DEVIL WEARS CHOCOLATE (AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW)

Back in 2006-2007 I used to follow a food blog called Cafe Fernando. The absolute majority of food bloggers are female, so I’ve always been fascinated by men who food blog. And you cannot get more fascinating than Cenk Sönmezsoy, from far away, exotic Istanbul. He is a fantastic baker, very talented, and comes across like a super nice human being. For one reason or another, I lost track of his blog. I think in those days I did not subscribe to anything, just had some sites bookmarked and whenever the craving for novelty hit me, I would browse a few blogs. Fast forward to 2017, amazon.com hit me with a suggestion for a cookbook. You know, “based on your purchases, we think you might also like this.”  That’s how the cookbook The Artful Baker jumped into my virtual basket. Only after I bought it, it hit me. Cenk was THAT Cenk, the blogger from my past, who – much to my surprise – is still food blogging today, 12 years later! I share with you today a recipe from his cookbook, in fact it is the cake he chose for the cover. A complete dream for the chocolate lover!

DEVIL WEARS CHOCOLATE

This recipe is a re-make of one Cenk’s recipes, in which he coupled chocolate cake with a Biscoff filling. You know, Biscoff, that spread that makes angels sing and have naughty thoughts. Cenk decided he could improve on it, because the devil should in fact wear chocolate head to toe. Who am I to disagree? It makes perfect sense. So, instead of Biscoff, or fancy pralines, he coupled chocolate ganache with… water!  Yes, you read it right. He makes a water-chocolate-ganache, because it allows the full flavor of chocolate to hit you in full force, no distractions. I tell you one thing: it works.

Recipe Overview

His chocolate cake uses the creaming method, butter and sugar together as the basis for the cake. Then, eggs are beaten into it. To that, a suspension of cocoa powder in boiling water and yogurt is added alternating with flour and leavening agents.

For the ganache, chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder and salt, are first combined with boiling water, only after fully dissolved, some butter and heavy cream are added to the mixture, that then sits in the fridge for one hour for perfect spreading consistency.

Why am I not giving you the full recipe? Cenk was a total sweetheart when I got in touch with him and asked for some advice on the decoration of the cake. I told him I wanted to blog about it, and he said he would be honored if I did so. But, I just don’t feel it’s right to share the very recipe that is on the cover of his book, so I prefer to publish a brief overview. As a teaser, I will show you how the chocolate shards are done, such a cool method! No tempering of chocolate involved, which makes it doable by common mortals. In fact, tempered chocolate will not work for this design, it does not break the proper way for the effect.

You simply spread the right amount of melted chocolate on parchment paper (dimensions recommended by Cenk to get the right thickness), place another parchment on top, smooth it well, and roll it. Cool it completely in the fridge. Unroll, which breaks in the chocolate into nice, curved shards. And that is all it takes.

It is basically the coolest thing you can do on a Sunday afternoon. I made a double batch to make sure I would have enough big shards to decorate my cake. They can be saved in the fridge or even frozen, and any leftovers used to decorate cupcakes, enjoy over ice cream, or sneak a bite or two as Netflix entertains you through the evening.

The filling/frosting is shiny and creamy at first, once you frost the cake it gets a more dull appearance. It is the most chocolate-y frosting you will ever taste. Basically, this is a cake for choco-holics at peace with their affliction.  Cenk offers an alternative idea for decorating the cake, in case making the shards seems like too much work. Just make a double batch of the water-ganache and frost the cake with a thicker layer, making designs with the back of a spoon.  Simple and elegant. Now, for some confession. I messed up the top of the cake a little bit. First I was going to do the same that Cenk did for his in the book: adding little bits of shards all over the surface. But, as I started to do so, I just did not care for the way it looked. So I stopped, removed the choc bits, and went with a wavy fork design.  The only problem is that I had already compromised the surface a little bit by inserting the pieces of chocolate and the fork design did not go as smoothly as it should have. I considered a little hairdryer action, but I already had the shards placed around the cake. No major harm done, but another little lesson learned. I go through them often (sigh).

The cake was served for our department colleagues, in a farewell party for two wonderful staff members.

And now, allow me to show you why you need The Artful Baker in your bookshelf… I will walk you through the different chapters.

Cookies… Not sure how to break this for you. I’ve never had a cookbook in which every single recipe of a chapter appeals to me. This was it. Every. Single. One. He opens the chapter with Cenk’s House Cookies, a recipe that was born out of a kitchen problem with his food processor. You know a baker is great when boo-boos turn into culinary masterpieces.  Then he proceeds to temp you with all sorts of amazing delicacies:  Vanilla Bean Meltaways (his version of the Turkish un kurabiyesi), Pistachio and Matcha Sables, Lime and Ginger Cookies (with good advice on zesting citrus), Hazelnut and Caramel Cookies (OMG), Macarons… macarons so exotic they left me dreaming. The one that made my heart stop used kaymak in the filling. Many years ago, 1986 to be precise, I happened to travel to Yugoslavia and one morning, in the island of Krk, I had kaymak for the first time. Unforgettable. One of those perfect gastronomic moments. Of course, it is impossible to find in the US, and he suggests mascarpone as an alternative. Still, it’s nice to see he designed a macaron with kaymak in mind. Cocoa and Chestnut Macarons, Sour Cherry and White Chocolate Macarons, Chocolate and Lavender Macarons… I am in love.

Brownies… Have you heard of leblebi? Probably not. Intriguing ingredient. He uses that in a brownie that is, simply put, drool-inducing. But nothing beats his “Brownie Wears Lace.”  I so wish I could try it, but my artistic skills are definitely not up to that challenge, just looking at the design my hand starts to shake. I will share a picture of this beauty since it’s in his blog anyway.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful brownie in your life? I swear, I cannot stop staring and dreaming…

Cakes, Muffins, Cheesecakes and Meringues… There are 21 recipes in this chapter. Honestly, I have a hard time deciding which could be my top five to share. The three madeleines call my name loudly: Sakura, Lemon Verbena, and Lavender. Three flavors I adore.  The cake featured in this post comes from this chapter too, Devil Wears Chocolate. Matcha and Pistachio No-Bake Cheesecake and Monte Bianco would probably be the other favorites. Just an amazing collection of goodies. In this chapter he also writes about his first day in San Francisco. I will never forget my first day in California, when I landed also in San Francisco and then went to my first home away from home, in Mountain View. Life changing experiences.

Tarts, Galettes, Pie, Quiche, Cobbler & Crumble…  Blanche is a fruit tart that opens the chapter. It is a masterpiece. It seems almost doable, because his instructions are so detailed, but I am not sure I’m ready to face it quite yet. My experience with tarts and pies is a bit limited.  Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart (seems like every nice cookbook has one, but his version as usual, takes it a step higher). Peel-to-Stem Apple Pie has a very interesting ingredient that totally changes the game in terms of texture. Just like the Devil Wears Chocolate Cake, this pie maximizes the apple component. I need to give it a try. Lemon Meringue Tarts and Fig, Thyme & Blue Cheese Galette make my personal favorite list too.

