(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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Chocolate Coconut Cake

Simple things make me happy. I think oftentimes it’s us who unnecessarily complicate our lives. Wherever we turn, we hear and see what we need to have, get, and achieve in order to be happy: Bigger comfortable home. Faster car. A nice vacation somewhere warm. And since we all want to be happy, we set out to do what we need to get those things. We wake up earlier, work harder, get home later… and in the hustle of our rushing world forget to notice the small things, which are the very things that make living wonderful. Life is not complicated; we are.

Maybe we moved so far from what life is all about that we need the clutter and noise to keep us occupied…? We are so used to the constant movement and activity that we feel is pushing us closer to some big goal on the horizon that we either feel guilty when we decide to get off the speeding train just for a little bit… or we’re unable to pull the brakes at all. And so the train keeps on going, forever faster, and we miss the joy that’s right here, right now, even though countless little joys are available to us sprinkled throughout our busy days, if only we took time to realize it!

  • Hot bath. I don’t even need the glass of wine or candles to go with it, just the solitude and warm water is enough.
  • Compliment from a stranger. Works every time 🙂
  • A nap. Works almost every time, except when our pet parrot gets in one of his talkative moods and keeps insistently urging me from the next room to “step up, step up!” In that moment I’m just happy I don’t have more than one feathered creature at home.
  • Hearing a song that brings back memories.
  • A good laugh. You know, the belly laugh that babies laugh with – when you can hardly breathe and it makes your belly hurt? Good times and a workout in one. Score!
  • Freshly baked bread. There is nothing better in a baker’s life than the crackly sounds of hot crusty bread taken out of the oven.
  • A wonderful new cookbook. Yes, I have way too many. And yet when I see an inventive new cookbook, especially on bread baking, I’m not able to walk away. Some people shouldn’t have free access to bookstores. Or maybe I should just move into one.
  • Walking barefoot in the warm sand.
  • Licking the batter off the mixer beaters when baking a cake. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I’ve been happily engaging in this behavior ever since I started baking and it hasn’t killed me yet.
  • Finding money I didn’t know I had. That latte bought for five-dollar bill found crumpled in a pocket of the winter coat I haven’t worn for two years? I feel like I just won a lottery.
  • Seeing food being brought to me in a restaurant. If you ask Mr. Photographer, that’s actually a big one! I usually try to be pleasant in public, but when I’m hungry, all bets are off. I can go from totally fine to extremely hangry in under 30 minutes.
  • Chocolate. Enough said. There aren’t many sorrows that can’t be helped by the dark smooth delicacy.

And chocolate paired with coconut? Heaven on earth that you’re able to create for yourself whenever you want! Remember Bounty bar – the moist coconut filling enclosed in dark chocolate? They were sold two per package, probably to encourage sharing, but it never worked with me 🙂 This is it, except in the cake form. The cake looks and tastes a lot like macaroons, and since a good amount of flour is subbed with coconut, I had no problem converting it to gluten-free. The chocolate frosting is a cooked buttercream enriched with Nutella, and to bump up the chocolate deliciousness content, I poured a rich ganache glaze over the top. Thanks to the generous soaking in Malibu it is definitely a grown-up kind of cake, but you could replace the coconut rum with simple syrup with some coconut extract added, if you insist on sharing the cake with your kids 🙂

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Chocolate Coconut Cake

Cake:
  • 7 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons coconut extract (if you’re making the cake gluten-free, make sure the extract is gluten-free as well)
  • 200 g (7 oz.) unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 140 g (scant 5 oz.) all-purpose flour (for making the cake gluten-free, please see Note)
Chocolate Buttercream:
  • 400 ml (13.5 oz.) milk, divided
  • 150 g (5.3 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 30 g (1 oz.) cornstarch
  • 113 g (4 oz.) semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) Nutella
  • 226 g (8 oz., two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Ganache Glaze:
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) heavy cream
  • 56 g (2 oz.) unsalted butter
  • 226 g (8 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 28 g (1 oz., ¼ cup) powdered sugar

