Great start of the day: homemade muesli

homemade muesliI found this recipe in one of my grandmothers magazine (passed down via my mother and on to me) and it looked so easy and delicious that I had to try it. I’ve already made a second batch too, it’s really delicious and really good for you too. So an excellent start of the day! Here’s how to make it:

Preheat the oven to 180 C and cover a baking sheet with baking parchment. In a bowl, mix 180 g oatmeal with 45 g dried apple cut in small pieces (I use scissors, much easier), 70 g skinned almonds (left whole – if you only have some with skin on, that’s fine too), 100 ml apple sauce, 2 tbsp maple syrup and 1 tsp cinnamon. Spread it out on your baking sheet and put it in the oven for 30 min, stirring every 10 min. Cover loosely with a sheet of  aluminium foil for the last 10 min or so as the apples burn easily (so keep a close eye on it).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Transfer to an airtight tin and add 50 g goji berries and 40 g wheat (or oat) flakes. You can keep it in the tin for 2 weeks. Eat with some yoghurt or milk. You can add pieces of fresh fruit as well. Enjoy!

A colourful present: macaroons

Le macaronWhen some friends came to dinner a while ago, they didn’t want to arrive empty handed. Usually, you bring a bottle of wine, but as I’m not a big fan of wine at all, they wanted to bring something else. So they went to a cookery store and said to the lady behind the counter: we need a present for someone who loves to cook but already has everything. The lady knew just the thing, and that’s how I got my own Lékué macaroon set including a macaroon mat and silicone piping equipment. I already had the cutest cookbook on macaroons as well, the French book Les secrets du patissier: le macaron. I’ll admit, I mainly bought it for the gorgeous cover and the beautiful pictures, but it’s a fantastic book that helps you overcome your fear of tackling a macaroon recipe. So now, I only needed a good occasion which came about yesterday as we were invited to dinner by some friends. They have 2 little kids, so I assumed they would prefer sugar over wine too!

I opted for a batch of vanilla macaroons and a batch of raspberry macaroons, but the basic recipe is really the same. For 20 macaroons, first sieve 100 g almond powder and 100 g icing sugar in a bowl, stir to combine and set aside. Now make the meringue. You have 2 options here, either you make a French meringue where you first mix your egg whites until stiff and then add the sugar and mix again (the easy version) or you opt for an Italian meringue, where you add a hot sugar syrup to your stiff egg whites. This is more difficult to achieve, but your macaroons can’t fail with the Italian version, whereas for the French one all depends on the precision of the rest of your actions. On my first set of macaroons a year ago, I used the French version and got hollow macaroons as a result, so this time I didn’t want to take any chances and tried the Italian meringue instead.

Italian meringueFor both versions, first mix 40 g egg whites until stiff (add a pinch of salt to speed this up) – you’ll need 80 g egg white which is about 4-5 eggs (egg white freezes really well, so when you only need the yolk for a recipe, like for bavarois for example, just put the whites in a freezer bag). For the French version, add 100 g caster sugar in batches and keep beating until incorporated. For the Italian version, put the sugar in a small pan with 40 ml water and gently heat without stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 8 to 10 min until the syrup reaches 115 C (you can measure this with a sugar thermometer. If you don’t have one, just boil the mixture until it starts getting syrupy and starts to thicken, you need something like a runny shower gel consistency). Gradually pour the syrup on the egg whites and keep beating all the time. Continue to mix for about 10 min to cool down the mixture a bit. The result should be a glossy mix which holds it’s shape.

Piping macaroonsNow add 40 g raw egg white to your sugar almond mix and stir until well combined and you get a thick paste. This is were the two types start to differ: for vanilla macaroons, add the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry version, add a few drops of red food colouring (optional). Stir until completely combined (it’s a great work-out for your arms). Add 1/3 of your stiff egg whites to this and stir well to loosen the mix. Now add the rest of the egg whites and gently spoon through until it’s fully combined. Put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small circles on a baking sheet. Leave to stand for at least 30 min (this is a very important step: by doing so, the top will harden a bit and will rise uniformly in the oven which means the macaroons won’t crack).

Fresh out of the ovenPreheat the oven to 140 C and bake the macaroons for 15 min. If you used baking parchment, the recipe suggests sliding the paper on a slightly humidified surface when they come out of the oven as this helps the macaroons to come of the baking parchment more easily. Once cooled, sandwich the macaroons together with the filling (after trying them first of course, being a chef has it’s perks).

