Pumpkin cake – an idea for Thanksgiving

Are we the luckiest creatures on the planet? Us, humans? Mum?

I didn’t see it coming. How could I? Just a few minutes earlier his greatest concern was the flavour of the cough sirup. Although the pharmacist claimed that there is no alcohol in it I still blame the cough sirup! After I consoled myself, I asked a question back – which is the mighty weapon when you need one. “Why do you think we humans, could be the luckiest ones?”

“Because if we need water we just turn the tap on and if we need any food we go to the market. It’s not the same for animals, they have to find water and hunt for food…So, do you think we are the luckiest creatures on the planet? Mum?”

I don’t have all the answers, sometimes I am not even close to the answer but I know one thing – we are certainly lucky enough to be able to produce things and make ourselves and others happy. We are lucky to have each other in our lives and for that we should be thankful! Which brings me to the subject of this post.

I did a little research and I found out that Thanksgiving comes to Canada first! I also consulted my husband’s family (the part that live in Canada), to confirm that pumpkin pie is the dessert for that occasion. I was all set for the project. But while I was organising my thoughts on pumpkin pie, this cake was coming back to me over and over again. One learns very fast that ignoring a food urge makes no sense at all. It will find its way to the kitchen and our dinner table anyway! Therefore one should embrace new ideas and go for it.

So, this is not going to be a post about a pumpkin pie. That post will need to wait some other Thanksgiving still to come. Instead we are indulging ourselves with this gorgeous pumpkin cake. I have to say the inspiration came from this carrot cake I made some time ago. I simply love that cake batter and I knew it’d go nicely with pumpkin.

I wonder if we can count this as an Thanksgiving treat? If not, well it is simple a treat, no reason needed.

Pumpkin cake

6 eggs

250 gr sugar

250 ml vegetable oil

300 gr plain flour

120 gr oats

80 gr raisins

1 1/2 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 vanilla pod

1 teaspoon ginger powder

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

For the icing:

200 gr butter (room temperature)

500 gr cream cheese

200 gr icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line with baking paper three 6″ round baking tins.

Separate egg yolk from egg whites. Whisk egg yolks with sugar for a few minutes until the batter beomes light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of mixer and add oil slowly to it.

Mix the flours with the sea salt and baking powder. Fold into the egg mixture.

Grate pumpkin and add to the flour and egg mixture. Scrape vanilla pod and add to the mixture (or use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste). Chop raisins and add them to the flour mix as well. Mix until all is combined.

In a separate bowl mix egg whites (with a pinch of salt) until soft peaks form and add to the cake batter,  stirring gently with spatula.

Separate cake batter into three portions (just over 500 gr each). Pour into the baking tins and bake all three cakes at the same time for 40-45 minutes.

Leave on the cooling rack until is cooled completely before assembling.

For the icing, you need to whisk soft butter with icing sugar for 3-4 minutes. Add creme cheese, lemon zest, cardamom if using and whisk until it’s very creamy.

Assembling the cake:

This cake bakes nice and evenly but just in case you need to trim the cake so it’s level, do it before adding frosting.

Place one of the three cakes on the cake plate. Add one full spoon of the frosting and spread with a spatula evenly. Place the second cake on the top and do the same with the frosting. On the third cake add twice the amount of the frosting and spread evenly. Frost the whole cake with the rest of the icing. Decorate the way you like. Enjoy!

Spicy Cauliflower Soup and Pear and Almond Clafoutis

The first creamy soup I ever made, was a cauliflower soup. The reason I remember it is because this soup was included in our new healthy diet I wrote about some time ago. Many things were new and exciting but this particular one stayed with us until current days. It was just a matter of making myself writing down the recipe, as it’s so easy to cook by adding things into a pot and not measuring the ingredients. It is an easy recipe to make and rather seductive in its taste so my guess is that it might become one of your favourite soups.

I don’t really like to use much dairy to achieve a creamy structure of a soup. I had to look for a different option. Imagine my joy when I realised that it is possible to make a creamy soup without adding full cream milk. I was over the moon with happiness! If you are one of those you will love it too! Just a tablespoon of  butter makes a whole difference to this soup – plus a lot of whizzing. It needs to be very smooth!

