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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).
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Cape Mediterranean: the way we love to eat – IN STORES NOW

10 Jul

It is with the greatest pleasure that I share the arrival of my first cookbook with you! It is titled Cape Mediterranean: the way we love to eat, published by Penguin Random House / Struik Lifestyle, with photography by my dear friend Tasha Seccombe. The book is available from this week in most South African book stores as well as online (Loot.co.za, Bidorbuy.co.za, Amazon.com, ExclusiveBooks.co.za etc.) and as an e-book at a recommended retail price of R360.

Writing a cookbook (hopefully one of many to come) has been one of my biggest aspirations for many years. In June 2018 I finally approached the legendary Linda de Villiers from PRH with my concept. Apart from agreeing to publish my book, she and her team have made this process the smoothest and most pleasant that I could have ever wished for and I am so grateful for their belief in my concept. It was a privilege to produce this book with my incredibly talented friend Tasha Seccombe who photographed & styled while I cooked and co-styled – I couldn’t have done it without her. With ceramics, fabrics, background textures and props provided by our friends from Hertex, Hertex HAUS, Mervyn Gers & Southern Art Ceramics, this book has a very unique local look and feel.

A Cape Mediterranean spread, featuring green-on-green salad, loaded hummus, fennel & apple salad, pork & port terrine, trout fillets and panzanella. Photography by Tasha Seccombe. From my book, Cape Mediterranean – the way we love to eat.

 

So let’s talk about the book’s theme. Cape Mediterranean food/cooking is a contemporary South African hybrid cuisine strongly influenced by the broader Mediterranean basin (Southwestern Europe, Middle East and northern Africa, surrounding the Mediterranean Sea) that has developed naturally from within the Western Cape due to the inherent Mediterranean climate and the abundant occurrence of classic Mediterranean-style local produce. It is not defined by race or ethnicity. Although ‘Mediterranean cuisine’ is still a term that isn’t easily defined and varies across the wider basin, it is mostly accepted to be driven by olive oil, wheat, grapes (wine), fruit, vegetables and seafood, also including dairy and meat. The more well-known Cape Malay, Cape Dutch and indigenous African styles of cooking are well settled within South Africa.

With this book, I would like to add another Cape hybrid to our rainbow repertoire: contemporary Cape Mediterranean (Cape-Med) – a South African style of cooking and entertaining influenced by one of the oldest and arguably also the healthiest cuisines in the world.

What are the biggest differences between traditional ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘Cape Mediterranean’? In South Africa, we traditionally consume more meat than in the Mediterranean basin. Also, our exceptional local olive oil industry is still very young compared to the Mediterranean basin, which has an olive producing history dating back to 2600 BCE, according to some sources. Few of us know how to make fresh homemade pasta or gnocchi (we mostly prefer the quick and easy store-bought dried versions), although they are both very popular items on restaurant menus. However, our culture of alfresco dining because of good weather is shared, as is our love of good wine and an active outdoor lifestyle. This book focuses on contemporary South African gatherings, not heritage food nor nostalgia. You won’t find any twists on milk tart, chakalaka or bobotie. Cape Mediterranean cooking is a natural South African interpretation of classic Mediterranean-style cooking, celebrating our Western Cape-based Mediterranean climate, worldclass local produce and dedicated producers.

May this book bring many hours of joy and togetherness around your table! Please tag me with #CapeMed if you’re sharing your cooking experiences from this book on social media.

I’d like to share one of my favourite recipes from the book with you: a festive pavlova with lemon curd & passion fruit. Lemons are one of the cornerstone ingredients for Mediterranean & Cape Mediterranean cooking – they’re listed in more than 40% of the book’s recipes. This specific recipe was created in collaboration with Lemongold – the newly launched cousins of the much loved Clemengold premium citrus brand. These seedless, thin-skinned, extra juicy lemons are perfect for making lemon curd, for cooking, for squeezing, for juicing etc, without the hassle of removing seeds. Lemongolds are grown widely in SA and forms part of Woolworths’ “Farming for the Future” sustainability programme.

