Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NO-KNEAD OLIVE BREAD

A PICKLE A SCHMICKLE: IT’S ALL A MATTER OF TASTE

Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.
- Pliny


It must have been our Eastern European Jewish culture, but we were an olive and pickle-loving family. Our refrigerator was always overflowing with glass jars chock full of briny things of every type and kind: olives green and black, thick, crunchy slices of green tomatoes, chilly, crispy sour kraut, spicy hot peppers and tiny cocktail onions. And the pickles! Half-sour, dill, tiny sweet gherkins and those crinkle-cut hamburger slices, just sweet enough with that sour afterbite. Chips, slices, wedges, spears, halves, whole and even relish, we just couldn’t get enough, or so it seemed. Scoops of olives eaten like candy graced the dinner table, or the perfect buffet item, each glistening orb of lusciousness graced with its own toothpick, olives with the pit still in that one had to nibble around with the front teeth like little chipmunks, or olives pitted and stuffed with bright red pimento, the best to accompany a favorite sandwich. The occasional and much-anticipated trip to Miami to visit our Uncle Eli would always include lunch at Wolfie’s where he worked for a while, or those summer vacations in New York to visit mom’s family would invariably find us for at least one meal at some Kosher deli. And what stays in the memory more than any other about these wonderful trips to these bastions of Eastern European Jewish cooking? The tiny aluminum or fluted white ceramic bowl in the center of every table full to overflowing with a choice selection of pickles and olives, an unlimited supply ours for the asking!


Riding high on the briny wave of olive and pickle love, I joined lives and began a brand new culinary adventure with a Frenchman who brought with him into our union jars upon jars of tiny, slim, crispy French cornichons of deep forest green, just two tiny bites needed to finish each off. I fell in love with these sharp, luscious pickles, served and eaten so simply with slices of fresh baguette topped with butter or pâté. Grab the red plastic ring and pull and up will come a dozen or so oblong cornichons on a tray, yours for the picking. And if you are so lucky, grab one tiny, perfectly round, pearly white orb of an onion nestled amongst the green and *crunch* savor the sharpness in one lip-puckering bite. Later on we will, together, hand in hand, discover and bring home big, fat jars of big, fat Malossols à la Russe or espy and partake of the huge barrel hidden behind the counter at Joe Goldenberg’s Jewish delicatessen in Paris where one must know to ask for the fabulous plump kosher dills floating lazily in the brine.

And olives! Our own Mercato Wagner in the center of Milan boasted The Olive Man, a handsome vendor with movie star looks who would wield his ladle at our bidding and scoop down into the trays or bins of whatever we were in the mood for that day. Standing close to the chilly glass case, nose practically pressed up against the pane, we would ogle, ponder, hesitate as we tried to decide between all of the flavors offered. And it was here that I discovered and fell madly in love with Olive Dolce, known in France as Olive Lucque, beautiful cured green sweet olives rather than salty or sour.


And the next generation, inheriting our own tastes yet forming their own briny habit, grew to love the pungent, salty, snappy flavors of these bite-sized treats! More olive than pickle men, our sons grew up eating bowl after bowl of the green, black, brown and violet, salty, spicy, tangy, marinated in lemon or basil, garlic or hot peppers, stuffed with pimento, almonds, anchovies (okay, only I love the anchovy-stuffed olives), on pizza or in tagines, they can never get enough! Trips to the grocery store find our basket filled with jars upon jars of them, excursions to the market and we haggle with each other over our choice as we stand patiently in line, often compromising by selecting two different type olives. And maybe a barquette of olive tapenade. And some marinated baby artichokes. You see my point? But let those boys make their own lunch or dinner, grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich, breaded chicken cutlet or a juicy beef burger, and that jar or plastic sachet of olives will find itself hugged close to their plate, spoon digging down into the faintly murky liquid searching for each gem, those olives eaten one after the next like French fries and by the end of that meal the jar would be, yes, empty.

And then there is Olive Bread!

I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?
- Housekeeping in Old Virginia, Marion Cabell Tyree, 1878


This month’s Bread Baking Day #38 is hosted by my friend Cinzia of Cindystar Blog and she is having a No-Knead Festival! I first made a no-knead bread with my lovely friend Clare on one of her visits and I was simply astounded at what a fabulous, gorgeous bread could come out of no-knead dough! And then I bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. (fellow Penn alum!) and how I adore no-knead bread! It comes out perfect every single time! I have used their recipes for making fabulous perfect Challah and their Olive Oil Dough for both my Olive, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pine Nut Focaccia and my fabulous Stuffed Focaccia (filled with roasted tomatoes, rocket, chorizo and mozzarella).

It has been much too long since I baked for Bread Baking Day, one of my favorite food blogging events created by my lovely friend Zorra but BBD #38 has me back, for I could not resist baking a No-Knead Bread. And I have returned to our favorite, the Olive Oil Dough and made Olive Bread. Simply divine! What better way to share my love of both olives and bread than this wonderful, dense, tender loaf chock full of big, fat, juicy, plump, salty black Greek olives? Mmmm.

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
- M. F. K. Fisher


And I share this fabulous, tender, flavorful loaf with Susan of Wild Yeast and Yeastspotting!

NO-KNEAD OLIVE OIL DOUGH
Makes enough dough for four 1-pound loaves. Perfect for pizza, focaccia or olive bread.

2 ¾ cup (650 ml) lukewarm water
¼ cup (50 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbs (15 g) active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
6 ½ cups (975 g) flour (I used read flour type 55, you can use all-purpose)

Combine the yeast, salt and sugar in a very large mixing bowl or a lidded (not air-tight) food container. Add the olive oil and the lukewarm water.

Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon (although you can use a food processor with a dough attachment or a heavy-duty standing mixer with a dough hook) until completely blended. If you have trouble getting the last bit of flour to blend in you can use your wet hands.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (not air tight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough has risen and then collapses or flattens on top.

