Sunday, December 22, 2013

Red velvet cookies and another German movie

Red velvet cookies / Biscoitos veludo vermelho

I’ve been really into Europeans movies lately and, so far, I have seen really good films: after the Danish directors I went a little South and watched the excellent The Edukators (with the now Golden Globe nominee Daniel Brühl).

Since I’d already loved Soul Kitchen and The Wave I got into a German state of mind and decided to watch another movie from my grandmother’s home country, one that everyone I know tells me I would love, and indeed I did: Run Lola Run. It is such an amazing movie, very different from most things I’ve seen, with a very unique rhythm that is absolutely contagious – Franka Potente does a terrific job as Lola (all that running must have been physically challenging) and after I read that she could not wash her hair for seven weeks to avoid discoloring it I admired her even more. :D

My Christmas series has come to an end and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have – the last recipe is for these delicious cookies, as red as Lola’s hair. :D

Happy Holidays!

Red velvet cookies
from the always stunning Donna Hay magazine

100g unsalted butter, room temperature
160g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g dark chocolate, melted and cooled – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
185g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of salt
1 ½ tablespoons red food coloring
200g dark chocolate, in chips or small chunks
about 100g icing sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the melted chocolate. On low speed, beat in the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and food coloring and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips/chunks. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Sift the icing sugar into a shallow bowl. Using a cookie scoop, portion 1 leveled tablespoon portions of dough and roll in the sugar, then carefully form into a ball using your hands and roll again in the sugar, this time covering the dough ball very generously with it. Place onto prepared sheets 5cm (2in) apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cracked and slightly firm around the edges. Cool completely on the sheets over a wire rack.

Makes about 50

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas torrone and a very overrrated movie

Christmas torrone / Torrone de Natal

I was reading something about Spring Breakers yesterday and decided to watch the notorious Kids, which script was written by Harmony Korine. I remember all the fuss created by the movie when it was released many years ago and now that I have seen it I know it was only because of its “controversial” subject, not because it’s any good. It’s a poor movie, uncomfortable to watch and completely unnecessary - one and a half hours of my life wasted with something very overrated.

When I was little, every year in the middle of December, my father received a basket of goodies from the company he worked for: there was panettone, prunes, raisins, chocolate, and torrone (which was my favorite treat in the basket). Nowadays, the torrone I find in shops is nothing like the torrone of those days – I believe both the product and my taste buds have changed – and up to recently I though the candy was really overrated (and what 6-year-olds know of good sweets, anyway?) :D.

That was until I made it at home. ;)

If you’re short on time, though, or don’t have a candy thermometer around (which is mandatory for making torrone), use your egg whites, pistachios and cranberries to make the financier version of torrone.

Christmas torrone
from Martha

edible wafer paper, enough for 2 layers in pan
1/3 cup corn starch
3 large egg whites
1 cup honey
3 cups (600g) granulated sugar
½ cup (70g) confectioners' sugar
130g shelled raw pistachios
130g dried cranberries

Piece together wafer paper, without overlapping, to fit bottom of a 22.5x32.2cm (9x13in) baking pan, and set aside. Liberally sprinkle a clean surface with the corn starch. Pour egg whites into bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine honey and granulated sugar. Place over medium heat; cook until mixture just begins to simmer, about 4 minutes. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of saucepan; continue to heat, stirring occasionally.
Beat whites until stiff peaks form; add confectioners' sugar, and beat until combined. When thermometer registers 157°C/315°F, remove honey mixture from heat. Temperature will rise to 160°C/320°F. Stir until temperature drops to 148°C/300°F, 1 to 2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly pour honey mixture into egg-white mixture (at this point, whites will double in volume; let stand a few seconds; volume will return to normal). Beat until mixture thickens and begins to stick to beaters; beat in the pistachio and cranberries.
Pour mixture onto cornstarch-covered surface (I found it easier to remove the mixture from the bowl using my hands, because it’s so stiff a spatula wouldn’t work); knead 3 turns and avoid incorporating too much corn starch. Stretch and roll to fit pan; place mixture in pan. Cover with another layer of wafer paper; let cool on wire rack. Cut into slices while still warm; store in airtight container, with parchment between layers, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 40 large pieces – I made the exact recipe above using a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gingerbread brownies and a movie I should have seen in 2006

Gingerbread brownies / Brownies de gingerbread

While there are movies I keep watching over and over again, I can’t find a way to watch others, no matter how much I want to: if it’s on TV, I’ll probably have to be somewhere else at the same time (or it will be aired at 3 in the morning), or the weekend I brought the DVD home I didn’t have the time to sit and watch it – you name it. One of those movies was Children of Men, and a couple of days ago I could finally watch it, and what a magnificent movie it is. Alfonso Cuarón had already won me over with the excellent Gravity, and in Children of Men his work is pure perfection – what he does as a director in this movie is beyond words and it’s just ridiculous that he wasn’t nominated for Best Achievement in Directing; actually, the movie had only three Oscar nominations (while The Help, for instance, had four, for crying out loud), and Clive Owen was ignored while Forest Whitaker took the award home – I can’t even.

So here I am, seven years later, hating myself for having waited so long to watch such a masterpiece. Since I don’t want that kind of thing to happen when it comes to food, I present you some delicious and super easy to make gingerbread brownies – I wasn’t sure I was going to bake these, after all my Christmas series this year is pretty chocolaty already, but why wait? Not seven years, not even seven days. :D

Gingerbread brownies
slightly adapted from the wonderful Delicious Australia

185g unsalted butter, chopped
150g dark chocolate, chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
200g brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
100g dark chocolate, chopped or in chips, extra

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a square 20cm (8in) baking pan, line it with foil, leaving a 5cm (2in) overhang on 2 opposite sides, then butter the foil as well.
In a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water), melt butter and 150g chopped chocolate. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Add the sugar and stir to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa and stir until incorporated. Fold in the remaining 100g chocolate. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until brownies are set around the edges and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let brownies cool in the pan over a wire rack.
Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Monday, December 16, 2013

White chocolate ginger buttons + the best horror film of all time

White chocolate ginger buttons / Biscoitinhos de gengibre com chocolate branco

Much like my “to make” recipe list, the list of movies I want to watch grows longer every day – there is always something interesting I haven’t seen yet, new releases every week... I don’t think I’ll be ever done with either list. :D

To make things harder, now and then I feel like watching my favorite movies again, especially the ones I saw in my teenage years – it seems that now that I’m older I can savor them a lot more. Last week I watched Angel Heart again (for the third time, to be more precise) and I found it to be even more fantastic than the last time, years and years ago. I found the acting even better – how great is Mickey Rourke in this movie? – the writing even more genius, and the way Alan Parker develops all that is sublime. I consider The Exorcist the scariest horror movie ever made, but the best, to me, is Angel Heart.