A classic pavlova topped with whipped cream, lemon curd and fresh passion fruit. Photography by Tasha Seccombe. From my book Cape Mediterranean – the way we love to eat.

 

Ingredients: (serves 8)

6 XL egg whites (save the yolks and make *lemon curd)
400 g caster sugar (extra fine sugar)
10 ml (2 teaspoon) white vinegar or lemon juice
15 ml (1 tablespoon) corn flour
1 teaspoons vanilla extract (or scraped seeds of a vanilla pod)
250 ml fresh cream, whipped
about 1 cup *lemon curd, for topping (see page xxx)
pulp of about 4 fresh passion fruits

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 150 C. Whisk egg whites in a large bowl (with an electric whisk or stand mixer with whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Gradually add castor sugar to egg whites, small amounts at a time, whisking constantly until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Add the vinegar/lemon juice, cornstarch and vanilla and mix well.
Dot a big roasting tray with some of the mixture then place a sheet of baking paper on top (sticking like glue). Pour the pavlova mixture on the tray and shape with a spoon or spatula into a round shape with a diameter of about 23 cm, like a cake (draw a circle on the back of your baking paper, if necessary). The mixture will rise a bit to the sides, so leave enough space. Place in the oven and immediately turn down the temperature to 120 C. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave to cool (in the oven) for about 2,5 hours without opening the oven door.

To serve: Carefully remove the baking paper from the bottom of pavlova and transfer to a serving dish (it will have a few cracks, that’s 100%). Top with whipped cream and lemon curd, swirling the cream and curd together softly. Top with lashings of passion fruit pulp and serve at once, sliced.

Note: Pavlova must be assembled just before serving as it becomes soggy on standing. Store the unassembled baked pavlova on the baking tray covered with a sealed large plastic bag. Can be baked a day ahead if stored airtight.

For the lemon curd:

You only need three lemons to make 500 ml (2 cups) lemon curd. It’s a phenomenal spread for cakes, cookies and pavlova, and will last for at least a week in the refrigerator, once opened.  I usually make my lemon curd with four whole eggs, but when I’ve made a pavlova using six egg whites, I use the remaining six yolks instead of whole eggs. Use whatever you have on hand.

Ingredients: (makes 500 ml/2 cups)

peeled rind and juice of 3 medium-size lemons / Lemongolds
250 ml (1 cup) white sugar
180 g soft butter
4 XL eggs (or 6 XL egg yolks)
a pinch salt

Method:

Place the peeled rind and sugar in a food processor and process until you get a very fine, yellow, grainy mixture. Add the butter and process until light and creamy. Add the eggs and salt and mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl. Transfer to a small saucepan over very low heat. Stir continuously while it heats up (take care, it burns easily). The mixture will at first become runnier as the butter starts to melt, and then it will thicken again as the eggs form a glossy custard. Never let it reach boiling point. If at any stage it looks like it’s burning, remove from the heat at once and strain to remove any brown bits. Remove from the heat and transfer to a glass jar with a lid. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use – the mixture will continue to thicken on cooling. (Note: For an ultra-silky result, strain the hot mixture before cooling.) Best served at room temperature – spread it on cakes or cookies, or serve with meringues (Eaton mess-style) and on pavlova.

Note: In this photograph, I used freshly made lemon curd that has not cooled fully – that’s why it has a more runny consistency. Your lemon curd will be thick and spreadable once refrigerated.

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Chocolate swirl individual pavlovas

1 Jul

Individual chocolate swirl pavlovas topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

This is a recipe that I originally created in 2017, but failed to ever publish here. I’ve created so many different recipes for pavlova on my blog – it never disappoints when ending off a celebratory feast in style. So let’s make room for yet another one: chocolate swirl individual pavlovas with cream and dark berries. It covers all the bases of a great dessert in one go: chocolatey, crunchy, gooey, creamy, tangy, sweet and indulgent.

