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Open crumb basic sourdough bread

When I started to bake bread I had no idea how much science and technique is behind. I had a simple desire like: I would like to be able to make a beautiful and tasty bread myself.  In the last 6 years of my sourdough journey I've experienced a lot of failures but I have never thrown away a bread that I did myself. Of course, I made breads spreads completely in my oven, I made dense breads, I made not so good looking breads but all of them were perfectly eatable. What I love about baking bread is that you cannot fail. You might only have disappointments or extraordinary experiences. I've leaned a lot with every single bread I made. I've learned about flours of any type, I've learned to know my sourdough, I've learned to play with the environment to target specific improvements for baking wonderful loaves.
Baking great bread comes only with a journey. I doubt that there is somebody who made such bread with his/her first try. There is a lot of science behind to understand how each variable influence what and at which step. There is a lot of physics and chemistry behind. There is also mathematics behind calculating the proportions of ingredients. Am I just speaking of just our basic daily bread? Yes, it is exactly what I am speaking about.
My experience with bread started even before Maya (this is how my sourdough is called) appeared into my life.  I was making bread in a bread machine for some years already but there was something that pushed me to step further from this. Bread made in a breadmaker  was always the same. Same shape, same taste (or tasteless), same tons of crumbs on the table. On the other side it was very practical to thrown away all ingredients and come back after 4 hours to get out my warm bread. I remember that when I first time read that the bread can take 4 hours in the bread machine to be ready I thought that it was a huuuge amount of time. Now I do breads that are spread over couple of days only to get a specific flavor.
The sourdough journey was with up and downs in terms of look but always the result was an incredible tasty bread. And I don't know how, it fit even in my crazy weekly schedule. I didn't have much time for other things, but for bread, I was always making time.
Although in the last 6 years I baked bread almost weekly, at a certain moment in time I stopped photographing them as to me they were looking all the same. Great but not wow. Now with the lock down I had a desire to upgrade to a new level, to test different variables in my bread making to achieve a better looking. I've changed recipes, I've  changed flour sources, I've read dozens of blogs and watch hundreds of hours of instructions videos to find the secrets of an open crumb bread.
I've then made a plan: stick to one recipe that you trust, stick with the same flour and try small changes. And this is exactly what I did. I've made this recipe 4 times with the same ingredients and quantities and slightly modifying other variables.
I was watching others how they were handling the dough but mine was not looking like theirs. What I was doing wrong? It was a question that troubled me for days. Could their flour have being so different than the one I had access to? How was this possible? And then again, was it me handling something wrong?
First 3 trials were almost the same.  For the last one I changed couple of things.
First it was the autolyse. I've changed the one hour autolyse (with sourdough included) to 6 hours of autolyse of just flour and water. This in fact changed everything from the start to me, because the dough was behaving in an incredibly good way. For the first time I felt that my dough was looking as it should.
The second thing I've changed was the technique in the handling of the dough. I knew well my old good style but I wanted to change to something much better. This new handling improved so much the structure of my dough.
Third thing was the scoring of the loaves. With a good bread structure you need a deep scoring. Before I was scoring superficially at let's say 0.5cm, but now I discovered that a 1 to 2 cm scoring is delivering incredible results.
Putting these 3 together I reached to an incredible bread although there were the exact same ingredients and quantities as before. OMG, what a difference. I've made a complete description of this technique bellow. Just a little disclaimer, for me these were the improvement to get a gorgeous bread, to you might be others.
For me this bread put me on another level of my journey. Discovering these secrets is like raising the experience level from amateur to profesionist. The satisfaction to bake this bread was huge. I jumped for joy like a child telling, Yesss I did it! It worked! The other members of the family were looking weird to me, wondering if I lost my minds in this lock down period. Who didn't struggled with sourdough bread could not understand this joy.
This bread is not just about having an ear on top, is also about having an airy structure inside with gorgeous bubbles. It is the success of a long experience. It is for me like to highest level of baking bread. I just knocked on the door of this level and I hope that from now one I can experience even more incredibly good looking breads.
This recipe is to be made in 3 days if you have all ingredients available. But if you are like me and you keep a small amount of sourdough in the fridge you add 3 days more to have a enough and strong starter. I picked this recipe, from a blog that I admire very much (see at the end). I picked it also because it can be done anytime in the week, it is flexible and it fits perfectly the classic schedule of daily 9 to 5 worker. Before, I had to do my bread only on weekends, but this recipe is conceived to work on it only during the evening and it is giving you quite a big interval so you can fit it into your schedule. I made an example of the schedule in order to have the bread cooked for lunch on Sunday. But if you wish to bake it for Sunday evening there is no risk to have it over proofed.


Let's see the details of my best bread ever (so far) ...

