Archive | Baked RSS feed for this section

Oat and bran digestive cookies

28 Mar

Baking is a form of self-care for me. It’s one of my happy-place activities, something I do when I really have time on my side, not feeling rushed or restrained. I’d much rather bake than read (although I love reading), because there’s a tangible end result to baking – an edible reward.

With many recipe developers confined to their homes at the moment, all across the world, there’s an endless stream of recipe inspiration to be absorbed and enjoyed for everyone who has access to the internet. One of these stream comes from Bon Appetit. I subscribe to their newsletter, and their recent recipe for digestive cookies was delivered straight to my inbox. Theirs looked so perfect, I couldn’t look away. I absolutely adore digestive cookies, especially when they’re covered on one side in chocolate, and these looked delectable. So when I scanned the ingredients list, I realized that I missed 2 key ingredients: wholewheat flour and wheatgerm. It turns out you can substitute the wheatgerm for toasted oats (according to the recipe writer, because many people didn’t have wheatgerm in their pantries), and I made my own plan with the wholewheat flour, using a mixture of unbleached stoneground white bread flour and wheat bran (wheat bran is the same stuff that you’d use to make bran muffins). I needed a little less milk than the original recipe stated, but the rest worked like a charm. Incredibly “short” and crunchy, almost like wholewheat shortbread, just sweet enough, tasting very very similar to original digestives. What a triumph!

 

 

I only had enough chocolate to partly cover about 3/4 of my cookies, but hey, nothing wrong with a few plain digestive cookies either.

You’re going to need a food processor for this recipe, as well as a rolling pin and a cookie cutter. The rest is quite literally childsplay.

Ingredients (slightly adapted from Bon Appetit’s original recipe, developed by Sohla El-Waylly)

  • ½ cup regular oats, toasted in a dry pan
  • 90 ml or 6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
  • 1 cups (125 g) white bread flour*, plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup wheat bran* (about 25 g)
  • ½ cup (125 g) cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk
  • about 100 g chocolate (milk or dark), chopped (optional)
Method:

Place two oven racks in upper and lower thirds of your oven and preheat to 180°C. Using a food processor, add the oats, flour, bran, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl. Process until very fine. Add the butter and pulse until it is well incorporated, then add the milk little by little and pulse until a crumbly dough forms (add just enough milk, you don’t want a dough that’s too sticky).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a ball. Now flatten it into a disk. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thickness (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Lightly flour a cookie cutter (I used a 45 – 45 mm square cutter with round edges, you can use whatever shape you want) and punch out cookies, dusting lightly with more flour as needed to avoid sticking. Dust any excess flour off the cookies with a dry pastry brush.

Using a spatula, transfer cookies to 2 baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Gently knead the scraps together, reroll, and punch out more cookies. (Bake any smaller scraps as is and crumble over ice cream!)

Prick each cookie 3 times with a fork and bake, rotating baking sheets top to bottom halfway through, until bottoms and edges are browned, 15–18 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets (cookies will crisp up as they cool).

If using, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave in 20-second increments, stirring after each burst, until almost fully melted, about 1 minute total, then let it stand for a minute to fully melt. Stir, then eave to clool for about 10 minutes before using.

Using a small offset spatula or butter knife and working one at a time, spread about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate over the flat underside of each cookie. Using the side edge of the spatula, tap a few lines into the chocolate to make a slight pattern. Chill cookies on baking sheets until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes.

Cookies will stay fresh for at least 3 weeks. Store airtight at room temperature.

Share this:

Easy flatbreads with roasted shallots

25 Mar

Roasted shallots make a phenomenal topping for flatbreads. Personalize your other toppings according to what you and your family likes.

 

As we’re all navigating a strange new reality within lockdown restrictions across the world, home cooking has become the centre of joy and recreation for many households. With limited outings to the shops, we’re all making the most of simple pantry ingredients plus whatever we have stocked in our fridges.

Dutoit Agri has approached me to create a shallot recipe a few days before our President’s first announcements of social distancing in South Africa, and we’ve decided to continue with this project as it can be a source of inspiration to many of us. Using a few economical pantry staples, you can whip up an easy dough for making flatbreads, even giving the kids a wonderful way to keep their (washed) hands busy. Shallots have a fantastic shelf life of 1-2 months, a long seasonality timeline (January – August), and they are so very versatile to use in an array of recipes. With a sweeter, milder taste than onions, they are also much more popular with kids. From using them raw in dressings and salads, to roasting them for a deeper flavour, they are an all-round winner in my pantry.

