happiness together, and simply made a mistake and confused the body parts he planned to work on. (Hey, even experts make mistakes sometimes!) It’s also possible he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to help me not to feel like a broken record for once, or help Mr. Photographer and his sons to catch a break from the (necessary) nagging. Whatever the reason… instead of poking my eye out, he just took my voice away. He was thoroughly thorough however – it wasn’t like I just suddenly couldn’t sing in the shower or raise my voice to get the attention of a headphones wearing teen. No. I woke up, opened my mouth, and instead of good morning out came nothing. Not even a peep.

And it stayed that way for three whole days.

It was funny. My men were hollering their questions at me from upstairs, repeating them two or three times before they remembered “Oh, she lost her voice!” and realized they would have to find me if the answer was really so important. It brought us closer – quite literally, because to hear me at all they needed to be glued to me, reading from my lips. (How’s that for the undivided attention and visual contact we ladies crave so much? Score!) I think we all enjoyed our little break, each for a different reason, but felt relieved when the voice ever so slowly started coming back. I’m still nowhere close to my usual yelling ability level, but I’m getting there! 🙂

Luckily, the non-talking stint didn’t interfere with my baking, unlike the loss of vision would, and for that I’m super grateful! And since I couldn’t tell Mr. Photographer I loved him, I decided to step into the kitchen to let him know that 🙂 He’s been talking nostalgically about the baked brie appetizer he used to love in his long gone gluten-full days. One of these days I plan to attempt gluten-free puff pastry… but for now I went with something simpler – a buttery pastry dough enriched with sour cream. Adding sour cream to any pastry (gluten – free or gluten – full) is always a great idea, as it makes the pastry wonderfully tender. The process is relatively easy and quick; the only thing to remember when making the dough is to keep the butter very cold. When the dough is ready, the whole thing comes together in a snap, and after 20 minutes out of the oven emerges a gooey goodness enclosed in golden pastry crust. As we’re scooping up the melty cheese with crackers and sipping wine, I’m here to tell you that achieving marital bliss is obviously easier than one would think – no tinkering with sight or hearing of the involved parties necessary!

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Gluten-free Brie en Croûte

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

Sour Cream Pastry Dough:
  • 1 ½ cups (210 g) good quality gluten-free flour mix
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains it already)
  • 6 tablespoons (84 g) very cold, unsalted butter; diced
  • ½ cup (120 g) full-fat sour cream
  • icy cold water, only if needed

+ 8 oz. (225 g) Brie wheel, about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter
optional: preserves, chopped nuts, honey, dried apricots, etc.
1 egg yolk mixed with little water – for egg wash

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Method:
  1. Place the flour, salt, xanthan gum, and baking powder in a bowl of your food processor. Add in the cold diced butter and pulse to coat the butter with flour. Add the sour cream and pulse again, just until the dough comes together somewhat (it will look shaggy). If it’s too crumbly, add in some icy water by the teaspoon – only if necessary. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
  2. On a work surface covered with parchment, roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Fold the dough over itself into thirds as if folding a letter. Chill for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn the dough and roll it out again (sprinkle the parchment paper with some flour, if the dough begins to stick, but it’s chilled, so it shouldn’t stick much). Fold it into thirds again, and return it to the fridge for 10 minutes.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Roll/fold the dough one last time, and divide it into two equal parts.
  5. Roll out one half into a circle about 3/8 inch thick and 8-inch  (20 cm) in diameter. Place the circle onto the lined baking sheet and chill while rolling out the second half of the dough into circle. (The circles don’t have to be perfect; you’ll be trimming them later.) Chill the second circle as well.
  6. With a sharp knife, cut off the top rind of the cheese wheel. Place the cheese onto the circle on the baking sheet. Brush the edges of the dough around the cheese with the egg wash.
  7. Cover the cheese with the second rolled out circle of dough, pressing around the cheese to enclose it. Trim the dough if necessary. Brush the entire pastry with egg wash again. Re-roll the scraps of dough and cut out decorations to place on top of the pastry or make a couple of crackers to bake later.
  8. Chill the pastry for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  9. Give the pastry another coat of egg wash if desired. Bake for about 30 minutes until nice golden brown. Let cool for about 30 minutes before serving with crackers, sliced apples, and wine.
  10. (You can make the pastry in advance up to point 7; omit the egg wash and freeze, tightly wrapped. Let the pastry come to room temp before baking, give it a coat of egg wash, and bake.)
Note:

