Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake(s)

I've learned my lesson with the Bundt cakes recipe book and now I can easily spot where the errors are. Two cups of flour do not translate into 500g but 240g. You can imagine how off my recipes were when I was trying to make them by weight? But it is OK, now that I learned the trick to double check the quantities in both measurements, things look more encouraging.

I promised to come back with some tricks I learned during my baking researches and I would like to share them with you here. This is the science of baking so read them carefully.

One thing I noticed is that some recipes call for baking powder while some are calling for baking soda. Some, like this one, is calling for both. Have you ever wondered why and when to use one or another?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): 

  • Baking soda is an alkaline substance that reacts only with acidic ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, cocoa/chocolate, sour cream, brown sugar, yoghurt, vinegar. If none of them is between your cake ingredients, then the baking soda does not help rising your cake. 
  • As a general rule, use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of acid ingredient.

Baking powder: 

  • Baking powder instead is more versatile as it is a combination of baking soda (base), cream of tartar (acid) and a bit of cornstarch (to block the reaction between the two while on the shelf). So, in its chemical structure, it already contains an acid.
  • As a general rule, use 2 teaspoon baking powder per cup of flour. 
  • too much use of baking powder in a cake gives a metallic, more salty and acidic taste

Baking soda is more powerful than baking powder. If substituted by baking powder, you need to add a higher quantity for baking powder. (usually a 1:3 ratio, for example, 1 teaspoon of baking soda can be replaced by 3 teaspoons of baking powder)

Neither baking soda nor powder is particularly healthful or harmful when used in the usual quantities. They are however chemically obtained substances used in baking (and not only).

You use both when there is not enough acid ingredients and you need an extra lift from the baking powder.

None of them will match the benefits of a cake risen by sourdough but this is another story.

Enough with the leavening agents, let's talk about this cake(s).

I've got this silicone set of moulds some time ago and Ifind that they create an incredible visually pleasant cake. I have not used hem very often because they are not very practical: they are difficult to fill in (not like metallic bundt pans) and they have a very small size. The little ones are even smaller than a normal size cupcake and the big one probably doesn't take more than 3-4 cups of butter. But they look super nice together and I love them.

They rose nicely in the oven which is a good sign that the balance of ingredients was right. The batter looked like a batter and I had great hopes before baking them. I wish I had known the quantity I needed for all of these moulds before as a cup more would have been perfect to fill in in full the big bundt.

However, I am very happy with the end result. Especially that after reducing the sugar in almost a quarter from the original recipe (but sssht, this is our secret!)

The Simplest Natural Yoghurt

It took me years to perfect this recipe in terms of efficiency.

I've tried many recipes over time with extra ingredients, all nice but for special tastes and occasions. But the basic yoghurt was always a must for my family. There is no other simple recipe than one with only one ingredient: milk. Ok, maybe 2 if you count the yoghurt bacteria.

I've got the yoghurt culture from my best friend from Romania many years ago. Since then, I make yoghurt regularly every 3 to 4 weeks. A good culture is an essential start. I've tried also with a culture from a natural yoghurt from the supermarket. Still good but not like the one my friend had from a farm in the countryside.

The main ingredient is milk. Raw cow whole milk. This one I buy from a local farm and it is still warm when I bring it home. 

The first step is to boil the milk. For healthy reasons, this is safest. I boil it until it foams and I let it cool until gets to 45ºC. Without a thermometer, use your finger to test: if you can keep your finger in the milk for 5 seconds without getting burned, the milk is ready. At this moment, the yoghurt culture goes in. This culture is nothing else than a pot of yoghurt saved from the previous batch that I keep in my fridge. How much? No more than 10% of the total quantity of milk. For example, for 5l of boiled milk, I have 400g-500g of yoghurt as culture.

I pour this yoghurt into my lukewarm milk and stir it gently with a whisk, ensuring just that the yoghurt is well distributed. Then, I pour this composition into pots. This is a trick that I perfected over time. Initially, I started with small ceramic jars, perfect for this purpose, but they didn't have a lid. I used to put a foil to cover and secure it with a rubber band. Too much wasted time, too much waste in terms of garbage. But I learned that yoghurt goes well in glass jars too. I switched to bigger glass jars that had a lid. These were simple jam jars bought from the supermarket. This simplified the process a lot.

