Friday, December 30, 2016

Sparkling wine & vanilla cupcakes with sparkling wine buttercream frosting

Few days of the year are more special than New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and there’s nothing better than a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate them. Well, almost. Because for me, the combination of sparkling wine and a sweet little treat in the shape of a cupcake is the best thing.

These cupcakes are flavored with vanilla and sparkling wine and they are beautifully fluffy, moist and soft.

They are topped with a plump, sweet buttercream that is also flavored with sparkling wine, which adds a subtle acidity and tangy flavor to the cupcakes that balances their sweetness and makes them unique and utterly addictive.

I wish you a happy, healthy and creative 2017! Happy New Year, friends!

Sparkling wine & vanilla cupcakes with sparkling wine buttercream frosting

Use a sweet (not dry) sparkling wine of your choice. I prefer one made with Muscat grapes which I find is more suitable for these cupcakes but you can also use Prosecco or Champagne.

Yield: 17 cupcakes


for the cupcakes
220 g all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
200 g caster sugar
2 medium-sized eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
115 g sour cream, full-fat
120 ml sweet sparkling wine (I used Muscat sparkling wine)

for the buttercream frosting
250 ml sweet sparkling wine (I used Muscat sparkling wine)
230 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
120 g icing sugar

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, fine sieve, cupcake pan, paper liners, piping bag with nozzle of your choice, dragees/sprinkles to decorate your cupcakes


for the cupcakes
Line your cupcake pan with paper liners.
Preheat your oven to 175°C.

In a medium-sized bowl, sieve the flour together with the baking soda, baking powder and salt, using a fine sieve. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl) add the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until you have a creamy, fluffy and light mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well on high speed after each addition to incorporate them fully. Then, beat in the vanilla extract.
In another medium-sized bowl, add the sour cream and sparkling wine and whisk with a wire whisk (the mixture will fizz a little).
With your mixer working on low speed, add and incorporate into the butter-sugar-eggs mixture the sieved dry ingredients and sour cream-sparkling wine mixture alternately, starting and finishing with the dry ingredients (three portions of the dry ingredients and two portions of the sour cream mixture). Mix only until combined, otherwise the cupcakes will be tough.

Empty the batter into the paper lined cupcake pan, filling each cup by 2/3.
Bake the cupcakes on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check them for doneness after 15 minutes because not all ovens are the same.

Note: The recipe yields 17 cupcakes. If your cupcake pan has fewer cups, bake the cupcakes in two batches.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Once the cupcakes have slightly cooled, remove them carefully from the pan and onto the wire rack to cool completely.

The cupcakes need to be completely cool before they get frosted otherwise the buttercream will melt.

for the buttercream frosting
While the cupcakes are cooling, add 235 ml of the sparkling wine (of the 250 ml, reserving the 15 ml for later use) in a small saucepan. Place it over a medium-high heat and simmer the wine until it is reduced to 2 tablespoons.
Empty it into a small bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill.

In the (clean) bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl) add the butter and icing sugar and beat with the whisk attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until you have a creamy, thick and fluffy mixture. Then, pour the reserved 15 ml of sparkling wine and the chilled 2 tablespoonfuls of reduced sparking wine in the bowl and beat until incorporated.

Using a piping bag and nozzle of your choice, pipe the frosting on top of each completely cooled cupcake and decorate with dragees/sprinkles. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can frost the cupcakes using a palette knife.

The cupcakes are best eaten the day you make them or the day after, but you can keep them for up to 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The frosting will firm up in the fridge.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Baked quince with kaymak and pistachio

I may be a lover of all things chocolate but fruit desserts have a special place in my heart.

Seasonal fruits cooked to perfection, flavored with spices and other aromatics, topped with all sorts of delicious custards, creams and sauces, can be for me the ideal dessert, especially at a festive dinner or gathering.

I love quinces, my last post makes this evident. They are such special fruits, so unassuming yet unattractive to many, but I can see past that, I know their potential, their uniqueness and magical flavor qualities.

Take for example this dessert of baked quinces with cinnamon and star anise, served with kaymak and topped with pistachios. There’s a subtlety yet unmistakable fullness of flavor in this dish that really makes me go back to it again and again.