The dough can now be used immediately or stored in the bowl covered with plastic wrap or a lidded (not air tight) container for up to 2 weeks. It is easier to work with when chilled.

OLIVE BREAD
Slightly adapted to my own desires!


1-pound (500 g – size of a grapefruit) portion of the Olive Oil Dough
¼ cup high-quality pitted olives
About 1 Tbs Zahatar seasoning (dried ground Zahatar, sesame seeds, spices, salt, olive oil)
Olive oil for brushing the loaf

Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut out a grapefruit-sized piece. Using a rolling pin on a floured work surface, flatten the dough to a thickness of ½ inch. Spread the olives evenly over the surface, leaving about an inch around the edges olive free. Dust with about half the Zahatar, if you desire. Roll the dough up around the olives and shape it into a smooth ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball as you go. Place the ball of dough on a parchment or oven-paper lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic and allow to rest for 1 hour. It will rise slightly.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Gently brush the entire surface of the dough with olive oil and dust with the remaining Zahatar. Make slashes across the top of the bread using a serrated or very sharp bread knife. Bake the bread for about 35 minutes until a deep golden brown.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

DARING BAKERS’ YEAST MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE

Happy Birthday to My Man!


Something reminded me this week of the Palazzo Te in Mantua, Italy. The thought suddenly appeared and hung there, suspended in the haziness of time, nagging at me, tugging at my curiosity. I don’t know what made me think of our long ago visit to this stunning monument, husband and I accompanied by our then two very young boys, but it popped into my head and stayed there, begging to be thought of, analyzed, written about. Built and painted between 1532 and 1535 for Federico II Ganzaga, Marquess of Mantua, this building, although rather staid and regal on the outside, is a tour de force of artistry and imagination once one walks through the doors, a remarkable, impressive array of frescos room to room, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, spilling out into one’s visual path and tripping up our expectations. The artists, Benedetto Pagni and Rinaldo Montovano, created something that will last for a long, long time, something imprinted in the minds and memories of so many thousands, not to be easily lost or forgotten, a feat desired by so many.


I remember very little of the city itself, Mantova, Mantua, as long ago as the visit was, but the memory of La Sala dei Giganti, the Room of Giants, within this grand Palazzo, is imprinted in my mind as if it was yesterday. It was a lovely day, sunny yet comfortably cool, and the wide-open space of the approach to the majestic palace was comforting in its grandeur and airiness. Upon entering the Sala dei Giganti, one is struck by the silence and coolness of the room. I have images in my head of columns and beautiful mosaic floors. Eyes glancing up and scanning the walls, straining up towards the ceiling and my breath was swept from my body; Giants and Grotesques tumbled from the walls, out of the skies wreaking havoc and fury among the ruins left trailing in their wake. Pushing, shoving, the room seemed to vibrate under their cries, the crumbling of pillars, the avalanche of rocks and the humans scrambling out of their paths in desperation and fear. The artists had depicted, captured, the struggle between the god Jupiter and the Giants of Ovid who attempted to scale Olympus and claim Jupiter’s throne. Above us, in the center of the magnificent ceiling, Jupiter emerges from the light, powerful yet calm, admired by those encircling him, exuding the power that will vanquish the Giants.


But what stunned me more than the incredible artwork, the imagination and energy of the artists who gave us such an impressive, universal creation, was the graffiti scrawled around the room. Names and dates etched into the walls, tourists and students from all over Europe, from as early as the 16 and 1700s! Four and five hundred years have passed since some young traveler, student, tourist dared scratch his name into the beauty of these walls, and for what? Posterity or simply a good joke? Whether the one or the other, each name left behind, still embedded in the stone and in these paintings, leaves a trace of some living person, each one leaving their mark for years, generations, quite possibly an eternity. Such a small gesture left behind, surely forgotten as they returned home as easily and as quickly as all of the other tiny, ephemeral details of a voyage usually do. Try as I might to understand and visualize the lives of each one, to grab on to something that will give me a peek into what they were thinking, living, doing that day is futile. But it is this that fascinates me, imagining the lives of the long gone and what remains of their existence.

And fascinated by all of this I am. Visits to museums invariably find me pressed up against glass showcases containing bits of jewelry or forks and spoons, mirrors or drinking glasses. I hang back as we stroll through rooms of furniture, arranged just as it was in the time of this King or Queen or simple schoolmarm or factory worker. I breathe in as my gaze shifts around the room and I try so hard to picture those who once lived among these relics, wonder what they thought and did everyday. Yet what for sure does remain except these few scattered objects?

How do we leave our mark? Today is my man’s birthday and we ponder over the rest of our lives, what to do, where to go and we wonder if indeed there is a way to leave a mark somewhere, somehow. Life is fleeting and what remains? A few photographs scattered across the tabletop or tucked into the brittle, yellowing pages of an album? A favorite piece of jewelry handed down across the generations, the story behind this loving token fading away over time? A box full of hand-written recipe cards or a tattered old teddy bear, what will we leave behind? Or maybe a book or a building with our name on it, the fruit of years of our labor, or some recorded act of heroism, still there after we are long gone, begging an unknown public to hold onto our soul and keep it alive? But, after all, do we really need to leave something of ourselves on this earth once we are no longer here, or is it simply selfish, this desire to remain? Or is our time on earth just our own to enjoy, do as we please during this short stay?


Life is fleeting; the sound of voices and laughter, the image of faces fading quickly into time, blown away on the wind with the passage of the years and what is left? A token object held dear, a hand-written letter, our children and our name. Maybe we should try and find some old building somewhere and scratch our names into the stone or wood followed by the date in the hopes that the impression will be found many long years later by some unknown tourists following in our steps, treading the same floors. And these visitors may stop, hesitate, glance quickly around to make sure that they are unwatched as they reach out and brush their fingers over the indentations. And they’ll smile and try and stir up the images of those others, wonder about the sound of their voices, make up a story about their lives before they step back and wander off.


