Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Ode to a Cake - Nigel Slater´s Autumnal Plum Cake with Hazelnuts and Spiced Frosting

In autumn one of the fruits I most love to bake with are local plums. Around here, plum season starts in late July and finishes in mid-to late-September and although local plums are at their best in September, sometimes you are lucky enough to find a late-season variety of baking plums at the beginning of October. Personally I like to use so-called „Italian plums“ or as we call them „Zwetschgen“ in my baking and cooking. At the beginning of the season the local plums have a vibrant dark blue skin and a distictive tart flavor and are firm-fleshed, as the season progresses, they turn soft-fleshed and loose-stoned which makes them ideal for using them in all kinds of dishes. Out-of-season imported plums belong to a different prune family that originated in Japan. They are sweet, large, round, firm-fleshed, cling-stoned plums that come in different shades of orange-yellow and burgundy that can be cooked, but are much sweeter and taste best eaten raw.

Plums develop a rather intense sweet-tart flavor when cooked. They make excellent jam, jelly and are also often used in desserts such as cakes („Pflaumenkuchen“ – you can look at my recipe here), pies, tarts, fools, crisps and slumps. They can also be used in savory dishes in combination with lamb or pork and can also be bottled. Warm, strong spices such as star anise, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper all taste wonderful with poached plums. Cream and custard based accompaniments such as ice cream, rice pudding (here), panna cotta or vanilla puddings balance their flavor in the most delicious of ways.

When the first plums of the season make an appearance in our local markets, I usually go for my well-known, above-mentioned Pflaumenkuchen (plum torte) recipe that hails from my youth. But later in the season, I will scoure the recipe world out there for different and new ways to use plums in my baking. This year I added plums to crumbles, fruit stews and sauces, I shingled them onto free form tarts and piled them into pies but the recipe that impressed me most this season was the Wholemeal Plum Cake with spiced Frosting from Nigel Slater – to all those following my blog, it is no secret that I am a very faithful fan of his distinctive cuisine.

When I took one look at the recipe, I knew that I would adore it. And I did. In my personal opinion it is simply sensational.

I love the way baked plums taste in this cake in combination with the brown sugars, then the warm spices and the sweet hazelnuts…but what I liked even better than the naked cake itself was the cake in combination with the lovely spiced frosting. Just the right amout of spices and crunch from the sesame and poppy seeds and, if you like rosewater, than, by all means add the dried (organic!) rose petals – they add another layer of excitement to this cake.

If, like me, you are a fan of Nigel Slater´s cake recipes, and you bake this cake, you will definitely recognize his signature style in this plum cake – for instance as with Nigel Slater's Chocolate Beetroot Cake (for my version, look here) or Beetroot Seed Cake (I blogged about this one here) – there are poppy seeds in the frosting and although these two cakes contain beetroot, this plum cake reminds me of those cake. And I cannot deny a certain sense of satisfaction when those beloved people that I share my cake with, recognize a certain cook from just tasting what I prepared for them – I guess that they listened to my foodie ramblings after all.

Wholemeal Plum Cake with Spiced Frosting
(inspired by a Nigel Slater recipe)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 200 g unsalted butter, soft
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden (superfine) caster sugar
  • 100g hazelnuts, skinned (I like to use Italian „round Romans“ hazelnuts, they are the best tasting ones I can get here)
  • 500g, plums (I used Italian plums)
  • 4 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 150 g wholemeal flour, sifted
  • 2 ½  tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Icing
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • a pinch ground Ceylon cinnamon 
  • 6 cardamom pods 
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds 
  • 2 tsp dried rose petals, organic (I get mine from a tea merchant)

Preparation of the Cake
  1. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C. 
  2. Line the base of a 22cm spring-form baking pan. 
  3. Dice the butter and put it in a food mixer with the sugars and beat for 5 minutes, till light and fluffy. Regularly push the mixture down from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even creaming.
  4. While the butter and sugar cream, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan, watching carefully and moving them round the pan so they color evenly. Grind to a fine powder in a food processor. 
  5. Cut the plums in half and discard their stones.
  6. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork then add, slowly, with the paddle turning, to the butter and sugar mixture.
  7. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and the ground hazlenuts, then add to the batter, mixing it together thoroughly. 
  8. Scrape the batter into the lined cake tin and gently smooth the surface.
  9. Place the plums evenly on the surface of the cake. You want them to sink into the body of the cake as it bakes. 
  10. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the cake is spongy to the touch.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to settle for 20 minutes.
  12. Run a palette knife around the inside of the pan to the loosen the cake, then undo the pan and place the cake on a plate.

