Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rhubarb and almond cake with rye flour and coconut sugar

Three sweet recipes in one month? Well, yes, that’s how it goes sometimes. And please don’t tell me you’re disappointed!

Rhubarb is baaaack. It makes me so happy to see it at the markets. Rhubarb is so exotic to me because it’s a fruit (or rather vegetable) that I had never eaten before I moved to the Netherlands, as it’s almost impossible to find in Greece.

Now, every spring, there’s a few things I can’t wait to taste and one of them is rhubarb; those long pink stalks of juicy sourness and sweetness that’s so unique and incredible, and that make desserts and savory dishes alike utterly special, both in flavor and texture.

The first thing I made with this year’s rhubarb is this cake, with almonds, rye flour and coconut sugar. I love rye flour and coconut sugar, and I invariably use them in desserts in place of regular white flour and white sugar. They add so much depth of flavor and in the case of the rye flour, texture as well.

This is an easy and quick cake to make and it’s perfect to have with your afternoon coffee, with or without some freshly whipped sweetened cream, and of course ideal for your after-dinner sweet cravings with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

It’s special enough to serve it for friends and easy and quick enough to share with just your significant other or your family.

At first, what you taste is the sharp, refreshing flavor of the rhubarb which is immediately mellowed by the caramel-y sweetness of the coconut sugar and the deeply earthy, somewhat savory quality of the rye flour, which actually reminds me of my favorite biscuits, the digestives. The almonds and vanilla bean paste are present as well, adding levels of flavor to this seemingly simple cake.

It’s soft in the center with the melting, almost jammy rhubarb adding moistness to it, with the crunch of the ground almonds and the added texture from the wholemeal rye flour, while the top, bottom and sides of the cake are pleasantly crunchy form the generous sprinkling of sugar before baking. The flavors are balanced and it’s neither too sweet nor too sharp. For me, it’s just right. S on the other hand, who has an even sweeter tooth than I have, was dying for a ball of ice cream to put on top, which he did the next day.

It’s perfect eaten while still warm, but the flavors change when it’s cool and they become deeper, as with all cakes. Also, let it be known that the corner pieces with all those gloriously crunchy, caramelized, swoon-worhty edges, are the best. Keep them for yourself. You deserve it.

More rhubarb recipes:
Vanilla roasted rhubarb and ricotta cream with Greek honey on toasted bread
Rhubarb and ginger-crumble ice cream
Rhubarb jam with black pepper
Pan-fried mackerel with rosemary and capers, and roasted rhubarb

Rhubarb and almond cake with rye flour and coconut sugar
Adapted from Bon Appetit

You can easily substitute the coconut sugar with Demerara sugar which I actually used to sprinkle the top of the cake to give a different texture since the Demerara sugar I use has bigger granules whereas the coconut sugar is finer.
I find that coconut sugar has a smoother, more round and interesting flavor than Demerara and it also has a deeper caramel flavor that I love. FYI, coconut blossom sugar doesn’t taste like coconut at all.

I use an enameled roasting pan to bake this cake. It is thin (not thick as baking pans usually are), which affects the baking time and also the texture of the cake especially at the bottom and around the edges as it creates more crunchy edges. Use something similar in order to have the same results. If you use a regular baking pan that is thicker, the cake will need to bake for a little longer.

This cake could easily be made with strawberries instead of rhubarb. It would be a bit wetter because strawberries release more juices when cooked. You could use 250 g strawberries and not add any on top of the cake, only inside, cut into small, bite-sized pieces.

Yield: 1 cake / 6 very generous pieces

230 g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
170 g coconut sugar (or Demerara sugar), plus extra for sprinkling the pan
450 g fresh rhubarb stalks
160 g whole rye flour
100 g blanched almonds
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)
2 large eggs
90 g Greek yoghurt, full-fat
50 g Demerara sugar (or coconut sugar) for sprinkling the top of the cake

Special equipment: small food processor, stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer, 28x22 cm pan (I use an enamel roasting pan), baking paper

I had posted the step-by-step on my instagram stories a few days ago and I uploaded the whole thing in one video on my flickr account. You can see it here for reference. Some steps are missing but you will get the idea.

