Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ricotta, Lemon and Rosemary Cake; Three Years and Counting!

Another year has gone by and my blogging adventure now turns three. It´s impressive how time flies by, but it's even more impressive how I learned from sharing recipes with like-minded foodies myself, trying their recipes and taking note of their tips and advices.

I started thinking about a cake for this occasion a while ago. I had many ideas on my mind, but I finally went with an inspiration I had during my visit to Rome back in Easter. It wasn't my first time in this enchanting city, but as usual, it still managed to amaze me especially when I ventured out of the usual touristic hotspots.

It's needless to say what a festival for the sight and the palate Italy can be. I have been always a huge fan of Italian cuisine with all it has to offer! When I was in Rome I couldn't have enough of the usual Italian delicacies, but most importantly, I couldn't have enough gelato. Check with the locals for the best gelaterias and do pay at least one a visit. You will have a really hard time deciding which flavors to pick as there are so many on offer! My cousin recommended a gelateria located behind the famous Piazza Navona not too far from the St. Angelo bridge. As usual, the flavors on offer were just too many to sample in one visit, so I picked three scoops, one of which had yogurt, honey, rosemary and lemons. This combination just worked and I immediately knew I had to make something featuring these flavors all together. 

Therefore, for my blog's third year anniversary, I decided to use this Italian flavor combination in the celebration cake. Now, as usual I like to tweak things based on what I see works best but sometimes based on more mundane issues. Since I had three packets of ricotta in the fridge I decided to substitute the yogurt with ricotta which is after all a quintessentially Italian ingredient. Ricotta like yogurt does wonders in cakes, affecting both the flavor by making it richer and creamier and the texture by making lighter and  moist. Do try to incorporate ricotta in your baking and I am sure you will use it again and again. You can even make ricotta at home, I hope I will share with you this particular how-to soon.

Now, enough talking and let´s start baking.
For the cake you need: (3x15 cm cake pan)
  • 4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 240 g cake flour
  • 200 g fresh ricotta
  • 100 g soft butter
  • 110 g white sugar
  • 110 honey (I used rosemary honey)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp of lemon zest (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp of finely chopped rosemary (again adjust to your taste)
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 20 ml of lemon juice (4 tsp)
First combine the flour, salt and baking soda and sift.

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, honey, lemon zest and rosemary, and beat until creamy and well combined. Add the ricotta and beat again until combined, then the egg yolks and again you need to whisk! To that mix, fold in the flour mixture with a spatula and then add the lemon juice.

Add a dash of salt and few drops of lemon juice to the egg whites and beat them till stiff peaks are formed.

Fold the egg whites with the ricotta mixture gently so you don't lose all the air from the whites.

Once everything is well combined, divide the batter into 3 pans, previously greased and covered with parchment paper, and bake between 25 to 30 min in a preheated oven (170C). I usually check on my cakes after 20-22 min, by inserting a skewer in the middle of the cake, if it comes clean then it's time to take the cake out of the oven, if not, leave it for few more minutes.
If you don´t want to use three 15 cm in diameter pans, you can use two ones of 20 cm in diameter. 

Let the cakes rest in the pan for 5 min, then let them cool down completely on a cooling rack.

For the frosting you will need:
  • 200 g soft butter
  • 200 g powdered sugar
  • 80 g cream cheese or ricotta
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
Combine all ingredients but the lemon juice, beat until creamy and almost white in color. Add the lemon juice and beat again until combined.

Now the assembling is up to you. I opted for a naked cake i.e. a cake that's not completely frosted. I put a really generous layer of filling between the stacked cakes and then did a thin crumb coat to the outer edges covering only parts of the cakes and keeping the rest mostly visible.
In keeping with the Italian, and specifically Roman, theme of the cake, I decorated with a few branches of rosemary assembled to look like a Roman crown.

This cake is beyond delicious. It fits the bill on some many levels. It is rich, lemony, creamy, crumbly and refreshing; it does  have it all!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A creamy Pavlova with summer fruits.

In my last post I made a sumptuously creamy creme brulée which left me with lots of egg whites! This isn't really a problem as egg whites are extremely versatile, but whenever I have a large batch of whites I almost always like to make a meringue-based recipe. The end result is a recipe that can always be tweaked to suit individual taste. Having this in mind, perhaps the best way to make use of these egg whites is to prepare a delicious Pavlova.

Making a Pavlova seems complicated, but in reality, if you know how to make a meringue, you know how to make a Pavlova. Moreover, a Pavlova is really a fun recipe. With the same base you can create endless combinations of cream and fruit toppings. This time, the creamy layer I opted for is made from mascarpone cheese sweetened with maple syrup. Add some fresh fruits and you have a summary and gluten free dessert. Replace the mascarpone or whipped cream with vegetarian whipped cream and you will have a gluten and lactose free recipe. 

So let's get started.

For 5 mini pavlovas (10cm), you need:
  • 90 g egg whites at room temperature
  • 150 g super fine white sugar
  • few drops of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of white vinegar
  • 1 tsp of cornflour 
  • the beans of one vanilla pod
  • dash of salt.