Strawberry cake

Three years ago my life changed completely. More difficult and more beautiful in the same time.

To celebrate, of course, I could only bake a cake. I should have done a big party but the current lock-down situation doesn't allow me.

This cake as the last week one (also for another celebration), I've made it in 3 days. The Dark chocolate sour cherry festive cake of last week was heavy, in the sense that you couldn't eat too much and a small portion was more than enough. This is how I arrived with some chocolate cake slices in the fridge while starting a new one. This one, had to be on the opposite side. It should have been a light one and absolutely with strawberry. At least this was the desire of my daughter.
First day was the sponge. The more sponges I do, the more experience I get and I feel quite confortable making them. This was probably the best I've done this year. A new recipe (of course customized) but a great success. Although there was no top (as I learnt how to bake a nice flat sponge cake), I had to cut a top as my kids were asking to eat it. This is a nice irony of life, but then, I better keep my kids happy than targeting for the ever best cake of my life.
The strawberry sauce was a bit of a mess. I put it then in the fridge overnight hoping that the next day I'll do something to fix it. In fact, I followed a recipe that didn't turn at all the way it was described, so I corrected it myself by adding some gelatine. This costed me the next day half an hour more rest  (per each layer) in the fridge for the strawberry layer to harden.
The white cream was the most simple to do and there I was for the decoration. A total invention on the spot. I had in mind some strawberry cakes with nice patterns but I simply followed my instinct and it turned as you can see.
Being a light cake, it was eaten in less time than the cooking one. Not so sweet and with such a spring fruity flavor inspired by strawberries. Needless to say what a perfect taste it had... you'll have to try it to be convinced.

Happy Birthday, my sweet son!

Dark chocolate sour cherry festive cake

I was having a look on different festive chocolate cake recipes when I got stuck on one that was looking incredibly nice. I had a quick look, made my inventory of ingredients and decided that that would be the one. But I didn't look carefully of the quantity of ingredients. My heart stopped for a second when I saw that in that cake, there were 1250g of sugar. No way! This is neither healthy or normal. I haven't seen a cake before with such a big amount of sugar inside. Even for such a big cake of almost 3kg, to have 1/3 of sugar was for me no option.
I then had to trust my experience in baking and I went to adapt this recipe, reducing drastically the sugar inside. The sugar in the biscuit I reduced it from 650g to 100g. Yes, more than 6 times lower. The resulting biscuit didn't taste sweet almost at all but this was mainly due to the fact the the quantity of cocoa powder was also very high. If I do this cake again, it would definitively worth trying replacing a part of the cocoa powder with flour. Nevertheless, I do not like the biscuit to be too sweet because this is mainly the role of the filling cream for a cake for me. I baked 2 pans of biscuits with the quantity made. One of them was not raising enough, probably also because the 2 pans were different and because they were baked one on top of the oven and one under. The idea was to cut each biscuit in 2 to have a 4 layers biscuit cake. Well, because one of the cake was not really raising so much I ended up with 3 layers and a half. That half was devoured immediately by my kids, even if it looked not sweet at all.
As the biscuit was prepared in the evening, I left them in the fridge over night and continued the cake the next day.
For the cream, even for a sweet one, of course 600g of sugar inside was out of question. I initially put only 100g of powdered sugar but that was not enough and after tasting it, there was place for more. I went then to 200g and that was just perfect. That would be anyway a 1/3 proportion of the quantity in the original recipe.
Decoration went straight and the cake went quickly into the fridge for the butter to get its good shape.

I chose to add something extra to the initial recipe and that was the defrosted sour cherry fruits. This was mainly because my husband loves them very much. It was not just to make him a pleasure, it was mainly because this was ment to be his birthday cake.

Happy birthday my dear husband!

Homemade waffle cones

I bought once some waffle cones from the supermarket in order to serve my ice-cream. First time, they served me well, but next time, my children asked only for the waffle cones to eat them as simple biscuits. I arrived in this way to buy them quite regularly. They were light, sweet and crunchy, no wonder that they were so much loved by my children.
That situation challenged me to make my own waffle cones. In fact they are just simple dry waffles rolled in a cone shape to hold the ice-cream.
With my dry waffle iron I baked the waffles. With a special wood cone, I rolled them up. I had to be very quick as they were drying very fast after removing them from the iron. But I learnt to make them very easily.
Guess what? They didn't arrive to be filled with ice-cream as they were eaten by my kids before. Now I need to do another batch....

Cinnamon bath bombs

It has been a while since I've done some homemade cosmetics.
This time, it was my daughter wish to make some bath bombs to fizzle in the bath. Cinnamon essential oil was at hand, so why not make this recipe.
From this quantity you arrive with three big bath bombs, but what a pleasure...