I thought I was done with ginger cookies this Christmas but when I saw these pretty buttons I could not resist – if I can’t help watching certain movies over and over again, how could resist spiced cookies filled with white chocolate (two things I love)? ;)

White chocolate ginger buttons
slightly adapted from here

Cookies:
2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup (80ml) molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:
140g (5oz) white chocolate, finely chopped
pinch of cinnamon

Cookies: preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the egg, molasses and vanilla. On low speed, add the reserved ingredients and beat just until combined.
Roll dough by 1 leveled tablespoon into balls; place 5cm (2in) apart onto prepared sheets. Press the center of each ball with your finger or a small measuring spoon. Bake just until edges are lightly golden, 10-12 minutes. (Wells will have mostly filled in.) Remove from oven; using the back of a round 1 teaspoon or the end of a wooden spoon gently re-press wells. Let cool on sheets over wire racks for 5 minutes. Transfer to racks; let cool completely.

Filling: in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water), melt white chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spoon about ½ teaspoon chocolate into each well. Sprinkle with the cinnamon. Let stand until chocolate is firm, about 1 hour.

Make-ahead: Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and store for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 45 cookies

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas rocky road + two out-of-this-world performances

Christmas rocky road / Rocky road de Natal

Days ago, thanks to wonderful people who post movies on the Internet (thank you so much!), I could finally watch Behind the Candelabra and what an excellent movie it is: I expected something good because, well, it is a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, but it turned out to be so much more than what I’d expected because of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. I could never have thought Douglas could deliver such an amazing performance – I guess that depending on how old we are we tend to associate him with the action hero type or the sexual roles he played in the past (I liked him a lot in Traffic, too, and it’s not his fault Oliver Stone ruined Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps).

For a couple of hours Douglas was Liberace, going the extra mile and doing so much more than just wearing extravagant clothes – the voice, the hair, the manners, it was all there, all perfectly executed.

I love versatile actors and that is why Matt Damon is one of my favorites: with his pretty face he could have easily settled as a heartthrob and taken the romantic-comedy route, but he chose diversity instead and has showed us what a great actor he is. He’s brilliant as Scott Thorson and it’s a shame him and Douglas are going head to head in the awards season, because both deserve to be showered with awards.

My Christmas series continues, this time with a very easy, no-bake recipe – as Liberace clothes were studded with crystals and rhinestones, these rocky road squares are studded with deliciousness, such as nuts and dried fruit. :)

Christmas rocky road
slightly adapted from the always stunning Donna Hay mag

800g dark chocolate – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
120g dried cranberries
180g mini marshmallows
200g Turkish delight, diced
120g pistachios, coarsely chopped

Very lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan and line it with foil (the butter will keep the foil from sliding around in the pan).
Place the chocolate and oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water – do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water – and stir occasionally until melted.
In a large bowl, combine the cranberries, marshmallows, Turkish delight and pistachios. Set aside about 1 cup of the chocolate mixture and pour the remaining over the ingredients. Stir until well coated.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and press it down. Drizzle with the reserved chocolate and smooth the top with a spatula.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Cut into pieces, remove the foil and serve.

Makes 74 tiny pieces (or cut them larger if you prefer)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents), and a not so fair competition

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents) / Vanillekipferl (biscoitinhos de baunilha de Viena)

The people behind the Oscars have apparently developed a strategy of leaving the most powerful performances out of the competition (maybe to make sure the-not-so-great ones get the awards? Who knows). Last year both Tilda and Michael Shannon weren’t included in the game (and they were absolutely magnificent in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Take Shelter, respectively), and 2013 will be remembered by me as the year Marion Cotillard got ignored even though she kicked everyone else’s butts with Rust and Bone. The movie is so amazing I haven’t been able to write a single line about it so far (the“The Tree of Life effect”, as I call it), and Marion’s portrait of Stéphanie is something sublime. Harvey Weinstein must have felt relieved when Marion did not get nominated, for she would definitely make things a lot harder for Jennifer Lawrence – I adore her, but that Oscar was a joke (and a demonstration of the power of lobby).

These cookies, with their German name and their amazing vanilla flavor, are one of the best I have ever made (and I have made quite a few); they are delicious, melt in the mouth, and since they also look pretty they would be great as a gift or as an addition to the Christmas table – I just feel sorry for any other cookie around them as I don’t think it would be a fair competition... ;)

Vanilla beans are a luxurious ingredient and I don’t use them often, but since it’s Christmas I thought a bit of splurge wouldn’t hurt; if you intend to make the cookies don’t forget to plan ahead since the sugar needs some time alone with the vanilla. ;)

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents)
slightly adapted from the über complete The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes

Vanilla sugar (for dusting the cookies):
170g confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds remove with the back of a knife

Cookies:
245g all-purpose flour
25g confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
70g almond meal
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds remove with the back of a knife
170g cold unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Start by making the vanilla sugar: place the sugar, vanilla seeds and bean in a small bowl and mix with your fingers to perfume the sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature overnight.

Cookies: in a food processor blend together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt, almond meal and vanilla seeds. Add the butter, pulse to combine. With the motor running, add the vanilla extract and process just until a dough forms. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F; line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll ½ tablespoon (leveled) of dough per cookie into a cylinder, then bend the ends over to create a half-moon. Arrange the crescents onto prepared sheets 2.5cm (1in) apart and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until pale golden.
While the crescents are still warm, gently toss them in the vanilla sugar, then allow to cool completely on wire racks.
Let the cookies cool completely before transferring them to storage tins. Sift more vanilla sugar over the cookies before serving.

Makes about 50 cookies

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eggnog bars and messing up with iconic things

Eggnog bars / Barrinhas de eggnog

Many people I know are against remakes – I’m not; there are wonderful remakes out there – some are even superior to the originals – and there are bad ones, too. That’s life, right?

