Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gâteau aux Carottes - Carrot Cake

This lovely little Gâteau aux Carottes – (Carrot Cake) is inspired by a recipe from Pierre Hermé, the famous French pastry chef and chocolatier. Back in 2013, we baked the wonderful 'Sablés aux Olives Noires Pierre Hermé - Pierre Hermé´s Black Olive Sablés' for the French Fridays with Dorie Group (FFwD - link here) and we loved the recipe. Today, I am presenting another of his countless recipes, a simple Carrot Cake. As a matter of fact, I love Carrot Cakes, the classic European version with a simple glaze that I blogged about in the past (go here for the recipe) and occasionally also the British or American, double-layer version with lots of grated carrots, nuts and sultanas or raisins and slathered with cream cheese frosting and finished with a topping of candied carrots, chopped walnuts or pecans, a rather indulgent treat.

The first thing that caught my attention when I saw this recipe, was its simplicity - petite cakes with few but quality ingredients and big on taste, always interest me. And this Carrot Cake delivers. It is easy to make and superbly delicious and it contains just a few ingredients - its taste and texture depend upon the quality of the ingredients that you choose to use for the recipe. If possible, use organic carrots and eggs, maybe farm fresh eggs, use a good mild oil here and buy your nuts at a place with a high turnover and grind them yourself just before adding to the batter. As far as the vanilla and cinnamon are concerned, these two ingredients were added by me to the recipe - I like to use homemade vanilla sugar and organic Ceylon cinnamon which has a warm taste and will not overpower the other ingredients. These two additions are a nice compliment to the flavors - leave them out if you wish.

One last remark with respect to these adorable and delicious 'Simple Cakes' (as I like to refer to them), if you can get hold of a small fancy baking pan, get it and then use it! Simple cakes look even more appealing when you use an unusual baking pan. After all, as the saying goes - you eat with your eyes first!

Gâteau aux Carottes -  Carrot Cake
(inspired by Le Larousse des Desserts de Pierre Hermé, Larousse, first published in 1997, latest ed. from 2006)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 2 eggs (M), farm fresh, organic and/or free range
  • 100g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4g pure vanilla sugar (use homemade if you have some on hand) - not in the original recipe
  • 50g all purpose (plain) flour (around here I use 'type 405'), plus some for flouring the pan
  • 10g baking powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (I like to use organic Ceylon cinnamon) - not in the original recipe
  • 60 g finely ground hazelnuts (grind both types of nuts just before making the cake)
  • 70 g finely ground almonds
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 250g carrots (washed, trimmed and peeled you will end up with 200g finely grated carrots, about 3 medium ones), try to use organic carrots
  • 25 ml vegetable oil (I like to use sunflower oil)
  • PLUS: some unsalted, room temperature butter for greasing the pan

Glaze (optional)
  • about 2 heaping tsp apricot jam, heated and strained - not in the original recipe
  • a few chopped natural pistachios
  • OR: use a bit of powdered sugar for a simple yet elegant dusting

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356°F).
  2. Using a pastry brush, butter and flour your baking pan carefully, turn the pan upside down and shake out any excess flour (I used a small baking pan - a light-colored, non-stick metal pan works best).
  3. In a large bowl, with a hand-held mixer, whisk the eggs with the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar until the mixture becomes white and fluffy (or do by hand with a large whisk).
  4. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, both typs of ground nuts and salt.
  5. Switching from the mixer to a spatula or large spoon (wooden or metal), add the flour mixture to the egg mixture.
  6. Then add half the the grated carrots to the mixture, then the oil and then the remaining carrots and stir just until combined. Do not whisk.
  7. Pour into your prepped cake pan, level and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Once the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, take it out of the oven, place it on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then carefully loosen from the pan and while still warm brush the apricot glaze evenly over the surface of the cake (optional). If you like, you can sprinkle the finished cake with a bit of chopped pistachios.
  9. Let cool completely and serve - if you have chosen not to glaze the cake, dust with a bit of powdered sugar just before serving. NOTE: this Carrot Cake keeps well for a few days, if you keep it covered and in a cool place.

