Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is upon us, the season of joy, love, hope and much more. Christmas is also a season food lovers hold close to their hearts and it's not difficult to know why.

As a gift for all my readers, I made a batch of decorated cookies featuring themes and motifs that are inspired by this occasion. 

I hope this pictures inspire you, as the magnificient Amber Spiegel from sweetambs inspired me, to make an extra effort and decorate some cookies to give as gifts to your family and friends.

Have a very Merry Christmas and an extra great start of the new year 2014.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Maple and spicy fall cookies!

I´m the type of person who can enjoy every season with all that it has to offer, but autumn has always been closer to my heart. The colors of trees as they change from bright green to fiery red, the smell of earth after the first rain, the cool weather announcing the bitter cold to come, and the memories, the wonderful childhood memories: the harvest in my village, the fragrant smell of pine trees that fills the air after the first rain (trees that have been clear-cut unfortunately) and so much more.

I like to wander off in the lovely parks of Madrid during this time of year and recharge my soul with all the lovely colors, sights and smells. It also gives me time to reflect and ponder as well as start thinking about my next recipe. For some reason, some ingredients evoke more autumn than others, especially aromatic spices, although I use them all year long but somehow they smell and taste better in autumn.
The beautiful autumn color in The Retiro Park of Madrid
Cloves are one of my favorite spices. I still remember the wonderful smell that would come out from window kitchens in my village  by the end of September after they harvest figs and make the best fig jam you could ever taste, using cloves to elevate their flavor from excellent to heavenly.

So to honor all the things I love about autumn, which is about to give away to winter, I thought of this cookie recipe, it´s the regular sugar cookie recipe but with some slight changes. I worked on the design to complement the theme autumn theme as I got inspired by the work of Amber Speigel.

For the cookies you need (I made half of the recipe yielding around 14 cookies ):
  • 400 g flour
  • 200 g soft butter
  • 1 egg at room temperature
  • 90 g powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grounded cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground cloves
  • 1/4 freshly ground star anise
  • 20 g maple syrup
  • dash of salt

First, cream sugar and butter using and electric mixer. Mix the egg and the maple syrup and incorporate into the butter and sugar mix. Combine the two mixes well. Now you will add all the dry ingredients and mix till they come together making sure you not to over-mix otherwise you will have hard cookies.

Bring the dough together on your working surface, wrap it in plastic and leave it in the fridge for at least one hour. Now roll the dough into 1/2 cm thickness and put it again in the fridge again for an additional  hour.
Take the dough out of the fridge and cut it using your favorite cookie dough cutter. In order for the cookies not to lose their beautiful cut shape as they bake, you have to chill them again for an hour in the fridge or 1/2 hour in the freezer.

Remove the cookies from the cold and put them in a preheated oven at 180C. The baking time will  will depend on the cookie size and how cold they are! Take a peek at the cookies, and when cooked they should look dry and have a slight coloration. The cookies I made took about 10´.

If you decided to decorate the cookies as I did, click here, Amber has one of the best cookie tutorials, I´m learning a lot from her! 

When I decorated the cookies I also scented my royal icing with the same spices I used in the cookie dough and trust me the result won't disappoint you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

It's thanksgiving season, an all American holiday. This day is deeply linked to American history and relationship with the Native Americans.
History part aside, I like this holiday for two reasons:
  • It's a precursor of my favorite season of the year which is of course Christmas time with all its colors, joy, hopeful nature and of course all its sweets.
  • Thanksgiving food, whether savory or sweet, pays a homage to earthy robust flavors and the use of fall produce such as pumpkins. I am a fan of such flavors and recently I'm trying to develop as much recipes as possible to show their true potential. 
Traditionally, pumpkin pies accompany most Thanksgiving meals, but I opted for a cake instead of a pie that marries the deep flavor of chocolate with the sweet earthy flavor of pumpkins.

Without further adieu,this is what you need to make the cake:

For the sponge:

  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 140 g granulated sugar and 60 g dark soft brown sugar
  • 150 g melted and browned butter (melt it over a gentle heat and leave it to become brown in color and nutty in flavor, be careful not burn it)
  • 180 g sifted flour
  • 30 g cocoa powder
  • 225 g pumpkin purée
  • 8 g baking powder
  • 90 g melted and cooled chocolate
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • dash of salt
  • tsp of vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup

For the frosting you need:
  • 300 g cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 100 g butter (room temperature)
  • 150 g salted caramel (or more if you want a sweeter result)
  • 50 g powdered sugar

For the sponge, first combine all the dry ingredient, mix well, set aside. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and slowly start adding the sugar. Keep beating until the egg mixture doubles in volume and becomes rather thick.

Add the chocolate and mix at low speed. Turn off the mixer, add the butter and mix slowly till well combined, fold in the flour, then the pumpkin purée and the maple syrup.