I think it’s hard to deal with traditional and iconic characters (unless you’re David Fincher), and maybe some of them should be left alone in all their glory. Chloë Grace Moretz has done a disservice to her career by very poorly portraying a character that Sissy Spacek elevated to perfection, and Carrie is such a bad movie in general that not even the goddess Julianne Moore can save it (and that, to me, says a lot).

Let’s mess with traditional and iconic things in a better way, shall we? Let’s get a celebrated Christmas drink and turn it into cakes, cookies and cheesecake bars – I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. ;)

Eggnog bars
slightly adapted from the wonderful The Good Cookie: Over 250 delicious recipes, from simple to sublime

Crust:
150g digestive cookies
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 tablespoons (125g) unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
335g (12oz) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup (133g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons brandy
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg + a bit extra for sprinkling on top of the bars before serving

Crust: position oven rack in the center of oven; preheat to 180°C/350°F.Lightly butter a 20x30cm (12x8in) baking pan, line it with foil so that the foil extends 5cm (2in) beyond the short ends of the pan; lightly butter the foil.
In a food processor, blitz the cookies until ground. Pulse in the cinnamon. With the motor running, add the butter and process until combined. Transfer crumbs to prepared pan and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until it is slightly puffed and set.
Cool slightly over a wire rack while you make the filling. Decrease oven temperature to 160°C/325°F.

Filling: in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Beat in the cornstarch; add the egg and egg yolks, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the heavy cream, brandy, vanilla, and nutmeg. Scrape filling into the slightly cooled crust; bake for 15-20 minutes, until the filling is set. Cool completely over wire rack, then refrigerate.
Before serving, sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and cut into bars.

Makes 24

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chewy speculaas blondies and one of the most beautiful trailers I've ever seen

Chewy speculaas blondies / Blondies de speculaas

My sister and I love watching the trailers when we go to the movies, and after each one we turn to each other and say “yes” or “no” (if we will or will not watch that movie once it premieres). Weeks ago, on the Catching Fire session, we saw the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and I must confess that when Ben Stiller’s face first appeared onscreen I was more than ready to say “no” – I really can’t stand his movies – but by the end of the trailer we were both enthusiastically saying “yes”. :)

One of the most beautiful trailers I’ve seen and the equally amazing music (the song has been in my head ever since) have made me want to watch a movie starring Ben Stiller – I could barely believe it. :D

It was also hard to believe I could have speculaas without all the rolling and chilling and cutting (and then more chilling) of dough – one roll out cookie in this heat is enough already. :) Edd Kimber’s blondies do deliver all the speculaas delicious flavors and with chocolate to boot – what’s not to love? :D

The blondies turned out flavorsome and thin, but to me that’s not a problem: I became fan of thin bar cookies after being introduced to Alice Medrich’s brownies.

Chewy speculaas blondies
slightly adapted from the delicious The Boy Who Bakes

½ cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
200g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
30g white chocolate, in chips or chopped
30g dark chocolate, in chips or chopped
60g almonds, lightly toasted, cooled and chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium high heat, add the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in the egg and vanilla, then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the white and dark chocolates and almonds, then pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs (like a brownie). Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack, then slice into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chocolate pain d’épice, two versions of the same song and of the same baked good

Chocolate pain d'epice / Pain d'épice de chocolate

One day, back when I worked as a teacher, I told my students I liked Soft Cell and, two days after that one of them brought me the “Memorabilia” album and begged me to listen to it – he was sure I would love it, and in fact I did. On that CD there was a slightly different version of “Loving You, Hating Me” from the one I knew (and already liked) – the arrangement was a little less metallic, let’s put it this way – and I fell completely for the new version (it became one of my all-time favorites).

Last year I posted a recipe for pain d’épice and now I bring you another one, made with whole wheat flour and chocolate – I like both, but the chocolate version won my heart over (thank you, Eric Lanlard). :)

Chocolate pain d’épice
slightly adapted from the absolutely beautiful and delicious Chocolat (I bought mine here)

200ml whole milk
8 tablespoons clear honey*
125g dark chocolate – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
300g whole wheat flour
65g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 900g loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
In a small saucepan, combine the milk and honey and heat gently but do not let it come to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted. Cool for 5 minutes.
in a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt. Make a well in the center and whisk in the eggs, vanilla and orange blossom water. Whisk in the chocolate mixture, then whisk until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully unmold and transfer to the rack. Cool completely, then remove the paper.
The pain d’épice keeps well for up to 2 weeks if well wrapped in plastic.
You can toast the pain d’épice slices and serve them with butter or jam.

*measuring honey by the spoonful is a pain in the neck – if you don’t feel like doing that, go ahead and consider that I used half a 350g jar

Serves 8-10

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gingerbread stars because Christmas is around the corner

Gingerbread stars / Estrelinhas de gingerbread

One of the things I hear the most these days is that time flies and I couldn’t agree more – I cannot believe that December has already arrived; it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree, to buy gifts for the loved ones and to start thinking about the food – since it’s too early for turkey I kicked things off with these cute and delicious gingerbread stars. :)

I usually shy away from cut out cookies at this time of the year because of the insane heat, but days ago the sun wasn’t so harsh and I managed to make these without much trouble, just refrigerating the cookies before actually baking them. A sprinkling of icing sugar to mimic snow and my Christmas series begins now (and if you’re looking for inspiration and can’t wait there are several posts from previous years here). :)

Gingerbread stars
slightly adapted from Mowie’s beautiful blog

130g unsalted butter
4 tablespoons corn syrup
110g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
330g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
icing sugar, for sprinkling

Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a small saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cool, then stir in the vanilla.
Place flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, add the melted mixture and mix until a dough forms – I used an electric mixer for that but the mixture wouldn’t come together no matter how much I mixed it; therefore, I cracked an egg in a small bowl, lightly beat it with a fork and, with the mixer on, l added the egg gradually until the dough came together (I used nearly half the egg).
Divide the dough into half, form a disk with each half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F and line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to 5mm thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into shapes and place onto the prepared baking sheets 2.5cm (1in) apart. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on the sheets over a wire rack, then sprinkle generously with icing sugar. Reroll dough scraps once.

