Bebe uskrsne Primorski (Easter Bread babies)

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I am participating in a lot of challenges lately. Not that I mind, though! I have joined the bakers from Bake the World a while ago but so far I hadn’t been able to join in the fun for various reasons. When I discovered what they had in store for March’s challenge, I knew I didn’t want to miss out.

This unusual Croatian bread (unusual for me, at least) is similar to other sweet breads baked around the world for Easter. Eggs, too, play an important part in the symbology.

I looked up many recipes (in various languages) but finally decided on the one by Ana, whose beautiful blog won’t see the last of me. 

I followed her recipe quite faithfully although I halved the recipe, the only minor change I made to the ingredients was to substitute part of the milk with water to get a fluffier dough (it was a dream!). As for the method, I changed it slightly: I melted the butter in the lukewarm milk and then added it to the dry ingredients alternating with the beaten egg. My facilities are a bit limited so I didn’t dry the eggs (also because the ones I had weren’t white so I left them as Nature intended them to be). With the leftover dough I am now making some off-seasonal Stollen as I find the dough to be similar (you’ll have to wait till Christmas to see the photos!).

 Bebe uskrsne Primorski (Anna’s recipe)

 Makes 2 loaves, 12 bread dolls or 1 loaf and 6 bread dolls

2 cups milk, scalded and then cooled to room temperature

2 packages active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs or 6 egg yolks, beaten

½ cup butter, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Over medium heat, heat milk until small bubbles appear on the surface.  Remove from burner and allow to cool – the milk should still be warm but not hot.  Sprinkle the yeast and sugar in the milk, stir gently to combine and set aside to proof until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine eggs, butter, sugar and salt at a medium speed for about 3 minutes.  Begin adding the flour one cup at a time, alternating with roughly half a cup of the milk and yeast mixture.  Repeat this until you have added 4 cups of flour and all of the liquid.  After this point, begin adding ¼ to ½ cup of flour at a time, waiting until all of the flour is fully incorporated into the dough before adding more.  Stop adding flour when the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the bowl (you may or may not use all 6 cups of flour).  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times into a smooth, round ball.  Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and set in a draft-free area of your kitchen until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours.

When the dough has risen, punch the centre and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.  Separate dough into the required pieces, depending if you are making loaves or dolls, or both (each loaf and doll requires 3 balls of dough to braid).  Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.  Braid the dough, following the pictures above (for the dolls, wrap the eggs in the dough as tightly as possible so that the eggs don’t fall out when finished baking) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush with egg wash (1 egg, 2 tablespoons of water) and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes before baking.  Bake until the tops are golden and the bottom is light brown, around 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before serving.

 

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Breakfast à la française

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This was yesterday’s breakfast because I had to use up some pears I had. In my defence, may I say I didn’t have lunch afterwards, or rather that I ate one of these in lieu of lunch.

This is just what I like: simple, few ingredients, quick and tasty… and rustic, to top it up.

 

Bon appétit!

Rustic pear galette

Ingredients (I did half of these quantities)

2 y ½ cups plain flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 cup cold butter, diced

¼ to ½ cup really cold water

For the filling

1 pear per galette

Caster sugar (as needed)

Squeeze of lemon juice

Ground almonds (as needed)

Extra butter, as needed

Pinch of cinnamon

For the pastry:

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl, add the cold butter and, using a cornet, work it till it resembles fine breadbrumbs (you can use a food processor for this if you have one).

Add the cold water and, still using the cornet, bring it together to form a dough. Wrap it in clingfilm and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

For the filling:

Wash the fruit, quarter it (don’t bother peeling it) and slice it (I like the slices to be rather on the thick side). Put the slices in a bowl, add the lemon juice, the sugar and the cinnamon and mix well using your hands.

When the dough’s ready, roll it out on a floured worktop. Try to roll it out in a roundish shape (it doesn’t matter if the circle is not too perfect, it will add to the rustic feeling). Fold it and transfer it to a greased oven tray. Unfold it and sprinkle it generously with ground almonds (this will absorb the juice from the fruit and will help keep the crust from becoming soggy). Place the fruit on top. If you’re feeling artistic, do it in a nice fashion , like I did. Sprinkle with more caster sugar and add a knob or two of butter.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 10 minutes until the crust is golden.

You can brush the dough with egg yolk before baking it (I didn’t) and you can also brush the top of the fruit with syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven. What with the photos I was taking and my hunger, I totally forgot but it will make them shinier.

It is best eaten warm and if you pair it up with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream you’d be in heaven…

Sweet bread for an indulgent weekend brunch

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This is something I have been wanting to post for a while.