Nothing beats a simple little Carrot Cake - whether you're enjoying it with your as 'Breakfast Cake' with your morning coffee, afternoon tea or just fancy a treat.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Late Winter Comfort Food - Wholegrain Spelt Flour 'Flambettes' with a Topping of Caramelized Fennel

Just a rather quick post about those delicous Wholegrain Spelt Flour Flambettes with Caramelized Fennel that I made the other day. I love, love this recipe for 'Flambettes', the small versions of 'Flammekueche' aka 'Tarte Flambée', a specialty from Alsace in eastern France, on the German border.

Basically, a 'Flammekueche' can be considered as a cross between a savory tart and a pizza, traditionally topped with sour cream (or crème fraîche), lardons, and thinly slivered onions. My 'Flambettes' are rounds of wholegrain spelt flour dough spread with crème fraîche and sour cream, and sprinkled with previously caramelized fennel. Yum!

Originally, 'Flammekueche' (literally translated as 'flame cake') also known as a 'plat du pauvre' (a 'dish of the poor') traditionally made on bread-baking day, was a bit of dough rolled flat, covered in sour cream and baked in 2 to 3 minutes in a blazing wood oven in order to check the oven's temperature and suitability for baking bread and other items. Often burned at the edges ('licked by the flames'), it has made a real comeback at many a country fair around here, covered with all sorts of different toppings. At home, you can certainly get excellent results with a regular oven and longer baking time. And you can opt for the smaller versions, called 'Flammbettes'.

Wholegrain Spelt Flour Flambettes  with Caramelized Fennel
Ingredients for the Dough
(yields 4 flambettes)
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 50 ml olive oil (it is best to use a mild olive oil here, suitable for high temperatures)
  • 200 ml lukewarm water
  • 400g wholegrain spelt flour (I like to use organic spelt flour)
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic 
  • pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 3 fennel bulbs (about medium size)
  • olive oil
  • a knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 100g sour cream (or a bit more)
  • 100g crème fraîche (or a bit more)
  • zest of ½ organic (and/or untreated) lemon, plus juice from about ½ lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper & salt (to taste)

Preparation of the Flambette Dough
  1. In a bowl, mix together the yeast with the oil and 100 ml of the water (stir until the yeast is completely dissolved) – then cover and set aside for 20 minutes in a warm spot.
  2. To the same bowl, add half the flour (200g), the egg and the salt. Mix until it comes together. Then add the remaining flour (200g) and water (100ml) and mix again.
  3. Cover with kitchen wrap or tea towel and leave in a warm place to let the dough rise for at least 60 minutes.

Preparation of the Topping
  1. While the dough is rising, prepare the topping.
  2. Clean and thinly slice three fennel bulbs – making sure to discard the tough stems and roots but keep the fennel fronds for the final topping (after the Flambettes have emerged from the oven).
  3. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and fry the fennel in batches (depending on the size of your pan, you will need to fry three or more times) - salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once a batch of fennel is golden and soft, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and continue frying the next batch – repeat with olive oil, salt, pepper – until all the fennel is done.
  5. Wipe out your pan, add a bit of olive oil and a good knob of butter and melt on medium heat. Then add a tablespoon of sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved and then add all the fried fennel back into the pan, stir well, heat through until lightly caramelized, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, the crème fraîche, lemon zest and juice, pepper and salt – taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  7. Pre-heat your oven (as hot as it will go) – either use pizza stone (if you have one) OR turn a baking sheet upside down and slide in the oven to pre-heat. 
  8. Once the dough has risen, punch the dough gently to knock the air out, then tip out onto a lightly floured surface.
  9. Divide the dough into four balls
  10. Turn the balls of dough into disks (roll out as thin as possible but make sure to leave a thicker/raised border and without ripping the middle). This is best done by hand.
  11. Place on parchment paper (two will fit on one baking sheet).
  12. Divide the cream mixture between the four flambettes (make sure to stay within the border), then top with the caramelized fennel.
  13. Very carefully slide the parchment paper onto the pre-heated baking sheet (you will have to bake one set of Flambettes at a time).
  14. Bake in the hot oven until nice and crisp around the edges – about 12 to 15 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven). Repeat with the second set of Flambettes.
  15. Just before serving sprinkle the reserved (see above) fennel fronds on the topping and if you want a bit of freshly cracked black pepper.
  16. Serve warm or at room temperature.