Makes about 4 dozen using a 5cm (2in) star cookie cutter

Friday, November 29, 2013

Chocolate and almond babka and another post-movie emergency

Chocolate and almond babka / Babka de amêndoa e chocolate

After watching in a row four movies by Danish directors (four amazing movies, by the way) I thought it was time for something lighter with a touch of romance, and because of that I went for Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, the reason for choosing it being that I was never a fan of Michelle Williams but that changed after My Week With Marilyn and that Seth Rogen reminds me of my 18 year old nephew, who happens to be the sweetest teenage boy I’ve ever known (and who also gives the best hugs in the world). :D

Take This Waltz is a beautiful movie, indeed, and both Williams and Rogen are fantastic in it, but my plans of a couple of hours of fun and romance completely backfired because by the end of the movie I’d cried tons and was feeling pretty miserable. :( And, as usual, I had nothing sweet around to make me feel momentarily better, not even a square of chocolate – I do have one babka just like the one on the photo stashed in my freezer (the recipes makes two loaves, which is great because the bread is delicious) but biting into something as hard as a rock wouldn’t solve my problem (it would probably create a new one involving a visit to the dentist). I guess I should defrost the baked goods prior to watching movies – or choose something really lighter. :D

Chocolate and almond babka
slightly adapted from the amazing Gourmet Traveller

180ml lukewarm whole milk
14g (2 sachets) dried yeast
1 cup (100g) granulated sugar
485g all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
210g unsalted butter, softened
100g almonds, lightly toasted and cooled
100g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork, for brushing
demerara sugar, for sprinkling over the babka

Combine milk, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook and set aside in a warm place until foamy (5-7 minutes). Add 75g of the flour, mix to combine, then add eggs, yolk, remaining sugar and salt, mix to combine. While mixing on low speed, gradually add remaining flour until combined, then add 150g of the butter, a little at a time, beating until dough is shiny and elastic (3-5 minutes; dough will be quite soft). Place dough in a lightly buttered large bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size (1-1½ hours).
Process the almonds in a food processor until coarse crumbs form, combine with remaining softened butter to form a paste and set aside at room temperature until required.
Knock back dough and divide into two. Working with one half at a time, roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a 20x30cm (8x12in) rectangle. With longest side facing you, spread over half the almond paste, leaving a 4cm-border, then scatter over half the chocolate. Roll away from you to form a cylinder, lightly brush ends with the beaten egg, then join ends to make a loop, twist into a figure of eight and place in a buttered and floured 12.5x22.5cm (9x5in) loaf pan. Repeat with remaining dough, then set both pans aside in a warm place until dough reaches the top of pan (1 hour).
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Brush babkas with the beaten egg, scatter with demerara sugar and bake in the center of oven until golden and cooked through (35-40 minutes). Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out, cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Babkas will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 3 days, and are best served warm or in toasted slices.

Serves 6-8 each babka

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake + "Bronson"

Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake / Bolo de chocolate e avelã (sem farinha de trigo)

Not only do I love watching movies but I also love reading about them (I am a very curious person, I’ll admit it), and when a guy I’d never heard of before won the best director prize in Cannes in 2011 I knew I would watch that movie as soon as possible (Ryan Gosling being the leading actor wouldn’t hurt either). ;) I did, and it became one of my all-time favorites, and up to this day I still listen to the soundtrack almost on daily basis.

Days ago I watched another movie directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and it made me think that we were all paying attention to Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk back in 2009, while we should have paid attention – and given all the awards – to Tom Hardy for Bronson: at first I was shocked by the physical transformation (and by how much he looked like the real Charlie Bronson), but his performance is so much more than that – it’s a tiring, intense and perfect acting exercise that goes beyond the pushups he had to make to get those muscles. It’s not an easy movie to watch – the amount of violence is disturbing – but I found it was worth every second (and if you like acting in its essence I am sure you’ll like it, too). It’s such a shame that a great performance like that didn’t get the buzz it deserved, and it is rarely mentioned among the great performances of all time – what Hardy did shouldn’t be forgotten.

And since good things shouldn’t be forgotten, I’ve been having a lot of fun rediscovering Bill Granger’s Holiday – I hadn’t used the book for ages (for no reason at all) and after making those great chocolate and caramel bars I’ve been reaching for it quite regularly. This chocolate cake is an easy and delicious idea for dessert – you can make it in advance and when the meal is over all you need to do is whip up the cinnamon cream (I skipped the electric mixer and did it manually in order to burn some of the calories I was about to ingest). ;)

Flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake
slightly adapted from the always delicious Holiday

Cake:
200g dark chocolate, chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g light brown sugar
100g hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)
5 eggs, separated
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Cinnamon cream:
1 cup (240ml) whipping cream
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20cm springform cake pan (I used a pan with a removable bottom), line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water). Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter have melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Add the sugar and hazelnut meal to the melted chocolate and stir until there are no lumps. Add the egg yolks one at a time, stirring well after each addition, then stir in the vanilla. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until firm but still gooey in the center. Leave to cool completely in the pan. Sift the cocoa over the top of the cake.

Cinnamon cream: place the cream, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar in a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Serve with the cake.

Serves 8

Monday, November 25, 2013

Berry-berry streusel bars and another fan of "The Hunger Games"

Berry-berry streusel bars / Barrinhas de frutas vermelhas

My sister, a.k.a. my movie buddy, did not watch The Hunger Games when it was released last year, so I asked her to do it last week so we could watch Catching Fire together. She did and loved it, and then loved the sequel, too, and when I arrived home there was a text message from her on my phone: “can I borrow the books?” :) I can totally relate since last year, after watching the first movie, I got hooked on the books, too and couldn’t put them aside.

As the movie production went ahead, it was a delight to hear that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jena Malone were attached to the project, and while I wasn’t very sure about Sam Claflin playing Finnick Odair back then all I can say now is <3 <3 <3. :D

I’ll admit I was wrong about these bars, too: I’d ignored them forever because I’d made several different jam bars already. But with no fruits at home other than frozen berries and bananas, no chocolate either – the horror, the horror – and a bag of oats begging to be used I gave in and baked the bars, only to learn how delicious they were and how silly I’d been till then.