Fruit tart

This is that kind of dessert that you work for 3 days to have it and it is eaten almost instantly.
I was very used to buy tart fruits. I tried to make them many times, but they were not as good looking as the ones already made in a pastry shop. Other times I was simply giving up on doing them as I found them too time consuming.
Yes, they are not quick to make but when you put the effort to do them, it worth every single minute invested.

I did the tart crusts in one day, I made the pastry cream in another day and I combined and decorated them in the next day. I do not know how many of you are keen to make a cake in 3 days. This is not sourdough bread is just a fruit cake. The good thing is that you can do a bit today, a bit in another day. The bad thing is that, when I want a cake I want it now not in 3 days.
If you wonder what I did with my tart crusts, well... here you find the answer.

When you look at them, you'd better put them in a glass case and preserve them just to admire rather then eating them. But you can close your eyes and take a bite... let me tell you, the taste is even higher than the look.Yes, they are my perfect fruit tarts. I don't do them very often, but when I do them I just know that they will be just perfect.

 

Tomato and pepper soup

What I hate the most in making a tomato soup is peeling the tomatoes. After the boiling, tomatoes are hot and waiting until they are enough cool to touch them is simply a waste of time. I even tried to not peel the tomatoes but even after blending there are small unappealing tomato skins in my soup. I like the tomato soup to be clean so I needed to find a way to remove the skin without spending to much time and without burning constantly my fingers when removing the skin. What I found useful was to cut the tomatoes in 4. In this way they are easier to be removed. Then, the best is not to touch them directly with your fingers. For this soup I used just 2 chopped sticks. With a fork it would be easy also.
This trick saved me, as tomato soup is one of my favorite, if not, my most favorite soup.
Tomato soup combined with pasta and lovage is an incredible combination. Lovage is another favorite of mine in terms of flavoring the savory food. I brought it back from Romania and I have it in my garden since few years. It dries during the winter but grows back in the early spring. It is not demanding at all and offers you so many tasty pleasures.
This tomato and pepper soup looks more like a classic tomato soup. However, adding some other vegetables enrich the dish quite a lot in terms of nutrition. It does not change the taste too much, although the pepper is very delicately felt.

Tart crust

One of my ambitions was to succeed perfect tart crusts like these. I actually didn't count how many times I tried it without being satisfied about the results. There were times when the dough was stretched back in the oven and the crust was unusable to hold any pastry cream inside. However, when this happened, my kids were happy as they just ate them as biscuits. Sometimes the stretch was just a little, but still it was not what I was looking for. I changed also the recipes many times hoping to find a finally a good one.
Another aspect in my trials was to find a good recipe. For me, using 6 egg yolks just for tart crust was not a good idea as I had to do something else with the whites. Another constant issue was the amount of sugar. I saw recipes with 250g of sugar only in the crust and this for me is definitively unacceptable. I could add sugar in the filling of the tart but the tart itself I prefer to have light amount of sugar.
With so many restrictions and so many expectations, one day I found this incredible recipe. Not too much sugar, only 1 egg used and.... perfect shape after baking.
With time I also though that my failures were due to wrong tools and this proved to be partially true. I purchased special perforated tart rings, special perforated silicone mat and special perforated tray only to increase my chances of success. But when trying them the first time, I was again disappointing. It was clear to me then that the problem was the recipe I used and not only the tools. But the next recipe I tried turned out as I so long wished. So yes, tools might help. A lot. But it's not only about the tools. Nevertheless, I intend to bake more tart crusts not only using these tart rings but also other types. We shall see about this in the future.

Until then, I cannot wait to fill in these crust with some pastry cream before my kids discovering them and eating them as they are.

Quiche Lorraine with French cheese

I love many types of French cheeses and I treat myself from time to time with a piece. Many times, I take a byte, pack it back and I put it in the fridge. Today with this type, tomorrow with that type and sometimes I simply forget them in the fridge for days. 
This is exactly what happened to me these days. I found an opened box of Camembert and a package of Brie opened. They do not alterate, they simply dry. Being that dry they do not look so appealing to eat them as they are. But these cheeses are too good to be thrown away, so I gave them a second life into a quiche lorraine where they melt while spreading their special taste.
What I love about quiches is that you can use almost any vegetable or cheese and they will still taste exceptionally.
I used for this quiche a big oven proof glass pan. It has around 30cm of diameter, so this is a really big savory tart. For a smaller version, for sure you'll need to reduce the amount of each ingredient. Or, maybe you want to simply try your own version with what you find in your fridge. This recipe is so flexible.... as long as you bind the vegetables and/or meat with the egg+milk and sour cream.

Enjoy.

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 ...