In Alsace, 'Flammekueche' is often eaten as a first course and shared with a large group as part of a larger feast. But it’s also delicious as a simple supper, with a seasonal green salad on the side. Same holds true for these 'Flambettes' - enjoy as a light lunch (which is what we did), serve as part of a large Mezze spread or serve as a first course for a dinner crowd.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Two Kinds Of Biscotti - Lemon Almond Biscotti & Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

First up, a recipe for Lemon Almond Biscotti -  nice, light, not too crunchy, although baked twiced, easy to make and with a bit of an elegant look to them. These can be enjoyed as they are, dunked into coffee, tea or sweet dessert wine or served as a little cookie on the side with stewed or fresh fruit, or, of course lovely ice cream or a fruity sorbet.

If you are a reader of my blog, you will have noticed that I have posted many different recipes for Biscotti (also know as Cantuccini) before - if you are interested, you can take a look at my recipe for Espresso, Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Biscotti here or go for my festive Gingerbread and Almond Biscotti here and my Speculaas Biscotti with Almonds here.

Just a few notes concerning this particular recipe for Lemon Almond Biscotti. Since the Biscotti are baked twice, there is no need to toast the almonds beforehand but if you prefer the almonds to be darker and have a slightly more nutty flavor, you can toast the almonds before mixing them into the dough. To toast the almonds, spread them on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and just until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool before you add them to the dough.

You should also note that this recipe can be mixed by stand mixer with the paddle attachment, on medium speed, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Lemon Almond Biscotti

  • 140g (½ cup plus 2 tbs) superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR use ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 60g (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp Amaretto
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from one organic/untreated lemon), plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 egg (M), plus 1 egg white (M), free range or organic
  • 190g (1 ½ cups) AP (plain) flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 100g (½ cup) slivered almonds
  • powdered sugar (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, vanilla sugar, butter, Amaretto, lemon zest and juice. 
  2. Stir in egg and egg white.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture just until combined.
  5. Stir in almonds.
  6. Cover dough with kitchen wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat your oven to 175° C (350°F).
  8. Halve dough and place on baking sheet lined with backing parchment.
  9. Form into two logs. NOTE: if you find the dough too sticky to handle, moisten your hands with some water.
  10. Bake until pale golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  11. Carefully loosen logs from the baking sheet, then cool on sheets on wire racks, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  12. Transfer logs to your cutting bord.
  13. With a serrated knife, cut logs into 1cm (0.3 in) slices and arrange on baking sheet.
  14. Bake until Biscotti are pale golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
  15. Transfer Biscotti to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  16. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional). NOTE: the cooled Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container (cookie tin). Recipe yields about 30 cookies.

If you are looking to bake Biscotti with a bit more crunch and with lots of chocolate the Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti are for you. These dark beauties have a deep chocolaty flavor. And lots of pistachios, those slim, oblong nuts, ranging from pale, creamy yellow to dark green, that are kernels of small olive-like fruit. Make sure you use the freshest pistachios you can, get them from a reliable source with a high turnover and keep any leftovers in a jar in your fridge.

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

  • 250g (2 cups) AP (plain) flour
  • 50g (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Belgian or Dutch cocoa powder maent for baking)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g (1 cup) superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR use ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs (M), free range or organic 
  • 125g (1 cup) natural, unsalted pistachios (shelled) – make sure that you remove as much of the dry skins as possible before you add the pistachios to your dough (best done by rubbing the skinds off between the layers of a tea towel), coarsely chopped
  • 100g (3/4 cup) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I use 72%)
  • powdered sugar

  1. In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until combined well. 
  4. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. 
  5. Stir in pistachios and chocolate chunks.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 175° C (365° F).
  7. On a parchment lined baking sheet with floured hands form dough into two slightly flattened logs, each about 30cm (12in) long and 5cm (2in) wide, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 
  8. Bake logs for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. 
  9. Cool logs on baking sheet for about 5 to 10 minutes. 
  10. Then transfer to a cutting board and cut the logs diagonally into 2 cm (0.75in)  slices. 
  11. Arrange Biscotti, cut sides down, on your parchment lined baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. 
  12. Cool Biscotti on a rack.