Berry-berry streusel bars
slightly adapted from the huge The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh

Crust:
180g rolled oats
1 ½ cups (210g) all purpose flour
1 cup (175g) firmly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks/226g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Filling:
125g frozen blueberries, out of the freezer for 30 minutes
125g frozen raspberries, out of the freezer for 30 minutes
2/3 cup raspberry jam (I used half raspberry, half cherry)
5 teaspoons all purpose flour
finely grated zest of 2 large limes

Crust: preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Butter a 20x30cm (12x8in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhand on two opposite sides, and butter the foil as well.
Combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter; rub with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press half of crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until light brown, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

Filling: mix blueberries, raspberries, jam, flour and lime zest in bowl. Spread filling over crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over. Bake until topping is golden, about 35 minutes. Cool in pan. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes 24

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Citrus coconut snack cake, good casting and bad casting

Citrus coconut snack cake / Bolo cítrico de coco para o lanche

One of the many things that make Breaking Bad the best TV show ever made is the cast: each and every actor is brilliant and they were perfectly chosen to play those characters, and I don’t even have to start with the leading men – for instance, how will anyone be able to forget Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman? It’s pure genius.

That kind of amazing casting is not something we see every day – and yes, I’m considering movies, too – and what happens with The Blacklist is the extreme opposite: I don’t remember seeing Megan Boone before but in the TV show she sucks, big time. Her inability to show emotion is impossible to disguise and her lack of talent to play that character is even more evident when James Spader is onscreen – he was born to play Red and by the looks of it is having the time of his life doing so. I find his performance a great one, but I believe he would benefit from having an equally great actress to share his scenes with.

“Another coconut cake?” you might say – the reason for this was the two oranges I had in my fridge, completely naked after I stripped them out of their zest to make the cornmeal financiers. I didn’t want to waste their delicious juice, so I decided to pair it with coconut – unlike Spader and Boone, they go really well together, and since I needed a couple of lemons for a marinade I used their zest in this cake, too.

Citrus coconut snack cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques

3 cups (360g) cake flour (homemade: 310g all-purpose flour + 50g corn starch)
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (240ml) whole milk, room temperature
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
⅔ cup (160ml) canola oil
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
¾ cup (75g) sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 32.5x22.5cm (13×9in) baking pan*.
In a very large mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, orange juice, vegetable oil, zest and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Beat in eggs. Scrape sides of bowl; continue beating on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Spread batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the batter with the coconut.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly in pan on a wire rack.

* I made the exact recipe above using a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan

Serves 20-24

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marzipan cookies and less is more

Marzipan cookies / Biscoitos de marzipã

As I drove to work the other day listening to one of my favorite songs I started thinking about the two or three episodes of The X Factor I’ve watched recently and how everyone seems to sing in the absolute same tone – I don’t think that one has to have Christina Aguilera’s voice to make good music (and let’s just say that the girl shouldn’t feel very proud about her repertoire), and my humble ears would choose Nina Persson’s soft voice over all that screaming any day now. :)

As for baking, in a similar “less is more” moment, I baked these delicious and incredibly addictive cookies: only a handful of ingredients resulted in chewy and moist treats, and I found it hard to stop at one. Or four. :D

Marzipan cookies
from the always beautiful and delicious Gourmet Traveller

250g almond meal
200g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g pure icing sugar

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
Combine almond meal, granulated sugar, salt, egg whites, zest and vanilla in a large bowl and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a work surface and roll into a cylinder about 2cm thick. Sieve icing sugar onto work surface, roll dough in icing sugar and cut into 32 pieces. Roll each piece into a thin log, then form into an "S" shape (I never managed to do so, so I shaped my cookies as small cylinders). Dust cookies lightly with icing sugar and place cookies 2.5cm (1in) apart onto prepared sheet and bake until golden (10-15 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 32

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beef meatloaf with spaghetti sauce

Beef meatloaf with spaghetti sauce / Bolo de carne com molho de tomate e espaguete

Jamie’s Money Saving Meals hasn’t been aired here in Brazil yet but luckily for me there are some episodes available on You Tube – I have watched six of them (not sure if there are more) and really liked the concept: the food looks delicious and not at all hard to prepare, and when I saw him making meatloaf with tomato sauce and spaghetti I knew exactly what would be the next Sunday lunch at my house. :)

I found the recipe online and tweaked it a bit to make it more what my husband and I like – we’re not huge pork eaters, though we wouldn’t want to live in a world without bacon. :) The meatloaf goes really well with the pasta and leftovers (if there are any) are delicious in sandwich form (I like mine with a spoonful of Dijon mustard).

Beef meatloaf with spaghetti sauce
slightly adapted from here

Meatloaf:
3 carrots
extra-virgin olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
500g beef mince
60g fresh breadcrumbs
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
handful of fresh oregano, chopped
handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
30g feta cheese, grated
1 large egg
a few drops of Tabasco
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce and pasta:
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 x 700ml jar of passata
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
handful of fresh oregano leaves

For assembling the dish:
30g Cheddar cheese
400g dried spaghetti

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Peel the carrots, quarter lengthways, then place in a 20x30cm (8x12in) roasting tray, drizzle with the oil and bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small saucepan and cook the onions, adding a pinch of salt, until translucent. Cool. Transfer to a large bowl, add the beef, breadcrumbs, dried and fresh oregano, parsley, feta, egg, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Mix lightly with your hands (don’t overmix or the meatloaf will be tough), then shape into a loaf (roughly 20cm long). Make a space in the middle of the tray with the carrots and add the meatloaf. Cook for a further 25 minutes, or until the meatloaf is golden and cooked through.
While the meatloaf is in the oven, make the sauce: in a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and the dried oregano and cook until slightly golden, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the passata (with a splash of water from the empty jar), the sugar, season with salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in the herbs, cover and remove from the heat.

Have a large saucepan of salted boiling water ready (for the spaghetti).

Remove the tray from the oven and carefully pour the sauce around the meatloaf. Top the meatloaf with a spoonful of tomato sauce, then the grated Cheddar and pop the meatloaf back into the oven for a further 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden and delicious, and the sauce is bubbling. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions, then drain. Serve it with the sauce in the baking tray and the meatloaf.

