Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cherry. Almond. Cake.

Next week, I'm going to make cherry spoon sweet even though S is complaining. He doesn't like spoon sweets. They're too dainty for him.
I'm going to make it anyway. There are friends in need out there, friends who have never tasted Greek spoon sweets before and they really deserve a nice treat.

I'm planning on making a salad with dark red cherries. I can't wait. Perhaps tomorrow, for lunch. I'll let you know how it went.

But today, I made this cake. Cherry. Almond. Cake.

I could have stopped right here. Mention nothing else. I would be content with just that because I'm certain that those of you who share my love for cherries, already know that this cake is special.

Simple, as simple as a cake can get, with cherries drowning in the batter, releasing their sweet juices, filling up every corner of my house with their aroma.

Almonds, tucked all the way in the back of my fridge in a small jar, were waiting patiently to be used. They were indeed used today.
I stole some from the jar and snacked on them while I was preparing the cake. Baking makes me hungry.

Cherry. Almond. Cake.

It is everything you imagine a cherry cake to be. Spongy, fluffy and moistened by the sweet cherries, the almonds giving a slight crunch and a nutty vibe to it all.
It's sweet, but not the kind of sweetness that lingers and makes you thirsty for water no, it's the kind of sweetness that makes you ask for one more piece.
You know you can handle one more piece.

Dark Cherry and Almond Cake
Slightly adapted from Diana Henry

It is best if you grind the almonds yourself rather than buying them pre-ground. They'll be so much more aromatic and fresh. Make sure you don't grind them for too long though otherwise they will start releasing their oil and you may end up with almond butter. You should grind them until they start to resemble coarse semolina.

Make sure to choose some sweet, juicy, flavorful cherries if you want your cake to actually taste of cherries. Bland cherries don't work in any dessert.

The original recipe calls for the use of a round springform baking pan (20 cm) but I used a wide rectangular pan because I wanted a different presentation. If you want to use a round pan or if you have a smaller pan than mine, you will need to bake the cake for a longer time. Don't use a larger pan because that would be too big. In any case, the cake is ready when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
You should also keep in mind that the thickness of the pan matters when you're baking any cake. You can have totally different baking times depending on how thick your baking pan is.

Yield: 1 cake / 8-10 pieces

500 g fresh, dark sweet cherries
115 g unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
2 large eggs
150 g caster sugar
175 g all-purpose flour
75 g blanched almonds, freshly ground
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon

A handful of blanched flaked almonds
A little icing sugar, to dust

Special equipment: food processor for grinding the almonds, cherry pitter (optional), stand mixer or hand-held mixer, baking pan (31 x 25 cm), baking paper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and allow it to cool.

Take 450 g of the cherries and using a cherry pitter (or in any other way you know how), pit them and place them in a bowl. Make sure there are no pits left, you don't want to break your teeth!
Keep the rest 50 g (7-8 cherries) of cherries intact, preferably with their stalks still attached. You will add them later on top of the cake.

Prepare your baking pan by greasing the bottom and the sides with a little butter. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of baking paper and grease it again.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the eggs and the sugar and beat them with the 'paddle' attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed, until they become pale in color, fluffy in texture and have doubled in volume.
Add the melted and cooled butter and beat for 10 seconds on medium speed until it is incorporated.
Add the flour, the ground almonds, the baking powder, the salt, the vanilla extract and the lemon zest and fold them in with a spatula until incorporated.
Add the pitted cherries and mix them in, being careful not to break them up. Mix only until combined and not more!

Pour the batter in your baking pan and even it out on top with a spatula.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake the cake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the 50 g of intact cherries that you reserved earlier on top of the cake, followed by the flaked almonds. Return the pan to the oven and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Note: Let me mention again that if you're using a smaller pan, the baking time will be longer, 55-60 minutes in total if you're using a 20 cm round pan, so you'll need to add the whole cherries and flaked almonds a little later. They only need 8-10 minutes in the oven.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool slightly.
You can serve the cake either warm or cold. It's delicious either way but I prefer it warm.
Remove it from the pan, cut it into square pieces, dust the top with icing sugar and serve.

You can keep it, covered, at room temperature, for a couple of days.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alsatian cousin *

If I read one more time about how this recipe is going to change my life or how that recipe is gonna make me view the world in a different way, I'm going to scream and, I have a very loud voice, mind you.

What do you mean dear recipe writer, blog author, magazine editor, this recipe is gonna change my life? Is it going to miraculously make me five kilos thinner? Is it going to deposit money in my bank account so I can pay my yearly taxes? Is it going to stop the noise that my bathroom faucet makes and that's been driving me nuts for the past week? Or is it going to go to my gynecologist for me next Monday?