Recipe note - the dough yields two logs with 16 biscottis each – you can bake one log and freeze the other, or, of course, bake both logs at the same time on the same baking sheet. Biscotti keep in an airtight container for about one week and frozen, about one month.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Galettes des Rois - Classic & Lemon Poppy Seed

The French Galette des rois (King Cake) was created to celebrate Epiphany (January 6th) which marks the arrival of the three Kings or Wisemen, also called the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) who came bearing gifts (gold, incense and myrrh) for the infant Jesus. Kings is 'les rois', in French, hence the French name 'Galette des rois' for this lovely festive pastry.

In France, there are two kinds of King Cakes - there is the 'Galette des rois' - layers of puff pastry filled with an almond cream, and rather popular in the North of France, then there is the 'Gâteau des rois' a round yeasted cake, much beloved in the South of France and adorned with colorful, sticky candied fruit, resembling a New Orleans King Cake.

If you have ever visited France around Christmas time, you will probably have noticed that the Galette des rois is baked throughout the month of January. And if you ever had the pleasure to indulge in a slice or two, you will know that a classic Galette des Rois is composed of two circles of puff pastry that sandwich an almond cream, also referred to as frangipane filling. Each Galette comes with a crown and always has a trinket, called a fève, or bean, baked into it. If you are lucky enough to get slice of cake that has the fève, you get to wear the golden paper crown and the right to be king or queen for the day.

Although the classic Galette des rois basically consits of two components: the buttery puff-pastry circles and the decadent almond filling, homebakers and pastry chefs alike have taken to creating many different fillings including some with fruits (fresh or dried) or fruit compotes (such as apples pears or apricots), chocolate, and various nuts (such as hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios), but the shape of the Galette remains true to tradition. The edges of the galette are scalloped to show off the rise of the pastry and to seal in the delightful creamy filling that is the perfect counterpoint to the flaky crusts.

Traditionally, Galettes des rois, sometimes also referred to as 'Pithiviers', named for the town in the Loiret (south of Paris) where they are said to have originated from, come with a crown as well as a charm.  Some crowns are intricately designed, but most are made of gold cardboard. In earlier times, the charm was a dried bean, a fève, and fève is still the name for the trinket, although today’s fèves, are made of porcelain and can be quite elaborate. The fèves come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Cartoon characters are popular in France, as are French historical or religious figures. And some bakeries have annual fèves that change. Not only is it fun to see them, but some have become true collectors items. As mentioned above, if the charm is hidden in your portion, you get the crown and the title of king or queen for the day.

If you are a reader of my blog, you will probably remember that in the past I have already blogged about the Galette des rois. In 2016 (here) and in 2015 (here). As our family celebrates Epiphany every year with at least two Galettes des rois, following the traditional recipe, today, I include a variation on the traditional theme, namely a Galette with an almond filling with added lemon and poppy seeds – a combination of flavors that I really enjoy. This is a delicious variation, as the poppy seeds add a nice crunch and the delightful tartness of the lemon cuts through the sweetness of the almond filling. And I love the way the final Galette looks, nice dark golden color and just a sprinkling of poppy seeds on top and maybe a bit of freshly grated lemon zest.

Galette des Rois Citron et  Pavot
(Galette des Rois with Lemon and Poppy Seed)

  • 500 grams (25x38cm) good quality store-bought all butter puff pastry (OR use homemade puff pastry)

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 100g (3.5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100g (3.5 ounces) powdered sugar
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar (homemade or store bought)
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 egg (L), organic or free range
  • 125g (4.4 ounces) finely ground almonds (or use almond meal)
  • ¼ tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • grated zest of one small organic (or untreated) lemon, plus 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds, plus some for sprinkling on the top layer
  • some egg wash (egg mixed with a bit of water - for a dark golden finish, I like to mix the egg yolk, no white, with a bit of milk instead)

Optional Addition to the Filling
  • fève: small porcelain figurine/whole almond/bean OR coin wrapped tightly in a small piece of aluminium foil