Another important note – the amount of chillies used for this soup is almost scary, but it’s necessary, so don’t avoid it. It goes nicely with the creamy cauliflower and most importantly it’ll make you laugh a lot while eating and afterwards! At least that’s our experience, and it never fails. On both a very cold, or a very hot day, I promise, you would benefit from eating this soup.

To find out more about cauliflower benefits, visit well-beingsecrets.com.

Cauliflower soup

1 cauliflower

1 onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 small chilli peppers

1 clove garlic

2 stick celery

200 ml water

1 tablespoon of  butter

To prep – wash and chop cauliflower. Peal and dice onion and garlic. Wash and dice celery.

In a large size pot add olive oil and once it’s heated add onion, garlic and diced chilli peppers. Cook and stir for two minutes, then add celery. Cook all together for another 2 minutes and add cauliflower. Pour in water and add salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until cauliflower is cooked. At the very end, add butter and stir until it’s all melted.

Leave it to cool down a little before transferring to the blender. Blend the soup until it is very smooth and creamy. I added micro coriander and some chilies before serving but that’s optional.

The famous French treat was just recently seriously considered as one of the leaders in our family’s world of desserts. Its name is – Clafoutis!

I remember the first one I ever made was with cherries. It’s kind of traditional one and as far as little google research goes, we are to use the whole cherries, with pits, in order to achieve an extra flavour.

While I am waiting for the cherry season to share that recipe, I’ve decided to go with pear and almond Clafoutis. It became so popular that I might never get to make a post about the cherry one, we might stick just to pear and almond Clafoutis. Then again, who am I kidding, a recipe not to be tested and posted – impossible! Stay tuned and enjoy pear and almond Clafoutis while pears are in season.

Pear and almond Clafoutis 

3 eggs

220 ml milk

150 gr sugar

80 gr plain flour

1/2 teaspoon almond essence

50 gr almond flakes

30 gr butter for greasing the baking tin

2 pears

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tin with butter.

Peal and slice pears.

Mix the eggs with sugar. Add the flour and mix well to loose any crumbles. Gradually pour in the milk and at the end add almond essence.

Pour 1/2 of the batter into the baking tin previously greased with butter. Arrange pears and pour the rest of the batter on top.

Sprinkle with the almond flakes and bake at 180C for 45-50 minutes or until golden. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Can be served hot or cold. Enjoy!

Walnut and raisin swirl bread

In less than a month we are to start our journey across the world. That always means visiting our family. We are all looking forward to it and we all have our reasons. The youngest one is mostly looking forward to the love and attention (gifts included) that he receives from everyone in immense quantities. The rest of the family, which are the two parents, are glad to provide the above mentioned happiness to the young one and indulge the grandparents with the presence of their grandchild. But don’t think that this is a sacrifice to us, as we, the parents, have our own little moments that make this time special. They mainly include wondering through the city, remembering and reliving our past, or making new adventures and stories with our son. There is a whole list of things to do but I am mostly looking forward to the slow pace of the days that any holiday should provide: short and long walks, time together, good food and small treats. Which brings me to the subject of this post. May not be a small one but it’s certainly a treat!

Walnut and raisin swirl bread is one of the famous desserts from back home. That means that it is known among many Balkan countries, as well as Germany, Austria and a few more. It is called StrudlaStrudelZavitek… or as we here know it: Swirl Bread (which I like for its descriptive name). One can buy it in any bakery or patisserie across the country but the homemade ones are always the best! Like many other well known recipes, and the same rule applies for this one, every household has a family recipe and claims that it’s the best one. So far I’ve tested a few, all good no doubt but one enjoyed the most always reminds me that it’s my favourite. It’s the one my mother-in-law makes! What makes it the best are not just the ingredients.  It’s made with care and love for her family and those are the magic ingredients that you can find only in homemade treats. She gave me the recipe and I follow it with all my heart. I can only hope that my family enjoys is as much as I enjoy baking it for them.