The recipe belongs to Blanca Cotta, a sweet lady from whom I learnt my first chops in the kitchen… via a children’s magazine and who gave me that love for cooking and, most importantly, she taught me that cooking can be a blast, it can be fun and it can truly become a passion and a way of life as it happened to me.

Anyway, Blanca now has her own blog and I have had the immense satisfaction of being able to tell her all of this.

I have made many recipes of hers over the years and her books are the ones that I keep coming back to, the empanadas and the dulce de leche everyone knows in London are made from her recipes (why tweak what is really a perfect recipe?).

The recipe I am posting about now is that of a sweet bread, I have had the recipes for many, many years and one day I just said: “Today’s the day to make it”. It is a sweet bread, not unlike panettone or Stollen only that it doesn’t have any fruits or nuts to enrich it. Instead, it has a wonderful, crunchy, Streusel topping which makes it perfect for brunch or breakfast when you really want to indulge.

Streuselkuchen by Blanca Cotta

Dissolve 50g fresh yeast (remember to halve this quantity if using dry yeast) in ½ cup of warm milk (I use the ones with 250 cc capacity), add 3 tbsp sugar, pinch of salt and leave to rest, covered for 5 minutes. Then add 2 beaten eggs, zest of 1 lemon and 2 ½ cups flour, alternating with 6 tbsp of melted butter. Once the ingredients have been mixed, topple over the worktop (scattered with flour) and knead quite energetically  for at least 15 minutes. Then place the dough in a bowl (previously greased with melted butter), cover it and leave in a warm place to double in size. Then roll out the dough in a suitable tray (you can see in the photo I used a regular oven tray, the only one I had), leaving it 1 cm thick. Leave it again to prove, covered while you make the topping.

For the topping: mix 100g cold butter diced small, 1 cup sugar and ½ cup of flour. Avoid using your hands (I use a scraper for this).

Once the dough has risen again, brush it generously with more melted butter and add the topping.

Bake it in a moderate oven (180°C or so) until it has puffed up, become golden and your whole house smells divine!

You can see that, despite what I said above, I tweaked this recipe a little bit. The first time I made it, I did it with the regular Streusel topping I’ve just described but having both read Nigella’s version in Nigella Bites and realising I had some flaked almonds and frozen berries in the freezer, I just couldn’t resist… Enjoy! If you try it, you  will thank me….

Magic in the kitchen: Gordon’s honeycomb

I’ve been wanting to do this recipe for a long time now.

Once again, I was reminded of why I love cooking so much.

There is something so festive about the golden colour of the honeycomb and the magical way in which it comes to be, bubbling like something out of a Harry Potter Potions lesson that while I was cooking it, I found myself thinking of Nigella and how she would describe it with her  wonderful prose. Indeed she has a very similar recipe which she poetically calls Hokey Pokey (hocus pocus?) but this, alas, is not hers. This is Gordon’s. It is moments like this which remind me of why I am a chef, not that I need reminding very often. It is quite telling that a lot of job specs for chef jobs actually ask for someone who has fun in the kitchen. And it makes all the sense in the world for cooking is a passion, being a chef is something you either are or you aren’t. This is not just a job, it is something some lucky ones are born with.

 

Gordon’s honeycomb

 

Makes 400g

 

75g clear honey

140g liquid glucose

400g sugar

5 tbsp water

2 tbsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

 

1. For the honeycomb: Line a shallow baking tray with parchment paper. Place the honey, liquid glucose, water and sugar in a large heavy-based saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook until the mixture starts to turn a light golden colour. Mix in the baking soda. The mixture will erupt into a foaming mass. Pour immediately into the prepared baking tray.

 

2. Leave to cool, then place in the fridge to set. This takes approx 6-10 mins. Break up with the end of a rolling pin and store in an airtight jar if not using immediately.

 

For an even more festive touch, I dipped the tips in chocolate.

Edible gifts: Christmas chocolate cupcakes

So, once again it’s Christmastime. And, once again, the tradition of the edible gifts has begun. There is nothing about Christmas I love the more than giving gifts of food. In fact, the tradition of giving gifts around this time is very ancient and has its roots on Pagan festivals where the farmers gathered to celebrate the ending of the Winter (with the Winter solstice being the shortest day of the year, the days began, once more, to get longer) and they would swap the food they had preserved to use during the winter months.

Then, there is the cookie swap tradition which also has its roots on ancient Pagan festivals. In Scandinavia, the people who were too poor to offer animal sacrifices to the gods, would offer them animal-shaped biscuits instead.