Shallots have a rose gold tint on their skins and are just so beautiful to look at. They are locally grown by Dutoit Agri and available from most leading supermarkets.

 

 

Shallots are members of the allium family, closely related to onions, garlic, and chives. Their bulbs grow in clusters, similar to cloves of garlic. The biggest distinction between shallots and other onions, besides their milder flavor, is their cellular structure: shallots break down much more easily when cooked, allowing for a softer level of caramelization, or a more subtle touch when creating a foundation in sauces etc.

Here’s my recipe for roasted, caramelized shallots – a fantastic topping for easy homemade flatbreads, but also a great side dish, or an addition on burgers etc. While I like my flatbread simply topped with feta, roasted shallots, thyme and olive oil, my daughter preferred to make hers more like a pizza, using pommodoro sauce, mozzarella and roasted shallots. Both were delicious! I topped mine with a swirl of good quality balsamic vinegar afterwards – just heavenly. It’s a meatless meal, economical, fun and full of flavour. Other toppings could be diced ham, fried bits of bacon, shaved courgettes, sliced brie or camembert, sliced figs etc. If you don’t have any of these, a drizzle of olive oil and some dried herbs plus a generous pinch of salt could also make a simple feast.

Before you start, remember to wash your hands (and the hands of your little helpers) properly, and to clean your work surfaces where you’ll be kneading the dough. Get ready, it’s a lot of fun!

 

My choice of toppings: roasted shallots, feta, thyme, black pepper, and olive oil. Serve with a swirl of balsamic vinegar – such a winning combo.

 

My 9-year old daughter’s choice of toppings: pommodoro sauce, mozzarella and roasted shallots. The freshest pizza in minutes!

 

Roasted shallots are so versatile – use it to top your next burger, or serve it with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

 

For the roasted shallots:

  • 1 kg shallots, peeled and quartered lengthways (look out for Dutoit Agri shallots) 
  • 45 ml olive oil
  • 15 ml red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
  • 30 ml honey, slightly warmed (pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds)
  • salt, to taste

Preheat your oven to 220 C. Arrange the shallot quarters in a roasting tray, then drizzle all over with the olive oil, vinegar and honey. Season with salt, then roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, then return for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the flatbreads: (serves 4)

  • 2 cups stone ground white bread flour (or use regular cake flour if it’s all you have)
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) sugar
  • 2,5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 180 ml lukewarm water
  • 15 ml olive oil

Place the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and stir. Add the water and oil and stir until it becomes sticky. Turn out on a clean surface, then knead to a soft, pliable dough. This is a great activity to get the kids (or a co-isolation housemate) involved! Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover to rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 230 C. Divide the puffy dough into 4. On a floured surface, roll out each of the four pieces into a freeform shape – basically oval works great. Transfer to a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Top with your favourite toppings (see below), then bake at 230 C for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wooden board or a plate, slice and serve immediately.

Possible toppings for assembling your flatbreads:

  • pommodoro (tomato) sauce, grated mozzarella and roasted shallots – great for kids
  • olive oil, feta, roasted shallots, thyme (fresh or dried), black pepper (add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar after baking)
  • grated cheddar, fried bacon bits, roasted shallots – great for kids
  • anchovies, capers, garlic, roasted shallots (top with fresh rocket leaves after baking)
  • basil pesto, sliced baby tomatoes, roasted shallots 

Thank you DuToit Agri for the inspiration.

Share this:

Chocolate chunk cookies

3 Mar

Nine years ago, one of my first blog posts was a recipe for chocolate chip cookies by Sannie Smit. Although the photograph showed that I still had a lot to learn (I’m being kind to myself here), it remains one of my blog recipes that I’ve returned to most over the years. I even have it bookmarked on my phone. If done right, they have a crispy edge and a chewey centre that reminds of a buttery blondie – the ultimate goal of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The slightly larger chocolate chunks give another textural layer apart from the actual chocolate flavour, so I prefer to eat them cooled and not warm. My daughter and I just love baking these together and the dough tastes just as good as the baked end result. It is choc chip cookie decadence at its best.

I’ve always found that the quality of chocolate chips (the small round ones, for baking) that we find in regular South African supermarkets is far inferior to what I actually want to taste, so I’ve resorted to mostly chopping my chocolate for these cookies from a slab of my choice. This way you also get some really chunky pieces of chocolate here and there, and each cookie is different. I made this batch with Valrhona’s Equatoriale Noire 55% chocolate – it comes in a catering size bag in the shape of bean-like discs, easy to chop with a knife. You’ll find these Valrhona disks in specialty stores like Wild Peacock in Stellenbosch, but you can certainly also use any good quality eating chocolate from your local supermarket, especially local brands like Afrikoa or De Villiers Chocolate (I prefer dark chocolate with a minimum of 55% cocoa, but some people prefer milk chocolate – the choice is yours).

Chocolate chunk cookies goes down so well with a glass of cold milk. 🙂

 

 

Ingredients: (makes about 26 medium size cookies)

Note: Recipe adapted from The A-Z Guide to Food and Cookery in SA by Sannie Smit and Margaret Fulton.

  • 125 g (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) tightly packed brown sugar
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) white sugar
  • 1 XL egg
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 300 ml (1 cup plus 3 tablespoons, or 160 g) cake flour
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoons) baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 2.5 ml salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 100-200 g good quality chocolate, chopped (don’t use less than 100 g, but 200 g is the maximum that I use)

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

In a medium size bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a second bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into wet mixture with a spoon or spatula until just combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate until just combined.

Drop tablespoons full of dough onto a greased baking tray,  leaving enough room for spreading. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown (do not overbake). Remove from oven and leave to cool on baking tray for a few minutes, before removing and cooling further on wire racks (they will still be very soft when straight from the oven, but will firm up on cooling). Store in an airtight container and enjoy within a few days.

Share this:

Blueberry pecan picnic cake

24 Feb

Gooey, pillowey, crunchy – all in one. One of the best picnic cakes I’ve ever tasted. The large black round plate is from Hertex HAUS.

 

This recipe comes from Food52’s Genius DessertsBlueberry Snack Cake with Toasted Pecans. Since I’ve bought the book, I’ve had this page bookmarked as one of the (copious) recipes I knew I needed to try. The cake came out exactly as it looks in the picture, and it is so incredibly good that I finished four slices before even writing this post.

I decided to bake it after picking a batch of blueberries from some of the wild trees that grow adjacent to the cultivated blueberry orchards on the farm that we live on. They’re the last few berries of the season, and most of the trees only carry a few shriveled little fruits. But if you look closely, here and there, a few hidden gems remain – perfect, small, plump, matte blueberries that would otherwise just fall from the tree in a few days.

A snack cake, or picnic cake, is a cake without icing that is easy to transport for enjoying elsewhere (like a picnic, camp, the office or school). Originally written by Brooke Dojny, this recipe is “a study in textures” according to Food 52’s Kristen Miglore. “There’s just enough cornmeal to give it structure and a yellow tint, without weighing down the batter. It bakes up airy and tender, with a crackly sheen and a top dotted with pecans.” I have to tell you, I cannot agree more. It’s moist en gooey because of the fruit, yet light and airy in the cake department, with a crunchy top that is a delight in itself. Kristen says that smaller blueberries will stay suspended in the cake, while larger berries tend to sink to the bottom – “neither could possibly be bad”.

I’m going to keep this one in my repertoire for good. It’s an absolute winner – my tweaks are minimal, you’ll see if you compare it to the original. I’m confident that you’ll love it just as much as I do. Happy baking!

A 23 cm square cake tin is a very versatile vessel for baking. I only recently bought one (November 2019), and I’ve used it very often since.

 

Ingredients: (serves 8)

  • 1 cup (125 g) stone ground white bread flour (or cake flour)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) polenta / maize meal (medium or fine)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2,5 ml) salt
  • 1/2 cup (110 g) butter, softened
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar, plus about 1 teaspoon extra for sprinkling
  • 2 XL eggs
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) milk
  • 1,5 teaspoons (7,5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups (300 g) blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup (100 g) pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 180 C with rack in the center. Grease and line a 23 cm square deep baking tin (I left some overhang on the baking paper so that the cake is easy to lift out afterwards).
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, use a whisk to stir the flour, polenta, baking powder and salt together.
  3. In a food processor (or bowl with electric whisk), cream the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs, milk, vanilla and lemon zest. Process (or whisk) until it is well combined – it might look a little curdled, that’s fine! Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until just incorporated.
  4. Gently fold in the berries until just combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared tin, smoothing the top. Sprinkle evenly with the nuts, then use your finger tips to sprinkle evenly all over with about 1 teaspoon of sugar.
  5. Bake at 180 C for 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and just cooked (test with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean). Remove from the oven and let it cool complete on a rack.
  6. Once cool, remove from the tin (use the baking paper flaps to lift it out) and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place – best eaten within a day. (Can be frozen for up to a month.)
Share this:

Chocolate berry cake

3 Feb

Chocolate cake drenched in mulberry coulis, topped with dark chocolate buttercream and fresh raspberries. Not perfect by a long shot, but incredibly satisfying – just like my blogging journey.