Walnut and raisin swirl bread

500 gr plain flour

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

125 ml warm milk

125 ml warm water

1 egg

100 gr very soft (room temperature) unsalted butter

For the filling:

100 gr ground walnuts

3 tablespoons milk

50 gr sugar

50 gr raisins

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Add the flour, yeast, sugar and the salt in a stand mixer bowl. Use a dough hook to mix all ingredients.

Combine the milk and water in a measuring cup. Make sure you warm them up to approximately 50-55C (too hot to dip your finger in it), which is slightly warmer than you need. Add the egg and whisk all together. The egg will cool down milk and water mixture.

Pour liquid mixture into the stand mixer bowl with flour in it and kneed for 5-6 minutes or until you get a nice and smooth dough. Cover with clear wrap or kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour or until is doubled in size.

This dough is very easy to work with, which is rather good as the work is not done yet.

Place the dough on the lightly floured working bench and roll it into a 20×30 cm rectangular shape. Spread approximately 1/3 of butter on top and fold a short half of the dough only half way through and then fold the other half on top of it. You will get a rectangular shape approximately 20×15 cm. Take the longer ends and fold them the same way making again a rectangular shape 10×15 cm, which will make one very chubby peace of dough.

Roll the dough again into a 20×30 cm rectangular shape and repeat the whole process 2 more times. This way you are incorporating butter into your dough, making layers which will help you bake a wonderful swirl bread. So, it looks like you have to use a bit of an old fashion baker’s technique here, but it pays off so much that you wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

Mix walnut meal, sugar, cinnamon and milk in a small bowl.

When you are done with making a perfect strudel base and you have rolled your dough back to a 20×30 cm rectangular shape, spread walnut and cinnamon mixture on top and sprinkle with sultanas.

Roll the dough, starting from the shorter edge. Transfer the dough into a greased baking tin and let it rise for another hour.

Brush with milk and bake at 180C for 45 minutes or until it’s golden brown.

Buckwheat tart with kale, Duch carrots and chèvre

Do you know when to use the terms as “tart”, “quiche” or “pie”. Do you find it confusing? They all represent the same dish just with tiny differences. With “tart” you have to be precise if it is sweet or savoury, because it could be either. “Quiche” is always savoury so you are safe there. “Pie” could also be equally confusing as “tart” so make sure to name it properly. When you add a flan or galette to the list, phew, it is so confusing that you really want to go to the basic and use the name as you need it.

A savoury tart with kale and a few more vegetables and of course a goat’s cheese would be a precise name for this one. I emphasise the goat’s cheese as for me a savoury tart alway goes with it. I am afraid my love for this cheese makes me less creative but I promise that any new ideas will be shared here as soon as they come along.

When I make a tart or quiche base I use a simple ratio method of 2 portions of flour, 1 portion of butter and liquid (quite often just water) to bind it. To the savoury tarts I add various herbs, fresh or dry. To the sweet versions besides just a bit of sugar, I add preferable spices. The rest is a creative process of adding different fillings and that’s up to you and your preferences.

I used kale, red onion, Dutch carrots and chèvre for this one. Although all the ingredients in this tart are quite powerful, just recently I was introduced to the site that tells you more about superfood like kale and I would like to share it with you.

Buckwheat tart with kale, Duch carrots and chèvre

200 g buckwheat flour

100 g rice flour

150 g butter

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons water

For the filling:

1 bunch kale

1 red onion

1 bunch Dutch carrots

4 eggs

150 g ricotta

80 ml greek yoghurt

30 g  grated parmesan cheese plus 1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon sea salt

100 g chèvre

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a tart tin (20 cm round shape) a with removable base. If  using one without the removable base then line the tart tin with baking paper so it’s easier to remove the tart once baked.

In a medium size bowl mix the flours, salt and add butter chopped into very small cubes. Crumble the butter with fingers until is the size of peas. Add egg, water and and kneed the dough just until all is mixed and smooth. Leave in an airtight container in the fridge for an hour to rest.

In the meantime make the filling. Peal and slice the onion. Wash kale and remove the stems. Chop coarsely. Place large pot on the stove add olive oil and sauté onions for three minutes. Add kale and salt, stir and cover with lid. Leave on a low heat for another minute or until kale changes colour into a bright green. Take off the the stove and remove the lid to slow down the cooking process.