+ ¼ cup (approx. 60 ml) Malibu (coconut rum)
– white chocolate, melted – for decoration (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the cake, line a 13 x 9 inch (33 x 22 cm) rectangular pan with parchment paper; preheat the oven to 350 °F (176 °C).
  2. Place the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Whisk the whites until soft peaks form, gradually add in the powdered sugar and coconut extract, and continue whisking until the mixture forms firm peaks.
  3. Combine shredded coconut, flour, and baking powder. With a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture. Pour the batter into the lined pan and level off the top.
  4. Bake the cake until the cake looks nice light brown, the top springs back to the touch,  and the tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Invert the cake, peel off the parchment paper, and let the cake cool completely.
  5. To make the frosting: Place 350 ml (scant 12 oz.) of milk together with the powdered sugar into a deeper saucepan, and let it warm up on a medium heat. Mix the remaining milk with the cornstarch until smooth; set aside. When the milk in the saucepan is hot, mix couple of tablespoons into the egg yolks to temper them, and then pour the warmed-up egg yolk mixture along with the cornstarch into the milk, stirring constantly. Cook for about 2 – 3 minutes until the pudding thickens; turn off the heat.
  6. Add the chopped chocolate into the hot pudding; stir to melt the chocolate. Set the pudding aside and let it cool completely, stirring occasionally.
  7. Whip the butter until light and fluffy; add in the Nutella, and mix until thoroughly combined. With the mixer running, gradually start adding the cooled chocolate pudding, one tablespoon at a time, to make a smooth frosting.
  8. Assembling the cake: Sprinkle the cake generously with Malibu (or sugar syrup with coconut extract). Frost the cake with the chocolate buttercream and place it into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes, so that the frosting has time to firm up.
  9. Prepare the glaze: In a small saucepan, bring heavy cream and butter to a boil. Place the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl. Pour the hot butter-cream mixture over the chocolate; let stand for 2 minutes. Add in the powdered sugar and whisk into a smooth glossy glaze. Let the glaze cool to lukewarm before pouring it onto the cake.
  10. Finishing the cake: If decorating the cake with white chocolate, melt the white chocolate in the microwave and transfer it into a small Ziploc bag. Snip off the corner, and while the dark chocolate is still liquid, draw horizontal white lines on top of the chocolate glaze. With a toothpick or tip of a knife, make vertical lines on top of the glaze, and return the cake into the fridge to firm up.
Note:

To make the cake gluten-free, replace the all-purpose flour with your favorite gluten-free flour mix, adding 1 teaspoon xanthan (guar) gum, if your mix doesn’t contain the gums already. Please make sure the coconut extract and chocolate you’re using is gluten-free as well. My gluten-free cake turned out a bit drier and more crumbly compared to the regular cake, which was to be expected with gluten-free flour. I did my best to counteract the dryness with extra helping of Malibu 🙂

Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

It’s that time of year again: Toothy jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and scary witches are jumping at us from every corner. It’s a time when you can feed the neighbor kids all kinds of sweet cr*p, so they think you’re the coolest lady in the neighborhood (just don’t forget to promptly send them back home, so that when the sugar high hits and they’ll inevitably go crazy, you won’t be the one that has to deal with them). The only time when you don’t have to worry about having bad hair day and dark circles or puffy eyes, because being scary is actually a requirement. Actually, this time of year you could maybe even get away with killing that horrible coworker that has been annoying the heck out of you for ages: you’d just put him or her in a squeaky old chair on your porch, and no one would probably notice (not for the first week, anyway)!

Some people love Halloween, while others positively hate it and can’t wait for it to be over. When I first came here, I thought it was the weirdest holiday ever. It took me five years to accept it, and another five to get to like it. Today I see it as an opportunity to play, and that is always a good thing in my book. We have to play in life… otherwise it all gets too serious. And it doesn’t really matter if you dress up or not (my teenagers would probably say I don’t need to because I’m a witch all year anyway), or if you decide to dress up your porch instead and make your home the scariest one on the block. The important thing is that you take some time away from all the busyness that’s normally doing its best to suffocate us and do something – anything – that makes you feel like a kid again.

