Friday, September 27, 2013

In need of ice cream

I’m back in Athens after several days of vacation in the very green and beautiful Greek island of Euboea (Εύβοια) where we had an amazing time. Those of you who follow me on instagram already got a glimpse of what it was like.

I plan to share more in the future, perhaps when I get back to the Netherlands, but for the time being and since it’s still very hot here in Athens, I thought I’d share with you a recipe for ice cream.

Not just any ice cream though, but a mascarpone and nutella ice cream with hazelnut praline. I know I don’t need to say much in order to tempt you to try it and I’m pretty sure you who are lovers of hazelnut praline are already on your way to making this, but let me just say that if you’re in the mood for a scoop of fresh, homemade, light and smooth ice cream, look no further.

The mascarpone gives a rich texture, the nutella its sweet and unique flavor and the hazelnut praline adds crunch as well as depth of flavor to the velvety ice cream.

Enjoy and see you soon!

Mascarpone and Nutella Ice Cream with Hazelnut Praline

If you don't have an ice cream maker, don't fret. Below, I'm including instructions on how to make the ice cream without it.

Yield: about 1 kg


for the ice cream
175 ml fresh whole milk
125 g mascarpone
150 g caster sugar
1 medium-sized egg
350 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
180 g Nutella
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

for the hazelnut praline
100 g caster sugar
80 g blanched unsalted hazelnuts
30 ml water

Special equipment: wire whisk, ice cream machine (optional), baking sheet, baking paper or silicone sheet, candy thermometer (optional), small food processor


for the ice cream
Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, being careful not to boil it. While the milk is getting warm, add the mascarpone, sugar and egg in a medium-sized bowl and beat with a wire whisk. Pour in the hot milk little-by-little, whisking non-stop and once you’ve poured it all in, return the mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat, whisking frequently, until you have a mixture that’s slightly thick and very smooth. Don’t allow the cream to boil. Remove the pan from the heat, empty the cream inside a clean bowl, cover with plastic warp and place in the refrigerator to cool completely.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the cream and whisk to a very soft peak. Add the nutella and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the cooled cream to the nutella mixture and mix well with the whisk. Empty the mixture to your ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Alternatively, if you don't have an ice cream maker, empty the chilled ice cream mixture into a container suitable for the freezer. Put mixture in the freezer, take it out after 40 minutes and whisk it very well. You can also beat it with a spatula vigorously (or you can use a blender, or even a stick blender).
Continue doing the same thing every half hour, until it's too thick and frozen to beat or whisk. The whole process will take 2-3 hours.

Serve the ice cream sprinkled with hazelnut praline.

You can keep the ice cream in your freezer for 1 month.

for the hazelnut praline
In a small skillet or sauté pan add the blanched hazelnuts and place over a medium heat. Toast the nuts, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl.

Line your baking sheet with baking paper or a silicone sheet.

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar and water and place over a medium heat. Stir with a heatproof spatula until the sugar dissolves in the water, turn heat up to medium-high and then allow the magic to happen. The sugar will start to boil, do not stir at all because it will crystallize and it will be ruined, but stay close and keep an eye on it because you don’t want your caramel to burn. It will take 7-10 minutes for the sugar to turn into a dark golden caramel. The smell of burnt sugar is an indication that it’s ready. If you have a candy thermometer it should read 187 degrees Celsius / 370 Fahrenheit. (See in this post photos of the process).

Take the pan off the heat immediately and add the toasted hazelnuts to the pan. Stir briefly with a heatproof spatula to coat them with the caramel and empty everything onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it quickly with the help of the spatula. Allow to cool completely. It will take 25-30 minutes.

Once cooled, break the praline with your hands into pieces and add them to your food processor. Grind the praline and empty it into a glass jar.

Use it on your ice cream and you can keep the rest in the refrigerator, in a sealed glass jar, for 1 week.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Greece again (and a fruit tart)

Even though this beautiful berry and crème pâtissière tart on pâte sucrée was made last week in the Netherlands, I’m writing this from a different place. I’m in Greece!

We arrived a few days ago and we are reveling in the warm hot weather, the friendly faces, the good food and the beauty of our surroundings. Yes, Athens is beautiful, especially this time of year.

It is very much summer at the moment in Greece, with temperatures at 35 degrees Celsius, but when we left the Netherlands, there was a thunderstorm and we couldn’t walk one meter without getting soaked to the bone.

That is all behind us at the moment and we’re looking forward to starting our summer vacation. Part of it will be spent in Athens and the rest in an undisclosed location. I’ll share photos and stories at some point.

In the meantime, I didn’t want to leave this recipe for a sweet tart in my files all lonely and unshared. It is delicious, colorful and sinful—don’t let the innocent-looking berries on top fool you, the calories in this are a lot—, a tart worthy of a celebration, any type of celebration really, even the “I had a rough day at work and managed not to freak out” kind of celebration.

The pâte sucrée is buttery and crisp like a biscuit and a tiny bit harder than the common version, but only so that it creates a nice contrast to the creamy, smooth, rich crème pâtissière. The crème is also slightly different from the common pastry cream, as it contains more eggs that make it somewhat stronger. The addition of whipped cream though, lightens it and makes it more creamy and airy.