Serves 4

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blueberry and coconut cake, female directors, a beautiful movie and a versatile actor

Blueberry and coconut cake / Bolo de coco e mirtilos

I believe that the movie industry would be a better place if more women stepped behind the camera: there aren’t many female directors out there, which is a shame. Jane Campion wowed the world twenty years ago with one of my all time favorite movies, and I’m forever in her debt for introducing me to Mark Ruffalo *sigh*. :) Nora Ephron added romance to our lives, Vera Farmiga discussed religion, Kathryn Bigelow makes movies many men would like to make, and Lynne Ramsay gave us one of the best movies of 2011 (with certainly the best acting of that year, the glorious Tilda).

A couple of days ago I watched the beautiful After the Wedding and then I could see how fantastic Susanne Bier is (In a Better World is one of the best movies I have seen in the last ten years, maybe fifteen). Never dull or boring, After the Wedding is a delight to watch – it is well written and well played by a very good cast, and what a breath of fresh air it is to watch actors with crooked teeth, facial hair, lines around their eyes – more “human” than most of people from Hollywood. If that still hasn’t convinced you to watch After the Wedding, Mads Mikkelsen *sigh* plays the lead and delivers another great performance, something completely different from Le Chiffre, Hannibal Lecter, Draco or Ivan (the guy is a chameleon, isn’t he?). Oh, and ladies: there are a couple of scenes in which he is shirtless. Just saying. ;)

Now that I have spent all my convincing cards on the movie I don’t have much left to say to convince you to make this cake; I’ll give you this: it is super tender, it is delicious, and coconut and blueberry are great together – I hope that is enough. :D

Blueberry and coconut cake
slightly adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks (I bought mine here)

200g all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks/226g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup (25g) sweetened flaked coconut
150g blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed), dusted with 1 heaping teaspoon all purpose flour
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x7cm (8x2.8in) cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients and coconut and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the blueberries.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Carefully unmold, remove the paper, then turn the cake onto a serving plate. Sift with icing sugar to serve.

Serves 8-10

Monday, November 11, 2013

Orange cornmeal financiers - a French-Brazilian culinary experiment

Orange cornmeal financiers / Financiers de fubá e laranja

The weather here in Sao Paulo seems to be in a roller coaster lately – in some days the temperature reaches 30°C (86°F) only to drop to 17°C (62°F) on the following morning. I prefer the cold weather but I do have something stashed in the freezer for the screaming hot periods: I made David Lebovitz’s amazing chocolate ice cream and poured it into Popsicle molds instead of churning it in the ice cream maker – the result was so good my husband is currently addicted to it. :D

With the ice cream production on full speed, my stash of frozen egg whites is regular again and that made me think of financiers once more. This time, however, I decided to add a Brazilian touch to the French treat by replacing the all purpose flour with corn flour (not corn starch), adding a touch of citrus zest to brighten up the flavor – I don’t mean to brag about my idea, but it turned out to be excellent (modesty mode off). :D

Orange cornmeal financiers
adapted from the great Simply Bill

85g almond meal (finely ground almonds)
135g icing sugar, sifted
55g corn flour (not corn starch)
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
5 egg whites
95g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, icing sugar, corn flour, salt and zest. Stir in the egg whites until just combined. Stir in the melted butter and the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter and flour ten 100ml capacity mini cake or muffin pans.
Pour the batter in the pans. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden - the financiers should spring back when touched. Remove from the oven and leave in the pan for 2 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Financiers are best served the day they’re made, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Makes 10

Friday, November 8, 2013

Caramel and chocolate bars and turning things interesting for adults

Caramel and chocolate bars / Barrinhas de caramelo e chocolate

Long ago, many years before vampires were “in” (or were turned into creatures that walk around in broad day light), a very respected filmmaker made a masterpiece out of Bram Stoker’s book, and my favorite actor set the bar high for anyone else ever to play a vampire again.

Little over twenty years later a very interesting movie trailer gets released, in which Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play vampires – apparently dark ones, nothing covered in glitter, thank heavens. :D Both of them look absolutely amazing in Only Lovers Left Alive and now I cannot wait to watch the movie. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to match Gary Oldman playing a vampire, but I really believe that Tilda and Hiddles can seriously make those creatures of the night interesting again for us, adults. :)

I’m not a spokesperson for super healthy food – I do buy and eat processed food sometimes, and I am sure you remember my baked goods filled with chopped Oreos and Snickers. :) However, candy bars are not my cup of tea: I often find them too sweet, even the ones I used to love as a kid. Bill Granger’s bars, with layers of cookie, caramel and chocolate, are a great way to turn a certain candy bar interesting for us, adults – and the salt sprinkled on top makes all the difference in these addictive little morsels of deliciousness. :D

Caramel and chocolate bars
slightly adapted from the delicious and beautiful Holiday (I bought mine here)

Crust:
125g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (90g) sweetened flaked coconut
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
100g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar
1 can (395g) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
150g dark chocolate – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
flaked sea salt, to taste (I used Maldon as suggested by Bill)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x30cm (12x8in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhand in two opposite sides, then butter the foil as well.
Crust: in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, coconut, sugar and melted butter and mix until a dough forms. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden.
While the base is in the oven, prepare the filling by placing all the ingredients into a medium saucepan. Cook over a low heat while stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, constantly stirring, until it has turned a light golden color. Pour this evenly over the cooked base and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Cool completely over a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Once melted, pour onto the caramel and spread evenly. Allow the chocolate to set before sprinkling over the sea salt. Cut into squares or bars.

