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!

Spiced honey cake and a power of yum

It was just one of those lazy days when you can’t make your self  do more than go for a walk. We agreed to do just that and nothing else. So how did I find myself baking on a day like this? No answer there! I just simply found myself in the kitchen and between the dust of flour, a tablespoon of honey, a cup of buttermilk and olive oil…..maybe some walnuts(?) – 40  minutes later the cake was baked!

The cake looked divine, and needed just to be topped with something. Honey?, spices..? Yes, why not… But for some reason I doubted myself. I thought the cake might be too dry or crumbly, not sweet enough…”Mum are you baking a cake?” – (a little voice from the other room). “Can I help? Oh it’s done already”…”Can I have a piece please?” “Maybe after lunch” was my reply. That was the quickest lunch ever I can tell you that now. “So can I have the cake now?

Next scene: Me, nervously standing in the kitchen not willing even to peak into the dining room and him, happily engaged with the piece of cake and then I heard! “Yum! This is a yummy cake.” He said that mostly to himself, as I could hardly hear him but nonetheless, that turned my head around. All my doubts disappeared instantly.

Testing a cake is the best thing ever. We do that every time we bake and subconsciously we would compare well known cakes or find the similarities with the new ones. But imagine a completely new recipe with all the dilemmas that can easily come along and just one word that can make all that disappear. Yum! from a 5 year old? But I figured, if he likes it, it’s worth sharing. Kids know best! We have tested the cake many times now and it has brought us the same pleasure every time. Definitely worth sharing.

Honey and walnut cake

250 gr wholemeal flour

225 gr plain flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon allspice

4 eggs

125 gr brown sugar

2 tablespoons honey (warmed)

120 ml olive oil

250 ml buttercream

120 gr chopped walnuts

Topping

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

This is a rather large cake, I bake it in a 27cm round baking tin but the recipe can be reduced and used that way. Half of the recipe will make a nice 15cm round cake.

Heat the oven to 175C. Grease baking tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flours, baking powder, salt and chopped walnuts. Beat eggs is a separate bowl, slowly add oil (almost like making a mayonnaise). Mix in sugar and stir until combined, then add yoghurt and honey and stir again. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and combine together using spatula or whisker. The batter looks quite dense and thick. You might have to use a spatula to spread the batter into the baking tin. Bake for 40 minutes if using the whole recipe or less (about 25minutes) if using half of the recipe.

While the cake is baking, slightly warm the honey and mix in cinnamon powder, set aside.

Once cake is baked, make small holes using wooden skewers. It’s ok, it won’t show much and it will allow the cake to soak up the  honey topping better and that is the best part! The cake is a bit crumbly on day one but as time passes it becomes softer and you can taste the honey even better. We came up to day 3 and that is with a large cake. I am sure that it can taste good for up to 5 days! But I am not talking from personal experience.

Bon appétit!

Gluten free hidden treasure – almond cake

Awakening – Anthony de Mello, were my first thoughts this morning. I reached for the book on my shelf, read so many times and yet needed to be read one more time. This simple and nourishing book is needed occasionally to awaken me. That would be the simple but honest reason. The other might be a sleepless night, blurred thoughts and the need for (besides a strong coffee) a straight and fast quality in my life.

The interesting part of this story though, is that  just a few shelves away from my brain cell stimulating books, I keep my other nourishing books (or at last some of them, because honestly  they are all around the house, refusing to find one place to stay). I am talking about ones with all the magic ingredients for a sweet life, the ones that give you instant relief amongst all the answers. And the right answer always is – indulge yourself! (because we are a selfish species anyway – a very rough description of much deeper thoughts of the above mentioned wise person).

So what happened here today is that I fed myself twice. Since I took two books, or to be more precise a book and a note book also known as recipe book in my house, and without a vivid explanation I reached for an almost forgotten, slightly mysterious recipe called Almond cake! What could possibly be mysterious about Almond cake ? Well you see all the recipes in my recipe book have a short explanation about their background. Even just a name of the person who gave me the recipe would tell me a lot about a desert, but in this case there was no explanation on the background subject, except for my smudgy handwriting at the right top corner, saying “Auntie’s cake”?! Don’t laugh! I spent whole morning thinking about the mysterious Auntie, since we are not talking about my Auntie here. Whose Auntie that could be and why didn’t I write a clearer explanation? No answer here: again, all the answers are in the cake. And the cake itself! Oh you need to taste this one, as my words are simply not enough!

