Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homemade-nutella hot chocolate with whipped cream

I don’t eat sweets regularly —even though I have a sweet tooth and I’m crazy about chocolate and Greek syrup desserts like baklava and galaktoboureko— and when I do eat them, I only have a small portion. This wasn’t always the case, I used to eat lots of sweets every single day which I finally realized wasn’t good for me and stopped.

Because of this, I have re-calibrated my palate, and now I don’t need a lot of sugar, honey or any other sweetener for something to taste sweet to me. Take for example Nutella. I used to love the stuff, which is full of sugar and cloyingly sweet, but ever since I stopped eating it and started making my own, I can’t eat Nutella anymore at all. I only eat my very own version of it that’s indeed far better. It’s not too sweet and it’s the real thing, with the pure and full flavor of hazelnuts and chocolate.

I’ve been making my own Nutella for quite some time now and apart from eating it straight from the jar, I’m invariably using it in all sorts of desserts and drinks, like this creamy and rich hot chocolate which is truly fantastic.

Besides my homemade chocolate and hazelnut spread, I add a little Frangelico to it which enhances the flavor of the nuts even more and I serve it topped with freshly whipped cream and a generous sprinkling of dark chocolate shavings, no less than 70% cocoa solids to give it a proper chocolaty boost.

Perfect for a Sunday afternoon, isn’t it?

Homemade-nutella hot chocolate with whipped cream

You could have this without the whipped cream of course, but its addition really adds a richness of texture and flavor to the beverage that’s quite marvelous.

Apropos of nothing, I never thought my laziness could lead to a revelation and a discovery of the most fluffy yet sturdy and smooth whipped cream, made with a food processor, but yes, that’s what happened. And from now on, whenever I need to make a small batch, I will only use my food processor. Read below how to make it too.

If by any chance you use store-bought chocolate-hazelnut spread that is far sweeter than my homemade version, you will need to add less of it to the beverage.

Yield: 2 servings

2 cups (500 ml) fresh whole milk
4 heaped Tbsp homemade hazelnut-chocolate spread (homemade Nutella), at room temperature
2 Tbsp Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur

to serve
Freshly whipped cream (see below hot to make it yourself using full-fat fresh cream)
Grated/shaved good quality dark chocolate (70% coco solids)
Demerara sugar or any other sugar you prefer (optional)

Special equipment: small food processor (to make the whipped cream)


make the whipped cream
In a small food processor, add the cream (you’ll need no more than 100 ml for two servings) and process for a few seconds until it thickens and becomes fluffy and creamy. Be careful because the food processor is powerful and the cream doesn’t need a lot of time to whip up. It takes seconds to become proper whipped cream.

make the hot chocolate
In a small saucepan, add the milk and heat over a medium heat until it starts to bubble at the edges. Turn the heat off and add the homemade Nutella and the Frangelico. Mix well with a small whisk to combine the ingredients and melt the Nutella. Give it a taste to see if it has gotten cold and if it has, heat it up again but don’t boil it. If you want, you can add the sugar at this point as well. Pour into jugs and top with freshly whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Drink immediately and enjoy!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pumpkin hummus with fresh chilli

Hummus lovers unite!

I have tried numerous kinds of hummus over the years, adding different vegetables (like beetroot), spices and aromatics to the classic, just-chickpeas version, and it never disappoints. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with even more combinations with great results and of course I plan to share those versions of hummus with you here.

Hummus is so versatile and so easy to whip up, literally, and it pairs beautifully with just about anything; seafood, meats, cooked and raw vegetables, or just straight up with a good loaf of crusty bread, toasted or not, with homemade pita, especially the Greek kind, with barley rusks or even with plain crackers.

This time, I decided to add fresh pumpkin to my hummus and some fresh, fiery, red chilli pepper to spice it up, as well as some ground cumin and cinnamon to make it more aromatic. I paired it with sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds that I sprinkled on top for extra crunch and fresh pomegranate seeds for color, tangy sweetness and freshness. It’s very creamy, utterly delicious and I hope you enjoy it too.

Pumpkin hummus with fresh chilli

It’s the best mezes to serve at a dinner or lunch, the perfect office snack paired with crunchy vegetables for dipping (cucumber, pepper, carrots) and if you are fasting during this period of Lent, it’s also Lenten-appropriate.

If you are daring, you can add some fresh Thai chilli that is way hotter than the regular red chilli pepper I used.
I used the classic, orange-colored pumpkin but you can also use butternut squash or kabocha squash.

Yield: enough for 6 people as an appetizer

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 fresh red chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cumin
150 g peeled fresh pumpkin, cut into 2 cm pieces
220 g cooked (boiled) chickpeas (see here how to make them), or canned chickpeas, rinsed well and drained (but keep the chickpea juices!!)
50 g tahini
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground white pepper
About 100 ml (7 Tbsp) chickpea juice (from homemade or canned chickpeas)

Sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds, to serve (see the recipe here)
Pomegranate seeds, to serve

Special equipment: large food processor

In a wide frying pan, add the olive oil and heat over a medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the shallots and fry for 1 minute until soft. Add the garlic, the chilli pepper, the cinnamon and the cumin and fry for 1 minute stirring continuously, being careful not to burn the garlic or the hummus will have a bitter taste. Then add the pumpkin, a little salt and 2 Tbsp hot water and cook gently over a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Once ready, transfer all the contents of the pan to a plate and allow to cool.

In the food processor, add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, a little white pepper and the chickpea juice and process until smooth. Add the cooled down pumpkin and process again until you have a smooth and creamy hummus. Give it a taste and add more lemon juice if needed and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt.

Serve topped with sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds, a few pomegranate seeds and a good drizzle of olive oil.

You can keep it in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Take it out of the fridge half an hour before serving and stir it very well with a spoon or spatula to make it creamy and to fluff it up.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Spiced red-wine poached pear and frangipane tart

This tart definitely falls under the best desserts category for me. It is complex yet familiar and comforting, luxurious yet rustic, rich but not overwhelmingly so, with balance of flavors. That is something I seem to say very often when I describe the food I share with you here, simply because that’s one of the most important things for me when it comes to food; a balance of flavors and not one-note dishes that only take you one place. I want my food to take my palate on a journey and this classic tart certainly does that with its various components, flavors and textures.

The pastry is addictively buttery, crispy and crumbly, almost cookie-like, and the full-flavored frangipane filling is sweet, smooth yet slightly grainy from the almonds, with extra nutty notes from the Amaretto liqueur. The soft and juicy red wine-poached pears on top, laden with sweet, heady spices and aromatics —cinnamon, cloves, orange, star anise, vanilla, cardamom, ginger— all present and adding layers of flavor to the tart, complement the filling and the pastry in a unique way.

The frangipane tends to caramelize at the sides of the tart as it bakes giving extra flavor to the buttery pastry and the kaymak (thick cream) that’s served on the side gives a rich smoothness to the dessert. You can certainly use a different kind of thick cream like clotted cream, or even mascarpone or a Chantilly cream.

This extremely aromatic, buttery and almond-y tart with the impressive, burgundy-colored slices of poached pears on top, gets a glossy finish when it’s brushed with the reduced pear poaching liquid, which strongly reminds me of the Greek petimezi (grape-must syrup) but with even more interesting and delicious flavors and aromas from the fruity wine and the aromatics.

I made this tart twice; the first one using the pears the same day that I poached them and the second one a couple of days later. The sliced pears were kept in the poaching liquid for those two days and as a result they had taken on a deep, rich burgundy color that was particularly beautiful and made a nice contrast with the golden color of the frangipane. You can use the pears whenever you wish, they keep in the fridge well for a week, and both hues have their own way of bringing beauty to the tart. Here, take a look at how the first one looked.

To me this is the best tart to have after a nice cosy dinner with the ones you love or on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a hot cup of coffee. Hope you enjoy it.

Spiced red-wine poached pear and frangipane tart

I could post the poached pears recipe all on its own. It’s truly magnificent and versatile. You can use them as a separate dessert to serve with ice cream, with mascarpone or chantilly cream, with chocolate ganache, or simply serve them on their own, drizzled with the reduced poaching liquid. Speaking of the reduced poaching liquid, it makes a great syrup to drizzle on your yoghurt, sprinkled with some finely chopped pistachios, or you can drizzle it on top of your favorite vanilla pound cake or vanilla ice cream. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of months.

Pâte sablée is one of two types of French sweet pastry tart crusts. (The other one is pâte sucrée which I have used here, here and here). It is made with icing sugar and is used for tarts whose filling needs baking.

Frangipane is a cream or paste made with almonds that can be used as a filling for tarts or cakes. It pairs beautifully with all sorts of fruits as well as with crème pâtissière and crème légère.

You’ll need two of the four poached pears for the tart, so you can use the remaining two for another dessert or served as mentioned above.

This tart is not the easiest one to make if you are a novice. The pastry has to be thin and crispy, the filling has to be rich but not greasy, the poached pears firm yet soft and supple. I’m not trying to discourage you from trying it, that would defy the purpose of me writing this blog and sharing recipes, but I want to be honest about what to expect and that there’s technique involved, but, as always, I explain every step in great detail so you need not be intimidated.

Yield: 1 tart / 8-10 pieces


for the spiced red wine poached pears
4 firm but ripe Conference pears, peeled with a vegetable peeler (weight before peeling them: 800-850 g)
400 ml Shiraz-Cabernet red wine (you can also use Merlot)
350 ml water
300 g caster sugar
Zest of ½ orange
1 star anise
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
½ vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3 cardamom pods, crushed
2 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled

for the pâte sablée
125 g all-purpose flour
60 g unsalted butter, cut into 2 cm cubes, chilled, plus extra for greasing the tart pan
35 g icing sugar
1 medium-sized egg, lightly beaten with a fork

for the frangipane
125 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g caster sugar
1 medium-sized egg
125 g ground blanched almonds* (see below)
1½ tsp (6 g) cornflour
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp Amaretto liqueur (optional yet preferable)

for the glaze
1½ cup of the pear poaching liquid

Kaymak, clotted cream, mascarpone or chantilly cream, to serve

* You can use already ground almonds or you can grind your own. I always grind my own almonds because they’re fresher and cheaper. Use a food processor to grind the almonds finely but being careful not to grind them to the point where they start to release their oils.

