Red Berry Cheesecake in Instant Pot

I do not know why but I was always afraid of cheesecakes. Not to eat them but to make them. They crack, they are runny sometimes, and there are multiple ways you can get it wrong with a cheesecake. Well, Instant Pot opened a door for me. I hated the classical way of putting water on a tray and putting the pan inside a classical. What if the pan is not leakproof? Then, handling a hot water tray is not very pleasant. With the Instant Pot, things are simpler and with fewer negative surprises. But this is not a commercial post for the instant pot, it is just my opinion. You can definitely bake this cake in a normal oven too.

I made this cake in 2 versions, one including milk (or sour cream) and one without. The first one leads to a more creamy texture and the second one is more crumbly. The first one is soft, and the second is drier. I liked them both but my daughter detests cream texture in any cake. You can guess then which one was her favourite. 

You can do this cake without the fruity layer but it adds a full dimension to the taste of this cake. The first version I made was with strawberries, and the second was with raspberries. Both are exceptional and red berries are just an idea, you can use any fruit you want!

Sugar in this cake is kept to a minimum but it is just enough to enhance the taste of the cake. If you prefer very sweet cakes, feel free to add as much sugar as you like. Personally, I like cakes but I also like to stay on the healthy side of eating. Most of the time I do not eat the cakes that I make, they are for my kids but if I really want to eat a slice I would choose one that is the most appealing to me and this one was irresistible.

I hope you will like it too...

Instant Pot Cranberries Yoghurt Cake

I love baking in general, but steaming was not necessarily my daily way of cooking. I challenged myself to try pressure cooking lately and a whole new world opened to me. In fact, cooking with pressure was not a new thing for me. My mother gave me a big pressure cooker pot as a present at my wedding. I need to recognise it was a love and hate relationship... I was using it for a while then it was staying for months on the shelf. Now that I think back, I think the main reason was the practicality of that pot.
So, two lovely ladies told me about their experience with the Instant Pot and I convinced myself I want to try it. I can say it was a real turning point in how I am preparing my daily meals. In a short description: healthier and faster. I added as well to my family meals new dishes that looked so complicated before. Now everything happens in one pot...
I love to explore, to test the limits and I tried to bake cakes in it also. I understood what works in it and what is not. Instant Pot cooks with steam and moist types of cakes are appropriate. I baked a classic bundt and turned out OK but it was too dense for my taste. Then, I tried a creme caramel and worked perfectly. This time I made the yoghurt cake with a recipe from my mother. Of course, I had to adapt certain things but I am happy with the result.
This type of cake is usually baked in the oven between filo pastry sheets. I used a biscuit layer instead. I replaced raisins with dried cranberries (to be more accurate I think the ones that I have are actually lingonberries - in French is "airelles", please correct me if I am wrong).
What I love about it is that it is super simple to make it and it is firm enough to keep a slice on your hand and walk away. I gave it also to my kids at school as a snack.
You can play with some decorations and it will look as fancy as you wish.
If you do not have dried cranberries, use raisins or any dried fruits. I haven't tested but I think it works perfectly with fresh berries also. Good idea, I must try this too, could be very interesting.
This cake can be called a pudding. It works with the same principles, a cereal that expends in a diary liquid. What is special though is that I use homemade yoghurt, not milk. Almond essence and lemon zest give a specific and fantastic aroma to this cake.
It will for sure enter into my regular bakes due to its simplicity and delicious taste.

Here are the ingredients...

Rhubarb tart


Last spring, I've bought from the weekend market a little plant of rhubarb. It was a small plant and the guy selling it to me has warned me that it could grow up to 1m in diameter. All OK for me, I planted it in my garden and started to grow: unexpectedly big up to 2m in diameter at least. I knew that in the first year I better not harvested it, so I waited calmly for this year to come to taste it. Over the winter, it almost completely dried and I thought I lost it. But when this spring came, it was growing again at least as big as last year. This time... I had in mind a tart and now was the right moment.
A simple tart but with a lot of new things for me. First, it was about baking something with my own grown rhubarb. Second, it was my first tart baked in the wood-fired oven. None of these I've done before. The oven was low in temperature after a previous bake so I can almost say I did a slow bake. It started somewhere at 190ºC and went quickly a bit lower than 130ºC. I can call it a slow cook almost as it took about 3-4 hours to finish it and that with the tart shell already pre-cooked.
I was expecting the stalks to be redder but the lack of sun and good weather of this year had for sure an impact. Nevertheless, I had to try it!
The tart was incredibly well received by my daughter who enjoyed the sweet-sour taste of it and she commented that remembers the three kings' cake. Of course it does, as the filling is very similar to that cake, being based on almond powder. Just when it was gone I realised that I did not save a piece for me to try. Well, the plant is still there with big leaves but I won't dare to cut more stalks to not kill the plant. So for me, the next attempt to taste it will be next year.
Here is the simple recipe.