Breads and Pastries… Another total winner of a chapter. Have you heard of Simis? They are Turkish breads shaped as a ring and encrusted with sesame seeds. I need them in my life.  Whole-Wheat and Kefir Pullman Loaf, Croissants & Pain au Chocolat, Profiteroles, Mocha Eclairs (so so cute).

Ice Creams, Frozen Yogurts, and Sorbets… I have to quote his opening paragraph: Ice cream is to me what water is to you. Your body weight is 60 percent water; mine is probably 60 percent ice cream. About 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water; more than 70 percent of my tongue’s surface is regularly covered with ice cream.  When you take those words in account, you know you can trust his taste in the subject. He starts with Chocolate, moves to Three-Bean-Vanilla, and gets to Salted Caramel Ice Cream right away. But the Roasted Strawberry captured my imagination. Strawberry is a very tricky fruit to use in desserts in general, because it has such a big water content. His trick to roast the fruit makes sure the ice cream will deliver intense flavor.  Blackberry Swirl Frozen Yogurt makes this list also.

Confections and Drinks…  He shares recipes for caramels (like Passion Fruit Caramels!), Fernando Rocher (a labor of love, recipe he carefully crafted using home-made sour cherry liqueur),  Elderflower Syrup, Hot Chocolate, are all very tempting to try.

Jams and Jellies… Well, I have to admit I am not crazy for jams to try and make my own. But I know lots of cooks have a fascination for this type of endeavor. Those will be mesmerized by the chapter, that starts with detailed instruction to make your own apple pectin, apparently an ingredient that will take your jam-making experience to very high levels. But there are two recipes in the chapter I could happily try: Dulce de Leche and Cajeta

Base Recipes… Pretty much everything you need to pull any of the recipes in the book and also to design your own. It includes ingredients like Vanilla Wafer Crumbs, Cocoa Wafer Crumbs, Cinnamon and Ginger Wafer Crumbs, for those times in which you are ready to go the extra mile. Recipes for several kinds of pastry cream, and doughs (pies, tarts, pate a choux).

So, what’s so special about the book? Definitely the author behind it, and his commitment to making his recipes work in your own kitchen, no matter your baking comfort level. He skips no details, he carries no hidden cards up his sleeves. As I try to improve my baking skills and attempt more elaborate desserts, I notice how often quite reputable cookbooks have omissions (and even mistakes!) that can be fatal to the outcome. I won’t name names, I realize writing a flawless cookbook is a daunting task. But The Artful Baker is just that: flawless. And the talent (and humbleness) of Cenk is evident all the way through the book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is wonderful that he’s getting all the praise and recognition he deserves.

Cenk, thank you for a fantastic cookbook! I am so glad I reconnected with your blog…

ONE YEAR AGO: Slow-Cooker Pot Roast with Potatoes, Carrots, and Fennel

TWO YEARS AGO: The Best, the Very Best Hummus

THREE YEARS AGO: Cheddar Cheese Crackers

FOUR YEARS AGO: A New Take on Cauliflower Puree

FIVE YEARS AGO:
 In My (NEW!) Kitchen

SIX YEARS AGO:
 
The Lab Move and New Beginnings

SEVEN YEARS AGO:
 Honey-Oat Pain de Mie

EIGHT YEARS AGO:
 Carrot and Leek Soup

NINE YEARS AGO:
 Chicken Parmigiana 101

 

 

LEBANESE LENTIL SALAD AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW!

Not too long ago I reviewed a cookbook by a fellow member of The Secret Recipe Club, remember? Well, here I am once again to share with you a recipe and a little overview of the beautiful cookbook just published by my friend Susan, Simply Vegetarian Cookbook. She is also a former-secreter, someone I used to have a ton of fun with “behind the curtains.” Good times, good times indeed!  I miss those days, although we are still in touch through our blogs and Facebook. I actually prepared two recipes to feature, so I tossed a coin (literally) to pick this one. The second will go as I often do, as a teaser. No recipe, just a photo. I’ve been called a teaser more than once in my lifetime. There are worse adjectives out there, so I accept the label with a smile.

LEBANESE LENTIL SALAD
(slightly modified from Susan’s Simply Vegetarian Cookbook)

3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup French green lentils
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups peeled and diced cucumber
1½ cups halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth (or water) to a boil in a medium pot. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed. If there is any liquid remaining, drain it.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add the cooked lentils, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, and mint, and toss to coat. Season to taste with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: There are many types of lentils out there. For this particular recipe (and in fact, anytime you want to make a lentil salad), it is worth searching for French green lentils (such as Puy). They hold their shape after cooking, which is what you want in a salad, nothing worse than a mushy grain mixed with crunchy veggies and dressing. I love Susan’s approach of making the dressing right in the bowl you will serve the dish, one less item to wash. I normally do that even with leafy salads. I just don’t mix everything in advance. Place the more sturdy leaves (like Romaine lettuce) at the bottom, add the other components and toss them all when we are ready to eat.

I served this colorful and flavorful salad with grilled pork tenderloin on day one. Next day leftovers were amazing for lunch, re-visited with the highly fashionable fried egg (I know, many are tired of the fried egg omnipresence, but I happen to love it).


And now it’s time for a virtual tour of Susan’s book… come with me!

and please, make sure to visit Susan’s site too

The book is organized in a very clever, non-traditional way. Chapters are organized by method of cooking instead of course, or type of food.

CHAPTER ONE: Meatless Made Easy, is a great write-up on what to consider if you’d like to either become fully vegetarian or reduce the overall intake of meat in your diet. Susan cooks and eats mostly vegetarian dishes, but her husband is a full-blown carnivore, so she includes in her recipes little final tips she calls “flexitarian tips.” How the same recipe could be served or made to include some animal protein. Pretty clever, and definitely expands the usefulness of the book. I am a full-blown omnivore, and appreciate that aspect of the book.  As I like to do in my reviews, I will pick 2 or 3 top favorite recipes from each chapter, so you can get an idea of what it’s all about.

CHAPTER TWO: NO COOK RECIPES. Tough to pick just a couple of examples. She starts with smoothies, all pretty tempting. But I think the ones that truly called my name are Mediterranean Wrap with Spicy Chickpeas (I cannot have enough chickpea recipes), White Bean Wrap with Jalapeno-Apple Slaw, and her beautiful Lemony Romaine and Avocado Salad (I actually made a departure on it).

CHAPTER THREE: THIRTY MINUTES MAX. Who does not love that type of recipe, when we work all day and come home starving? From this chapter comes the featured recipe, Lebanese Lentil Salad, which is a winner all the way! But I had my eyes set on Middle Eastern Cauliflower Steaks, and Smashed Chickpeas and Kalamata Pasta (I considered making it with zoodles for a low-carb version full of flavor).

CHAPTER FOUR: FIVE INGREDIENTS. Another non-fuss chapter, which makes her book so appealing, you just know it will be an easy culinary project to get the meal ready. My favorites: Baked Sweet Potato Latkes (I know you just drooled), Delicata Squash and Black Bean Quesadillas (my favorite squash that I should bring home more often), Caprese Avocado Grilled Pitas (talk about creativity!).

CHAPTER FIVE: ONE-POT AND SKILLET. I went crazy for the recipes in this chapter, truly difficult to select just a few. I loved the idea of her Spicy Skillet Eggs, Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice, and Crispy Black Bean Burgers. Just to share a few.

