(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.
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Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

Winter blues are over; the spring has sprung! The beautiful sunny weather we’ve been waiting for so long is finally here, and what it has brought with itself? Allergies, of course! Mother Nature sure is a teaser: I swear the very moment you start to feel good inside seeing all the flowering beauty around, here comes the first sneeze, and pretty soon you’re doing twenty minutes long sneezing marathons back to back. Your nose is this lovely shade of purple, all you can do is to squint at the world through your narrow bloodshot eyes, and just trying to breathe sucks up all your energy. You can’t sleep, because you’re all stuffed up, and when you leave the house in the morning, suddenly the Niagara falls start gushing from your nostrils. Yup, classic case of spring for many of us.

It just so happens that my birthday falls into the spring season, and this year I was very appropriately gifted a thing that looks just like one of the million want-to-be funny mugs, but it’s actually much more than that. Mr. Red nose egg separator! I run across its picture in some culinary catalogue many moons ago and couldn’t stop giggling. The boys tell me that the older I get the more teenage moments I have, and this was without a doubt one of them. Yes, it’s gross, when you think about it… but it’s also funny, at least it was to me! I then promptly forgot about it, but Mr. Photographer didn’t, and a couple days before my birthday a small box arrived at my doorstep 🙂

And what was inside proved to be really useful this weekend. I’ve never made Pavlova, the egg-white based dessert named after the Russian dancer… but it seems a great thing to have in a gluten-free baking repertoire, so I’ve decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did: The outside baked up nice and crisp, while the inside literally melts in your mouth. The top of the cake sank in a little as it cooled, which proved to be very useful when I went to fill it up. The filling is just mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and some sugar whipped up together with a healthy dose of Bacardi rum (if you have to walk around with red nose thanks to your allergies anyway, you may just as well enjoy some rum… 🙂

Happy spring everyone! Let’s hope the pollen counts will go down some so we can enjoy the sun!

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Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

(adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk)

Cake:
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 40 g (1.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Filling:
  • 225 g (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 50 ml (1.5 oz.) Bacardi rum
  • 400 ml (13.5 oz.) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Method:
  1. To make the Pavlova, trace the bottom round of a 8 inch (22 cm) springform pan on a sheet of parchment paper. Turn the paper over as not to get the markings on your cake. Place the paper onto a baking sheet and butter it lightly (I used a cooking spray.) Preheat the oven to 300 °F (150 °C).
  2. Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. With the mixer on a medium speed, start whipping the mixture. After a couple of minutes start very slowly adding the powdered sugar. Turn the speed up and continue whipping until the mixture is very thick.
  3. With a spatula, gently fold in the cornstarch, vanilla, and lemon juice.
  4. Mound the egg white mixture in the center of your pre-traced circle. Carefully spread it to the edges, while also pulling the mixture up to give it height. (I used the outer ring from the springform pan to help me here – I placed it onto the paper and slowly removed it when I had a nice high circle of egg white mixture made. The cake will fall a little and also spread some, so you want to get it as high as possible.)
  5. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, then turn the temp down to 200 °F (100 °C) and bake for additional 30 minutes. (If the cake is getting dark, cover it with tin foil.) After the 30 minutes turn the oven off and let the cake cool in the oven for about 1 hour.
  6. (The cake can be made the night before and kept at room temp.)
  7. To make the filling, whip the mascarpone, sugar, and rum until light. Separately, whip the cream with the vanilla until firm peaks form. With a spatula, fold the cream into the mascarpone filling and combine.
  8. Assembling the cake: Place the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully spread the filling on top, decorate with fresh fruit and chocolate if desired, and serve.