This March 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was selected by myself and my friend Ria of Ria’s Collection and we chose a recipe left to me by my own dear father, a Yeast Meringue Coffee Cake. Luscious and light, this is some scrumptious Coffee Cake, the meringue filling melting into the brioche type cake and adding a moistness and delicate sweetness that is utterly perfect. I made two versions: on one I scattered the meringue with chocolate chips and chopped pecans before rolling it up and baking, the original recipe of the challenge. The second I made, halving the dough recipe, had an apple-cinnamon filling, the fruit cooked first in butter and brown sugar, then tossing in a dash of cinnamon and some finely grated orange zest. I blended some more zest along with some cardamom and nutmeg into the dough then drizzled the finished coffee cake with an orange glaze. Apples, as anyone who follows my blog knows, are my husband’s favorite addition to any dessert. I have made him Apple Spice Cake for his birthday, the Apple Flognarde that he requested himself and the Cranberry-Apple Wreath for the holidays that he absolutely adored! He simply loves my apple pies. So when I can bring apples into his life and make him happy, know that I will. And since it is his birthday, the apples have it!

Chocolate Chip Pecan Meringue Coffee Cake

Apple Orange Cinnamon Meringue Coffee Cake

I would like to send these fabulous yeast coffee cakes to Susan of Wild Yeast and her perfect weekly yeast baking event Yeastspotting!

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE
Makes 2 round coffee cakes

For the dough:

4 cups (600 g) flour
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 package ( 2 ¼ tsps, 7 g) active dried yeast
¾ cup (180 ml) milk
¼ cup (75 ml) water
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the filling:

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 Tbs sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (150 g) semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup(100 g) sugar

Egg wash: 1 beaten egg, optional
Cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar (powdered/icing sugar) for dusting cakes

Prepare the dough:
In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm the butter is just melted.

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 4 cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured.

Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover (I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel) and let rise until double in bulk, 30 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling. You can add the chopped nuts to this if you like, but I find it easier to sprinkle on both the nuts and the chocolate separately.

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixer bowl – I use a plastic bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the eggs whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Make the Coffee Cakes:
Line 2 cooking sheets with parchment paper.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time, roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the meringue followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate.

Now, roll up the dough jelly-roll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring (I tucked one end into the other and pinched to seal).

Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. I made them rather shallow and realized that the next time I can make the cuts much deeper.

Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with both cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar. These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.

RESULTS: Beautiful to put together and gorgeous out of the oven, the cake was brioche-like without being sweet and the meringue miraculously melted into the dough leaving behind just a hint of sweetness. Don’t scrimp on either the chopped nuts or chocolate as the crunch and the flavors are the focal point of this tender, moist, outrageously delicious coffee cake.


For the APPLE ORANGE MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE
I made one coffee cake for these quantities, but can easily be used for two.

Add to the dough:
Finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Filling:
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
6 Tbs brown sugar
3 - 5 medium sized apples*, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

*use pie apples that will hold their shape even after cooking, slightly tangy, sweet tasty apples. I’ve used Jubilee as well as Golden for pies, and thought they hold their shape and are the perfect texture when baked, they are somewhat bland in flavor to me. I use Reines des Reinettes in France which cook down the same as Goldens but have much more flavor, sweet and just tart enough. Use 5 apples for 2 cakes, 3 – 5 for one depending on how much filling you want. Know that since the filling is rather moist, the inside of the cake won’t be as fluffy as for the chocolate-pecan version.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until you have a thick, grainy sauce, about 1 minute. Add the apple slices, tossing until all the slices are pretty much coated with the sugar-butter. Cook until the apples are tender and the sauce has been reduced to a glaze, about 7 minutes. Mix in the grated zests and the spices and toss until the apples are evenly coated. Cool the filling at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 to 2 Tbs fresh-squeezed orange juice

Once the coffee cake has cooled, mix the powdered sugar with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice. Stir until well blended and a thick glaze forms. Drizzle over the cake.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

VANILLA CARDAMOM MACARONS WITH CHERRY MASCARPONE CREAM

Spring Fever in Pink, the Spicy and the Sweet


Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
-Maria Robinson

Winter dissolves into spring somewhere between the damp, chilly morning and the golden warmth of the afternoon. Spring teases us, sneaking bouts of sunshine across the threshold when we least expect it, during the frigid cold of early February and the drizzle of early March then boom! she pounces out from behind the curtains, out of a deep, dark alleyway and, just as we’ve draped the heavy wool coat over the back of the chair and dug out our light-weather jacket, caressed our brand new peep toe sandals, she laughingly drags us back into dreary, gray hopelessness once again. Yet today’s brilliant light and gentle mellowing of the temperature promise true change. And this year the advent of spring brings with it other bigger, more important changes, from a bleak mid-Winter landscape to the awakening of a new season of optimism and flowering blossoms.


A mid-morning call pulled me out of a half doze as I wracked my brain for the perfect words, tried to write one, two, three different posts for three different recipes and I was getting nowhere fast. I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen playing with flour and sugar, eggs and butter, apples and prunes. Pure pleasure! Yet today I was lost, looking for any distraction to tempt me away from my work. And there was the sun, tapping on the windowpanes calling me outdoors to play. And then my cell phone jumped, shuddered and skittled across the wooden tabletop as it began to wail. I grabbed at it, sure who would be calling, as it is only he who calls. But to my wide-eyed surprise he asked me out to lunch, great big romantic that he is. An hour later we found ourselves in the car and he was whisking me off to a mysterious spot outside of the city, finding ourselves half an hour later at a lovely, rustic restaurant at the foot of the airport runway, nestled off of the road in the countryside where only the locals know of it. Wonderful food, simple yet flavorful, and it all felt like some secret lovers’ rendezvous.