Pour the batter into 3 greased and lined pans (about 18 cm) if you don´t have 3 pans, divide in 3 equal amounts, bake the first batch while the rest is in the fridge. They need about 25 min in a 180C oven.

For the frosting, start mixing the butter and cheese, add the sugar and then the caramel. Mix until well combined. Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour before you frost your cake!

I  brushed each layer with some caramel then added the frosting and finished with a drizzle of caramel over the frosted cake!

Creamy, fudgy, with an exquisite blend of flavors, a perfect cake for thanksgiving or any cold autumn day, a very comforting cake indeed!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spicy Pumpkin muffins, a treat for Halloween!

It's Halloween season and just about everywhere you are reminded of this special day. Traditions play an important role and certainly the food traditions of Halloween are numerous. Pumpkins are used extensively on Halloween as a decorative element and in many recipes that are usually served for the occasion.

While growing up, we never used pumpkins in sweet dishes, however, few years ago I started experimenting with pumpkins as a main ingredient in sweet baked goods; the result was great, so I keep coming back for more.

I still use pumpkin mainly in savory dishes such as in soups, hummus dips or by roasting them as a side dish. As Halloween is approaching I decided that it is time for another sweet pumpkin dish.

You know how I always praise the versatility of muffins, don't you? Well it is for a reason: you can make muffins using just about any ingredient you like and pumpkins are no exception. I worked on a recipe that would do justice to this autumnal ingredient and would be also perfect for Halloween, thanksgiving or just about any day.

Before making the muffins, you need to make a pumpkin  purée, which is super easy to cook up. You just cut the pumpkin in half, scrape the seeds, brush it with olive oil, cover it in tin foil and put it in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) between half an hour or an hour depending on the size of the pumpkin.

 For about 5 muffins you need:
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 110 g sifted flour
  • 3 g baking powder (a tsp)
  • 75 g brown sugar
  • 35 g or ml of olive oil (mild one, or you can use any vegetable oil)
  • 60 g pumpkin purée
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of cloves and 1/4 tsp star anise, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (optional but it does give a depth of taste)
  • 30 ml of cream (or milk)
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the topping you need:
  • 12 g brown sugar
  • 12 g cold butter
  • 25 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 10 g chopped pecans
  • pinch of salt

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and set aside. Whisk the sugar with the oil until well blended, then add the egg and whisk again. Incorporate the pumpkin purée and blend. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix, then add half of the wet mix followed by 1/3 of flour and finally the rest of the wet mix and the last batch of the flour mix.

For the streusel topping just mix all the ingredients but the pecans with your hands or a dough mixer.
(The quantity was more than enough for the muffins, I baked the rest and it made delicious biscuits!)
Pour the batter in the muffin tray, sprinkle the streusel (topping) and the pecans, bake in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) for about 15 to 18 minutes.

A soft and spicy muffin, with a nutty and crunchy top, it's the perfect dessert for this holiday and it would definitely make a great breakfast meal or a light snack.

I recommend you try them with some cream cheese or whipped cream and with a drizzle of maple syrup!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vanilla and Raspberry Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is a very well known Italian dessert which simply means cooked cream. It is very easy to make and can be flavored in countless ways to suit any palate.
It´s not sure when this recipe came to be but the mountains of Northern Italy, famous for their rich milk and cream, is its most likely place of origin. There, the rich cream was eaten with fruits. Later on gelatin was added to give a different texture to the cream.

This  dessert is close to perfect. It is so easy to make, delicious, inexpensive, gluten free and can be made and kept in the fridge a day or two ahead of consumption. When you want to serve it, you just take out of the fridge, drizzle some fruit sauce or coulis and you enjoy the silky smooth texture and the refreshingly sweet taste.

For 3 servings you need:
  • 200 ml cream (35%)
  • 20 g sugar (I used homemade vanilla infused sugar)
  • 20 g raspberry
  • half vanilla pod (only seeds)
  • 1 and 1/2 gelatine sheets (or 2 if you want a denser texture; note that one sheet of gelatine equals to 2 grams of powdered variety)

First, put the gelatine sheets in a small bowl and cover them with cold water.

In a saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, vanilla and the raspberry, let it simmer for few minutes.

Take the gelatine from the water and squeeze to let the liquid out, add to the cream and whisk vigorously.

Pass the cream mixture through a fine sieve to get rid of any seeds or gelatine lumps. Pour the panna cotta in small serving cups or tubes and leave in the fridge for at least 5 hours.

Before serving, decorate as desired; I used fresh strawberries and raspberries.