Now that we live on a berry farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, it seems only apt to be celebrating the fruit of our neighbours’ labour. We see their teams working in the berry orchards often, pruning and plowing in the winter mud to get ready for a new season. The recipe was created during January some years ago, so those dark berries might not be locally in season right now (although I’ve seen some amazing berries in some local supermarkets recently). Keep this one up your sleeve for when you find nice big batch of fresh seasonal berries in store. The chocolate meringues are decadently sweet and indulgent, so they definitely need an unsweetened whipped cream or double thick yoghurt topping, and some tart berries. A sifting of dark cocoa powder makes them mysteriously dreamy.

Ingredients: (makes 6)

  • 4 XL egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
  • 5 ml white vinegar
  • 10 ml corn flour (Maizena)
  • 80 ml 50-70% dark chocolate, melted
  • 250 ml fresh cream, whipped to soft peaks (or thick double cream plain yoghurt)
  • about 2 cups fresh mulberries and blue berries
  • about 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 150 C. Line a standard baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until white and foamy (soft peaks).
  3. Start adding the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time every 30 seconds or so, whisking on high speed. When the sugar is well combined and the mixture is stiff and glossy, add the vinegar and corn flour and whisk until well mixed.
  4. Turn the mixer off. Add the dark chocolate to the bowl and use a spatula to quickly swirl it into the meringue mixture. Do not mix too much, one or two quick turns will be enough as you want to keep the dark chocolate swirls visible (and it will continue to mix when you spoon it onto your baking tray).
  5. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared baking tray in 6 individual round shapes. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 120 C. Bake for 50 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlovas in the oven without opening the door to cool for at least 3 hours (or overnight).
  6. When completely cool, serve dusted with cocoa powder, topped with whipped cream, fresh berries and toasted almonds. Serve at once. (Unassembled meringues can me stored in an air tight container for up to 3 days.)

Individual chocolate swirl pavlovas, before adding your toppings. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Note: Your can store the pavlovas (without toppings) in an air tight container for a day. After this, they will still be edible for another day or two, but they will lose some of their crunch and might collapse in the middle. If you want to pack them for a picnic dessert, opt for double cream yoghurt instead of whipped cream, and assemble them on location instead of ahead.

Also check out a few of my other pavlova recipes:

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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.

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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.

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Fig frangipane tart

4 Mar

Buttery, flaky pastry on the outside, squishy sweet almond filling on the inside. (Table runner & napkins by Design Team Fabrics & Peppertree Bags. Plate & bowl by Hertex HAUS. Photography & styling by Ilse van der Merwe.)

 

I recently bought a 10kg crate of beautiful, purple figs for making preserves. After processing the ripest fruit into jars of soft set conserves, spiced sweet pickles and two large racks of dried figs, a bowl full of firmer figs were set aside for making a tart or two.

Squidgy almond pastries are the stuff my dreams are made of, and this fig frangipane tart ticks all the boxes. The pastry base is buttery and flaky (no blind baking required), the frangipane filling is moist and gooey, and the beautiful figs bake to a soft consistency that showcases their natural jammy goodness.

This tart is best served at room temperature, with or without a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Linen by Design Team | Napkins: Garden Bloom, parchment on sky. Table Runner: Small Line Protea, prime parchment OP on charcoal.

For the pastry base: (enough for 2 tart bases, recipe adapted from The Ultimate Snowflake Collection by Heilie Pienaar)

  • 500 ml (280 g) cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2,5 ml) salt
  • 15 ml caster sugar
  • 200 g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 XL egg yolk
  • about 20 ml ice-cold water
  • 5 ml fresh lemon juice

Method:

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk the yolk, water and lemon juice together, then add it to the flour/butter mixture. Process until it comes together in a ball, then transfer to a sheet of cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up.

Spray a 23 cm fluted loose bottom tart tin with non-stick baking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the pastry dough to a thickness of about 3 mm. The pastry will easily tear, but don’t worry – you can patch it easily by pressing excess dough into the cracks. Transfer the rolled out dough carefully into the tin and press it neatly into the corners. Cut the excess pastry neatly off on the edges. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the tart all over. Now it is ready for the filling (see below).

Note: The second half of the pastry can be frozen for another time, otherwise refrigerate and use within 3 days.

