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Chocolate tartelettes

Now that we are staying home and cooking more, I asked my daughter what kind of cake she would like. She was very quick to answer, a chocolate cake. Ooook, then a chocolate cake should be.
I quickly grabbed an old good book and showed her some pictures. She picked of course the best looking one.
There were on that page 2 chocolate cakes, one more firm and one with a melted core. She wanted the firm one. I started to mix ingredients and when almost done I realized that I actually looked on the wrong recipe. Ups... nooo... I made the wrong one. But, when I looked what were the differences between the 2 cake recipes I was pleasantly surprised to see that the only difference between them were only 25g of flour. And of course a shorter baking time. It was easy then to fix my mistake.

As I baked in small ceramic pans of course the baking time needed to be reduced.
After that, my biggest challenge was to keep 3 of them just as long as I needed to photograph them.
After that moment... forget about them... they were eaten very quickly :)

Lemon hazelnuts poppy seeds muffins

I want muffins but another type that are not like all the classical ones. I found this recipe that at a first glance looked weird. I took my curage and make it. I was not expecting something wow but I was well surprised in the end.
They didn't raise as much as I wished but the taste and texture was outstanding. A nutty taste due to hazelnuts combined with a grainy texture due to poppy seeds and a moist one due to the raisins inside. A bitter light flavor was due to the boiled lemon. If you do not like the bitter sensation you may remove the peel of the lemon but I didn't. My kids were not big fans but I enjoyed them. The bitter taste is very very light that even for a person like me who doesn't like coffee is enjoyable. In fact I can say that this strange flavor for a muffin fits well with the rest of ingredients and that's what it makes it special.

Chocolate cheesecake

The cake I've got had not at all the look that I have planned for. I imagined a marbled cheesecake with a nice pattern on top and inside.
I separated the batter in 2 and colored one part with cocoa powder. This made my dark batter thicker than the other one and when putting alternative spoons of batter, almost everything mixed and I've got a fully chocolate cheesecake. The way it looks has nothing to do with its taste. The taste was exactly the one I was looking for.

Moon apple pie

I had in mind to bake a cheese cake or a creme caramel but my daughter was very clear that she wanted an apple pie. As I love to involve my kids in cooking, I had to accept the "imposed" preference. We looked together through some recipes and at a certain moment she showed me a thumb up. OK, this one should be then.
This recipe is very known in Romania, it is a classic Romanian apple pie recipe. Ask any mother or grand mother in Romania and they will give you a similar recipe. Most of the time, this pie is baked on a classic oven tray, cut in squares and powdered with a lot of icing sugar.
I love the cake but hate the squared flat shapes. I then went for a customized version, as I almost always do :)

Madeleine

It is not the first time I do madeleines and each time I did them before they were turning differently. I started then a kind of a serious research for the secrets of perfect madeleines.
The perfect madeleine has 2 important sides: on side is the bottom that is usually baked in a shell looking cavity. The important thing for this side is to not be too burnt and also not to under cooked. It should be just a light brown as color and the beautiful shapes of the shell should be revealed.
The other side of the shell should be bumpy. That bump is a specific for madeleines. For normal cakes you would like a nicely leveled top, but for madeleines, on the contrary, you look for an extreme bump.

First secret to obtain that bump is to place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Don't be surprised that you can even keep it in the fridge up to 3 days. What you need in fact is an aged cold dough. The trick is the following: when put in the oven, the little cake will start to cook from the exterior. It will get cooked slowly from outside to the core. But when the core starts to cook, the outside part is almost ready. The core however needs space to expand and will find a weak link in the already formed structure to get out. That weak link can be only on top and that's why is forming the special madeleine bump.
In fact, finding these secrets for cooking madeleines helped me to explain myself a bread issue I experienced.
With some breads that I cooked in the wood fired oven I've noticed sometimes a very weird shape, a kind of tail. This tail was getting out of the bread in an unpredictable position destroying my expected bread shape. The explanation is exactly the same. When the oven is too hot, the bread cooks faster outside, while the core gets baked slowly. When the core reaches the baking temperature, it wants to expand and it will find a place where the outside structure is weak, so there it will just push the uncooked dough outside that creates a look of a tail or a big worm getting out of the bread. It is the same principle. This issue never happened to me when cooking in a conventional oven as they are all limited to a high temperature. But the wood fired oven doesn't have this limitation and unless you properly measure the temperature  (like me when I am lazy) you can be easily fooled.