Preparation of the Icing
  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice, adding a little water if required to bring it to a thick, pouring consistency. 
  2. Stir in the ground cinnamon. 
  3. Crack open the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and grind them to a fine powder. Stir into the icing. 
  4. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan unrtil they are golden, then mix them with the poppy seeds.
  5. Transfer the cake to a plate, then trickle the spiced icing over the surface. 
  6. Scatter with the sesame and poppy seed mixture.
  7. Add rose petals plus a few organic rose buds (optional) – but only if you and your guests enjoy the taste of rosewater in your confections.

As Nigel Slater so aptly points out Plums will cook to a golden jelly in a cake, but are best in one made with the darker sugars, such as light or dark muscovado, and to which you have added ground ginger or mixed spice. The sugar’s butterscotch notes serve the fruit well.“ And I could not agree with him more – this cake recipe is an autumnal dream, meant to make all of us plum-cake, nut-laden, spice-infused cake lovers, swoon…

Monday, September 26, 2016

Belgian Cuisine: La Flamiche aux Poireaux et au Chèvre - Belgian Leek Tart with Goat Cheese

Today’s post is about Flamiche, a traditional Belgian dish. Well, more precisely, a classic from the town of Dinant, a Walloon city and municipality located on the River Meuse in the Belgian province of Namur. The citizens of Dinant love their flamiche, a type of savory tart prepared using 500 grams of Boulette de Romedenne (a pungent local cheese), 250 grams of butter and lots of eggs, 13 eggs for a smaller version (30 cm) and 15 eggs for a larger version (35 cm), to be precise. Flamiches used to be baked in a wood oven and the tiny flames – „flammèches“ – that the charcoal produced may have given rise to the name.

The origins of flamiche are not without contention. Some say it hails from Dinant in southern Belgium, while others claim that it is, in fact, French, from the Picardie region. Legend has it that a farmer’s wife from the small Village of Romedenne is responsible. She was walking down the rue Saint Jacques on her way to market when she slipped on an icy patch and broke all the eggs she was carrying. A quick-thinking baker managed to catch the broken eggs, added cheese and butter and baked the lot on a base of bread dough.

Flamiche is very popular in Dinant, where it is celebrated in an annual festival. Every September, the Confrérie des Quarteniers de la Flamiche Dinantaise - the Brotherhood of the Flamiche (founded in 1956) - organizes an annual flamiche eating competition.

Having defined the term „flamiche“ as a „quiche-like tart“, the „flamiche aux poireaux“ combines the flavors of salty goat cheese and jammy leeks in the form of a leek confit.  And from what I can tell from my research, this is where the difference between a quiche and a flamiche lies. For the flamiche you start off by preparing a leek confit which is nothing more than leeks that have been sliced into thin rounds, placed into a Dutch oven some butter, and left to cook under a tight lid for about half an hour. With the help of moist heat, the leeks soften beautifully and their oniony flavor gives way to something delicate and sweet. For a quiche, you usually do not cook or sauté your veggies before you add them to the eggy custard.

You can also eat the leek confit straight from the pot, it is a delightfully rich, and that's part of its charm. You can also fold it into scrambled eggs or an omelet—anything, really, that involves eggs. You could also use it as a bed for a piece of seared salmon, dab it onto flatbread, or spoon it into baked mushroom caps with some Parmesan or for an easy appetizers slice a baguette, spread it with goat cheese, and pile warm confit on top. Or better yet, put it in a flamiche aux poireaux, or leek tart.

The more I read about flamiche, the more I realized that every flamiche aux poireaux recipe is a little different. Most include leeks, but some also call for onions or bacon or ham. Some have a double crust, like an American apple pie, and though many include cheese or custard, others don't. Every Belgian family, it seems, has its own way of making it. And, of course, I have tried my hand at Julia Child´s famous flamiche - quiche aux poireaux recipe (no cheese in sight) a while ago and loved it too - her recipe can be found on page 151 of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

Today´s version of flamiche is fairly classic. It's not unlike a leek tart, really, but for added interest, it calls for crumbled aged goat cheese into the confit before I pour in the custard. In general, leeks and goat cheese are a great pair—one of those matches made in heaven—but leeks and aged goat cheese are a particularly delicious duo. This tart is amazing with a standard fresh goat cheese, but with an aged one, it is utterly addictive.

Whenever I can, I get goat cheese in Antwerp (Belgium) at the Exotic Market (for more info go here) from a Belgian goat cheese manufacturer called Kempense Geitenkaas Polle (for more info go here) and once I am back home with my loot, I always make sure to bake one of these amazingly delicious flamiche all the while planning my next visit to lovely Belgium....This artisan Belgian goat cheese is fabulous, it adds an enticingly tangy flavor to the flamiche and tucked into leek confit and custard, it is absolutly divine.