The fresh fruits, devoid of any icing sugar or apricot glaze, give not only freshness and lightness to the tart, but also a slight sharpness and liveliness to it. The more fruit the better. Try to use different kinds.

I used blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red currants and strawberry-grapes. I was so surprised to find these at the market in The Hague, they’re a hybrid, and they taste just like their name implies; grape flavor with a hint of strawberry sweetness.

I hope you enjoy making this tart as much as I did and more so when you eat it!

Crème Pâtissière and Fresh Berry Tart

Crème pâtissière (pastry cream) is a rich, creamy, smooth and thick custard made with eggs, milk, sugar and corn flour, and can have flavorings like vanilla, various liqueurs, coffee, etc. It is used as a filling for tarts, éclairs, choux and many more.

Pâte sucrée (sweet pastry crust) is a sweet and rich pastry with a crisp, biscuit-like texture. It is made with flour, butter, icing sugar and eggs, and it’s used as the base for sweet tarts whose filling don’t need baking.

You don’t have to use a variety of fruits on top of the tart, but you can go with just one. You can also use any type of fruits you like as long as they are not too wet. For example, strawberries, cherries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, figs, grapes will work beautifully in this tart.

Yield: 6-8 pieces


for the pâte sucrée (pastry)
250 g all-purpose flour, sieved
100 g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
100 g icing sugar, sieved
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or the scraped seeds from 1 fresh vanilla bean
3 egg yolks plus 1 egg yolk, from large eggs
1 Tbsp whole fresh milk

for the crème pâtissière (cream)
500 ml whole fresh milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or the scraped seeds from 1 fresh vanilla bean
7 egg yolks, from medium-sized eggs
125 g caster sugar
60 g corn flour
150 ml cream, full fat (35%)

Fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red currants, seedless grapes

Special equipment: fine sieve, large food processor, rolling pin, plastic wrap, fluted tart pan (22 cm in diameter) with removable bottom, baking paper, baking weights or dried beans, pastry brush, wire whisk, hand-held electric mixer


for the pâte sucrée
• with a food processor
In a large food processor, add the flour, butter, icing sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste or seeds and process, tilting and gently shaking the bowl until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs or almond meal. Then add 3 egg yolks and process until just combined and you have a very crumbly dough that barely holds together.

• by hand
In a large bowl, add the flour, icing sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste or seeds and stir with a spatula. Add the cubed cold butter and, using two knives, a pastry cutter/blender or your fingertips, cut it into the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs or almond meal. Then make a well in the middle, add 3 egg yolks and mix with your hands, working quickly, until just combined and you have a very crumbly dough that barely holds together. Don’t knead the dough.

Empty the pastry dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap (do not knead it because you will activate the gluten in the flour which will make the pastry tough and it will shrink during baking), form a disk, cover it and place it in the refrigerator to chill, for about 1 hour.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of your tart pan.

Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap and place dough between two large sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 0.3 cm, taking care to keep the dough neat and tear-free.
Remove the top sheet of baking paper, slide your hand underneath the bottom baking paper and carefully and gently invert the dough onto the tart pan, allowing it to fall little-by-little onto the pan base. Remove the baking paper from the top and carefully and gently again line the pan with the pastry, pushing it into the curved sides of the pan. If it tears, don’t fret; just use the overhanging dough to cover those tears. Using the back of a knife, cut the excess dough that's hanging around the edges of the pan.
Place the tart pan in the refrigerator and chill the dough for about 20 minutes.

Note: In case you have left-over dough, you can keep it in the freezer, wrapped in cling film or in a ziploc bag, for up to a month. Thaw it and use it to make smaller tarts or biscuits.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

Take the tart pan out of the refrigerator and prick the base of the dough with a fork all around. Line the bottom and sides of the dough with a large enough piece of baking paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Place the pan on a baking sheet and on the middle rack of the oven and bake the pastry for 15-17 minutes.
In the meantime, in a small bowl, add 1 egg yolk and the milk (1 Tbsp) and mix well with a fork.
Take the pan out of the oven, remove the baking paper along with the pie weights and check that the base is slightly golden. Brush pastry well with the egg yolk-milk mixture and return pastry to the oven, without the baking sheet this time. Bake for another 10-12 minutes or until the dough is golden.

Note: The glazing of the pastry “seals” it somehow, and it prevents it from getting soggy and soft when the filling is added.

Remove tart pan from the oven, place onto a wire rack to cool completely and then remove the pastry from the pan.

for the crème pâtissière
While the pastry dough is resting, start making the crème pâtissière, which will also need time to cool in the refrigerator before using.

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan add 400 ml of the milk, the vanilla paste or seeds and a 1 Tbsp of the sugar, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat.

Note: By adding sugar to the milk it prevents it from catching and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized bowl, add the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar and whisk with a wire whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Add the corn flour and the remaining 100 ml of the milk and whisk to combine.

