Friday, April 21, 2017

Vanilla and homemade-nutella pound cake

I have talked to you before about my homemade hazelnut-chocolate spread and it seems like I’m going to be talking more about it in the future because every time I prepare a batch, I make something different with it. I use it in various cakes, brownies, beverages (like this hot chocolate) and ice creams.

This time, I used it in a pound cake, a vanilla pound cake that needed something to lift it up and make it more interesting, and the resulting cake was like the best marbled cake there is, with the homemade spread making all the difference.

It’s very easy to make, you don’t even need to bring out the big guns, aka stand mixer, as you’ll only need an electric hand-held mixer to make the batter.

It’s a delicious cake that’s moist and dense but not heavy, and it’s soft and ultra buttery with an intense vanilla flavor and an even more intense hazelnut and chocolate flavor from the homemade spread. And that part of the cake is my favorite; where it’s softer and creamier but also grainy from the hazelnuts and almonds.

Getting both the vanilla and the homemade nutella part in one bite, however, is pure heaven. The combination is scrumptious and I had a really hard time having just one slice. If you too have a sweet tooth like I do, be warned, this cake is seriously addictive.

Vanilla and homemade-nutella pound cake

You’ll need about a third of my homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread so you’ll get the chance to eat the rest by the spoonful.

The homemade nutella makes the difference in this cake but if you don’t want to make it yourself, you can certainly use the regular nutella. It won’t be exactly the same because the homemade version of the spread has more balance of flavors, is not too sweet and has the full flavor of chocolate and nuts, but it will still be delicious.

Yield: 1 cake / 10 slices

185 g all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
5 medium-sized eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
250 g caster sugar
320 g homemade nutella (or regular nutella)

Special equipment: 21 x 11 cm loaf pan, baking paper, electric hand-held mixer, fine sieve

Leave your homemade nutella out of the fridge for 1 hour before using it in the cake in order to soften.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.
Grease the bottom and sides of your pan and line with baking paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, sieve the flour, the baking powder and the salt.
In a jug or another medium-sized bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and lightly whisk using a wire whisk until frothy.
In a large bowl, add the butter and sugar, and beat with an electric hand-held mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. With the mixer running at medium-low speed, gradually add the beaten eggs and beat on high until fully incorporated and you have a mixture that is creamy, light and airy. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat at low speed until just incorporated. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Add the last 1/3 of the flour and beat until just incorporated. Beat for 30 seconds more and then stop.

Spread 1/3 of the vanilla cake batter in the bottom of your prepared loaf pan, then add half of the homemade nutella on top and spread it or dollop it (I did the latter to get bigger pieces of it in the cake). Repeat with another 1/3 of the vanilla cake batter, spreading over the nutella. Add the rest of the homemade nutella and spread it (or dollop it) and finish by adding the rest of the vanilla cake batter on top. Smooth the top of the cake and place it on the low rack of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Note: Because the homemade nutella is made with actual nuts, it has heft and sinks a bit to the bottom of the cake. If you use store bought nutella it will probably stay put. You can even swirl it around to marble it with the vanilla batter, something which is a bit difficult with the homemade nutella because it is thicker.

Remove the pan from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut into slices and enjoy!

It will keep for up to 4-5 days, covered, at room temperature but I doubt it will stay around for that long.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Greek slow-roasted lamb shoulder with potatoes and herbs

It doesn’t matter if you spend Easter with your extended family, immediate family, your friends or just your partner, this Greek lamb shoulder can be the centerpiece of your Easter table. It can feed two to twelve people, if you adjust the quantities that is, it is easy to make so you won’t slave in the kitchen all day, and it’s all in one pan, both potatoes and lamb, the way Greeks do it.

Granted, if you have lamb on a spit planned, as many of us Greeks do on Easter Sunday, then perhaps you’ll forego this one, but do keep it on the back burner for a special Sunday lunch or for that special occasion when you have friends over.

This is the way I like to prepare my lamb shoulder, which if cooked properly, has a richer and fuller flavor than the leg of lamb.

The lamb is slowly cooked in the oven for a little over three hours, which gives it plenty of time to get to know all the ingredients in the pan, soaking up all those flavors from the rosemary, the thyme, the oregano, the mustard, the garlic, the lemon, the extra virgin olive oil. In the end, it is fork tender, falling off the bone and incredibly juicy inside with a gloriously crispy skin. The potatoes too are tender inside and crispy on the outside, and utterly scrumptious. And the juices? Oh the juices. Those are perhaps the best part. Take your crusty bread and dunk away. What more can you ask for?

Kalo Pascha!! Happy Easter!!

Greek slow-roasted lamb shoulder with potatoes and herbs

Make sure to cut the potatoes on the thick side so they won’t disintegrate as they will roast for almost three hours.
Don’t rinse the lamb before coking as it takes away some of its flavor.