First start whipping the egg whites at low speed with the salt, lemon, vanilla and vinegar, increase the speed slowly, when the whites are frothy start adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Keep beating until the sugar has dissolved and you have a stiff and shiny meringue!

Now scatter the corn flour over the meringue and with a spatula gently incorporate to the batter. You can pass the flour through a sieve to make sure the flour won't create lumps in the meringue.

Cover a baking sheet with baking paper to be ready to form the mini pavlovas. Some like to delimit with a pencil a circle on the back of the baking paper as a guide when forming the cakes and this what I usually do to get a perfect circle. 

Spoon just enough meringue over the baking sheet to make a nice serving size and then flatten with a spatula but do make sure that the edges are higher so as to have a central depression which you can fill with the cream and fruits after the meringue is baked. Alternatively, you can use a pipping bag to form more elegant and uniform meringues but just make sure to pipe more meringue over the edges to elevate them in comparison to the center.

Bake the pavlovas in a preheated over (between 100 and 120C) for at least an hour. They will be ready when they are firm to touch and they can be detached easily from the baking paper. Leave them to cool off completely before using them.

For the mascarpone cream, you need:
  • 200 g mascarpone (at room temperature)
  • a tbsp spoon of maple syrup (just enough to sweeten the cheese, remember the pavlovas are really sweet)
  • use any king of fruits you like for topping, I used strawberries and cherries
  • grated dark chocolate

I added some balsamic vinegar to the strawberries, but you can use them as they are. Mix the cheese with the maple and spoon over  the baked meringue. Finally, add the fruits and the chocolate and you are ready to enjoy a delicate, creamy, light and delicious dessert!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Coffee and Cardamom Crème Brûlée

I am one of those people whose day cannot really start unless I drink a big cup of coffee. It´s a routine that I stick by no matter what, it's almost like a sacred act. Definitely making coffee and sitting quietly to sip it is on of my favorite moments of the day.

While drinking coffee is the most common way with which people appreciate this aromatic bean, coffee can and is used in so many sweet recipes and even in savory ones!

In baking, coffee adds a really unique, deep, complex and aromatic flavor that cannot be substituted by any other ingredient. Adding coffee to your recipes will definitely create a wow factor, of course if used properly.

Given how delicious coffee can make a recipe, I like to feature it from time to time in my recipes like I did in the extremely delicious coffee and hazelnut cake. I think it´s time for another sweet treat with coffee as the hero ingredient.

Cardamom is a spice I often use in my cooking and baking. It has a very deep, complex and somewhat citrusy flavor. I like to use it alone, but quite often in combination with other aromatic spices or ingredients. While the pairing of coffee and cardamom might seem strange to some, it is indeed quite a popular pairing in the Middle East and other parts of the world where cardamom pods are ground with coffee to add more complexity to the coffee brew.

These two intense aromatic ingredients always bring back childhood memories even though at that time I didn't drink coffee. However, I remember how delighted I was whenever the wafts released from roasting coffee reached my delicate nose especially if cardamom was added to the mix.

One of the best ways to enjoy this culinary duo is in a crème brûlée, the much beloved classic!

My take on this classic dessert will surely please as it adds a delightful twist to the traditional version we are used to.

To make 3 servings you need:
  • 3 egg yolks; the ones I used weighed 52 g (note, do freeze the eggs whites if you can't find a way to use them immediately)
  • 1 1/2 tsp of ground coffee (use the kind that you prefer; instant or freshly ground)
  • 3 pods of cardamom (slightly break it to open up the pod)
  • 35 g sugar
  • 250 ml of cream (half of 35% and half of 18%)
Combine the cream with the coffee and cardamom pods. Gently heat, and let it simmer, for about 5 min. You will start smelling the cardamom and coffee after a few minutes of heating.
While the cream is heating, mix together the yolks with the sugar. You need to whisk until you get a creamy and pale mixture.
Slowly start adding the hot cream over the egg yolks while you keep whisking vigorously. 

Pour the cream, through a sieve, into the crème brûlée ramekins and arrange them over a tray. Preheat the oven at 150 degrees C (around 300 F).
Put the tray in the oven and add enough hot water to it to cover half or two thirds of the ramekins. Be careful not to spill water into the cream.

Bake the cream for about 40 min in the preheated oven. Do check on them from time to time. Gently shake one of the ramekins and if there's a slight wobble in the center it's time to take them out from the oven. Remember that the cream will continue to cook for a while after you take it out of the oven so you don't want to leave to set completely while in the oven. In addition, you need to keep in mind that the baking time will differ depending on the ramekins you used, the oven, the quantity of cream you pour into each pot and even the tray on top of which you have put the ramekins. I used a ceramic tray so if you are using a metallic one you might need to consider this factor as these trays heat differently. In all cases, check your pots after 25 min to be on the safe side.

Once the cream pots have cooled down, put them in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve, sprinkle a thin layer of light brown sugar over the cream, and with the help of a torch or under the grill of your oven, caramelize the sugar and serve immediately! Bon appetit!

Here you can try another recipe for crème brûlée I made last year