Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's chestnuts

There are not many things I can say about 2011 other than that it wasn't a very good year for me in many respects. I can't wait for it to end and for 2012 to begin.

I never do the whole 'resolutions' and 'looking back' kind of thing so I will spare you the trite speeches and grand declarations about the things I want to, will try to or never will change in the new year.

I am simply going to concentrate on chestnuts, mascarpone, savoiardi biscuits, brandy and what you can achieve by combining them together into a dessert. And that's an incredible chestnut tiramisu.

Yes, I'm aware that I have been posting a lot of sweets lately and no, I'm not turning this into a dessert blog. It's just that I'm in desperate need of sweet things in my life right now. Sweet, comforting and delicious things, and that's clearly what this tiramisu is.

Savoiardi biscuits, otherwise known as ladyfingers, are briefly soaked in a mixture of freshly brewed espresso coffee, sugar and brandy. I opted for Armagnac, a brandy made in the Armagnac region in the southwest of France, simply because that's what I had on hand, but the Greek Metaxa would do wonders too. Egg yolks are beaten with sugar to create a light and airy concoction, to which whipped cream and luscious mascarpone are added, followed by the chestnut purée.

Layers of plump, boozy savoiardi biscuits and sumptuous chestnut and mascarpone cream fill the glasses and are only separated by a light dusting of dark cocoa powder.
There may be many desserts with chestnuts out there but only few of them can achieve such a level of flavor complexity and yet be so simple at the same time.

Sweet, but not overly so, earthy, nutty and bursting with chestnut flavor, creamy but with a slight bite from the chestnut purée and positively elegant, this tiramisu is exactly what a New Year's dessert should be. Don't you think?

I'm wishing all of you a Happy New Year filled with health, love, good luck and happiness!

Thank you all for your friendship, love and support. They really mean a lot to me.

Chestnut Tiramisu
Adapted from here

Ideally, I would make my own chestnut purée for this dessert by roasting some chestnuts in the oven and then puréeing them, but quite frankly, store-bought chestnut purée is extremely good so I didn't bother doing it.

I used chestnut purée and not chestnut cream. What's the difference you might ask? Chestnut purée is cooked and puréed chestnuts, it is unsweetened and has a thick texture, whereas chestnut cream or crème de marrons is puréed chestnuts with sugar and vanilla, it is sweet and has (obviously) a creamy texture.

I used freshly brewed espresso coffee but you can also use instant granules. It's up to you.

As with all tiramisu recipes this one also has raw eggs. Make sure the eggs you use are as fresh as possible.
I want to remind you also that raw eggs should not be consumed by pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those whose immune system is compromised.

Yield: 6 small or 3 large glasses

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
100 g caster sugar
130 ml cream, full-fat
250 g mascarpone
160 g unsweetened chestnut purée

250 g savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers)
120 ml espresso coffee
35 g caster sugar
25 ml brandy of your choice

20-30 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, sieve for the cocoa powder

In the bowl of the stand mixer or in a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 100 g sugar on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with your hand-held mixer, until the mixture is white, light and fluffy. Add the chestnut purée and beat until incorporated. Because the chestnut purée has a thick texture, the texture of the mixture will be ever-so-slightly grainy after you beat it. The brilliant thing about this is that each time you eat a spoonful of the cream, you'll experience small chestnut-flavored bursts as you bite into the small granules.

In another bowl or in the bowl of the stand mixer (empty the chestnut mixture in another bowl and wash it), beat the cream on high speed with the whisk attachment, until it is thick. Add the mascarpone and beat on medium speed, until the mixture becomes creamy and fluffy.
Add the chestnut mixture to the mascarpone and cream mixture and mix it in gently with a spatula until incorporated, making sure it doesn't lose its volume.

Have your glasses ready to fill them with the components of the tiramisu.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the espresso coffee with the 35 g sugar and brandy.

Take the savoiardi and start dipping them one by one in the liquid mixture and placing them at the bottom of the glasses. You might need to cut them in half to fit the glass. Add a layer of cream on top and then a sprinkle of cocoa powder. Continue in the same manner, layering the tiramisu, until your glasses are full. I made 3 large glasses of tiramisu.

Place the tiramisu in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving them.

They will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, preferably covered with plastic wrap.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Christmas...

... I will be cooking a goose. I will be making goose fat-roasted crunchy potatoes (one of the best kind of roasted potatoes, the recipe of which I definitely have to share with you sometime), glazed carrots and I will be baking my own bread.

I have already prepared a chicken liver parfait—parfait and not paté because parfait is simply smoother, creamier, better—, cranberry chutney and I will definitely be making a tray of tyropita (Greek cheese pie).
Yes, Christmas is going to be a full day in the kitchen for me.

But after that, I'm going to enjoy these little round-ish beauties. Because, let's face it, for a chocoholic like myself, no good meal can end without chocolate. And since I will have already stuffed myself with copious amounts of the aforementioned goose, potatoes etc, I thought I'd better keep dessert as small and simple as possible, for my own good.

