Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent - A Recipe for Marzipan Stollen Muffins and Stollen Spice Mix

As far as the classic German Christmas cake called Stollen, Christmas Stollen (or Weihnachtsstollen), is concerned, it comes in many different shapes and sizes these days – traditionally this is a rich, yeasted loaf enriched with fruit, cherries, nuts and citrus peel. When it comes out of the oven, it is brushed with tons melted butter, then covered thickly in icing sugar. Don´t get me wrong, we enjoy the classic German Stollen – if you are looking for a more traditional Christmas Stollen, you can visit my blog, I posted a wonderful recipe here – but this year, which seems to be busier than ever, I thought I'd transform a true classic into muffins for a quicker result with just as much flavor!

Stollen recipes also have a lot of symbolism and history. There are records and recipes in Germany as far back as the 1300s, and the marzipan wrapped in the dough symbolises the infant swaddled in cloth. I really like this idea of symbolism, and it is nice that these traditions are still with us, all these years later.

Marzipan Stollen Muffins
(Author: The Kitchen Lioness)

Ingredients for the Muffins
  • 150g butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 100g superfine (caster) baking sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 200g AP (plain) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 ¼  tsp Stollen Spice Mix* (or you can substitute ½  tsp Mixed Spice**, ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon, and ¼  tsp ground nutmeg - or a good grating of fresh nutmeg - instead)
  • 100ml milk, room temperature (I use 3.5 %)
  • 75g dried cranberries, chopped roughly if too large (you can use raisins, sultanas aka golden raisins, or dried cherries instead)
  • 75g dried figs, chopped (you can use Mixed Peel aka candied lemon and orange peel - instead)
  • 60g Marzipan, diced (I use Lübecker Marzipan)
  • 60g blanched whole almonds, finely chopped

Ingredients for the Butter-Sugar Coating
  • 25 grams, butter, unsalted, melted
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar

In Addition
  • a 12-cup capacity muffin tray
  • paper liners or silicone molds
  • pastry brush
  • sieve

Preparation of the Stollen Muffins
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (160° C convection oven/356°F).
  2. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers or silicone inserts (I used red tulip paper liners).
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes).
  4. Add eggs to the creamed butter mixture, one at a time, making sure to cream well after each addition (for about a minute).
  5. Then in another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spice mix (or spices).
  6. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition.
  7. With a light touch, fold the dried fruit, marzipan and almonds into the batter.
  8. Separate the mixture into 12 muffin cases (I use my 5 cm ice cream scoop here but you can also use tablespoons).
  9. Bake the Stollen Muffins for approximately 20 to 25 minutes or untli slightly risen and golden brown on top.
  10. Once the Stollen Muffins are ready, remove the muffin tray from the oven.
  11. When they have cooled a little and are firm enough to handle, lift out of the muffins onto a wire racks and cool for about 5 minutes.
  12. Then melt the butter, and use it to brush the warm muffins.
  13. Using a fine sieve, cover with the icing sugar, and add another dusing of icing sugar just before serving. NOTE: Although these are best served warm or at room temperature, they will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If you keep them for a few days, make sure to re-heat slightly before eating (microwave) and enjoy them either plain or broken up and slathered with unsalted butter and honey or marmalade.

Stollen Spice Mix / Stollengewürz
(feel free to double or triple the quantities, as needed)

Ingredients for the Stollen Spice Mix (*)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (I always use Ceylon cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground mace

Preparation of the Stollen Spice Mix
  1. Carefully measure out the spices.
  2. Mix all spices well.
  3. Scoop the mix into a spice jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Label the jar (with date and contents).
  5. Use this mixture in recipes that call for Stollen Spice Mix
  6. Discard any leftovers after four months.
(**) Mixed Spice: British blend of sweet spices, similar to the Pumpkin Pie Spice used in the United States

These festive muffins capture the essence of a classic German Stollen with their cakelike interior, delightful pockets of gooey almondy marzipan, a bit of crunch from the almonds and  those wonderful fruity flavors from the dried fuits as well as a must-have sugar-coated exterior. Flavored with warm Christmassy spices, they take on the feel of Advent season and Christmas.

We were really pleased how they turned out. They are ideal as Advent teatime treats but if you're planning to serve them on Christmas morning or for breakfast, you can cut down on prep time by weighing and mixing all your dry ingredients and lining your muffin tray on Christmas Eve or the night before. Then all that is left to do is a bit of creaming and baking which will fill your kitchen and house with wonderful seasonal aromas.