Yield: 4 servings

1.5 - 2 kg whole, bone-in lamb shoulder
5-6 large potatoes, cut into thick-ish wedges
1 Tbsp mild yellow mustard
6 whole garlic cloves, with skins
3 peeled garlic cloves, cut into four lengthwise
3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs
7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tsp Greek wild dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
250-300 ml water

Special equipment: roasting pan, large enough to hold the lamb and the potatoes

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Place the lamb in the roasting pan and using your hands, smear the whole lamb with the mustard. Then score its flesh on 8-9 different places (bottom and top of the shoulder), making small incisions that will fit the pieces of the garlic clove quarters. Squeeze each garlic clove-quarter into each incision with your thumb and scatter the rest of the garlic cloves on the roasting pan together with the six whole garlic cloves.
Arrange the potato wedges around the lamb, in one layer. Sprinkle the lamb and the potatoes with salt, black pepper and dried oregano on all sides and add the rosemary and thyme sprigs to the pan.
Drizzle with the olive oil and add the lemon juice over the lamb and potatoes.
Add the water on the bottom of the roasting pan and jiggle the pan around to mix the liquids. You want to add so much water so that it comes up 2/3 up the potatoes.
Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes. Then lower the heat to 150°C and roast for 1 hour. Finally, turn the heat up to 165°C and roast for 1 hour and 45 minutes until the lamb is fork tender. Make sure to turn the potatoes (being careful not to break them up) halfway though the total baking time, and check from time to time to see whether the potatoes need more water. You certainly don’t want them to dry out. Also, what’s very important is that every 1 hour you baste the lamb, which essentially means that you take with a large spoon juices from the pan and pour them over the lamb (do this 4-5 times each time you baste). This helps to keep it moist and adds more flavor to it.

Remove the pan from the oven, allow to stand for 10 minutes and then serve. Enjoy!!

Aaaand if you are obsessed with garlic like I am, then after those 3 hours, you will get to eat the most delicious, juicy and sweet garlic ever. Remember those six whole garlic cloves in their skins that you added in the pan? Well take them out, press with your fingers gently the skin to reveal that amazing goodness and dig in!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Soda bread

I love long-fermented sourdough bread and breads that take hours or even days to prepare and develop flavor. I love making all kinds of sweet, yeasted breads like Greek tsoureki and French brioche, and even my doughnuts get a long overnight proofing in the fridge. But I don’t always have time for that, no matter how delicious and enjoyable the outcome.

There’s something to be said about a bread that takes only an hour from start to finish, a bread that has a beautifully crunchy, hard crust and a soft and fluffy, closed crumb. With a nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour, a sharp edge from the buttermilk and a subtle, bitter tang from the baking soda, it’s a delicious bread that is hearty and light at the same time, but don’t expect it to be like a yeasted bread, because it’s not. It’s a different animal; it’s the Irish soda bread.

The most common kind of soda bread in Ireland is made only with whole wheat flour, that’s why they call it simply brown bread or wheaten bread, but the addition of white flour brings a lightness to it that is rather welcomed.

For me, it’s the kind of bread that I would make on a Sunday morning to promptly have for breakfast or brunch, slathered while still steaming hot from the oven with the best butter I can find. Or use it to make a nice hearty sandwich with a few slices of ham or salami, good fatty cheese like Emmental, Gruyère or Cheddar, or go the Greek route and serve it with some feta, olives and juicy tomatoes, especially if I make it in the summer.

Hope you enjoy it too!

Soda bread

It’s the easiest and quickest bread to make when you’re pressed for time or when you simply don’t want to spend the whole day tending to your bread dough. It takes no more than a minute to put together, which means no kneading at all is required, and takes 45-50 minutes to bake. Within the hour, you have bread!

This quick bread is made without yeast and the leavening agent is only the baking soda, so how fresh your baking soda is, makes a difference in the resulting texture and flavor of the bread. I would suggest that you use a freshly opened package, because baking soda tends to get stale and less active easily and sometimes, even if it is still active and your bread rises, it may give off a strong and weird smell and taste.

Yield: 1 loaf (750- 800 g)

250 g all-purpose flour
250 g whole wheat flour
1 level tsp baking soda, sieved (to avoid lumps that won’t break and will cause an unpleasant flavor in places inside the bread)
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
420 ml buttermilk
Whole-wheat flour for dusting the dough and baking surface

Special equipment: fine sieve, wire whisk, baking sheet, baking paper

Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper and dust with plenty of flour the center where you’re going to place the bread dough.

In a large bowl, add the flours and the sieved baking soda, and whisk. Add the salt and sugar, and whisk again. Make a well in the center with your fingers and pour in the buttermilk. Mix with your hands to moisten the flour for a few seconds with the buttermilk and empty the sticky dough on a clean and lightly floured work surface. Gently fold and roll the dough a couple of times to bring the mixture together and shape it roughly into a ball (you can use a dough scraper if you like). Don’t knead or fuss with the dough, just bring it together and form a ball. This whole process of making the dough will not take more than 1 minute.

Transfer the dough onto the floured baking paper, flatten the top gently with the palm of your hand and cut with a long knife the dough ball into four, almost all the way down. You do this in order to ensure that the inside of the bread will bake properly. Dust the bread with plenty of flour and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven.
Bake the bread for 45-50 minutes, until it has taken on a nice and rich, dark, golden-brown color (perhaps even darker than you would think it should have). It should also sound hollow when tapped at the bottom.

Take it out of the oven and put it on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Eat it while still warm with plenty of butter, use it to mop up the juices of your favorite stew, soup, braise or salad, have it for breakfast with your desired toppings, or have it plain.
It’s best eaten the day you bake it but it keeps well the next day.