For the filling:

  • 90 g soft butter
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) caster sugar
  • 2 XL eggs
  • 5 ml almond essence
  • 100 g ground almonds
  • 15 ml cake flour
  • about 10 medium or 15 small figs, halved
  • 10 ml smooth apricot/fig jam, heated, for brushing

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Place the butter and caster sugar in a food processor and mix until creamy (you can also use electric beaters). Add the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping the sides. Add the essence, ground almonds and flour and mix well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin lined with pastry, and tilt it to evenly fill the bottom. Arrange the fig halves cut sides up in the tin (the filling will rise a little inbetween, so don’t be alarmed if it seems to be a little “shallow”).

Bake at 200 C for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180 C and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the filling has puffed up and is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, then gently brush all over with the heated jam, taking care not to break up the tender surface. Let it cool completely, then remove the tin casing and serve in slices.

This fig frangipane tart makes an elegant tea time treat, and can also be served as a dessert.

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Soft scoop white fudge ice cream (easy, no churn recipe)

18 Jun

Serve this ultra creamy ice cream in small dosages – mini sugar cones work perfectly. Making cookie sandwiches will also be a great choice.

Who said you can’t have ice cream in Winter?

There’s a new product on the market called “Velvet” by First Choice – you might have seen me explore it in a Facebook video. It comes in a 1 liter recyclable container (similar to long-life custard) and it is tartrazine/colourant/MSG-free. It’s available in four flavours: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butterscotch and retails around R30/liter. It’s an interesting new addition to the dairy market, because in my opinion it’s a completely new category. Velvet vanilla tastes similar to melted ice cream, or sweetened flavoured cream, with the texture of runny custard or slightly thickened cream. The makers have attached the hashtag #itswhatyoumakeit, and I can understand why – it’s versatile, it’s velvety, it’s custardy, and it’s really delicious.

I can absolutely just have it as it is, straight from the box – on baked puddings, with poached fruit, with fresh berries or warm tarts. But you can also whip the Velvet when chilled, freeze it and voila – ice cream. It pretty much doubles in volume, and you cannot really over-whip it like you can with cream or double cream (it takes a little bit longer than fresh cream to whip to soft peaks), so it’s a safe bet. And the best thing: you don’t have to add sugar, you don’t have to boil cream and temper eggs, no mess no fuss.

So, I’ve had these mini sugar cones in the cupboard for a few weeks since the end of summer. They’ve been teasing me for a really decadent small-dosage canapé-type ice-cream vibe, something that is rich enough that you won’t need a bowl full, only a bite. I decided to boil some condensed milk in the microwave until it reduced to a pale off-white caramel with a fudgy consistency. After cooling, I scooped it into a blender with 500 ml Velvet vanilla, blitzed it until well mixed, then transferred it to a mixing bowl and whisked until doubled in volume. Pour into a container and pop in the freezer for a few hours. The result is an intensely creamy, soft scoop ice cream with an outrageously smooth texture, and a flavour that I can only describe as “white fudge” – vanilla mixed with fudgy condensed milk. It’s insanely delicious and decadent, perfect for a mini sugar cone dessert canapé.

I’m going to keep playing around with First Choice’s Velvet range – I’m sure there are many sweet treats that can be made with low effort and big results.

Note: Remember, you can also just whip the chilled Velvet as it, and freeze it to get an amazing, easy ice cream. Play around and fold in some fun flavours when already whisked, like berry sauce, lemon curd, blitzed fruit puree, chocolate chips, crushed cookies, etc. – the sky’s the limit!

Ingredients: (make this recipe a day ahead, to leave enough room for cooling and freezing time)

500 ml First Choice Velvet, vanilla flavour

1 can condensed milk

12-24 mini sugar cones, for serving

sprinkles, for serving

Method:

  1. Place the Velvet in the fridge to chill (at least an hour).
  2. Place the condensed milk in a large microwaveable container, at least 1 liter capacity. Cook the condensed milk uncovered for 2 minutes, then stir well. Continue cooking it at 30 second  to 1 minute intervals, stirring inbetween and watching in closely so that it doesn’t boil over the sides. When the condensed milk is reduced by about 1/3 and starts to look almost like it wants to split, remove from the microwave, stir vigorously until smooth, then leave to cool completely. It will continue to thicken on standing. Note: The cooking process takes about 12-15 minutes, cooling will take about 45 min.
  3. Place the cooled condensed milk and chilled Velvet in a blender or food processor (the condensed milk will now have a consistency similar to fudge, so you won’t be able to whisk it straight into the Velvet), then blend/process until almost mixed but still sligthly grainy. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then whisk with an electric hand whisk (or stand mixer with whisk attachment) until doubled in volume and silky smooth. Pour into a freezable container, cover and freeze for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. To serve, use a melon baller or teaspoon dipped into hot water to scoop small balls of ice cream into the mini sugar cones. Top with sprinkles and serve immediately. Prepare to keep on scooping – you’ll want more!
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Chocolate fondant for two with my LG Neochef

31 Jan

This recipe makes two large chocolate fondants. Serve with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream – it’s the ultimate indulgence! (golden teaspoons by Hertex HAUS)

 

There are very few recipes out there that are written for two people only. As a standard, most serve four or six. So when you’re planning a special dinner for two, it can be very frustrating to sit with more leftovers than what you actually served, or worse – paying for ingredients for a party of six when you’re only hosting one guest.

I’ve made things easy for you by creating a recipe that saves you money time and energy. These chocolate fondants were baked in my LG Neochef microwave oven that also doubles up as a Smart Inverter oven. It heats to 160 C in only 2 minutes 50 seconds (!), using far less energy than most conventional larger ovens, perfect for cooking smaller batches. Melting chocolate with it’s microwave function is a breeze, as it only takes 30 seconds (read the recipe method below, you’ll see).

I have a massive sweet tooth and dessert is usually a huge priority when I serve a special dinner. If you feel a 250 ml dessert will be too big for you, make this recipe in four smaller ramekins and freeze the extra two for another time (the mixture freezes exceptionally well, just add 5 minutes to the baking time and bake from frozen).

Over the past few months I’ve explored more and more functions of my LG Neochef. I’ve even defrosted, proofed and baked croissants in about 35 minutes in total, with incredible results. This machine makes the impossible possible, using little energy and saving space. Find more info, see my recent review post.

Ingredients: (makes 2 large or 4 smaller fondants)

  • 15 ml butter, melted, for brushing
  • 10 ml cocoa powder
  • 60 g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped (preferably 70% cocoa)
  • 60 g butter
  • 1 XL egg
  • 1 XL egg yolk
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • 15 ml brandy/whisky (optional)
  • 15 ml brewed espresso or very strong coffee (optional)
  • 60 g cake flour, sifted
  • a pinch of salt

Method:

  1. Using 2 x 250 ml size ramekins (or 4 x 125 ml ramekins), use a pastry brush to brush the insides with melted butter, then place in the freezer for 2 minutes. Brush the ramekins again with butter and dust all over with cocoa powder, tipping the powder all around the insides and into the next ramekin as you go. Refrigerate the ramekins until ready to use.
  2. Place the chocolate in a large deep mug and place the  butter on top. Place in the Neochef and press “start” (it microwaves automatically at max strength for 30 seconds) then remove – the butter would have melted and the mug would be heated, so tip the mug from side to side to cover the chocolate all over with the warm butter. Leave to stand for at least 5 minutes before starting to stir with a spatula. Leave to stand further until fully melted and smooth.
  3. In the meantime, place the egg, yolk and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix well with electric beaters until creamy and light. Give the chocolate mixture one last stir to make sure it is completely melted, then fold it into the egg mixture.
  4. Place the low rack in the Neochef and preheat to 160 C (press the “cook mode” button until it shows 180 C, then turn the knob down to 160 C and press “start” twice).
  5. Add the brandy, espresso (both optional, but adds great flavour), flour and salt to the mixing bowl and fold in carefully. Divide the mixture between the two (or 4) ramekins.
  6. The Neochef should play a tune to let you know it is heated to the correct temperature. Press the “stop/cancel” button, then turn the knob to the right until it displays 18 minutes (for smaller ramekins, turn to 12 minutes). Put the ramekins on the low rack, close the door and press “start”.
  7. When the time is up, remove the ramekins with oven mitts, run a knife along the edges and turn out carefully on 2 plates. Dust with more cocoa powder and serve with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. I’ve also added some chopped pistachios, but that is totally optional. Serve immediately to enjoy the full lava-ish effect – absolutely heavenly.

