Tag Archives: baking

Almond financiers (a step-by-step guide)

11 Aug

A few years ago, I discovered almond financiers while shopping at Joostenberg Deli. They produce a wide range of French-inspired pastries within their bakery, also including madeleines, croissants, etc. These unassuming little pastries looked intrigueing: no icing, no impressive decoration, just rectangular golden nuggets with their characteristic cracked tops. I’ve always been a sucker for any type of almond pastry, so I expected to love them. But when I finished all six in the packet by myself before even getting home, I knew I was hooked. Crunchy on the outside, densely moist in the middle, with the distinctive yet subtle almond flavour that all frangipane-style pastries are globally adored for.

I’ve since created a recipe for baking my own, using a mini-muffin tin instead of the original iconic rectangular molds that I cannot seem to find anywhere (I suppose they do look like little gold bars, and perhaps therefor the “financiers” name). I’ve baked many batches of these, and they never disappoint. Over the years I’ve adapted the recipe slightly to suit a number of easy substitutions (even using home-ground whole almonds) and to make sure that they didn’t stick to the pan as easily (the purists prefer buttering the moulds, but I honestly think non-stick spray does a better job).  I’ve also found David Lebovitz’s financiers post very handy, and specifically found the comments section very insightful (because so many people wanted to know if you atually stir in the egg whites without giving them a whisk first, and the answer is yes, you stir them in just a gloopy as they are). Apart from turning the butter into browned butter over the stove top, the rest is literally a stir-together vibe – it couldn’t be simpler.

I’ve created a few visuals in my kitchen, showing you what the process and the mixture look like – keep scrolling down to get the full recipe at the end of the post. Have fun in the kitchen and prepare to fall in love with these humble little nuggets.

Browned butter – take a look at the essential darker bits that form at the bottom of the pan. Keep swirling to prevent the butter from burning.

 

Separating my eggs – you’ll only use the whites, so keep the yolks for making custard later.

 

Add the ground almonds to a mixing bowl, along with flour, salt and sugar. Use store-bought “almond flour” (blanched ground almonds) or make your own by grinding whole almonds to a powdery consistency in a blender.

 

Add the yolks to the dry ingredients and mix to a sticky thick batter.

 

Add the slightly cooled browned butter to the batter and stir until fully incorporated.

 

It’s a stirring game – no technique, very easy.

 

Keep stirring until the butter is fully incorporated.

 

Use two spoons to drop the batter into a mini-muffin tin that’s thoroughly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

 

Optionally, top with a few flaked almonds.

 

Bake for 12 minutes at 220 C (or 200 C for fan assisted ovens).

 

Remove carefully from the tin using a sharp small bladed knife, and cool on a rack.

 

 

 

French simplicity at its finest: freshly baked almond financiers, baked in mini-muffin tins.

 

Ingredients: (makes 24 mini-muffin financiers)

  • 100 g salted butter
  • 140 g (1 cup tightly packed) ground almonds / almond flour (or grind your own from raw almonds)
  • 180 g (4/5 cup) light brown sugar (or white sugar)
  • 60 g (1/2 cup) white bread flour (or cake flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 XL egg whites 
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • about 1/4 cup flaked almonds (optional)

Method:

  1. Make the browned butter: Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling every now and then until melted. It will start to sizzle and bubble with a slightly “split” look. Continue to swirl from side to side (do not stir) every 15 seconds, watching it carefully. The large spattering bubbles will change to a gentler fine coffee-coloured foam – when this happens, check for a golden brown residue on the bottom of the pan. As soon as you spot this golden brown residue starting to form, remove the pot from the heat and keep on swirling until the foam subsides and you are left with a liquid, nutty, brown butter. Be careful not to burn the butter. The butter should now be around 80 ml in total, which is perfect. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220 °C (or 200 °C if using fan-assisted oven). Spray a 24 hole mini-muffin tin generously with non-stick spray.
  3. Add the ground almonds, sugar, flour and salt to a large mixing bowl and stir with a spatula. Add the egg whites and extract and stir well – it will be a sticky, thick batter.
  4. Add the slightly cooled but still liquid browned butter and stir until well mixed. Divide the mixture evenly between the mini-muffin holes using two spoons. Top with some flaked almonds (optional) then bake for 12 minutes until golden brown and risen.
  5. Remove from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes in the pan before use a sharp small knife to loosen the sides of the financiers. Leave on a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
  6. Serve with tea/coffee. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Note: If you are using unsalted butter, rather add 1/2 teaspoon salt. If not topping with almond flakes, the financiers with rise a little more and you’ll see more of the characteristic “cracked” top.