The cake is made from four ingredients. Like many old recipes, it’s simple to make but divine in it’s simplicity and most importantly it’s gluten free! I used unblanched almonds (the only reason is laziness since I couldn’t get the blanched ones and couldn’t be bothered to blanche and dry them for a few hours) so the cake is slightly darker that it should be. Not a problem at all.  As a matter of fact, if you find yourself to be in the same situation, don’t hesitate to do the same. Also I love the almond essence twist. The cake is quite moist thus can be served as it is and enjoyed. Of course your preference may be different so you can  serve it with whipped cream or maybe adding lemon zest can make it even better. I’ll leave it to you!

Almond cake – gluten free

5 eggs

125 gr caster sugar

125 gr unsalted butter (melted and left to cool on a room temperature)

150 gr almond meal

1 1/2 teaspoon almond essence

pinch of salt

Heat oven to 180 C. Grease and line with baking paper 22cm round tin.

If you don’t use almond meal, the one you can buy at the markets you can grind the blanched (also can be both at the supermarkets) or unblanched ones until very fine.

Separate the yolks from the whites and place them in two bowls. In the one with the egg yolks add the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes or until very pale and light. Add the butter and beat until all combined. Reduce the speed of your mixer and add almond essence and almond meal. Mix until all incorporated.

Add sea salt in the bowl with the egg whites and beat for 4-5 minutes or until egg whites are stiff and glossy. Combine two mixtures by adding the egg whites to the other mix, mixing gently with a spatula so you don’t lose the air from the egg whites.

Pour into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45-50 minutes to until cake tester comes out clean.

Cool on a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Polenta pound cake with strawberry jam glazing

Sometimes the words are not enough, you just have to bake a cake! Nonetheless, I would like to add a word or two – as I always do. This year has been amazing for me. There are a few reasons, but the one I am particularly proud of is this space and me being brave (and persistent) enough to make the start. I should really stop here and save a word or two for my end of a first year in blogging post, as I plan to achieve that, but the end of the year makes me reflecting on a few things. Plus, besides celebrating the end of the year and start of the new one, I get to celebrate my birthday as well, so one calendar year means literally one personal year to me.

Yes, I am almost a Christmas baby – you can guess how many times I’ve heard that one before. I’ll just add regarding the timing, the only stressful part for me (when I was little) was getting enough presents for all the occasions – which I did, so no harm done. Nowadays I am happy to go out for a dinner with my husband or host a dinner party at our place, that is all – oh and maybe a small and thoughtful present.

Of course, there is always a cake. I’ve mentioned earlier that since I remembered we had a chocolate cake, Sacher, in particular, for all our birthday parties. This time, I’ve decided that it has been a precedent long enough and it is time for a change. Luckily I am the main baker in the house so voilà this time on the menu is – polenta pound cake.

Polenta pound cake 

150 gr maize flour

30 gr polenta

60 gr rice flour

60 gr semolina

1 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

150 ml milk (add juice of half lemon before pour into a mixture)

120 ml olive oil

3 eggs

180 gr raw sugar

1 lemon zest

icing

100 gr strawberry jam

250 gr powdered sugar

juice of half lemon

Heat oven to 180C.

In a medium size bowl pulse eggs with sugar until pale. Add milk, olive oil, lemon zest and pulse again. Add flours and baking powder and mix until loose all lumps. Pour into a greased 6″ round tin  and bake for 40 minutes or until cake sticker comes out dry.

Cool onto a cooling rack until completely cool, then spread strawberry jam on the top (if jam is too thick add a drop of water to make it thinner).

Mix powdered sugar with a few drops of lemon juice until reach desired thickness and ice the cake.

Happy holidays everyone!

Yeast rolls aka kiflice

I felt almost guilty for having a fabulous day, doing everything I wanted and all in the  company of 5 year old. We bought a brooch that I had wanted to buy for some time (M got to choose which one from the choice of few though), I had a coffee in one of the cafes I wanted to visit and by the end of the day I got to bake one of my favourite sweets. Luckily Maksim loves buying new things, he is becoming a fan of  hot chocolate and baking is one of his favourite things to do (not a surprise really) actually we bake together so often that I should have called this space – baking with my son, that would be so true. So maybe I should feel less guilty?! Because after all I made sure we filled a few rolls with chocolate – just to be on the safe side because although sesame seeds are one of his favourite, I doubted tahini filling would make Maksim’s day as much as it made mine.