Maybe he has Spring Fever. We’ve been hit hard this year, both of us, feeling the itch, as the days get longer and the breeze slowly fades to warm. Excitement is in the air and we can’t sit still. We stand in front of the great world map pinned up on the livingroom wall and dream of where we could go, where we could live out an adventure. We’ve been through it before, that itch, that craving to jump off of the ship of ho hum and everyday and it seems that maybe, just maybe the time is ripe to go through it again. Things have been moving fast here, to both him and to me, exciting things sweeping in with the warm weather and stirring everything up, shaking us out of our winter slumber and inspiring us to action! Too soon to tell the tale, I will simply warn you that when the time is right and the story is for the telling, well, hold onto your spring bonnets! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
- Charles Dickens

Some things we make happen, giving fate a gentle nudge or a violent push, and other things happen quite by chance, this or that falls into our lap when we least expect it but we grab it and hold onto it tight before it has the chance to turn to dust or flutter away, ephemeral as these things are. Life is only as sweet or as spicy as we make it ourselves.

Yes, I spent yesterday baking. It must be all the excitement of what is happening to the two of us that called for necessary activity and keeping my hands busy. Or maybe the arrival of springtime has me feverish, excited so I can’t think straight or sit still. I pulled out my egg whites, sugar and almonds and knew that I was in the mood for macarons! Macarons with the flavor of springtime, the sharp sweetness of cherries kissed by the exotic warmth of vanilla and cardamom would suit me and my mood just fine! Deeba and I had wanted to give this month’s Change of Seasons Mac Attack challenge something sugar and spice and very, very fruity and this would fit the bill nicely. Macaron shells flavored with a dash of cardamom and the seeds scraped from one Indian vanilla bean and filled with cool, creamy mascarpone sweetened and flavored with a spoonful or two of my favorite cherry jam. And they are heavenly!



It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!
- Mark Twain


Think Pink is the oh-so appropriate Monthly Mingle theme and I am so in the mood for Pink! The Monthly Mingle, created and run by my lovely, zesty sister Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? has passed the hostess spatula to another wonderful friend, Sarah of Maison Cupcake who has asked us to Think Pink! Sassy, girly pink mascarpone cream peeps out of the off-white shells which are then, in turn, sprinkled with pink cherry-flavored sugar crystals, just the thing to bring out the girly girl in me!


VANILLA CARDOMOM MACARONS
with Cherry Mascarpone Cream

7.0 oz (200 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
4 oz (115 g) ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites (about 3.8 – 4 oz/ 110 – 112 g) *
1 oz (30 g) white granulated sugar
¼ tsp ground cardamom
The seeds scraped from one vanilla bean (or ¼ tsp powdered vanilla)
Cherry-flavored pink sugar crystals (or any pink sugar decoration)

* It is recommended to age your egg whites by placing them in a very clean lidded jar or covered bowl and leaving them out at room temperature for 24 hours before making the macarons. Make sure the egg whites are pure and without any yolk at all. The bowl and beaters should be very clean and grease free. I find that a plastic mixing bowl gives the best results.

Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – inch diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip.

Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds together into a large mixing bowl. Add the cardamom and vanilla seeds and stir with a whisk or fork until blended. Set aside.

In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.

Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again. You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.

Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!

Sprinkle the pink sugar crystals on some of the shells (which will be top shells of the macaron "sandwich"). Lift up the baking tray and rap sharply once of twice on the bottom of the tray to break any air bubbles in the shells.

Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).

Allow the macarons to sit out for one hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched and not stick to your skin). Bake the shells for 15 – 25 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute or two.) Turn the trays back to front a little more than halfway through the baking. To know if the macarons are done, simply and very carefully (so as not to burn yourself) pull the baking tray out of the oven a lift a corner of the parchment paper and pull the parchment gently, slowly away from the shell (do not lift the shell up as the smooth domed part may very well pull off of the feet, leaving the bottom half of the shell stuck to the paper). If it pulls of easily and the bottom of the shell is smooth, then the shells are done!

Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool completely before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up or by peeling the parchment paper from the back of the shells. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.

When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a partner. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of either the mascarpone cream or your favorite ganache filling onto half of the shells, the bottom shell in each pair. Carefully sandwich the shells together.

If filled with chocolate ganache, the macarons are best tucked into a metal tin and left overnight. If filled with mascarpone cream, enjoy them the same day or the shells will soften.


CHERRY MASCARPONE CREAM

For each 1/2 cup (250 g) mascarpone cream, whip with about 2 or 3 tablespoons heavy cream to loosen until very smooth, fluffy and creamy. Beat or stir in your favorite jelly or jam, I prefer cherry, until as sweet, fruity and pink (or other color) as desired.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CUPCAKES WITH MOCHA MASCARPONE FROSTING

The rest is silence.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet


While the world out there gets smaller and smaller, the world we live in gets wider, larger, farther away.


With the click of a button we bring everything into our livingrooms and offices, the world at our fingertips. Television and internet bring natural catastrophe, man-made disaster and human drama, love and violence, astounding beauty and grisly horror up close and personal. Via the means of in-your-face news, we never need miss anything ever again and we feel as if we are there. Reach out and touch the screen, turn up the volume and listen to the wailing of voices, the rumbling of the earth, the rushing of water and the deafening noise of the bombs. Miners are trapped deep in the bowels of the earth and we are down there with them, a tsunami strikes on the other side of the world and there we are, watching the raging waters with those perched, terrified and awed, on a hilltop just out of reach. Explosions, bombs, hurricanes and there we are in the center of the action. Sitting warm and safe in our own homes far away, we become, nonetheless, a part of the action. No longer must we wait days or even weeks for the news to reach us in impersonal musty black and white. No more whispers in town squares or behind church stalls nor gossip and speculation over the dinner table or at the corner bar once the news has traveled over road and ocean to reach us, filtered, diluted and hazy. No longer do we need to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps or feel the emotions felt by those immediately affected, the survivors or the rare reporter who dares inch his way towards whatever he needs to bring to the rest of the world. Distance is now an illusion and within minutes, nay seconds can we, too, see and feel, experience and share what happens anywhere, absolutely anywhere on this now tiny, tiny planet of ours.