Preparation of the Galette
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Roll out the pastry and cut two 26cm (10in) rounds. Chill while preparing the filling.
  3. Beat the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla sugar and salt until creamy, light and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and beat for three minutes.
  5. Whisk together the ground almonds and the cinnamon.
  6. Add the almond mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well combined.
  7. Now stir in the grated lemon zest, the lemon juice and the poppy seeds.
  8. Place one of the pastry circles on the prepared baking sheet and brush a 2 cm (0.8in) border of egg wash around the edge of the pastry circle. NOTE: keep the remaining egg wash for brushing the final cake.
  9. Spoon the frangipane mixture on the pastry circle, spreading it evenly and keeping it inside the egg wash border. NOTE: If you would like to add a figurine, nut, bean or coin (wrapped in foil), do it now by gently pushing it into the filling and then proceed with the recipe.
  10. Place the second pastry circle on a piece of parchment and use the dull side of a knife to lightly mark lines on top of the pastry (chose a design of your liking, for example diamond shapes, spokes of a wheel or a zig zag pattern).
  11. Now place the marked pastry on top of the filling.
  12. Carefully crimp around the edge with your fingertips or use the tines of a fork, making sure that the filling will not leak.
  13. If you have the time: freeze the Galette for 30 minutes OR place it in the fridge for about 2 hours (that will help with keeping the shape of the Galette).
  14. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and take the Galette out of the fridge or freezer.
  15. Brush with the remaining beaten egg wash. NOTE: try not to get the glaze on the sides of the pastry, as that will inhibit it from rising properly at the edges.
  16. Use a paring knife to poke 5 holes in the top, to allow steam escape while baking.
  17. Sprinkle with some poppy seeds.
  18. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until both base and top are crisp and dark golden brown, then remove from the oven and slide the Galette off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. NOTE: it is common for the top of the Galette do deflate when cooling, no worries.

Whether you are choosing to make the traditional version (for the classic recipe, please go here) or the lemon poppy seed version of the Galette des rois, please note that when working with puff pastry, it’s always important to keep it well-chilled and work as quickly as possible as the puff pastry tends to act up as it warms up. And make sure to seal the edges of your Galette really well to avoid the filling leaking out. Frozen puff pastry can often be found in the freezer section of well-stocked supermarkets, chose an all butter puff for best results, if possible.

If you would like to add a fève to your filling, you can find some very pretty new and vintage ones online. The tradition has branched out to include lots of secular as well as religious themes. Whichever fève you chose to include in your Galette(s) des rois, do make sure to tell your family, friends and/or guests about it before you serve your cake slices.

Hope you will try out the recipe(s) -  come January 6th, my family and friends always look forward to some pretty and delicious Galette des rois, not only is it one last holiday dessert to look forward to before all those New Year resolutions kick in but it is also quite the treat, especially when served with a steaming cup of tea or good strong coffee.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year Wishes! - Herzliche Neujahrsgrüße! And a Recipe for 'Rheinische Muzen' (Fried Cookies)

To all my family, friends, loyal & new readers of my blog: wishing you and yours much happiness, joy, peace and blessings for the New Year!

Ich wünsche meiner Familie, allen meinen Freunden und neuen & treuen Lesern meines Blogs ein friedvolles, gesegnetes und glückliches Neues Jahr!

Following is a recipe for 'Rheinische Muzen' (Fried Cookies/Biscuits from the Rhineland) traditionally served around New Year’s Eve, wintertime festivals and throughout the Carnival season. Although sold at most bakeries, these delightful treats can also be made at home for family and friends. These cookies are made from an easy dough that is then fried into golden puffs and rather heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Utter bliss, if you ask us! So, without further ado, here is my version of this popular treat:

Rheinische Muzen (Fried Cookies)


For the dough
  • 80g butter, unsalted
  • 50 g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic if possible, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp rum 
  • grated zest from ½ organic (or untreated) lemon
  • 250g white spelt flour OR use AP (plain) flour (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla sugar (I like to use homemade vanilla sugar)
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon
  • 5 tbsp milk (I use 3.5 %), room temperature

For deep frying
  • 750ml frying oil OR use lard (follow your personal preference here)

For garnish
  • 30g powdered sugar (to taste)

