“All-free” rose and pistachio cake

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OK, so far for my good intentions to blog again once a week. I guess it just can’t be new year every day! But as you can imagine, it hasn’t stopped me from baking. Right now my third cake of the day is in the oven because tomorrow we are having a birthday party for the boys, one year already! I suggested making something they can easily eat, like cookies, but their dad insisted it needed to be a cake so they can make their first proper mess (it seems they have been training for it for weeks now) and we can have the obligatory, slightly out of focus, messy picture. I’ll let you know next time how that went! But first we celebrated the birthday of my mother-in-law a couple of weeks ago so I made a dessert my sister-in-law could eat as well. Meaning without gluten, dairy, eggs and soy. I was quite proud of the result and it tasted really nice as well! Here’s how to make it:

Heat the oven to 170 C fan and line a 20 cm tin with greaseproof paper, or, if you’re not the greaseproof-paper-lining-person, just grease the tin with vegetable oil.

Put 75 g each of semolina, rice flour and sweet chestnut flour in a bowl (you need 225 g of flour in total, you can also use gluten-free flour instead. The chestnut flour will give a nutty taste). Add 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (or gluten-free baking powder) and a pinch of salt, followed by 75 g ground almonds and 100 g caster sugar and mix.

In a separate bowl, mix 2 eggs (I used no-egg egg replacement) with 50 g runny honey (or 1 generous tbsp), 250 ml natural yoghurt (unsweetened, I used goat yoghurt), 150 ml sunflower oil and the finely grated zest of 1 lime (you’ll need the juice for the syrup later). Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the wet ingredients, bringing them together with a whisk until they are just combined (if you want, you can add 50 g chopped unsalted pistachios at this point). Pour the mixture into your tin and bake in the oven for 50 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 20 min and while the cake is cooling, make the lime syrup: in a small saucepan, boil 150 ml water with 100 g caster sugar for about 5 min until it is reduced by half. Add the juice of 1 lime and boil for a further 2 min, then cool and add 2 tbsp rose water. Make holes on top of the warm cake with a skewer and, with a tablespoon, spoon the syrup all over the top. Leave to settle for 1 hour.

Serve with some raspberries on top. Enjoy!

Sunshine in a bowl: mango sorbet

mango sorbetSummer is well and truly over so what to do when you can’t find sunshine outside? Just get some on your plate! This was the perfect ending to a very successful thai cooking workshop (my kitchen was the backdrop, the chef a bubbly laotian colleague of mine and the food totally yummy!) and a great excuse to test my new pride and joy: our kitchen aid, including the ice cream maker. Finally, it’s another way to eat more cardamom, anything I can add that spice to just makes me happy. I looked on the internet to find a great recipe and in the end decided to go with my own blend. Here’s how to make it:

Cut 2 mangos in chunks, add 150 g icing sugar, the juice of 2 limes and the crushed seeds of 5 cardamom pods (optional of course, you can just leave them out or add any flavour you prefer with mango, such as mint leaves for example) and mix to make a smooth puree (you can also do this in a food processor of course).

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn to freeze according to the instructions of the manufacturer (it only took 20 min in my kitchen aid bowl). Transfer to a container and put in the freezer until you are ready to eat it. That’s it!

Don’t have an ice cream maker or the patience to freeze this stuff for a couple of hours? You can also use a short cut: just buy frozen mango in the supermarket and take it out of the freezer 10-15 min before you want to eat your sorbet. Mix it and serve: you now have a 100% fruit sorbet that is good for you and your diet! If you want you can add some sugar, lime juice … but you will notice it doesn’t need it. This also works with any other type of frozen fruit, such as forest fruit or raspberries. Enjoy!

Fresh and tasty: strawberry smoothie

Strawberry smoothieI’m a bit behind on my blogging but I had a very good reason: the weather was great! I promise, in Belgium that is a damn good reason and one we cannot use very often… On those days there is only one thing to do straight away: procrastinate! So that’s what I did all day long on Sunday (that and hanging in the park with some friends and a DJ in the background). Of course we needed some refreshments to accompany all that laziness, so I went for this strawberry smoothie. I got the recipe from a colleague who really is the soups and smoothies queen. I know this because I’m part of the happy few who can enjoy the leftovers! Here’s how to make it:

Cut about 250 g strawberries and put them in a blender with the juice of 2 limes, a small handful of fresh mint leaves and half a can of Canada Dry. Blend and pour into glasses (you’ll get 2-3 glasses from this). Do give it a try, the Canada Dry makes it really fresh and it becomes sort of a cross between a smoothie and a lemonade. Of course it’s best to do this with fruit that comes from the fridge for extra freshness. Enjoy!

Summery treat: watermelon jellies

watermelon jellyOk so for a few days they had us fooled: we really did think summer was finally here and it was here to stay. So bring on the smoothies, salads, bubbles and that large chunk of watermelon. A few days later however, it became clear that summer was definitely not here… and that we had completely forgotten about that chunk of watermelon in the fridge. As my mom was coming over for dinner I began to wonder about what to make for dessert. I didn’t have much time, so it needed to be something I could quickly make the night before. She absolutely loves jellies and I still had that watermelon, so I put two and two together, googled a bit and came up with this result! Here’s how to make it:

Soak 4 gelatine leaves in cold water. Chop a quarter of a watermelon in small chunks (removing the seeds) and put into a blender together with 50 g sugar and the juice of 2 limes. Blitz until completely cooled. Push the juice through a sieve into a measuring jug. Dissolve the soaked gelatine in a little hot water from the kettle and add to the watermelon juice. If you want to make a grown up version, add 2 tbsp wodka as well. Pour the juice into small moulds and leave to set overnight (serves about 4). Unmold and serve with some more watermelon chunks or some strawberries and a sprig of mint (give it a few good and firm shakes to unmould them, don’t be shy). Enjoy!

Moist and fresh: lime yoghurt cake with rosewater

Lime yoghurt cakeI celebrated my birthday last weekend so I invited my family over for cake and cava. I made my favourite cake of the moment, carrot cake, as well as this deliciously light and sticky cake from Rachel Allen’s Bake. I already made this cake a few times before, so I knew it was going to be a big hit, as always. It’s very moist, so you can easily keep it in the fridge for a few days and eat a bit of it every day!

Here’s how to make it: first, preheat the oven to 170 C. Line the base and sides of a 20 cm round spring-form with greaseproof paper (the recipe suggests a 22 cm size, but I don’t have one so I use 20 cm instead). If you only line the bottom with greaseproof paper or if you’re not the greaseproof-paper-lining-person, just grease the tin with vegetable oil.

Sift 225 g self-raising flour in a large bowl together with 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add 75 g ground almonds and 100 g caster sugar and mix. In a separate bowl, mix 2 eggs with 50 g runny honey (or 1 generous tbsp), 250 ml natural yoghurt (unsweetened), 150 ml sunflower oil and the finely grated zest of 1 lime (you’ll need the juice for the syrup later). Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the wet ingredients, bringing them together with a whisk until they are just combined (if you want, you can add 50 g chopped unsalted pistachios at this point). Pour the mixture into your tin and bake in the oven for 50 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 20 min and while the cake is cooling, make the lime syrup: in a small saucepan, boil 150 ml water with 100 g caster sugar for about 5 min until it is reduced by half. Add the juice of 1 lime and boil for a further 2 min, then cool and add 2 tbsp rose water. Make holes on top of the warm cake with a skewer and, with a tablespoon, spoon the syrup all over the top. Leave to settle for 1 hour. For a bit of a wow factor, serve with berries, sliced mangos, cream or natural yoghurt. Enjoy while listening to Kokomo by the Beach Boys.

Use up your leftover berries in a summer berry cake or in pancakes and use up leftover yoghurt in a light lemon drizzle cake or in a lime-mango cake.

taste of summer: fruity juice

minty juiceI thought it was about time to start including drinks in my blog as well. I occasionally make my own drinks, ranging from variations of hot chocolate over ice tea to pink lemonade and all kinds of smoothies and mocktails. Especially during summer nothing beats the fresh taste of a cool homemade drink. This time, I drank a delicious juice over lunch at one of my favourite hangouts in Mechelen: Beans. They call this drink the Mint Mix. It seemed the perfect accompaniment for my bagel (it was) and I immediately wanted more… so I tried it myself!

