Monday, December 5, 2016

Spiced cake bars (gewürzschnitten) - flavors of my childhood on a recipe I had never seen before

Spiced cake bars (gewürzschnitten) / Bolo de especiarias e chocolate (gewürzschnitten)

In my searches for Christmas themed recipes every year I have learned about new types of baked goods, have seen beautiful photos and known gorgeous food blogs and websites. Some of the recipes were completely new to me, some were made of flavors I recognize from my childhood, from the sweets my German grandmother used to make.

These delicious bars, super easy to make, were new to as I did not know their name – gewürzschnitten; however, the taste was no stranger to me: as I bit into a square and tasted the mix of spices, chocolate and lemon from the glaze, my taste buds took a trip down memory lane. I don’t really remember what I ate as a kid that reminded me so much of these bars, but what started as inspiration found on this beautiful blog ended up as wonderful discovery – grandma Frida is no longer around for me to ask her this, but I can start my own tradition and bake gewürzschnitten every December from now on. <3

Spiced cake bars (gewürzschnitten)
slightly adapted from this beautiful blog

1 ¼ cups (175g) all purpose flour
¾ cup (75g) ground almonds
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
pinch of salt
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided use
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Amaretto (optional)
100ml whole milk, room temperature

¾ cup (105g) icing sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square baking pan, line it with baking paper leaving an overhang on two opposite sides, then butter the paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, cocoa, baking powder and spices. Set aside.
In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add half of the granulated sugar (75g), beating until mixture gets thick, silky and shiny. Set aside.
In another large bowl, using again the electric mixer, beat the yolks, butter and remaining sugar until light and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the vanilla and the Amaretto. Add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Fold in the egg whites. Spread onto the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and cooked through when tested with a skewer. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack.

Glaze: mix the icing sugar and lemon juice until you get a thin glaze. Spread over cooked cake, set aside until set and then cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter snowball cookies to kick off this year's Christmas series

Winter snowball cookies / Bolinhas de neve de chocolate e amêndoa

My favorite time of the year has arrived – it is December! \0/

Last week I decorated my Christmas tree and scattered Christmas decorations around the house – that made me feel absolutely happy. I see golden candles and snowmen when I go to the kitchen for a glass of water and the big Santa Claus hanging on my door salutes me every morning before I go to work: it definitely feels like Christmas already. <3

A couple of days ago my husband and I were at the mall and Christmas songs were being played there – it seemed to be the very same songs my mother used to play at this time of the year when I was a little girl. I had tears in my eyes remembering her, but some of those tears were tears of joy because of how much I love the holiday season.

My Christmas series starts today with these delicious and light in texture snowball cookies – they are really easy to make and placed in a plastic bag tied with a beautiful ribbon can become a very nice gift.

Winter snowball cookies
slightly adapted from The Italian Baker

2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
¾ cup (75g) almond meal
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (105g) icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Amaretto

To dust the cookies:
1 cup (140g) icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, almond meal, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and icing sugar (the 105g) until light and creamy – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Mix in the vanilla and the Amaretto. On low speed, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined.

Roll 1 leveled tablespoon of dough per cookie into a ball and place 2.5cm (1in) apart onto the prepared sheets. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the bottom edges are golden.
Remove from the oven, cool on the sheets over a wire rack for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the cookies from the paper and roll them into the icing sugar, coating them generously. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 48

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Banana, chocolate and peanut crumble to comfort a sad heart

Banana, chocolate and peanut crumble / Crumble de banana, amendoim e chocolate

I have told you several times already how much I love the Internet – this very blog would not exist if it wasn’t for it. On the other side, social networks sometimes make me sad – they make me think about lots of things sometimes.

For instance, I see people from my family sharing loads of photos and thoughts and… I feel like I don’t know those people. I did, in a very distant past, years and years ago, but life has changed so much and I no longer can relate to them – they are like complete strangers. I have a few close and dear friends I consider family much more than the people connected to me by blood – that is comforting, that puts my heart at ease. Those warm feelings make me feel good after dark thoughts cross my mind and usually I look for comfort in food form, too – not ideal, I know, but it is what it is.