Cooked this way, quinces are truly magnificent. They are first simmered for an hour together with sugar, cinnamon and start anise and then they are transferred to the oven where they are baked in a bain-marie for two and a half hours. The long, slow cooking makes them soft —while still retaining their shape—, juicy and incredibly mellow.

They are intensely aromatic and full-flavored from the fruit itself, and the spices make their presence known without being overwhelming. It’s quite a delicate dessert that’s not too sweet, with the soft, lusciously plump quinces pairing wonderfully with the thick, creamy kaymak, the crunchy, earthy pistachios and the good drizzle of syrup over the top.

Wishing you a Merry, Happy, Joyous Christmas!

Baked quince with kaymak and pistachio

Kaymak is a very thick cream similar to clotted cream that’s not typically sweet but it has a tang to it that’s reminiscent of crème fraîche. The best kind, and the one I always use, is made from buffalo’s milk, but you can find it made with cow’s milk too. It is perfect for desserts and I also use it in my hot chocolate drink. If you can’t find kaymak, substitute with crème fraîche or clotted cream. If you can’t get a hold of these ingredients either, then substitute with whipped cream or mascarpone (they are both sweeter though).

These quinces, compared to the Greek ones I used for my Greek quince spoon sweet, did not change to a deep coral color but to a light coral, orange one. Still pretty, but I would have loved to see that intense color in my quinces again. Perhaps it has to do with the different variety of fruit I used.

Yield: 4 portions

2 large quinces (500-550 g each)
200 g caster sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

to serve
Ground pistachios

Peel the quinces and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the core and keep the seeds. Put the quinces and the seeds in a large saucepan and add the sugar, star anise, cinnamon and enough water to cover the quinces.
Place the pan over a high heat and stir with a spoon to dissolve the sugar. When it comes to the boil, turn heat down to medium, cover the pan with a lid and simmer the quinces for 30 minutes. Then, turn them over and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 120°C.
Place a baking dish big enough to fit all the quinces in one layer inside a larger baking pan.
Once the quinces have been simmering for an hour, remove them carefully from the saucepan with a large spoon and place them inside the baking dish together with 1-1½ cups of the syrup they have been poaching in.

Note: Keep some of the syrup that’s left in the saucepan to drizzle over the finished dessert.

Transfer to the lower rack of the oven and fill the large baking pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the inner dish, thus creating a bain-marie.
Bake the quinces for 2 hours, then turn heat up to 150°C, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for a further 30 minutes.

Note: Make sure you check the bain-marie every half hour in case you need to top off with water if it has evaporated.

When ready, the quinces should be tender but not falling apart. They should hold their shape but be soft and juicy.
Remove the baking pan from the oven and then remove the baking dish from the bain-marie. Leave the quinces to cool inside the baking dish. Once cool, transfer them to the refrigerator, covered with aluminum foil.

Serve the quinces cold in individual dishes, topped with a good dollop of kaymak and a generous sprinkling of ground pistachio. You can drizzle the top with some reserved syrup if you wish.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Greek quince spoon sweet

While I was in Greece this September, vacationing in the island of Evia, I got plenty of edible gifts from our neighbors there; such generous people who’d stop by with bags full of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and cucumbers from their gardens, and grapes, pomegranates and quinces from their vineyards and trees. It was wonderful having such fresh fruits and vegetables to play with. I cherished all those precious gifts and put them to good use, cooking up a storm each and every day I was there.

Returning home to Athens, I brought with me a huge bag full of quinces, and one afternoon, I spent my time in the kitchen making quince spoon-sweet with my grandmother. She was cutting, I was peeling, she was adding sugar, I was adding vanilla, and after a couple of hours, the most aromatic, bright coral-colored quince spoon-sweet was born.

Wedges of honey-sweet quince with a hint of lemon and an intoxicating aroma of the fruit and the added vanilla filled three large jars. The possibilities to enjoy them, endless. My favorites? Straight from the jar, on top of Greek sheep milk’s yoghurt, with freshly baked brioche and a side of anthotyro (or ricotta if you are not in Greece). The perfect breakfast or dessert.

PS. Scroll all the way down at the end of this post to see my photographs from the quince trees of our neighbors in Evia.