Variation: Spread the cheese with preserves and sprinkle some nuts on top before enclosing it in the pastry. Alternatively, you can drizzle the cheese with honey and sprinkle it with dried fruit.

If making crackers from the dough scraps, brush them with egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt and/or seeds, and bake at 375 °F (190 °C) for about 10 – 12 minutes.

 

Homemade KIND Cereal Bars

The game of life can be tough. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning till we drop to bed at night we’re constantly on the go. We run out of the door already late, because dear offspring couldn’t find his algebra notebook. Half asleep, we turn to Starbucks to get some shot in the arm, make appointment for a chipped tooth while waiting in the drive-through line, and then burn our tongue with hot pick me up while parking at the office. Breakfast is hasty spoonfuls of yogurt gulped down at a red light. Lunch? Cereal bar and a banana around three pm while answering emails. And pretty soon a dreaded stop-and-go commute from work back home, pondering how to get dinner on the table, take care of homework, laundry, and dishes, and still manage to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Only to do it all over again the next morning.

I don’t work well when I’m hungry. My men could tell you stories about this trait of mine – about the unnecessary arguments, yell fests, and even guilty tears related to those darn sugar drops. It usually happens when I’m too busy, and it starts innocently enough: I just might start to feel a little cranky at first, my answers become tiny bit snappier… but when I don’t recognize I’m overdue for a feed and don’t remedy the situation quickly enough, it all goes downhill pretty fast. I know I’m not the only one suffering from this; after all, there is even this new term “hangry”, labeling that miserable state when hunger and anger intersect… but I could definitely be a model for it.

That was at least partially why I tried my hand at these bars. I try to keep some snack food and water with me at all times to prevent hunger induced relational disasters, but cereal bars carried around in your purse dry out pretty quickly I found, not to mention they’re not exactly easy on the budget! It was my first experiment with homemade cereal bars ever, but it certainly won’t be the last. I like that I can control the amount of sugar, and vary the ingredients according to what I have on hand. They’re extremely easy and fast to make and don’t even require turning your oven on!

Please be kind to yourself and eat when you need to. No matter how busy you are, it’s still much easier to find time to eat, than have to apologize over and over for you’ve said and done when you were hungry 🙂

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Homemade KIND Cereal Bars

(adapted from http://www.eat-yourself-skinny.com)

Ingredients:
  • ½ cup unsalted roasted almonds, whole
  • ½ cup  unsalted roasted peanuts, whole
  • ½ cup roasted walnuts/pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup puffed rice cereal
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
  • ¼ cup brown rice syrup (I used maple syrup instead)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped

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Method:
  1. Line an 8-inch square springform pan with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. To make the bars, mix nuts, flaxseed, an puffed rice in a greased bowl; set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, mix together brown rice syrup (maple syrup), honey, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over the ingredients in your bowl and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture into the pan and press evenly, making sure there are no gaps. (The recipe says there is enough for a 8-inch pan, but I didn’t find this to be true – I was able to only fill about 2/3 of the pan if I wanted the bars to be high enough).
  5. Place a sheet of parchment on top, and press the mixture firmly. Set the pan aside and let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the rim of the pan, transfer the cereal block onto a cutting board, and cut it into uniform pieces with a sharp knife. (Serrated knife worked best for me.) Let the bars cool completely.
  7. For the chocolate drizzle, melt the chocolate over a water bath and drizzle over the bars. Keep the remaining bars in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresh.