White chocolate and limoncello pralines

white-chocolate-limoncello-pralinesI made these pralines for my birthday as a treat for my colleagues, and they made me promise to make them again for my final day in the office (I decided to take up a position much closer to home – more time for baking that is! Oh and for the kids too of course!). As usual, I didn’t have any leftovers … I found this recipe in “Sweets made simple”, by Miss Hope & Mr Greenwood. The book is really hilarious, even if you are never going to try anything, it’s still very funny to read. In addition (and contrary to other “simple” sweets recipe books I bought in the past), the recipes really are simple and easy, even for busy people! This one doesn’t take a lot of time and is foolproof, but you do need to start in advance as it takes 3 days to make them (all due to overnight freezing, don’t worry!). So here’s how to make about 18 of them (I usually double the recipe):

Day 1 – 20 min work:
Heat 5 cm of water in a pan and put a heatproof bowl in top (making sure it’s not touching the water – this is called a “bain marie” – no idea why Mary took her baths like this but already glad she took one :-)). Place 100 g white chocolate in the bowl with 2 tbsp double cream and heat gently to allow the chocolate to melt (in the mean time, you can prepare the other ingredients). Take the bowl of the heat and stir in the zest of 1/2 lemon, 1-2 tbsp limoncello (italian lemon liqueur), a pinch of salt and 50 g butter chopped into cubes. Wisk until the mixture resembles home-made lemon curd. If the butter is too cold, you may need to put it back on the heat for a few minutes to help it melt. Spoon into a sealable container, put a lid on and chill in the fridge overnight.

Day 2 – 15 min work:
Line a tray (that will fit in the freezer) with baking parchment. Scoop up small teaspoons of the mixture, roll into balls, put on the tray and freeze overnight.

Day 3 – 20 min work:
Temper 300 g white chocolate by popping it into the microwave on high for 30 seconds at the time, stirring in between, until the chocolate looks nearly melted but there are still a few bits bobbeld on top. Take it out of the microwave and stir the chocolate gently until smooth. Use 2 forks to dip each truffle ball into the chocolate, toss to coat and place back on the parchment, roughening the chocolate with a fork. Do this with all your truffles and then chill in the fridge to allow them to set (I usually chill them overnight, but they set quite quickly, so they should be ready after an hour or so).

Because white chocolate melts easily, it’s best to store them in the fridge. I can’t really advise on how long they will keep, they haven’t lasted long enough to test that… Enjoy!

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Free-from and all-in-one carrot cake (no gluten, dairy, eggs, soy)

Carrot_cakeI keep on finding recipes to adapt and I get more and more audacious (although at some point, I think I will conclude there are only so many elements you can replace if you still want to call it a cake). I first made this all-in-one carrot cake as a regular version (slightly adapting a Donna Hay recipe), but it turned out the free-from version was even tastier, so definitely a winner this time! Not that I will be sharing recipes of flops of course … Anyway, here’s how to bake it:

Preheat oven to 160 C fan. Place 400 g carrots in a food processor and process until finely chopped (or grate them by hand). If you are making a regular version (so not gluten-free), add 120 g pecans to the food processor as well (or finely chop them). Add 115 g rice flour, 110 g chestnut flour (or 225 g plain flour for the regular version), 1 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 175 g brown sugar110 g caster sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp mixed spice (if you don’t have mixed spice, just add more cinnamon), 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract), 125 ml vegetable oil, 2 eggs (or no-egg equivalent) and 70 g yoghurt (use sheep or goat yoghurt for the lactose-free version), and process or mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 22 cm round springform cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for 55–60 minutes or until just cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin.

To make the cream cheese frosting, place 250 g cream cheese, 1 tbsp lemon  juice, 50 g ricotta, 55 g icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste in a food processor and process until smooth (or mix with a hand-held mixer. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake to serve. For the dairy-free version: mix 200 g goat’s cream cheese with 210 g icing sugar, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract). Enjoy!

Ideal brunch material: speculaas bread

speculaas breadI love brunch, it’s my idea of an ideal Sunday. Preferably, I stay in my pajamas until noon, unless we have guest of course. Because inviting guest allows you to really go for it and fry and bake anything you fancy. I recently bought a new cookbook by Juliette’s, a famous cookie bakery in Bruges, all around speculaas, the cinnamon and ginger cookie that is very popular in Belgium. It contained an excellent recipe for the cookie itself (which I won’t blog about, as it was for industrial quantities, but do try my speculaas recipe) and lots of recipes to use up any left-over cookies, like in this bread. Really easy and totally delicious! The recipe is for 2 small loafs, so you can always pop one in the freezer if you want. Here’s how to make it:

Lightly warm 220 g milk in the microwave and stir in 25 g dried yeast until it is dissolved. In a large bowl, mix 1 egg with 550 g bread flour and add the milk mixture. Knead well, cover with cling film or a dry tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size.