  1. In a small saucepan melt the butter, remove from the heat, let cool a bit, add the sugar, egg and rum and whisk until foamy. Stir in the lemon zest.
  2. Into a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour with the vanilla sugar, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the middle, add the butter-sugar and then the milk. Mix with a large spoon, or in an electric mixer with a dough hook, until the dough comes together to form a ball. Add a little more flour, if needed.
  3. Wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Lightly flour your kitchen counter (cutting board) and pat the dough into a rectangle, then roll out into 5 mm (0,19 in) thick. Using a pizza cutter or bench knife, cut the dough into rectangles (or diamonds) roughly 2 by 3 cm (1x 1 ½ in).
  5. Heat frying oil in a stockpot or other large, deep saucepan (if you are using a deep-fat fryer, follow the manufacturer's instructions). The oil should be heated to 180° C (356°F) – you can use a deep-fat fry thermometer to check.
  6. Fry the cookies in batches for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the underside turns golden brown. Turn them and fry for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until golden brown on the other side. NOTE: turn only once
  7. Remove from the oil and drain well on paper towels. NOTE: use a slotted spoon or small strainer to lift the cookies out of the oil, allowing the oil to drip. Place the fried cookies on a cooling rack to further dry out before dusting with sugar.
  8. Sift powdered sugar over the top and eat while still warm.

NOTE: When deep-frying, make sure you use a pot that is large enough - when you drop the dough pieces into the pot, the oil will rise, so if the pan isn't big enough, your frying oil will splatter all over the stove. You also need to maintain the oil's temperature - when you add the dough, the temperature of the oil will drop, so you need to raise the heat a little. To keep the oil at optimal frying temperture, use a deep-fry thermometer.

And remember, these lovely 'Rheinische Muzen' should be eaten within a few hours of frying because, like most homemade fried sweet treats, they quickly become stale.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

As 2018 draws to a close: Buckwheat Salad with Burrata, Eggplant, Zucchini & Baby Spinach

As this year draws to a close, we long for a winter salad, with grains or seeds, heavy with veggies and topped with fresh, creamy cheese. To change things up a bit, I chose to use buckwheat rather than my other favorites for this type of salad, such as barley, farro or freekeh (for a base recipe, please take a look here).

The name 'Buckwheat' is somewhat deceiving as buckwheat is not a grain and has no relation to wheat at all. It is actually a seed, and the plant is a relative of rhubarb. However, it is very similar to a grain, so people tend to include it in that category. Buckwheat is often used in a similar way to rice, barley, bulgar or quinoa, usually as a side dish. You can also use buckwheat for a breakfast porridge with milk, or ground into flour for blini pancakes, bread and noodles. If you are a bit hesitant about the taste of buckwheat, you might enjoy Japanese Soba Noodles, although made from buckwheat flour, they are more delicate and less nutty than buckwheat groats and make delicious salads too.

Buckwheat kernels have a dark hull with a lighter inner seed. And groats are the intact seeds with the hull removed, used for cooking. When toasted, the buckwheat groats are called Kasha, which is how they are most often used in Eastern Europe cooking.

However you chose to serve buckwheat, it has an intense, earthy, slightly nutty and smoky flavor.  Look for kasha, or plain groats, in Eastern European markets, health food shops or in the organic aisle at the grocery store, or simply order online. Once you shop for buckwheat and use it, please do remember that buckwheat contains about double the oil of most cereals, which affects its shelf life, so once opened, keep it in an airtight container.

I am using the hulled seed, or toasted buckwheat groats, in this salad. They cook quickly, unlike many other grains, and their nutty flavor is a delicious backdrop for the vegetables and cheese in this salad. The cooked groats are very light and fluffy in comparison to the denseness of many other grains. I love their texture, especially in salads. If you do enjoy buckwheat, feel free to substitute buckwheat for white rice in any dish.

Buckwheat Salad with Burrata, Eggplant, Zucchini & Baby Spinach


For the Salad
  • 250g toasted buckwheat groats (also called Kasha)
  • 2 zucchini (M), diced
  • 2 eggplants (M), diced
  • olive oil (some olive oil for frying the veg and some extra virgin olive oil for the salad dressing)
  • 100g baby spinach leaves, picked over, washed and dried (best done in a salad spinner)
  • one bunch of basil, leaves only, roughly torn (optional)

For the Dressing
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (see above) or more
  • one lemon, juiced
  • one clove garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper, salt (to taste)

To serve
  • 200g ball burrata, drained and served whole – for looks – or torn into chunks (OR 2 x 125g balls mozzarella. also drained)