Aside from my mom’s rice pudding, nothing comforts me more than a good crumble, eaten straight from the oven with a little cold heavy cream on the side. This time I added almond meal and cocoa to the topping, creating a delicious and tropical combination with the bananas.

Banana, chocolate and peanut crumble
own creation

3 large bananas, ripe yet firm, sliced in 1cm coins

Crumble topping:
1/3 cup (46g) all purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) peanut meal
½ tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 ½ tablespoons (21g) unsalted butter, cold and chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Divide the bananas between two 240ml capacity ovenproof ramekins or cups.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, peanut meal, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the bananas and bake for 20-25 minutes or until topping is golden and crispy.
Serve with heavy cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves 2

Monday, November 14, 2016

Strawberry rhubarb buckle and Mark Rylance

Strawberry rhubarb buckle / Bolo de morango e ruibarbom com cobertura crumble

I have been able to catch up and watch all the Oscar movies of this year – it has not been a quick task but it certainly is a pleasant one. :)

One of the movies I have seen lately is Bridge of Spies – I was quite shocked when Mark Rylance’s name was announced as Best Actor in a Supporting Role and I know I was not the only one. I remembered him from Angels and Insects, a good movie I watched twenty years ago, but not much more than that, and I got very curious about his part alongside Tom Hanks.

The movie is… OK. Interesting story, but nothing out of this world (well, not a big fan of Spielberg here). And Mark Rylance’s performance is flat and silly - he should wrap his Oscar in bubble wrap and send it to Tom Hardy by Fedex. :)

I have a more interesting supporting “actor” here: strawberries – unlike Mr. Rylance, their flavor and smell work to create a super tasty buckle, in a beautiful combination with the rhubarb. I had trouble trying not to eat several squares in a row, so please be warned. :)

Strawberry rhubarb buckle
slightly adapted from here

115g strawberries, trimmed and diced
225g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided use
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
85g unsalted butter, softened
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
1 large egg
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup sour cream*

Crumble topping:
½ cup (70g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, melted

Butter a square 20cm (8in) baking pan, line it with foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil.
In a medium bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries and ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar. Let it macerate for 30 minutes – in the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Make the crumble topping: in a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Using a fork, stir in the melted butter until mixture is crumbly. Refrigerate until needed.

Cake: in a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a stand mixer or another large bowl, beat the butter, lemon zest, and the remaining ½ cup (100g) of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Drain the macerated strawberries and rhubarb through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the liquid, and arrange them on top of the batter. Scatter the crumb topping on top.
Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Cut into squares for serving.

* homemade sour cream: to make 1 cup of sour cream, mix 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream with 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk until it starts to thicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until thicker (I usually leave mine on the counter overnight – except on very warm nights – and it turns out thick and silky in the following morning; refrigerate for a creamier texture)

Makes 16

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Linguine with creamy tomato, thyme, caper and bacon sauce

Linguine with creamy tomato, caper, thyme and bacon sauce / Linguine com molho cremoso de tomate, alcaparra, tomilho e bacon

I believe that many of you reading me right now reach for a pasta package whenever there is the need of having food on the table in little to no time – I am guilty of that and I am not ashamed of it. :)

I make pasta often not only because of how fast it is: Joao and I love it and it is so versatile I can combine it with several different flavors and types of sauce. I saw this version of a tomato sauce on Olive magazine and it was so simple I had to try it: the sauce is delicious, the acidity of the tomatoes is softened by the addition of cream and the capers add a briny, salty touch to the sauce. Thyme is my favorite herb and one I love pairing with tomato.

Linguine with creamy tomato, thyme, caper and bacon sauce
slightly adapted from the always great Olive magazine

4 slices of bacon, cut into ½ cm pieces
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers – soak them in cold water for 15 minutes before using, then drain
3 tablespoons heavy cream
200g linguine

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Remove from the pan and set over paper towels. Remove the excess fat from the saucepan, leaving 1 tablespoon. On that fat, cook the garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, crush them with a potato masher, then fill the can by half with water and add to the tomatoes. Add the sugar, season with salt and pepper and cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until thickened.

In the meantime, cook the linguine in salted boiling water until al dente.

Stir in capers and cream and then cook for 3 minutes. Drain the linguine and toss with the sauce. Serve at once sprinkled with the bacon bits.

Serves 2

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