Peach Blueberry Mini Pies in a Jar

Summer is in full swing! The temps hiked up pretty high in the last couple of weeks, and we’ve had our share of awesome, sunny, rain-free days. I’ve heard some folks complaining it is actually too hot for them, which is a statement I don’t understand. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t a lizard in a previous life – I’m always cold unless it’s at least 80 degrees outside, and so these days I’ve finally had a chance to warm up a little. There is no such thing as too much heat or sunshine in my book – I mean, come on, you don’t need to shovel it, and it’s million times better than the constant rain clatter and the pressing feeling that the dark skies are going to fall and suffocate me any minute that I often get during Autumn and Winter. I guess I am just summer kind of girl. Plus, think about all the lazy days, beach vacations, hiking trips, picnics in the shade which we can enjoy. Pure bliss. Summer adventures usually mean we spend less time in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat well, and there is definitely no need to give up dessert 🙂 Just look at these perfect mini-pies if you don’t believe me! They’re quick to make (you can even make them in advance, freeze them, and bake from frozen later), highly portable (excellent for all those picnics and potluck get-togethers), not to mention they’re cute as a button! And since you’re using just a small portion of pie dough for the bottom and another tiny cutout to top the fruit, there is a lot less crust compared to a regular pie. That may be a good thing or not, depending on how you look at it: sure, the buttery crust is awesome, but this way, a lot less of that butter will go to your hips, and any woman can tell you that’s a great thing 🙂 Portion control is key, especially during body-baring summer days! Oh, and another wonderful thing about these mini pies that I’m sure everybody can appreciate? Minimal cleanup! Please make sure to use canning jars to make these, and not just any glass jar, as canning jars are made to be able to withstand high temperatures. If you’re going to freeze the pies and bake them later, I’d still recommend letting them stand at a room temperature for an hour before baking just to be safe. I’d also use a little more filling than you think you should, because the fruit will cook down, and you still want them to look pretty and filled up… and why would you want to skimp on fruit anyway? 🙂 img-2015-08-08-0353

Peach Blueberry Mini Pies in a Jar

(recipe makes seven 1 cup servings, or seven ½ pint jars)

Pie Crust:

Here is the recipe I use (it makes two crusts for double pie), but you can use any of your favorite pie recipes. Pssst… store bought pie crust works just as well! For gluten-free alternative, please see Note.

Peach Blueberry Filling:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) mixed white and yellow peaches, pitted and diced
  • 1/3 cup each white and brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  •  ¾ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons Crème de Cassis (optional)
  • 1/6 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream (or 1 small egg) – for egg wash
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar – for sprinkling the tops of the pies
Alternate Streusel Topping:
  • ¼ cup each brown sugar and all-purpose flour (if baking for gluten-sensitive people, sub gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour)
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons oats (if making the dessert for gluten-sensitive, make sure the oats are gluten-free)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

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Method:
  1. Wash and dry ½ pint (1 cup) wide mouth canning jars.
  2. Roll out chilled pie dough. With a small biscuit cutter, cut out small circles for bottom of your pies. With a jar lid, cut out big circles to top your pies. Place the circles in the fridge to firm up, covered with a dish towel.
  3. Prep the filling: In a bowl, combine peaches, sugars, lemon juice/zest, tapioca and spices. Toss in the blueberries and add the liqueur, if using. Let the mixture sit for couple of minutes.
  4. Place one cut-out circle on the bottom of each jar. Dock the dough with a fork. Using a slotted spoon, fill the jars with fruit, filling to the brim (I used about ½ cup per jar). Dot the filling in each jar with ¼ tablespoon of butter.
  5. Prepare the top crust for your pies: Using cookie cutters or a knife, make slits in the dough, so the steam can escape during baking. Place the cut-out circles on top of the filling, and press firmly to seal.
  6. Alternatively, you can use Streusel Topping to sprinkle over the filling: Combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon, cut in cold butter, add oats, and combine. Chill before sprinkling over the fruit filling.
  7. If using the cut out pie dough to top the fruit, brush pie tops with cream/egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Place the jars on a  baking sheet and put them into the refrigerator while preheating oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  8. Bake the pies for 15 minutes until the crust begins to brown. Cover with tin foil and bake for 15 – 20 minutes more until the filling bubbles and the tops are nice golden brown. Let cool before serving.
  9. If you wish to freeze the pies for later use, assemble them and screw on the lids. They will keep in the freezer for up to six months. When ready to bake, let them sit out at a room temperature while preheating the oven to 375 °F (190 °C). Bake the pies for about 50 minutes until golden.