Kiflice (diminutive from Kifle), savory or sweet are on our home menu quite often, maybe even too often, but we just love them. Originally from Austria but well known in the whole of Europe and I am sure every house has it’s own recipe inherited through generations. It is one of those treats that every grandmother in the Balkan regions will bake just to make the home warmer  or more welcoming to family and neighbours . On a rainy day like the one today, when we run around early in the morning to finish our errands just to have enough time during the day to enjoy the slow process of baking – I bake these.

I made a half quantity today, because the whole one is too generous unless you have people coming over or are planning a picnic with friends for example. This batch will provide 16 rolls and I made a fair share for all of us, filling them with three different fillings. Chocolate for the youngest one, tahini and honey mostly for myself and mandarine and orange marmalade for my husband. Of course I got to taste all of them and because of that no sweets for me in the next, hmm, day or two I guess!

Kiflice – rolls

550 gr plain flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 full teaspoons dry yeast

2 eggs

1 egg white lightly beaten

250 ml milk (I used soy)

75 ml olive oil

jam, chocolate or your choice for filling

In a large bowl add flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a different bowl or jug, whisk warm milk with eggs, just to combine them. Mix flour mixture thoroughly with a wooden spoon, make a well in the middle and pour in warm milk with eggs and oil. Mix again with a spoon and knead for a few minutes or until you get nice and smooth dough. (Add flour if you need – meaning the dough shouldn’t be sticky). Leave in the bowl, covered with a cotton cloth, for an hour to rise.

Once the dough is ready, roll into a round shape (25-30 cm in diameter), 0.5 cm thick. I start with a cross in the middle and then just cut around until I get pieces the size I like. You should have 16 rather long triangles, which are great for rolling into rolls. Top everyone with topping of your choice, (marmalade is the most common one) on the wider end. That is the starting point for rolling as well, so you end up with a pointy part on the top of the roll. Arrange rolls on the baking tray, making sure there is enough room in between every roll and leave for another 20 minutes to rise. Brush with lightly beaten egg white, sprinkle with sugar and bake on 180C, with fan on, for 15-17 min.

The biggest challenge is not to eat them straight from the oven. Then again, why not?

Upside down rhubarb cake

Rhubarb is one of my favourite ingredients to cook/bake with. It is as simple as that. If you want to make me smile, bake me a cake with rhubarb. I do that to myself quite often but feel free to indulge me more. Once the rhubarb was discovered, no other fruit/vegetable could compete with this one. I am not talking just about me here, at one point in its history rhubarb was more expensive than other valuable herbs, like saffron, for example.

Rhubarb wasn’t one of the vegetables I grew up with. It was discovered later in my life and since then it is constantly present in my baking and cooking. There is a sour flavour I love, the texture and the colour, which are the winning attributes that keeps rhubarb on the list of top ingredients to work with. But the actual upside down cake is definitely something that was part of my childhood and something that will bring up precious memories. You see, my mum didn’t bake much and as far as I can remember my older sister was in charge of baking wonderful cakes. Except, there was one sweet that mum would always bake for us especially on lazy Sundays, reserved for long and slow family lunches – and that was the upside down cake. She used to say – “it’s easy to remember”, almost as an excuse for not being a keen baker in the house. She needn’t have said that, however, because that cake will forever remain special to me, even when I create something so different, that only has the same name. My mother used green apples for the cake and that is a wonderful combination and certainly one of those that can inspire a person to create other sweet goodies.

Rhubarb and cardamom upside down cake

100 gr wholemeal Spelt flour

50 gr white Spelt flour

50 gr almond meal

½ teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

200 gr raw sugar

3 free range eggs

150 gr unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

35o gr rhubarb

4 cardamon pods (discard pods and grind seeds in a mortar)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of salt

Heat oven to 170C and grease and line with baking paper 8″ round baking tin.

Wash the rhubarb thoroughly and cut half of it (approximately 150 gr) into a 5-6 cm long pieces. Cut the rest into a 1 cm long pieces. Sprinkle 50 gr of sugar into a prepared baking tin, assemble 5-6 cm long pieces, top with a sprinkle of cinnamon. In a medium size bowl mix flour, almond meal, salt, cardamom and baking powder. In a different bowl mix butter, sugar and vanilla paste for 5 minutes or until butter is all fluffy. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and gently mix in smaller pieces of rhubarb.

Pour mixture over the assembled rhubarb and bake for 15 minutes on 170C and then another 30 minutes or until done on 150C. After taking out from the oven leave for 3-5 minutes in the baking tin to cool, then turn upside down on a cooling rack to cool down completely. I have tried this cake with many different toppings, mascarpone, double cream, but the truth is I like it the most as it is.