Friday, November 29, 2013

Four Years

A few days ago, was the four-year anniversary of my blog. I can’t believe it’s been four years since I started writing here.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey.

I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this, celebrating the occasion with big cakes or extravagant dishes. I wanted to share with you a simple cake and one of my favorites that I make more often than any other; a vanilla and chocolate marble cake.

I wanted to share a piece of this cake with all of you because this is how it often feels when I sit down to write a blog post. It feels like I’m talking to friends over a cup of coffee and a slice of good cake.

I make this for S so that he has something to nibble at work, for my afternoon sweet cravings and for the beautiful smell that fills my home every time I bake it.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we do and make sure to share it with the ones you love.

Here’s to four more years, friends. Thanks for sticking around.

Vanilla and Chocolate Marble Bundt Cake

I always use a bundt pan for this cake, but you can also make it in a round springform pan (20 cm).

Yield: 6-8 pieces

230 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
230 g caster sugar
4 medium-sized eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
230 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring the pan
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50 ml fresh, whole milk
50 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I use Van Houten or Callebaut)

Special equipment: bundt cake pan, stand mixer or hand-held mixer, fine sieve

Grease well with butter the bottom and sides of your bundt pan and flour it. Tap out excess flour.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 360 Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one-by-one, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla extract and beat well.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt straight into the bowl of your mixer and mix on low speed until just combined, for a few seconds. Then pour in the milk and mix on low speed to combine.

Empty half of the cake mixture into a bowl, and sieve the cocoa powder straight into the bowl of your mixer. Mix on low speed until combined and do not overbeat otherwise your cake will be tough.

Using a large spoon or spatula, fill your bundt pan by alternating spoonfuls of the vanilla and cocoa mixture (see photos). Then, using a skewer or knife, make swirls but don’t overdo it otherwise you won’t have a marble effect.

Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then transfer the pan to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once it has cooled, take it out of the pan and serve. It’s beautiful warm, but at room temperature and when the flavors have had time to mingle, is even better.

You can keep it covered, at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Keftedakia

On the way home from a day at the beach, food was all we could think of. The sensation of hunger after swimming in the open, blue, Aegean Sea can be quite strong.
I knew I was the one who would prepare our lunch, and the moment when I’d sit down to the table and enjoy the fruit of my labor seemed very distant.

We had picked up everything we needed from the market. Minced veal, onions, dried mint, and luckily there was some stale bread leftover from the previous day to soak and use for my keftedakia (meatballs). I put all the ingredients into a large bowl along with lots of salt and pepper and started mixing everything with my hands that still smelled of the sea.

I had been kneading the mixture for a long time while a pleasant, cool breeze coming from the kitchen window was caressing my face, and when my hands started feeling tired from the repetitive motion and my thoughts stopped wandering and had now focused on the image of freshly fried meatballs, I reached for the flour.

Oh no, where’s the flour? Don’t we have any? Now what? I can’t make keftedakia without flour. Oh no.

And then it hit me. The best part about being in a small Greek village is the neighbors. Mrs. Katerina was living in the house down the hill and fortunately she was willing to help me. She welcomed me into her home and into her kitchen, and as she lifted the huge sack of flour from the floor and onto a wooden table she said:
“How much do you need?”
“Not much. Here, I brought this small bowl with me. I’m making keftedakia”.
“You can have as much as you want. We have plenty of flour. We all make our own bread every week around here, not like you Athenians”, she said as she sieved the flour.
If only she knew how much I love making my own bread.
I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to crush her image of busy Athenians eating super-market bread in their tiny apartments.

Thanks to her generosity, I left her kitchen with more flour than I needed, went home and immediately started flouring my small, round keftedakia. When the oil started shimmering and the keftedakia took their first plunge in it, they swiftly started to sizzle and soon after they took on a golden brown color.

The table was set, the freshly cut potatoes were fried, the horiatiki salad was prepared with big, juicy, red tomatoes and the best tasting feta I’ve had in a long time, the bread from the village bakery was sliced, ready to be dunked into the rich, fruity olive oil, the beers were ice cold straight from the fridge and we all sat down to enjoy our much anticipated meal, hungrier than ever.

All this transpired a little over two months ago in North Euvoia, in Greece, and yet it feels like it was eons ago. This simple meal, this typical Greek fare, is an integral part of my memories from my vacation there, and these images will forever remind me of the kindness of my neighbor, the distinct smell of the sea and mountains, the keftedakia which even though I had made hundreds of times before, this will perhaps be the only one I will forever remember.

Keftedakia (Greek Fried Meatballs)

Keftedaki (plural: keftedakia) means small meatball in Greek. Keftes (plural: keftedes) is a larger meatball. In Greek homes this is perhaps the simplest, easiest type of meat dish and nibble that you’ll find.

There are many combinations of flavors that can go into a meatball, starting with the kind of meat used, veal, pork, lamb (beef is not popular in Greece), the spices and aromatics used etc. I have shared another version here about four years ago.