And this is how we played at our house this week! I found this recipe sometime last year and put it aside just so I could make it this Halloween. Panna cotta is a traditional Italian custard, made from sweetened cream thickened with some gelatin. You can flavor it any way you want – mine is made with half cream/half coconut milk and infused with toasted coconut. I enjoy working with gelatin, knew the boys would appreciate some good old creepy food, and I even managed to get Mr. Photographer to step into the kitchen and join me in some gross-out fun 🙂

So here you go! Don’t you want to cut yourself a piece of that squishy bulgy eyeball? Play, eat, drink, and be scary.  Happy Halloween!

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Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

(adapted from http://kitchentablescraps.com; makes 6 servings)

Panna cotta:
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup dark raisins
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin (I used Knox brand)
  • 1 tablespoon Malibu (coconut rum)
  • 1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
  • 3 kiwis
Raspberry sauce:
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon raspberry liqueur (optional)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Lenses:
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
Equipment:
  • 6 semi-cylindrical molds or bowls (I used silicone baking mold with 6 cavities), about ½ cup each
  • cooking spray
  • melon baller
  • muffin pan with foil liners
  • small cookie cutters (1 1/2 inch, 3.8 cm in diameter)

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Method:
  1. First, toast the coconut: Place the coconut in a non-stick pan, and stir it constantly over a medium heat until very lightly brown and fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Soak the raisins in warm water to soften them; then drain and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk with cream and sugar; heat until hot, but not boiling. Remove from the heat. Add the toasted coconut and coconut extract; let stand for at least 20 minutes to infuse the milk liquid with coconut flavor.
  4. Combine gelatin with 1 tablespoon Malibu rum; let stand for about 10 minutes to “bloom”.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the molds and the kiwis: Spray the molds with cooking spray; wipe away the excess. Peel the fruit. Cut off the end and cut each kiwi in half. Place the kiwi into the mold to measure and cut it so that it is the exact height as your mold or bowl. Take the cookie cutter and cut the kiwi into a perfect cylinder. With a melon baller scoop out the center of the kiwi cylinder where you want the pupil to be. Put the scooped out half cylinder back into the kiwi for now. Invert the kiwi into the molds so that the scooped out end is facing down.
  6. Strain the toasted coconut flakes out of the milk liquid. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in a warm liquid and then transfer the mixture into a measuring cup for easier pouring. Carefully pour the coconut cream around the kiwi into each mold until full. Move the molds into the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours. (I chilled overnight.)
  7. Make the lenses: Bloom the gelatin in 1 tablespoon water for 10 minutes. Line muffin cups with paper liners. Heat up the 1/2 cup water with sugar; do not boil. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in the water and pour a little bit into each muffin liner. Chill the gelatin for at least 30 minutes until set. When the gelatin has set, unmold it carefully and cut out 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) circles which will become the lenses for your kiwi irises. Chill until needed.
  8. Assembling the eyeballs: When the panna cotta has set, get ready to unmold it by placing a sheet of wax paper onto a cutting board. Carefully unmold each piece onto the paper and clean any bits of white panna cotta from the kiwis. Take out the small piece of kiwi from the center of the iris and fill the cavity with soaked raisins. Place the lens over each kiwi iris. The edges of the gelatin lens will be a little rough; take a hot knife and carefully melt the gelatin around the edges to make it smoother. Refrigerate the eyeballs while you make the sauce.
  9. Prepare the raspberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine raspberries with sugar; heat the mixture to break up the fruit. Add the liqueur if using, and strain the mixture to get rid of the seeds.
  10. Spoon the raspberry sauce onto a platter, sit the panna cotta eyeball on top and serve.

Note:

I have a silicone baking pan with 6 half-sphere cavities, and used it for both the panna cotta eyeballs and the lenses. Removing the panna cotta was a little tricky; so I inverted the pan on the cutting board lined with wax paper and used a hair dryer (very carefully, for just 2 – 3 seconds) to get the dessert out. Removing the lenses was very easy; they slipped right out without any trouble.

Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

As hard as I try not to think about it, summer is slowly coming to an end. Before we know it, September will roll around and our troubles will march back into the house of torture that is school. On one hand, I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it. Namely, I’m looking forward to a break from the smart-ass comments and eye rolling that flooded into in our house recently. If I had a nickel for every eye roll I’ve got this summer, I’d be on my way to Hawaii right now. I know it’s the age. I know it’ll pass; I’ve done it once before and I’m here to write about it. But gosh darn it, there are moments when I think September can’t be here fast enough!

On the other hand, there are things school will bring I could definitely do without. Having to get up at the ungodly hours of the morning. Driving the offspring to school in the dark still half (or more like three quarters) asleep. School projects, practices, info nights, PTA meetings. Probably more driving and almost certainly more eye rolling, yay. Because I don’t know what I’m talking about, I went to school looooong time ago, I was schooled in a completely different country… and thus – yep, you guessed it –  I don’t know what I’m talking about. But at least the eye rolling won’t be a continual all day thing and it’ll be mostly confined to evening hours. That’s my hope, anyway.

There is one more thing I’m most certainly not looking forward to: It is the phrase “I’m sorry, I forgot, but I need <insert XYZ> for tomorrow.” It is a statement said exclusively at 9pm or later, and actually, scratch that I’m sorry part, because that rarely happens. And now that the darling son remembered, Mother, jump up, perform a miracle and provide what he asked you for! Go to the (now closed) store and get that special scientific calculator he won’t be able to do the math test without, and bake four dozen cookies for his team meet-up next morning!

And since you’re the Mother, exasperated you let out a yell sigh, and then do the impossible and pull that rabbit out of the hat anyway. When I was faced with a task to bake loads of cookies at the shortest notice possible, I’ve always turned to the same tried and true recipe for coconut macaroons. It literally involved only shredded coconut, egg whites, condensed milk, some sugar, and splash of vanilla (if I remembered!), all mixed up in a big bowl. Within half an hour the cookies were on the tray ready to go, and they were aIways a hit.

This time I took the same basic recipe minus the condensed milk and tried to make it into something a little more sophisticated. I molded the coconut mixture into a little cups, and filled them with a simple dark chocolate crème. The soft and smooth chocolate ganache is a great complement to the crispy and chewy coconut, the coconut – egg white mixture holds together well and is easy to work with. The cups can be made ahead and stored for up to one day,  and the ganache is whipped up within minutes. Not a lot more work than the original one-bowl recipe, but the end result is much prettier than the shaggy coconut macaroons I used to make for school. A wonderful little dessert, and now that I think about it, maybe it could serve as an efficient way to stop the know-it-all comments coming out of our kids’ mouths too. But if you find out how to deal with the eye rolling, please let me know. Still have no clue what to do about that.

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Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

(inspired by Gale Gand’s Short + Sweet)

Coconut Cups:
  • 396 g (14 oz.) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3 egg whites (½ cup), beaten
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Crème:
  • 450 g (16 oz.) good quality bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Frangelico or Amaretto liqueur, or almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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Method:
  1. First, make the coconut cups: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Lightly butter mini tartlet molds or mini muffin pan (I used small brioche molds). In a big bowl, combine all the ingredients, making sure all the coconut shreds are thoroughly moistened with the egg white.
  2. With your fingers, press 1 – 3 tablespoons of coconut mixture on the bottom and up the sides of your molds of choice. Cover with aluminum foil (the tops brown quickly) and bake 10 – 15 minutes for the mini muffin size, or 20 – 30 minutes for the bigger molds, or until the cups are baked through and golden brown in color. (The bottoms should still look a little undercooked, they will harden as they cool. If you try to bake them till the bottoms are completely cooked, the sides will burn). Let the cups cool completely in the molds and then remove them carefully, running a knife around the edges. Set aside.
  3. For the Dark Chocolate Cr̬me: Place the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy whipping cream and butter to a simmer. Pour the hot cream Рbutter mixture over the chocolate and let stand for a minute to melt the chocolate. Mix in the liqueur or almond extract. Whisk until the chocolate mixture is smooth and glossy. Let cool slightly.
  4. Pour the warm chocolate into the cups. Let the cups set for at least one hour at a room temperature. Before serving, sprinkle each cup with toasted coconut chips or toasted almonds.
Note:

The leftover chocolate ganache crème can be refrigerated/frozen for later use.