Macaroons in a box

For the vanilla macaroons, I opted for a vanilla buttercream filling. For this, mix 125 g softened butter with 70 g icing sugar, 80 g almond powder and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry macaroons, I used shop bought raspberry jam (the recipe indicates how to make your own, but that’s where I drew the line). Put in a nice box for a great present or store in an airtight tin for yourself. They are best eaten on the day or the day after, but they will keep for a couple of days. Enjoy!

Modern Christmas log: Buche Nevado

Buche NevadoFor Christmasm I was in charge of – surprise, surprise – the dessert. I didn’t want to make the traditional log, as I’m not a huge fan of that, so I opted for this modern version. I came across this recipe in a magazine. It’s a recipe from Joost Arijs who owns a patisserie & chocolaterie in Ghent, called, of course, Joost Arijs. It’s made of white chocolate mousse, red fruit coulis, almond sponge and almond crumble. The recipe indications where very fragmented, so I consulted other recipes as well to get the desired result. Also, I figured not everyone is a fan of white chocolate because it’s very sweet, so I created a dark version as well, I’m calling it Buche Nero and I’ll be adding the recipe soon as well!

But first for the Buche Nevado. I don’t have a buche mould, so I opted for a normal rectangular loaf tin instead. I did some tests on how to best get a chocolate mousse out of it, and 2 options work best: adding the chocolate mousse straight to the mould and then going round the mould with a blowtorch to melt it a bit so it slides out or, if you don’t have a blowtorch, oiled cling film. So to get started, line your mould with cling film that you first brushed with olive oil (if you don’t have a pastry brush, just put some oil on a paper towel and wipe that on the cling film.

The recipe consists of 4 elements and you can easily make it a day ahead. You can even make the chocolate mousse and coulis 2 days ahead as they need to set.

Step 1: red fruit coulis
Put 2 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften. At this stage, the recipe suggests making your own coulis by mixing 150 g red fruit, passing it through a sieve and adding 25 g sugar. Or you can use the shortcut and just buy raspberry coulis as I did. The next step is identical: heat the coulis (if making your own, you want the sugar to have melted) until boiling, then take it of the heat and add the sheets of gelatine (squeeze the water out first). Pour onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or oiled cling film and put in the fridge to set. You can do this 2 days in advance.

Step 2: white chocolate mousse
White chocolate mousseAt this point, the recipe just indicated to make a mousse with the ingredients, so I opted to use the “no fail” recipe of Piet Huysentruyt, a Flemish Michelin-star-turned-TV-star instead. First, put 2 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften. Heat 400 g white chocolate in 1/2 dl cream (adding the cream will avoid burning the chocolate) and stir until melted. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin and add to the chocolate. Seperate 4 eggs and mix the egg whites until stiff (you need to be able to turn the bowl upside down and that’s no joke!). Add 50 g caster sugar and mix again. Now mix 1 and 1/2 dl cream until you see the trace if your mixer in it. You still want it to be half runny, if it’s too stiff it will split. Finally, mix the egg yolks with 50 g caster sugar for 5 min until they are foamy and almost white. If you do the mixing in this order (egg whites – cream – egg yolks) you don’t need to wash it in between! Now you’re ready to assemble: first mix the chocolate with the egg yolks. Now fold in the egg whites and finally add the cream. You want to fold in the cream quite quickly to avoid it splitting. Pour in the prepared tin until half full and allow to set in the fridge. You can do this 2 days in advance as well.
Tip: if you’re just interested in the chocolate mousse and have no desire to turn it into a log, this recipe will easily serve 4 to 6 people. Just pour into glasses and put in the fridge to set. You can decorate it with some red fruit for a gorgeous dessert.

Step 3: almond sponge
Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Put 75 g almond powder in a bowl with 30 g icing sugar and 12 g plain flour and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, mix 90 g egg whites (from 2-3 eggs) until stiff, then add 50 g caster sugar and mix again. Carefully fold the egg whites into the almond mix until combined and spoon onto the baking sheet in a rectangular form, about the size of your loaf tin. Use a knife to nicely flatten the top. Bake in the oven for 10 min until the sponge is lightly golden and springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven, turn it out onto a sheet of lightly sugared baking powder, carefully peel off the lining paper and lay it back over the sponge. Allow to cool completely.

