Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas bites

My favourite Christmas decoration, not surprisingly an angel... I have lots of angels in the house around this time of the year.

Daddy's traditional Fisherman's soup with carp slices


Flower-shaped linzer cookies with meringue in the middle

Poppy-seed beigli (or bejgli), a traditional Christmas cake, which you can find in every household at this time.

My favourite foodie-present, a gorgeous cookbook holder from hubby

The engagement party

I've never really understood the wide-spread tradition of having an engagement party exactly at or slightly before Christmas. Christmas is such a beautiful time of year, I want to enjoy it for its sake and not connect it with another event, however joyful that might be. I even told hubby, when he was only a boyfriend of mine, that if he'd want to propose to me at Christmas, he'd better prepare for an unfavourable answer LOL
So you can imagine my terror last year, when my aunt's daughter announced that she would have her engagement party on 23rd December. Oh why, oh why?? Isn't one busy enough getting ready, baking and shopping for Christmas, why should one waste a whole day for other things, which would be so much more fun at any other time of the year? Anyhow, I survived that party, unaware that this was only the beginning... About two months ago my aunt's son announced that he was having an engagement party... right, you guessed, just before Christmas, on the 22nd. I didn't even have the strength to be really appalled, I was so tired because of all the stress this year and even agreed to make a similar cake as last year, as my cousin's fiancée liked it so much.
So before you start thinking I'm a naughty bitch, I must say I'm really pleased about the happiness of both my cousins, and I happily started planning how to twist the cake to make it unique. But I must say I'm really glad my brother is too young to get engaged, I don't think I would survive another party this time next year LOL In a few years' time, perhaps...

So as for the cake, last year I made Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake from HTBADG and coated it in pink icing, which I made myself - damn the fact that royal icing is not available here - with golden syrup, icing sugar, butter and some food colouring.
This year I wanted something different, so I made a marshmallow fondant, which failed miserably, perhaps marshmallows here are different from the American version, but the icing turned out to be a big chunk of rubber...
Fortunately I had some marzipan and managed to coat the cake in an acceptable way, making it Christmassy at the same time, though I had quite something else in mind when I started LOL But it went down a treat and the fiancée was really pleased, so it made me happy, too.

Festive cake

For the cake:
Follow the sour cream chocolate cake recipe in the book but use 1.5x amount of ingredients and bake in two 22cm tins

For the filling:
250g mascarpone
500g frozen chestnut puree, defrosted
50g soft butter
icing sugar to taste (depends how sweet your puree is)
a few tbsp rum to taste

For the icing and decoration:
250g marzipan
cocoa powder

The filling is very easy to make, just whisk everything thoroughly together and fill and ice the cake.

For the decoration, I rolled the marzipan until I thought it was big enough to cover the whole cake. Actually, I think you could even use 500g marzipan to get a smoother and thicker finish but I only had that much at hand. I coated the cake carefully, cutting the edges off, which I then kneaded with some cocoa powder and rolled out to make the ribbon. I used a ruler to cut out the ribbon evenly and folded it so that it slightly resembles a real ribbon LOL For the Christmas theme, I sifted cocoa powder through a piece of paper in which I cut out some stars.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A festive birthday cake

I don't think you can ever fail with a Black Forest Cake, no matter what the occasion is. Who doesn't like chocolate, cream and cherries in one cake? I certainly don't know many people who don't. And I certainly know my mum is mad about this cake, so it felt just right to make it for her birthday. And also because the cake is so festive and in the run-up for Christmas it's another advantage, isn't it?

So here's my recipe for Black Forest Cake:

for the sponge:
6 eggs, divided
180g fine caster sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
120g flour
50g cocoa powder

for the filling and decoration:
1l double cream
icing sugar to taste
cocoa powder (optional)
about 350ml pitted cherry preserve,
Kirsch or cherry preserving juice

Whisk the egg yolks with half of the sugar until the mixture turns pale and multiplies in volume. Then beat the egg whites until they start to stiffen, then add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolks and mix very carefully but firmly. Mix the flour and cocoa and add to the mixture in 2 or 3 parts, again, stirring carefully but firmly. You should avoid crushing the beaten egg whites as much as possible. Pour the batter into a 22cm round tin (whose bottom you have lined with baking parchment) and bake in pre-heated oven at 180 C for about 20-25 min, or until a tester comes out clean. Don't open the door until 15 minutes though, or the sponge will collapse. Let it cool completely, remove from the tin then divide into three layers.

Whisk the double cream until it stiffens with as much icing sugar as you like. I usually use 3-4 tbsp for this amount of cream. I like a bit of chocolate in the filling, so I add 1-2 tsps of cocoa powder to 1/3 of the cream, but you don't need to do it. Sprinkle over a few tbsp of Kirsch or the cherry preserving juice on a sponge layer, then spread about 1/4 of the cream (alternatingly and including the chocolate cream if you made it). Scatter half of the cherries on top. Repeat with the other layer. Put the last layer on top and spread a thin layer of cream (only white) on the cake. Put the cake in the fridge for about half an hour and spread over half of the remaining cream generously. This way you will get a crumb-free frosting. Decorate the cake with the remaining cream and a piping bag, as you please, and sprinkle with grated chocolate or similar, adding a pitted cherry here and there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

With the Brownie Queen's recommendation...

I may have mentioned already that I'm freaked out by recipes whose ingredient list contains items like 300-400g chocolate and 200-300g butter. I simply cannot justify putting so much of these ingredients in a smallish cake. It just doesn't seem right, neither from calory point of view, neither because of economic reasons. And since brownie recipes tend to begin with such items in these amounts, I have had to neglect them so far because I relate different ideas to weekend baking and for special occasions I surely wouldn't want to bake brownies.

But this weekend I wanted chocolate cake, an intense and moist chocolate cake but was not willing to sacrifice my principles. Julie came to the rescue with this recipe. If I didn't know she was a modest girl, I'd be surprised why she didn't start her new English blog under the heading "The Brownie Queen" :) The recipe seemed to include the perfect amounts of chocolate, butter and flour (I don't like chocolate cakes with too little flour, like the Easter egg nest cake was) for a smallish tray of brownies.

I left out the cheese swirls as I wanted pure chocolate and baked the brownies only for 40 minutes which resulted in the best texture and exactly the one I was looking for! Soooooo perfect!! It will be a wonderful basic recipe to add nuts, chopped white chocolate or indeed the cheese swirls to without feeling too guilty about eating half the tray myself LOL Thank you, Julie!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Favourite kitchen items

I've been really uninspired foodwise lately so I thought I'd invite you to have a look around my kitchen until my mojo comes back.
I've chosen my favourite items in my tiny kitchen (non-electric gadgets only), all of which are special for me for different reasons.

The item I love most is this cheerful, striped pot I bought a couple of years ago. Morning grumpiness just doesn't have a chance to linger around too long when tea is served from such a colourful, freshening sight :) A pity I didn't buy the accompanying mugs and cereal bowls back then.

The second item is my mug pretty in pink. I have a thing for mugs and have a huge variety of them but this is the "one". I love pink, I love mugs and this is such a delicate piece.

I also have an obsession for storing tins and have got a great amount of them, small and large, square and cylinder shaped, for pasta, tea, coffee, sugar, cookies, you name it! I must admit I often buy food items just for the tin they get sold in LOL This design is my favourite and I've got a couple of other shapes with the same pattern but this cookie tin is the prettiest one.

The fourth item is this gorgeous tea towel I got from the lovely Anna. It's so pretty but I must admit I don't use it too often because I'm terrible at removing stains and I would hate to see it end up like most of my tea towels. So this a special occasion towel ;)

I love fridge magnets but I haven't got too many of them because hubby hates them and would be happy to remove all of them but hey, the kitchen is my "castle", hands off the fridge! My favourite item doesn't need much comment, does it? LOL

And last but not least, here's my gorgeous red Peugeot pepper grinder which is almost exactly the same shade as my KA, Beauty. I would not normally spend that much on a pepper grinder but this was irresistable. And Beauty surely deserves such an extravagant companion, doesn't she?

Now I wonder if any of my fellow bloggers would like to join in the game and show us their favourite kitchen items... I'd be more than happy to have a sneaky peek :)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

One dough, two ways

It is not too strange that one dough can be prepared in several ways to give you different results, but if I say that you get one savoury and one sweet snack from the exact same dough, that's not too usual, is it? However, it is the case with this potato dough, whose recipe comes from my Granny. The recipe yields either savoury potato cakes, or sweet dumplings (and "nudli"). I grew up with both of these dishes, they were real treats offered by her to her grandchildren and were quite frequent "visitors" on the kitchen table, especially the dumplings. My grandma's so good at making them, that neither of her two daughters learned how to make the dumplings, instead, they would just pick up the phone and order a big batch of these for the "kids" - all of them grown-up now, but willing to travel any time to Granny's place to have some of these :))

Although both my Mum and Aunt are great cooks, they're not too keen bakers, so just like with cakes, it was my - happily undertaken - job to learn the tricks of preparing dumplings. After all, Nana won't be here forever as much as we'd like her to, but traditions must go on. True, you can get it completely wrong and you need practice to get the right consistency if you don't want to end up with inedible and indigestible stone-hard "pebbles". But when made properly, you can hardly stop eating these.

Potato dumplings with jam (aka Bohemian dumplings)

1/2 kilo potato (never new, they don’t work here)
150-170g flour (or more if the potato is not too floury)
1 egg
20g margarine or a tablespoon oil
hard jam/jelly, best is plum, mixed red fruit or apricot (preferably baking-proof which cannot ooze out)
80g butter
100g dried breadcrumbs

Peel and cook the potatoes in lightly salted water. Let them cool a bit then push through a potato ricer (or mash very carefully so that there are no big pieces left).
Mix with the rest of the ingredients adding more flour if necessary or a little margarine/oil if it’s too hard. (You can cook a small piece of the dough in boiling water –if it’s not sticky, neither too hard, it’s OK. )

Roll out the dough on a surface dusted with flour until about ½ cm thick. Cut it into 5x5cm squares, put a scant teaspoon of jam on each, pinch the four corners of each square together and roll it between your palms to make a ball.

