Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Chocolate and Chestnut Cake For New Year!

As the year 2016 ends and the year 2017 is about to start, it is only fitting to end the old year and start the new with a sweet note. As chestnuts and glazed chestnuts are popular around this time of the year, I was inspired to incorporate sweetened chestnuts with a rich chocolate cake.

This chocolate and chestnut cake is rich, moist and delivers just the right amount of sweetness for New Year's Eve and the day after!

Although the cake will take some time to make, the steps needed are quite straightforward, and the end result is well worth it.

For the chocolate sponge cake you need (4 layers, 15 cm pan):
  • 3 small eggs
  • 20 g maple syrup
  • 180 g sugar (I used 50 g brown sugar and the rest regular white sugar)
  • 180 g cake flour
  • 10 g cocoa powder
  • 10 g baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 150 g butter
  • 100 g chopped dark chocolate
  • 160 g chestnut butter or spread or cream (whatever you call it) (recipe here)
  • 50 g milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
  • Pinch of salt
First combine butter and chocolate and melt them on a gentle flame. Set aside.

Mix together all of the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In a bowl, start beating the eggs, then gradually start adding the sugar and keep beating until mixture doubles in volume and becomes pale in color. Put your mixer at the lowest speed and add the chocolate and butter, once combined turn off your mixer.

Sift the flour mixture over the batter and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Once combined add the chestnut cream and fold, and finish with the milk.

Divide your batter into four 15cm pans, previously greased and covered with parchment paper (if you don´t have 4 pans just divide the batter in 2, bake the first batch while you keep the rest in the fridge, or use one pan then cut the baked cake in half) and bake for 25 min in a preheated oven (180C).
Once out of the oven, let the cakes cool for 5 min in the pans then remove them and put them on cooling rack to cool completely.

The filling is a made from pastry cream mixed with chestnut cream/spread.
For the pastry cream:
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup and half milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 30 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp of corn starch
  • 100 g butter
Heat the milk on a gentle flame. Beat the eggs with the sugar and corn starch. Temper the egg mix with some warm milk, then pour the egg mix into the milk. Continue heating and stirring the cream until it thickens enough. Mix in the butter until well incorporated. 

For the chestnut pastry cream:
  • prepared pastry cream
  • 250 g chestnut cream
Just combine the two creams until well mixed!

For the assembly:

Spread the chestnut pastry cream on the first cake layer and stack the second one. Repeat the process. Garnish the cake with chocolate shavings. I stacked the cake in a way as to look like a wood log, complete with rings on top and chocolate curls that look like bark plaques as they detach from the trunk.

At the end, I would like to wish to all of you the best and sweetest year you can possible have! 

Chestnut Spread: a Winter Special!

Late fall/early winter is not the typical season of plenty, but it does have its star ingredients, with chestnuts being one of them. Most people appreciate the rich flavor of chestnuts and their floury texture, once cooked. I like to use chestnuts within desserts or savory dishes whenever I have the chance.

Chestnut spread is such a useful recipe that makes good use of this tasteful ingredient in a simple way. The spread is good consumed on its own over a warm toast drizzled with honey or incorporated in other baked goods like in this chocolate and chestnut cake recipe!

To make about 500 g of this chestnut spread you need:
  • 250 g of roasted and peeled chestnut
  • 350 ml of water
  • 50 g brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract or paste
  • a generous pinch of sea salt
  • hot water

Place the chestnuts in a sauce pan and cover with water. Cook the chestnuts for about 30 to 40 min, or until the chestnuts have absorbed most of the water. While they still hot, place them in a food processor or hand blender, add the sugar and salt and blend until smooth. Add water if you find the paste to be too thick!

Fill the jars with the paste while it´s still hot, cover tightly, let it cool then refrigerate!
The spread has endless uses. You can use it in healthy breakfast spread over a whole grain toasted bread and sweetened with apple and cinnamon, or use it to impart a deep earthly flavor to cakes, pancakes, cupcakes or to cake frostings.

This flavorsome chestnut spread represents the essence of the cold seasons in a jar! Make it and use it in the best way that fits your needs. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cranberry, White Chocolate and Rosemary Pound Cake with Cream Cheese Bourbon Frosting

When cranberries are in season, I can't help but buy as many as I can. What I don't use (or eat) immediately gets stacked in the freezer. I must confess that I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I have cranberries on standby in my kitchen!

Cranberries are quite popular in this festive season as they feature in many savory dishes and desserts. They definitely add an extra flavor that cannot be replaced by any other ingredient.

With that said, I wanted to try  a recipe that is very easy to make and is packed full of flavor. Now as you can tell from the title of the post, the ingredients used will certainly deliver a complex, fragrant, rich and tangy flavor. The frosting, with its creamy texture and Bourbon flavor adds another layer of complexity making this humble pound cake an absolute winner.