CHAPTER SIX: SHEET PAN AND BAKING DISH. Chapter opens with a huge contender, I almost made it to feature today: Kofta-Style Chickpea “Meatball” Pitas. Curried Cauliflower Tetrazzini, and Baked Cheesy Broccoli with Quinoa make my top list too.

CHAPTER SEVEN: SLOW-COOKER and PRESSURE COOKER. Well, those are dear to my heart. I love using both cooking gadgets, and have a huge collection of recipes waiting to be made. My top choices from this chapter include: Tomato-Mushroom Ragu, Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto (these two are made in a slow-cooker). For the pressure cooker, I will go with Chickpea and Coconut-Curry Soup and Tomato Biryani.

CHAPTER EIGHT: KITCHEN STAPLES. Now that’s an interesting chapter. I confess that in every single cookbook that includes this type of chapter, I don’t look twice. I am never that interested in making a bunch of sauces or dressings and saving them in the fridge. Just not my style of cooking. What ends up happening is that I forget all about them and next thing I know, they get moldy, and into the trash they go. Now that I confessed my capital sin, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised by my reaction to Susan’s Kitchen Staples. Lemony Breadcrumbs, Miso Butter, Smooth and Creamy Hummus, Tahini Miso Dressing? I want them all… Go figure.

She ends the book with a big reference guide to cooking all things veggie. Quite useful if you are considering venturing more and more into this type of nutrition. A very comprehensive list, with all the details for optimal preparation.

Before I leave you, let me offer the teaser recipe. This was soooo delicious! Another colorful salad, a Lebanese Chopped Salad (from Chapter Two) with torn pita bread. The dressing involves buttermilk… I say no more. Amazing! You need the book, and you know it (wink, wink).

Susan, thanks for allowing me to publish one recipe from your beautiful book, and I wish you the best of luck with it… I can imagine the amount of work involved from the conception to the publishing of a cookbook, so congratulations are in order!

ONE YEAR AGO: Cottage Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Sourdough Loaf with Cranberries and Walnuts

THREE YEAR AGO: Sichuan Pork Stir-Fry in Garlic Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Our Green Trip to Colorado

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ditalini Pasta Salad

SIX YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Post-workout Breakfast

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

NINE YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SEEDY CRACKERS FOR A FUN PARTY!

Remember The Secret Recipe Club? Oh, how I miss those fun times…  But, even if it’s over, many of the virtual ties made over the years stayed strong. One of the “secreters”, Sid, has just published a nice cookbook, and organized this Virtual Tapas Time Party in which bloggers pick one recipe to highlight, everyone posting together today. I am thrilled to be part of it, and share with you a delicious take on crackers. They leave anything you can buy at the store in a smoke. They are hearty, tasty, crunchy, and I must also say… addictive (sigh).  Some serious self-control is needed. They are awesome even naked. Yeah, some jokes come to mind, but I’ll exercise self-control there too, and skip them.

SOMETHING’S SEEDY CRACKERS
(from Sid’s Nibbles and Bites)

2 cups bread flour
1 cup mixed seeds – equal amounts of each of Flax – Chia – Sesame
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup water (enough to moisten the dough, maybe a little more if needed)

Heat oven to 450 F.

Mix all ingredients together, and let rest for about 15 minutes.  Divide the dough into either thirds or quarters, and roll out each piece 1/8 thick. Cut into squares and place on a baking sheet.

Bake for about 12-15  minutes, or until the crackers start to brown around the edges. Remove from pan, cool on a rack and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I rarely make crackers. Some of the store-bought products are so good and convenient, I truly do not mind opening a package and serving them at dinner parties. Take Ak-Mak, for instance. They are simply perfect with hummus, cheese, tapenade. But Sid’s book gave me the push I needed to bake a batch, and I must admit, they are much, much better than those commercially available. Plus, you can customize them the way you like, using different seeds, or even some spices. And fun to make too. I could have rolled them a little thinner, because they do puff up a little during baking. It’s the baking powder speaking.  Oddly shaped pieces should be baked too, I think they look great and the pointy edges are perfect to stab into a creamy spread.

A little overview of Nibbles and Bites

I share my two top favorites of each chapter, so you can have an idea of what the book is all about.

SPREADS, DIPS AND MORE… Mini-Dried Cranberry and Pistachio Balls (they look adorable, and I imagine taste great). Jalapeno Popper Dip (definitely my kind of a dip).

HUMMUS… A full chapter on my favorite appetizer in the known universe! Hard to choose only two, but here we go: Curried Carrot Hummus, and Chocolate Hummus (intriguing, but I bet it works, the combination of tahini with chocolate is becoming a classic).

RETRO… Who does not like a good old retro concoction?  Smoked Salmon Pinwheels, and Egg Salad Pinwheels make my list, most definitely.

CRACKERS… The recipe I featured, absolutely delicious! The second contender which I almost made, Lemon and Rosemary Crackers. No justification needed.

EGGS… Basic Deviled Eggs (I am addicted, always searching for new takes on it), and Snowmen Eggs, which would be a perfect culinary project to do with kids.

WINGS AND THINGS… Cranberry-Orange Wings, and Chutney Wings called my name… I think chutney is one under-rated food, a bit retro perhaps, but so delicious!

SEAFOOD THINGS… Definitely the Blackened Mango Shrimp on a Stick… and Carrabelle Crab Cakes, a recipe that won People’s Choice Award two years in a row! Talk about a great endorsement…

PLAIN FUN STUFF… Tomato Bites (adorable) and Vegetarian Potstickers make my favorite pair.

I hope you enjoyed the featured recipe and the virtual tour of Sid’s book. Make sure you stop by Sid’s blog to see what our friends made from Nibbles and Bites.

ONE YEAR AGO: Brutti ma Buoni Low-Carb Soup

TWO YEARS AGO: Turkey Stir-Fry with Almond Butter

THREE YEARS AGO: Secret Recipe Club: Tailgating Party!

FOUR YEARS AGO: One Million Page Views!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Tlayuda, a Mexican Pizza

SIX YEARS AGO: Paradise Revisited 

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Feijoada, the Ultimate Brazilian Feast

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Vegetable Milhojas

NINE YEARS AGO:  Italian Bread

PARISIAN FLAN AND COOKBOOK REVIEW: TASTING PARIS

After so many years of blogging, I tend to quickly group food bloggers into two categories, those who have been doing it longer than me, and those who are “younger” (for lack of a better term). Clotilde is part of the first group, in fact Chocolate and Zucchini was one of the first food blogs I started to follow years and years ago. Not only she is still actively blogging, but she has written several cookbooks (I own them all, in case you are wondering), and – wait for it –  writes the blog in two languages, English and French. I tried to do that when I started, writing each post in English and Portuguese, but after a few months, I gave up. It is a lot of extra work, so I truly admire her for doing it. This is a long overdue post. I had Clotilde’s newest book pre-ordered, the moment I got it in the mail I asked her permission to publish a recipe. She is the most gracious person ever, quickly answered with an enthusiastic “bien sûr”, but it took me a couple of months to finally share it with you. In part because I had a pretty tough time deciding which recipe to feature.  But I am very happy with my choice, it is a real classic…

PARISIAN FLAN
(published with permission from Clotilde’s Tasting Paris)

for pastry dough:
7 ounces (200 g) all-purpose flour (about 1½ cups)
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg
Ice-cold water, if needed

for filling:
2½ cups (600 ml) whole milk
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
⅔ cup (70 g) cornstarch
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)
⅔ cup (160 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for greasing tart pan

Make the crust, preferably the day before. Prepare the filling 5 to 8 hours before serving.