Belgian Leek Tart with Goat Cheese - La Flamiche aux Poireaux et aux Chèvre

Ingredients for the Crust (Pâte brisée)
  • about 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) AP (plain) flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 stick (113 grams) butter, unsalted, chilled

Preparation of the Crust
  1. In a small bowl combine ice water and cider vinegar, stir.
  2. Blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, slowly add water-vinegar mixture, processing until moist clumps form. If dough seems dry, add ice water by teaspoonfuls. NOTE: you can also do this by hand.
  3. Gather dough into ball and flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes or more.
  4. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C).
  5. Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch (30cm) round. 
  6. Transfer to a 9 inch (23 cm) diameter tart pan with removable bottom - I used a French tart pan with high sides - Press the dough onto bottom and up sides. Fold in overhang and press to extend dough 1/2 inch (1 cm) above the sides of your pan. 
  7. Line pan with baking parchment and dried beans or pie weights. 
  8. Bake until dough looks dry and set, about 20 minutes. 
  9. Remove the baking parchment and beans and continue to bake until crust is pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. 
  10. Remove from oven and cool on a rack while preparing the filling.

Ingredients for the Leek Confit
  • 1/2 stick (55 grams) butter, unsalted
  • 4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation of the Leek Confit
  1. Melt butter in pot over medium-low heat. 
  2. Add leeks and stir to coat. 
  3. Stir in water and salt. 
  4. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. 
  5. Cook until the leeks are tender, stirring often, about 20 minutes. 
  6. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Set aside until cooled.

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) cream (I use 20%)
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free range or organic NOTE: if your pre-backed flamiche shell has cracked during baking, use a bit of the left-over egg white to brush over the cracks and "seal" them
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (150 grams) crumbled aged goat cheese or use fresh goat cheese, rind trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) Leek Confit, cooled 

Preparation of the Filling
  1. Whisk milk, cream, egg, egg yolk, and salt in medium bowl to blend.
  2. Scatter some of the cheese over the bottom of the warm crust.
  3. Then spread leek confit over and scatter the remaining cheese overthe leek confit.
  4. Pour the eggy mixture over.
  5. Bake until the filling has puffed, is golden in spots, and the center looks set, about 40 to 45 minutes. 
  6. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool slightly.
  7. Remove the baking pan. 
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature (whichever you prefer).

The leek confit and goat cheese set in an egg and cream mixture makes for a luxurious yet simple meal. I usually serve a slice of this rich, lovely tart with fresh seasonal fruits such as some glorious figs and grapes, as I am addicted to the combination of sweet and salty flavors but you could easily opt to serve this tart with a green or mixed green salad.

Such wonderful flavors and textures. Sometimes I use aged goat cheese and other times I opt for fresh soft goat cheese. Both turn out beautifully and delicious, so if you prefer more mild flavors just use fresh instead of aged. But whichever cheese you choose, do make a note to try this recipe soon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Autumnal Baking & Triple Chocolate Cookies

The weather has cooled, the garden is turning golden and there is the smell of chocolate cookies emerging from my kitchen - as much as I hesitate to admit it, autumn is upon us.

To start off my autumnal baking season, I like to make a foolproof cookie recipe that even the youngest bakers in your house can embrace and help with. With this recipe you are looking for cookies that bake only very slightly crisp around the edges and chewy and soft within. The trick is not to over-bake them. They should still be soft when you remove them from the oven.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

  • 250g unsalted butter, well softened
  • 150g soft light brown sugar (I like to use "Tate& Lyle Light Soft Brown Sugar")
  • 150g superfine (caster) baking sugar
  • 2 eggs (L), organic or free range
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 350 g white spelt flour (or use all purpose aka plain flour)
  • 60g Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g high quality milk chocolate, in chunks (try to get "dark" milk chocolate with at least 50% cocoa solids)
  • 100g high quality dark chocolate, in chunks
  • 100g high quality white chocolate, in chunks (try to use one with hints of vanilla and not overly sweet)

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F),
  2. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  3. In the large bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until soft and creamy.
  4. Break the eggs into a bowl, mix lightly with a fork then, with the beater still turning, add to the butter and sugar.
  5. Mix in the vanilla extract and salt
  6. In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda and, lowering the speed of the mixer, fold into the batter.
  7. Add all the chocolate chunks – the milk chocolate, dark and white chocolate and try to combine thoroughly, until you have got a thick, sticky dough, but do not overmix.
  8. Spoon mounds of the cookie dough on to the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of space between them.
  9. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the cookies are still soft in the middle and the chocolate chunks molten and gooey. NOTE: they will be really soft at this point, but will firm up as they cool, so leave them undisturbed on their baking sheets for three or four minutes to settle, then transfer to a cooling rack until they are at room temperature. They are best eaten warm, but they will keep for several days in a cookie tin. But no batch has ever been known to last till the next day in our house and, inevitably, most times they will be eaten as soon as they are cool enough not to burn fingers.