Second secret of madeleine is to use proper quantities. Have in mind another trick, that is related with proportions: Egg: Sugar:Flour:Butter needs to have a 1:1:1:1 ratio.
This is a good rule to have in mind and you can break it just in small changes. In my case, I didn't use 3 entire eggs as I had 4 yolks left from a meringue recipe to each I added only 1 whole egg to reach the 180g egg quantity. Second rule that I broke was sugar. For this cake the sugar is not there mainly for the structure, it is there to give a sweet taste. That allowed me to lower the quantity so I can follow my own rule of preference "no more than 100g of sugar in my cakes". However, keep in mind that this principle cannot be applied for sweets like meringue, macaroons etc. where the sugar is actually providing the structure and you need to respect the quantities by the book. Sugar also helps in browning the cakes much faster in the oven and this can be sometimes an advantage and sometimes not. For this particular recipe, halving the sugar won't make too much difference.

Cooking science is interesting for the baker, but for the eater, the most important is the taste and the good looking. These madeleines are soft and moist, they almost melt into you mouth.
Now, let's enjoy them...

Chocolate bundt cake

There has been some time since I baked the last chocolate cake, so the desire to do one came naturally.
Lately, my children are fighting to help me do the cakes. One is mixing the dried ingredients, one is mixing the wet ingredients and they both participate in cleaning the trace of batter from the bowls or whisk. Even that this requires a bit more time and attention from my side to avoid an eventual mess, I cannot be more proud to share this with them. It is that magical moment when a "which" is preparing a "potion" that will be totally transformed by the magical oven.
Coming back from the fairy tale land, this cake is a very easy to do one. It has a strong taste of chocolate that fits perfectly with all added flavors. The original recipe was suggesting to prepare a chocolate glaze and I was ready to do it. However, when cooled,  I took a bite and for me it was enough chocolate inside to add even more on top. I opted then to leave it naked and accompany it with small pieces of chocolate of the same form.

Bon appétit !

Hasselback potatoes with cheese and bacon

These potatoes are absolutely incredible!

I had in my fridge a big package of cheese for raclette and I wanted to use it for something different than the classical cheese melted in small pans and poured over boiled potatoes. I was looking for something roasted rather than boiled.
I saw a similar recipe once and I liked very much the design of these potatoes. The are many versions that can be done, starting from potatoes brushed with flavored olive oil until all sorts of variations of fillings inside the potatoes.
But I wanted to use my cheese and also add a bit of ham/bacon and this was for me the perfect time for me.
Cutting the potatoes and hiding the cheese and bacon inside takes a bit of time but makes the whole taste. The flavored olive oil on top is like the cherry on the cake, it helps to avoid burning and completes the extraordinary flavor.
My both kids simply loved them. For them, on one side, it was the taste, but on the other side, it was also the "game"of discovering each and every slice.
After this one, I am totally motivated to try other versions as well. In fact, my daughter already put on her wishing list of recipes cooked by mommy, the same potatoes but only with cheese. I'll let you know what are the results.
But for now, let's see in detail how to do it.

Country bread baked in a Dutch oven

I rarely bake bread in a Dutch oven but every time I do it I wonder why I do not do it more often. The Dutch oven has the big advantage that it preserve the humidity of the dough and this helps the bread to raise very nicely.
Of course you can simulate the humidity by adding steam into your classic oven, but the Dutch oven makes the things so simple... And the result is outstanding almost every time.

I need to mention that for this photo my daughter hold the bread and the most difficult task for her was to stop herself biting from it. Of course after the shooting, both of my kids enjoyed a freshly baked slice of this gorgeous bread.

Blood orange upside-down cake

I've got inspired 2 weeks ago to make a blood orange upside-down cake. I bought the oranges and waited 2 weeks to find the time to actually put the recipe in practice.
The cake actually turned to be exceptionally good and incredibly flavored. Also, not very time consuming and not over complicated.
Now I am again inspired to do all sort of upside-down cakes with all sorts of fruits. Let's see...

Pea soup

Although I repeat quite often the same soup recipe I make, sometimes I like to test something new. This pea soup was an alternative to my regular Traditional chicken soup.
Easy to do and with a particular taste given by the peas, it is for sure a good treat or aperitive.
Being of color green I was wondering if my kids would like it. It looked like the color was not a problem for them and despite my initial doubts the taste was well appreciated.
This is a healthy soup. If you are vegetarian, skip the bacon that, in my opinion gives the sparkle of this dish.