Rye - Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Take a bread recipe, make it until you are satisfied with the result and then you can play changing the flour. This is what I am doing with this recipe: I changed the spelt flour with rye flour in my previous recipe. The result may have the same look but there are big changes to the dough and I'll explain why. 
The spelt flour makes the dough very elastic while rye is fermenting faster. Rye flour is also more absorbent (at least mine because it is partially whole rye).
So, the spelt version needed more coil folds to build the structure while rye has already a good structure feeling stiffer. Fermentation time was reduced also.

If the aspect is similar, the taste is slightly changed. Rye flour comes with a more rustic taste while spelt has sweeter influences. Do I like one more than the other... hmmm... difficult to say. They are both sourdough bread and the taste is amazing in both cases. The differences are just a matter of nuances.

Here you can find the recipe:

Spelt - Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

 When you make a dough combining multiple types of flours you should be very careful about the effect each dough has. Usually, if you put a type of flour in a percentage lower than 10%, the influence is minimal in the dough consistency and mild in the taste. When you increase this percentage, the characteristics of this specific flour start to be noticed. 

I made this bread with 3 types of flour: whole wheat, spelt and bread flour. Whole wheat is more absorbent and impedes the gluten network to develop easily. That's why a trick is to hydrate the whole wheat flour the day before so that the bran is softened through better hydration. The spelt flour adds elasticity to the dough. This means that you can stretch it more. The extensibility of the dough then has to be created by adding an extra coil fold. (the 4th one). The bread flour I used, although with 13% protein content was also very extensible and less absorbent than others I normally use. With these characteristics, making this bread is tricky.

First time I tried it I was not very happy with its dough structure and I over fermented it. The bread was perfectly eatable but for sure, was not what I expected it to be.

With the lessons learned from this first failed attempt, I focused on improving 2 things: dough handling and reduced fermentation time while keeping the list and quantity of ingredients exactly the same. To build a better structure, I added a 4th coil fold. For the fermentation, I definitely understood that this combination of flours, had to have a higher ph than 4.15 (as my previous test was). I shaped it then at ph 4.33 and put it in the fridge at 4.25. Only these 2 changes transformed a recipe from zero to hero.

This is a perfect example of improving the method and not changing the ingredients or their quantity. The method matters! There are many methods out there that make fantastic loaves of bread but you need to master yours and know the implications of changing it.

Chocolate festive cake


Chocolate festive cake

This was the cake for my husband's birthday last week. It was also the test cake for my son's birthday cakes. All the 3 followed the same principles, one sponge cake cut into layers with chocolate ganache between them. Similar compositions and tastes but three different looks. You may find the ones of my son in my previous 2 posts. 

Every cake had a different target: this one to look more festive, the "5" cake to be a child's cake and the last one to be easily transported. Which one I like the best? Difficult to say as I associated them with special occasions. Doing all of them in one week was a marathon but with every challenge like this comes a lot of lessons learned.

The first lesson learned was to master the sponge cake both in cocoa or classic versions. Learning its tricks took me some time over the years and now I can happily say that I feel comfortable baking them.

A second lesson learned was to play with ganache. This thing is super sensitive to temperature and depending on the purpose you might want a thicker or thinner texture. I found myself putting the bowl sometimes in the microwave to heat it a bit and sometimes in the fridge to cool it. It is however the easiest cake filling that you can do (after the basic whipped cream of course). I like simple things for basic staff and focus more on the artistic part of it.

You may find the complete recipe for this cake bellow.

Race cake

This was the anniversary birthday cake of my son. It took me a lot of time to prepare it and even more to make all the decorations. do I regret spending so much time on just a cake? Not even a minute. I made it with all my heart and I would do it again if needed.