Knock the air out of the dough, add 10 g salt, 25 g sugar and 125 softened butter cut in cubes and knead until you get an elastic dough that no longer sticks to your work surface (about 5 tot 10 min). Allow to rise until doubled in size.

Knock the air out of the dough and split in to two. From each half, keep a small piece (100 g) apart. Roll out the big piece to a long rectangle and put a speculaas biscuit at the long end of the rectangle. Flip the dough with the cookie over, add another cookie and continue until you reached the end of the dough (you need about 200 g speculaas biscuits in total for the 2 breads). Roll out the small piece to a rectangle as well and use it to wrap your rolled bread in. Repeat with the second batch. Put in a buttered loaf tin, brush with a beaten egg and leave to rise for another 45 min. Preheat the oven to 160 C and bake for 25 min or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

If you don’t have speculaas biscuits, I’m sure this will work with other biscuits as well, it’s easiest if you use rectangular once. I think ginger biscuits would taste great as well. Enjoy!

Warming and delicious: apple and spice muffins

apple and spice muffinsI already knew that apple and cinnamon make a great combination, but on a recent holiday I had it as a hot drink with added ginger. I’m a huge ginger fan in any way or form so I immediately loved the taste and decided it would be equally delicious (if not better) in a muffin. For extra indulgence, I decided to top the muffins with a crumble topping, so easy and totally yummy! Usually I freeze half of my muffins (wrapping them one by one in tin foil, you can take them out of the freezer in the morning to take to work and they will be perfect for lunch) but this time they were all gone before I could wrap them up! Here’s how to make them:

First, prepare the crumble topping: stir 50 g light muscovado sugar with 50 g plain flour25 g porridge oats (or rolled oats) and 1 tsp mixed spice together in a bowl, then rub in 50 g butter with your fingertips until clumpy.

For the muffins: preheat the oven to 180 C and line a muffin tin with paper cases. In a bowl, mix 375 g self-raising flour with 220 g sugar and 1 tsp baking powder. Make a well in the center and add 125 ml vegetable oil (sunflower or rapeseed work best, avoid olive as you will taste it), 125 ml milk1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod). Give the liquids a good stir to break up the egg yolk and bring the dough together in a few stirs.

Now add 300 g chopped apples (about 3 apples in total, if you only have say 200 g that will work as well), 2 balls stem ginger (chopped – you could also use 5 pieces of candied ginger or just double the ground ginger), 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground ginger and stir again to disperse them evenly. Distribute the dough over the 12 muffin cases and add 1 to 2 tbsp of the crumble topping on each of them (if you are too lazy to make the crumble topping, just give them a good sprinkle of granulated sugar instead to get the extra crunchy top layer). Put in the oven for 30-35 min until golden brown and springy to the touch (cover with tin foil for the last 10 min if they brown too easily). Enjoy!

Because at Christmas you can go crazy: “crazy” spiced orange cake

Christmas spiced orange cakeA month before Christmas, my parents came to dinner and my mom started browsing through the newly arrived edition of GoodFood. She flicked through the pages and then suddenly stopped, proudly announcing she had found the dessert she wanted for Christmas. Glancing at the recipe I quickly understood it was the decoration she was interested in, and not so much the cake underneath. So I decided to mix-and-match and I opted for Mary Berry’s spiced whole orange cake with orange mascarpone icing for the cake with an adaptation of the GoodFood icing recipe on top. Luckily, I was able to recruit my sister to help me out with the decorations (she made all the Christmas trees). You can of course just opt to make the cake, as with all of Mary’s recipes, it’s a fast and easy all-in-the-bowl cake mix. Here’s how to make it:

For the cake:
Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper (if you only have one, bake in 2 batches or put everything together in a 24cm tin and stick to 3 layers instead of 4). Place 1 whole orange in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and boil for 30 minutes, or until soft. Leave to cool (I recently read you get the same result by putting the orange in the microwave for a few minutes but I haven’t tested it yet). When the orange is cold, cut in half and remove any pips.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Roughly chop the orange and blend, including the skin, in a food processor until medium-chunky in texture (if you don’t have a food processor, just use a hand mixer) and set aside, reserving two tablespoons for the icing.

Put 275 g self-raising flour in a large bowl with 2 tsp baking powder, 275 g sugar, 275 g softened butter, 4 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spice. Blend in a food processor or with an electric hand whisk until just smooth (be careful not to over-beat the mixture). Then, carefully stir in the pulp that you have set aside (all except the 2 tbsp for the icing), then divide between the two prepared tins and level the tops.

Bake for 35 min, or until well risen, lightly golden-brown and shrinking away from the sides of the tins. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the baking paper.

For the icing, place 50 g softened butter in a mixing bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, gradually beat in 175 g icing sugar until smooth. Add 250 g mascarpone cheese and whisk together until smooth and creamy. Add the 2 tbsp reserved orange pulp and mix until smooth.