We travel, we move from one country to another with ease, comfort and convenience and experience strange, exotic cultures without needing weeks and months to return home again. We step onto an airplane and within the day, one rotation of the earth we now know by heart, we are back in the arms of those whom we hold most dear. When we have the means the ways are surely there.

Through the magic of telephones, Skype and e-mail we can now visit loved ones in the
farthest corners of the globe as if they were at the other end of the apartment. Voices are strong, loud and clear, their faces smile at us out of the screen bringing back memories of old Jetsons cartoons and the fascination those futuristic videophones in their extremely cool Skypad apartment hovering far above the earth created in our young, naïve minds. We get the news of joy, celebration and birth or illness and death, share it all as it happens and be there, flying faster than the wind, before the warm bundle of joy is brought home or the body laid to rest.


Thanks to modern technology, what just a generation ago was only experienced through science fiction and the imagination of writers, directors and special effect artists, we now communicate with dozens of people at a time, family, friends and strangers, with the mere click of a switch, the ping of a button. We announce our news and pour out our souls to virtual strangers and the sympathy spills in from the four corners of the world from people whom we’ve never met nor seen. Tragedy strikes and we can give money, donate food and clothing in the place of a warm hug or comforting words.

This past week, we have seen destruction, tragedy and war. We watched as the earth trembled, homes were washed away, the sky lit up with the fire of bombs and filled with radioactive plumes of smoke and although we see it all as it happens, breath held, eyes wide with horror and dismay, yet how far do we feel at the same time? Far in our helplessness and inability to act, to help, to comfort, to truly understand. I have also, once again, realized how difficult is the life of an expat in all of the excitement and discovery; no one can understand as an expat just how far away far is. A dear, dear friend lost her father and we cried together at the loss, her own stirring up mine. We cried together at the helplessness we feel as expats living so very far from our families, at how fast and easy it is these days to travel over land and sea yet how difficult and complicated. No, we cannot drop everything at a moment’s notice, leave husband and job behind to rush to the bedside of loved ones who may need us. Questions nag at us, do we go, do we wait, is it really necessary or will it be more important next week, because traveling for a day or longer one cannot jump over there then back again and repeat the following week. We live with the burden, the guilt of not being there haunts us every single day until it burns into our heart and eats away at our soul, but our two distant lives, separated by miles and miles, pull us back and forth, back and forth in a never-ending question mark.


And now, at times like these, we realize just how huge this planet is, how great is the world, how small we are.

Laughter is the closest distance between two people.
- Victor Borge


And at times like these, we switch off the television set, turn off the computer and go into the kitchen and bake. What we need is a little comfort and I find it in little handfuls of chocolate cake topped with something rich and creamy and slightly bitter, the better to wash away bittersweet tears. These delicate, moist, light cupcakes are full of heavenly, comforting chocolate flavor with a dash of the warmth of espresso. Each is topped with a dollop, just enough, of a bittersweet Mocha Frosting, improvised, made with about half a cup leftover Bittersweet Mocha Sauce whipped with half a cup fresh mascarpone until just fluffy enough, just creamy enough, just chocolatey enough. Just perfect. Now take one or two of these little cupcakes, set the plate on a tray with a mug of hot café au lait or milky tea and curl up in your favorite armchair and sit and listen to the silence as you think of only the wonderful times you’ve had with people you love.


CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CUPCAKES
With Bittersweet Mocha Mascarpone Frosting

6 ounces (175 grams) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
1 tsp fine espresso powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup (150 ml) warm milk
2/3 cup (150 ml) vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Line 12 regular-size muffin cups with pretty paper liners. There should also be enough batter left over for 4 or 5 mini cupcakes as well.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar and espresso powder in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. In a separate mixing bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the warm milk (heat cool milk for about 30 seconds in the microwave), the oil, eggs and vanilla.

Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, although I prefer using a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with stuff splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with perfectly smooth, lump-free batter is to first make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter of the liquid ingredients into the well and, with small, brisk circular movements, whisk with just enough of the dry until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free batter in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry, and briskly whisk again until aha! your batter is perfectly smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid and give it a go. Pour the batter carefully into your cupcake cups (transferring the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout makes this an easy, clean process), filling about ¾ full.

Bake until the center of your cupcakes are risen, slightly cracked and just firm to the touch, set but still moist in the center, About 25 minutes more or less depending on your oven.


Remove the cupcake tin to racks, let cool for about a minute then very carefully lift each cupcake out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting. They are, I might add, just scrumptious without frosting as well.


These cupcakes are also perfect frosted with my Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting or a Chocolate Ganache chilled just until thick enough to spread.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BOTTEREAUX NANTAIS: Beignets for Carnival

NANTES: PART III


A sea of humankind swims outside the windows of our old apartment overlooking the bustling main thoroughfare of Nantes centreville. From our perch above this never-ending flow of bodies old and young, male and female, rich and poor, we watched as fascinated children staring into a giant fishbowl, endless hours ogling, inventing stories about each one below us, searching the crowds for look-alikes of the famous and infamous, endless hours of entertainment, amazed at such a variety of people all congregated in this one spot, in our city, all coming together for our own private show.