I divided the making of this cake over 2 days: on the first day, I baked the sponge cakes and prepared the ganache, on the second day I shaped and layered them and prepared all the decorations.

The decorations took me almost a full day and I was helped by the little one, placing the big white and black squares on the side. My daughter participated also in the decoration process so it looked more like a family cake.

But a good cake doesn't only have to look nice it also needs to taste good. The combination of cocoa sponge cake and chocolate ganache is heaven. The guests appreciated the cake to be light, not overly sweet and delicious. The kids invited to the party loved it too, as most of the plates I cleaned up after were empty.

I was very careful with the sugar on this cake. There is a huuuuge (for me at least) amount of sugar paste (~750g) to cover the cake. The sponge cakes have 200g of sugar each, but I used only 1.5 sponge cakes, so I can make a total of 300g. There is also a good quantity of sugar in chocolate and there is no need to add more. Then another 100g for the syrup. If you start counting, the sugar sums up, however, remember that chocolate in its pure state is bitter and children do not love it like that. So a certain amount of sugar in this cake is a must. The trick was to find the right balance and I can happily say it was perfect.

Chocolate coated bundt cake

Last week it was a marathon of cake baking for me. With 2 anniversaries in the family, I managed to bake 4 sponge cakes for 3 finished festive cakes. It was a successful challenge and, as the time was so short, there was no place for tests or failures.
I went with the version of the cake that I master the best: the sponge cakes. The one you see in this post is the last one, made for the anniversary of my son at the school. It might look simple but is not. Basically, it is a sponge cake with the bottom cut in through the centre of the cake to introduce a chocolate filling, then covered back with the removed parts of the cake. The glaze was practically painted with warm chocolate ganache, as it was too thick to reveal the beautiful shape of this bundt. A thinner glaze would have worked better but I had to choose one that hardened to avoid transport issues.
Unfortunately, I do not have a photo with the inside as it was not cut by me but I will repeat this process with a future cake for you to see.

Happy birthday, my little bunny! I do not know when these years have passed since you arrived in this world, but you brought so much happiness and joy into our lives!

What is the deal with Open Crumb Sourdough Bread?

Open crumb is a dream for any baker for its imposing outside and inside look. 

It is a wish for a professional baker, as bigger loaves are quickly sold. 
Open crumb is a pride for a home baker, prooving high baking skills and mastering the fermentation process.

But open crumb is not just about the look. 
Pushing fermentation to the maximum means that the sugars in the dough are more consumed turning the bread less caloric. This means healthier bread.
When I started making sourdough bread I wished I had all the details to understand how it works. It took me many years to practice and observe the dough. It took me many books to read, articles or posts to digest or videos to watch. The trick in all this way was to pay attention and learn from my own experience.
I have never followed a baking school, everything I know is self-learning. There are many materials out there to learn from, free or paid, covering from the basic to the most scientific explanations. But the most important is to practice what others say and develop your own baking skills.

What I love the most about sourdough baking is that you never feel you master it completely and there is always something new to learn from every bake. Unfortunately, is not that simple to follow exactly a recipe, you need to learn to read plenty of signs that recipes do not mention. You need to develop a feeling for the dough. This happens with your eyes and with your hands.
On the way, you need to understand WHY every step is done and what it brings. Otherwise, why do it?

Open crumb was and still is for me a challenge. The truth is that I do not chase it every time. There are other types of bread catching my attention too from different perspectives. But open crumb is about perfecting the fermentation which is the most important in the sourdough baking process.
It is the jewel of a baker although I know many who will not make or buy an open crumb but a more dense one.

I tried to gather in this video all my lessons learned and share them with you. I hope that you take a shorter way to perfect open crumb than I took, and I offer you what I wish I had known 8 years ago when I started baking sourdough bread for me and my family.

However, this is not the bread to spread butter on.  Pick rather a sandwich loaf.

It is instead the perfect bread to accompany a soup or another dish.