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, turn the heat to very low, stir in the buckwheat, cover and cook about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of buckwheat you are using, the cooking time might be up to 20 minutes). Set aside for a few minutes with the lid on, then spread on a plate, fluff with a fork and leave to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, fry eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cool, mix them in a large bowl with the buckwheat.
  4. For the dressing, in a small bowl, lightly whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (and garlic, if using). Set aside for a few minutes and then drain the garlic from the dressing. 
  5. Pour some of the dressing on the cooled buckwheat with the veg and toss gently to combine.
  6. Just before serving, stir in the spinach leaves.
  7. Arrange the buratta OR mozzarella, whole or torn into chunks, on top of OR around the salad and scatter the basil leaves over (optional). Scatter a little salt and pepper on top. 
  8. Quickly whisk up the remaining dressing again if necessary, drizzle it over and serve.

Recipe Note: If the buckwheat you plan to use for this recipe is not toasted, you can dry-roast it over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until it is golden brown in color then remove from heat and proceed with the recipe.

Just a quick note on that lovely Burrata - Burrata is a very decadent cheese – made from mozzarella and cream wrapped in more mozzarella. It is a wonderful addition here but if you cannot get hold of this lovely Italian cheese, feel free to use fresh Mozarella instead. Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) would also be a nice addition here as the enjoyable saltiness of that Italian ham goes so well with the soft and creamy Burrata and the delightfully nutty Buckwheat.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry and Sweet Christmas Wishes

Wishing all of you and your families a very Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Ich wünsche euch allen ein frohes Weihnachtfest und besinnliche Festtage!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December Lunch - Pizza Bianca with Fingerling Potatoes, Rosemary & Winter Purslane

Pizza Bianca, which translates to 'White Pizza' in Italian, is basically a pizza prepared without tomato sauce. My favorite version has a topping of thinly sliced new potatoes and gets its flavor from two kinds of cheese, one mild (mozzarella) one deliciously salty (parmesan), then delightfully woodsy rosemary from my garden and a lovely topping of peppery winter purslane. If you cannot find fresh Winter Purslane, of course, you could substitute with fresh arugula (aka rocket) here or other seasonal winter greens that you like.

As far as the pizza base is concerned, we all know that nothing beats making your own pizza dough but, particularly at this rather busy time of the year, there is no shame in using a good quality store bought pizza dough. Whether you make the dough yourself or not, just remember to make sure that your oven is rather hot as you are looking for a crust that will be crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, maybe charred in spots, giving your Pizza Bianca that slightly smoky flavor that you love from brick ovens.

Pizza Bianca with Potatoes , Rosemary & Purslane

Ingredients for the Toppings
  • 1 pizza base* (use your favorite recipe OR use a good quality store bought one)
  • 4 to 5 fingerling potatoes, cooked, cooled, skins on or off, slice as thinly as possible (although a mandoline works best here, you could use a sharp knife)
  • good olive oil (about 2 tbsps)
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt
  • 50g mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (if you grate the mozzarella yourself and it is rather soft, freeze briefly before grating, making your life a lot easier when you make this recipe)
  • some parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • small rosemary twigs OR use thyme 

          Winter Greens Topping (optional)
          • fresh purslane, washed, picked through and dried (OR use other winter greens)
          • some good olive oil
          • freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

          1. Preheat your oven to 240° C (464°F) or as hot as it will go.
          2. Transfer the dough directly onto an upside-down oiled baking sheet OR use a pizza stone.
          3. Flatten the dough into rough pizza shape.
          4. Prove the dough for a good 5 minutes while you prepare the toppings.
          5. Pat away any excess moisture from the potatoes and carefully toss the potato slices in the olive oil and season with pepper and salt to taste.
          6. Top base with the mozzarella and parmesan. 
          7. Lay the potato slices on top and drizzle with any remaining olive oil from the bowl. 
          8. Top with rosemary.
          9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes OR until the base is puffed and golden and the potatoes are crisping up around the edges. Set aside for a moment while you prepare the winter green topping.
          10. Top with purslane or other greens, as is, or tossed with a bit of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and salt.
          11. Serve warm or at room temperature.