Gradually whisk milk mixture into the egg mixture (don’t worry about curdling, it won’t as the egg mixture has corn flour in it) until combined well. Empty this mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisking continuously, wait until the cream begins to bubble and then remove it from the heat. Transfer the cream to a clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap adheres to the surface of the cream, which will prevent it from forming a skin.
Place the crème pâtissière in the refrigerator for an hour or until it has cooled.

Note: You can make the crème pâtissière a day in advance.

When the crème pâtissière has cooled, whip the cream with a hand-held electric mixer until soft peaks form.
Whisk the crème pâtissière with a wire whisk to loosen it, but if you find that it has become too stiff to whisk by hand, switch to a hand-held electric mixer.
Fold the whipped cream into the crème pâtissière using a spatula.

Assemble the tart
Fill the tart shell with the crème pâtissière mixture. Arrange the assorted fruits on top and serve.
Alternatively, you can fill the tart shell with the cream mixture and place it in the fridge until you want to serve it. Add the fruits on top just before serving.

You can keep the tart in the refrigerator, uncovered (or lightly covered with a piece of plastic wrap) for 2 days.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Chicken with tomatoes and olives

Remember the other day I was telling you that one of my gas-rings is broken and I can’t cook anything larger than a fried egg? Well, the landlord realized that I’ve had enough misery to last me a lifetime in this kitchen and he decided to change the whole stove top making me incredibly happy.

I need to tell you something about me though. It’s a bit embarrassing but hey, who cares. Whenever I buy or get something brand spanking new, whether it’s new shoes, a new mixer or in this case, a new gas stove, I can’t use them straight away. I feel like I’m going to taint them if I use them or that I’m going to break them in an instant, and I simply want to sit and admire my new things for a little while before I finally decide to use them.

So, as we speak, my shiny new gas stove is all clean and almost untouched as I have only used it to boil water for pasta, οh, and make Greek coffee on the small gas ring. I know, I’m weird.

Ιn the meantime, while I’m admiring my new acquisition, I have been using my oven and some pretty delicious food has been enjoyed. Like this roast chicken dish with whole fresh tomatoes, black olives, thyme, oregano, garlic, lemon, olive oil; the usual suspects in Greek cooking.

Incredible flavors of succulent tender chicken, sweet tomatoes that once you cut them open a sweet aromatic puddle of heavenly juices forms on your plate and all you want to do is dunk your bread into them.

The garlic is soft and sweet with an earthy quality that matches that of the thyme and oregano. The olives are slightly briny and balance out the rest of the flavors with their mild acidity. The crispy skin of the chicken and almost charred and caramelized skin of the tomatoes offer an interesting variety of textures.

Such a great balance of flavors, a truly summery dish worthy of this time of year when tomatoes are so plump and soft. Because summer is not over yet. Thankfully!

As for my gas stove, I have the sneaking suspicion it’s going to be used properly tomorrow. I’m craving a dish that requires lots of pots and pans and it’s going to be good.

Marinated Roast Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, Lemon and Herbs

I used Kalamata olives but any good quality black olives will do. Also, choose tomatoes that are ripe (not overripe) and plump. I used vine-ripened tomatoes (Greek: τσαμπί / Dutch: trostomaten) but I suspect any type of tomato that’s juicy yet firm will be perfect.

I usually serve this dish with lots of bread and feta cheese, sometimes with a green salad or if we’re really hungry, with a simple rice or sautéed/baked potatoes.

Yield: 2-4 main-course servings

1 chicken, about 1,200 g, cut into 6-8 pieces*
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
4 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp Greek dried oregano
4 fresh large thyme sprigs, leaves picked
Freshly ground black pepper

4 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into half or quartered if too big
15 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 Tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

*I always cut the chicken into six pieces; legs, wings and breasts. You can also cut it into eight pieces, separating the legs into thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer not to because they remain juicier.

Special equipment: large barking tray, plastic wrap or plastic bag appropriate for storing food

In a large glass bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, the garlic, 4 Tbsp olive oil, the dried oregano, the fresh thyme leaves, a little salt and a good sprinkling of black pepper and mix with a spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and coat them well with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or, alternatively, place the chicken pieces with the marinade in a plastic bag suitable for storing food and seal it. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 hours. If you choose to marinate the chicken for more than 1 hour, place it in the refrigerator. Take it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you put it in the oven, to allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 190-200 degrees Celsius / 375-390 Fahrenheit.
In another bowl, add the tomatoes, the olives, 1 Tbsp olive oil, a little salt and black pepper and toss.

Place the marinated chicken in a roasting tray large enough to fit all the pieces in one layer, drizzle the marinade on top and add the tomatoes and olives between the chicken pieces.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken for about 50 minutes, until it takes on a golden brown color and the skin becomes crispy and caramelized, and the tomatoes have softened and have produced plenty of juices. Also, if you insert a knife or skewer on the thickest part of the chicken pieces, the juices should run clear and not be reddish in color. Don't cook for longer because the chicken will dry out and become tough.

Serve in dishes along with the delicious juices from the pan. They are perfect for dunking your bread in.