Here’s how: add a small handful of mint leaves, a squeeze of honey, the juice of 3-4 limes and 1/2 l freshly squeezed orange juice (you can cheat with shop bought, but as it’s sweeter, you may need more lime juice) to the blender, mix and pour (or store in the fridge until ready to drink). Enjoy while listening to Summer Nights from the Grease movie: summer feeling guaranteed!

Truly delicious: lime-mango cake

lime and mango cakeA colleague of mine recently brought a home-made tart to the office for his birthday. It was so delicious, that I stalked him for the recipe so he brought his cookbook from Australian chef Bill Granger, which also contained this recipe. Now if I see lime and mango both in one recipe, I don’t have to think twice! Straight to the copy machine it was and that night the cake was already in the oven!

Heat the oven to 170 C and grease a 26 cm cake ring (or use a 22 cm round springform or whatever other combination of tins instead). In a large bowl, mix 180 g softened butter with 250 g caster sugar and 1 and 1/2 tsp lime zest (you need about 2-3 limes in total for this recipe). Add 4 eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Fold in 300 g flour in two batches, alternated with 200 ml yoghurt, also added in two batches, adding 2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder with the final batch.

Now fold in 1 mango cut in cubes and scoop the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 min before transferring to a wire rack.

Now make the lime icing by mixing 185 g icing sugar with 2 tbsp lime juice and 20 g melted (and cooled) butter until you get a thick mixture. Add a bit more lime juice if it’s too thick. When the cake has cooled, poor over the lime icing and garnish with a sprinkle of lime zest.

A final tip: don’t do this late at night or you will be too lazy to get the icing just right and instead of a gorgeous cake you get what you see in the picture. It still tastes as great though!

Bake to impress: Mojito genoise

Mojito genoise
Mojito genoise

This cake from Lorraine Pascale is really is a show stopper and it got a lot of ooohs and aaaahs and “hey this really tastes like Mojito!” reactions. Don’t be daunted by the length of the recipe, none of the stages are very difficult to make, you just need time and a lot of it to boil the syrup, make the caramel, bake the cake, make the icing and assemble it all. But you can do it throughout the day in different stages and in between other tasks so don’t hesitate to give it a go. You can easily make this cake one day in advance and it will serve 8 to 10 people.

First, make the caramel
You can easily do this a day or even a week before you make the rest of the cake. This recipe is enough caramel for 2 cakes, so I just store the rest in an airtight container on the cupboard so I have it at hand for my next cake! If you’re a bit afraid of making caramel, here’s a video demonstration that will help you along.
First oil a baking tray or line it with a baking sheet. Put 200 g sugar in a medium-size pan over a medium-high heat and leave to melt. Most recipes will tell you to start at a low heat, but I just don’t have the patience for that. Don’t stir it, if it doesn’t melt evenly, just swirl the pan to move the sugar round. Once the sugar is melted, bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 1 minute making sure it does not burn. Add 200 g pecan nuts, swirl the pan to coat them a bit in the sugar and poor on a baking tray covered with a baking sheet. Leave to cool. Once this has cooled right down, blitz the praline in an electric mixer or put in a plastic bag, smash it with a rolling pin and think of your boss.

Now, make the syrup
Again you can do this well in advance. I make the syrup in the morning when I assemble the cake at night so you can allow the flavours to infuse. Put 150 g soft light brown sugar, 40 ml water, the juice of 2 limes (zest them first, you need the zest as well) and 80 ml white rum in a medium pan over a low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, then boil for 2-3 minutes until the syrup thickens. Add a bunch of fresh chopped mint leaves and the lime zest and set aside.