The combination of white sugar and soft brown sugar is a common one: the former adds some crunch, the latter a caramel flavor. I prefer to use super fine baking sugar (caster sugar) and soft light brown sugar rather than granulated because I like a cookie with less of a crunchy edge, if you prefer a cookie with crispier edges, than, by all means, use a granulated sugar with larger grains.

As far as the flour is concerned, while I like to use white spelt flour here, you can use all purpose flour aka plain flour in these cookies.

Chilling the dough before use is fairly standard. Texture wise I like to chill my cookie dough overnight, the increased firmness of the cookies is very noticeable, as is the more complex, almost caramelly flavor.

Go for good quality chocolate too – suitable for baking - this will ensure that not only will you end up with less sweeter, great tasting cookies, but also cookies with delightful chunks of chcolate that melt into the cookies while baking. And some uneven chunks created by chopping your own chocolate gives a better result than even little chocolate chips. I went with a combination of white, milk and dark chocolate here but use whatever you prefer - all dark, half milk half dark or whatever strikes your fancy.

This is truly a wonderful recipe to get you baking this autumn. No apples, pears, plums or pumkin purée involved not even those warm spices like cardamom or cinnamon but there are lots of comforting and beloved flavors like real vanilla, mildly sweet and nutty spelt flourmilk chocolate, creamy white chocolate with hints of vanilla and the pronounced, bold taste of dark chocolate. And is there any better accompaniment to these lovely homemade treats than a cold glass of whole milk for the kids and some tea and coffee for the grown-ups?! Maybe a really good book...Besides, I cannot think of a nicer way to refuel mid-morning or teatime than with one (or more) of these.

Monday, September 5, 2016

A last Hurrah to Summer Berries, a Recipe for Redcurrant Traybake & Lion´s Espresso

We are still trying to hold onto summer, not really wanting to let go yet…it has been an unusually rainy and cool summer around here and we are still longing for warm, sunny days, even as we are approaching fall and even though I have spotted lots of fall produce already at the farmers´ market.

There is pumpkins and the first crops of fall apples making an appeacance but for now they happily share their shelf space with quite a bit of late summer produce like berries. Redcurrants still being my favorite late summer berry crop.

So, it was a rather informal Kaffee und Kuchen (or coffee and cake) sort of afternoon the other day and I happily baked a rather rustic and weekend kind of traybake (or sheet cake) for my family. Besides,  I was just looking for a good excuse to post pictures of this lovely bag of espresso beans that one of our daughter gifted me for my birthday in August – Lion´s Coffee I call it - wonder what inspired her to buy this particular bag...

So not only did the colors of  my Redcurrant Traybake match the package of  the Café Royal - Sir Edward - Italian Dark Roast - but this is also my go-to recipe for using up those last berries of the season, be they redcurrants, as featured here, or blueberries that we harvest at a nearby blueberry farm up until the second week of September. Traybake recipe are such simple, no-fuss cakes that can be cut into squares or bars to feed a crowd

Redcurrant Traybake 

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
  • 1 ¼ cups AP (plain) flour
  • ½ tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • ½ cup milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar, for sprinkling NOTE: demerara sugar is a type of cane sugar with a fairly large grain and a pale amber color
  • a bit confectioners´ sugar for dusting (optional)
  • soflty whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

  1. Grease a rectangular baking pan (approx 20cm x 30cm or 8in x 12in) with a little butter, and line the base and sides with baking parchment. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 180° C (356°F). 
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the plain flour with the baking powder and sea salt.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter, sugar, Cognac or brandy and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy. 
  5. Add the egg to the butter mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
  6. Add half the flour mixture and beat until just combined. 
  7. Pour in the milk and continue beating, scraping down the bowl as necessary. 
  8. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined.
  9. Scrape the dough into the baking pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. 
  10. Scatter on the redcurrants or other berries in an even layer.
  11. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top.
  12. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  13. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving, 
  14. Dust lightly with confectioners´ sugar and serve with softly whipped cream or a bit of crème fraîche if you like.