Wash carrots using a sponge, carefully removing all the soil or dust. Remove the green parts.

In a medium size bowl mix eggs, add salt, ricotta, parmesan and yoghurt and stir until all combined.

Take the dough out of the fridge and roll between two sheets of baking paper into a round shape, 5 cm in diameter bigger than the size of the tart tin. Transfer the tart base into the tart tin. Arrange, trim and crimp the edges. Prick the bottom of the tart base with a fork and leave it in the freezer for another half an hour.

Once tart base is well chilled take it out of the freezer, line with baking paper, fill with beans and bake for solid 20 minutes.

Take the tart base out of the oven and fill with onion and kale mixture. Pour the eggs and cheeses mixture on the top.

Arrange Dutch carrots on the top, pressing them gently into the filling. Grate parmesan on top and bake for  40 minutes or until carrots are baked.

Sprinkle with chèvre just before serving.

Lamington cake

My first visit to Australia was a very short one. It happened almost unintentionally as Sydney airport was the last stop on our way to New Zealand. We landed at 5am. The first thing I noticed was the heavy rain outside. Somehow I didn’t expect that! The picture of Australia I imagined had nothing to do with the reality I could see through the windows. Also, I guess after being high in the air for so many hours we expected the same light to meet us on the ground. Certainly not heavy rain!

My thoughts switched very quickly to my immediate needs as after a very long and emotionally difficult flight all we needed was a cup of coffee and a quiet place to enjoy it. It was quiet at the airport, that’s for sure! Hard to see a living soul if I want to be precise, not to mention a coffee or any kind of treat. All the coffee shops were closed and all the treats one could see were behind the windows of display fridges. That was a sad picture. All I could think was: “Is this how things are on this side of the world?” It makes me feel sad just thinking about it, even now. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect much from visiting an airport but visiting Australia for the first time I thought even airports would be more exciting. At least that’s how I saw things back then. (In our defence, we were very young).

Sometimes we see the world through different eyes. Sometimes things might look sad, and other times happy but that still might not be the real picture. So I’ll tell you about my first real visit to Sydney.

Just a few years later I had a chance to visit Sydney in a much happier mood to start with. The fact that our trip was to happen just after celebrating the new millennium in New Zealand attributed to the whole happy arrangement. Still happy from a glass or two of wine and most importantly for surviving the biggest threat mankind experienced, the millennium bug and all other unnamed bugs, we headed for another new experience. An Australia Day to celebrate in Sydney and I dare to say – the most glamorous city in Australia. How exciting!

Needless to say those days were as nothing we experienced before especially when it comes to watching the fireworks, eating the lamingtons and coping with the rain! Unexpectedly and far from our expectations, on that magnificent day it rained almost throughout the whole day and when it didn’t it was so humid that we wished for the rain to start again. We needed an excuse for hiding within the plastic raincoats we had to invest in on the spot (and I am never ever to show that picture of me in a raincoat of an undefined blue colour standing on an open field covered with wheat hay).

But I have to tell you that the fireworks around Darling Harbour were magnificent! And the lamingtons, well I still do remember those. These are their reincarnation. Beautiful, moist and festive. Enjoy!

Lamington cake

I used my favourite sponge cake, enriched with olive oil. Olive oil will give the cake an extra flavour as well as a different texture. This way the lamington base is thicker or sturdier if you like to see it that way.

110 g plain flour

145 g sugar

1/2 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

3 eggs

100 ml milk

130 ml olive oil

150 g strawberry jam (I used this jam)

For cocoa icing:

120 g cocoa powder

220 g powdered sugar

50 ml warm water (or more if needed)

200 g desiccated coconut, to coat

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tin on the sides (I used 22cm round cake tin) or line it with baking paper.

Separate the eggs and whisk egg whites. Whisk for about 3-4 minutes or until they reach soft peak.

In a separate bowl sift flour, add baking powder and stir.

Whisk egg yolks with hand whisker add milk and good quality olive oil as this will affect the taste of the cake. Add flour to it and mix until you get smooth and thick batter. Add egg whites while gently string with spatula. Try not to brake the fluffiness.

Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for 25 minutes. Check the cake with a cake tester before taking out of the oven.