Who gives a damn if this marmalade has all the flavor of summer hidden in it and once I taste it I will see life with different eyes. Does this marmalade contain any hallucinogenic drugs? Because that's the only way a marmalade would ever make me see life in a different way.

I too have been "accused" of saying the word delicious more than a normal person would. I'm certainly one to fawn over food and desserts, and chocolate in particular, and I most definitely view food as something important. I'm a person who believes that a good meal and the sharing of food can bring people together and create a happy memory, and I firmly believe that food is one of the great pleasures in life, otherwise I wouldn't bother blogging about it, but I have never claimed that a recipe will or can change anyone's life.

Having perspective is perhaps one of the most important things in life and saying that a recipe is going to change yours, is a little too much for me. I'm not a miracle worker, I'm a simple food blogger who wants to bring a smile to your face with a photograph, a recipe, something that you read here. I'm someone who wants you to get in your kitchen and cook and hopefully get inspired to try something new, something that will change your routine, something that will make you and someone you love happy. Because that's what cooking is about. It's going to make you happy for a moment or even for a little while, it's going to make you feel good and excite your senses but it's not going to change your life. That would only happen in a place where unicorns existed and where we could all ride the rainbows.

So, respectfully, I bring you a recipe that will not change your life in any way but that will most definitely make your day just a tiny bit brighter.

This is a tarte flambée or flammekueche (meaning "cooked in the flames"). A pizza-like French tart from the Alsace region with a super thin bread-dough base, topped with onions, crème fraîche, fromage blanc (a creamy French cheese) and smoked bacon. Originally made in wood-fired ovens by bread bakers and farmers who needed to test how hot their oven was for baking, a small ball of bread dough was rolled out, slathered with thickened cream and baked on the stone floor of the oven. It would only take a couple of minutes to char and blister around the edges and an easy treat for the Alsatian bakers was born. Later on, it evolved into the tart we know today, with the addition of bacon and onions, and of course it's no longer considered peasant food. It is served in fancy restaurants in France and why not in your home too.

* If you haven't already figured it out, I'm a Morrissey fan.

Tarte Flambée - Alsatian Red Onion, Crème Fraîche and Bacon Tart with Reblochon Cheese
Adapted from John Torode

Traditionally, tarte flambée is made with white onions and fromage blanc but I opted for red onions because I love their flavor, and Reblochon cheese, which is one of the most flavorsome (and famously stinky) French cheeses. It is similar to Brie or Camembert but a hundred times better and when it melts, it's even more delicious. Try it if you can find it. If not, add one of the aforementioned cheeses or opt for a Gruyère or Emmental. They are a different type of cheese, with a completely different taste and texture than Reblochon but their flavor goes very well with the rest of the flavors in the tart.

Don't worry too much about the shape of the tart. It's not supposed to be as round as a pizza but rectangular and rather free-form. What is important though is that the crust is rolled out very thinly, crepe-thin even.

Don't let the word flambée scare you or put you off trying the recipe. This tart is not supposed to be set on fire but baked in the oven. If you have a pizza stone, use it, the result will be infinitely better. If not, bake it on a large baking sheet that you put in the oven before you turn it on to preheat.

Yield: 2 tarts, for 2 hungry people


for the dough
250 g strong white bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp (5 g) dried instant (or active dry) yeast
1 tsp (6 g) caster sugar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the bowl
1 tsp (7 g) sea salt
140 ml lukewarm water

for the topping
125 ml crème fraîche, full-fat
2 small red onions, sliced thinly
150 g smoked streaky bacon, cut into short, thin strips
100 g Reblochon* cheese (or any of the cheeses I mention above), thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

*Slice the Reblochon without removing the rind.

Special equipment: stand mixer (optional), pizza stone or large baking sheet for baking the tart, rolling pin, pizza peel or baking sheet or cutting board for transferring the tart to the oven

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl) add 50 g of the flour along with the yeast, the sugar, the olive oil and 60 ml of the lukewarm water. Mix well with a spoon and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Leave for 30-40 minutes in a warm place until the mixture is bubbly and has almost doubled in volume.

Add the rest of the flour, the salt and the rest of the water or, and this is very important, just enough water to have a soft but not sticky dough. Not all flours are the same so you may need less or more water than I needed to have a dough with the proper consistency. It's best if you add the rest of the water slowly, just in case you don't need as much.
If you're using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes on the lowest speed, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, and it is smooth and elastic.
If you're kneading the dough by hand, you will definitely have to knead it for more than 5 minutes. It will take about 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Remove the dough from the bowl and lightly oil the bottom and sides of the bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and leave it in a warm place until it doubles in volume, which will take about 1 hour depending on how warm the room you leave it in is.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 390 degrees Fahrenheit and place your pizza stone or your large baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven.

Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a couple of seconds just to deflate it a bit. Divide the dough in two equal pieces. Dust with flour or cornmeal a large cutting board, or the back of a large baking sheet, or a pizza peel, to make it easier for you to transfer the tart to the oven, and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the first piece of dough very thinly, about 5 mm in thickness and about 35 cm in diameter.
Spread half of the crème fraîche on the dough, scatter around half of the onions and half of the bacon, making sure to fill the dough all the way to the edges with the ingredients. Sprinkle a little black pepper all over the top.

Note: If you're using a hard cheese like Gruyère or Emmental instead of the Reblochon, add thin slices of it at this point.

Dust the pizza stone or baking sheet that's in the oven with flour or cornmeal and transfer the tart on top. Bake the tart for 12-14 minutes, until it takes on a golden brown color and the base is crisp. Open the oven door and add the Reblochon cheese (or Camembert or Brie) on top of the tart and bake for a further 2-3 minutes or until the cheese melts.

In the meantime, prepare the second tart.

Take the first tart out of the oven and continue baking the second tart.

Serve the tarts while they're still hot, cut into pieces or wedges.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chocolate Semifreddo

There are times when I feel I can't write anything about a recipe but the recipe itself. Not because I don't feel like it, but simply because I'm so incredibly thrilled with the actual recipe that I just can't wait another moment to share it with you.

This is the case with the recipe for this chocolate semifreddo.

You all know about my chocoholism, right? I have been telling you about it for almost three years now, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I chose chocolate as a flavor for my first ever semifreddo.

Semifreddo (half-cold in Italian) is a type of iced dessert that has the texture of frozen mousse, and whereas ice cream gives you that cold sensation in the mouth, semifreddo, even if you eat it straight from the freezer, will only give you a cool and refreshing feel.

Semifreddo is a small miracle of the pastry arts because, even though it's a frozen dessert, it has a soft, creamy, velvety texture thanks to its ingredients and the way they are put together. It is essentially a combination of a zabaglione (eggs and sugar beaten in a bain-marie) and whipped cream.

Unlike ice cream, semifreddo contains only a small amount of water and therefore less ice, without having those pesky ice crystals that are the nemesis of anyone who makes homemade ice cream. Semifreddo's mousse-like texture means that it doesn't freeze as solidly as ice cream thus remaining unbelievably smooth and almost fluffy. And the best part of it all? You don't need an ice cream machine to make it. All you have to do is pour the mixture in a container suitable for the freezer and let it freeze.

When I made this chocolate semifreddo, I couldn't believe how incredible it was. The flavor and texture was unsurpassed by any other iced dessert I have ever made before. S was ecstatic, he couldn't stop eating it, and of course I was filled with pride that I had accomplished making such a wonderful dessert.

And this brings me to what I've said in the beginning of this post; I couldn't wait to share this with you. I hope you enjoy it!

Chocolate Semifreddo
Adapted from Donna Hay

This semifreddo has an intense and rich chocolate flavor without being too sweet. It is creamy and light and gives you the most unbelievably refreshing feel.

I chose to prepare it in a loaf pan because I like the terrine presentation, but you can also serve it like regular ice cream, scooped into bowls.

Semifreddo is very similar to the French parfait but they are made in a different way. I'm not going to go into details but those of you who like parfaits, are going to love semifreddo.

Yield: about 1.7 liters of semifreddo

165 g caster sugar
3 medium-sized eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks (from medium-sized eggs), at room temperature
250 g dark chocolate 55% cocoa solids, chopped
430 ml cream, full-fat (35%), cold
20 g (2 Tbsp) Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Dark chocolate 55% cocoa solids, cut into shards (optional)

Special equipment: hand-held mixer, stand mixer (optional), fine sieve, 2 liter-capacity container suitable for the freezer (you can use a metal loaf pan if you want)

If you choose to put your semifreddo in a loaf pan and serve it as a terrine, line the bottom and sides with a piece of baking paper or plastic wrap. The lining will make it easier to turn your semifreddo out for slicing.

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (ben-marie) and melt, stirring often with a spatula. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water otherwise the chocolate will burn. Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and set aside to cool briefly.

Place the sugar, the eggs and the egg yolks in another large heatproof bowl and set it over the same pan of barely simmering water (ben-marie). Using a hand-held mixer, beat the sugar with the eggs on medium speed for 6-7 minutes or until the mixture has doubled in volume, is pale in color and has the texture of lightly whipped cream. You need to be careful not to let the water bubble underneath the bowl because your eggs might scramble. You need to keep the water at a bare simmer.
Remove the bowl from the heat and continue beating the mixture on medium speed, in order to cool it down (you can transfer it to another clean bowl if you want). It will take 6-7 minutes to cool down and by this point, the mixture will be shiny and will have the texture of lightly whipped, smooth meringue.