 

This is a celebratory post: The Food Fox blog is officially nine years old! Happy birthday to my digital baby!

Nine years is a long time, friends. The Food Fox was the start of a crazy ride in 2011, one that I jumped into with blind faith in the hope of carving out a way to create a sustainable income while being surrounded by food and writing. I learned that you can figure out almost anything via Google, made incredible connections online and in real life and actually found my tribe (coming from someone that’s fiercely independent, it was quite a revelation). Although the hustle is still very real – you’ll know what I mean if you’re a self-employed creative in a niche industry – I couldn’t have dreamt of a life that would reward me with this amount of freedom: creative freedom, freedom to schedule when and where and with whom I work, freedom to spend time with my family. Freedom, it might seem, turned out to be one of my most valued fundamental needs in life – something that I only realized over the past few years.

Although this blog probably won’t live forever, it has already opened so many doors of new possibilities. To celebrate this 9 year milestone, I baked a cake that resembles my journey over the past few years: far from perfect and certainly not as smooth on the surface as I’d hoped it to be, but rich, multi-layered and very rewarding. It’s a slight adaptation of a recipe from the book The Italian Baker by Melissa Forti, that I bought in December 2019 before embarking on a two-week catering marathon for an extended Italian family. I bookmarked the recipe for “Torta al cioccolate e lamponi” (chocolate and raspberry cake) because when anyone touts a chocolate cake to be the best they’ve ever eaten, you’ve got my attention.

The cake-part is one of the most deliciously moist chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted, and I’ll definitely keep it in my repertoire. It includes buttermilk, oil and bicarb, and it’s very easy to put together. It also features a strained berry coulis made from raspberries blended with a simple sugar syrup and a dash of raspberry eau de vie (which I substituted with mulberries from our tree that I froze in December for a special occasion like this, and a little dash of aged brandy). The coulis makes the cake a little more expensive and time consuming, but it adds even more moistness and some stunning berry flavours that work incredibly well with the dark chocolate. Then, the chocolate frosting was quite a find: Melissa uses less butter than a normal buttercream (I would usually use 1 part butter to 2 parts icing sugar, or in this case 250 g butter for 500 g icing sugar), but she uses 170g butter with 560 g icing sugar, adds a whopping full cup of cocoa powder, and mixes it with 80 ml milk to soften it. This results in a very soft and creamy buttercream that can be refrigerated after you’ve frosted the cake, without turning brick hard (because with the February heat in Stellenbosch, and a cake topped with fresh berries, you’re going to want to store it in the fridge).

A slice of cake – it slices beautifully when refrigerated. Thank you Tasha for the use of your beautiful plate that stayed behind from a previous shoot!

 

I iced and photographed the cake when it was still a little luke warm, which you shouldn’t do. I was just being hasty because I’m a total glutton and couldn’t resist tasting the cake. After eating three messy but super delicious slices and then refrigerating the cake, it turned out to be much more stable for slicing (I then photographed the neat slice above). Do refrigerate it in warm weather for a beautiful result when cutting.

I’m feeling ready for renewal and growth in 2020 (definitely still involving a lot of writing, recipes, photographs and videography) and I look forward to sharing the changes and exciting new additions with you as we go along. In the meantime, I’ll be honing my photography skills with my new (well, second hand) 100 mm Canon lens – something that I’ve been yearning to own for years, and finally got to do so end of 2019. I’ve also enrolled in learning Italian on a nifty little phone app – quite fun, and a sure way of finding inspiration for saving up to FINALLY visit Italy.

I wish you all a year of finding freedom, creative inspiration and the courage to follow your true path.

 

Ingredients (recipe adapted from Melissa Forti‘s The Italian Baker)

For the cake:

  • 250 g cake flour
  • 400 g (2 cups) caster sugar
  • 80 g (3/4 cup) good quality cocoa powder
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) baking powder
  • 5 ml (2 teaspoons) baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) salt
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 5 ml vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease 2 x 20 cm loose bottom cake tins and line the bases with non-stick baking paper. In a large bowl, sift the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and salt together. In a second large bowl, add the eggs, buttermilk, water, oil and vanilla and whisk together using an electric whisk (or stand mixer with whisk attachment). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined, scraping the bowl. Divide the batter into the two tins, then bake for 35 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before turning out to cool completely on wire racks.