This is a deliciously moist, versatile cake that can be served with coffee/tea or as a dessert with whipped cream or crème fraîche, or enjoy it for breakfast - there are berries involved after all. Traybakes also make excellent after-school snacks, and are perfect for school bake sales. As far as this recipe is concerned,  I love the crunchiness from the Demerara sugar that is such a nice contrast to the pleasant dampness of this cake. And the redcurrants add a very enjoyable tartness here.

So, let us hold on to summer and enjoy those warm rays of sunshine (finally) for just another little while and ponder the autumn days to come later on. For now, I still enjoy the taste of late summer berries in my cake...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Buckwheat Berry Striped Cake & August Baking

Always on the lookout for recipes with different kinds of flour, I came across this beauty of a late summer cake recipe by Melissa Clark – a pretty as a picture Buckwheat Berry Stirped Cake. Melissa points out that „the combination of buckwheat and whole wheat flour gives this deeply buttery cake a character that is nutty, rich and complex, while a little almond flour adds tenderness“. And, on a weeknight, it is nice to go with something simple yet stunning for dessert – like this amazing cake.

And baking this cake in a tart pan with removable bottom instead of  a cake pan allows the colorful berries to rest on top of the batter rather than sink to the bottom. I found the berry stripes simply striking and opted for late season redcurrants and blueberries here. You should definitely feel free to create any design you like. And do remember to serve this on the same day as you bake it, preferably within 6 hours of baking. It is true, because this is a rather moist cake, it does not keep that well overnight.

Buckwheat actually comes from the seeds of a plant related to rhubarb and is neither related to wheat, nor, technically, a grain.  It is usually found in ground form, but can also be bought as wholegrain groats, cracked as flakes or cereal, and in processed foods such as pasta.  Delicious in salads, it lends itself well to being mixed with other pseudo-grains such as quinoa. Buckwheat flour – or farine de sarrasin in French – is in itself always gluten-free. It can be added to pancakes, muffins, rustic porridges, pierogi dumplings, blinis, galettes, fruit flans and soba noodles. The fine-textured flour is grey-ish, speckled with black.

Buckwheat has an intense, earthy, slightly nutty and smoky flavor. Healthwise, buckwheat is rich in vitamins and minerals. Buckwheat flour is available in specialist stores, Polish or Russian grocers, some supermarkets and most health food stores and it is pretty easy to find online. And note that as buckwheat contains about double the oil of most cereals, which affects its shelf life, once opened, it should be kept it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Some cooks and foodies assert that „buckwheat is an acquired taste. But once you've acquired it, you'll want it all the time“. Andf I believe they are right.

Buckwheat Berry Striped Cake
(recipe inspired by the wonderfully talented Melissa Clark)

Ingredients for the Batter
  • ⅓ cup/40 grams almond flour (or grind natural almonds yourself)
  • ⅓ cup/45 grams AP (plain) flour
  • ⅓ cup/45 grams whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup/30 grams buckwheat flour
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon (which I believe goes so well with the flours used in this recipe)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 stick/114 grams unsalted butter, softened, more for buttering the tart pan
  • ½ cup/100 grams superfiine (caster) baking sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • ¼ cup/60 milliliters buttermilk, sour cream or whole milk yogurt (I used natural yogurt)
  • 1 cup mixed berries, such as blueberries and redcurrants

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 1 tspn raw turbinado sugar
  • confectioners’ sugar, for serving
  • softly whipped, lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 190° C (375°F) and butter a 25 cm (10-inch) tart pan with a removable bottom. 
  2. Line the bottom with a round of baking parchment, and butter that as well.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together almond, all-purpose, whole wheat and buckwheat flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
  5. Beat in egg, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. 
  6. Beat in buttermilk or yogurt. (The mixture will look curdled, and that is fine - as soon as you add the dry ingredients, the batter will smooth out again.)
  7. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined.
  8. Scrape batter into prepared tart pan, smoothing and leveling the top.
  9. Place berries on top of batter and sprinkle with turbinado or granulated sugar.
  10. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. 
  11. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and unmold. 
  12. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, serve as is or with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Honestly, I cannot wait to make this cake again. I will experiment with other fruit and let you know how that turns out. We took it to one of our picnics and it transported so well, not really needing anything but a slight dusting of confectioners´ sugar on top – that day we skipped the lightly whippped cream or the crème fraîche as we were outside but having served this at home as well, I can attest to the fact that it tastes heavenly with a bit of cream on the side…and this cake is a wonderful alternative to those buckles, grunts, tarts and galettes that are all utterly delicious but that miss that elegant and different look of this beauty of a cake. Let´s not forget to mention the texture of this cake, it is very moist, it literally melts in your mouth and it is ever so slightly crisp at the edges - truly a cake that the Britsih would refer to as a "damp cake", shortly, my kind of cake.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fabulous Coffee & Late Summer Panforte