For the crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Process for 10 seconds, until you get a bread crumb–like consistency. Add the egg and process for a few more seconds, until the dough comes together into a ball. If the dough seems a little dry, mix in a little ice-cold water, 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, until the dough does come together.

Tip the dough onto a clean work surface and knead lightly for a few seconds. Using a rolling-pin and working on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out and transfer to a greased 10 inch round tart or quiche pan, pressing it up the sides to adhere. Prick the bottom with a fork. Freeze until needed.

Make the filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 6 tablespoons (75 g) of the sugar and bring to a simmer. In a large bowl, combine the cornstarch with the remaining 6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cream and the simmering milk, little by little. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking as the custard thickens, about 4 minutes. It is ready when the whisk leaves clear traces, and will continue to thicken as it cools.Pour the custard into a baking dish or other large vessel, cover, and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Whisk the custard to break it up, pour into the frozen tart shell, and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, then increase the temperature to 450°F (230°C) and bake another 10 minutes, watching closely, until the top of the flan has dark brown spots. If you find the exposed sides of the crust are browning too quickly, drape loosely with strips of foil. Cool the flan for 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold, about 1½ hours.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I really liked the way this tart is prepared, freezing the crust and adding the custard to it still frozen. It baked very nicely, absolutely no soggy bottom, perfect texture. I did not have to protect the edge with foil, but watched it closely as a hawk in the final minutes, those brown spot start to show up pretty quickly.

The flavor and texture improve a lot once you bring the tart to room temperature, but it is mandatory to cool it in the fridge for a few hours after baking. Just plan your schedule and you won’t have problems. I made the crust on a Saturday evening, made the filling next morning, and baked it mid-afternoon.

This flan really brought me memories of Paris. I cannot say it was something I enjoyed often while living there, but because every boulangerie proudly sells them, just the image was enough to transport me back. Creamy, sweet but not cloyingly so. A perfect dose of indulgence.

Now let me take you through Clotilde’s book for a virtual tour.

What I love the most about Clotilde’s book is how it covers not just your typical French cuisine, but the many flavors that surround people living in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. During times  in which prejudice, racism, general anti-foreign feelings are getting way too common – worse than that – way too accepted as the new normal, it is nice to see a book that embraces differences, that shows that if you live in Paris, one cool thing to do is to walk all the way to Faubourg-St Denis arrondisement, and dig into a juicy Lahmajoun. I had never heard of it, even though I did enjoy many of the “exotic” delicacies found in often small, almost hidden places in the city.  Food joins cultures, and in her book Clotilde does exactly that. I cannot praise it enough.

The book is organized in a pretty cute way. Chapters are linked to times of the day: Morning, Noon, Afternoon, Early Evening, Evening, Late Night.  How cool is that? Let me offer you my favorites of each chapter.

Morning (Le Matin)

Poached Eggs with Bread Crumbs and Pickled Onions... it makes the humble poached egg perfect. Bread crumbs for texture, the sharp bite of pickled onions (probably the only way I truly enjoy them, apart from slowly caramelized).

Chocolate Bread... I don’t think I need to say anything about this one.

Fruit Compote with Yogurt... I tell you, the French know how to pull this one like nobody’s business. I definitely intend to make it for a post-exercise treat, as I don’t eat breakfast.

Moroccan Crumpets... My heart missed a beat. That’s what I’m talking about when I tell you she embraces the many cultures around town. Crumpets, so British, and all of a sudden she introduces you a version that screams Middle East. They look gorgeous, and I cannot wait to make them.

Also in this chapter you’ll have recipes for Croissants, Deviled Avocados, and many more.

Noon (Le Midi)

That’s a chapter I would love to cook everything from, but one recipe that intrigued me is the very first one… Potato Chip and Chive Omelette…  Clotilde got her inspiration from a Michelin-starred restaurant, if you can believe it, and I bet it is amazing, the texture of a potato chip adding a lot to the humble omelette. What a clever idea!

Frisée with Bacon and Egg… I’ve had this so many times in Paris, it’s filling and light at the same time. Love it.

Croque Madame, another super classic, you simply cannot go to Paris and not have one.

Turkish Lamb Flatbreads… These are the Lahmajoun I mentioned in the beginning.  A flat bread made with yogurt in the dough, a bit like a naan, and topped with well-seasoned ground lamb. Seriously good, I am sure.

Buckwheat Crepes... These have been on my list to make for a long, long time. Not surprised she included them, they are sold everywhere in Paris, not only in bistrots, but also as street food.

Carrot Chickpea Crepes… a departure on the crepe subject, another Middle Eastern twist on a classic. I almost picked this one to feature in the blog, but the Parisian Flan won me over.

Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry Mille-Feuille, and Floating Islands with Caramel and Strawberries are three desserts from this chapter that made me dream.

Afternoon (L’Après Midi)

With this chapter, Clotilde explains the famous “Le Goûter“, that time in the end of the afternoon in which your light lunch has been used up, and dinner is still a bit far away. Keep in mind that in France no one has dinner before 8 or 9pm. Le Goûter is a small offering of goodies to keep you going, or to give the kids when they arrive from school. Fifteen recipes total in this chapter, including the Parisian Flan I featured.

 

Here is my shortlist of favorites:

Earl Grey Madeleines... Nantais Cake (a very moist almond cake)… Chocolate Ice Cream with Nuts and RaisinsChestnut Cream Meringue (this looks absolutely spectacular)… Simple Chocolate Macarons (nothing like finding my obsession waiting for me)… But I guess my all time favorite would be Salted Caramel Flaky Pie. It is so tempting I must show you a picture from the book…

Don’t you feel like going to the kitchen and making it right now?

Early Evening (L’Apéro)

Another French habit is to have a drink and light food before going out for dinner, a show, or a movie. In this chapter, Clotilde offers 11 recipes, including a few drinks.  Some of my favorites:

Armenian Byoreks…   Armenian food is found mostly in the 9th arrondisement of the city, the original neighborhood that received the first immigrants back in the 1915’s. Byoreks are delicious parcels of flaky dough, usually shaped as triangles, and filled with many different types of delicacies, from meat to veggies or cheese. Her version uses spinach, cheese, and pastrami.

Butternut Kibbeh with Spinach…  I adore kibbeh, and normally have a meat-loaded version (I have one in the blog from years ago), but this one is definitely calling my name. So unusual!

Oven-Puffed Pancake... Baked Camembert with Honey and Apple Cider... Olive and Goat Cheese Quick Bread... The quick bread brought me memories of a couple of friends we visited often for dinner. She always prepared one of these quick breads as an appetizer if we were having dinner with them or perhaps going out for a meal somewhere. You know, just as a warm up to the evening.  I actually blogged about one version with zucchini in the distant past.