Then, bake the cake
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease a 20 cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
Fill a large saucepan around a third full of water. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set a large heatproof bowl over the pan, making sure the base isn’t touching the water (bain marie). Add 260 g sugar and 6 lightly beaten eggs to the bowl and whisk. This causes them to foam up and gives a lighter, fluffier cake. The egg mixture should be whisked for about 10 minutes, then remove the bowl from the pan and continue to whisk for a further 5 minutes. The mixture is ready when it holds itself well in the bowl and, if you take a spoonful and then drop it back in, the resulting “blob” should take 3-4 seconds to blend back into the mixture. This cake uses no chemical raising agent. Needless to say, for this cake to work it needs the living daylights whisked out of it.

Once you have reached this “ribbon stage”, pour the melted butter into the bowl, around the sides (pouring it into the middle knocks out all the air). Fold 115 g melted butter into the egg mix, moving the bowl around and scooping down to the bottom to fold the mixture over itself, using as few movements as possible to retain the air.

Next, add 260 g plain flour and fold it until the mixture is uniform and smooth. Pour gently into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 30-35 minutes or longer until the sponge springs back when pushed lightly and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Once it’s cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and set aside.

Finally, prepare the buttercream
Put 100 g softened butter, 200 g icing sugar and the seeds of 1 vanilla pod (or 2 drops of vanilla extract) in a bowl and whisk until pale and fluffy. Add the zest and juice of 1 lime.

You’re ready to assemble!
Put a dollop if buttercream on a serving plate (to stop the sponge sliding around the plate), place the bottom of the sponge on the plate and brush with half of the reserved sugar syrup. Put a big dollop of buttercream on top and, using a palette or big knife, spread the buttercream over the cake until it is level. Take the top half of the cake, turn cut side up and brush with the rest of the sugar syrup. Turn it back over and put it on top of the buttercreamed sponge. Next, cover the whole cake with the buttercream, including the top and sides, making sure it is a smooth as possible with straight sides and top. Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to firm up a little. Use the pecan caramel pieces to coat the sides of the cake. Decorate with limes and whole pecans, if you like.

And now make a grand entrance with your cake (and say “ta-dah” for extra effect), works every time!

For my birthday at the end of June, I’ll try some variations (same base, other cocktails) so keep an eye on this blog to see how that went!

Fruity delights part 2: blueberry cheesecake gateau

Blueberry cheesecake gateau

One look at the ingredients list for this GoodFood cake and you’ll know why I loved baking it! A nice perk is that it’s super easy to make and there is of course the fun element of decorating it! (and scraping out the left overs of course).

Preheat the oven to 160C. Butter and line the base of a deep 18 cm round cake tin (this allows you to make 3 layers. If you don’t have one this size, just use a regular 20 cm cake tin like I did, and stick to 2 layers instead). Put 225 g self-raising flour in a bowl with 1 tsp baking powder, 200 g sugar200 g softened butter (if you forgot to take the butter out of the fridge beforehand, just blast it in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. Not longer thought, or it will be melted), 4 eggs and 2 tsp vanilla extract (if you don’t have vanilla extract, you can use the seeds of 1 vanilla pod or a sachet of vanilla sugar instead). Mix together on a low speed until everything is combined. Increase the speed and mix for a couple of minutes more then stir in 1 tbsp milk.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake the cake for about 50-60 min, until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool, then split into 3 layers with a sharp knife (insert the knife on the side till about halfway, then cut it in a circle, turning the cake as you go). If you used a larger tin, stick to two layers instead of three.

To make the icing, beat 400 g medium-fat soft cheese until soft (I used the Belgian soft cheese or Brabantse platte kaas, which is absolutely delicious). Beat in the zest and juice of 2 limes and 100 g icing sugar. You can adjust the taste by adding more sugar or lime juice, depending on how sweet or tangy you like it. If the icing is too runny, just put it in the fridge for half an hour – 1 hour to firm up a little (which I had to do as well). Sandwich the cake back together with two thirds of the cheese mixture and spread the rest on top. Arrange 200 g blueberries in tight circles around the top of the cake.

Short for time and need a quick dessert? The cheese icing mixed together with the blueberries makes a delicious variety on fruity yoghurt and will be a guaranteed hit on its own!