Makes 24

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

White chocolate and hazelnut pound cake and "Ray Donovan"

White chocolate hazelnut cake / Bolo de chocolate branco e avelã

Since Girls wasn’t bringing any joy to my days – much to the opposite – I decided to dedicate my precious time to a different TV show (aside from The Blacklist, which I watch with the hubby), and being a dark-drama-kind-of-gal I went for Ray Donovan; I’m halfway through the season and loving every minute of it – the performances are outstanding (how great are Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson and Jon Voight?) and the writing is really good, too. I haven’t read much about the show to avoid spoilers but it was nice to know that there is a second season coming next year – it’s so frustrating to get hooked on a TV show only to find out later it’s been cancelled. :S

Because the episodes of Ray Donovan are one-hour long there is plenty of time for a cake to be baked: therefore, I mixed this batter (which took me hardly any time, even with the melting of the chocolate), placed it in the oven and sat down to watch the show; being a large cake, once inverted onto the wire rack it would need a good hour to cool (or even more than that), and that was the perfect excuse for a TV junkie like me to watch another episode in a row. :D

White chocolate and hazelnut pound cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques

Cake:
3 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (20g) hazelnut meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar*
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
112g (4oz) white chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup sour cream**

Glaze:
112g (4oz) white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon canola oil

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter and flour a 12-cup capacity Bundt pan.
In a medium bowl stir together flour, hazelnut meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a very large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating about 1 minute after each addition and scraping sides of bowl frequently. Add vanilla and the melted white chocolate; beat just until combined. Alternately add flour mixture and the sour cream to butter mixture, beating on low after each addition just until combined. Do not overmix. Pour batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan; cool thoroughly on wire rack.
Glaze: combine chocolate and oil in a small bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, mixing until melted. Spoon over the cooled cake, then set aside to set.

The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

* the cake turned out delicious, but I found it a bit too sweet – I’d cut down 30g of the sugar if baking it again

** 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)

Serves 14-16

Monday, November 4, 2013

Zucchini keftedes and to each their own

Zucchini keftedes / Keftedes de abobrinha

Every time I watch “The Great British Bake Off” (thanks to some really nice people who post the episodes on YouTube) I get cranky about the contestants’ lack of hygiene – all that touching of hair, then touching of the floor, then touching the food drives me crazy! I feel sorry for the judges who have to eat the baked goods. There was an episode in which a cake or something was sliced and a hair could be clearly seen on the close up – I think it was one of Cathryn’s sweets (season 3), if I’m not mistaken. Eeew. :S

To make things even more unappetizing for me the last episode I watched had the contestants baking with suet, which is something I wouldn’t eat no matter the amount of sugar and fruit added (that said, I have always wanted to make a roly-poly, replacing the suet for butter or vegetable shortening or using this suet-free version from Gourmet Traveller).

While eating suet is not part of my plans, my husband wouldn’t try anything with zucchini (to each their own, right?), and telling him a hundred times how delicious that vegetable is wasn’t really helping. Things changed when he tried these keftedes – the minute I started frying the balls the kitchen was filled with a wonderful smell, sort of like when someone is making grilled cheese and some of the cheese slips off the bread and touches the screaming hot frying pan; that got him immediately interested – he bit into one fritter, looked at me and said: “I’ll grab the Tabasco and a very cold beer”. :D

Zucchini keftedes
slightly adapted from the beautiful Full of Flavor: How to Create Like a Chef

450g (1 pound) zucchini, trimmed and coarsely grated
2 tablespoons grated onion
100g feta cheese, crumbled
¾ cup finely grated parmesan
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
6-8 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
all purpose flour, seasoned with salt, for dusting
canola oil, for frying

Blanch the zucchini in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry in a cloth (I let the zucchini cool a little before doing that because it was impossible to handle such a hot kitchen towel).
Place the olive oil in a small saucepan, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook until soft and translucent. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool. Add the zucchini, feta, parmesan, parsley, oregano, eggs and half the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper, then mix to combine. If the mixture is too wet, gradually add more breadcrumbs. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Taste the seasoning before frying the keftedes. Shape the mixture into 2.5cm (1in) balls, then roll into the flour*.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the balls in batches until golden. Drain in paper towels and serve immediately.

* the hubby suggested that rolling the keftedes in breadcrumbs instead of all purpose would make them even nicer on the outside and although I haven’t tried doing that I agree with him.

Makes about 20

Friday, November 1, 2013

Maple banana cake with caramel drizzle + an amazing movie trailer

Maple banana cake with caramel drizzle / Bolo de banana e xarope de bordo com caldinha de caramelo

Weeks ago the trailer for Foxcatcher was released and my interest in the movie skyrocketed – I’d read about it and seen a couple of photos (in which both Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell look unrecognizable) and the trailer just made me even more curious (oh, the joy of a perfectly put together movie trailer!).

I find it remarkable when an actor chooses a project that is completely different from everything he’d done up until then, which is what Carell is doing in Foxcatcher – for the little I’ve seen and read his performance will be one to watch next year. That reminds me of other actors who emerged from comedies and delivered great performances in dramas such as Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, Jamie Foxx in Collateral (before that movie I don’t think anyone would have thought the guy could win an Oscar) and, to me, the most fantastic one, Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky did the impossible here, let’s be honest). I cannot wait to see Carell playing such a dark character, and it’s too bad the movie release has been postponed to 2014 (apparently no one wants to compete against Gravity and 12 Years a Slave in the award season).

***
I like having a handful of ingredients in my freezer for cooking and baking, like berries, peas, spinach and nuts, and two things I always have stashed there are egg whites and overripe bananas. A while ago the egg white amount was considerably low, but there were quite a lot of frozen bananas around, and they were transformed into this moist, delicious cake (the caramel drizzle makes it extra special, don’t skip it). The cake does taste fantastic with the addition of maple syrup, but I have made this recipe replacing the syrup with a mild flavored honey and it worked like a charm, too.

Maple banana cake with caramel drizzle
slightly adapted from the always gorgeous Delicious Autralia

Cake:
3 large eggs
125g unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 cup (175g) light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup (60ml) maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 overripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup sour cream*
225g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
icing sugar, for dusting

Caramel drizzle:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup (60g) light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Cake: preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Grease an 8-cup capacity Bundt cake pan and dust with flour.
Beat eggs, butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and vanilla in an electric mixer for 5 minutes or until thick. Beat banana and sour cream into the batter. Sift in flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt then mix until combined. Spread into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then carefully unmold onto a wire rack. Cool completely.
Make the caramel drizzle: place butter and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it boils, whisk in the cream – carefully because the mixture will bubble – until incorporated then remove from heat.
Dust the cake with the icing sugar and drizzle with the caramel.