Evening (Le Soir)

What could be more magical than spending a romantic evening in Paris? Tough question. In this chapter, Clotilde talks about special recipes that you can cook at home but will have the aura of a fancy restaurant.  I could happily cook (and eat) every single one, but here is my selected list:

Roasted Squash Soup with Curried Cheese Quenelle…  Quenelle makes any meal feel special. Just a simple technique to shape it is all you need, and Clotilde explains how to do it.

Rice and Ginger Soup... when simplicity meets elegance, I so want to make this one when the weather cools off (well, hopefully not anytime soon!)

Cauliflower Brioche. You have no idea how cool that looks. Get the book, then we can talk more about it (wink, wink)

Tfaya Chicken Couscous… have you heard of tfaya? It is a condiment made with caramelized onions and raisins, in this case used to perfume couscous. O.M.G.

Spice-Crusted Duck Maigret… how could she not include a duck dish, right? So Parisian…

Mushroom Bourguignon… a vegetarian take on one great classic French dish. Must make it!

Every single dish in this chapter seems fit for a special dinner, either for a romantic evening with just you and your favorite human, or a couple of very dear friends. Some sweets included are the classic Pears Poached in Spiced Red Wine,  Caramelized Arlette Cookies (a version of them was a technical challenge in the Great British Bake Off years ago), and the recipe from the book’s cover: Ice Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce (no additional remarks needed).

Late Night (Tard dans la Nuit)

One recipe in the chapter. French Onion Soup. I don’t even know how many times I’ve enjoyed it with the most perfectly broiled Gruyere cheese on top of a perfect crusty slice of bread, cut in the exact thickness to make it stand against the hot soup without dissolving into nothingness. Au Pied du Cochon is a restaurant that still serves this soup pretty much the whole night. I’ve had the experience once. Yes,  Tasting Paris brought me a ton of fond memories indeed!

Clotilde, thank you for allowing me to share the flan recipe in my blog… 

For those interested in the book, it’s available in amazon.com. I am not affiliated, and won’t get a single penny from your purchase. I only recommend books I fall in love with, and this was definitely one…

ONE YEAR AGO: Beef Goulash, Slow-Cooker Version

TWO YEARS AGO: Post-workout Chia Yogurt Bliss

THREE YEARS AGO: Tomato Tatin

FOUR YEARS AGO: Best Thing I Ever Made: Chocolate Chip Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farofa Brasileira

SIX YEARS AGO: Thai-Inspired Pork Tenderloin

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A yummy Brazilian cake: Bolo de Fuba’

EIGHT YEARS AGO:  Summer’s Tomatoes

NINE YEARS AGO: Leaving on a jet plane… 

 

 

 

SAVORY OATMEAL WITH BACON AND CHEDDAR AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW

This is a long overdue post. I made this recipe last month, but have been meaning to write about this cookbook ever since I bought it, back in October. Seven long months ago. Shocking.  Oatmeal is definitely something associated with breakfast, and served on the sweet side. With milk, brown sugar, cream, maybe some stewed apples or bananas. In her book Adventures in Slow-Cooking, Sarah di Gregorio shares a version for savory oatmeal and raves about it. I had to try it. It was really tasty, and she gave me permission to share the recipe with you… So, without further ado…

SAVORY OATMEAL WITH BACON, SCALLIONS, AND CHEDDAR
(published with permission from Sarah Di Gregorio)

1 cup uncooked steel-cut oats
Kosher salt
½ pound thick-cut bacon
5 scallions, trimmed, light green and white parts thinly sliced
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 heaping cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fried or poached eggs, for topping (1 per person)

Generously butter a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker. Add the oats, 4 cups water, and I teaspoon salt. Cook until the oatmeal is thick and tender: on LOW for 4 hours or on LOW for 2 hours followed by WARM for 6 to 7 hours.

Put the bacon into a cold large skillet and bring the heat to medium. Cook, flipping a couple of times, until the bacon has rendered a lot of its fat and is deeply browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. You can do this right before serving the oatmeal or the day before, in which case store the crisped bacon in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before using.

When the oatmeal is done, stir in the bacon, white and light green scallion slices, and about three-quarters of the cheese (about 6 ounces). Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary and a few grinds of pepper. Serve in bowls topped with the remaining cheese, the dark green sliced scallions, and eggs, if you like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I’ve always been intrigued by the use of oatmeal in savory dishes. I am not an oatmeal fan in traditional breakfast preparations, but decided to open my mind and give it a try. I don’t normally eat breakfast and found that this meal was perfect at lunch time. Kept me full until dinner, and was full of flavor.  I also made a vegetarian version using sautéed mushrooms instead of bacon. Worked great too, I made sure to brown them well and added a touch of soy sauce at the end. Delicious! In Sarah’s words:

Speaking of the egg: I know most people are tired of the image of egg yolk flooding whatever is served underneath, but forgive me… this was too good to skip…

OVERVIEW OF ADVENTURES IN SLOW-COOKING

by Sarah di Gregorio

First, let me share with you the review I wrote for it at amazon.com

I fell in love with this book at first page. I don’t have much patience for long introductions and considered just skipping that part to dive into recipes. Well, I could not stop reading. Sarah is a talented writer and definitely knows how to use the slow-cooker the way it is intended to be used. No dump and run approach. This is slow-cooking for gourmet cooks, those who will not accept anything with the “crock pot texture.” I bought this book even though there was only ONE review about it. Took a big risk, right? Well, I am so glad I did. I own more than 500 cookbooks, and this might very well be my favorite for slow-cooking. Awesome. Just awesome. Buy it and you will not be disappointed. Now, if you are part of the team of dump it and forget it, this book is NOT for you. This is not a criticism to you, just a warning that you might not like it that much….

That pretty much explains why I had to review it here, I think that anyone who owns a crock pot will benefit from this book. I have a file in my computer (way out of date) called “The Best from Each.” In that file I list recipes from my Kindle cookbooks that appeal to me. Sarah’s cookbook broke the record for the largest proportion of recipes that made into that folder. From 120 recipes, 35 made the cut. That’s almost one-third of them. Pretty impressive.  Here is a cut-and-paste job from my computer:

Classic Chicken Stock (wings)

Winter Tomato Sauce (Marcella Hazan)

Lentils, beans, chickpeas method

Grains, farro, barley, black rice etc method

Smoky Chipotle Ketchup (interesting)

Crisp Chicken Wings with Szechuan Caramel

Chawan Mushi (interesting savory custard)

Pistachios, Coconut, and Cardamon Granola

Savory Oatmeal with Bacon, Scallions and Cheddar

Crustless Quiche with Smoked Salmon

Summer Tomato, Basil and Burrata Grain Bowl

Roasted Red Pepper, Caper, Walnut and Tahini Grain Bowl

Creamy Barley with Corn and Green Chile-Lime Salsa

Farro Puttanesca

Shakshuka with Feta and Olives

Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes

Stuffed Meatballs in Lots of Sauce

Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Harissa Tomato Sauce

Smoky Barbecued Brisket

Chipotle Almond Braised Beef Tacos
(Quick Pickled Onions) – to go with it, very nice method

Orange, Olive and Fennel Chicken Tagine
(Turmeric Yogurt) – to go with it

Miso-Butter Roast Chicken and Potatoes

Buttery Duck Confit 

Harissa Pork Chili with Toppings Galore

Sticky Gochujang Pork

Za’tar Roast Chicken

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Maple Caramel

Coconut Banana Cake with Brown Butter Caramel Sauce

Matcha-White Chocolate Pots de Crème

Vietnamese Coffee Pots de Crème

Cannoli Cheesecake with Biscotti Crust

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Earl Grey Cream

Cardamon-Molasses Apple Upside-Down Cake

TEASER RECIPE:  from the list, I made the Farro Puttanesca. To die for! Farro cooked in the crock pot has perfect texture, this preparation was luscious, perfect by itself or as a side dish for roast chicken, grilled salmon, steak, pretty much anything you’d like. A very creative way to serve farro. Made a lot, but froze well too…

 

Sarah, thank you and your editors for allowing me
to publish one of your recipes.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Air-Fried Carrots, Two Ways (most popular post on my blog!)