The more you mix and knead the keftedakia mixture with your hands, the more soft and tasty they will be. Twenty minutes is a good amount of time to knead them.
Keftedakia are shallow-fried with the oil reaching half way up each meatball. They don’t need to be fried for a long time, they only need three minutes on each side in very hot oil. They shouldn’t have a blackened crust but a golden-brown one.

Yield: about 50 keftedakia (the size of a large walnut)

3-4 large, thick slices of white sourdough bread
2 onions
1 kg minced veal (not too fatty)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1½-2 heaped tsp dried mint
Freshly ground black pepper

1- 2 cups semolina flour (durum wheat flour), for flouring the keftedakia
Olive oil or sunflower oil, for frying

Special equipment: small food processor, plastic wrap

In a large bowl, add the bread and cover with tap water. Soak the bread until it softens but doesn’t disintegrate. Drain the bread, squeezing it between your hands to remove excess water and return it to the bowl.

In a small food processor, add the onions and chop finely. Add them to the bread along with the minced veal, 3 Tbsp olive oil, dried mint, salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If you want to check the seasoning of your meatballs, fry a small piece and taste it. Season more if needed.

Mix well with your hands, kneading the mixture with the palm of your hand for about 20 minutes. The more you knead the tastier the meatballs.

Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and leave the keftedakia mixture aside for about 1 hour. This will allow the flavors to get to know each other and develop.

In a platter or rimmed baking sheet, spread the flour.
Take the bowl with the keftedakia mixture and knead again for 1 minute. Shape mixture into small balls (the size of a large walnut) and place them in the flour. Roll them around the flour to coat well.

In the meantime, in a large, wide, high-sided skillet or frying pan, add enough oil to come half up the sides of a meatball. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and once it starts to shimmer and it has gotten really hot, take the meatballs one at a time in the palm of your hand and shake them between your open fingers so that the excess flour falls off, and add them carefully to the frying pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan. (See photo).

Fry the meatballs for 3 minutes on one side, until they take on a golden color and then gently flip them over using tongs or a slotted spoon and fry them for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and if you wish, place them on baking paper to absorb the excess oil.
Continue frying the rest of the meatballs.

Serve them immediately while they’re still hot.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Birthday cake

I hadn’t made my own birthday cake since 2010. It was a stunning triple chocolate mousse cake that became my favorite and that I made several times since. I made it for S’s birthday a couple of years ago and for other occasions that I needed to prepare something special, and every single time, it was greeted with enthusiasm and eaten greedily by all.

Last week was my birthday and I decided that it was again time for me to make my own birthday cake. This is the one I made; a four-layered chocolate fudge cake with a mascarpone-cream filling and a dark chocolate fudge frosting. And it was spectacular.

I wanted something different—for me this is different as in Greece or Holland these cakes are not common—and something chocolatey, because you all know by now what a huge chocoholic I am.

I have to say that I was hesitant about the result and the whole process since I’m not terribly used to making layered cakes like this, American-style, I’m more used to European/French-style cakes, but everything went smoothly and the cake was a huge success.

I used three different recipes to make this cake happen. An old one I have for fudge cake, a simple recipe for mascarpone-cream filling that I use for various cakes, and a frosting recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

It may seem difficult to make but it really is not. If you break it down and think of it as three different parts, then it’s simple. The sponge (cake) part is very straightforward as you mix all the ingredients together, empty them in two pans and bake them. The mascarpone filling is a cinch to make as all ingredients again go into the mixer and voilà, ready, and the frosting is a rather simple process as well.

The hardest part is assembling the cake and applying the frosting, something that’s tricky if you haven’t done it before or if you don’t have the right tools.

But do give it a try and you’ll certainly be rewarded in the end with a beautiful cake that has a rich, deep, chocolate flavor and a moist, fluffy texture, with a refreshing and light mascarpone and cream filling and a chocolatey, sweet and buttery frosting. The sprinkling of thick sea salt flakes on top enhances the flavor of the chocolate and brings the cake to life.

I don’t know if I will ever trade the chocolate mousse cake for this one as my favorite, but one thing’s for sure, there’s competition.

Chocolate Fudge Layered Cake with Mascarpone-Cream Filling and Dark Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Make sure to use good quality cocoa powder and chocolate for the individual components of the cake for best results.

Ideally you should have a good, long straight spatula, a small offset spatula and a bench scraper (see photo further down) to smooth and apply the frosting, but a long straight spatula will do fine as well if you’re patient.