Cook the dumplings in lightly salted boiling water, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon once to avoid sticking together. When the dumplings come to the surface, cook them 2-3 minutes longer. Test one to see if they are cooked well and remove them with a strainer on a plate.

Fry the breadcrumbs in butter (my grandma adds a little water as well, it will be less dry) and roll the dumplings in it.

Serve with sifted icing sugar.


If you’re lazy, make "nudli" (noodles) from half of the batch. Just cut the dough in 1x4 cm sticks then cook and roll in breadcrumbs as the dumplings. Serve with icing sugar. You can serve the noodles with ground poppy-seed and sifted icing sugar as well (my hubby's favourite).

In summer/autumn you can substitute jam with plum. For this you need as many smaller plums as many squares you’ve got. Remove the seeds and add a scant teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon in the place of the seeds. Put one on each square and proceed as above.
It even gets better on the next day (if there's any left). If you make noodles, mix them with some oil after cooking, so that they don't stick together.
They freeze very well, but only cooked (without rolling them in breadcrumbs).

As for the savoury potato cakes, I cannot imagine a better comfort food on a rainy day, eaten right from the frying pan, as you go on frying the rest - there's never many left to go cold ;)

Savoury potato cakes

1 batch of potato dough

Roll the dough 1/2 cm thick and cut out 7-8cm circles. Roll these out very thinly (about 1-2 mm thick), prick with a fork a few times. Knead and roll out the leftover and cut out smaller (3cm) circles. Fill a big frying pan up to 1 cm with sunflower oil and fry the cakes on both sides until nice golden (1-2 minutes). Serve hot as it is, or with some sour cream.

The grown up cupcake

Since we liked the cappuccino cupcakes from HTBADG so much, I decided to make a cappuccino cake along the same lines. I searched for appealing recipes in vain so decided to create my own version. I chose Nigella's buttermilk birthday cake for a base (also from HTBADG) but altered it by replacing the buttermilk by coffee, milk and joghurt. For the icing I used the white chocolate icing for the cappuccino cupcakes.

Cappucino cake

For the cake

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup soft butter -- unsalted
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs

For the icing
see recipe and instructions here

Preheat oven to 180C. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Pour the yogurt, milk and coffee into a measuring cup and stir in the vanilla. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed if using the mixer and add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between additions. Add portions of the flour mixture and the vanilla-buttermilk alternately, blending well after each addition; this should take 3-5 minutes. Pour the mixture in a buttered and floured 20cm round tin, and bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is beginning to shrink away from the sides and a cake tester comes out clean.

After cooling you can decide whether you want to cut the cake in two layers, I chose not to, and iced it as it was (there was enough icing left to fill the cake, too!)

Much as I love coffee flavoured things and the cappuccino cupcakes, I found the icing two overwhelming on this cake. Or perhaps it has to do with my changed eating habits due to a new medicine I need to take to stabilize my insulin levels, but I didn't eat more than one slice of this, I felt so sick of all the butter and sugar. But hubby ate about a quarter of the cake himself, and declared it was a gorgeous cake, so I don't care :P My waistline will be grateful for the "flop", I'm sure :)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In need of something soul-warming

Now that the weather has cooled down quite significantly, I find I need to cook something to warm me up all the time. I've made several quick soups and hot stews recently, but of course what really warms me up (literally, too!) is baking. And for that matter, baking with yeast, because yeasted cakes give you that feeling of cosyness and fill your home with a smell that says "You're home, you're safe and warm now" (even if in fact you are not, because the heating season has not yet begun).
I've been coquetting with the idea of making Tessa's cinnamon-cardamom buns ever since I got the book - or even earlier, sinceI've seen many a foodie make this and drooled over the pictures - , but somehow it always got put off.

I was almost put off this time, too, after reading the recipe, because the description of forming the spectacular shape of the buns was intimidating slightly. On second reading, however, it was all clear and I decided to proceed and was rewarded with that soul-warming effect I was longing for - no to mention the gorgeous smell that invaded the whole flat, mmmmmm!

Cinnamon cardamom buns
(makes about 35 buns)

For the dough
250 ml tepid milk
100 g caster sugar
25 g fresh yeast
1 egg, beaten
125 g butter, softened
2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. salt
650 g flour

For the cinnamon butter :
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
50g sugar
80 g butter, softened

for brushing and decorating
1 egg, beaten
sugar or sanding sugar

Put the milk and sugar in a bowl and crumble in the yeast. Leave for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins to activate. Add the egg, butter, cardamom and salt and mix in. Add the flour, bit by bit, mixing it in with a wooden spoon until you need to use your hands, and then turn it out onto the work surface to knead. (I simply used my KA to do this). The dough turns out beautifully elastic. Cover it with a clean cloth, and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Mix together the cinnamon and sugar (I prefer using brown sugar with cinnamon, I think it works better, it gives an extra depth to the cinnamon flavour). Divide the butter into four portions.
After the dough has risen, put it on a floured work surface and divide it into four portions. Begin with one portion, covering the others with a cloth so they don't dry out. Using a rolling pin, roll out a rectangle, roughly about 30 x 25 cm and 2-3 mm thick. Spread one portion of butter over it. Sprinkle it generously with about 3 tsp cinnamon mix (I'd actually use 1.5 x amount of cinnamon sugar next time to make it more comforting).

Roll up to make a long dough sausage. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Line up the dough sausages in front of you and cut them slightly on the diagonal, alternating up and down, so that the slices are fat 'v' shapes, with the point of the 'v' about 2 cm and the base about 5 cm. Turn them so they are all the right way up, sitting on their fatter bases. Press down on the top of each one with two fingers until you think you will almost go through to your work surface.

Put the buns on the baking trays lined with baking parchment, leaving space for them to puff and rise while they bake. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle a little sugar over the top.
Leave the buns to rise for half an hour and preheat your oven to 180C. Bake them for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden.

Keep them in an airtight container so they don't harden. They freeze nicely.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dobos torta

I was a bit upset and at a loss recently when I read about a quest of Hungarian confectioners to create the "cake of the country" for the commemoration of the founding of our state (20 August). I was at a loss because I thought we had one already: surely Dobos torta is Hungarian enough!? They came up with a cake based on the traditional dessert all Hungarians like (and like to claim as Hungarian but I'm not so sure about that) which the French call ile flottante. I'm not saying it cannot be good but I find no reason for creating such a new cake when we have something to be proud of already. You can read about the history of Dobos cake here.

Perhaps I got upset only because it was at this time that my husband "placed his order" for a cake for his nameday, and it was Dobos torta :)
I'm far from claiming it is a cake you want to whip up for unexpected guests. In fact, this is one of the cakes that only people as crazy as me attempt, the rest walk to a good confectioner's and buy it. And I don't think you can find many people in Hungary who don't like it :)

The cake is usually round, though you can find it in roulade and triangle shape as well at better places - no way I'm attempting those! But hubby ordered a rectangular one, because his granny always made it that way (only he forgot to mention it was a long loaf shape, not like mine, and I almost threw it in his face when he came in as I was making the caramel topping and he said it did not look good...)

I've made this cake before, but I had no real problem because the recipe called for round springform tins, but now I had to fuss about adjusting the recipe to a rectangular tin. I failed quite miserably and the last layer turned out too thin and burnt almost completely and I had to whip up another batch and up the amounts - I don't want to confuse you with all this, I'll give the recipe with modified amounts. (Also, I only got 5 layers instead of six because I didn't have enough cream). However, the drawback turned out to be an advantage, as it is much less time consuming to make three rectangular layers and halve them (either horizontally or diagonally) than make six round layers.

Dobos cake
( for a roughly 25x20 cm cake)

For the sponge:
10 eggs, separated
50g butter, melted and cooled
200g icing sugar
200g flour

For the chocolate cream
8 eggs
200g icing sugar
130g dark chocolate, chopped
260g butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sugar

For the caramel topping:
1 tsp butter
150g sugar
a few drops of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 220 Celsius and line a 25x35 cm rectangular tin (or three if you have so many).

Whisk the egg whites until firm peaks form. Cream the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow and add the flour and egg whites alternately, adding the whites very carefully so as not to "break" them. Finally, add the butter.

Spread 1/3 of the batter in the tin as evenly as possible and bake in the hot oven until light golden. Repeat twice with the rest of the batter (or use a fan oven and three tins to do it at the same time). Leave to cool.

For the chocolate cream whisk the eggs with the icing sugar. Put the bowl over a pan with boiling water and add the chopped chocolate. Continue whisking until the cream starts to thicken. This takes some time, around 15 min. Let it cool completely. This is essential, because if it is just a tiny bit warm, you won't get a smooth cream! Leave it in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours after it has cooled.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla and add the cooled chocolate cream bit by bit, beating it in.

Halve each layers of sponge and choose the nicest one - you need the bottom side of it. For the caramel topping melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the sugar and drops of lemon juice and burn until it gets a nice goldenbrown colour. Spread it on the nicest layer of sponge with a buttered knife (a wide one) and make horizontal and diagonal cuts on the surface (you don't need to cut through the sponge but you might want to do it), buttering the knife before each cut. You should get around 16 slices.

Layer the sponges with the cream and place the caramel-topped one on top. Spread cream on the sides and scatter with ground nuts or ground sponge fingers and decorate the edges if you want.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quick treats

Time is of essence now that I'm in the finish of studying for exams, so there has been not much cooking or baking for me recently. However, one needs to have a little break sometimes, especially when you're feeling like your brain was starting to explode when squeezing in some new fact. Now that is definately a time when you need: treats!