Wishing all of you a peaceful and delicious Advent season!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Late Autumn Apple Tart with Fragipane

Before the Christmas baking season keeps a tight grip on me, I like to bake a few apple pies and cakes and tarts. This is a tradition I try to uphold every November. Being faithful to my personal autumn apple baking frenzy, I ususally bake a few old-time favorites such my Dutch Boterkoek with Autumn Apples (here) or my fancy Autumnal Cake with Vanilla Custard and Marzipan stuffed Apples (here). This year I was looking for a new recipe or a previously unknown twist to an old family favorite.

This past week the first Christmas markets have opened their doors around here. We even attended the first Christmas event at our kids´ school, and the smell of spices, almonds and baked goods reminded me, yet again, that I should be starting my Christmas baking soon – but not quite yet. There are still many wonderful varities of late autumn apples to be found  at the farmer`s markets and there is still time to bake apple desserts.

I wanted to bake something a bit different looking for a special someone the other day, a true apple lover that is, so a Late Autumn Apple Tart with Fragipane came to my mind, a tart that combines a buttery crisp pastry with a sweet almond cream and tart apples - simply wonderful and hard to beat.

I took a look at the apple design on the fabric I had bought to dress the dessert table and remembered the apple-shaped cookie cutter I bought in the other day, and decided I wanted apple cut-outs on my tart. I love the way it turned out and have baked it three times so far - not bad for this busy time of year.

And if you are really hard-pressed for time, and who isn´t these days, you can even "cheat" with a pre-bought good-quality pastry case and store-bought pastry. I was told that this tart would make a beautiful addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, perfect for those who don't care for Pumpkin Pie too much.

Late Autumn Apple Tart with Fragipane
(Author: The Kitchen Lioness)


For the Pastry
  • 350g (12oz) AP (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 150g (6oz) cold butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 50g (2oz) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs (M), free range (or organic if possible), beaten

For the Fragipane Filling
  • 75g (3oz) butter, softened
  • 75g (3oz) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 2 eggs (M), free range (or organic if possible), beaten 
  • 75g (3oz) ground natural almonds (toast the almonds prior to grinding them in the frangipane to enhance the almond flavor)
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 to 4 baking apples (depending on their size)
  • some freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg (M), free-range or organic (if possible), beaten

For the Glaze
  • a few tbsps of apple jelly (or use strained apricot jam instead)
  • some chopped almonds

  1. You will need a 28cm (11in) round, loose-bottomed fluted tart pan, 3 to 4cm (1 to 1.5in) deep.
  2. First make the pastry: either by mixing the flour and butter in a food processor or by hand – rubbing the flour and butter together with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 
  3. Add the sugar and mix in briefly, then add the eggs and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. 
  4. Mix until the pastry just holds together. 
  5. Divide the pastry in two. Form discs. Wrap in food wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for a good thirty minutes.
  6. Butter your tart/quiche pan and line the bottom with a round of baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
  7. After the pastry has chilled, take one disc out of the refrigerator, roll the pastry out on a floured surface as thinly as possible,and use to line the tart pan.
  8. Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
  9. Place in the refrigerator while preparaing the fragipane fillling.
  10. To make the frangipane filling: place the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt in the food processor and whizz until creamy, blend in the eggs, then mix in the ground almonds and cinnamon, if using.  NOTE: alternatively, beat together with a wooden spoon if making by hand.
  11. To prepare the apples: peel the apples, core and slice thinly. Place in a medium bowl and mix with a few drops of fresh lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
  12. Take the pastry-lined tart pan out of the refrigerator.
  13. Spoon the frangipane mixture into the pastry shell, spreading it evenly.
  14. Then arrange the apple slices on top of the fragipane. 
  15. Take the remaining pastry disc out of the refrigerator
  16. Roll the pastry out on the floured surface as thinly as possible, and using your cookie cutter, make some cut-outs- enough to cover your base.
  17. Take the beaten egg and dip the edges of your cut-outs into the egg and arange the cut-outs on top of your apple slices.
  18. Place the tart in the refrigerator while your oven pre-heats.
  19. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and place a heavy baking sheet inside to heat up.
  20. Place the tart pan on the hot baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the pastry is crisp and the tart is golden brown.
  21. Take the tart out of the oven and place on a cooling rack for a good 15 minutes.
  22. To finish, heat up a bit of apple jelly and brush the top of the warm tart with it. Decorate the border of the tart with chopped almonds.
  23. Remove the tart from the pan and transfer to a serving plate.