Fluffy waffles

I made these waffle once but before being able to photograph any they were simply gone. This time I doubled the quantity hoping that I could save some for a photo. Anyway, I had to be quick :).
What I like about these waffles is that they are very soft. They simply melt into your mouth.
Beating the egg whites separately gives them a fluffy structure and that makes optional any addition of a raising agent like yeast or baking powder.
Try these as a snack for your kids and let me know how quickly they disappear.

Matcha muffins

I had this idea to make muffins without any diary product. I am very used to use butter as ingredients to cupcakes or sometimes even oil. But I saw once a recipe without any of these ingredients. I thought to give it the try and see what is brings. I do not recall the source of that recipe but the idea remained in my head.
No surprise that these muffins grew in the oven as any traditional muffin. The difference was instead in texture. If you combine them with a frosting that is based on butter I think that the lack of grease in the muffins is totally ignored. However for my taste, these ones were a little dry. My kids did not share the same opinion with me as they enjoyed them without any negative remark.
As for the texture, that is a wow. It is extremely soft, with very fine holes inside and they simply melt into your mouth.
The taste was just perfect. Although I expected to have quite a strong taste from the powdered green tea, it only gave a slight flavor that I really liked.
The meringues instead got a strong green tea taste. I like the taste of green tea so it didn't bothered me. Neither my kids complained, but the taste is clearly changed due to the matcha powder.
Any decoration from this recipe is totally optional. I decorated them with chocolate (as I promised my daughter some chocolate muffins, but I didn't specify if the chocolate was inside or outside), using the chocolate as a "glue" for the meringues. The matcha meringues were more for fun and to treat my kids with a homemade sweet after lunches.

Persimmon kumquat tart

I was looking for some exotic winter tart and I had in mind to make something with persimmons. I love their subtle aroma and their sweet pulp. Being enough sweet, I felt the need to add something sour in the fruit puree and instead of using the classical lemon, I opted for another exotic fruit, kumquat. They go quite well together, making a sweet-sour fine taste.
When I planned for this recipe I was heaving in mind another way to do it. I wanted a baked tart shell and just one layer of fruit crust. How I ended up with this recipe was instead quite differently.
The initial baked crust was a total failure. It shrunk in the oven and was totally unusable. It was eaten later by my kids as biscuits. I then had to start all over again, but this time I went for a very simple version as time was not allowing me to redo the previous one.
The fruit tart was exactly the one I planned for. My only comment when tasting it was.... way too much butter. If I do this recipe again, butter quantity in the fruit crust will be clearly diminished.
To the initial planned tart I added a glaze just to get a nice look on top, but in the end I thing that this top layer added much more fruit flavor as the fruit curd itself.
The resulting cake was not bad at all. A bit heavier than I wished for due to the high quantity of butter but the taste was special.

Let's see what is inside...

Red velvet muffins

After the success of the Simple red velvet cake, I wanted to try the same recipe for muffins. The composition is very tricky when baked in a large pan as it may not rise evenly. But for muffins, this is not the case.

King cake

When I moved to Belgium it was the first time when I found out about the "Gallete des Rois" tradition. I found it as a nice tradition to celebrate every year on the 6th of January. If in the beginning I was just tasting it when brought by friends or colleagues, since I have kids I had to bake it as well :).
But what is exactly this cake? Well it is a very simple one, 2 layers of puff pastry with some almond cream between them. The cake comes also with 2 extra things: a crown (usually a gold paper one) and a small piese of porcelain that is hidden inside the cake.
The story with this cake is the following : the cake should be cut in as many slices as there are people around it. One of the kids, usually the youngest one, goes under the table and indicate to the person who distribute the slices to whom to give it. Everyone receive a piece and eat his/her slice carefully.  The little small porcelain of course is found in one of the slices, and the one who finds it in its slice becomes the King or the Queen and wears the crown for the rest of the day.
It took me a while to understand the secret of this cake. It is not about the taste of the cake, it is not about the way it looks, it is not about the game of luck but it is about bringing the family together around a fun tradition. It is also about feeling as important as a queen or a king for the day. Especially as a child.
My daughter asks me for this cake every year. This year I made the cake, she got the biggest part of it and of course she was rewarded with the little porcelain piece called "fève". But I was totally surprised when she asked for another cake. I thought she wanted to be the queen again but in fact she told me to skip the part in hiding the "feve" inside. I understood then that she liked the taste of the cake as much she was enjoying the game.
This is how I ended up doing a second king cake almost at the end of January.