I know they're not glamorous, extravagant or incredibly elaborate but they fit perfectly with my idea of a sweet and chocolaty Christmas treat. They are essentially ganache truffles (a simple cream and chocolate mixture) and they're cinnamon-infused, which makes them even more delicious, if that's possible. They are dense and rich and the cocoa powder that surrounds each little imperfect round, gives a welcomed bitterness and adds a contrast in texture.

During the following days I'll be catching up on my sleep, I'll be spending some much needed quality time with S, I'll be watching Christmas movies while drinking hot chocolate, I'll be eating leftover goose and chutney sandwiches, I'll be going for long walks around The Hague and I'll be staying away from my computer.

So I'll see you all next week!

Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Holidays!

Cinnamon-Infused Chocolate Truffles

Make these for an after-dinner dessert or to give away during this festive season as a gift to loved ones or to have in the fridge for those late-night chocolate cravings.

Use good quality chocolate and/or a chocolate whose taste you really like as it will make all the difference in the flavor of these truffles.

You can alternatively coat them with melted chocolate (see here how to do it) or with chocolate sprinkles.

Yield: 25-30 truffles

250 ml cream, full-fat
2 cinnamon sticks
410 g good quality dark 55% chocolate (you can also use 70% if you like the taste of bitter chocolate), finely chopped
A pinch of sea salt
100 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Special equipment: small saucepan with lid, sieve

Place the cream in a small saucepan and add the cinnamon sticks. Heat over medium-high heat and just before the cream comes to the boil, turn the heat off. Put the lid on the saucepan and leave to infuse for 1 hour.

Place the finely chopped chocolate in a large glass bowl.

Remove the cinnamon sticks from the cream and discard them. Turn the heat on to medium-high and when the cream starts to steam, pour it over the chopped chocolate. After 30 seconds, add a pinch of salt and stir the chocolate and cream with a spatula until the chocolate melts. If for some reason the chocolate doesn't melt completely, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (bain-marie) and melt it.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, until the ganache is very cold and set but still pliable. Don't allow the ganache to set too hard, otherwise it'll be difficult to roll into balls.

Using a tablespoon as a measure, scoop balls of ganache, roll them in your hands to create a rough ball (it doesn't matter if they're not perfectly shaped) and drop them into a plate filled with sieved cocoa powder. Roll them around gently in the cocoa powder and place them on a clean serving dish.

You can serve them immediately or you can place them in the fridge (in an airtight container) to become a bit harder.

You can keep them in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for a week. They will become harder but not rock-hard; they'll be fudgy and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Zebra cookies

I'm not much of a cookie person so for me, this time of year is not all about endless hours in front of the oven, baking batch after batch of cookies.

The only cookies I do make repeatedly during the holidays, are Greek traditional Christmas cookies, melomakarona and kourabiedes. Those I can't live without. They are embedded deeply in my Christmas-cooking/baking DNA.

I have been meaning to share them with you for the past two years but something always happens. Either I don't have the time to take photographs, or it's too dark outside to take photographs (that's Holland for you), or I just give priority to other recipes, ignoring to post them altogether. I will be baking them this week though, so I do hope I get the chance to post them. Fingers crossed.

Every year however, I try a new cookie just for fun. Just to see what I've been missing. And this year, I gave zebra cookies a chance. I found the recipe on last year's Christmas issue of Dutch Delicious magazine and once I made them, I became instantly addicted.

These zebra cookies are quite easy to make and require ingredients that I am certain you already have in your kitchen cupboards. Flour, sugar, egg, vanilla, baking powder. Oh, and some icing sugar and cocoa for the dark stripes.

These are basically a kind of sugar cookie (an American/English type of cookie) and they are sweet and biscuit-y, i.e. crunchy and utterly delicious. But don't go thinking that these are boring cookies. They are anything but boring.

The fact that this is a two-in-one kind of cookie, really explains it. Two doughs, one vanilla-flavored and one enhanced with the all-encompassing flavor of cocoa, make up the stripy zebra cookie. Vanilla and cocoa. What more can you ask? Ok, some may say icing, a glaze, chocolate coating. Well, to those I say, do it! You can ice them, you can glaze them, you can dip them in chocolate, you can even make two separate cookies instead of one, if you're so inclined. Just make sure you make them!

Zebra (Vanilla and Cocoa) Cookies
Slightly adapted from Dutch Delicious

The vanilla-flavored dough is a basic type of sugar cookie dough which you can use to make many kinds of cookies. This dough yields cookies that don't lose their shape since it holds well during baking, but it is also smooth and very easy to roll out.

You can add chocolate chips to the dough to make chocolate chip cookies and you can make simple jam cookies just by sandwiching your favorite kind of jam in between two cookies.

These are perfect as Christmas presents. Wrap them up in some cute paper, tie them up in a bow and you're set.

Yield: 40-45 cookies


for vanilla-flavored cookie dough
130 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
185 g caster sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
280 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder

for cocoa-flavored cookie dough
20 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
20 g icing sugar

Special equipment: sieve, hand-held or stand mixer, rolling pin, 2 large baking sheets, baking paper, plastic wrap


basic cookie dough (vanilla-flavored)
Sieve the flour and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl, add the salt and mix it in.