And there you have it,  a beautiful, delicious and refreshing dessert a la Italiana!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blueberry and yogurt pancakes

By now you already know that I love pancakes. One of the reasons they appeal to me so much is the endless variations you can do with them. So, here's another way to savor pancakes: substitute milk or cream with yogurt.
Trust me, the result won't disappoint: fluffy, very tender and delicious pancakes! Serve them with fruits like blueberries and you'll have a great combination of sweet dough and slightly sour fruits.

So this is what you need for 2 servings:
  • 115 g flour
  • tbsp vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • dash of salt
  • 1 egg (white and yolk separated)
  • 170 g Greek yogurt (or regular yogurt)
  • 15 g melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 100 g blueberries

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and sift then add the sugar. 
Mix the egg yolk, yogurt, butter, lemon zest and vanilla essence until well combined. Add a drop of lemon juice to the egg white and mix until soft peaks form. Make a well in the center of  the flour mixture, add the yogurt and mix until well combined, now add the egg white in batches folding it to the mixture.

Heat your pan, pour some batter on the hot pan then start dropping some blueberries over the dough, this way you can distribute them evenly into the pancake, the dough will rise and cover most of the fruit, and when you flip it, the berrries will cook slightly, and some of its juice will mix with the dough, this is how I like it!

Have them with some whipped cream, more blueberries and maple syrup! And this is what I call a great start of the day!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Caramel and chocolate muffins

Sweet and chocolaty, can't get any better!
Drinking coffee is the only way to start the morning for lots of people around the world. The unique flavor of coffee goes extremely well with so many sweets that for many coffee time is the ideal time to sample sweets and what better companion than a freshly baked muffin to go along your daily dose of caffeine?

Muffins are a breeze to prepare. Even if you find baking cumbersome or you're feeling lazy, muffins take little time from prepping to baking using ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.

The origin of the word muffin seems to be related to a french word moufflet which roughly means soft bread. It seems that some consider muffins to be quick-to-make bread, and if you prepared muffins before you will tend to agree that they don't require too much time to prepare.

To the basic muffin mix, you can add lots of variations and tweak the recipe to produce a new muffin sensation each time.

For this recipe's muffins, I decided to bring together two complementary flavors: caramel and chocolate.
So to make 4 of these muffins, you will need: 
  • 1 large egg
  • 110 g flour, 
  • 3 g of baking powder
  • 25 g brown sugar and 10 g white sugar (vanilla flavored if possible)
  • 40 g melted butter
  • 30 g milk or cream 
  • 40 g salted caramel (recipe here)
  • 20 g chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
  • one tsp of bourbon or vanilla (I used bourbon)

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Separately, mix the milk and caramel.
Cream the butter and sugar in a different bowl, add the egg and blend until you have a homogeneous mixture.  

Now you just need to combine the liquid and dry ingredients. To the egg mix add 1/3 of the flour mix then add 1/2 the caramel and milk mixture. Keep alternating until you finish with the last 1/3 of the flour.

Pour the mixture in the lined muffin tin and bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) for 16 to 20 min. They will be ready when they slightly spring back when touched!
The melting chocolate and the caramel sweetness go so well together
Now you have a sweet companion to nibble while you sip your warm morning coffee!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The cure for summer heat waves: pink lemonade popsicles.

It's the height of summer in Madrid and it's really hot and sunny. When you walk a bit in the sun the heat can be overpowering and you rush to get back home to have a break from the heat. On days like this, the ultimate sweet answer are the easy to make and icy cold popsicles.

I know I am not the only one whose childhood memories include lots and lots of moments spent cooling off with popsicles of all sort of flavors. As a family, we used to sit on the balcony and chat while enjoying lemon, strawberry and chocolate popsicles; our favorite flavors.

Like so many great culinary inventions, it was by chance that popsicles came to be. An eleven year old boy by the name of Frank Epperson left on the windowsill a juice jar with a mixing stick in it. Overnight the juice froze holding the mixing stick firmly in place. This is how the sweet icy sticks saw the light in 1905, but James had to wait until 1922 to market his discovery.

When I made my strawberry champagne cake I was left with some delicious syrup so I thought of adding it to my refreshing homemade lemonade resulting in an super delicious pink lemonade.

These popsicles are so easy to make and with little preparation you will make a beautiful, healthy and cool dessert!

For 6 popsicles (50 ml each) you need:
  • 500 g lemon or lime
  • 250 ml water (or more if you don´t want a strong and intense lemon flavor)
  • 50 g vanilla flavored sugar
  • 4 tsp of strawberry and champagne syrup (click here for recipe) 

Make the lemonade as you would usually do or you can fellow my recipe
Now just add the syrup, stir and prepare your molds. Put the wooden sticks in the molds and fill them. Leave them in the freezer for at least 8 hours or overnight!

That's it, all you need to cool off on a very hot day! Enjoy.