Summer is almost over but not quite. School starts again in a few days. To say we were treated to nice warm weather would be overstating it, but personally, I prefer a bit of a breeze when we are travelling on route to Belgium and the Netherlands on day-trips. One such day-trip always leads us to visit the Exotic Market in Antwerp, Belgium and there a visit to my favorite mobile coffee roaster has become a must. During my last visit to the Market, the lovely Alfio "an Italian in Belgium with the passion of [sic] coffee" recommended an Ethiopian coffee to me and I happily followed his recommendation, bought a bag of his wonderfully fragrant coffee beans, roasted on sight in his coffee truck, happily sipped a warming, milky cappuccino and glanced at the coloful fruit and veggie stalls all spread out over the Theaterplein, the rather large area where the Exotic Market takes place every Saturday.

The next day, I contacted Alfio per Instagram - the fun part is that I posted a picture of his coffee truck a while back and we have been following each other´s accounts since - to get more information about the coffee beans that I bought. And I was wondering what kinds of flavors would complement his wonderful coffee the best - Panforte came to my mind, immediately, it is a cool summer after all and the strong character of Panforte turned out to be a wonderful complement to his Ethopian organic coffee which Alfio comments as follows: "Ethiopia Sidamo, a superb coffee from Ethiopia that has a unique flavour, mild, spicy and wine-like with floral aroma". Ethiopia Sidamo is a type of Arabica coffee of single origin grown exclusively in the Sidamo Province of Ethiopia.

Panforte or as its is also referred to Panforte di Siena is a traditional Italian treat that somewhat resembles fruitcake or German gingerbread (Lebkuchen). It is a flat, yet chunky, rich, boldly spiced indulgence, dense with toasted nuts and dried fruit or candied fruit peel. It may date back to 13th century Siena, in Italy's Tuscany region. Documents from 1205 show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax which was due on the seventh of February that year.

Literally, panforte means "strong bread" which refers to the spicy flavor. The original name of panforte was "panpepato" (peppered bread), due to black pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests, and to the use of panforte in surviving sieges.

But do not let its humble looks deceive you. A dark, bumpy appearance barely concealed by a dusting of icing sugar, panforte is a most delicious thing. It it not really a cake it is actually more like soft, chewy, heavily spiced nougat chock-full with toasted almonds, hazelnuts and a copious amount of candied peel or dried fruit.

The process of making panforte is fairly simple. You toast the nuts (hazelnuts and almonds are traditional) until they are fragrant and golden. Then you chop the nuts very roughly or leave them whole and dice the dried fruit or candied peel. You then mix together the flour, cocoa, spices, nuts and fruit.

Now you make a syrup of sugar and honey. You warm the sugar and honey gently until they’ve dissolved into a syrup. Now working quickly, you pour the syrup onto the dry ingredients and stir until everything comes together into a sticky mass. Now using a spoon and your hands, you press the mixture down into a shallow baking pan you have lined with rice paper or baking parchment. Then you simply bake your panforte for about 30 minutes. Once it is cool you dust it heavily with icing sugar - which always reminds me of the abundant dusting of icing sugar on my German Stollen (here).

Personally, I have a definite weakness for toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried friuts such as figs and sour cherries,  heavily spiced confections, and medieval undertones. As Gillian Riley notes in her Oxford Companion to Italian Food, in the 1500s panforte was said to have „strengthening sweetness and stimulating spiciness“…now what more could one ask for...

If you ask me, this fabulous chocolate confection should not only be an Italian Christmas favorite, and a great homemade festive gift, it should be eaten year-round, best eaten after a big meal with a wonderfully fragrant espresso or espresso macchiato, brewed with coffee beans from your favorite coffee roaster, like the one you will find when visiting the Antwerp Exotic Market (for more info on the market, visit my blog post here and for more info on the lovely coffee I used visit Alfio´s site here)

Late Summer Panforte

  • Vegetable oil, for greasing the baking pan
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting (use Dutch process cocoa powder)
  • 100g dark quality chocolate, chopped - I like to use a high-quality chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa solids, with deep cherry tones
  • 150g toasted almonds, coarsely chopped or left whole
  • 150g toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped or left whole
  • 100g AP (plain) flour
  • 200g dried fruits such as figs and sour cherries that I used OR candied mixed peel, chopped
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 200g superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 200g clear honey (I used orange blossom)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

