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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“All-free” lemon drizzle cake (no gluten, lactose, eggs, soy …)

Lemon_drizzle_cakeIt’s been quite a while since I’ve posted new recipes on my blog. It’s not that I stopped baking (although I’m baking slightly less), it’s that I’m not really finding the time to right about. The reason is that next to my day job, I have a new task: twin boy management! The boys are now 8 months old and doing great, but it makes baking (and writing about it) a bit more of a challenge. It also makes it a multi-step (or somethimes even multi-day) process, spread out during the day. But of course, come Christmas, I wasn’t going to let me family down so I was once again in charge of desserts (two days in a row). As my sister in low has been diagnosed with a gluten-, lactose-, egg white-, soy- (and other things I’m forgetting) intolerance, it became quite a challenge. To be honest: the first attempt (not this recipe) went straight in the bin. This meant that I needed a plan B, and I needed it fast! So I looked at the GoodFood website, and found this recipe for a light lemon drizzle cake, which I could easily adapt. I’ll indicate possible changes you can make depending on your diet.

Heat oven to 160C and line a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment. Put 175g rice flour (or use gluten-free or self-raising flower), 1 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (use baking powder if you’ve used self-raising flour), 50 g ground almonds and 50 g polenta in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the zest of 2 lemons (you’ll need the juice later) and 140 g sugar, then make a dip in the centre. In another bowl, beat 2 eggs (I used “no-egg” egg replacement and followed the instruction on the box, you can find this in health food shops), then stir in 225 g yogurt (I used goat yoghurt as I wanted to avoid lactose, which you can find in health food shops or biological supermarkets, it tastes very much the same as regular yoghurt). Tip this mixture along with 75 ml rapeseed oil (or use sunflower oil) into the dry ingredients, then briefly and gently stir with a large metal spoon so everything is just combined, without overmixing.

10 mins if it starts to brown too quickly. While the cake cooks, make lemon syrup. Tip 85 g sugar into a small saucepan with the juice of the 2 lemons and 75 ml water. Heat over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat, boil for 4 mins until slightly reduced and syrupy, then remove from the heat.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool briefly in the tin. While it is still warm, turn it out of the tin, peel off the lining paper and sit the cake on a wire rack set over a baking tray or similar. Use a skewer to make lots of small holes all over the top of the cake. Slowly spoon over half the lemon syrup and let it soak in. Spoon over the rest in the same way, brushing the edges and sides of the cake too with the last of the syrup.

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!

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!

Signs of autumn: dried cherry and pistachio biscotti

cherry and pistachio biscottiI absolutely love winter and I think autumn is a great prelude. Although these past days have been very nice, it’s been too warm and sunny for me. I love seeing the wind through the trees and hearing the rain on the roof, nothing like a good thunderstorm to make me sleep like a baby! Autumn also means you can start putting lots of hearty stuff on the menu: the first tajine is already tasted, fish pies, mashed potatoes, meat loaf… are all still to come. And for tea no more ice cream or frilly bits but something with a good bite, like these biscotti. I found the recipe in my Kitchen Aid cookbook (it came with the machine – yes, I finally got one!) but you can easily make it even if you don’t have one. Here’s how to make it:

Heat the oven to 160 C. In a bowl, mix 300 g plain flour with 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 150 g sugar and 1 tsp szichuan pepper (if you don’t have this, you can just leave it out or replace it by a grind of black pepper and some lemon zest – I opted for mixed spice, but only half a teaspoon as the cinnamon in it can be quite overpowering). Add 3 eggs and mix to a soft dough (it will be slightly sticky). Add 75 g dried cherries and 75 g pistachios (unsalted and shells removed) and mix again until incorporated (you can do all this by hand as well).

Divide the dough in 2 parts and roll each to a diameter of 4 to 5 cm.  Place on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment and bake for 20 min until the sides are starting to brown. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on, you are baking them twice – hence the name, “bis-cotti”) and leave to set for 10 min. Then cut in 1 cm slices and place on the baking sheet again. Another 10 min in the oven and some cooling on a wire-rack and you are ready to dip them in your coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Use up left-over dried cherries in cherry and chocolate cookies.