Leave on the cooling rack to cool completely.

Slice the cake horizontally in half  and spread one half with the jam. Top with the other half and leave it to set (I left in in the fridge overnight).

To make the cocoa icing you need to sift the cocoa and the icing sugar into the bowl. Add hot water just to combine, melt and mix all ingredients. My suggestion is not to make it too runny.

Spread desiccated coconut onto a baking sheet.

Cut the cake into 12 slices. Dip each into the cocoa icing and leave for minute or two on the cooling rack for the extra cocoa liquid to drain. It is less messy that way.

Roll each slice of the cake in the desiccated coconut and leave on the cooling rack to dry before placing into cake box.

Chocolate chip hot cross buns

One of the best parts of being a parent to me is the opportunity to exercise the brain cells and watch the learning curve grow every single day. I am not referring to the child’s learning curve here but ours, the parents’. I learn from my child every day! Most of the time something rather simple, and other times something amazing, but I equally enjoy the benefit of both. My favourite example of a simple and an ordinary hint would be our hot cross bun discovery a few weeks ago. I didn’t take these little treats seriously until my son pointed that way.

On one of our cruises through the city and bookstores/ice-cream shops days, which are nicely aligned,  with long  working hours, so a rather late afternoon stroll is possible, we decided to add a cherry on top by visiting a bakery as well. The choice fell on the chocolate chip hot cross bun, straight after the chocolate ice-cream, but on some days we have more fun than usual. The mother (me), decided to skip this treat but the son insisted I have a bite at least, as he (lucky for me) likes to share his experiences with me. One bite was enough to realise what I was missing all those years and needless to say – hot cross buns are on our menu from now on.

When I started thinking about the recipe the first thing that crossed my mind was this beautiful and unforgettable post about hot cross buns (just as all the others on the same blog) followed by a recipe, and my decision was made even before I had a chance to think any further.

I started with regular hot cross buns (as “one learns from scratch” is my motto) but the family was quite indifferent to them so I changed the recipe over to chocolate chip hot cross buns. I have to adjust the recipe to our needs and include the chocolate almost every time, and this time was no exception. Not that I am complaining, but honestly, the mother (me), needs to start a detox as soon as possible.
Chocolate chip hot cross buns

225 milk

50 gr butter

450 gr 00 flour

50 gr sugar

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

zest of 1 lemon

150 gr dark chocolate chips

For the syrup:

20 ml water

100 raw sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 rind of lemon

For the crosses:

2 tablespoons plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 tablespoon water

 

Melt the butter in a pot with the milk on a very low heat. Leave aside to cool or to speed the process place it in the fridge until it is cooled to room temperature. If the milk is too hot it’ll kill the yeast, if it’s too cold it’ll slow down the rising of the dough so room temperature is the best option.

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon and ginger powder using a stand mixer.

Whisk the egg lightly, add zest of one lemon and pour into the cooled milk and butter mixture.

Fold wet ingredients into the bowl with dry ingredients and start the mixer using kneed option. Work on the dough for 3 minutes, add chocolate bits and continue for another 3 minutes. I find this new stand mixer technique so easy and rewording that I am becoming a huge fan of the stand mixer era.

Cover the bowl with clear wrap and leave the dough to rise for just over an hour or until is doubled.

In the mean time make the flour paste for crosses by mixing all the ingredients, adding water only if needed. The paste needs to be thick but workable.

To make the syrup – place sugar, water, lemon and cinnamon on a low heat and cook until sugar dissolves and water becomes syrupy and golden in colour, at the same time being careful not to burn it.

Divide dough into 12 equal size pieces and arrange them onto a baking tray. Make the crosses using a piping bag and leave them to rise for another 25-30 minutes or until they double in size again.

Bake for 15-20 minutes on 200C or until golden brown.

Brush the buns with syrup (which is cooled down by now) after you take them out of the oven, sprinkle little raw sugar on them and leave them just a few minutes to cool down before your first bite!