  1. Heat your oven to 150°C (300°F).
  2. Line the base of a 22cm (8 or 8.5 inch) cake pan (springform pan) with oiled baking parchment paper, and dust the base and sides with cocoa powder.
  3. In a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the cocoa, nuts, flour, dried fruit, salt and spices.
  5. Gently heat the sugar and honey in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, then cook over a higher heat for three minutes.
  6. Pour the syrup and melted chocolate into the nut mixture and stir to combine. NOTE: it will be very sticky.
  7. Use a firm spatula to scrape the mix into the prepared baking pan and, once cool enough, wet your hands and smooth the top so the surface is flat and even.
  8. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven, transfer the pan to a cooling rack and leave to cool in the pan.
  10. Turn out the panforte, peel off the parchment paper and dust the top with icing sugar, rubbing it all over with dry hands so the baked panforte is completely covered and white.

There are many shops in Italy producing panforte, each recipe being their jealously guarded interpretation of the original confection and packaged in distinctive wrapping. Usually a small wedge is served with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal, though some enjoy it with their coffee at breakfast.

In Siena, which is regarded as the panforte capital of Italy, it is sometimes said that panforte should properly contain seventeen different ingredients. This is said to link back to the number of districts within the city walls of Siena. It means that depending on the recipe you use, you could be forced to add a bit of variety in terms of the ingredients. In my recipe, if you count the mixed fruit as two different ingredients, I did indeed get to the magic number. What does matter, however, is that if you’re going to make panforte, you need to go with the right ingredients and try to use high-quality chocolate, Dutch process cocoa powder, good nuts and your favorite dried fruit or candied peel.

To serve the panforte, cut into thin wedges with a large sharp knife. The cutting will take some force, so be careful.

This traditional Italian nut and dried fruit chunky, sweet and chewy treat is not only delicious, I assure you, but it is also highly addictive. It will keep at room temperature for up to three months if wrapped well in plastic wrap and up to a year if kept in the fridge. Of course, you won’t be keeping a batch around for that long because it is that good, especially when you have friends and family around to enjoy it along with you.

Therefore, I highly recommend you have some on hand all year round, no matter the occasion. Panforte is easy to prepare and in my Late Summer Version the dried figs are absolutely delicious in combination with the dried sour cherries that harmonize so well with the dark chocolate - a perfect match for Alfio´s Ethiopian Sidamo coffee.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Orecchiette con Grano Arso with Watercress, Aubergine, Broad Beans & Burrata Pugliese

Recently I have developed a foodie obsession with a little known variety of Pasta with grano arso - grano arso literally translates as burnt grain, hence the dark color of the pasta. This unusual pasta is made with Farina grano arso which is a type of flour from Puglia in the south of Italy on the Adriatic coast. The two main theories as to the origin of Grano arso are both associated with the so-called cucina povera, or the cuisine of the less fortunate.

One theory with respect to the origin of this pasta claims that in the 18th and mid-19th century landowners permitted poor farmhands struggling to survive and feed themselves and their families, to remove the bits of grain left in the fields following the harvest and subsequent burning of the fields. Back then, landowners would harvest the wheat and then burn off the stubbles that were left in the field, to be plowed under. After the farmers burnt their fields and before the fields were plowed, the less fortunate farmhands would hurry across the field, gathering the burnt remnants of wheat, which they would then grind into what was basically burnt flour.

Another theory suggests that villagers would sweep their communal wood-burning ovens to collect the burnt flour that was left behind after baking bread, then mill it to obtain a flour that was intensely dark, with a bitter taste, to make pasta or more bread.

In either case, the burnt grain couldn’t be used by itself. It was necessary to mix it, at a proportion of one part grano arso to four parts all purpose flour, for it to become palatable.

These days you are unlikely to find people running out to the burnt fields or communal bread ovens anymore to augment their poor diet. Instead I find myself trying to track down this amazing tasting flour and/or the pasta that is made with Grano arso. I learned that a few Italian flour mills have been producing a newer version of Farina grano arso, a type of toasted grano duro (durum wheat) flour that reproduces the nutty, smoky flavor of the original. But being far from Italy these days, although I was unable to track down the flour itself, the Farina grano arso, I found Orechiette con Grano Arso. 

When I tasted the Pasta with grano arso for the first time I was immediately intrigued. As a homecook, I’m always looking for new flavors, textures, and interesting ingredients, and Grano arso reminds me of the burned edges of Italian bread such as Ciabatta or pizza that emerged from a wood fired oven, which are flavors I truly treasure.