I guess everyone has a few treats that they enjoy making and return to in times of need. So here are a few of mine, interestingly a breakfast, main course and dessert :) Not made on the same day, though.

Porridge is not something we have a tradition of eating in Hungary. Actually, it took me quite long to dare attempt making a porridge because it somehow seemed odd: rolled oats soaked in water and/or milk, what on earth could that taste like?? Well, I must say, they taste awesome! Real comfort food. And it's healthy! Now I only feel sorry that quick porridge is not available here, because with the original method it takes too long to prepare on a work day - at least I'm too lazy to get up earlier to make this, no matter how good, I'm simply not a morning type of person: I guess Bill would drive me crazy with his morning "chirping" as he calls it LOL

The first time I made porridge I used Bill's recipe in Open Kitchen, and since it turned out lovely, I use this again and again.

Five-grain porridge with brown sugar peaches
(Serves 4)

250g mixed grains
600ml boiling water
600ml milk
3 peaches, quartered
80g brown sugar

Caramelize the peaches in hot oven with the sugar (about 15 min). Since I usually prepare 1 portion, I do this in a pan, not in the oven. Not the same, I know, but I feel it'd be too extravagant to turn on the oven to caramelize 1 peach LOL
Mix the grains with the water in a pan and leave for 10 minutes. Then add the milk and slowly bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 min, stirring often.

Serve with the peach quarters and some brown sugar sprinkled over, and warm milk (is that compulsory for a porridge, I wonder, because I leave that out and it doesn't seem to be missing). A great way to start the day especially if you have some brain work to do ;)

For the quick main course I turned to Bill again. His Warm tomato and ricotta pasta salad is my favourite pasta dish ever. I have changed it a bit, the greatest difference is that I use balsamic vinegar instead of the red wine vinegar, because it complements and highlights the sweetness of the tomatoes much more nicely and I don't always use ricotta, I find the crumblier and coarser curd cheese or the sharp, salty feta a nicer complement to this. And I sometimes leave out the bread crumbles.
This time I used wholemeal penne, feta and cherry tomatoes from my Grandma's garden, mmm. Oh, and I added some green olives, because I had a jar open.

Here's the original recipe, though:

Warm tomato and ricotta pasta salad
Serves 4
500 g (2 baskets) cherry tomatoes, cut in half
80 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
60 ml (14 cup) red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 thick slices wholemeal or sourdough bread
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, extra
500 g (1 Ib 2 oz) rigatoni
60 g (1 cup) finely shredded basil leaves
250 g (9 oz) fresh ricotta cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Place the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine.
Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Rub the bread on both sides with the cut side of the garlic.
Brush with the extra olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Put the bread on a baking tray and place in the oven.
Cook for 20 minutes, or until crisp.
Remove from the oven and crumble into coarse breadcrumbs with your hands.
Set aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente.
Drain well, then add to the tomatoes.
Add the basil and toss to combine.

Divide the pasta between four serving plates, or put it on one large serving dish, crumble over the ricotta cheese and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

So, after a breakfast and a main course, what else does a girl want? Chocolate of course. And if she's as mad about baking as me, she has to do "something" with it, not simply get a bar of good quality chocolate. Especially if the following cupcake is the favourite of her husband ;)
The recipe is a marriage of Nigella's Night and day cupcake recipe from HTBADG and
the icing recipe for her Chocolate fudge cake from NB. The idea for using this icing comes from a fellow foodie, Jane in France, the swirling is my addition. It's a really complex recipe, you see LOL

Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate swirl icing

2 scant tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons boiling water
75g sugar
50g dark brown sugar
125g self-rising cake flour
2 large eggs
125g very soft unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat the oven to 200. Mix the cocoa to a paste with the boiling water and set aside while you make the cupcake mixture.2. This couldn't be easier: Just put the sugars, flour, eggs, and butter and vanilla in the processor and blitz to combine smoothly.3. Scrape the mixture from the sides and then pulse while you add the cocoa paste and milk down the funnel. You should have a batter with a soft dropping consistency: If not, add a little more milk.4. Dollop into the paper baking cups in the pan and bake for 20 minutes, until an inserted cake tester comes out clean.5. Leave in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove, in the paper baking cups, to a wire rack.

For the fudge icing:
90g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
125g unsalted butter, softened
120-140g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp vanilla extract

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in the microwave - 2-3 minutes on medium should do it -or in a bowl sitting over a pan of simmering water, and let cool slightly. In another bowl, beat the butter until it's soft and creamy and then add the sieved icing sugar and beat again until everything's light and fluffy. Then gently add the vanilla and chocolate and mix together until everything is glossy and smooth.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sweet weekend

I hadn't baked anything for weeks so I thought it was high time I took out my books to browse. I knew I wouldn't have too much time on Saturday morning and also, our friends invited over to their house in the afternoon, so that meant another batch of cakes to take over.
If time is of essence, the easiest to make are muffins or cupcakes. I chose the cappuccino cupcakes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. Even though I'm not a coffee drinkker, save the odd cafe latte once in a blue moon, I'm addicted to cakes, chocolates, sweets, etc. with a coffee flavour. I have once made these cupcakes for my mum's workplace party and got demands for the recipe but I didn't get round to tasting them.