Step 4: almond crumble
Turn the oven up to 180 C. Mix 100 g plain flour with 100 g almond powder, 100 g sugar, 1 g fleur de sel or salt and 100 g butter until it resembles bread crumbs. Put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, roughly the size of your loaf tin, and bake for 12-15 min until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Adding coulisNow you’re ready to assemble. YLayersou already added the chocolate mousse to your loaf tin, and by now it is set. Take the coulis out of the fridge, cut it to the same size as your loaf tin and put it on top. Don’t worry if you need to patch it up a little. Now do the same with the sponge and finish with the crumble. Make sure to turn the crumble upside down for this, so that the flat part is on top. Put in the fridge again until you are ready to serve. When ready, turn out onto a serving plate (use a blowtorch to loosen a bit if you have one (if the chocolate is too runny after that, just put it back in the fridge for 15 min or so to stop it running), if not just peal of the cling film) and decorate as desired. Cut into slices and enjoy!

Buche Nevado

Simply delicious: almond praline cake

Almond praline cakeThis is a real show stopper and it’s absolutely delicious too! If you’re not baking for a crowd, you can easily half the recipe as well. And if you’re planning on making this more than once, I have some time saving tips along the way. This is not your everyday cake, as it does take some time to make it, but it’s totally worth it! And there is a lot of licking the pot along the way, so there are some cook’s perks too! I found it in Rachel Allen‘s Bake, a book full of delicious recipes.

The recipe consists of 3 parts: making the praline, baking the cake and making the praline buttercream icing.

Part 1: make the praline (you can easily do this a day or more in advance)
Place 150 g caster sugar in a non-stick pan and set over a high heat until the sugar turns a caramel colour. Do not stir, but you may carefully swirl the pan to allow the sugar to caramalise evenly (a bit daunted? Check out this video on how to make caramel). Scatter 150 g unskinned almonds over the top and swirl the pan again to coat the nuts. Pour the mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. When the praline is cool and hard, place in a food processor and whiz to a gritty powder. Alternatively, place the praline in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.

Step 2: bake the cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter and flour a 20 cm diameter cake tin (the recipe suggests 2 tins, so you can bake 2 cakes, which you each slice in half to add a layer of buttercream. Being lazy, I stick to one tin and slice the cake in 2 or 3 depending on how well it has risen).
Mix 225 g softened butter  with 225 g caster sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 4 eggs one by one, beating well between each addition. Gradually stir in 225 g self-raising flour (or use regular four and add 1 tsp baking powder). Add 6 tbsp of the crushed praline and mix lightly, adding 1 tbsp milk to moisten. Put in the prepared tin(s) and bake in the oven for 30 min (or 10-15 min longer if in 1 tin), or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.

Step 3: make the buttercream icing
You can do this when the cake is in the oven, or you can make it upfront too. If you’re only making half a cake, you can still make all the icing and freeze half for next time. This is quite a big batch of icing anyway, so I usually freeze half and only use half to assemble my cake.
In a saucepan, bring 125 ml water and 350 g caster sugar to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up high and let the syrup boil for 4-5 min to the ‘thread’ stage, when the last few drops that fall from the back of a metal spoon dipped into the syrup come off in one long, quite thick and syrupy thread.
While the sugar is boiling, beat 7 egg yolks (you don’t need the egg whites, but you can freeze them for later use. just defrost and you can use them again) for 1 min, then very gradually add the hot syrup. Continue beating until all the syrup is added and the mixture has cooled. The consistency should be stiff, mousse-like and able to hold a figure of eight pattern made by the beater (this should take about 10-15 min).
Place 350 g softened butter in another bowl and beat until very soft. Continuing to beat, gradually add the mousse, a spoonful at a time. Then stir in 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 12 tbsp of the crushed praline.

If you still feel your arm after all that beating (or if you have a food mixer that does the work for you) you are now ready to assemble (if not, take a break, wrap the cake in foil so it doesn’t dry out and come back tomorrow). To assemble, slice each cake in half horizontally (or if you made 1 cake and it has risen well, slice it in 3. If you only made half of the recipe, you can cut the cake in half vertically and your cake in the shape of half a circle). Spread the inside of each cake sparingly with butter icing and and sandwich together, stacking each layer above the other as evenly as possible. Ice the top and sides with the remaining icing. Sprinkle the remaining crushed praline all over, including the sides. Serve while loudly saying “ta-da!”, after all that work, you deserve all the oohs and aahs. Enjoy!

Stunning and tasty: raspberry tart with almond pastry

Raspberry tart
Raspberry tart

This tart tastes every bit as amazing as it looks, so if you have an afternoon to spare and you where still searching for something to do, this could be it. It’s not hard to make, it just takes time, a lot of time! Also, you can’t make it much in advance, if you leave it overnight the pastry will go all soggy. Still good, just a bit less of a wow factor… This is again one of my trusted GoodFood recipes so that already tells you that it will be delicious!