In a large bowl and with a hand-held mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment), beat the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy, for about 10 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well until incorporated. Fold in lightly half of the flour-baking powder-salt mixture, using a rubber spatula. When it is incorporated, add the rest of the flour mixture and fold it in using your hands this time, because it will be a little too stiff for the spatula. In the end you should have a smooth, soft and pliable cookie dough that doesn't stick to your hand.

Cut the dough in half. Take one half, shape it into a disk, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30-40 minutes.

cocoa-flavored dough
Take the other half of the dough, return it to the bowl you made the dough in and add the sifted cocoa powder and icing sugar. Knead with your hands until incorporated. Shape the dough into a disk, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30-40 minutes.

Rolling out the dough
Take first the vanilla-flavored dough out of the fridge and place it in between two large sheets of plastic wrap. This will ensure that once you have rolled it out, it won't break when you try to move it. Roll it out using a rolling pin, into a 20 x 20 cm square.
Then take out the cocoa-flavored dough and roll it out in the same manner.
If you find it difficult to roll the dough out neatly enough to make a square (like I do) then roll it out a little wider and longer and trim it to 20 x 20 cm. Don't throw away the trimmings; use them to make some extra cookies.

Place the cocoa-flavored rolled-out dough on top of the vanilla-flavored rolled-out dough and trim the edges. Cut the dough into 5 cm squares (you'll end up with 16 squares) and make 4 blocks of squares; each block consisting of 4 layers of vanilla and 4 layers of cocoa-flavored cookie dough. Press them gently to seal the layers of dough together. Don't press them hard because they'll lose their shape.
Cover each block with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for 30-40 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Cutting and baking the cookies
Cover your baking sheets with baking paper.

Take the blocks out of the fridge and unwrap them from the plastic wrap. Take each block and cut it into 3/4 cm-thick slices. Place each slice on the baking sheet, spaced apart (3-4 cm) so they don't stick together when cooked. They will expand slightly during baking because of the baking powder.
Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden. They should be a little soft when they come out. They will become harder as they cool.
Once ready, take them out of the oven and place them immediately on a wire rack to cool.
Continue baking the next batch.

They will keep for a week to ten days, in a cookie tin.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And a side dish of carrots

I would love to tell you how this dish will change the way you view carrots forever. I would love to tell you how this dish was a revelation for a non carrot-loving person like myself. I would even love to tell you how the taste of carrots in this dish is something you have never, ever, tasted before.

But, no. I'm not going to tell you any of these things, because they simply would not be true.

What I am going to tell you is that if you're looking for a good vegetable side dish for your Christmas, New Year's, (or Festivus) dinner that tastes fantastic and is not going to bore you to death, then look no further.

Listen, I'm not the kind of person who serves side dishes just for the sake of serving them or just for the sake of filling up a dinner table. I'm the kind of person who, particularly at special occasions, I want to enjoy every single mouthful.

Every dish I put on the table has to be worth it and believe me, this is totally worth the twenty to twenty-five minutes it'll take you to prepare and cook. Yes, you don't need more than that, which of course leaves you with ample time to focus your attention on the other, more intricate dishes you're planning to make.

And as far as the flavor goes, imagine sweet, young, winter carrots glazed in luscious thyme honey, glistening under good melted butter, having the pungency of grained mustard and the delicate sourness of lemon. It is obvious that balance is key here, which is certainly achieved, but what is paramount, is enjoyment. So enjoy!

Thyme Honey-Glazed Carrots with Whole Grain Mustard and Lemon

I hate categorizing foods and saying that this dish is for Christmas, that is for Easter etc. This is simply a great side dish. You can make it anytime you want a side of vegetables to accompany a big, juicy steak, your favorite meatballs, or fish.

I use very young and rather small and thin carrots for this dish, which means that I don't boil them before I glaze/caramelize them. In case your carrots are bigger and thicker, boil them first for 6-7 minutes and then continue the process as in the recipe below.
Also, I don't like my carrots too soft, I want them to have some bite, so I don't cook them for too long. That is all a matter of preference of course. So, taste as you go along and cook them according to your own textural preference.

I always use thyme honey but you can use any other type of honey you have on hand.

Yield: 4-6 servings

500 g carrots (small, conical and thin ones)
125 g unsalted butter
1 Tbsp thyme honey (or any other runny honey)
1 tsp whole grain mustard (I used Maille à l' Ancienne)
2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Lemon zest, freshly grated (from 1 lemon)

Remove the green leaves from the carrots, leaving some greens still attached. Wash them well under cold running water and peel them.

In a small bowl, add the honey, the mustard and the lemon juice and stir well until combined.

Place the carrots in a large and wide skillet, in one layer. Add the butter and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has almost melted, pour the honey-mustard-lemon juice mixture over the carrots and add salt to taste. Allow the carrots to cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat, until they soften and caramelize, making sure to turn them every now and then in order to cook evenly.

When they are ready, remove them from the pan and arrange them on a platter. Pour some of the melted butter-mustard sauce on top and garnish with lemon zest.

You can prepare them in advance and reheat them when you want to serve them.