This beautiful apple tart tastes as good as it looks. I used seasonal apples in my recipe. However, firm but ripe pears can be used instead – if you choose to use pears in this recipe, do not forget to use a pear-shaped cookie cutter (if you are so lucky to own one) or just about any other shape you have on hand.

And if almonds are not your thing, you could easily sub ground and chopped hazelnuts in this recipe.

To serve, I would not produce this straight from the oven. Rather, either enjoy it while just warm, or at room temperature, as is or with a generous dollop of softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Simple, but delicious and just a little bit classy. Perfect for that mid-November baking session.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Caramelized Chicory Quiche with Goat Cheese

While I love soups, always have, always will, I am definitley a quiche kind of person. Soups are generally considered as pure comfort foods, but for me, so are quiches. Quiche recipes are like canvases. They are versatile and it is easy to get creative with seasonal vegetables when putting together a quiche recipe. I love adding different kinds of seasonal veg, local cheeses and copious amounts of soft fresh herbs. I love the way quiches smell when they bake and I love that you can bring left-over quiche to the office and pack slices in lunch boxes for the kids. Always appealing, always delicious, quiches can be served as an informal lunch, grace a buffet table or serve as an elegant appetizer. And quiches can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Simply love them.

While much of our winter food is all about soothing and warming comfort food, fresh raw chicory packs a welcome, bitter crunch. It is a well known fact that lots of bitter foods are both tasty and very good for us. It is the bitter compounds in the likes of brussels sprouts and broccoli that provide vital nutrients.

So, why not waken up our taste buds and go for some chicory. Also known as endive in the US, or witloof (meaning white leaf) in Belgium, the humble chicory is a forced crop, grown in complete darkness, which accounts for its blanched white, yellow-tipped leaves. The story goes that a Belgian gardener grew it by accident in the 1840s. He was growing chicory roots to add to coffee and found some had sprouted tasty white leaves, a happy accident.

Chicory can be eaten raw or cooked and comes in red and white varieties.  It has a distinctive, cigar-like shape, about 12cm (4.7 inches) long, and the crisp leaves have a mildly bitter flavor. It is available all year round. When buying chicory, make sure to choose the very best, by looking for firm, crisp leaves and avoid those with dark-green tips, as they are likely to be more bitter.

If the end of the chicory head is cracked or seems discolored, trim it off with a kitchen knife and remove any limp and discolored outer leaves. Then, depending on how you want to use it, either leave whole, separate the leaves, or slice lengthways into halves or quarters. Once cut, you can brush the leaves with freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Once picked and exposed to light, chicory leaves start to become more bitter, so they should be stored wrapped in paper to keep out the light and eaten as soon after picking as possible. Keep the wrapped chicory in the crisper/vegetable drawer of your fridge, that way it will last for around a week.

The following recipe of mine is a light tart that melts in your mouth, is feels like a real treat and it’s a cinch to make. There is not even any rolling involved. But if you prefer, you can make your own puff pastry for this.

Caramelized Chicory Quiche with Goat Cheese
(Author: The Kitchen Lioness)

Ingredients for the Pastry
  • a small knob of unsalted butter for buttering the tart pan
  • one round all-butter puff pastry (or make your own)

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 50 g unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 heads white chicory, cut in half lengthways, ends trimmed, washed, dried, then cut into half-rounds
  • sea salt (depending on the saltiness of your goat´s cheese)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • 1 spring onion, washed, dried, sliced thinly
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced (garlic can be omitted)
  • 200 g cream (such as single cream which has a fat content of 18% or use cream with a fat content up to 30% )
  • 2 eggs (L), free-range or organic
  • 125 g soft goat`s cheese, crumbled into 2 cm pieces (it is nice to use a local variety here)
  • Italian parsley and chives, washed, dried, finely chopped (or use other soft herbs of your liking)

Preparation of the Pastry
  1. Start by lightly buttering your 20cm (8in) loose-based fluted tart pan that is about 5cm (2in) deep. Line the pan with a round of baking parchment.
  2. Place the puff pastry in the tart pan, pressing it firmly against the base and sides. Roll and crumple the overhanding pastry back on to the rim of the pan, lifting slightly above it. Prick the pastry with the tines of a fork. Place the pan on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep cool while preparing the filling.