Preheat your oven to 175°C.
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan well and cover with a piece of baking paper. Butter the baking paper and sprinkle with coconut sugar.

Slice the rhubarb in half lengthwise or in quarters if it’s too thick. Keep 7 stalks that are the most pink and pretty for the top of the cake. The rest, cut into 1.2 cm pieces.

In a small food processor, finely grind the almonds being careful not to take them too far as to become a paste. Empty them into a medium-sized bowl and add the rye flour, baking powder and salt. Mix with a spatula well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter, sugar (170 g) and vanilla bean paste, and using the paddle attachment (or an electric hand-held mixer), beat on medium-high speed until creamy and fluffy, for 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well the first one before adding the second. Beat for 4 minutes until again you have a very fluffy and creamy mixture. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined and there are no visible patches of flour. Then, add the yoghurt and beat on low speed until just combined. You will have a slightly thick batter at this point. Finally, add the rhubarb pieces and mix them well in the batter using a spatula.

Empty the batter into the prepared pan in dollops, spread the mixture evenly and smooth the top. Add on top the reserved rhubarb stalks lengthwise, pink sides up, and sprinkle the top of the cake with the 50 g of Demerara sugar.

Place on the low rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then transfer the pan to the middle rack and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the rhubarb has softened, the cake has taken on a deep golden color and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remember however that there’s rhubarb pieces in there so it will be moist where the rhubarb is located.

Take the pan out of the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool a bit. I love eating it warm. It is also great once cooled completely. Take your pick!
Serve in pieces, plain or paired with ice cream or sweetened chantilly cream.

The cake is at its best the day that you make it. The next day is good as well. You can keep it in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Carrot cake cookies with dates and coconut flour

We’re all different when it comes to food, and judging how good or bad a certain dish is, it’s totally subjective, as most things are anyway.

We are all unique and so are our tastes, our likes and dislikes which vastly depend on the foods we grew up eating, our everyday diet, the level of sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, etc. we can tolerate and are used to, and of course how educated our palate is and how accepting we are or can be to different ingredients and combinations.
Many people also have dietary restrictions, self-imposed or due to health issues, so it’s only understandable that every single one of us judges foods and flavor combinations differently.

I don’t have any dietary restrictions but my goal is to have a balanced diet that includes every single food group. I try to eat sweets in moderation but since I have a sweet tooth and most of the times tend to go for the calorific and extravagant desserts, I try to keep the balance and make some more healthy desserts and sweets as well.

I love to experiment and play around with different ingredients, which is something that has always led me to new paths, new flavors and ways to combine them, like these cookies here, which seemingly are carrot cookies but they’re actually more than that because there’s coconut in there in the form of flour, there’s squidgy dates, maple syrup and all kinds of spices. It’s like carrot cake but in cookie form, of the gluten-free kind.

The cookies may look rough around the edges and not picture-perfect, but they are delicious. They’re wonderfully chewy around the edges and cakey in the center, they’re not too sweet, with that characteristic caramel sweetness from the dates and maple syrup, and are very aromatic from the warming spices that have a gentle rather than aggressive taste. The coconut flour, which is finer than desiccated coconut and brings a texture to the cookies I particularly love, gives a delicate coconut flavor to them, while the carrot brings sweetness and earthiness.

The next day they are a bit softer, more cake-like and the flavor of the spices is more pronounced, and dare I say I like them more then? Yes, I do. They are perfect with my morning or afternoon coffee.

Carrot cake cookies with dates and coconut flour

I used Medjool dates that are juicier and have a strong caramel flavor. If you can’t find them, use another kind of date. Just make sure they’re soft and juicy and not dried out.