For the berry coulis:

  • 100 g caster sugar (use less if your berries are very sweet)
  • 45 ml water
  • 340 g frozen berries, thawed (raspberry or mulberry or mixed red berries)
  • 5 ml raspberry liqueur, optional (or brandy)

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the sugar has completely dissolved, then remove from the heat to cool for 15 minutes. Add the syrup and berries to a blender, process to a puree, then strain to remove the seeds, then stir in the liqueur or brandy (optional). Refrigerate the strained coulis until ready to use.

For the chocolate frosting:

  • 180 g butter, softened
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • 105 g (1 cup) cocoa powder
  • 80-100 ml milk, at room temperature
  • 500 g icing sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the softened butter and vanilla until creamy. Add the cocoa powder and mix for about 15 seconds, then add a little milk and mix. Continue by adding a little icing sugar, then milk, then icing sugar, beating until it is very smooth and creamy and a soft spreadable consistency (if the mixture is too stiff, add a little more milk, if it is too runny, add a little more icing sugar).

To assemble:

  • about 125 g fresh berries, for topping (or more, if you want to cover the full top surface of the cake)

Slice the rounded tops off both cake layers if you want a neat, flat result (I always ice the off-cuts and eat them while icing the rest!). Place the first layer on a cake plate and top generously with the coulis (it will continue to penetrate the cake on standing). Top with a generous layer of frosting, then place the second cake layer on top. Use the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake, using a spatula to neatly scrape the sides to form a smooth-ish surface. Cover and refrigerate for best slicing results; best eaten at moderate room temperature.

Note: Melissa spreads the coulis only on one cake layer, before topping it with the other half, but I cut each layer horizontally to spread it with more coulis – it’s not necessary but the choice is yours. The cake is very soft when freshly baked, so handle with care.

Share this:

White chocolate & pecan nut blondies

9 Dec

Blondies – one of my favourite indulgent treats.

 

During this time of the year, all I really want to do is bake. I whip out all of my favourite baking books and I page through them for festive inspiration. Yesterday, I was looking through my Food 52 Genius Desserts book when I saw a marker for this blondie recipe – one that I haven’t had time to make since putting that marker there exactly one year ago.

I absolutely adore brownies. If you don’t know what a blondie is, it’s the “blonder” version of a brownie – a sweet and fudgey square made from flour, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla (no cocoa powder) that is very close in taste to a chocolate chip cookie with a butterscotch edge. Chocolate chips and nuts are optional, but you’ll find a wide array of variations online from all over the world. This specific recipe was originally developed by America’s Test Kitchen for Cook’s Illustrated (the Americans are wonderfully obsessed by chocolate brownies and any dense baked sweet square) and they did everything to take the “fluffiness of cake” out of the recipe, resulting in an almost crackly top, a comforting chew and a welcome medium density – all marks of a great blondie. I’ve gone a little further by swopping the cake flour for white bread flour, using XL eggs instead of large and reducing the brown sugar from 300 g to 250 g (using relatively sweet white chocolate only instead of white and milk, to keep it “blonder”). Although white chocolate isn’t technically a chocolate, it provides a great creamy textural element and added richness. The toasted pecans are the bomb, as well as their choice of adding 4 whole teaspoons of vanilla extract (!). Quoting from Food 52 Genius Desserts: “Once you stop putting a single teaspoon into baking recipes because it’s what you’ve always done, you can embrace vanilla as a flavor all on its own – complex, haunting, memorable.” I couldn’t have said it better!

Here’s their recipe, lightly adjusted. You’ll find the original on Food 52’s website.

Toasted pecan nuts adds the necessary crunch and a deep nutty flavour to these blondies.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (100 g) pecan or walnut halves
  • 1,5 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour (I used stone ground white bread flour)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2,5 ml) salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled (I used salted)
  • 1,5 cups (300 g) light brown sugar
  • 2 XL eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 150 g white chocolate chips, or a mixture of white and milk chocolate chips (or just chop a slab of chocolate by hand)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 175 C with rack in the centre. Spread the nuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Let them cool, then transfer to a cutting board and coarsley chop them.
  2. While the nuts toast, line a 23-33 cm (or 27 x 27 cm) metal baking tin with non-stick baking paper.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the butter and brown sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts and scrape the batter into the prepared tin, smoothing out the surface and edging it into the corners.
  4. Bake until the top is shiny, cracked and lightly golden at the edges, about 22 minutes – err on the side of underbaking so they won’t dry out. Let cool in the pan on a rack.
  5. Lift out the lined slab of blondies tugging on the paper onto a cutting board, then cut into squares or bars. Store airtight at room temp or keep them a bit longer in the fridge or freezer (they taste great when cold!).