TWO YEARS AGO: Five Minutes in L.I.T (a tour of our laboratory!)

THREE YEARS AGO: Chicken Thighs with Artichokes and Capers

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pea Pancakes with Herbed Yogurt

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mushroom Stroganoff

SIX YEARS AGO: Tomato Sourdough

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Gamberetti con rucola e pomodori

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Flirting with Orzo

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

PAUL HOLLYWOOD: THE WEEKEND BAKER

In the past year, I was hit hard by two addictions. The Game of Thrones, and The Great British Baking Show. Odd to see them mentioned together in the same phrase. I caved to GoT despite my adamant stance against violent movies. That show is awesome, brilliant, irresistible. I can hardly wait for the next season, already feeling deprived. But The Great British Baking Show is a lot easier to watch, and so much better than ANY cooking show made in the US, it’s not even funny. They really hit a magical formula to entertain and teach at the same time. The right amount of humor, the right amount of anxiety, great atmosphere among the contestants, and so much talent! I also love the fact that they do blind judging of the technical challenge, to me that immediately sets the show on a higher level.  Then, there is the chemistry between Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. I realize she won’t be part of the new season, and from what I heard the new person does a stellar job too, the show should follow its natural path of glory. Paul is something else. Those penetrating blue eyes probably turn the blood of some contestants cold when he deeply stares at them and asks “have you really tried this before?“, or “is this slashing going to be alright?”    Analogy for my hard-core biochemist readers: if Paul asks “are you telling me that a low Kd means higher affinity for this enzyme? you sure about that?”  you would probably doubt all the biochemistry that until then was solid in your brain…

When you are so in love with GBBS. you do two things.

  1. You move to binge watching Master Class, in which Paul and Mary actually bake all that stuff they inflicted on the contestants, spilling some of the secrets for success.
  2. You buy their cookbooks. I now own several written by Paul and Mary, as well as a few from the show itself. Yes, I have a problem. No, I do not intend to go for therapy.

One of the cookbooks I own is The Weekend Baker by Mr. Hollywood. And I got his and Penguin Books permission to share with you one recipe from it (insert happy dance here). After a lot of mental struggles to pick just one, here it is. Chocolate to the limit, an Italian classic from Capri. Gluten-free, which might be a bonus to some, and decadently rich. A small slice will be enough, making it perfect to share with many friends, or in my case, co-workers. A certain Monday morning was made quite a bit sweeter in our department.

TORTA CAPRESE
(Reproduced from THE WEEKEND BAKER by Paul Hollywood, published by Penguin Books Ltd (2016). With permission from Penguin Books Ltd. Recipes © Paul Hollywood, 2016. Photography © Issy Croker)

 to buy the book, follow this link:  The Weekend Baker

for the cake:
100 grams (3.5 ounces) blanched whole almonds
50 grams (1.75 ounces) plus 160 grams (5.6 ounces) superfine sugar
1 whole egg, plus 5 eggs, separated
265 grams (9.3 ounces) dark chocolate, melted and cooled
50 grams (1.75 ounces) chopped almonds

for the topping:
70 grams (2.5 ounces) water, plus for softening the gelatin
90 grams (3.2 ounces) superfine sugar (superfine)
30 grams (1 ounce) cocoa powder
25 grams (.9 ounces) liquid glucose (I used light corn syrup)
2 gelatin sheets (about 2.4 grams/.1 ounces)

Candied lemon peel or chopped almonds, for decorating

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas 4 (355 degrees F). Grease a deep 20-centimeter (8-inch) round cake tin. To make the cake, grind the whole almonds with 50 grams of fine sugar in a food processor. Reserve.

With an electric mixer, beat the whole egg and 5 yolks with the 160 grams fine sugar until the mix is pale and creamy and leaves a trail on the surface. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Do not over mix.

Add the cooled melted chocolate with the egg yolk mixture. Stir in the ground almond mixture and the chopped almonds. Beat in a spoonful of the egg whites to loosen the mixture. Now, a spoonful at a time, gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Once the cake is cooked, leave it in the pan to cool before turning it out onto a serving plate.

To prepare the topping, place the water, fine sugar, cocoa powder and glucose (or corn syrup) into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and stir.

Soften the gelatin sheets in a little water. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Squeeze any liquid from the gelatin sheets and then add the sheets to the pan. Stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Leave to cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour the chocolate topping just onto the surface of the cake and decorate with candied lemon peel or extra chopped almonds.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Please notice that instead of almond flour, Paul prefers to grind whole almonds with sugar. He states to get better taste and texture this way. So resist grabbing that bag of Bob Mill’s you’ve got on your pantry. The glaze. Oh, the glaze. Very intense chocolate flavor topping a cake that also has a punch of chocolate, but mellowed down by the almonds, both in taste and texture. In fact, when you look at the Torta Caprese you’ll expect your classic flourless creature, very fudge-like. It is not, the ground & diced almonds turn it into a different type of cake, one that in fact will feel a tad bit less rich. When I bite into a flourless chocolate cake, I always have the filling that it is so rich, a small slice seems tricky to finish.  This cake? Not the case. It is rich, but you’ll feel that keep working on that slice is the most natural move… Consider yourself warned. Plus, the glaze… Oh, the glaze…

 

And now, a quick virtual tour of Paul Hollywood’s book.

 

The book is organized in ten chapters, and contrary to most cookbooks, these are not your regular ‘Breads”, “Pies”, “Cakes” categories. Instead, Paul dedicates one chapter to each place he’s been to, showcasing the recipes that impressed him most during his visit.  Consider it a gastronomic tour. His introduction to the book will have you excited to jump on a plane (or as he puts it, start a very long swim from UK all the way to New York), and, book in hand, try every one of the delicacies he talks about.  So, without further ado, a few of my favorites from each chapter.

SUN BAKED, MADRID: I’ve never been to Spain, so baking from this chapter would be a nice way to tempt myself to finally go visit. My favorites include Churros and Spanish Hot Chocolate (for dipping them into), as churros were actually quite popular in Brazil when I was growing up.  But how about Iberico Ham and Manchego Empanadas? I am crazy for Manchego… Buñuelos de Viento sound great too, these are very light puff pastry entities, filled with chocolate or cream. But I am really intrigued by the last recipe in this chapter, quite simply called Torta. It is like a focaccia, but made with 70% olive oil in its formula. I bet it is amazing!