Women in tight jeans and high heels, swags of gold chains looped around their necks, clutching oversized handbags and laden down with elegant, beribboned shopping sacks, les Nantaises scurried by, always in a hurry, affording merely a glance left or right into the glass panes of the less-than-designer boutiques that line the sidewalks of our own humble street. Rebels, homeless or not, dressed all in scruffy black, hair stuck out every which way, backpacks or sleeping bags strapped to their backs, cigarettes dangling from their lips, traveling in packs with dogs trotting at their feet, parking themselves in circles like Scouts around a bonfire, hands out to the passing shoppers, begging, nay insisting, for the odd coin. Teens skulking down the sidewalk, book bags slung over rounded shoulders, hair hanging in their eyes, the newest fad, or moving along in great crane-like strides, gabbing non-stop amongst their gaggle of friends, always busy, forever important. And not to leave out the strange and the unidentified, wandering the streets of this city like lost souls, waiting for the next bus to leave.

We stood at our post year in and year out, experiencing the changing of the seasons from one story up, this distance divided by glass. We watched as the Christmas decorations were hung, great ropes of colored and sparkling lights, garlands twining gaily up lampposts, and we listened to the holiday music piped in, bursting forth from loudspeakers across the tiny square just as the official shopping season began and all the way, day in and day out, through to the end. And two months later we watched as cherry pickers crawled up and down the roadways, yellow-hatted men coming to end the festivities as each light was unscrewed and dropped to waiting hands below. Springtime’s inauguration came with great pots of flowers in reds and yellows and shades of violet, hung from where those Christmas lights celebrated the winter season. Summertime arrived as bar and bistro doors were flung open and tiny tables for two or four were moved outside, turning the streets into lively, noisy terraces, the clatter of cutlery, the clinking of glasses amid shouts of laughter our own warm-weather birdsong.


And parades galore of every kind took to that street and we never missed a single one: Christmas, Carnival or Gay Pride, we stood at our posts, Marty in our arms, and watched, enchanted as larger-than-life snowmen and Santas danced down that road to our old holiday favorites. Or the brightly costumed, tossing candy into the crowds, bright, shiny, feathered peacocks on stilts or gaily decorated trucks, disco music blaring, bodies swaying to the beat, bedazzling the gawking crowds who never failed to join in the songs, allowing themselves to be carried away by the energy and spirit of the festivities. We missed not even one single manif’, those highly charged political demonstrations, monthly if not weekly occurrences in these highly charged times. We watched, heads shaking in disbelief and annoyance, as noisy, rambunctious union members, teachers, students, nurses and doctors shouted and waved their collective fist at the government, demanding reform while refusing to budge, angry slogans sprayed across banners and blasted from bullhorns, time and time again, entire communities spilling down the street in solidarity and determination before wandering off to our neighborhood bars for a cool drink and a smoke.


But we no longer live in that apartment, the hub of the universe. Our axis has shifted from the noisy, busy center to a silent place where few humans roam. From our tall, elegant French windows where we now live all we can see is the back of the Préfecture and the small Place abutting the regal green gates. We watch as, twice a year, the well-dressed upper crust political and military elite sweep through the impeccably tended garden and the grand doors for annual garden parties, or peep over our balcony as M. le Maire, our illustrious mayor, stands at attention in front of the Guard as honors are given on the Fourteenth of July. The seasons now slide one into the next silently with no fanfare, no loud, colorful announcement in the form of a parade or decorations, the only music that seeps in through our windows is the distant, muffled sounds of far-off demonstrations passing in protest in front of the Préfecture, symbol of the government. The occasional pop of a firecracker or the whiff of manure dumped at the end of the road by angry farmers gives us no indication of reason, no sense of time. Nantes, for all of her glory and size, is really just a sleepy little hamlet with an undoubtedly small-town feel and ambiance and here, just outside the magic circle of activity, all lies quiet and peaceful, as time slips by. The seasons punctuated by parades and demonstrations like inked-in reminders on our own private calendar, keeping us up to date, never letting us miss one holiday, one event, no longer reach us in the far-off confines of our new part of town.


We would never be able to follow the calendar or even remember one holiday if it weren’t for the bakery goods, the special festive treats that have been baked and sold generation after generation, the traditional confections announcing each and every celebration, welcoming in each season as loudly and clearly as any newspaper headline. Buttercream-rich bûches every Christmas, golden, almond-flavored, rum-infused Galette des Rois for Epiphany, tiny Niflettes or that special XVIIIth century-inspired pistachio-raspberry gâteau for Toussaint, All Saint's Day, Nids de Pâques, luscious cakes piled high with swirls of creamy frosting, dotted with colorful candy eggs nestled on shelves amid the chocolate bells, chickens and eggs of Easter, cellophane-wrapped chocolate fish for April Fool’s Day, every single holiday has her very own traditional patisserie, pastry, confection or treat and they all, each and every one of them, arrive on the same day and disappear as suddenly, all in unison. Simply walk into any bakery or pastry shop in France and peruse the display of cakes and such and you will never need any other seasonal or holiday harbinger again. Although I do love a parade.

Yeast Bottereaux

Merveilles, Tourtisseaux, Oreillettes, Bugnes or Bottereaux, these delectable little beignets, some feathery-light pillows, some crunchy, crispy confections, each and every one is a specialty for this Mardi Gras and Carnival season in France, the name and possibly the shape only changing from region to region. Trays piled high with Bottereaux, the rum-infused beignet specific to my adopted hometown of Nantes, cut into squares or lozenges, freshly fried, dusted with copious amounts of powdered or granulated sugar, begin appearing in bakeries and pastry shops throughout France shortly before Mardi Gras, and remain an absolute fixture through the end-of-March festivities. I recently posted a simpler, kid-friendly (for baking) baking powder version of the Bottereau on Huffington Post, which makes a denser, cake-like beignet, almost like a fried version of a brioche or our own Fouace Nantaise. Here I offer you the more traditional yeast version of this scrumptious, addictive treat. Lighter, airier, more donut like, the cake itself is barely sweet with a subtle hint of rum, the perfect delectable, backdrop for lots of powdered sugar. Eat them while they are still fresh and hot and you may just find yourself wanting this season to last just a little longer.