Note: Chocolate fondant is meant to have a lava-like melted interior. Do not overbake this dessert, as it won’t have the same charm. If you’re nervous about turning it out, rather underbake it slightly and serve inside the ramekins – no stress!

PS: If you are baking these in a conventional oven on fan mode, reduce the baking time slightly as oven fans tend to heat a little higher than regular ovens. All ovens are different, so it might take more than one take to get it perfect!

(I have received an LG Neochef as part of a collaboration project, which I am enjoying fully. All views and opions are my own.)

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Mango lassi popsicles with white chocolate and pistachios

21 Dec

Natural fruit, yoghurt and honey is all that’s inside these popsicles. Add white chocolate and pistachios and it’s a festive dessert fit for kings! Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Mangoes are the kings of fruit, in my opinion. Velvety, rich and dense – they are just incredible to eat and so luxurious to use in smoothies and desserts.

If you don’t know the term “lassi”, it’s a popular Indian yoghurt-based smoothie, sometimes incorporating spices. You can make it using canned mango pulp out of season (contains less fibres), but it’s such a treat to use fresh ripe mangoes in season. A drizzle of honey adds extra sweetness, because when the lassi is frozen the sweetness is much less pronounced. When frozen solid, dip the popsicles in melted white chocolate and immediately into crushed pistachios for a truly elegant yet fun dessert. Loved by adults and kids alike!

Ingredients: (makes about 9 small popsicles, depending on the size of your popsicle moulds)

  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled and cut into cubes (pip discarded)
  • 250 ml plain yoghurt (I use double cream)
  • 15-30 ml honey
  • 80 g white chocolate
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Place the mango & yoghurt in a food processor and blend to a silky smooth pulp. Add honey to taste and blend again. Remember, the lassi will taste less sweet once it is frozen, so make it a touch sweeter than you think.
  2. Pour into popsicle moulds and add an ice cream stick. Freeze for at least 3 hours or until solid.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave (30 seconds at a time, stirring until smooth). Carefully remove the popsicle from their moulds, one at a time, dipping them into the chocolate and then quickly sprinkle with chopped nuts. The chocolate will solidify quickly, so work as fast as you can. Arrange/balance the covered popsicles on a rack and immediately back into the freezer until ready to serve.
  4. Serve straight from the freezer.

Note: For a slightly more exotic flavour, add some crushed cardamom seeds to the mango lassi mixture before freezing.

Photography and styling: Tasha Seccombe

Recipe, text, food preparation and co-styling: Ilse van der Merwe

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Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne & tiramisu jars with Galbani Cheese

3 May

Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne and individual tiramisu jars – my ultimate Italian-style feast! Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

When it comes to laid-back, festive, scrumptious food that’s packed with flavour, the Italians just know how. I’ve taken a few tips from their most popular traditional cheese-themed recipes to come up with my favourite three-course Italian-inspired feast: an over-the-top caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mozzarella, cheddar and mascarpone) and individual tiramisu cups with chocolate flakes and fresh raspberries. You can assemble the lasagne and tiramisu ahead so that you have more time to spend with your guests – the most important thing when hosting friends and family!

All my recipes serve 8, because they deserve a crowd. If you’re keen on a smaller gathering, just halve the ingredients to serve 4.

And don’t miss my video below – it shows how to make this killer lasagne.

Buon appetito!