Although your edges will turn a litter darker than the middle, never overbake a blondie. You want that soft chew magic.

 

They cut easily – if you use a sharp non-serrated knife – with very few crumbs.

Share this:

Best cocoa brownies from Food52 Genius Desserts

30 Sep

 

Last year December, I bought Food52‘s incredible book, Genius Desserts. To say that this book is an inspiration, is an understatement. It is one of the best baking books out there for people with a serious sweet tooth that want to explore decadent, professionally tested, winning recipes. It also specifically resonates with me, because it is written in a language that speaks to my word-obsessed, food-adoring, recipe-focused brain.

As I’ve declared before: I. LOVE. BROWNIES. I dream about them. I search for them. I inhale them. I have long conversations about them. I sometimes bake them, but I more often test other people’s offerings. I’ve eaten some incredible versions in my life, but I don’t have a go-to version recently, to be honest. This post will rectify that, I assure you. So let’s start with the facts: brownies should be decadently chocolatey, fudgy and squidgy, not overly dominated by nuts, but with the addition of a soft walnut/pecan crunch here and there for texture. It should be cakey only in the way that it’s not completely dense like a no-bake chocolate fudge square. But dense enough to be considered almost underbaked, like a flourless chocolate cake, but less fragile. There’s that fine line between a great brownie and a perfect brownie, and I think I’ve just found the recipe (written by Alice Medrich) that allows you to create simple perfection. As the book states: “Alice knows chocolate. It speaks to her. We’re lucky to have her as a translator.”

 

The incredible thing is this: the best brownies are usually made with good quality (expensive) chocolate, but this recipe only uses cocoa powder and a few other simple ingredients – butter, flour, eggs, vanilla, salt, walnuts. The magic is in the way it is mixed and heated, starting over a water bath and later vigorously beaten for an exact “40 strokes”, leaving you slightly breathless yet exhilarated with your bowl of rich, thick, oozing, dark treasure. It is baked for a mere 25 minutes at 165 C, resulting in something that you might consider under-baked at first. But when it sets to room temperature, it is just perfect: intensely chocolatey, so moist that it will actually be spreadable if you try, but holds together just barely enough to be cut and held. Lastly, the added salt flakes provide lyrical depth.

Here it is – apart from the slightly finicky water bath, the rest is straight forward wooden spoon stirring. If you’re prepared to follow the recipe to a T, you will be richly (ahem) rewarded . For brownie connoisseurs, this recipe is an incredible find, and a must-try.

 

Ingredients: makes 24 square brownies (recipe slightly adapted* from Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies via Food 52 Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore)

*Notes: I don’t own a square 20 x 20 cm pan, so I made a batch that’s 1,5 times the original to fit a more commonly found baking tin size in South Africa, namely 20 x 30 cm. I also used salted butter instead of unsalted, upped the added salt and vanilla ratios slightly and used XL eggs instead of large. I chose to bake with Gideon Milling’s stone ground cake wheat flour, which is in my experience the best substitute for American recipes calling for all purpose flour.

  • 230 g salted butter
  • 375 g sugar
  • 125 g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ml vanilla extract
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 100 g cake flour (see notes above)
  • about 100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • salt flakes, for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 165 C. Line the bottom and sides of a 20 x 30 cm rectangular baking pan/tin with non-stick baking paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water (the bowl can touch the water directly, in this case, but should “sit” on the edges of the pot and not on the bottom). Stir with a wooden spoon from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. (It might look gritty here but don’t worry, it will smooth out later.) Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts. Spread evenly in the lined pan, edging it into the corners.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter. Let cool completely on a rack in the tin.
  5. Lift up the ends of the lined paper, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares. If your room temperature is very warm, refrigerate the brownies before cutting for a more neat, even edge. Serve at room temperature, optionally sprinkled with salt flakes just before serving (can be stored in a covered container for a few days, without the salt flakes as they will draw water and “melt” into the brownies).
Share this:

Stephanie Alexander’s “best-ever cheesecake”

3 Jun

A silky, creamy cheesecake with an almost custard-like consistency. Served with fresh passion fruit pulp.