Yield: about 20 cookies

75 g coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground ginger
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
65 g maple syrup
1 medium-sized egg, lightly beaten with a fork
95 g pitted dried dates, chopped into small pieces
60 g grated carrot

Special equipment: box grater, fine sieve, electric hand-held mixer, cling film, baking sheet, baking paper

In a bowl, sieve the coconut flour, baking powder and all the spices.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the butter and maple syrup and beat using an electric hand-held mixer on high speed until pale, creamy and fluffy. With the mixer running on medium-low speed, add the egg little by little and once you’ve added it all, beat on high speed until fully incorporated and you have a fluffy mixture. Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, add the chopped dates and grated carrot and using a stiff silicone spatula, stir to combine all the ingredients well. Make sure the dates are evenly distributed in the dough.

Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until the cookie dough is firm enough to be shaped into cookies.

Preheat your oven to 185°C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Take the bowl with the dough out of the fridge and using the Tablespoon measuring spoon, scoop spoonfuls of the dough and roll them between your hands tightly to make a ball. The dough will feel a bit crumbly but it will hold. Also make sure each ball has dates in it.

Place each ball on the prepared baking sheet, spaced apart, and then gently flatten each ball to about 1 cm thickness. Place the baking sheet on the low rack of the preheated oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes, the transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 3 minutes or until they start to color around the edges. Be careful not to burn them because they catch easily.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and leave the cookies to cool on the baking sheet.

They taste even better the next day and you can keep them for up to 4 days in an airtight container, at room temperature.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Vanilla and homemade-nutella pound cake

I have talked to you before about my homemade hazelnut-chocolate spread and it seems like I’m going to be talking more about it in the future because every time I prepare a batch, I make something different with it. I use it in various cakes, brownies, beverages (like this hot chocolate) and ice creams.

This time, I used it in a pound cake, a vanilla pound cake that needed something to lift it up and make it more interesting, and the resulting cake was like the best marbled cake there is, with the homemade spread making all the difference.

It’s very easy to make, you don’t even need to bring out the big guns, aka stand mixer, as you’ll only need an electric hand-held mixer to make the batter.

It’s a delicious cake that’s moist and dense but not heavy, and it’s soft and ultra buttery with an intense vanilla flavor and an even more intense hazelnut and chocolate flavor from the homemade spread. And that part of the cake is my favorite; where it’s softer and creamier but also grainy from the hazelnuts and almonds.

Getting both the vanilla and the homemade nutella part in one bite, however, is pure heaven. The combination is scrumptious and I had a really hard time having just one slice. If you too have a sweet tooth like I do, be warned, this cake is seriously addictive.

Vanilla and homemade-nutella pound cake

You’ll need about a third of my homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread so you’ll get the chance to eat the rest by the spoonful.

The homemade nutella makes the difference in this cake but if you don’t want to make it yourself, you can certainly use the regular nutella. It won’t be exactly the same because the homemade version of the spread has more balance of flavors, is not too sweet and has the full flavor of chocolate and nuts, but it will still be delicious.

Yield: 1 cake / 10 slices

185 g all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
5 medium-sized eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
250 g caster sugar
320 g homemade nutella (or regular nutella)

Special equipment: 21 x 11 cm loaf pan, baking paper, electric hand-held mixer, fine sieve

Leave your homemade nutella out of the fridge for 1 hour before using it in the cake in order to soften.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.
Grease the bottom and sides of your pan and line with baking paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, sieve the flour, the baking powder and the salt.
In a jug or another medium-sized bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and lightly whisk using a wire whisk until frothy.
In a large bowl, add the butter and sugar, and beat with an electric hand-held mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. With the mixer running at medium-low speed, gradually add the beaten eggs and beat on high until fully incorporated and you have a mixture that is creamy, light and airy. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat at low speed until just incorporated. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Add the last 1/3 of the flour and beat until just incorporated. Beat for 30 seconds more and then stop.

Spread 1/3 of the vanilla cake batter in the bottom of your prepared loaf pan, then add half of the homemade nutella on top and spread it or dollop it (I did the latter to get bigger pieces of it in the cake). Repeat with another 1/3 of the vanilla cake batter, spreading over the nutella. Add the rest of the homemade nutella and spread it (or dollop it) and finish by adding the rest of the vanilla cake batter on top. Smooth the top of the cake and place it on the low rack of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Note: Because the homemade nutella is made with actual nuts, it has heft and sinks a bit to the bottom of the cake. If you use store bought nutella it will probably stay put. You can even swirl it around to marble it with the vanilla batter, something which is a bit difficult with the homemade nutella because it is thicker.