After filling the jars with all the milk-yoghurt mixture they need to stay in a warm place. I once used my oven set at 50ºC with the baking stone inside and let them inside overnight. In 80% of the cases, this worked perfectly, but sometimes my yoghurt was more liquidy. Since I became the owner of a bread proofer my yoghurt always go in it overnight, set at 35ºC on the bottom grill. I had a 100% rate of success in this way. I usually do this in the evening as the cows are milked at 5-6pm but if you do it during the day, let the jars in the proofer/oven for a few hours (min. 2 hours) to get a consistent yoghurt.

What happens with this composition in this warm environment is fermentation. The yoghurt bacteria eat the sugars from the milk and produces alcohol. That alcohol makes the yoghurt sour and flavours it. The sour the yoghurt, the less sugar it has, the healthier it is. I am intolerant to lactose and unfortunately, I cannot drink as such the amazing farm milk we buy. But this yoghurt gives me no digestion issues. What better proof that the bacteria does its job very well?

The next day, I stop the bread proofer and let the jars cool a bit before putting it in the fridge. They can stay there for 3-4 weeks without any issue until they are eaten and then I go and buy again fresh milk from the farm and make another batch.

I cannot advertise more this simple and natural yoghurt. It is super healthy, super tasty and it is superior to any yoghurt you can buy from the supermarket. I really believe that anybody should do homemade yoghurt... You do not know what you lose until you try it...

Lokum Bundtlettes

Bundt cakes do not have to be large. The larger the pan, the more time is required for baking. These ones are actually small, they come in a metal tray of 6 and they bake uniformly.
I've got in love with these little shapes because I have had the "mother" bundt pan with the same shape for years. They are bigger than a usual cupcake, the 6 of them can hold 4.5 cups of butter. So for this composition, you need 2 trays or you can adjust the ingredients to match the size of the tray. I only have one tray and the rest of the batter went in other moulds that I had.
The addition of lokum adds sweetness and because it is flavoured, this is transferred to the little cakes too.

Madeleines with discarded sourdough

The are plenty of recipes on the web called sourdough madeleine but actually, the sourdough is not the leavening agenda, it is just one of the ingredients. My recipe is also using sourdough just as one of the ingredients (to make sure you do not through away the remaining sourdough from feedings) but at least I state from the start that it is not the sourdough that makes the little cakes rise.

I am working on another recipe that uses just sourdough and no other leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda but this will come in the future.

I arrived at this recipe after several trials. The trick with madeleines is that they need to rise more in the middle to create a specific bump. To do this, the batter needs to be cold. Of course, you can bake them straight after mixing the ingredients but the specific bump will not be reached. Up to you if you want the bump or not.

Another aspect, the butter can be usd in the melted state as it will go in the fridge and solidify. The quantities are balanced (and the eggs measured precisely as they can vary in weight) so you obtain the right consistency. There can be little variations depending on the flour, but this should not lead you to a striking difference.

I hope you'll enjoy this simple recipe!

Simple Bundt Cake

I feel starting a new personal challenge with baking cakes. 

I bought a beautiful bundt recipe book and I was so excited to start baking from it. The first recipe was weird. The balance of ingredients was so incorrect and instead of a batter, I ended up with a dough. I adjusted the recipe on the fly and of course, I did not end up with the best result. The second recipe was the same. The third one, the same. It was then that I seriously asked myself what is wrong? Was it the book or was it me or my type ingredients?