Baking Powder Quick Bottereaux



I’ll be sending this to Susan of Wild Yeast for her wonderful weekly yeastie event Yeastspotting!

Don’t miss the latest From Plate to Page developments! If you are an Irish Food Blogger, you may win attendance at our Weimar From Plate to Page Workshop! Our wonderful sponsors, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, along with Irish Food Bloggers Association is holding a competition you just won’t want to miss! Just follow the link to the IFBA competition announcement page for all the delicious details!


BOTTEREAUX NANTAIS
Carnival beignets from Nantes

2 ¾ cups (380 g) flour
2 ¼ tsps active dry yeast
Large pinch salt
2 Tbs (30 g) granulated sugar
3/8 cup (100 ml) milk
9 Tbs (125 g) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp vanilla
2 Tbs rum

Oil for frying
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Whisk 1 cup of the flour, the active dry yeast, salt and granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl.

Heat the milk and butter together gently over medium-low heat until most of the butter (about two thirds) has melted. Remove from the heat and stir until all of the butter has melted. Touch the liquid with the back of a finger; it should feel warm or tepid which is exactly what you want. Warm liquid activates the yeast while too cold will have no effect and too hot will kill the yeast.

Pour the warm milk and butter over the dry ingredients in the bowl and stir until you have a smooth paste. Add the lightly beaten eggs, the vanilla and the rum and stir until blended. Stir in one more cup of the flour mixture until smooth. Blend in another half a cup flour, forming a dough. Sprinkle the last half cup flour on a clean work surface and scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the flour and knead until the flour is incorporated and you have a very smooth, elastic dough, about 5 minutes.

Place the ball of dough in a clean, lightly-greased bowl, turning the dough to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic and allow to rest and rise for about 3 hours.

Scrape the risen dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness between ¼ and ½ inch (1/2 to 1 cm). Using a sharp knife, pastry or pizza cutter, slice smoothly into 2-inch (5 cm) strips. Then cut each strip into 2-inch squares. Heat the oil to 350°F (180°C) then slide a few squares of dough in at a time – you not only don’t want to crowd the Bottereaux but putting in too many at a time will lower the temperature of the hot oil! The beignets will float up to the top of the oil then begin to brown. Gently and carefully turning the beignets over once or twice or so during frying, allow them to turn a deep golden color on both sides. They should also be well puffed up. Using a slotted spoon, scoop up the bottereaux and allow to drain quickly on paper toweling. Continue to fry all of the squares of dough.

Place all the freshly fried, warm Bottereaux on a serving platter and dust with generous amounts of powdered/confectioner’s sugar. Eat warm and fresh.


Monday, March 7, 2011

CHOCOLATE CAKE with OLIVE OIL & MAPLE SYRUP

With Raspberry Coulis

THE DARK CONTINENT – Part II

All I know is that every time I go to Africa, I am shaken to my core.

- Stephen Lewis


The day broke bright and warm and I could already sense movement in the house. Hushed voices and muffled noises gave proof to the bustle on the other side of my bedroom door and I wondered how long it had been going on while I slept. I pulled myself from my heavy slumber and my dreams and stumbled into the tiny dining room where I caught a glimpse of Colleen at what had become her permanent station, in front of the computer, her pajama-clad body a haze in the splash of bright light that spilled through the window behind her and splayed out onto the floor. The excitement was palpable as I watched Colleen handle a final phone call, punch frantically the last details into her computer and Donald rushing in and out with his arms laden with boxes of forgotten goodies. Although we were all nervous as to how the day would go, whether utter success or dismal failure, we were all ready to face Food & Wine Blogger Indaba, Cape Town 2011.


Fueled on mugs of café au lait and toast with marmelade (eaten while tossing hunks of white bread to Tasha who scrambled for piece after piece as no other dog could quite do as joyously), I followed in the family’s wake towards the stunningly beautiful venue of the Indaba, Monkey Valley Resort, whose name alone intrigued this Florida-turned-European girl. Are there really monkeys hidden among the lush greenery, swinging from palm to palm waiting to play monkey jokes on the chattering crowd below or dashing back and forth across the white sand of the beach? The lodge was filling up quickly with South Africans, chattering away, milling about, hugging each other, each and every one excited to be gathered together in this one sunny spot. Pink, sugary sweet welcome cocktails in hand, we wended our way into the main hall, claimed our seats and the conference began.


I never get tired of listening to brilliant, talented, devoted bloggers and writers talk about blogging, the do’s and the don’ts, the can’s and the cannot’s, the should’s and the shouldn’ts…. and this group of wonderful people were as passionate as they come. And funny. Jeanne, Jane-Anne, Michael, Abigail and Phillipa, among others may have stated what for me has now become the obvious, the evident, but hearing each of their stories, listening to the words that tumbled from their lips so eloquently and the reason that I blog all came back to me loud and clear: Passion. Passion for the food, passion for the writing. And what is imperative through it all: Honesty. Integrity. Sharing. Is it all about the numbers? Is it only a great race to the top of the heap? No matter my days fraught with worry over stats, no matter my occasional jealousy that oozes from every pore of my body when I see others recognized or acclaimed, those who may or may not deserve that golden ring, when I am not, no matter the sleep lost for wonder of what I am doing right or wrong. No, I blog as these others blog or write or cook or photograph: because we love what we do. The stories of each of these bloggers sitting in this room are so diverse it is obvious that there is no set pattern or standard and neither should there be. Where would the interest be in that? No, each of these South African food and wine bloggers listening eagerly, anticipating, taking notes, breathing in every word spoken, every lesson shared, reassured me of these evident basics of blogging and reset me on my own personal path once again.