Cappuccino cupcakes

125g self-raising flour
125g soft butter
125g sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 heaped tbsp instant espresso
2-3 tbsp milk

for the icing:
160g white chocolate
60g butter
120g sour cream
260g icing sugar
cocoa powder for dusting

Nigella's instructions are to put everything in the processor (except milk) and blitz. I hate washing up the parts of the processor so I went with the traditional dry and wet ingredients method. The cupcakes needed 20 minutes in 200C pre-heated oven. While they were cooling, I made the icing. Last time I made a note that half the amount of icing is quite enough, so I halved these amounts. The white chocolate has to be melted together with the butter, then after a little cooling you need to add the rest of the ingredients. I don't usually add the amount of sugar stated in a recipe for icing, I added only 100g for the half batch this time. This of course means that the icing is runnier, but a quarter of an hour in the fridge remedies that problem, too.
When the cupcakes were topped with the icing I dusted some cocoa powder over them, which indeed made them look like cappuccino cups as Nigella said. As for the taste, the sponge came out crumblier and drier than I remember with the processor method, but it had a pronounced nut-flavour, which was lovely (nuts and coffee are such a perfect combination, mmmm). But this page got another note: "Don't be lazy to wash up the processor" LOL The result is much better using that nasty device.

Since one of our friends who invited us over doesn't like coffee at all, I couldn't make two batches of this cupcake, I had to come up with something else.
Risking my exclusion from certain foodie circles, I must admit something. I'm not such a great fan of brownies. I mean, the amounts of butter and chocolate a small tray of brownies contains has always made me turn to the next page in any cookbook. But I was craving some chocolate this weekend and suddenly I remembered the brownies in one of my Hungarian cookbooks. I made this quite some time ago and remembered I loved it. Also, the amount of chocolate and the substitution of butter to oil doesn't make this recipe so frightful for me. I'm not sure most people would call it brownies because of the latter but anyway, this was an appealing recipe.

Brownies (from Judit Stahl)

100g chocolate, chopped
100g flour
100g sugar
20g cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp instant espresso (only to emphasise the chocolate flavour, it's not noticable)
2 eggs
100 ml oil (with a neutral taste)
1 handful of chopped nuts

Combine chocolate, flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl. Mix the coffee with one tbsp water in another bowl, add the eggs and oil and whisk. Combine the contents of the two bowl and spread the batter in a 24cm buttered tart tin.
The batter turned out pretty little, I could hardly even it out in the tin. Then I sprinkled it with chopped walnuts and put in the pre-heated 175C oven. The recipe suggested 18-20 minutes baking, but it was pretty soft after that time, so I left it in for another 5 minutes.

The result was a really moist cake but I should have chopped the chocolate more finely, at least it was a bit disturbing to me. Anyway, it was devoured by our friends in no time and all you could hear was "umm" and "oh" so I guess it wasn't so bad after all :)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Greek theme continued

After last week's imaginary trip to Corfu, I decided to continue our travels at least in food and came up yet again with something related to Greek cuisine. I've had this recipe bookmarked in Falling Cloudberries from the moment I opened the book. Anything from Cyprus must be good as it is associated with the happiest week of my whole life, my honeymoon, which was spent there.

Tava is very easy to prepare and the result is a fantastic one-pot dish, full of flavour, excellent!

1kg lamb, chopped
1.2kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions, cut in chunks
4 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 tomatoes, sliced
125 ml olive oil

Can you find a dish easier to prepare?? You just throw everything in a baking dish, mix it, add 125ml water and cook it in preheated oven at 180C for 2 hours, covered with foil. After uncovering, cook it at 200C until it is nice golden. Easy-peasy. Serve with a simple salad - mine was so simple Jamie Oliver would have screamed LOL. A kind of lettuce slaw with joghurt, which was perfect in the heat we have been having in the past week.

And you know what? A colleague of mine entered my office this morning, holding a box of dessert, saying: "I just came back from Cyprus." Oh, really? Me, too :))

Friday, July 20, 2007

In the mood for Greek

There must be something in what Tessa says at the start of the Greek chapter of Falling Cloudberries: "Greece is magnetic, they say. Once you have stepped on Greek ground it's hard to shake yourself free. Myth has it that it's because your feet become stuck in the rich honey coating this country." I'm not sure it was the honey in my case but I can totally relate to this sentiment even though "technically" I have never stepped on Greek mainland, only on the ground of Corfu (and Cyprus). Interestingly, the Greek culture was the last on my holiday wish list. I've been to many parts of Europe before I reluctantly decided to "invade" this area. I was a fool to wait so long! I was enchanted the moment I saw the Greek hills from the plane. There truly is something in the air, besides the glorious smell of oregano, wild flowers, oranges and olive trees. A smell you will never be able to forget once you get a hint of. The smell of history, the presence of the Greek gods and the amazing peacefulness that lingers on the island (even despite extremely busy tourist-invaded areas).