Greek quince spoon sweet

Spoon sweets are Greek preserves that are served by the spoonful in small plates or saucers. They are served usually with a strong Greek coffee to counterbalance the sweetness or a tall glass of water to quench the thirst.

Yield: 3 large jars / about 5 kg in total

1.3 kg peeled and cored quinces (about 5 large quinces)
1.3 kg caster sugar
1.2 liters water
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, cut in half

Special equipment: 3 large glass jars with lids

Quarter the quinces, remove the seeds and central core, and peel them. Rinse them under cold running water and place them in a large bowl filled with water. Cut each piece into a 2 cm-thick wedge.
In a large pan, add the sugar and the water, and place over a high heat. Stir with a spoon until the sugar dissolves. When it starts to boil, add the quince and the lemon. When it comes again to the boil, remove any scum that has risen to the top and add the vanilla bean.
Lower heat to medium and simmer for 1½-2 hours or until the quince are tender and they have taken on a deep coral color.
In the meantime, make sure to remove any scum that arises to the top in order to avoid a cloudy spoon sweet.

Note: If you want a thicker syrup (I prefer one that is not overly thick), you can remove the quinces from the pan when ready and then continue boiling the syrup a little while longer. Or you can add less water from the start (about 1 liter instead of 1.2).

Empty the quinces and the syrup into sterilized glass jars (read here how to sterilize them), put the lids on and turn them upside down. Allow to cool completely before turning them over. You can place them in the fridge once they cool. When you open a jar, it must stay in the fridge.

You can keep an unopened sterilized jar of this spoon sweet in a dark and cool place for up to a year. Once you open a jar, you can keep it refrigerated for up to 2 months.

Beautiful quince trees full of fruit! Island of Evia, Greece.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Seven years + a spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and a vanilla cream cheese frosting

A couple of weeks ago, my blog turned seven.

I had to celebrate the occasion and what better way to do it than with cake. A spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and orange zest, and a vanilla cream cheese frosting.

A moist, soft and fluffy yet substantial cake. A cake that’s deeply aromatic from all the spices —cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cardamom— without being overwhelming to your taste buds. A cake that’s sweet but not cloyingly so. With the pumpkin having a subtle presence, offering that precious moist texture. With the walnuts adding crunch and the orange zest that inimitable citrus aroma.

With a frosting speckled with real vanilla seeds and a creamy, luscious consistency that pairs beautifully with the cake. With the cream cheese adding a bit of sourness to balance the sweetness and the orange zest on top bringing flavor as well as color.

Thank you all for being here these past seven years and I hope you stick around for the next seven.

Spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and a vanilla cream cheese frosting

I used the classic, orange-colored pumpkin but you can also use a Hokkaido pumpkin (see it here on this post if you’re not familiar with it).

Yield: 1 cake / 16 small square pieces


for the cake
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
175 g caster sugar
2 medium-sized eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
150 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger powder
⅛ tsp ground cloves
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
175 g peeled pumpkin
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
75 g walnut halves, coarsely chopped

for the frosting
200 g cream cheese, at room temperature
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 g icing sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 fresh vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Special equipment: stand mixer, square baking pan (20x20 cm), baking paper, coarse grater, rasp grater


for the cake
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and line with a piece of baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar, and beat on high speed until creamy and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and then add the flour, baking powder, all the spices and the salt, and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
Grate the pumpkin on a coarse grater and add it to the batter together with the orange zest (keeping some of the grated zest for garnishing the cake). Add the chopped walnuts and mix well on low speed.
Empty the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and even the top with the back of a spoon or a spatula.

Place on the lower rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then transfer to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool, for about 15 minutes. Then, lift the ends of the baking paper and transfer the cake to the wire rack to cool completely.

for the frosting
In the clean bowl of the stand mixer, add the cream cheese and butter and beat with the paddle attachment on high speed until they are mixed well and you have a fluffy mixture. Add the icing sugar and the vanilla seeds (or paste) and beat on high speed until you have a creamy and smooth mixture. You should end up with a not too thick frosting, that’s very soft, smooth and creamy.

When the cake has completely cooled, add the frosting on top and smooth it with a spatula. Top with the orange zest and serve cut into squares.

The frosting will be very soft at first and it will become firmer after a few hours. It will never stiffen, but it will remain creamy and soft.

You can keep the cake at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days.