Here is my conclusion gathered in a list of SECRETS for achieving open crumb:
     1. Use stronger bread flour
     2. Use a healthy sourdough starter
     3. Use higher dough hydration (>70%)
     4. Develop a strong gluten network
     5. Extend the fermentation to the maximum without over fermenting
     6. Learn how to read the dough
     7. Improve your dough handling skills
     8. Use steam for baking

Rum Raisins Mini Cakes

The reason why alcoholic drinks go into cakes is mainly for aroma. Do not worry about alcohol, it will just evaporate during baking so it is fully safe to give these cakes to your kids or to eat them before driving.
When it comes to rum, my mind goes to pirates. I am not a big fan of this drink but I love the aroma. For cakes, you can use rum essence in general which is much more concentrated in terms of flavours but the drink itself can go as well. Rum and raisins are an undisputable match, both the taste and flavours go so well together.

This is a simple cake and I noticed that it match better small moulds, rather than big ones. It has a tendency to retract a bit when cooling no matter the baking time. They go well in cupcakes, mini cakes or bundtlettes moulds. However, the taste and texture are just perfect and I invite you to try it...

Open Crumb Sourdough Bread

Do you believe in baking moods? Do you believe that your mood will influence your baked food? I don't. However, there are many times when I am not too much in a baking mood but I have to bake bread to feed my family. The results are most of the time in line with my mood. Other times, when my baking motivation is high, the results are diverse: worse, medium or over expectations.

Lately, I haven't been very inspired to bake bread but I did it anyway because we needed it. But baking for me is a passion and when I feel tired or uninspired I just need a break to recharge. 

This is exactly what I did. Last week, I took a little break from everything, from job, from baking, from other passions and generally from the daily routine. Instead, I visited a dear friend, brought the kids to a zoo and to an animal wild park. These few days made miracles, and everybody from the family enjoyed it. In the last day, I felt I missed my kitchen and trying new baked things. Yes, that was exactly what I was looking for and this little break put me back on track as I came home full of energy and with plenty of new ideas.

I switched to a new recipe that I believed it would fit to my open crumb purpose. I went for a 20% whole wheat, a high hydration bread closed to 80% and planned to change some variables to see how the results would influence my loaves.

These photos are probably speaking by themselves. Leaving the modesty behind, I call this one of the best open crumb I've ever made. Open crumb for me was never the perfect bread I can produce. Open crumb is about mastering the process in order to control the results. But perfection comes with the process, not with the end result. There is no such thing as one perfect bread, there are many perfect loaves but depends on the occasion and what you are trying to achieve. There can be perfect sandwich bread, perfect rye bread, perfect whole wheat bread and so on,  and yes, there can be the perfect open crumb bread. This is what I was targeting, this is what I've got. Was this related to my high baking mood? It is an interesting link but I believe in science and practice more than in the alignment of the stars in my horoscope. 

Do I master the process then? Well, this comes with consistency in baking and most probably I have stepped with the right foot ahead. However, the journey is much more enjoyable than the result itself, right?

To my classical process, I made little changes and I will take them one by one to speak about these changes. In my next bake, I will try to isolate the variables to see the direct impact on the final product but for this bake, they worked very well together.

1. Hydration of the whole wheat in advance.

Hydrating the whole wheat flour in advance is not new to me. I've done it before and the results were noticeable. There is a simple logic behind it: whole wheat contains the bran of the wheat grain and it is taking much longer for the bran to hydrate than it takes for the flour. This recipe contains 20% whole wheat flour. So, the day before making the bread I hydrated the whole wheat with almost the same amount of water (reaching 100% hydration for this mini dough)and left it on the counter in the kitchen overnight. My kitchen is cold these days during the night, it barely gets 15ºC so no worries about extra enzymatic activity in the flour through my 8 hours time sleep. During the summer, I would put it in the fridge to stay safe.

2. More frequent coil folds

The bran from the whole wheat acts as a barrier in the gluten formation. Reorganising the dough more often helps with the structure and makes that only the strong bonds are kept and the weak ones are rebuilt into new stronger ones. I had started with the idea of making one coil fold every 30 minutes. This resulted in 8 coil folds. I have never done so many for a dough. As a practice, it was a little disturbing to babysit the dough every 30 minutes with a coil fold but well... when you are motivated you are not too much bothered.

3. Increased fermentation.

Pushing the fermentation to a higher extent is one of the key elements in achieving an open crumb bread. I knew that and the most tricky question is how much? What was the sweet spot? I usually put my loaves in the fridge for the retard when the ph is around 4.2. But what if I would stretch it up until 4.1? Would this be too much? Could I push it lower than 4.1?