Preparation of the Filling
  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F).
  2. On a medium heat, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Lay in the chicory, add salt and pepper, then sauté the chicory for a good ten minutes or until wilted down and golden-colored, add a bit of water during the cooking process if chicory looks to dry.
  3. Add the sugar and let the chicory caramelize for two to three minutes, until light golden in color.
  4. Remove the chicory from the pan and set aside to drain.
  5. Add a bit more butter to the frying pan, add the sliced spring onion and minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant.
  6. Mix the onion mixture into the chicory mixture. Set aside to drain and cool a bit while preparing the egg mixture.
  7. In a medium bowl, combine the cream with the eggs, salt, pepper and the finely chopped herbs,
  8. Scatter the caramelized chicory and onion mixture over the base of the pastry case and pour the egg and herb mixture gently on top.
  9. Scatter the crumbled goat cheese on top and press down lightly.
  10. Bake on the baking sheet in the centre of the oven for 25 to30 minutes or until the pastry is lightly browned and crisp and the filling is set.
  11. Take the quiche out of the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing.
  12. Serve warm or cold. As is or with a seasonal side salad.

The trick here, if you can call it such, is that even humble chicory needs a bit of careful cooking. I keep the heat no higher than moderate when I cook this vegetable. Too much browning tends to accentuate chicory’s characteristic bitterness, so I take care to let the color go no further than deep gold.

In this recipe, the delicate, creamy, barely-set filling is a festival of flavors - the saltiness of the goat´s cheese is offset in the most delicious of ways by the sweetness of the caramelized chicory that, at the same time, keeps a slighty agreeable bitter note. A must try recipe!

You should not limit bitter winter leaves like the pale and interesting chicory, or maybe its vivid, rounder cousin, radicchio - to the salad bowl – they are utterly delicious when cooked, too! And when cooked, chicory loses a little of the bitterness that some people find "challenging".

Chicory may be a bit of an acquired taste for some people but once you are hooked, there will be no turning back.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Gingerdead Men for a Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, why not bake these lovely little fellows. These cookies are a cinch to prepare and they smell wonderful while baking. Kids will love rolling out the dough, using a fun cookie cutter and icing to decorate these spooky yet cute Gingerdead Men for Halloween.

Gingerdead Men

(Yield: 16-18 cookies)

Ingredients for the gingerbread cookies
  • 380 grams (3 cups) all purpose (plain) wheat flour
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp  ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 170 grams (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 205 grams (3/4 cup) molasses (I used sugar beet syrup from a regional producer called „Grafschafter“)
  • 2 tbsps milk (3.5%)

For the icing
  • some confectioners' sugar
  • a few tbsps milk or half and half
  • a few drops of pure vanilla extract (optional)

  1. In a food processor, mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until combined
  2. Add butter and mix.
  3. With food processor running, add molasses and milk and mix until dough is evenly moistened.
  4. Divide dough in half and roll each half out to 0.6 cm (¼ inch) thickness between two sheets of parchment paper.
  5. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight) or until the dough is firm.
  6. Once dough has been chilled, preheat your oven to 175 ° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit).
  7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Remove parchment paper from dough, stamp and cut out cookies using the Gingerdead Men cookie cutter or any other gingerbread men cookie cutter you have on hand. NOTE: while it is easier to cut when the dough is cool, you will get a better impression when the dough has softened slightly. To stamp cookies, dip both sides of the cutter into flour and tap off any excess. Using the stamp side, press it evenly into the dough until it is flush with the dough. Flip over the cutter, center it over the impression and press it down to cut out the shape. If the dough sticks to the cutter, just give it a couple taps.
  9. Place cut-outs on prepared baking sheet, leaving 2.5 cm (1 inch) of space in between cookies.
  10. Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown
  11. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to completely cool.
  12. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking with remaining dough until used up
  13. While cookies are cooling, add confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and milk to a bowl and whisk until you have a piping consistency.
  14. Then use a piping bag and tip to flood the icing into the "bone areas"
  15. Allow icing to harden, then store cookies in an airtight container.

Happy Baking and Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Ode to a Cake - Nigel Slater´s Autumnal Plum Cake with Hazelnuts and Spiced Frosting

In autumn one of the fruits I most love to bake with are local plums. Around here, plum season starts in late July and finishes in mid-to late-September and although local plums are at their best in September, sometimes you are lucky enough to find a late-season variety of baking plums at the beginning of October. Personally I like to use so-called „Italian plums“ or as we call them „Zwetschgen“ in my baking and cooking. At the beginning of the season the local plums have a vibrant dark blue skin and a distictive tart flavor and are firm-fleshed, as the season progresses, they turn soft-fleshed and loose-stoned which makes them ideal for using them in all kinds of dishes. Out-of-season imported plums belong to a different prune family that originated in Japan. They are sweet, large, round, firm-fleshed, cling-stoned plums that come in different shades of orange-yellow and burgundy that can be cooked, but are much sweeter and taste best eaten raw.