One of the things I always do from most of the recipes is to cut the sugar. And this book was so generous in sugar. As a general rule, I keep the sugar in a cake to 100-150g, except for the ones where the sugar makes the structure (like for meringues, macarons). Even if I have a sweet tooth, I do this for a good reason, to reduce the general intake of sugar for me and my family. For me, I trained myself over time to eat less sugar and this had only good benefits. My taste has changed and I can really enjoy a cake with less sugar while finding the ones with too much sugar impossible to eat more than one bite. For my family things are similar. My husband was never fond of sugar, he prefers fresh fruits over cakes by far but for my kids, things were different. They love everything sweet, very sweet. And sweets are everywhere: at school, at an anniversary, with any treat, with any Christmas or Easter celebration. However, there is a daily snack that I prepare myself for them. Usually, this is a homemade bisquit, a cake, a cupcake a waffle or a savoury snack. I could buy this one for sure but I choose not to. Why? Because I would like at least for this daily treat, to control the amount of sugar they eat. This is actually why I bake every single week something sweet. Most of my cakes are without glaze because it would be difficult to transport them at school and eat it in a clean manner,

Coming back to my bundt book, with the last bundt cake I published on instagram I was complaining about my frustration with these recipes. One commenter left me a message that by adjusting the sugar quantity I might modify the structure of the cake. I had a wow moment, how could I have not thought of this before? Could sugar have much more importance in the structure of the cake? Incredibly how a dropped comment had opened up a new world to me. She is an angel sent to me at the right time.

I started then to make research,  lots of them, to understand how I can balance back a recipe by reducing the amount of sugar. I even looked at Harvard research... it's crazy... but this is pure baking science. How I couldn't think of this before for cakes, especially since I was baking with science for bread. The answer is probably simple.... because every day we make new connections in our brains and we learn something new. So happy to arrive here!

But the story didn't end here. Yesterday, I was wondering what others were commenting about the bundt cake book. I went on the web and the Aha! moment was there. The book was giving the recipes in 2 measurements: cups and millilitres/grams. As I like to be very precise, I always bake by grams. I found some comments mentioning that the ingredients in cups were OK but the ones in grammes were completely off. I found the culprit of my failures and is such a shame for a published book. Wouldn't you expect that when you buy a book the recipes are tested over and over again? Well ... dream on... not every book author is Julia Child.

For this recipe, I started with the first simple bundt cake, a pound cake. Pound cake has equal quantities of flour, sugar, fat and eggs. Nice cake but the sugar is way too much for me, so I started adjusting.

The original recipe was calling for 375g of sugar, way too much for me. I cut it to 200g and still, I can say it is too sweet for my taste. I had then to balance my reduction with some liquid, so I added milk and yes, I ended up with a batter, not a dough.

The cake ended up beautifully although I think there is still room to be even more fluffy. My challenge continues and with my next cakes, I'll add some baking science findings too...

Two versions of pickles: sweet or healthy

Pickles in Romania are like national food. There is no traditional housewife without a pantry full of jars of pickles. The shapes, the colours, the arrangements into jars go to an artistic level and displaying these jars can also be part of the house decoration. What is amazing is that every family has its own recipe and use their preferred vegetables/fruits.

The original idea of making pickles has a good base. Our grandmothers didn't have the luxury we experience today to find tomatoes in January at the supermarket and either to have a fridge. Fruits and vegetables were coming fresh with warm seasons and by the end of the autumn, they were gone. But people needed fruits and vegetables over the cold season as the meat was not an everyday food. So, they found a way to preserve fruits and vegetables for a long period and enjoy them also in the winter and early spring.
One option that my grandma was using, was to preserve tomatoes in big pots of salt. I bet not many of you are aware of this method. But the most popular method was through fermentation. They didn't have jar glasses back then, they were using ceramic big pots (that are even better than glass jars by the way).