For the cake you need (23 x 10 cm pan)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 100 g soft butter
  • 50 g creme fraiche 
  • 100 g white sugar plus 50 g brown sugar
  • 150 g flour
  • 5 g baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp mixed spices (cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom)
  • 80 g fresh cranberries (frozen is fine too)
  • 100 g chopped white chocolate
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp bourbon
For the frosting you need:
  • 100 g cream cheese at room temperature
  • 75 g powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp of bourbon (or 2 if you like a stronger flavor) 
  • 1 tbsp or 2 of milk

To make the cake, start by combining the flour, baking powder, mixed spices and salt.
In a bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one by one and whisk  to combine.  Add the flour mixture and mix well. 
Lastly combine the cranberries and the white chocolate.

Pour the mixture in a greased and floured pan and bake in a preheated oven for 35 to 40 min or until a skewer placed in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Once done, take out of the oven and let the cake cool down for 5 min in the pan and then remove and continue cooling it on a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling tackle the frosting.

With a whisk, cream the cheese for a minute or two. Add the sugar and whisk again. Mix in the milk then the bourbon. If the mixture is too thick, thin it down with milk, adding one teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Once the cake has cooled completely, pour the frosting over and let it drip on the sides. You can microwave the frosting for just a few seconds in order to become just a tiny bit runnier.

Decorate to your liking. I added a few sprigs of rosemary and sugared cranberries!
If you want to make sugared cranberries,  all you need to do is to whisk an egg white until frothy. Drop in the cranberries and coat them with the egg white. Remove them from the egg white and roll them into sugar. Leave them to dry for a couple of hours! The sugared cranberries look like frozen ones, a tribute to the winter season and the holiday spirit.

Make this cake during the holidays. It is the perfect accompaniment  with your afternoon tea or coffee or as part of your breakfast. Eaten alone or with family and friends, the cake is delicious, but as always sharing food with beloved ones just reinforces our ties with them. And what better time to do so then during the holidays?

Happy Holidays!

For other cranberry recipes click herehere and here

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Melamakarona, a Special Greek Christmas Cookie

On my trips back home from Spain, I used to travel via Athens. During December, the meal served on Greek airlines would include a typical Christmas Greek dessert. I was never sure what the Greeks called this special cookie but I was always sure of its taste! After some fiddling around, I managed to know what this sweet cookie was: melamakarona, the Greek honey cookie.

These yummy cookies feature the best of warm and Christmas flavors: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, oranges and honey.

The name of the dessert reminded me of a famous Levantine dessert: maakaroun. However, maakarouns are made on the feast of the Epiphany. Moreover, alhough they are shaped similarly, maakarouns are fried while melomakaronas are baked.

If you enjoy trying recipes from all over the world, then you should add this recipe to your book of baking. During December, I get a bit more active in trying out various recipes from all over the world and I will leave the links at the end of the post of some of what I tried.

Now let´s make some melomakaronas. For 25 to 28 pieces you need:
  • 250 g flour
  • 50 g fine semolina
  • 50 g brown sugar
  • 1/2 or 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp of baking soda and 1/8 tsp of baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • zest of half an orange
  • 100 g mild olive oil
  • 100 g orange juice
  • 5 to 10 g brandy
For the syrup:
  • 150 g water
  • 200 g sugar
  • 100 g honey
  • 2 to 3 cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • one thick slice of orange
First, start by making the syrup. In a sauce pan, combine all the ingredients but the honey . Put on a gentle flame and simmer for about 5 minutes. When the sugar dissolves completely, add the honey and simmer again for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To make the cookies, combine the wet ingredients: olive oil, orange juice and brandy and stir.In another bowl mix all the dry ingredients and mix well. Now add the wet ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a soft and manageable dough.

Leave it to rest for 20 minutes.

Now take about 20 g of the dough, shape into a ball or sausage shape and gently pass it over a grater to create the shape of the melomakarona. Place the shaped cookies over a baking sheet covered with baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven (180C) for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven dip them in the cool syrup. Remove from the syrup and place them on a rack to let them drain. Once they cool sprinkle some chopped walnuts and  you are done!

The cookies can be served alone or with a warm cup of tea or dark coffee. They are deeply scented by all those wonderful spices, honey and oranges and go so well these hot comforting beverages.

With every bite I took into the melamakarona, I was transported to a different spot in Greece, a country that I love dearly and visited many times. Now it's up you to travel the world through sweets, and if you're short on ideas, why not travel to Greece like I did? I promise, you will enjoy every moment of it! 
To check other christmas recipes click on the following links: herehereherehere and here