As for the cake, it is not at all a big deal to make it unless you go for the adventure to make the puff pastry yourself. With the first trials I wanted to do everything by myself but it took way too long to make the pastry and at the time of enjoying the tradition I was too tired. Lately, I find it easier to buy the puff pastry, make the filling myself and quickly assembling it.

Cheese crackers

After the success of my Feta waffle crackers I looked for another version on which to improve two things: use more feta cheese and reduce the time for the preparation.
Using a waffle maker is time consuming and I thought changing the way of shaping them will drastically reduce the time. This time I choose to stretch the dough and cut it with a pasta waved cutter while cooking them all in the oven. Easy right? Well, moving each piece, brushing with egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds took a bit of time. In the end, when you compare the 2 options, yes, it takes you just a little less time than baking them with a waffle maker.
The second point was the addition of the feta cheese. This was indeed a very good idea. These crackers are more salty, they have more texture and the quantity of the feta cheese is just the right one.
You can serve these crackers as they are or you can dip them in a bit of creamy sauce. I prefer them just as they are.

Simple red velvet cake

When your daughter asks you to make a cake for her nameday you drop any other plans and you do it. Time to make it was limited, so I didn't adventure myself in making a fancy version but rather a simple one. She desired a doll cake, so I opted for a dome shaped cake, inside which I could easily slide a small doll.
I cooked the sponge (red velvet) cake the evening before. Somehow, due to its semi-spherical shape, the pan has fallen on a side in the oven during the baking, without me noticing it and I ended up with a weird shaped cake. My daughter was away for some activities for the evening and she had only seen the baked cake on her return.  She was completely disappointed to see a small dome cake with an unusual shape, not looking at all like a princess skirt. I, also went to sleep that night disappointed that I did not bake something at my daughter expectations for such an important occasion for her.
The next day I faced 2 options: bake another cake for the following day, or trust my experience that I could turn the ugly cake into a beautiful doll dress cake. I asked then my daughter about her preference. She went for the option to have the cake ready, as soon as possible. Due to lack of time, to my relief, this was also what I was hoping for her to chose. I had then the important task to make miracles with this cake.
First step was to cut the uneven side of the cake that my 2 kids devoured in almost one bite. In this way, I returned the dome cake back to its intended shape.
Next problem was to raise the cake with the filling, as the dome remained quite small. I cut the cake in 5 slices and filled the space between the slices with generous layers of whipped cream. Yes, just whipping cream, as there was no time for another type of cream. Whipping cream also on the outside but in a very fine layer as I was planning to cover the hole cake in sugar paste. From experience I know that sugar paste and whipping cream do not go along very well in keeping the shape for more than few hours.
Talking about the sugar paste, this was another challenge. I had 250g of white sugar paste in the pantry in a sealed package but when I grabbed it I discovered that it was almost dried and not enough to cover my cake. I even managed to break my rolling pin trying to stretch it. The only solution for this situation was to go to the shop and buy a good one.
The new fresh sugar paste, I stretched it very well and managed to cover the full cake. With the remaining part, I did a top for the doll dress and a lace for the bottom of the dress.
I didn't have the chance to photograph the doll cake before putting the knife in it but the remaining slices ended up in front of my camera.
It was quite an adventure with this cake that finally was successful. It was for sure one of the quickest festive cake I've made and the experience gained with it was definitely worth.
Needless to say that the final cake was exceeding my daughter expectation and the joy that I've seen in her eyes when I brought the cake on the table, filled me with a big satisfaction.

Feta waffle crackers

Having a homemade snack in the house for kids is always a good idea. And, if they are not sweet is even a better idea.
I remember my mother doing these quite a lot when I was a small child. There were no electric machines back then, so she was using a manual iron press. It was a messy process but these snacks were quickly disappearing.

I wanted that taste again so I started searching for a good recipe. Making the dough is quick and easy with a standing mixer. Baking them though, it takes time even with a dedicated waffle cracker maker. It took me around 2 hours to bake them. But if you have time or small things to do aside this is quite convenient.
In the beginning it was a challenge to put some on the cooling rack. They were eaten by my kids before I was able to make a new batch.
As taste, hmmm they are great. The addition of the feta cheese makes them salty, although, if I do this recipe again I put more cheese for a even more pronounced flavor. They are great, however this is not my mother recipe taste or texture that I remember, so I'll have to ask for it. Let' crack now ...