4. Optimise the time between scoring and baking.

One of the things I've noticed is that my 2 loaves that I bake together look different. They come from the same dough so fermentation is not a high factor. But my usual process is to decorate and score the first loaf and then pass to the second and put them both together in the oven. I also tried to put already the first one in the oven after the scoring and decoration were over but it was not the best process as this first loaf would bake alone without steam until the second one was ready to go in the oven. So what I have tried was to decorate both the loaves, pass to scoring both and then put them in the oven. In this way there was no bread waiting for the other after scoring.

All these changes had for sure an important role to play in the process but some probably influenced more than the others.

Let's analyse a bit each of these changes.

The hydration of the whole wheat flour in advance was for sure a good idea. I felt in my hands a dough that was not breaking easily. This is for sure a keeper for my next attempt.

The frequent coil folds had a good impact in organising the dough and it made a fantastic net in the crumb. But, man... 8 coil folds... is a bit overkill. More coil folds is a good idea but distanced at 45 minutes maybe it would be easier (hoping that it won't destroy the beautiful crumb) next time.

Fermentation was an absolute key here. With a perfect gluten development, the fermentation at 4.14ph when shaping and 4.11ph when putting it in the fridge was matching perfectly. I am sure it would accept  even a bit lower ph but not without an impact:

  • bigger holes. I actually do not want them bigger, I want a slice still to remain tangible without seeing everything through it. Like this, it is perfect to accompany any dish and even to spread butter on it. Larger holes would make the loaf only suitable for soups and won't be able to hold anything soft on it. 
  • losing the ear. It is very probable that with a higher fermentation when exposed to heat, the bacteria won't have enough power to open an ear. Even if this is just a visual aspect and I know people who would avoid bread with ear when choosing from a shelf, it is for me proof of catching the sweet spot of fermentation.
With my next attempt, I would not change the fermentation, I would stick to those ph numbers to guide when to shape and when to put the dough in the fridge.
The last is about making the steps of decorating and scoring for both the loaves. It was a clear indication that my loaves looked different because of the waiting time. Now that I know, I will keep this lesson learned.

These were my conclusions, and now I am ready for the next bake. So curious if I can get consistent results!

Marble Bundt Cake

During my childhood, my mother used to have a limited set of cake recipes that she did over and over again. She was not at all in the mood to try new recipes, she always took the beaten road in the kitchen. But those cakes she was doing were always 100% success guaranteed. One of them was called "chec", a super simple recipe with eggs, flour, butter, sugar and a bit of cocoa to colour it. This cake had a specific taste and texture: super fluffy and soft and almost melting in your mouth. The crust, although a little crunchy was also melting in your mouth. The cocoa was added only for the interior aspect and not to influence too much the taste. At least this is how my mother was doing it.
I found this recipe in one of my books and I was tempted to try it. It was only when I tasted that my mind travelled in time and remembered me in an instant about my childhood "chec". I sliced it and gave a piece to my kids and one to my husband. After the first bite, my husband exclaimed: ÿou made "chec". Well, it was obvious then that the memory I had from childhood was not just mine, it was his also because it was a very popular cake in Romania back then. Probably still is because of its simplicity and tastiness.

Regarding the original recipe, I had to adjust seriously. First, I had to measure the ingredients in cups and then weighted them in grams. That is because, if I want to redo the recipe, I always prefer grams for accuracy. But the original book had the wrong quantities indicated in grams. (eg. 21/2cups of flour does not equal 625g of flour, but only 300g). The second was the sugar, 400g? no way... I reduced it to 150g and honestly, I didn't feel it needed more. Third, I do not find buttermilk here so easily. I can replace it with milk and lemon juice, but I only used milk. If there is no acid (like the lemon juice or the one from buttermilk) the baking soda is useless, so I just removed it and increased the baking powder quantity. The cocoa, from 125g indicated, I put only 9g, as I only wanted it for a bit of colouring. I made this cake before with 30g of cocoa powder and the layers were distinctively dark and with chocolate flavours. If this is what you are looking for, feel free to add more. For me, the 9g were just perfect for my purpose.
With all these changes, I think there is little resemblance to the original recipe but I will note it down just to indicate from where my inspiration came from.

I simply love this cake and is one of the few I would eat myself as it creates more than just a sweet pleasure, it brings back memories. This is the perfect cake also for the snack of my kids in school, so I am sure I will revisit it again and again.

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.