Plums develop a rather intense sweet-tart flavor when cooked. They make excellent jam, jelly and are also often used in desserts such as cakes („Pflaumenkuchen“ – you can look at my recipe here), pies, tarts, fools, crisps and slumps. They can also be used in savory dishes in combination with lamb or pork and can also be bottled. Warm, strong spices such as star anise, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper all taste wonderful with poached plums. Cream and custard based accompaniments such as ice cream, rice pudding (here), panna cotta or vanilla puddings balance their flavor in the most delicious of ways.

When the first plums of the season make an appearance in our local markets, I usually go for my well-known, above-mentioned Pflaumenkuchen (plum torte) recipe that hails from my youth. But later in the season, I will scoure the recipe world out there for different and new ways to use plums in my baking. This year I added plums to crumbles, fruit stews and sauces, I shingled them onto free form tarts and piled them into pies but the recipe that impressed me most this season was the Wholemeal Plum Cake with spiced Frosting from Nigel Slater – to all those following my blog, it is no secret that I am a very faithful fan of his distinctive cuisine.

When I took one look at the recipe, I knew that I would adore it. And I did. In my personal opinion it is simply sensational.

I love the way baked plums taste in this cake in combination with the brown sugars, then the warm spices and the sweet hazelnuts…but what I liked even better than the naked cake itself was the cake in combination with the lovely spiced frosting. Just the right amout of spices and crunch from the sesame and poppy seeds and, if you like rosewater, than, by all means add the dried (organic!) rose petals – they add another layer of excitement to this cake.

If, like me, you are a fan of Nigel Slater´s cake recipes, and you bake this cake, you will definitely recognize his signature style in this plum cake – for instance as with Nigel Slater's Chocolate Beetroot Cake (for my version, look here) or Beetroot Seed Cake (I blogged about this one here) – there are poppy seeds in the frosting and although these two cakes contain beetroot, this plum cake reminds me of those cake. And I cannot deny a certain sense of satisfaction when those beloved people that I share my cake with, recognize a certain cook from just tasting what I prepared for them – I guess that they listened to my foodie ramblings after all.

Wholemeal Plum Cake with Spiced Frosting
(inspired by a Nigel Slater recipe)

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 200 g unsalted butter, soft
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden (superfine) caster sugar
  • 100g hazelnuts, skinned (I like to use Italian „round Romans“ hazelnuts, they are the best tasting ones I can get here)
  • 500g, plums (I used Italian plums)
  • 4 eggs (M), free-range or organic
  • 150 g wholemeal flour, sifted
  • 2 ½  tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Icing
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • a pinch ground Ceylon cinnamon 
  • 6 cardamom pods 
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds 
  • 2 tsp dried rose petals, organic (I get mine from a tea merchant)

Preparation of the Cake
  1. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C. 
  2. Line the base of a 22cm spring-form baking pan. 
  3. Dice the butter and put it in a food mixer with the sugars and beat for 5 minutes, till light and fluffy. Regularly push the mixture down from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even creaming.
  4. While the butter and sugar cream, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan, watching carefully and moving them round the pan so they color evenly. Grind to a fine powder in a food processor. 
  5. Cut the plums in half and discard their stones.
  6. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork then add, slowly, with the paddle turning, to the butter and sugar mixture.
  7. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and the ground hazlenuts, then add to the batter, mixing it together thoroughly. 
  8. Scrape the batter into the lined cake tin and gently smooth the surface.
  9. Place the plums evenly on the surface of the cake. You want them to sink into the body of the cake as it bakes. 
  10. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the cake is spongy to the touch.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to settle for 20 minutes.
  12. Run a palette knife around the inside of the pan to the loosen the cake, then undo the pan and place the cake on a plate.

Preparation of the Icing
  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice, adding a little water if required to bring it to a thick, pouring consistency. 
  2. Stir in the ground cinnamon. 
  3. Crack open the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and grind them to a fine powder. Stir into the icing. 
  4. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan unrtil they are golden, then mix them with the poppy seeds.
  5. Transfer the cake to a plate, then trickle the spiced icing over the surface. 
  6. Scatter with the sesame and poppy seed mixture.
  7. Add rose petals plus a few organic rose buds (optional) – but only if you and your guests enjoy the taste of rosewater in your confections.