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Note:

You can make the pies gluten-free by substituting Bob’s Red Mill Pie Crust Mix for the flour when making the pies. You can also forgo the bottom crust, fill the jars with fruit filling which is naturally gluten-free, and sprinkle the modified Streusel Topping over the fruit.

Eggnog cake with blueberries and cream

I know, I know – eggnog is a wintery, Christmas treat, something that you sip after a day of skiing, curled up next to the fireplace with a book.  Even though there are still some forgotten holiday decorations scattered here and there at our house, I vaguely noticed the holidays are over. (I openly admit, I’m not a decorator. It seems like the minute I took the decorations down and carefully packed them away, it’s already time to bring them out again. In my dream life, I’d just keep one room in Christmas mode, another one would house all the porcelain bunnies, chicks, and silk daffodils, and the last one would be all scary, with bony skeletons, pumpkins, and dreadful, dusty cobwebs. Oh wait, we kind of already have that one.) Anyway, that way I’d be done with “decorating” and we’d just go from room to room as the seasons dictate. It’s important to keep your priorities straight – no decorating means more time for baking, right?!  But I digress. Back to the eggnog, shall we?

Ever since my friend taught me how to make homemade eggnog, there are holidays whenever we want at our house. (If you’ve never tried homemade eggnog, you absolutely should. Here is a good recipe). With the exception of pasta, we pour it in and on everything – cakes, bread and rice puddings, coffee, and straight down our throats, of course. This cake has it all – soft yellow cake base, enriched with eggnog, contrasting fruity layer made with fresh blueberries, and luscious sweet cream with tiny “lagoons” of eggnog on top. I chose blueberries today, just because I had them on hand, but I imagine raspberries or strawberries would work just as well.

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Eggnog Cake with Blueberries and Cream

Cake:

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 tablespoons eggnog
  • 160 g (5.5 oz.) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon each vanilla extract and lemon zest
  • 135 g (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1/2 t salt 1 t baking powder

Blueberry jelly:

  • 200 g (7 oz.) blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 200 g (7 oz.) sugar
  • 500 ml (2 cups) water
  • 80 g (3 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • juice of 1 lemon

Cream layer:

  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 3 teaspoons cold water

+ 100 ml (3 oz.) eggnog
cornstarch for thickening
melted chocolate for decoration

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line standard 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper, and grease the sides. (I used an oblong springform pan).
  2. In a bowl of your stand mixer beat the eggs with sugar, hot water, eggnog, vanilla, and lemon zest until thick and golden-yellow. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients, and lightly combine them with the egg mixture. Pour into the lined pan, smooth out, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until it springs back to the touch. Let cool slightly, then take out of the pan and remove the baking paper. Cool completely.
  3. For the fruit layer, combine all the ingredients in a blender, and cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes (the “jelly” will clear and thicken). Still warm spread on a cooled cake and chill.
  4. Whipped cream layer: Combine gelatin and water and let stand for couple of minutes, until the gelatin absorbs the water and “blooms”. Then carefully heat the mixture in a water bath until hot to dissolve the gelatin (don’t cook). Let cool to room temperature. When the gelatin mixture is cool but still liquid, whisk the cream with sugar until soft peaks form, then, still whisking, slowly add the gelatin mixture, and beat until the cream reaches stiff peaks. Spread onto a cooled blueberry layer.
  5. With a small teaspoon, emboss tiny “lagoons” into a cream layer. Thicken eggnog with a little cornstarch, and fill the lagoons. Decorate with melted chocolate if desired.