LA DOLCE VITA, NAPLES: My showcased recipe, Torta Caprese, comes from this chapter, where you will find many of the most authentic examples of Italian baking, like Pizza Margherita, Ciabatta, Focaccia. But the one that captured my imagination is Gatto di Santa Chiara, a cross between a quiche and a pie. The dough calls for some mashed potato in it, which I know results in incredible texture. Definitely something to make in the near future.

FRENCH FANCIES, PARIS: My home away from home! He opens the chapter with royalty, Croissants… And offers some other classics like Quiche Lorraine, Eclairs (be still, my heart), and Madeleines (made with brown butter). Baguettes are there too, just in case you are wondering…  I have my mind set on Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringues, though.

PUDDING LANE, LONDON: A city I visited three times, and find absolutely amazing, definitely want to go back. You will find a basic recipe for Scones that you can adapt for any flavor you like, the famous Victoria Sponge, Chelsea Buns, Lemon Drizzle Slices (similar to a cake I just blogged about, but with fancier icing), and Battenberg (a two-color cake that is calling my name).

DANISH TASTIES, COPENHAGEN: Another place I’ve never visited but hope to stop by some day, to get fully acquainted with the meaning of hygge, a very fashionable word. Danish is in there, a version with Apricot and Passion Fruit,  Seeded Rye Bread, and the recipe I almost picked to showcase, Danish Raspberry Slices. They look so cute, I know I’ll be making them for our graduate students in the very near future.

BAVARIAN BITES, MUNICH. I’ve been there, years ago, ate superbly well. Beautiful place! Paul offers a recipe for Pretzels that has some unexpected twists, I am a lover of soft pretzels, and have been meaning to try and bake them at home for…. forever.  Stollen, the famous bread is in this chapter, as well as Lebkuchen Biscuits, a sort of soft spice cookie that I’m sure I would fall in love with at first bite. Prinzeregententorte (say that three times fast) seems like the kind of cake that could be the weapon of my self-destruction. Seven layers of sponge cake that must be absolutely identical, as they represent the regions of Bavaria in 1886. Are you amazed yet?

AMERICAN PIE, NEW YORK: There we are at the Big Apple, the chapter opens with Bagels, rightfully so! Also a big nod to Bittman’s No Knead Bread, New York Cheesecake with details for baking that definitely take it to the smoothest consistency ever.  I really want to try my hands at it. So many recipes, so little time!

FUN IN THE SUN, MIAMI: Still in the US,  dear friends…  Paul loved the beat of Miami – who doesn’t? – it is packed full of Brazilians (sorry could not resist a little wave to my home country). Great items in this chapter, starting of course with Key Lime Pie, passing by  Best- Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies,  Waffles, and American Pancakes.

PRIDE OF POLAND, WARSAW: Would I be repeating myself too much if I say I’d love to visit Poland? Not only I have great Polish friends, but all my friends who visited were mesmerized by it. Seems like a fantastic place indeed.  Here are the recipes I loved the most: Babka, for obvious reasons. A bread, beautifully swirled with chocolate. And Polish Cheesecake. Yes, I need to get to know this, if not in Warsaw, in our kitchen.

THE RUSSIAN OVEN, SAINT PETERSBURG: Paul was really smitten by that city, and I also heard plenty of great things about it. Of course, I would never go in the winter, just looking at the photos of Paul in full winter gear when he landed there, made me cringe. No, a Brazilian cannot face that ever. But the recipes seem just amazing. Russian Pies (much more involved and complex than the name implies), the famous Blinis, Medovik (a gorgeous honey cake), Sweet Berry Pancakes, but what really won my heart is something call Vatrushka. Go ahead, google, and drool…

So there you have it, my little tour of Paul Hollywood’s The Weekend Baker is over. The book has a little introduction to each recipe, with interesting bits about them, gorgeous photos, not only of the finished product, but of the places he visited.  Well-balanced, actually. You will not be bombarded with personal photos like some cookbook authors do (not naming any names), but you’ll have enough to tease you, make you dream about that plane trip to see the world.

Paul, thank you and Penguin Books for allowing me to publish your recipe.

Before I leave my dear readers… yes, a lower Kd will always indicate higher affinity. For any enzyme in the known universe. I am sure you can all sleep better now…

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Texas Sheet Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, September 2015

THREE YEARS AGO: Sour Cherry Sorbet: A Labor of Love

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen – September 2013

FIVE YEARS AGO: Raspberry Sorbet at Summer’s End

SIX YEARS AGO: When three is better than two  (four years with Buck!)

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Grating Tomatoes (and loving it!)

EIGHT YEARS AGO: A Peachy Salad for a Sunny Day

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE SQUARES: CHETNA MAKAN’S COOKBOOK REVIEW

Last year I binge-watched The Great British Bake Off, originally aired in 2014. One of the reasons it took me so long to go for it, is my intense dislike of ANY food competition. I was never too wild about Iron Chef, barely stand the countless versions of Chopped, and despise Cutthroat Kitchen with every cell of my body. There. I feel better. But, despite all that, one day I sat down and put the first episode of The Great British Bake Off to play. I was hooked. First and foremost for the friendly atmosphere. When you watch any of the competition shows from FoodTV-USA, it is impossible to ignore a certain mean streak in the competitors. Each one wants to win so bad, they keep hammering on why they are clearly better than all others. The blatant arrogance really bothers me. I also prefer the format of the British show, particularly when all contestants need to make the exact same (very challenging)  recipe and it gets evaluated in a single-blind way. Today I share with you a recipe from the cookbook of my favorite contestant,  Chetna Makan. She made it almost to the end, facing all sorts of challenges with poise, grace, and a warm smile. And after the recipe, I will walk you through The Cardamon Trail. What a beautiful name!

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE DESSERT SLICES
(published with permission from Chetna Makan) 

200g (7oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
50g (1 ¾ oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coffee granules
3 large egg yolks
75g (2 ¾ oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon rosewater
white chocolate curls to decorate

Heat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

Grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and line it with nonstick baking paper. Put the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling-pin to crush them to crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and pour in the melted butter, mixing thoroughly so that the crumbs are completely coated. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a smooth, even base layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

In a small pan, slowly heat the milk to scalding point. Add the ground cardamom and coffee granules and mix well, then remove the pan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and 2 tablespoons of the spiced milk together to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the remaining milk, whisking the whole time. Tip this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 2– 3 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes until lukewarm.