When I was living in Romania, this food was on every table, in any house. It was such a common food that it was not raising any interest to me anymore. But when I moved to Belgium, I started to miss them. I tried to buy them but the taste was different from what I knew. I had then to learn to do them myself to get back the taste I knew from childhood.
One of my preferred pickles was "gogognele". They are nothing else than pickled green tomatoes harvested when they are unripe. There was no way that I could find them in a Belgium market as was the case in the Romanian food market. So, I almost gave up on the idea and stick to what was easily available: cauliflower, carrots, celery. But 2020 was a very productive year for tomatoes and by October, my tomato plants still had a lot of unripe cherry tomatoes hanging. It was the perfect moment to transform them into pickles. I called my mother and asked for 2 recipes: one with sugar, one without. Why 2? Because I knew the ones with sugar were tastier but the ones with only salt were super healthy.
I made 2 versions to have a direct comparison. The first 2 photos of this post are made back in October 2020, which is almost one and a half years ago. After making them, I noted down the recipes and waited for the right time to write this post. But there was no right time until I realised that there were only 3 jars left in the pantry and soon I wouldn't have been able to photograph the finished product as they would have been fully eaten. Yes, I made a lot of different jars back then with all sorts of vegetables and we ate them slowly because during the summer and autumn I prefer fresh vegetables to accompany a stake.


Difference between pickles with only salt version and the ones with vinegar and sugar version
The 2 versions were important to me to compare the taste but there was no doubt which one I should choose for health reasons.
The pickles made with salt only are having incomparable healthy benefits. The ones made with vinegar and sugar have a different process (chemically speaking) and do not reach the health benefits that the other version has.
In the salt only version, the pickled vegetables/fruits preserve the quantity and quality of antioxidants (like vitamin C, betacaroten etc.), they are an important source of vitamins (A, B1, B2, C, E, K) and minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium). They contain probiotic bacteria that help the digestive system by feeding the microbiome so important to our body immunity and health. These are natural antibiotics and prevents cancer. They reduce the allergies and inflammations inside the body. They are also suitable for a diet, as they are low in calories.
All these are so well fit in the winter to help you avoid catching a cold and to keep you healthy. Our grandparents had no idea about all these health benefits discovered lately by studies but they were avid consumers of the pickles over the cold season.
Looks like miracle food right? Well, it is, but there is one case though when you have to avoid them and that is if your doctor recommended you to minimise the consumption of salt.

Now let me tell you my conclusions after making the 2 versions. The ones with sugar are having a sweet flavour that makes them more appealing. The ones with only salt, I expected to be more salty than sour, but I was wrong. Both were sour with a delicious taste with just the sweet flavour as a difference. I liked them both and I will do them again for sure. Which version? Definitely the one with salt only. Why? Because of the unmeasurable benefits the naturally fermented food has for our bodies. In the end, even if the sweet flavour is missing in the salt version, the taste is not that different.

Before ending, if you plan to make your own pickles, let me give you some tips and tricks to keep in mind:
  • make then in the autumn, September and October are perfect to have them fermented in the early winter.
  • pick healthy vegetables/fruits, preferably hard type not soft. Root vegetables are perfect!
  • Do not throw away the leftover brine (only for the salt version) after eating the pickles, it can be used for souring soups. The salty brine from cabbage is very popular among Romanians to consume after a long drinking night as it will reduce the hangover symptoms.

La Couronne Lyonnaise / The Lyon Crown Sourdough Bread

I continue the adventure with traditional French loaves and I travel from Bordeaux (in one of my previous posts) to Lyon. Similar flower look but with a different way of shaping it. Wich one do you like better? I think each one has its own charm, so for me is difficult to choose.

Like the previous one, the dough is made by a number of dough balls arranged in a circle in the basket. Both Bordeaux and Lyon versions have a flap. For the Bordeaux version, one of the balls is flattened and the dough balls are put over. In the case of the Lyon version, a flap is created for each ball of dough. This version has a more petal look and the other one is more of a circle that is rising in the oven. Both of them are outstanding in terms of design and I can only thank the French to invent these amazing loaves.

Like the other crown bread, this one is traditionally based on sourdough and made from white flour combined with a bit of rye flour. The crust is crunchy, the crumb is dense but soft and this is the way is traditionally made. The dough needs to be stiff to keep the shapes of the balls. The bread is straight, meaning that there is no overnight retard, for the same shape reasons. 

I visited Lyon more than 20 years ago and unfortunately, I was not aware back then of this fantastic bread. If I have the chance to visit again this beautiful town, trying this local bread would be one of the first things to do.