Yield: 1 layered cake / 12-14 slices


for the chocolate fudge cake
180 g all-purpose flour
90 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
300 g caster sugar
60 ml sunflower oil
190 ml hot espresso coffee
190 ml buttermilk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 medium-sized eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten with a fork

A little butter for greasing the pans

for the mascarpone-cream filling
250 g mascarpone
60 g icing sugar
220 ml cream, full-fat (35%)

for the chocolate fudge frosting
455 g good quality dark chocolate, 55%-60% cocoa solids, cut into small pieces
45 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
90 ml boiling water
340 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
65 g icing sugar
Pinch of salt

Sea salt flakes like Fleur de Sel or Maldon for sprinkling over the cake

Special equipment: two round 18cm springform baking pans, baking paper, stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, fine sieve, large serrated knife, frosting spatulas (large straight and small offset), bench scraper (optional)


for the chocolate fudge cake
Butter the bottom and sides of two 18cm springform pans. Line the bottom with baking paper. See here how to make a baking paper circle.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 360 Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), sieve the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder, and add the sugar and salt. Then add the sunflower oil, the hot coffee, buttermilk, vanilla extract and the 2 beaten eggs. Mix, using the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), on medium speed for 2 minutes until you have a homogeneous mixture, and pour into the two prepared baking pans. I weigh the mixture and divide it in half between the two pans. If you don’t want to use a scale, eyeball it.

Place both pans on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester or knife inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake otherwise the cakes will be dry.
Remove pans from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Then remove cakes from the pans and leave to cool on the wire rack completely.
Place them in the refrigerator, uncovered, and allow them to get cold. They need to be cold as this will make it easier for you to cut them in half, which is actually a little tricky if you haven’t done it before. The cakes need to be cut evenly in order for the finished cake to look good when you slice it.

While the cakes are in the fridge cooling, make the filling.

for the mascarpone-cream filling
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the mascarpone, icing sugar and cream and beat with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip or the mixture will split.

Assembling the cake
Now it’s time to assemble the two parts of the cake.
Take the cold cakes out of the fridge and using a large and sharp serrated knife trim the top parts level. Then cut each cake into equal halves in order to have 4 equal cake layers.

Choose the plate, stand etc. where you’ll place your cake, cut four thick strips of baking paper and form a square outline on the plate. This will ensure that your plate or stand will not be covered with frosting when you apply it over your cake.

Place the bottom half of the first cake (cut side up) onto the pieces of baking paper and add 1/3 of the filling on top. Spread the filling over the top of the cake, smoothing it out with the help of a small offset spatula (or a regular spatula). Be careful not to spread too close to the edges, leave some space for the filling to spread out when you add each layer on top. Carefully place the top half of the first cake on top (cut side down) and press down gently to secure. Add another 1/3 of filling, spreading and smoothing it like before. Then place the top half of the second cake on top (cut side up) and again press gently to secure. Add the remaining filling, spreading and smoothing it like before. Finally, add the bottom half of the second cake on top (cut side down) and again press down gently to secure.
Put the cake in the fridge in order for the filling and cake to firm up and be ready for the application of the frosting. Leave in the fridge for 10 minutes and make the fudge frosting.

for the chocolate fudge frosting
Place the chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the pan does not come in contact with the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove bowl from the top of the pan and allow the chocolate to cool.

In a small bowl, add the cocoa powder, pour the 90 ml of boiling water on top and whisk until the cocoa has dissolved and you have a smooth paste.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add butter, icing sugar and salt, and beat with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, for about 5 minutes. Add the melted and cooled chocolate, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on low speed until combined. Add the cocoa mixture and beat until it is well incorporated. You will now have a smooth, creamy and thick frosting.
Time to frost the cake.

Frosting the cake
The frosting thickens and hardens (resembling a thick mousse) as time passes (especially during winter and in a cold kitchen) so it is best that you frost the cake shortly after you have made the frosting so it is more pliable and spreadable. In case it hardens too much before you get the chance to frost the cake, beat it again on low speed until smooth and soft.

Take the cake out of the refrigerator and apply a crumb coating using a long, straight spatula for the sides and a small offset spatula for the top. The crumb coating is a thin layer of frosting that is being applied on the top and sides of the cake in order to fill any holes, seal in the crumbs and create a smooth surface for the final frosting. (See photos below). You don’t need to be neat with this as it will be covered with the final layer of frosting.

Put the cake back in the fridge for 10 minutes or until the crumb coating has set, and then apply the frosting. Use a small offset spatula for the top and a long, straight spatula for the sides. If you have a bench scraper, use it to finish off smoothing the frosting on the sides of the cake, holding it at 90° against the side of the cake.
Remove the baking paper from around the bottom of the cake carefully, and place it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle some sea salt flakes on top, and your cake is ready to serve, cut into thin slices because the cake is pretty high and filling.

You can keep the cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It tastes better after a few hours to a day in the fridge. Beware that after several hours in the fridge, the frosting of the cake will be quite hard which makes it a bit difficult to cut without breaking. You need therefore to take the cake out of the fridge about half an hour before serving.
The secret to slicing the cake while the frosting is still hard, or slightly hard, is this: Take a thin, long, sharp knife and run it under hot water to heat the blade and then carefully cut the cake. The heat of the blade will smoothly cut through the frosting like butter, without breaking it.