Put the measured boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine powder has dissolved. Add this to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix well. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone and rosewater together. Fold this into the pastry cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to set.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and cut it into squares. To finish, sprinkle with white chocolate curls (or any decoration you prefer). The slices will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Chetna described it perfectly! This is a dessert for grownups. It has that exotic quality, the barely there sweetness, a very unique and complex mixture of flavors. I loved it!  I must confess I messed up big time, though. I used the wrong type of  cookies for the base. She specified chocolate digestifs for the base, but our grocery store carried only two types: regular digestifs, or some with a coating of chocolate at the bottom, very similar to these beauties made from scratch by my friend Karen. After I made the dessert, I exchanged emails with Chetna and she told me I could have used the digestifs either plain or with the chocolate coating, but the type of cookie I used (very thin chocolate Goya Maria brand) would need tweaking, probably some other binding agent to properly work. Learned a lesson there. The result is that the base got a bit too crumbly rather than giving a nice support to the deliciously smooth top layer.  I intend to make it again soon, but did not want to wait any longer to blog about it. So make sure to gather the right tools for the job…

TEASER RECIPE

On the very same day I made a batch of her Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate cookies… 


OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE

The cookie dough is made with self-rising flour, butter, two types of sugar, a touch of cinnamon and ground cloves. Then chocolate chips and diced pistachio nuts are mixed in.  I substituted white chocolate because I found out that I had 4 bags of white chocolate chips and not a single one of semi-sweet. Apparently every time I go to the grocery store I tell myself “you better get a bag of white chocolate chips, because you only have the dark ones.”  In case you did not know, I do research for a living. Shocking, I know. Once again, Chetna describes these gems very well:

Yes, everyone thought they come together beautifully….

And now that I shared a recipe and teased you with another one, let’s take a walk through
The Cardamon Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East..

Chetna opens the book explaining that it is all about her culinary journey. It brings her food memories in the form of lovely bakes and new taste sensations. She grew up in Jabalpur, a city in central India, and her cooking is heavily influenced by her Mom, who cooked every single meal from scratch while Chetna was growing up.  Her book is divided in six  chapters, as follows:

Cakes. Each of the twenty cakes featured is enticing to me. Always some unexpected flavor that takes them to a higher level.  The very first one, Pear and Cardamon Caramel Upside Cake, already got me dreaming. You might remember that I have a very weak spot for cardamon, so obviously this cake speaks dearly to me.  Second one? Mango, Cardamon & Coconut Cake. Next? Rose and Honey Cake.  But so many more: Rose, Mint, and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Orange and Cinnamon Mini-Cakes (I almost picked them to showcase in this post).  Pistachio, Cardamon, and White Chocolate Cake… Saffron Meringue Cake…  Masala Chai Cake…. Black Sesame and Lime Cake… I tell you, it’s one temptation after another, a showcase of interesting flavor combinations.

Pies and Tarts. This chapter brings savory stuff to the game. I list my favorites: Peach, Star Anise, and Almond Tart…  Chocolate and Mango Tart (beautiful photo!)…  Passion Fruit, Lime, and Ginger Tart. On the savory front,  very creative recipes like Moong Dal Pie, Curry Onion Tart, and Chickpea Curry Pie. I definitely do not bake pies and tarts often enough. Hubby is usually the one in charge of those concoctions. But I need to get more practice and make them by myself.

Sweet Things. Twenty seven goodies for you there… She opens this chapter with something called Saffron Rasgulla, and I think it’s something I had once at a party and fell madly in love with. A little soft ball of curdled milk and saffron, cooked in a simple syrup. I could enjoy that every day of my life without ever getting tired of it. It seems a bit involved to make, but Chetna says it’s not that hard. It is a specialty from Western India.  Now, are you ready for this? Fig and Chocolate Macarons. Yes, my obsession of the past few years! She shares a great take on this French classic. Which of course, I intend to make in the near future. The only reason I did not pick them to feature, is the fact that I have two macaron recipes already waiting in line. The Rose, Cardamon & Coffee Dessert Slices come from this session of her book, as well as the Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate Cookies, my teaser recipe.  I also bookmarked Sweet Baked Samosas (I am addicted to the savory version),  Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Yogurt, and Star Anise and Rhubarb Profiteroles. She does incredibly nice variations on classic desserts, I love it!

Savory Small Bites. A lot of savory things to tempt you here, I will just list the ones that would be my top choices. Corn Rolls: these are inspired again by one of her Mom’s recipes, Chetna uses phyllo dough to make little parcels with sweet corn kernels mixed with ginger, chilli, and other spices.  They get baked and served warm with chutney. O.M.G. Coriander Chicken Parcels made with puff pastry seem like perfection to me…  Tapioca Vada is another intriguing recipe, different from anything I’ve ever tried. Tapioca pearls are mixed with water to form a kind of dough that gets mixed with mashed potatoes, crushed roasted peanuts and spices. The mixture is fried until golden brown, forming little patties that I am sure are addictive.  I was also quite taken by her Buckwheat Potato Pakoras, I never skip ordering pakoras when I go to an Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will love her Cashew Nut and Paneer Koftas, which use desiccated coconut to improve texture.  But my favorite of this chapter might very well be her Savory Semolina Cake, with spinach and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and black mustard seeds. The photo is drool-inducing.

Breads. Twenty options to make any baker happy.  She opens the chapter with a show-stopping bread: Savory Potato Couronne. It is simply gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and butter, then some grated boiled potatoes are mixed in. The exotic ingredient amchur (mango powder) is also included in the dough. Obviously, I need to get some. Tomato and Paneer Loaf is a nice example of a quick bread, made in a loaf pan. Another absolutely gorgeous picture included. Now, how about some Cumin Bread with Smoked Eggplant? I swear, it’s just one amazing twist after another. Another great temptation for yours truly, Chocolate and Chilli Loaf.  As Chetna put it:

This beautiful loaf has the indulgent feel of a cake yet is, in fact, very light…
The cocoa creates a deep-colored loaf, while the chilli provides a real kick to the aftertaste.

A couple more examples for you, Star Anise, Date, and Chocolate Bread (amazing shaping), and a Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer. She closes the chapter with several options for Parathas, and a Chicken Naan. Yes, you read it correctly. A version of the quick bread naan, turned into a full meal with ground chicken and plenty of spices. To die for, I am sure!

Accompaniments. In this chapter, she offers little goodies that will go well with many of the recipes in the book. Seven types of chutney, two types of pickles (beets, and cauliflower), Indian Coleslaw, and three types of Raita, the classic cucumber, plus Boondi and Bhindi Raitas. Curious? Boondi are fried chickpeas… Imagine them as a base for raita… Bhindi is okra. Not my favorite veggie in the world, but I bet that prepared the way Chetna describes, I would eat it all with a big smile!

So that wraps up our walk through The Cardamon Trail.  In my mind, it is a perfect cookbook because I adore spices both in savory and sweet concoctions. As I watched the Great British Bake Off, Chetna’s confidence and creativity with the use of spices left a huge impression on me. This book simply confirms her skills. I could not wait to start baking once I got the book downloaded, but then was sort of paralyzed by the number of recipes I picked as “top” choices.

To order the book, click here

I would also like to mention that Chetna has a blog and is also very active uploading videos on her youtube channel.  On youtube you can see her cooking with her kids, with her Mom, it’s really nice!  I subscribe to both blog and videos, so I never miss anything new coming from her.

Chetna, thank you for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes…
I am just about to start a batch of your Black Sesame and Macha Tuiles…
looking forward to enjoying them!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: When Side Dishes Steal the Show

TWO YEARS AGO: Venting on Vaccines

THREE YEARS AGO: Prime Rib Roast, Mexican Style

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

FIVE YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

SIX YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese