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 🙂

img-2016-09-12-7534

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

img-2016-09-12-7542

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.
Advertisements

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!

 img-2016-09-04-0373-Edit

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

img-2016-09-03-6420

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.

img-2016-09-04-6435

(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!

img-2016-08-20-6395

(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

img-2016-08-20-6397

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.

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!

img-2016-04-02-2572

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

img-2016-04-17-2618

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.

Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

I’m sorry if I won’t be my usual talkative self today. I’m tired. I just endured a teenage boy sleepover, which meant a sleepless night the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since my boys were infants, and boy, can I feel it! I don’t even know when we moved from “Can you have your mom to call my mom to see if you could come over?” to “Dude, do you want to hang out today?” but here we are. Parenting teens is awesome and terrible and everything in between. You don’t have to haul them places anymore; they can stay home by themselves. They can feed themselves, they sleep through the night, and are able to get into the car without help. On the other hand, their vocabulary shrinks to pitiful five phrases: “yes”, “no”, “fine”, “I guess”, and “I’m starving”, their sense of smell gets seriously impaired (why else would they be completely happy in a room that stinks like gym socks and wet dog combined?), and, oh yes, they can get into the car without help. And drive off. Anywhere they want. And you can’t do anything but bite your nails waiting till they finally decide to come back. Because they’re starving, of course.

When you get to this stage, you’ll hear your parents coming out of your mouth a lot. The phrasing, intonation, the whole deal. The first couple times it might surprise you, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly, and there will be moments when you’ll just be glad to have something memorized that you can use in a time of need. Because you know that otherwise you’d yell out utter something much-much worse. (And just in case you’re wondering, when presented with the “Everybody’s doing it!” challenge, you will counter with that hated jumping-off-the-cliff phrase you’ve promised yourself to never use with your kids.)

Anyway. On Saturday three big-footed, voice-cracking and pizza-loving almost men stormed into my house, and after about an hour I was ready for a vacation somewhere far-far away 🙂 But since that wasn’t feasible, I did the next best thing, and barricaded myself in the kitchen. And this is the result: Sweet and creamy cheesecake bars with bright strawberry glaze. I love this recipe for cheesecake bars – they are extremely easy to make (no need to bake them in water bath, so you don’t need to worry about wrapping the pan in tin foil and obsess about water ruining your cheesecake), they’ve never-ever cracked up on me, are easy to cut into perfect portions (just the right amount of cheesecake without the guilt!), and you can totally make them gluten free if you buy gluten-free cookies for the crust. You can also vary them by the seasons, and pour either chocolate or caramel over the top – do whatever you feel like, and they will be delicious every time. I picked fresh strawberries from the market, added some lemon juice and lemon zest in the batter, and made lip-smackingly good strawberry glaze to pour over the top. A couple teaspoons of gelatin helped the glaze to firm up so I was able to get a nice clean cut for the pictures, but if you don’t care about that, you could just use a store-bought strawberry jam. Either way, to me strawberries say spring, and the combination of a chocolate crust, lemon and vanilla scented white cheesecake and the red strawberry glaze is a definite winner. A perfect little spring dessert!

img-2016-03-06-2546

 Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

(cheesecake bars recipe adapted from http://www.bakerella.com)

Crust:
  • 1½ cups ground up cookies (vanilla wafers, chocolate cookies, or graham crackers; I used Mary’s gone crackers GF chocolate cookies)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g, 3 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
Cheese Filling:
  • 3 packages (226 g, 8 oz.each) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (200 g, 7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juce
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Cup-for-cup gluten-free baking mix)
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 225 g (8 oz.) sour cream
Strawberry Glaze:
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 g, 1.7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur
  •  1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons Knox powdered gelatin
  • ¼ cup water
  • red food coloring (I used freshly pressed beet juice; it’ll give you a nice rich color, and you won’t be able to taste the beets at all)

+ ½ cup powdered sugar mixed with 3 teaspoons milk – for the swirl decoration (optional)

img-2016-03-06-2542

Method:
  1. To make the crust, combine ground up cookies, melted butter, and brown sugar. Line a 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan (or oblong springform pan) with parchment paper, and press the mixture evenly into the pan. Set aside.
  2. To make the cheese filling, mix the cream cheese with sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest until fluffy. One by one, add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Lastly add in the sour cream and mix just until combined. Pour the filling onto the crust and bake at 325 °F (162 °C) for about 30 – 40 minutes until the center jiggles just a bit. (I put another pan with water on the lower rack to have moisture in the oven).
  3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool completely. (It may puff up a bit during baking, but it should settle back down as it cools.)
  4. To make the glaze, combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin absorb the water.
  5. Process strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer the berry mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Cook the mixture until slightly reduced (to about 2 cups). Remove from heat, add in the liqueur and the bloomed gelatin (do not cook, or the gelatin won’t set.) Stir until the gelatin dissolves and then let the glaze cool to lukewarm/room temp, stirring occasionally.
  6. Just before setting, pour the glaze over the cooled cheesecake in the pan. (The cheesecake should have risen edges; do not pour the glaze over them.) Distribute the glaze evenly over the cheesecake and put the cheesecake into the fridge for about 2 hours to let the glaze set. Just before serving cut the cheesecake into bars.
  7. To make the sugar glaze, combine powdered sugar with milk to make a thick mixture. Transfer the sugar glaze into a sandwich bag, snip off the corner and decorate the bars.
  8. Refrigerate the bars, covered, for up to 3 days. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t think freezing them would work well – the gelatin desserts tend to get “wet” when defrosted.

Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

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

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

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

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

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

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

img-2016-02-07-1458

Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

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

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

+ extra raspberries/strawberries/pomegranate seeds for decoration

img-2016-02-07-1457.jpg

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

 

 

 

Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 *****

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

img-2016-02-07-1452

 Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

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

 

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

img-2016-02-07-1454

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