As Nigel Slater so aptly points out Plums will cook to a golden jelly in a cake, but are best in one made with the darker sugars, such as light or dark muscovado, and to which you have added ground ginger or mixed spice. The sugar’s butterscotch notes serve the fruit well.“ And I could not agree with him more – this cake recipe is an autumnal dream, meant to make all of us plum-cake, nut-laden, spice-infused cake lovers, swoon…

Monday, September 26, 2016

Belgian Cuisine: La Flamiche aux Poireaux et au Chèvre - Belgian Leek Tart with Goat Cheese

Today’s post is about Flamiche, a traditional Belgian dish. Well, more precisely, a classic from the town of Dinant, a Walloon city and municipality located on the River Meuse in the Belgian province of Namur. The citizens of Dinant love their flamiche, a type of savory tart prepared using 500 grams of Boulette de Romedenne (a pungent local cheese), 250 grams of butter and lots of eggs, 13 eggs for a smaller version (30 cm) and 15 eggs for a larger version (35 cm), to be precise. Flamiches used to be baked in a wood oven and the tiny flames – „flammèches“ – that the charcoal produced may have given rise to the name.

The origins of flamiche are not without contention. Some say it hails from Dinant in southern Belgium, while others claim that it is, in fact, French, from the Picardie region. Legend has it that a farmer’s wife from the small Village of Romedenne is responsible. She was walking down the rue Saint Jacques on her way to market when she slipped on an icy patch and broke all the eggs she was carrying. A quick-thinking baker managed to catch the broken eggs, added cheese and butter and baked the lot on a base of bread dough.

Flamiche is very popular in Dinant, where it is celebrated in an annual festival. Every September, the Confrérie des Quarteniers de la Flamiche Dinantaise - the Brotherhood of the Flamiche (founded in 1956) - organizes an annual flamiche eating competition.

Having defined the term „flamiche“ as a „quiche-like tart“, the „flamiche aux poireaux“ combines the flavors of salty goat cheese and jammy leeks in the form of a leek confit.  And from what I can tell from my research, this is where the difference between a quiche and a flamiche lies. For the flamiche you start off by preparing a leek confit which is nothing more than leeks that have been sliced into thin rounds, placed into a Dutch oven some butter, and left to cook under a tight lid for about half an hour. With the help of moist heat, the leeks soften beautifully and their oniony flavor gives way to something delicate and sweet. For a quiche, you usually do not cook or sauté your veggies before you add them to the eggy custard.

You can also eat the leek confit straight from the pot, it is a delightfully rich, and that's part of its charm. You can also fold it into scrambled eggs or an omelet—anything, really, that involves eggs. You could also use it as a bed for a piece of seared salmon, dab it onto flatbread, or spoon it into baked mushroom caps with some Parmesan or for an easy appetizers slice a baguette, spread it with goat cheese, and pile warm confit on top. Or better yet, put it in a flamiche aux poireaux, or leek tart.

The more I read about flamiche, the more I realized that every flamiche aux poireaux recipe is a little different. Most include leeks, but some also call for onions or bacon or ham. Some have a double crust, like an American apple pie, and though many include cheese or custard, others don't. Every Belgian family, it seems, has its own way of making it. And, of course, I have tried my hand at Julia Child´s famous flamiche - quiche aux poireaux recipe (no cheese in sight) a while ago and loved it too - her recipe can be found on page 151 of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

Today´s version of flamiche is fairly classic. It's not unlike a leek tart, really, but for added interest, it calls for crumbled aged goat cheese into the confit before I pour in the custard. In general, leeks and goat cheese are a great pair—one of those matches made in heaven—but leeks and aged goat cheese are a particularly delicious duo. This tart is amazing with a standard fresh goat cheese, but with an aged one, it is utterly addictive.

Whenever I can, I get goat cheese in Antwerp (Belgium) at the Exotic Market (for more info go here) from a Belgian goat cheese manufacturer called Kempense Geitenkaas Polle (for more info go here) and once I am back home with my loot, I always make sure to bake one of these amazingly delicious flamiche all the while planning my next visit to lovely Belgium....This artisan Belgian goat cheese is fabulous, it adds an enticingly tangy flavor to the flamiche and tucked into leek confit and custard, it is absolutly divine.