          Ingredients for the Pizza Dough*

          For the biga
          • 150g flour, plus extra for dusting (please note: for pizza making it is best to use (strong) white bread flour or Tipo '00' flour available at most Italian supermarkets or online)
          • ½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
          • ½ tsp fine (caster) sugar
          • 150ml lukewarm water 
          For the final dough
          • 275g flour
          • 1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
          • 2 tbsp olive oil
          • 1 tsp salt 
          • about 200 to 220ml lukewarm water

          Preparation of the Pizza Dough

          1. Make the biga the night before: mix the flour, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Slowly add 150ml lukewarm water and stir to create a thick batter. 
          2. Cover with plastic wrap or tea towel and leave in a warm place overnight to ferment.
          3. The next day: add the flour, yeast, olive oil and 1 tsp salt to the biga, then gradually mix in enough water to make a soft, wet dough that still holds its shape. 
          4. Cover and leave to rise for 2 to 4 hours or until tripled in size.
          5. Once the dough has risen, punch the dough to knock the air out, then tip out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead in the flour until the dough stops sticking to your hands – it should be very soft and springy, but not so wet that it sticks to the surface. 
          6. Divide the dough into two balls. Roll one out to make a large pizza base OR divide in half again to make two smaller pizzas (NOTE: double the toppings to make two pizza bianca or freeze one portion).

          Enjoy for lunch or dinner, just as is or maybe with a warming bowl of soup alongside.

          Sunday, September 2, 2018

          Chocoladetaart - Belgian Chocolate Tart

          If you follow my blog, you probably couldn't help but notice that I love to travel to Belgium. I am always game for a visit to the International Market in the city of Antwerp on a Saturday morning, following the so-called "Cookie Trail", tasting different coffees from local coffee roasters, shopping for "props", discovering foods and ingredients that can be hard to find around here. And, of course, there are those delicious Belgian waffles and chocolate, oh, that chocolate. I admit it's my favorite kind of chocolate. Not too sweet, intensively flavored, high quality ingredients. So when I came across a Belgian Chocoladetaart during our recent visit to the amazing city of Gent, I knew I had to work on a recipe to re-create this treat.

          Made with dark, decadent Belgian chocolate, this easy to make and rich Belgian Chocolate Tart tastes just the way I like it. Now, you can eat this an hour after you made it, it will still be a bit soft, crumbly and warm - and then if you place a generous dollop of sweet, whipped cream or crème fraîche on your slice, it will melt into one gooey, delectable dessert. But if you are inclined to make this ahead of time - it will be easier to slice, the taste will have mellowed and it will be just as delicious, with or without further adornments.

          So, without further ado, here is my must-try, Belgian bakery-inspired version of Chocoladetaart. If you do get a chance to make this one, do let me know whether you liked it as much as I do. By the way, the tarts that I came across in Gent, were always displayed with the baking paper, so I present it that way as well. Authenticity and all. And it makes me happy. It is also nice if you can bake this in a nice, colorful pie dish. One final remark, it is worth trying to source Belgian chocolate if at all possible, or use the best quality baking chocolate you can.

          Chocoladetaart - Belgian Chocolate Tart

          • 200g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
          • 250g dark Belgian baking chocolate, broken up (OR use high qualty dark baking chocolate)
          • 8g pure vanilla sugar OR 1 tsp Madagascan vanilla extract
          • 4 free-range eggs, (M), separated
          • a pinch of fine sea salt
          • 100g icing sugar, sifted
          • 30g AP (plain) flour, sifted
          • 1 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting

          1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).
          2. Grease a 25cm round pie dish. Line the pie dish with baking parchment.
          3. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a pan of simmering water on the stove, taking care not to let any water come into contact with the chocolate butter mixture. 
          4. Stir in the vanilla sugar OR extract and let cool.
          5. In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Set aside.
          6. In another bowl beat the egg yolks with the icing sugar until pale in color, then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
          7. Then fold the flour into the chocolate mixture.
          8. Fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the rest until just blended.
          9. Spoon into the prepared pie dish, spreading evenly, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes - the cake will be still slightly wobbly/creamy in the middle.
          10. Let the cake cool on a rack before dusting with icing sugar.

          NOTE: Turn this into a decadent dessert by serving with softly whipped cream or crème fraîche sweetened with icing sugar. And serve some fresh seasonal fruits or berries alongside.

          Sometimes the best desserts are simple, and made with best quality ingredients, this indulgent Chocoladetaart - Belgian Chocolate Tart won't dash your expectations. - Bon appétit!