This year, one of the stars of my edible gifts hamper were these delicious chocolate cupcakes by, who else? Nigella…

Nigella’s Christmas chocolate cupcakes

Ingredients

  1. 125g soft unsalted butter
  2. 125g caster sugar
  3. 2 large free-range eggs
  4. 100g plain flour
  5. 25g cocoa
  6. ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  7. 2 tsp baking powderfood
  8. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  9. 2-3 tbsp full-fat milk

For the decoration

  1. ½ x 500g packet of instant royal icing
  2. Christmassy sprinkles
  3. Red and green ready-made roll-out fondant icing or sugarpaste (optional)
  4. Seasonal sugar decorations (optional)

 

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

With an electric mixer, mix the eggs and the sugar to ribbon stage. Add the dry ingredients, sifted, and then the melted butter.

Bake at 180ºC for around 10 or 15 minutes.

You can freeze them, without the decoration as soon as you’ve made them.

For the icing:

Mix some icing sugar into some boiling water and add some lemon juice.

It has to be pretty thick for it to run smoothly yet stay on the cupcakes.

My first catering event!

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Well, OK, it´s not technically my first one, having done big catering events for music festivals and all but it was the first catering event I ran on my own, designed the menu, etc. I loved the adrenaline and, most importantly, how smoothly it all went.

I had initially decided on a starter of figs wrapped in prosciutto with a blue cheese filling as I thought that was easy enough and, most importantly, could be done in advance. All very nice in theory… except it isn’t the season for figs here in Argentina. So, I went for plan B. The hostess had suggested Cantaloupe melon wrapped in prosciutto but I thought that would be baby stuff to do and not really challenging so I suggested a scallop starter. Boy! Was that a wonder! And it looked just beautiful (and very elegant) on the plate. Unfortunately, due to the speed I was cooking with (and the hungry guests that were waiting) I couldn´t immortalise it for posterity… which means I may have to do this dish again… Oh, well…

For the main dish, I adapted a wonderful Nigella recipe for Teriyaki salmon I found here, mainly in that I used my well-tested Teriyaki sauce for marinating the salmon and I also marinated the salmon for longer. Let me tell you, if you leave it overnight, like an ordinary marinade, it will turn into this glossy, thick, caramel you won´t believe you´re eating. They were four children having dinner that night and they all ended up licking their fingers. It is also a breeze to cook for an event if you have the sushi rice prepared (and covered with tinfoil) beforehand.  I had a few unexpected situations, such as being presented with this wonderful (whole) salmon which I had to manually pin-bone with a pair of stolen tweezers but if you ask your fishmonger to do it for you before you take it home, it should be easy peasy, reallly.

For dessert, I chose a classic,  crème brûlée, for two reasons: it is both very elegant to serve and it is very easy to make AND have it prepared beforehand in the fridge. You can even do it the night before. This is the dish I was the least concerned about and the first one I made. Once dessert was out of the way, I could concentrate on my fish. When I suggested this dessert, the hostess said that although she didn´t have a torch, she did have an iron burner which she was confident could be used for caramelising the surface… All I can say is, whatever you do, do NOT attempt this dish if you don´t have a blow torch. Failing that, forget the sugar and serve it in individual pots. I did neither which resulted in a technical fault in the middle of service, but the hostess was very gracious about it. Now I know.

So, if you are tempted to do some professional catering, the moral of the story is… make things easy for yourself, choose dishes that could be done in advance, at least in part (especially if you are feeding a large number of people), dishes that can be finished off quickly, and, most important of all, expect the unexpected, be a problem-solver and be prepared to improvise because more often than not, some things will just not turn out the way you thought.

Scallops and endives with orange sauce – adapted from a recipe by Narda Lepes

Ingredients

Bacon, cut into a very small brunoise,  100  g
Scallops  200  g
Endives,  4
Butter, as needed
Sea salt, as needed
Orange, as needed
Lemon, as needed
Coriander flowers, to garnish (I used edible Monks cress flowers, fresh from

the garden)

How to make:

Fry the bacon in its own fat. Set aside and in the same pan seal the scallops. Do NOT touch them too much. For best results, turn them over with a pair of small tongues. Failing that, tumble them over with your index finger. They cook extremely fast, just a couple of minutes each side. If you overcook them, they become rubbery so you really need to watch what you´re doing.

At the same time, in a big, flat pan sautee the endives, previously cut into long strips (into quarters really) in butter. Add the sea salt and the orange juice (if you use freshly-squeezed orange juice it will taste divine). Let it reduce a bit.

To serve: Put some endives on the plate, scatter some bacon cubes and place about 5 scallops on top. Garnish with the edible flowers and drizzle with some of the orange sauce. You can also add a lemon wedge and some orange peel cut into strips.