Belgian Leek Tart with Goat Cheese - La Flamiche aux Poireaux et aux Chèvre

Ingredients for the Crust (Pâte brisée)
  • about 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) AP (plain) flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 stick (113 grams) butter, unsalted, chilled

Preparation of the Crust
  1. In a small bowl combine ice water and cider vinegar, stir.
  2. Blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, slowly add water-vinegar mixture, processing until moist clumps form. If dough seems dry, add ice water by teaspoonfuls. NOTE: you can also do this by hand.
  3. Gather dough into ball and flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes or more.
  4. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C).
  5. Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch (30cm) round. 
  6. Transfer to a 9 inch (23 cm) diameter tart pan with removable bottom - I used a French tart pan with high sides - Press the dough onto bottom and up sides. Fold in overhang and press to extend dough 1/2 inch (1 cm) above the sides of your pan. 
  7. Line pan with baking parchment and dried beans or pie weights. 
  8. Bake until dough looks dry and set, about 20 minutes. 
  9. Remove the baking parchment and beans and continue to bake until crust is pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. 
  10. Remove from oven and cool on a rack while preparing the filling.

Ingredients for the Leek Confit
  • 1/2 stick (55 grams) butter, unsalted
  • 4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation of the Leek Confit
  1. Melt butter in pot over medium-low heat. 
  2. Add leeks and stir to coat. 
  3. Stir in water and salt. 
  4. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. 
  5. Cook until the leeks are tender, stirring often, about 20 minutes. 
  6. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Set aside until cooled.

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) cream (I use 20%)
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • 1 egg yolk (L), free range or organic NOTE: if your pre-backed flamiche shell has cracked during baking, use a bit of the left-over egg white to brush over the cracks and "seal" them
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (150 grams) crumbled aged goat cheese or use fresh goat cheese, rind trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) Leek Confit, cooled 

Preparation of the Filling
  1. Whisk milk, cream, egg, egg yolk, and salt in medium bowl to blend.
  2. Scatter some of the cheese over the bottom of the warm crust.
  3. Then spread leek confit over and scatter the remaining cheese overthe leek confit.
  4. Pour the eggy mixture over.
  5. Bake until the filling has puffed, is golden in spots, and the center looks set, about 40 to 45 minutes. 
  6. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool slightly.
  7. Remove the baking pan. 
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature (whichever you prefer).

The leek confit and goat cheese set in an egg and cream mixture makes for a luxurious yet simple meal. I usually serve a slice of this rich, lovely tart with fresh seasonal fruits such as some glorious figs and grapes, as I am addicted to the combination of sweet and salty flavors but you could easily opt to serve this tart with a green or mixed green salad.

Such wonderful flavors and textures. Sometimes I use aged goat cheese and other times I opt for fresh soft goat cheese. Both turn out beautifully and delicious, so if you prefer more mild flavors just use fresh instead of aged. But whichever cheese you choose, do make a note to try this recipe soon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Autumnal Baking & Triple Chocolate Cookies

The weather has cooled, the garden is turning golden and there is the smell of chocolate cookies emerging from my kitchen - as much as I hesitate to admit it, autumn is upon us.

To start off my autumnal baking season, I like to make a foolproof cookie recipe that even the youngest bakers in your house can embrace and help with. With this recipe you are looking for cookies that bake only very slightly crisp around the edges and chewy and soft within. The trick is not to over-bake them. They should still be soft when you remove them from the oven.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

  • 250g unsalted butter, well softened
  • 150g soft light brown sugar (I like to use "Tate& Lyle Light Soft Brown Sugar")
  • 150g superfine (caster) baking sugar
  • 2 eggs (L), organic or free range
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 350 g white spelt flour (or use all purpose aka plain flour)
  • 60g Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g high quality milk chocolate, in chunks (try to get "dark" milk chocolate with at least 50% cocoa solids)
  • 100g high quality dark chocolate, in chunks
  • 100g high quality white chocolate, in chunks (try to use one with hints of vanilla and not overly sweet)

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F),
  2. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  3. In the large bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until soft and creamy.
  4. Break the eggs into a bowl, mix lightly with a fork then, with the beater still turning, add to the butter and sugar.
  5. Mix in the vanilla extract and salt
  6. In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda and, lowering the speed of the mixer, fold into the batter.
  7. Add all the chocolate chunks – the milk chocolate, dark and white chocolate and try to combine thoroughly, until you have got a thick, sticky dough, but do not overmix.
  8. Spoon mounds of the cookie dough on to the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of space between them.
  9. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the cookies are still soft in the middle and the chocolate chunks molten and gooey. NOTE: they will be really soft at this point, but will firm up as they cool, so leave them undisturbed on their baking sheets for three or four minutes to settle, then transfer to a cooling rack until they are at room temperature. They are best eaten warm, but they will keep for several days in a cookie tin. But no batch has ever been known to last till the next day in our house and, inevitably, most times they will be eaten as soon as they are cool enough not to burn fingers.