Carob cake

Many years ago we moved to New Zealand, looking for new and bright adventures. A new start included everything being new to us. New country to explore, new people to meet, new jobs to start, and new life experiences! Perfect you would say! Except, there was one thing quite old and ruined in this perfect new world of ours, and that was the first house we decided to buy. The house we laid our yes on was neglected and unloved but we were young and enthusiastic back then and thus we thought it should be ours! We thought to fix it and live happily in it for many years to come.

We started with a rather impressive group of builders, but once some walls were removed, French door opened and bathroom and kitchen nicely done, we thought that it was a good time for us to move in! We knew that the walls needed to be done, and a few more jobs on top of that, but thought that we could do it! And we did! The house looked magnificent, at least to us, but peeling five layers of wall paper and a few other jobs were more than we could handle. After just a few weeks of living in the unfinished house we experienced such changes with our health that I had no other choice but to react the only way I knew – we changed our diet completely! All delicatessens and as you can imagine a lot of processed food was thrown in the bin and a new batch of greens (fresh and organic), found its way to our kitchen. So at least we had  healthy food on the menu every day and long walks along the beach (in-between house needing to be finished).

Now when I think about it, I am partially thankful to that experience as eating well is always a good choice. At the same time we could have done without the stress of poisoning our bodies I guess. As I said in the beginning of this story, being young and enthusiastic…can do more damage than good sometimes.

It took us almost a year to finish renovating the house. We lived another two years in it before moving across the world –  again.

While learning about healthy choices, by reading, talking to practitioners and friends, I came across carob as a new ingredient. I loved it from the very start and as carob was another way of having chocolate (that is how I saw it) I had to come up with a cake recipe. At this time we didn’t have a strong network of bloggers and finding recipes was sometimes a struggle. One would rely on books or, if you were lucky as I was, a dear friend could give you a recipe that you would adore. It stayed all these years in my recipe book, waiting for this moment to shine! It’s a wonderfully moist and comforting cake. Carob has magical ways to make you feel healthy and at the same time to be part of this sweet and delicious cake. It’s a Mediterranean tree and although it grows mostly along the Adriatic sea (I am referring to my background otherwise you’ll find carob in many other countries) if you go for a walk in one of Belgrade’s park called Topcider you will be pleasantly surprised by many carob trees! The park ground is literally covered with carob legumes at the  beginning of May, which is also a spring season.

According to some previous knowledge and recent google research – carob is rich with proteins, magnesium, calcium, iron and a whole list of vitamins like, A,B, B2, B3 and D. It found its way to the medicine as well, so as I told you – healthy and sweet. It has 40% of sugar! So let’s get back to the cake!

Carob cake

200 gr unsalted butter at room temperature

250 gr sugar

3 eggs at room temperature

100 ml milk at room temperature

200 gr oat flour

50 gr plain flour

100 gr carob powder

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

100 gr jam of your choice for filling (I used strawberry jam as this is the most popular in our household, plus I believe that it’s matches this cake perfectly).

 

Whisk the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (hand or stand mixer will do the same job). In a different bowl whisk lightly the eggs and add milk into it. Reduce the speed on your mixer while adding the egg and milk mixture. Once all is well combined add carob and on the end add flours and baking powder, spoon by spoon. Keep the speed of your mixer on low. Mix just until combined and poor into a lined 6″ baking tin.

Bake on 180C for an hour or until done (sometimes I find that I need more time to bake this cake, additional 10 minutes or so). Use the cake tester to make sure the cake is done.

Cool the cake on a cooling rack before cutting in two layers. Spread the jam onto the first layer and cover with the second layer. I never keep this cake in a fridge (but it can be done). It just changes taste a bit and I prefer when it’s nice and soft and on room temperature. The good thing in our case is that it never last for too long so room temperature is ok. Dust with icing sugar and slice into thin pieces as it is a very rich cake.

Like delights in like and peculiar thumbprints

A few years ago, I believe it was about New Year’s time, one of our friends a practical and a well organised woman, made a statement regarding the presents. She implied that she liked handmade, unique, artistic and above all beautiful plates and all other bits and bobs that could come along. It was a pure, simple and clear statement, which made our lives much easier regarding any future present for her. Since then I’ve been truly enjoying buying presents for her as I too love the same bits and bobs and nothing gives me more pleasure. Strangely enough it never occurred to me that I might become a recipient of such beautiful presents myself, which brings us to the million dollar question – How do you see yourself (or how do other people see you)? What is it that you like and what is it that other people think you like? A totally different kind of theme, I know, but if one wants to make a connection between a plate, a cookie and a friendship – one can right?