First, make the pastry by tipping 200 g plain flour, 175 g ground almonds, 175 g caster sugar and 200 g cold diced butter in a food processor. Pulse until you get the texture of breadcrumbs. Now add 1 egg yolk and pulse until it all comes together to form a soft pastry. The pastry will be too soft to roll out, so press it evenly into a 25 cm tart tin (lined with greaseproof paper). until the pastry comes up above the edges of the tin. Rest in the freezer for at least 20 min.

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Line the tart case with baking parchment (or tin foil) and baking beans and bake for 20 min until the edges are starting to brown. Remove the beans and paper, then continue to bake for 10-15 min until biscuity. Leave to cool, trim the edges with a knife (or don’t and go for a more rustic look), then carefully remove from the tart tin.

To make the filling, whisk 200 ml crème fraîche until firm (it needs to be cold, otherwise you’ll have difficulty whisking it, so don’t take it out of the fridge until you are ready to use it). Then add 85 g caster sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and the juice and zest of 1/2 lemon. Whisk again to get a thick cream. Spread over the bottom of the tart case, then meticulously place about 700 g raspberries on top in concentric circles.

Meanwhile, heat up 5 tbsp raspberry jam in the microwave or a pan with 2 tbsp water until bubbling. Push the glaze through a sieve into a bowl, then paint it over the raspberries with a pastry brush. Serve straight away or store in a cool place for a few hours max until ready to slice. Enjoy!

Impressive gift: hazelnut and lemon madeleines

Hazelnut and lemon madeleines
Hazelnut and lemon madeleines

These madeleines are totally delicious and always a success. They look absolutely great too, so they make a great gift! My dad is a huge fan, so I made them recently for fathers day. My mom said after dinner that she would love a madeleine, but my dad just said she couldn’t have any, they were all for him… This recipe comes from Lorraine Pascale‘s Baking Made Easy and it’s really not that hard. All you need is a madeleine tin, which you can find anywhere really.

Preheat the oven to 180 C and oil the madeleine tin with vegetable oil. Put 4 eggs in a large bowl and whisk until they have almost doubled in volume, then, while still whisking, gradually add 100 g caster sugar down the sides of the bowl. This will take about 10-15 min with an electric mixer (if you have a kitchen aid or anything like that, just use the machine, it’s so much easier! You can put the timer on 15 min, slowly adding the sugar in the first 5, and then do whatever you like in the mean time). The result will be a very light, fluffy and mouse-like batter.

Add 80 g melted butter around the sides of the bowl so as not to knock out all the air, then add the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod and fold the mixture over itself to combine, using as few strokes as possible. Add a pinch of salt and 100 g sifted plain flour in 2 batches and carefully fold it into the batter. Add 40 g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped or ground (I use ground almonds, that works equally well) and the zest of 1 lemon and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into the madeleine moulds until two-thirds full (the recipe suggests using a piping bag, but even though the mixture is very runny, I make it work with a spoon). Bake in the oven for about 10 min or until the madeleines are springy to the touch and are turning a light golden brown colour. Leave to cool in the tin for a few seconds, but not more, transfer them to a wire rack immediately or they will stick to your tin (I’m talking from experience here). Just push them gently on one side to slide them out. Eat them within two days or they will dry out (don’t worry, they won’t last that long!). Enjoy!

Fruity delights part 1: cherry & almond cake

Cherry and almond cake

With spring and sunshine in town (and after a nasty stomach flu) I’m done with the chocolaty stuff for a while. So time to get some lovely fruit in my cakes for that fresh and juicy flavour! And what better way to do so then with a Cherry and almond cake from one of my trusted GoodFood magazines.

Preheat the oven to a 140C (all my oven temperatures are for a fan oven, just add 20 degrees for a regular one) and line the base and sides of a 20 cm round cake tin.

Beat together 200 g softened butter and 200 g caster sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in 4 eggs, one by one. Fold in 1/2 tsp almond extract, 175 g self-raising flour, 85 g ground almonds and 1/2 tsp baking powder, followed by 300 g glacé cherries and 100 ml milk (if you use the cherries whole, they will end up at the bottom of the cake like in the picture. If you prefer them more scattered, try quartering them). Don’t worry if the mixture is still a bit lumpy or if it looks like it’s splitting a bit, it will work just as well! Scrape the mix into the prepared cake tin then bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 min. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin before serving. Due to the moist cherries, this cake will keep very well for up to 5-6 days, so you can take a piece to work for dessert every day!