 

My friend Tasha Seccombe and I share a love for baking, and for all things sweet and indulgent. Over the years, she has told me numerously about one of her favourite cookbooks, The Cook’s Companion, by Stephanie Alexander. It’s an Australian “food bible” of sorts and has sold more than 500 000 copies since it’s first print in 1996. In this book, Tasha said, is a recipe for a cheesecake that is the silkiest she had ever tasted, with a texture that barely holds together as it wobbles from the oven and finally sets in the fridge. I was more than a little intrigued and finally asked her to send me the recipe last week.

I’ve published a few cheesecake recipes on my blog before, and I feel that all of them have a specific place in the world of cheesecakes. Whether it’s a more crumbly crustless ricotta cheesecake, or a classic cheesecake, a pecan cheesecake, a white chocolate cheesecake, or even a freezer cheesecake, I love them all. It’s weird though, because in my mind, I associate cheesecake with coffee chops in the 1990’s. Classic as it is, it surely isn’t currently trending in any way and has kind of slipped my mind as an option to make at home or order in a restaurant.

In Stephanie Alexander’s book, she had taken the bold step to actually call it “Best-Ever Cheesecake”. For a woman of her stature and expertise, this should surely mean something! As with many other baked cheesecake recipes, this recipe calls for digestive biscuits and butter in the base. The difference comes in with the cheesecake being baked in a water bath, with quite a runny filling (lining the pan with foil over the base is imperative – just follow the instructions). It spends 1 hour at 180 C (Stephanie says 50 min, but I found that 1 hour is better for my oven), then another hour with the oven turned off. It is still very wobbly when it is taken from the oven to cool on the counter, and only really sets in the fridge after a few hours. The result is a truly silky, smooth and creamy cheesecake with no grainy or crumbly texture, not too sweet, just the essence of cool, comforting, dairy indulgence with a classic cookie base that holds everything together.

Is it the best-ever? That might depend on how you like your cheesecake. It sure is incredibly good – you were right, Tasha. So good that I ate half of that cheesecake myself, within a day. This recipe is a keeper and I’ll surely make it again.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 250 g wheatmeal/digestive biscuits (Stephanie uses 300g, but I’ve found that 250g is enough)
  • 500 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 15 ml cornflour
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 30 ml lemon juice
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (500 ml) sour cream

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Use a little melted butter to brush the sides and base of the 22 x 6 cm spring-form cake tin.
  2. Prepare the tin: Remove the base from the tin. Cut a round of baking paper the same size of the base, brush with butter and set aside. Cut 2 sheets of foil, 40 x 40 cm, and place them on top of each other on the brushed base. Place the baking paper round on top of the foils, then sit the springform tin over the stack and lock the triple-lined base firmly into place. Fold the overhanging foil sides to the top and out of the way to create a water tight container.
  3. For the base: crush the cookies in a food processor, then add the remaining butter and mix to combine. Press it firmly into the base of the prepared tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a drinking/whiskey glass.
  4. For the filling: Using an electric mixer with a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and caster sugar until smooth. Add the cornflour and then add the egg one at a time, beating until just smooth (do not beat too much air into it). Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt, then beat until just combined, scraping the sides. Lastly, add the sour cream and beat briefly until just mixed. Pour into the prepared base, then put the tin into a larger deep baking tray and fill it with boiling water to come half way up the sides of the tin.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes at 180 C, then turn off the oven without opening the door and leave the cheesecake for another hour in the oven. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack (remove it from the water bath and open up the sides of the foil to release any trapped water). Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set fully.
  6. Run a knife around the inside of the tin, then release the sides and remove the lined base. Transfer the cheesecake to a plate. Slice and serve, topped with fresh passion fruit pulp or fresh berries.

Share this:

Pecan shortbread cookies

23 May

Freshly baked pecan shortbread cookies, dusted with icing sugar. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

This is a magnificent recipe from my very first handwritten recipe book that I compiled as a child in the early 1990’s. It reminds me of the icing sugar dusted shortbread that I saw in almost every confectionery shop while traveling in Greece in 2010 (except they mostly had a crescent shape).

Unfortunately I have no idea where this recipe came from, and thus cannot give the rightful credit to the writer. If anyone out there recognizes this exact recipe or can identify the origin, please let me know.

This cookie is like an ultimate nut-flavoured shortbread. It is luxurious, yet really easy to make. I absolutely love pecan nuts, and this cookie catches the essence of pecans in one buttery, delightful bite.

Note: These cookies were photographed in 2015, but I never posted it on my blog! Now that I’ve recently settled into a new kitchen that is much bigger than my previous one, I’ve got my baking mojo on and I’m ready to explore some of my best older recipes and definitely many new ones. Hope you love this one!