Special equipment: sieve, rolling pin, baking paper, baking weights or dried beans, 23 cm flutter tart pan with removable bottom, stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, pastry brush


for the poached pears
Place all the ingredients, except the pears, in a medium saucepan, put over a medium heat and cook, stirring continuously with a spoon until the sugar dissolves. Then add the peeled, whole pears and cover them with a cartouche.

Note: Cartouche is a round piece of baking paper with a hole in the center that reduces the evaporation of moisture during cooking the pears while it helps to keep the pears submerged in the liquid. To make a cartouche, follow this method of making a circle of baking paper and just cut a hole in the middle.

Put the lid on the saucepan and turn heat down to low, not too low though, you want the liquid to be gently simmering. Allow pears to simmer for 30-35 minutes, checking them every 15 minutes and turning them around in order to cook and color evenly. It’s important to check the pears because not all pears are the same or have the same ripeness and not all pears cook in the same time. In the end, the tip of a knife should enter easily the round bottom part of the pear. The pears mustn’t be too soft or falling apart, they should absolutely hold but be tender.

When the pears are ready, remove them from the heat and leave them in the liquid until they cool completely. They will become darker as they cool. Then transfer them into a large glass bowl and pour the liquid over them passing it through a sieve and discarding the spices. If you are going to use the pears on the same day, leave them aside. If you plan on using them the following day or days, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until read to use.

You can keep the poached pears in the fridge submerged in the liquid for up to a week.

Note: you will use two of the four pears for the tart. Keep the rest in the poaching liquid, covered, in the fridge, for another use.

for the pâte sablée
In a medium-sized bowl, add the flour and butter and rub between your fingertips until you achieve a golden, sand-like texture. It will take 9-10 minutes. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Then stir in the icing sugar, add the egg and knead lightly with your hand until it comes together into a smooth yet sticky ball. The butter should be fully incorporated but you shouldn’t knead too long and work the pastry too much. It will be sticky in the end which shouldn’t worry you. Don’t fiddle around with it. Empty it inside a large piece of plastic wrap, shape it roughly into a flat disk, wrap it well and place it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Note: You can certainly do this whole process in a food processor rather than by hand if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 170°C fan.

Prepare the tart pan by greasing it well with butter at the base and sides.

Take the pastry dough out of the fridge. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and place the dough on top. Dust the top with a little flour and dust your rolling pin with flour as well. Roll the dough out into a 4mm thick round. When rolling it out, take care to lift it up and turn it around so that it doesn’t stick to your work surface. Dust lightly with flour if it’s getting too sticky.
When rolled out and ready, roll it around the rolling pin and lift it over the tart pan. Unroll it on top of the tart pan and gently let it fall into the pan. Carefully and gently, 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 15-20 minutes.

Take the tart pan out of the refrigerator and 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 20 minutes. Then remove carefully the baking paper with the beans/pie weights and bake the pastry for a further 4 minutes until dry and a pale golden color.
Remove the tart pan from the oven and off the baking sheet and set aside.

for the frangipane
While the tart base is baking, prepare the filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl and using n electric hand-held mixer), add the butter and sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, for 7-8 minutes. Then add the egg and beat well until incorporated, about 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the ground almonds, cornflour and salt and add them to the butter mixture. Fold them in using a spatula until fully incorporated and finally add the Amaretto and mix it in with the spatula.

Spread the frangipane evenly inside the tart base using a spatula and smooth with the back of a spoon (or a spatula).

Going back to the pears, take two of the pears out of the bowl and cut them in four lengthwise. Remove the cores and stems and slice each quarter in two lengthwise. You should end up with a total of 16 pear slices.
Arrange the sliced pears on top of the frangipane.

Place the tart pan on a baking paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet and place in the middle rack of the oven (still heated to 170°C fan). Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the frangipane has puffed up, is set (not wobbly) and it has taken on a golden-brown color. It will be darker around the edges. Some butter may leak from the frangipane while baking, that’s okay.

for the glaze
While the tart is baking, prepare the glaze. Pour 1½ cup of the pear poaching liquid into a small saucepan. Heat over a medium heat until it has a syrup-like consistency. Don’t let it get too thick.

When the tart is ready, remove it from the oven and while still hot, glaze the top using a pastry brush. Glaze both the frangipane and the pears, being gentle so you don’t break them apart.

Leave to cool, remove carefully from the tart pan and serve cut into slices. Serve with kaymak, clotted cream, mascarpone or chantilly, or serve tart on its own.

The tart keeps well at room temperature, covered, for 1 week and that’s because of the frangipane. The oils of the almonds in the frangipane help keep it moist and fresh. It’s at its best of course the day you bake it and I’d suggest you serve it to your guests on the day, but it’s still delicious the following days. The pastry base tends to soften a bit after the first day and becomes less crispy and more shortbread-like.