Note: Cooling the mixture will prevent the whipped cream from melting when it’s added later on.

Fold the melted chocolate gently through the mixture with a metal spoon or spatula until well-combined, being careful not to completely deflate it.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the cold cream on high speed with the whisk attachment (or using your hand-held mixer with clean beaters) until soft-peaks form. Sieve the cocoa powder over the whipped cream and fold it through gently, until fully incorporated.

Fold the whipped cream (along with the chocolate shards if using) very gently through the egg-chocolate mixture with a metal spoon or spatula until combined, being careful not to deflate the mixture.

Pour the semifreddo mixture into your lined loaf pan (if you're using it), or pour it into any 2 liter-capacity container suitable for the freezer. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and place it in your freezer for at least 6 hours but preferably overnight.

Take it out of the freezer 15 minutes before you want to serve it so it will be easier to cut. To remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan, hold the baking paper or plastic wrap and lift it. If there are any sides of the pan that were not covered with baking paper or plastic wrap, run a knife through and the semifreddo will be released quite easily.

Serve the semifreddo cut into slices (if you used a loaf pan) or scooped into bowls.
You can serve it with fresh berries or any other accompaniment you desire.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

White gold

Those of you who don't enjoy the taste of asparagus are going to be disappointed today because, like in the previous post, I'm gonna talk about asparagus. I'm becoming a bore, I know, but bear with me, I'm excited about this. Dear reader, I discovered that I like white asparagus and if I didn't hate exclamation points I would add about a million of them.

See, I was really harsh with those chubby ivory spears for quite a long time, refusing to eat them or even look at them. Living in Holland though, the land of the white asparagus, or white gold as they are affectionately called by the Dutch, I couldn't help but being persuaded to give them a try. Granted, it's been about five years coming but last week, fearing that it would be my last chance to taste them this year, I grabbed a bunch at my local greengrocer's and here I am. A convert.

White asparagus are actually pretty good and they have a sweeter, more delicate and less herbaceous flavor than their green counterparts. They are however very stringy and fibrous and that's why they need to always be peeled before eating or cooking them. The sunlight-deprived spears are delicious boiled and dressed with a rich Hollandaise sauce (a classic combination), made into a creamy soup, or what came as a big surprise to me, served raw.

You peel the asparagus and shave them into ribbons. You whip the ricotta with the zingy lime and sweet orange zest until it becomes creamy and spreadable and then you make a dressing with anchovy fillets and lime juice. You marinate the asparagus in the dressing for a little while, allowing the ingredients to get to know each other, you toast your bread, and you put everything together into a beautiful, scrumptious bruschetta.

By the way, I completely changed my recipe index page and made it much more functional and user friendly. Hope it's easier to find what you're looking for. Take a look.

White Asparagus and Ricotta Bruschetta
Adapted from here

I used a super rich ricotta which yielded a very smooth and luscious spread but fresh or homemade ricotta would work just as well.

White asparagus are more fibrous than the green ones, so you need to peel them a couple of times in order to get to the juicy, tender stuff.

Yield: 4 bruschette


for the ricotta spread
250 g ricotta
Zest of 1 lime
Zest of 1 orange

for the anchovy dressing
5 anchovy fillets in olive oil, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

4-5 fresh white asparagus
4 thick slices of bread (sourdough or multi-grain bread)
Freshly ground black pepper
Small rocket leaves

Special equipment: mortar and pestle, vegetable peeler


for the ricotta spread
In a medium-sized bowl, add the ricotta along with the lime and orange zest. Mix well with a spoon, until it becomes creamy and spreadable.

for the anchovy dressing
In a mortar, add the chopped anchovy fillets and mash them with the pestle until you have an almost smooth paste. Add the olive oil and the lime juice and mix well.

for the asparagus
Cut with a knife the woody bottom (about 1 cm) of the asparagus off and using a vegetable peeler, peel the asparagus a couple of times. Still using the vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into thin ribbons.

Note: Make sure to cut the long ribbons into shorter ones so they'll be easier to bite into.

Place asparagus ribbons in a bowl and add the anchovy dressing. Toss with a fork and leave asparagus to marinate in the dressing for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, toast the bread slices in the oven until crispy. Allow them to cool and then spread evenly the ricotta mixture on top of each slice.
Add the asparagus ribbons on top, sprinkle with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and garnish with the small rocket leaves.
If you want, drizzle some extra dressing over the top.
Serve the bruschette immediately.