Remove the pan from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut into slices and enjoy!

It will keep for up to 4-5 days, covered, at room temperature but I doubt it will stay around for that long.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Greek slow-roasted lamb shoulder with potatoes and herbs

It doesn’t matter if you spend Easter with your extended family, immediate family, your friends or just your partner, this Greek lamb shoulder can be the centerpiece of your Easter table. It can feed two to twelve people, if you adjust the quantities that is, it is easy to make so you won’t slave in the kitchen all day, and it’s all in one pan, both potatoes and lamb, the way Greeks do it.

Granted, if you have lamb on a spit planned, as many of us Greeks do on Easter Sunday, then perhaps you’ll forego this one, but do keep it on the back burner for a special Sunday lunch or for that special occasion when you have friends over.

This is the way I like to prepare my lamb shoulder, which if cooked properly, has a richer and fuller flavor than the leg of lamb.

The lamb is slowly cooked in the oven for a little over three hours, which gives it plenty of time to get to know all the ingredients in the pan, soaking up all those flavors from the rosemary, the thyme, the oregano, the mustard, the garlic, the lemon, the extra virgin olive oil. In the end, it is fork tender, falling off the bone and incredibly juicy inside with a gloriously crispy skin. The potatoes too are tender inside and crispy on the outside, and utterly scrumptious. And the juices? Oh the juices. Those are perhaps the best part. Take your crusty bread and dunk away. What more can you ask for?

Kalo Pascha!! Happy Easter!!

Greek slow-roasted lamb shoulder with potatoes and herbs

Make sure to cut the potatoes on the thick side so they won’t disintegrate as they will roast for almost three hours.
Don’t rinse the lamb before coking as it takes away some of its flavor.

Yield: 4 servings

1.5 - 2 kg whole, bone-in lamb shoulder
5-6 large potatoes, cut into thick-ish wedges
1 Tbsp mild yellow mustard
6 whole garlic cloves, with skins
3 peeled garlic cloves, cut into four lengthwise
3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs
7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tsp Greek wild dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
250-300 ml water

Special equipment: roasting pan, large enough to hold the lamb and the potatoes

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Place the lamb in the roasting pan and using your hands, smear the whole lamb with the mustard. Then score its flesh on 8-9 different places (bottom and top of the shoulder), making small incisions that will fit the pieces of the garlic clove quarters. Squeeze each garlic clove-quarter into each incision with your thumb and scatter the rest of the garlic cloves on the roasting pan together with the six whole garlic cloves.
Arrange the potato wedges around the lamb, in one layer. Sprinkle the lamb and the potatoes with salt, black pepper and dried oregano on all sides and add the rosemary and thyme sprigs to the pan.
Drizzle with the olive oil and add the lemon juice over the lamb and potatoes.
Add the water on the bottom of the roasting pan and jiggle the pan around to mix the liquids. You want to add so much water so that it comes up 2/3 up the potatoes.
Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes. Then lower the heat to 150°C and roast for 1 hour. Finally, turn the heat up to 165°C and roast for 1 hour and 45 minutes until the lamb is fork tender. Make sure to turn the potatoes (being careful not to break them up) halfway though the total baking time, and check from time to time to see whether the potatoes need more water. You certainly don’t want them to dry out. Also, what’s very important is that every 1 hour you baste the lamb, which essentially means that you take with a large spoon juices from the pan and pour them over the lamb (do this 4-5 times each time you baste). This helps to keep it moist and adds more flavor to it.

Remove the pan from the oven, allow to stand for 10 minutes and then serve. Enjoy!!

Aaaand if you are obsessed with garlic like I am, then after those 3 hours, you will get to eat the most delicious, juicy and sweet garlic ever. Remember those six whole garlic cloves in their skins that you added in the pan? Well take them out, press with your fingers gently the skin to reveal that amazing goodness and dig in!