The combination of white sugar and soft brown sugar is a common one: the former adds some crunch, the latter a caramel flavor. I prefer to use super fine baking sugar (caster sugar) and soft light brown sugar rather than granulated because I like a cookie with less of a crunchy edge, if you prefer a cookie with crispier edges, than, by all means, use a granulated sugar with larger grains.

As far as the flour is concerned, while I like to use white spelt flour here, you can use all purpose flour aka plain flour in these cookies.

Chilling the dough before use is fairly standard. Texture wise I like to chill my cookie dough overnight, the increased firmness of the cookies is very noticeable, as is the more complex, almost caramelly flavor.

Go for good quality chocolate too – suitable for baking - this will ensure that not only will you end up with less sweeter, great tasting cookies, but also cookies with delightful chunks of chcolate that melt into the cookies while baking. And some uneven chunks created by chopping your own chocolate gives a better result than even little chocolate chips. I went with a combination of white, milk and dark chocolate here but use whatever you prefer - all dark, half milk half dark or whatever strikes your fancy.

This is truly a wonderful recipe to get you baking this autumn. No apples, pears, plums or pumkin purée involved not even those warm spices like cardamom or cinnamon but there are lots of comforting and beloved flavors like real vanilla, mildly sweet and nutty spelt flourmilk chocolate, creamy white chocolate with hints of vanilla and the pronounced, bold taste of dark chocolate. And is there any better accompaniment to these lovely homemade treats than a cold glass of whole milk for the kids and some tea and coffee for the grown-ups?! Maybe a really good book...Besides, I cannot think of a nicer way to refuel mid-morning or teatime than with one (or more) of these.

Monday, September 5, 2016

A last Hurrah to Summer Berries, a Recipe for Redcurrant Traybake & Lion´s Espresso

We are still trying to hold onto summer, not really wanting to let go yet…it has been an unusually rainy and cool summer around here and we are still longing for warm, sunny days, even as we are approaching fall and even though I have spotted lots of fall produce already at the farmers´ market.

There is pumpkins and the first crops of fall apples making an appeacance but for now they happily share their shelf space with quite a bit of late summer produce like berries. Redcurrants still being my favorite late summer berry crop.

So, it was a rather informal Kaffee und Kuchen (or coffee and cake) sort of afternoon the other day and I happily baked a rather rustic and weekend kind of traybake (or sheet cake) for my family. Besides,  I was just looking for a good excuse to post pictures of this lovely bag of espresso beans that one of our daughter gifted me for my birthday in August – Lion´s Coffee I call it - wonder what inspired her to buy this particular bag...

So not only did the colors of  my Redcurrant Traybake match the package of  the Café Royal - Sir Edward - Italian Dark Roast - but this is also my go-to recipe for using up those last berries of the season, be they redcurrants, as featured here, or blueberries that we harvest at a nearby blueberry farm up until the second week of September. Traybake recipe are such simple, no-fuss cakes that can be cut into squares or bars to feed a crowd

Redcurrant Traybake 

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
  • 1 ¼ cups AP (plain) flour
  • ½ tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • ½ cup milk, room temperature (I use 3.5%)
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar, for sprinkling NOTE: demerara sugar is a type of cane sugar with a fairly large grain and a pale amber color
  • a bit confectioners´ sugar for dusting (optional)
  • soflty whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

  1. Grease a rectangular baking pan (approx 20cm x 30cm or 8in x 12in) with a little butter, and line the base and sides with baking parchment. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 180° C (356°F). 
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the plain flour with the baking powder and sea salt.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter, sugar, Cognac or brandy and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy. 
  5. Add the egg to the butter mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
  6. Add half the flour mixture and beat until just combined. 
  7. Pour in the milk and continue beating, scraping down the bowl as necessary. 
  8. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined.
  9. Scrape the dough into the baking pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. 
  10. Scatter on the redcurrants or other berries in an even layer.
  11. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top.
  12. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  13. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving, 
  14. Dust lightly with confectioners´ sugar and serve with softly whipped cream or a bit of crème fraîche if you like.

This is a deliciously moist, versatile cake that can be served with coffee/tea or as a dessert with whipped cream or crème fraîche, or enjoy it for breakfast - there are berries involved after all. Traybakes also make excellent after-school snacks, and are perfect for school bake sales. As far as this recipe is concerned,  I love the crunchiness from the Demerara sugar that is such a nice contrast to the pleasant dampness of this cake. And the redcurrants add a very enjoyable tartness here.

So, let us hold on to summer and enjoy those warm rays of sunshine (finally) for just another little while and ponder the autumn days to come later on. For now, I still enjoy the taste of late summer berries in my cake...