For starters I tossed the cooked Orechhiette with olive oil, young garlic, chili and shards of Parmigiano Reggiano. Another time I mixed the pasta with with fresh young peas, Pecorino Romano, and prosciutto.

For today´s recipe, I decided to pair the almost black pasta with that noticeable smoky taste with freshly-podded broad beans, grilled slices of aubergine, decidedly peppery watercress and decadently indulgent, creamy Burrata Pugliese. The colors and flavors mix beautifully here. - Perhaps it is noreworthy that three of the components, namely the Orechhiette, the Burrata as well as the Farina grano arso all originate in Puglia.

Orecchiette con Grano Arso with Watercress, Aubergine, Broad Beans & Burrata Pugliese
(Author: TheKitchenLioness)

  • 250g Orechiette con grano arso (or use regular orechiette here)
  • 500g broad beans in their pods – you will end up with about 125g broads beans once their pods and skins have been removed
  • 2 aubergines (M) or one large one
  • 2 spring onions, white and green parts, cleaned, dried and sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves young garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
  • watercress, a whole bunch, washed, dried, stems removed and leaves plucked – keep a few stems with leaves intact for decoration 
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • a good quality mild olive oil
  • 2 Burrata (approx. 350g), torn into nice chuncks (or leave whole if using small Burrata, also called „Burratina“)
  • herbed grilled chicken breasts or salmon (optional)

  1. Prepare the orechiette: put a large pot of deep water to a boil. Salt it generously, as you do for pasta. Always salt the water and let it come back to the boil again before adding your pasta. Add the orechiette to the boiling water and simmer for about 12 minutes (or follow the package instructions), testing regularly for doneness, until tender but retaining some bite (al dente). Drain thoroughly, tip into a bowl then drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat evenly. This will stop the orechiette from sticking together. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the broad beans: after you have removed the pods, blanch the broad beans in boiling, salted water for a couple of minutes (about 2 to 3) and then drain. Cool. Remove the tough skins. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the aubergine slices: heat the oil in a grillpan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced aubergine and salt well. Fry until you see grill marks and the slices are cooked through. Then transfer the aubergine slices to a paper-lined plate to drain off some of the oil. Cut in half or quarters.
  4. Prepare the spring onions and garlic: warm some more of the oil in a  shallow pan, add the sliced spring onions and garlic and fry them gently until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Now add the drained orechiette to the pan, together with the grilled aubergine slices and drained broad beans, continue to fry gently until warmed through. Turn off the heat, add the watercress leaves to the pan, season with salt and black pepper to taste, then stir briefly to let it wilt ever so slightly.
  6. To serve, ladle the orechiette and veg into individual bowls or one large bowl and then serve with sliced, herbed chciken breast, salmon or as it and place burrata on top. Decorate with a few watercress stems.

Buratta pugliese is becoming increasingly popular and is an insanely decadent cheese. It is made in a similar way to mozzarella. It is a cooked curd, and the only real difference is that it is made with cow's milk, not buffalo's milk like the Mozzarella di Bufala. The curd is stretched, and the stringy pieces of curd tucked inside, making little pouches. Some cream, or panna, is then added into the pouch, and a knot is tied at the top before the pouches are placed in brine.

The way to serve burrata is very simple, as it has a peculiarly delicate and special flavor, you can serve it with grilled bread or you could serve it with seasonal tomatoes and basil with a drizzle of olive oil on top. Again, a typical strong-tasting olive oil from Puglia would be most authentic. But it also wonderful when integrated in a pasta dish such as this one.

One of the qualities I love about pasta called Orecchiette is the texture and size.  If made correctly, and boiled for the right amount of time, you’ll end up with a lovely, al dente, bite-size pasta morcel that will go brilliantly with a variety of sauces. Orechiette literally translates to "little ears" in Italian. Outside of Italy you can find Orecchiette in specialty Italian food shops or in other grocery stores who stock import foods. The same holds true for Burrata or Burrata Pugliese - chances are you will have to go out there and look for it nnd then order it - but this insanely decadent treat is worth the effort. If you cannot find it, use Mozzarella di Bufala.

You can combine the pasta recipe with grilled herbed chicken breasts or salmon or enjoy on it its own. When you taste this dish, you will notice that the texture of the pasta is slightly grainy, and the flavor is deep and toasty which in turn combines rather well with the creamy broad beans, mild Burrata, slightly smoky aubergine slices and decidedly peppery watercress.

And never underestimate the reaction you will get to the color of this amazing, and yes somewhat elusive, Pasta con grano arso.