Pecans are (along with almonds) my favourite nuts to bake with. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Ingredients: (makes 20-24)

  • 125 g butter, soft
  • 250 ml (140 g) self-raising flour
  • 50 g pecan nuts, finely chopped
  • 2,5 ml vanilla extract
  • 50 ml (25 g) icing sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 20-24 whole pecan nuts

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160 C and line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
  2. Place all the ingredients except for the whole pecan nuts in a food processor or stand mixer and mix until it comes together in a ball of dough. Do not overmix.
  3. Roll balls of dough about the size of a small walnut and place on the lined tray, leaving enough space in between. Use the back of a water/whiskey glass (flat surface) to flatten each cookie. Dip the flat glass surface in flour if it starts to stick.
  4. Place a whole pecan nut in the middle of each cookie and gently press to stick. Bake for 25 minutes until lightly straw coloured, not brown.
  5. Remove from the oven, then immediately dust with icing sugar using a sieve. Leave to cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Share this:

Plum tarte tatin

5 Apr

Simple, seasonal plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche.

 

Last week we had a “sibling dinner” at my sister’s place. I am the second oldest of 4 siblings, my sister being a year older and two brothers younger than me (4 years and 6 years younger). Between the four of us, we have 3 kids. Each of us has a partner too. So that makes for a loud, lovely bunch together!

My sister and her husband cooked homemade gnocchi with flame grilled steak and mushroom sauce for dinner – just incredible. We’re all huge food lovers and we all love cooking, so no effort is spared. For dessert, my sister asked to help her put a quick tarte tatin together, using some of the last plums of the season left on the trees across the road. I haven’t made a tarte tatin for years, because in June 2015 I had a dangerous mishap in the kitchen while demonstrating a party-size tarte tatin to a crowd: I flipped the bubbling hot caramel pan over using a plate that didn’t quite fit the pan, and the hot caramel landed all over my chest. Needless to say, I still bare the scars.

It was a reminder that one should always take time and care while cooking, never to rush things when you’re tired or overworked, and pausing to rethink situations that might be potentially dangerous. Yet, making this simple tarte tatin with my sister again, reminded me of how four simple ingredients can be turned into the most delicious dessert imaginable – so simple, so elegant, so celebratory of the season.

Isn’t that what life is about? Pausing, learning, overcoming fears, being present, enjoying life’s simple pleasures. I went home with a bag of freshly picked plums and cooked another plum tarte tatin a day later, wrapping the hot pan and plate in an old towel before carefully flipping it over. A little spillage (not on my skin this time), but so much delight! I’ll be making this tart again and again this year.

A slice of plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche. Linens from Design Team / Peppertree Bags: Runner – Succulent, charcoal on parchment. Napkin: Stilo – sage on parchment.

 

Ingredients: (serves 8)

  • 1 cup (200 g) white sugar
  • 90 g butter
  • roughly 800 g ripe yet firm plums, halved, pits removed
  • 500 g frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • creme fraiche of vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Using a 23-28 cm wide x 5cm deep round pan that is oven-safe (choose a suitably sized turning-out-plate for your pan before you go ahead with the cooking – test it to see if it fits, and set it aside for later), melt the butter slowly and add the sugar. Bring to a slow boil, then quickly arrange the plum halves tightly in the pan, cut sides down.
  2. Turn the heat up, and boil until the sugar and butter for about 5 minutes to form a golden caramel, carefully shaking the pan now and then. Watch it closely and remove from heat to prevent it from boiling over. Remove from heat to cool completely in the pan – about 30 minutes is fine, but can be left longer.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Roll out puff pastry and cut into a circle that is slightly larger than the pan (cut and paste your sheet of rectangular pastry to first form a square, if necessary). Cover the plums with the pastry, tucking in the edges so that the fruit is contained. Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits for the steam to escape, then bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
  4. Remove from oven, then place a serving dish on top of the pan and carefully turn upside down (work quickly, but be very careful!). Remove the pan. If any fruit has moved out of place, now is the time to carefully put them back in place if necessary.
  5. Slice and serve warm, with or without cream / creme fraiche / ice cream.

Tip: Only use a tin or a pan that is completely made from metal/iron – plastic handles will melt in the oven. Always remember to use a heat-proof cloth to handle the hot pan.

The simplicity of this dish is the key to its success.

Crispy pastry soaked with fruity caramel syrup, against soft, sweet and tart fruit.

Share this:
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Instagram
YouTube