My ultimate caprese salad with soft mozzarella, an array of tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto, toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, salt flakes and ground black pepper. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Ultimate caprese salad (serves 8)

  • 3 very big ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • about 400 g smaller tomatoes on the vine
  • a handful baby tomatoes, halved
  • 3 x 125 g Galbani soft white mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • a handful fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
  • 3-4 tablespoons basil pesto
  • extra virgin olive oil, for serving
  • balsamic vinegar, for serving (optional)
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the tomatoes on a large platter, interleaved with slices of mozzarella. Scatter with basil leaves and pine nuts, then drizzle with pesto (add a little olive oil to the pesto if it is very thick). Serve with olive oil and balsamic on the side, seasoned with salt & pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: The tomatoes will wilt on standing, so this salad is best served straight after assembling.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mascarpone, cheddar and mozzarella). Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (serves 8)

For the beef Bolognese sauce:

  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 onion, skinned & finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 kg lean beef mince
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stalks removed & finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried origanum)
  • 375 ml (half a bottle) dry red wine
  • 1 beef stock cube dissolved in 250 ml boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans whole Italian tomatoes, blended to a pulp
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

For the white sauce (béchamel):

  • 80 g (80 ml / 1/3 cup) President Butter
  • 80 ml (1/3/ cup) plain/cake flour
  • 1 liter full cream milk
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • a generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

For assembling:

  • 1 batch Bolognese sauce
  • 1 batch white sauce
  • 500 g fresh/dried pasta sheets
  • 200 g President Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 300 g Galbani Creamy Mozzarella (semi-hard), grated

For the Bolognese sauce: Heat the olive oil in a wide, large pot with a heavy base. Fry the onion, carrot and celery over medium-high heat until soft and lightly brown. Add the garlic and stir. Add the mince and stir, breaking up any lumps and scraping the bottom to loosen any sticky bits. Add the rosemary and thyme. Continue to fry on high heat to brown the meat slightly, then add the red wine, stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and stir well. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 2 hours, stirring every now and then.

For the white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat, then add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the milk and stir with a whisk until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens slightly. Add the nutmeg, mustard and mascarpone and season well with salt & pepper. Set aside.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 180 C. In a large rectangular roasting tray or oven dish, start with a thin layer of white sauce, then a layer of pasta sheets (they will swell so don’t fit them too snugly), a layer of meat sauce, more white sauce, a layer of cheddar, etc. Continue and repeat, ending with a layer of white sauce and the grated mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes until golden on top, then let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: I sometimes chop my onion, carrot and celery together in a food processor to save time. The cooked lasagne will continue to stabilize on standing, becoming firmer and easier to serve. The assembled lasagne (cooked or uncooked) freezes well – thaw completely before returning to the oven.

Individual jars of tiramisu, made with mascarpone, brandy and some chocolate flakes. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Individual tiramisu cups: (serves 8)

  • 5 XL eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 2 x 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • 1 Italian-style sponge finger biscuits (Boudoir/ladyfinger)
  • 375 ml strong coffee, warm
  • 75 ml brandy
  • cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 2-3 chocolate flake bars, for serving
  • fresh raspberries, for serving

Place the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl. Use and electric whisk to mix until it is very thick and creamy. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth.
Clean and dry this whisk, then whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff. Add half the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and fold in with a large spoon, continuing with the second half and folding until you have a smooth, creamy, mousse-like mixture. Set aside.
Working quickly, cut the finger biscuits into thirds, and divide the pieces into 8 groups of 9 pieces each (for 8 cups of 250 ml capacity each). Place the coffee and brandy in a shallow flat bowl, then dip 4 cookie pieces at a time into the coffee mixture, and place them into the bottom of each dessert glass/jar. Top with a dollop of the mascarpone mix, then a sifting of cocoa powder. Top with a second round of 5 dipped biscuit pieces, then place the remaining half of the mascarpone mix into a piping bag and pipe dollops of the mixture at the top of each glass to cover the biscuits. Dust some cocoa powder over the top, then cover with plastic or lids (not touching the mixture) and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
To serve, add some chocolate flakes and berries on top and serve straight from the fridge.

Note: The biscuits need time to soften in the fridge. If you serve them too soon, the cookies will still be tough. The tiramisu cups keep very well in the fridge for up to 3 days and the flavour improves with time.

(This post was created in collaboration with Galbani Cheese.)

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