I was not at all willing to cook anything last weekend, after the abundance of food at my friend's wedding on Saturday, but then I started leafing through Falling Cloudberries and felt an urge to use up the Greek feta and Greek olive oil I fetched at the supermarket the other day, the freshly picked cucumbers and the sweet tomatoes. I had some chicken breast thawing in the fridge, so it was evident I'd make gyros, pitta bread, tzatziki and a tomato salad.

Obviously, the gyros is just a quick version of that yummy dish, thin stripes of chicken breast marinated in olive oil and a spice mix, then fried in a pan. Not too authentic, I'm sure, but a perfect quick dinner.

For the pitta breads I used Tessa's recipe in FC, from the Cypriot chapter.
For 10-12 pittas you need

10g fresh yeast (instant works just fine, just use the conversion suggested by manufacturer)
2 tbsp olive oil
a pinch of sugar
500g strong bread flour (I added about 100g wholemeal in the name of healthy eating ;))
1 tsp salt

There's nothing new under the sun concerning the assembling of the dough. The messy part comes after the dough has risen for about 1 or 1 1/2 hours. Then, you need to punch it back and divide it into 10-12 portions, need 1/2 hour rest under a towel before proceeding with rolling the individual portions and baking them in preheated oven (220 C) on preheated baking trays. Although Tessa advises not to cook two batches at the same time, I used the fan function of my oven and cooked two trays, swapping them half-time. Worked fine for me.

Until the pittas were rising, I prepared the side dishes. For the tzatziki I grated a cucumber coarsely, then salted it and let it sit in a colander to get rid of the juices. When it was done, I pressed it down with a wooden spoon to make sure all the juices were gone. Then I mixed it with yoghurt and some sour cream (to get the right consistency because there's no Greek yoghurt available here to my greatest sorrow), and garlic oil.

For the tomato salad I just sliced some ripe tomatoes, crumbled in some feta, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some oregano I brought from Corfu.

The dish was excellent, the tzatziki tasted just like the one I had and had been craving from Corfu, and the pittas were really delicious.
We played some Greek music during dinner and when we closed our eyes, we could almost hear the sea moaning in the distance. A perfect dinner, what more can you ask for??

Monday, July 9, 2007

Courgettes again

I guess I'll be eating more courgettes this summer than during the whole year so far. My Granny's plant is abounding in these unnaturally yellow, longish veggies, so I will have to make a thorough research for courgette recipes to try.
When it's courgettes, though, one dish to make is a definite one: courgette fritters. The first time I saw Nigella make these in her Forever Summer show, I was lost and keep making them very often.
The best thing about these fritters is that they are easily alterable. I've tried many variations depending on what I had at home and I realised I'm not too keen on a pronounced mint flavour so either only add a tiny amount of those chopped leaves or only parsley. No sparing with that! Also, when I don't have feta, I love (perhaps actually prefer) using grated smoked cheese which gives another layer of rich flavour to the otherwise not too interesting courgette.

So even though it was Nigella who introduced this perfect light supper to me, I like trying new versions, too. This one comes from Bill's Food, and is basically the same as Nigella's but I needed an excuse to use my new Bill book, you see ;)

Courgette fritters

500g courgette, grated
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 spring onions, chopped (a small brown onion works just fine, too)
125g feta, crumbled
35g chopped parsley
15g chopped mint
2 eggs, beaten
60g flour
sea salt and pepper to taste
60ml olive oil for frying

Put the courgettes in a colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 30 min (When I'm in a hurry, I omit this stage and skip to the next. Works fine for me). Squeeze out any excess liquid and pat dry with paper towel.
Mix everything in a huge bowl, then heat the oil in a pan and add tablespoonfuls of the batter, flattening them with the back of the spoon. Fry for about 2 min on each side (or until golden).

Serve with mayo, yoghurt, sour cream or a combination of these.

A breakfast treat

While I try to eat healthy breakfast including milk and cereal, yoghurt, fruit, etc. for breakfast on weekdays, I sometimes like to indulge in treats at the weekends. One of my favourite treats is American pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit if available. Or I should say it was. Because recently I found a waffle recipe which keeps climbing back in my mind, urging me to make them again. And again.