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A simple white bread loaf (with video)

9 Apr

I’ve had many requests for posting a simple bread recipe, so here it is. A simple white bread loaf that doesn’t need any special tools (other than a mixing bowl and spoon, baking tins and your oven – and yes, you can also bake it on a fire in a pot). You’re going to have to knead it, so if you’ve never done it before, just give it a try. It’s quite therapeutic – anyone who’s done it before will agree. Then the dough simply rises in the tins, so you’re not going to have to knead it a second time.

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind when baking this bread:

  • What type of flour works best? I’ve listed white bread flour (I prefer stoneground), but you can also use cake flour, wholewheat flour etc. for a variety of end results. Remember, stoneground white bread flour can “take” more water than regular commercial white bread flour or cake flour, so adjust your liquid quantities accordingly (less water for fine cake flour). If your mixture is very sticky after adding the liquid, just keep adding a little flour while kneading until your dough is soft and not sticky.
  • Why milk? Milk will keep your loaf softer for longer, but you can certainly substitute the milk for more water of the same quantity.
  • What if I don’t have bread tins? You can bake the shaped dough free-form on a roasting tray, or you can bake it in cleaned canned-food tins (those large 800g food tins work well), or you can bake it in in a ceramic or glass baking dish (like the one you use for lasagne etc.). You can also bake it in an oven-safe pot (no plastic handles allowed). For very large pots, use all of the dough, and increase the baking time to 1 hour (cover the pot with a lid for the last 20 minutes).
  • Should I grease the tins? Absolutely yes. The bread will stick to the tins if you don’t, and it will break when you try to turn it out. Use oil, butter or non-stick spray.
  • Can I bake this bread on a fire? Yes, in a cast iron pot, over mild coals, with a lid on (coals on the lid as well), for about 1 hour.
  • Can I half the recipe to only make 1 loaf? Yes you can, but while you’re taking the time to make one loaf, it makes sense to make a second one for tomorrow, or for the freezer (and bread flour gets sold in neat 1kg packets). Frozen bread can be thawed on the counter, and then refreshed in the oven at 180 C for about 10-15 minutes – as good as freshly baked.
  • For a softer crust: If you prefer a softer crust, wrap your freshly baked loaves in a clean cloth while they’re cooling. This way the crust will steam and soften while cooling. Don’t try to slice the bread when it’s straight from the oven, give it at least 15-20 minutes to cool (otherwise it will make dense “clots”).
  • How to store: Wrap in a plastic bag and keep in a cool, dry place. The bread is always best on the day it was baked, served warm, but it will last for a few days on the shelf, and tastes great when toasted.

 

Ingredients: (makes 2 medium loaves, or one extra large loaf)

  • 1 kg white bread flour, plus a little extra for kneading (I prefer stoneground unbleached white bread flour, see my tips above)
  • 1 x 10g packet instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salt
  • 1,5 cups (375 ml) warm water
  • 1,5 cups (375 ml) milk (use a little less milk if you’re using cake flour or commercial bread flour)
  • vegetable oil, for brushing

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Stir to mix. Add the water and milk, then stir with a wooden spoon until you have a sticky mixture. Turn it out on a lightly floured surface, then start folding the dough over, and over, and over (see video). Keep on kneading for at least 5 minutes (up to 10 min), adding a litle more flour if the dough is too sticky, kneading until the mixture is smooth and elastic and not sticky at all. Cut the dough in half, shape into oblong loaves, and place in two greased tins (brush with oil or spray with non-stick baking spray). Cover loosely with plastic, then leave to rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 220 C. Remove the plastic, then bake the loaves for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked. Remove from the oven, turn out of the tins (be careful, very hot!), wrap in a clean cloth and leave to cool at least 15-20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature with your choice of butter/jam/cheese etc, or dip into soups and stews.

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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.

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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.

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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.)
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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.
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