If I started with “similis simili gaudet” that should have explained everything about the above few lines. But let’s not made just an explanatory short version today, let’s add – a beautiful plate found a beautiful Russian tea cookie and they made a perfect connection. This is obviously a statement for the food blog.

On a different subject, regarding a different theme blog, I’d say – a beautiful plate travelled trough Europe and Asia and patiently waited in airbnb apartments and hotel rooms for weeks and weeks just to land in my kitchen. Because a dear friend found another friend, and a dear friend recognised another friend’s needs, and nothing could stop her, not even the fragility of a tiny plate and the zillion miles between the two destinations to make a friend smile… So the story pretty much goes this way – they lived happily ever after indulging themselves with small and precious presents from time to time; And that is unique, artistic and above all the most beautiful present a person can get. A friend!

Lets not forget the gorgeous Russian tea cookies nicely placed on an equally gorgeous handmade plate.

Walnut thumbprints with pink filling

300 gr flour

50 gr ground walnuts

1 teaspoon sea salt

250 gr powdered sugar

230 gr butter

zest of 1 lemon

2 cherries (I used frozen)

 

Beat butter with 120 gr of  sugar in a stand mixer until pale and fluffy.

(Hand mixer will equally do the trick it’s just that I recently got a present and I have to say I love it. You guessed – it’s a new stand mixer! The very first one in my life. Until now I thought that stand mixers were overrated and I always followed my mother’s easy and simple approach to baking which included a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, and lots of mixing by hand. I am not abandoning that at all but I am gladly adding stand mixer to the lot).

Add flour (previously mixed with salt) and reduce the speed on your mixer so it combines nice and slowly. Add walnuts and lemon zest at the end.

Take the bowl, cover it with clear wrap and leave it in the fridge to rest for an hour.

Once ready take it out of the fridge and roll into 22 gr (if you are as precise as I like to be) or just roll into similar sizes balls. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, making sure there is enough room in between and bake for 10 minutes on 170C. Take the tray out of the oven and press each cookie with a wooden spoon in the middle to make the desired shape. Bake again for another 15min or until golden brown.

Once baked, leave them for 5 minute or more to cool down before transferring them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

In the meantime make pink filling by mixing the rest of the powdered sugar with one spoon of lemon juice and one frozen cherry, and then decide if you need to adjust the thickness of the filling by adding more sugar or the colour by adding another cherry. Using a teaspoon fill in every cookie with nice pink filling.

Recipe inspired by Martha’s Stewart pink lemonade thumbprints.

Sourdough and caramelised plums as a perfect union

Many years ago we went to a Paco de Lucia concert. We were well prepared as we knew that he was a magician more than a musician, but what followed was more than we expected. The concert started with an exquisite group of musicians and it sounded like the Earth stopped so we could all listen just the music and nothing else. I was enchanted from the first note that travelled through the concert hall. The magic started instantly. I could not have imagined that any music could sound better than that. It became immediately one of the best performances ever!

Then, while we were all spellbound by the music that was presented to us – something truly magical happened. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t really sound like music – it was so much more! It was like all the universe stopped so we could hear only that and nothing else. That was Paco de Lucia performing! I could see a person playing a guitar but it was like my eyes were not compatible with my ears, and what I could see didn’t match what I could hear! Truly a single person with a guitar cannot give us as much pleasure. I was wrong, that was exactly what happened.

Now, even though you might be used to me telling a story that has nothing to do with food, and then somehow making a connection, I have to say that I was quite surprised when all these memories flashed back the moment I had a bite of the sourdough bread I bought for the first time just a few weeks ago. The time frame is important as I live just a few meters down the road from one of the shops where this bread is delivered every morning. All these years I didn’t know that this sourdough existed.