* 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)

Serves 8-10

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cookies and cream blondies and a TV show to eat them with

Cookies and cream blondies / Blondies cookies and cream

A couple of days ago I finished watching Hannibal and found it pretty even: it was a very good show from start to finish and I hope the second season stays that way; Cynthia Nixon will be joining the cast and there are rumors of David Bowie playing Hannibal's uncle – I mean, how cool is that? :)

No spoilers here, everyone knows that Hannibal Lecter is a killer and eats his victims, and the series is very graphic about that, which kind of eliminates the risk of wanting to eat something delicious while watching TV – I never forget the day my brother and I were watching The Fly and my father entered the room with his dinner, only to go back to the kitchen in a matter of minutes. :D

Having watched Breaking Bad, Broadchurch and Hannibal in a row, I decided to go for something lighter (so I thought), and Girls was the chosen TV show; However, after only two episodes I felt miserable with those characters, there was nothing funny about any of show. I felt so sad after that hour that all I wanted was something sweet – too bad these delicious blondies were long gone by then.

Cookies and cream blondies
slightly adapted from the always stunning Donna Hay magazine

250g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (175g) light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g white chocolate, melted
100g cream cheese
150g Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients and chocolate and mix on low speed just until combined.
Spoon half the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Top with spoonfuls of cream cheese, then sprinkle with the cookies, distributing the ingredients evenly. Spoon over the remaining blondie batter and spread to cover the cookies and the cream cheese completely.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 24

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spiced roast chicken

Spiced roast chicken / Frango assado com especiarias

As much as I love cooking and baking there are times I want to be somewhere else besides the kitchen –for those times, the oven is my best friend: with a bit of planning food can be cooked without the need of me being around it, which can be very helpful. Roast chicken is a staple at my house because both the husband and I love it and while it cooks in the oven I can do many other things (or nothing at all). :D

This recipe comes from a cookbook I acquired recently and it’s originally made with quails – the pungent flavor of the spices work beautifully with chicken, too, and the paprika gives the meat a golden, nice color.

Spiced roast chicken
slightly adapted from the delicious Do-Ahead Dinners: How to Feed Friends and Family Without the Frenzy

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander/cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed to a paste
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 chicken pieces

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the spices and cook for a minute or so, stirring continuously. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and add the honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Leave until completely cool. Place the chicken pieces in a ziplock bag, add the marinade, close and then massage the bag to make sure all the chicken pieces are covered by the marinade. Cover and chill overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a 20x30cm roasting pan with a double layer of foil, then brush it lightly with oil. Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the foil with a little space between them. Spoon over any extra marinade left. Bake for about 45 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

Serves 2

Friday, October 25, 2013

Blackberry and almond upside down cake + a memory from long ago

Blackberry and almond upside down cake / Bolo invertido de amêndoa e amora

The first upside down cake I ever saw was a pineapple one made by Ofelia on TV – I believe it’s fair to say that she was the Brazilian equivalent to Julia Child and I loved her cooking show when I was younger (11-12 years old, to be more precise). Back then, her show was aired weekday mornings, while I was at school, but my brother would tape it every day for me – you might think he did that out of sheer kindness but in fact he did it because he knew that I would cook and bake all those delicious recipes as soon as I got home. :D

Many years later, when I started blogging, I saw Martha’s gorgeous cranberry upside down cake and fell in love with it, but unfortunately fresh cranberries do not exist here in Brazil. That image got stuck in my head, though, and after that I ended up making upside down cakes with other flavors, but I have to say: this blackberry version, a recipe from DH magazine, is the prettiest and tastiest of them all.

Blackberry and almond upside down cake
slightly adapted from the always amazing Donna Hay Magazine

450g frozen blackberries
1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar, divided use
125g unsalted butter
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
slightly heaping ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (50g) almond meal
2/3 cup (160ml) buttermilk*

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20x7cm round cake pan (do not use one with a removable bottom or the juices will escape), line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Place the blackberries on paper towels and let them thaw slightly while you make the cake batter.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, 180g of the sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, almond meal and buttermilk and beat on low speed just until incorporated. Set aside for a moment.
Cover the bottom of the baking paper with the blackberries and sprinkle with the remaining sugar (70g). Spoon the batter over the berries, then bake for about 50 minutes or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for about 2 hours or until just warm. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate, remove the pan, then the paper.
Serve it on its own or with whipped cream.

* homemade buttermilk: to make 1 cup buttermilk place 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a 240ml-capacity measuring cup and complete with whole milk (room temperature). Wait 10 minutes for it to thicken slightly, then use the whole mixture in your recipe

Serves 8-10

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Salty-nougat fudge brownies and the end of the best TV show ever made

Salty nougat fudge brownies / Brownies com amendoim e Snickers

Many, many years ago I watched the series finale of my favorite TV comedy and that left a bitter taste in my mouth: to simply put it, I did not like it at all. To this day I cannot believe how something so brilliant could end up so poorly – it seemed like everyone creatively involved in Seinfeld suddenly got lazy about the whole thing (or fed up, I don’t know).

Up until weeks ago that was the only series finale I remembered watching (maybe Friends? I’m not sure), and, a bit traumatized, I hoped with all my heart for Breaking Bad to have a fantastic finale, something worth all the greatness and genius that had permeated each and every episode since the very beginning. As I expected, Vince Gilligan did not disappoint: it was the best series finale for the best TV show ever made. No loose ends, nothing thrown carelessly at the audience, and some superb acting – Jeff Daniels and Bobby Cannavale should mail their Emmys to Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, respectively. :)

As I go on watching other TV series – currently Hannibal and The Blacklist – I have the feeling that nothing on TV will ever be as amazing as Breaking Bad. As for baking, for a long time I had the feeling that no brownie recipe would ever match Alice Medrich’s cocoa brownies, but it has finally found some solid competition: these super fudgy brownies, with bits of peanuts and Snickers bars, are one of the most delicious creations ever made in my kitchen.

Salty-nougat fudge brownies
slightly adapted from the delicious The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden

225g (8oz) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
¾ cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (116g) light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (160g) all-purpose flour
1 cup salted roasted peanuts
2 (52g/1.86-ounce each) Snickers bars, chopped – make sure the pieces are separated from one another before adding to the batter

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan, line it with foil, leaving a 5cm (2in) overhang on 2 opposite sides, then butter the foil as well.
In a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, over medium heat, add chocolate and butter. Stir to melt. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugars, vanilla, and salt to combine. Stir reserved chocolate, then flour and mix to combine. Fold in the nuts and candy bar. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until brownies are set around the edges and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let brownies cool in the pan over a wire rack.
Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 24

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