Jeanne & Michael, utterly brilliant! I love 'em!

After a lunch that afforded us chatting and getting to know each other time, Jeanne and I led a writing workshop and tried to impart as much information, share as many ideas as was possible in such a short space of time. We urged writers to think beyond the obvious, the expected and be creative when searching for adjectives: a simple eggplant, for example, becomes so much more intriguing when spoken of as voluptuous, curvaceous, silky, the hue of shimmering garnets rather than oval, smooth, shiny and purple. We pushed the attendees to think of a food or ingredients in a dish using all 5 of their senses rather than limiting the description to merely taste and scent. We had the group shout out the first thoughts that came into their heads when we called out a name: Christmas, Apple Pie, Spaghetti and told them they should search for inspiration in any form when writing for their blog: they needn’t limit their posts to just the food, that they should incorporate memories, trivia, anecdotes to create a story, an interesting, emotional, intriguing, enchanting place for their readers to visit. And we explained that they could consider their blog as their home, each post as a dinner and, as when inviting people into their homes for a meal, they should create an atmosphere, set the mood before serving the food, using words as they would cutlery, tablecloths, lighting, flowers, music…. And we hoped that each participant carried away a newfound passion and patience and plenty of ideas for their writing.

You see, I had not only come to listen and learn, to meet other bloggers and become a part of an even larger foodie community, but I had come here to share my own passion, my own experience and what knowledge or inspiration I could impart to others. This is, for me, as exciting and fulfilling as the act of blogging itself.


The day ended as it started, with excitement and joy, albeit with many more friends and so much inspiration. We shouldered our goodie bags heavy with bottles of wine and beer (South African Breweries), Griottines (Sagra Foods - can’t wait to bake with these!), gorgeous Wüsthof paring knives (thanks to Paul and Yuppie Chef), fabulous Le Creuset spatulas, issues of Taste magazine, cookbooks from Food Lover’s Market and Provita (Anne Myers) and fabulous Balsamic Reductions thanks to the great folks at Verlaque. And thanks to Fairview Wines for supplying the wines for the day – and more later about Fairview and a wonderful wine and cheese tasting out at their place with Colleen and Donald! Jeanne and Nick, Colleen and Donald and I ended this wonderful, memorable day with a very memorable meal at Harbour House restaurant on Kalk Bay in Cape Town with a special table overlooking the inky waters of the Indian Ocean crashing up onto the rocks below us, a spectacular bright yellow moon shining down from the darkness. No better way to end a day than with special friends around a fabulous meal.

Thank you again, dear Colleen, for making this all possible!

Chocolate Cake. I have noticed (how, you may ask me, did it take me this long to make this discovery?) that my most successful blog posts seem to be those offering a slice and a recipe of a dense, moist, rich chocolate cake. Ah, the way to anyone’s heart, it seems, is a chocolate cake. But how about one made with olive oil and maple syrup? This fabulous cake from Peter Berley’s cookbook The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, is one I have made many, many times in the past yet it had somehow gotten lost in all of the brouhaha of discovering and creating new recipes for Life’s a Feast. But a recent blog post and radio program on olive oil by one darling friend, Lael Hazan along with a brief discussion on my Facebook page which grabbed the attention and inspired the words of another wonderful friend and chocoholic Minna brought the memory of it rushing back through my head full force. So I pulled out the cookbook, found the recipe, measured the ingredients and now I offer this cake (for them) to you. With all of the olive oil and maple syrup, this cake can be nothing but incredibly moist and dense. At times I even undercook it so the center is gooey, like a French moelleux. The rich chocolaty flavor is infused with the earthy, almost woodsy sweetness of the maple syrup and is simply stunning eaten alone. But I have added Chef Berley’s recipe for a quick, easy raspberry coulis, which complements the chocolate perfectly. Add a simple dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream and there you have it, heaven on a plate.


A cake containing no milk, butter (unless choosing so), cream or such fats, I make this Chocolate Cake or his Vanilla Cake, also made with olive oil and maple syrup, for those around me needing something lower in fat and better for the cholesterol.


CHOCOLATE CAKE with Olive Oil and Maple Syrup
And Raspberry Coulis

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
1 cup flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups pure maple syrup
1 cup water
½ cup pure olive oil (or can be replaced with ½ cup melted unsalted butter)
2 tsps vanilla
1 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly oil a 9-inch x 2-inch round (23-cm x 5-cm) cake tin, line the bottom with parchment paper, lightly oil the parchment then dust the bottom and sides of the tin with flour, shaking out the excess.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the maple syrup, water, olive oil, vanilla and vinegar. Whisk to combine.

Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, though I prefer using a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with dry ingredients splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with lump-free batter is to first make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter of the liquid ingredients into the well, and with small, brisk circular movements, whisk the liquid with just enough of the dry ingredients until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free paste in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry and briskly whisk again until, aha! your batter is smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid ingredients and give it a go. Pour this batter into your pans and bake until the center of your cake or layers is just firm to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes, depending upon your oven as well as how firm you would like the center of the cake.

Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Slide a knife around the edges to loosen, the flip the cake over onto a cooling rack, peel off the parchment paper then flip upright onto another rack and allow to cool completely. Transfer the cool cake to a serving platter and prepare the Raspberry Coulis.


RASPBERRY COULIS
Turns a delectable chocolate cake into a spectacular dessert.


2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen, thawed
2 Tbs pure maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract

Purée the raspberries in a blender or processor and then strain to remove the seeds. Stir in the maple syrup and the vanilla.


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