Slice each cake in half to make four layers (if you only used 1 larger tin, try slicing it in 3). Divide the icing into four and then stack the layers of cake – icing between each layer and finishing with icing on the top.

For the crazy Christmas icing:
Beat 2 egg whites with 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp liquid glucose in a mixing bowl. Gradually sift in 300 g icing sugar, beating all the time until you get stiff peaks. Swirl it thickly over the cake and let it drop down the sides a bit to create a “snow” effect. For the Christmas trees, the recipe suggested making a pistachio paste, but you know me: too much work so I went for the shortcut and just opted for marzipan instead (adding some green food colouring – in my case a mix of yellow and blue – to get the right colour). Tip: when colouring marzipan, where plastic gloves or you will go to the party with green fingernails… once the colouring is thoroughly kneaded in, it won’t give off any colour anymore. To make the trees, roll small balls and flatten them, stack them from larger to smaller and finish with a cone shape. Enjoy!

Gluten-free and dairy-free: swiss roll with marshmallow icing

dairy-free gluten-free swiss rollI haven’t been blogging for a while, but I had good reasons for it: at the end of last year, I wasn’t baking (or cooking) either, so I had nothing to blog about. This was caused to the nausea that comes with being pregnant… it being twins apparently made it worse! Luckily it passed the week before Christmas, so I could get back to my usual baking habits just in time (and with assistance from my sister, in charge of the cake decorations this year). So here is the first of my Christmas recipes, but you could make this at any time of the year (omitting the Christmas trees of course). As my sister-in-law is on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, I opted for a swiss roll, swapping flour for gluten-free varieties. Here’s how to make it:

Preheat the oven to t180 C. Separate 3 eggs (you need 4 eggs in total) and beat the egg whites until really stiff (add a pinch of salt to speed up the process). No need to wash your mixer, you can go straight ahead and start mixing the 3 egg yolks and the left over whole egg together in a separate bowl with 120 g sugar until you get a foamy mousse (about 5 min). Stir in 50 g gluten-free flour, 25 g cornflour and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (to be replaced by 75 g self-raising flour if you don’t need a gluten-free version), followed by the beaten egg white.

Cover a baking sheet with tin foil (fold up the sides of the foil a bit to create an edge) and pour in the mixture (or use a swiss roll tin if you have one). Bake for 10 min until lightly golden and it springs back when you touch it. In the mean time, take another piece of tin foil and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar. Take the bake from the oven and turn it upside down onto the prepared foil. Gently peal of the layer of foil from the bottom. Spread your favourite jam all over (I used home-made forest fruit jam – made from half frozen fruit en half sugar (with pectin) and a squeeze of lemon, just follow the recipe on the sugar packaging if you want to make some), leaving a gap along one of the long edges. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and start rolling it up from the opposite long edge. Put it on a serving plate with the seam at the bottom and leave to cool completely.

If you don’t feel like the extra effort (or sugar level), just dot the roll with some fresh raspberries and you’re done. Or go all the way and make the marshmallow icing by putting 2 egg whites in a heatproof bowl with 115 g golden caster sugar, 1/2 tbsp water and a good pinch of salt. Place over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water, and whisk until thick and leaving a prominent trail from the beaters (this will take about 4 min). Remove the bowl from the heat and continue whisking for another 3 min until cooled slightly and really stiff. Spread over the swiss roll using a large (palette) knife, you can use the back of a spoon to make a log pattern or just go wild with a piping bag. Use a cook’s blowtorch to toast the meringue to a golden brown (this will go really fast). It’s worth the effort, the toasting makes all the difference!

Decorate any way you want and enjoy!

Easy and delicious: sesame cookies

sesame cookiesOn a recent visit to London, my friend Jia showed me the new cookbook she bought because she thought I would like it. I took one look at it and immediately went out and bought it myself! As soon as I got home I had to try it, and I started of with these sesame cookies from the Okashi cookbook. They are really easy to make and as my colleagues can confirm: totally delicious too! Here’s how to make them:

Put 220 g plain flour in a bowl and put it in the freezer to chill (the recipe says to sift the flour, but I don’t bother, these days flour is fine enough already). Beat 100 g softened butter with 100 g icing sugar until soft and creamy. Add 2 egg yolks and mix well. Add the chilled flour and 100 g grilled sesame seeds (the recipe suggests using half white and half black sesame seeds, but I didn’t have that so I used all the same) and fold in with a spatula.

Divide the dough in half and transfer each to a piece of cling film. Shape into a 12 x 7 x 2.5 cm rectangle (just think “cookie size” – no need to get your ruler out). Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Slice the chilled dough into 5-7 mm think slices and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 20 min until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Will easily keep for a week in an airtight container. Enjoy!