I might have continued to be ignorant of this fact if one of our friends didn’t came over one day with a granola that tasted so much more than granola! I instantly checked the label on the bag and that’s how I was introduced to the Irrewarra sourdough family business that bakes one of the most delicious breads ever! (Just to make things clear, this is not a sponsored post, this is just me being madly in love with this bread, and sharing this new knowledge with you, so you don’t waist your time as I did!)

This bread is now present in our household all the time. For some reason I’ve decided this time to add to its glory the caramelised damson plums from a local market (another hunt of mine as those you cannot find in supermarkets). Together they taste so good that the Earth stops every time I make it –  so that I can indulge myself without thinking about anything else.

Caramelised plums on sourdough  

500gr of preferable plums

50 gr butter

2 tablespoon sugar

1 star anise

1 vanilla bean split open (1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste)

1 lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ginger spice

The reality is that you can modify this recipe and make your own preferred version. This one is just the one I make regularly at our place now. I have to say though that sometimes I replace butter with orange juice as it’s easier on the cholesterol level, and it makes me feel healthier .

Wash and dry plums, split in half and remove the pit. Melt butter with sugar in a pot on a medium heat. Caramelised doesn’t mean burnt, which is what is going to happen if you overheat your pot and that is not a pleasant thing to do as the smell and waste of ingredients will make you sad.

Once sugar is dissolved add star anise, cardamom, vanilla bean and ginger. If you want to intensify the aroma of spices then start with adding them first in a hot pot and then add butter and sugar.

Cook for a minute, then add the plums. Cook all together for about 2-3 minutes just to soften and caramelise the plums (that will depend on how ripe the fruit is).

Toast the slice of bread before arranging the caramelised plums, and then drench the bread with the aromatised juice in which the plums were cooked.

Enjoy!

Mini olive oil and buttermilk chocolate cakes for a school boy

It was an early hour, I was still drinking my first coffee. Maksim looked like he was deep in his thoughts and just when I thought how quiet and peaceful mornings could be – the first words came out. Mum, does a train crossing gate have cells? When he saw my eyes open wide, he decided to explain – because it moves by itself! Hmm, well you know that train crossing gate have a motor that operates mostly on power and… Oh yes, I know, but what do we call those little things …? Oh yes, I know, atoms! You see mum most people think that houses are built out of bricks but you know bricks are built out of atoms! So the bricks are built out of atoms and then the houses are built out of bricks! Isn’t that right mum? Hmm, well…

This conversation took place just a few weeks before our new venture was about to start. Prep 2015 and Maksim as a part of it! If we ever doubted that he is ready for school, well I guess this was the time to erase all doubts and start just looking forward to it. And we did! We are still enjoying this venture that just started I know, but a good start is all we wanted for now! So a celebration took place. A few times now, really. We have baked many cookies and cakes, but I’d like to share this little simple recipe because I still think …”little cakes for a little boy” – even though he is ready for school.

 

I knew that 2015 was going to be special, and one thing leads to others- 2015 will always be remembered as the start of school for one little boy (and his nervous parents). Another milestone for our little family and another challenge for all of us! But the good news is – we were ready, and I know that for sure now because we are half way through the first term and still smiling!

This is to celebrate many new beginnings and may all be as smooth and happy as this one! And for all the mum’s who are as nervous as I was, I can only say – no need to be…everything is going to be just fine! Let’s bake a cake!

 

 

Mini chocolate cakes

300 gr white spelt flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

200 gr raw sugar

90 gr cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste)

3 eggs

120 ml olive oil

200 ml buttermilk

100 ml hot water

Icinig:

250 gr powdered sugar

1/2 lemon juice

1 lemon zest (optional)

1 teaspoon cold water

Heat oven to 175C. Grease muffin tin with oil ( I used canola spray oil).

In a medium size mixing bowl mix eggs with sugar using whisker. Add the oil slowly (like when you make mayonnaise) and whisk. Add the buttermilk and mix slowly with the whisker. In a different bowl mix all dry ingredients and then add to the wet mixture. At the end add warm water and mix until well combined.

Fill muffin tin 3/4 with the butter and bake for 20 minute or until cake checker comes out dry. Cool on a cooling rack until mixing the icing. Mix all the ingredients for the icing and pour over cooled muffins. Decorate the way you like!