Mirin-glazed salmon  (adapted from Nigella Express)

Ingredients

  • 60ml mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 60ml soy sauce
  • 4 x 125g pieces salmon, cut from the thick part of the fillet so that they are narrow but tall rather than wide and flat
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1-2 spring onions, halved and shredded into fine strips

Method

Serves: 4

1.      Mix the mirin, brown sugar and soy sauce in a shallow dish that will take all 4 pieces of salmon, and marinate the salmon in it for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second. Meanwhile heat a large non-stick frying pan on the hob.

2.      Cook the salmon in the hot, dry pan for 2 minutes and then turn the salmon over, add the marinade and cook for another 2 minutes.

3.      Remove the salmon to whatever plate you’re serving it on, add the rice vinegar to the hot pan, and warm through.

4.      Pour the dark, sweet, salty glaze over the salmon and top with the spring onion strips.

5.      Serve with rice or noodles as you wish, and consider putting some sushi ginger on the table, too.

For the sushi rice

Gohan – © Gabriela R.

Wash 1 kg of sushi rice 3 or 4 times, then rinse for approximately 30 more minutes. Place the rice in a big pan and cover with 1000 cc water. Cook until it boils, WITHOUT stirring, lower the heat to its lowest setting, cover the pan and leave it like that until the rice has absorbed all the water (about 20 minutes). Do NOT lift the lid of the pan during cooking. Turn the heat off and leave to rest, covered, 10 more minutes.

For the sushi vinegar :

Heat 150cc sushi vinegar, 1 tsp. salt and 150g sugar in a pan. Stir until everything is combined and the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool.

Place the warm sushi rice in a plastic or wooden bowl. Add the sushi vinegar and stir it in, making sure all the rice has some vinegar. Keep warm.

Note : If you are using this rice for sushi, leave it to cool completely. Spread it out on a flat surface if you are in a hurry. That way, it will cool down quicker.

Crème brûlée

  • 600ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • Approx.6 tablespoons demerara sugar

Method

Serves: 6-8

1.      Put a pie dish of about 20cm diameter in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Half-fill the sink with cold water. This is just a precaution in case the custard looks as if it’s about to split, in which case you should plunge the pan into the water and whisk the custard. I’m not saying it will – with so many egg yolks in the rich cream, it thickens quickly and easily enough – but I always feel better if I’ve done this.

2.      Put the cream and vanilla pod into a saucepan and bring to boiling point, but do not let boil. Beat the eggs and caster sugar together in a bowl, and, still beating, pour the flavoured cream over it, pod and all. Rinse and dry the pan and pour the custard mix back in. Cook over medium heat (or low, if you’re scared) until the custard thickens: about 10 minutes should do it. You do want this to be a good, voluptuous crème, so don’t err on the side of runny caution. Remember, you’ve got your sinkful of cold water to plunge the pan into should it really look as if it’s about to split.

3.      When the cream’s thick enough, take out the vanilla pod, retrieve the pie dish and pour this crème into the severely chilled container. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge till truly cold. Sprinkle with demerara sugar, spoonful by spoonful, and burn with a blowtorch till you have a blistered tortoiseshell covering on top.

4.      Put back in the fridge if you want, but remember to take it out a good 20 minutes before serving. At which stage, put the bowl on the table and, with a large spoon and unchecked greed, crack through the sugary carapace and delve into the satin-velvet, vanilla-speckled cream beneath. No more talking: just eat.

Doña Petrona by me: chocolate cake



There was a big hoopla recently following Narda’s departure from El Gourmet to Utilísima. There she is cooking recipes from Doña Petrona´s book Julie-Julia style. Every Argentinian household worth its salt has a copy, mine is no exception. It was my referent when I was too little to think about buying cookery books but not too little to discover the joys of baking.


My battered copy is still at home (in Argentina) but I still use it a lot whenever I’m there.

This cake is a bit unusual in that the liquid element is boiling water: not milk, not anything else but good old boiling water. It does remind me a bit of the English chocolate pudding in this respect. The pudding though, has a much softer consistency than this. It’s a veritable cake. And delicious.


This is my adapted version of the cake.

 Doña Petrona´s chocolate cake

Ingredients:

320g plain flour

4 tsp. baking powder

200g sugar

100g cocoa

1 tsp. vanilla essence

120g butter

2 eggs

250cc boiling water

Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa in a bowl. Add the sugar and the butter, cubed. Crumble the butter into the rest of the ingredients until you get a sandy texture.

In a separate jug, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla essence. Add this to the dry ingredients and combine using a wooden spoon. Add the hot water and pour the mixture into a buttered and floured cake-tin. Bake at a moderate temperature until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

You can cut it in half and fill it with dulce de leche but, as you can see, I didn´t bother and it was delicious all the same!