I'm a terrible waffle maker. I either have to take out my first waffles in pieces because I'm impatient and open the iron too early and I always put too much batter on the iron and it starts flowing everywhere, argh! Well, from the point of view of my waistlines, this is good news, because I hate cleaning the equipment so sometimes I'm too lazy to make waffles even if I'm craving them LOL

Anyway, these cornmeal waffles with a hint of lemon by Nicole from Baking bites are too good to resist and are worth the extra scrubbing ;)

This time I substituted 1/8 cup of plain flour for wholemeal, just to feel less guilty about my morning treat ;) It worked really well. I even tried cooking them in a pan as American pancakes and they were absolutely fine that way, too (bad news for my waistlines!)

An earlier attempt with strawberries, a hint of icing sugar and maple syrup...

And the most recent one with blueberries...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Back on the wagon!

Well, it's been a long time... There are many reasons, the main being that life's been showing its ugliest face to me for a few months now and I didn't have time nor energy to deal with things other than self-pitying :)

But now, am trying to get my lost "mojo" back and a trip to London certainly helped to bring this about. Those four days were the best days this year so far. I'm not saying I acted like a real foodie and went to posh restaurants or things like that, but something was coming back. I didn't make it to Borough Market due to lack of time, but we did have a stroll on Portobello Road on a Saturday and the supply of the food section was thrilling enough for me, especially the baked goods and sourdough bread which you just can't buy anywhere here :(

We had the most amazing lunch on a bench at the Tower of London, which consisted of a fresh, rustic baguette, fresh feta cheese and amazingly sweet blueberries. The kind of perfect moment you'll remember for a long time.

And the goodies I brought back

Further inspiration came from the June issue of Delicious. I was hooked by the cover of the magazine and that awesome savoury tart including potatoes and courgette. As the first yellow courgette my Granny planted for me in her garden was grown enough, I didn't have to wait long to try this recipe.

I couldn't get any fresh thyme so I had to use dried but it was fine. The tart was really good and eating it made me feel I was on a good way to a healthy diet LOL Well, hubby was not so enthusiastic, his only comment was "and where's the meat?" so I guess I will have to add a few more layers of bacon (that's what I used) next time ;)

Friday, May 11, 2007

5 things you might not know about me

Firstly, an explanation for my longish absence: tons of work and overtime, and my computer at home broke down, so I have no access to pictures I've made in the meantime. But I will soon have, so keep watching this space :)

I've been tagged by Anna so here are the five things you might not know about me:

1. I love learning languages. Besides English I speak German, have studied Spanish but never had the opportunity to speak it anywhere so it's a really passive knowledge. Also started learning Italian some time ago but am desperately in want of free time to finish anything I start (at least to some extent) LOL

2. My dream kitchen is something along these lines.

3. Much as I love cakes and chocolate, there aren't many chocolate cakes I really like (except for the chocolate loaf here)

4. I only have one book by Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Italy. Much as I love the man and his shows, I don't find his books useful enough for me. He uses too many ingredients I don't like and/or can't get here.

5. Green Card with Gerard Depardieau and Legal Eagles with Robert Redford are two films I adore and have seen a zillion times (but still haven't got hold of a DVD copy of either).

I'm afraid everyone whose blog I read have been tagged already but Ilana :) Go girl!

--List five random facts/habits about yourself
--Choose another five bloggers to tag and list their names in your blog
--Leave your five tagged bloggers comments to notify them of their tagging along with directions.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I'm not very good at using up leftovers. The reason might be that I can't really think ahead. Furthermore, I don't have a proper pantry and my freezer's not too big so my stocks of food are very limited. And I usually don't like to eat the same thing for days on end - another reason why a man comes handy at one's house LOL He doesn't mind doing that ;)

I buy a lot of food magazines and usually they are stuck with recipes recycling leftovers but I usually forget them the moment I read them. Not this time.
I saw these rolls in one of these magazines, made with bacon, right before Easter. Since I had some ham left over after Easter, I decided to use them up.

Ham rolls

a packet of puff pastry
leftover cooked ham
spring onions
Dijon mustard
seeds of your choice

I'm not giving exact amounts as I added these from scratch. I had some spring onions which I wanted to get rid of, some parsley and chucked these together with the ham, mustard and some pepper (the ham was salty enough) into the food processor for a quick blitz, then spread this mixture on the puff pastry, rolled it up and cut 1cm thick slices. I put the rolls on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, brushed the top with a beaten egg and sprinkled over some sunflower seeds. They were baked at 200C until golden.

A quick and delicious weekday supper.

Despite my saying I can't really plan ahead I must admit I had hidden intentions when I made so much milk loaf for Easter. I sliced the leftover and tucked them in the freezer to use them up later. I had Nigella' s orange scented brioche pudding in mind...

I took out the slices in the morning and by the time I got home from work, they thawed. I stuck two slices with a teaspoon of home made marmelade, lined them up in a pudding bowl and poured over a mixture of milk, cream eggs and egg yolks and sultanas soaked in orange juice. After letting it stand for 15 minutes I cooked the brioche pudding in a hot oven for 45 minutes. We got a lovely, yellow, melting pudding which took considerable efforts on my side to stop eating LOL

One thing I didn't like though were the sultanas. The recipe instructed to scatter them over the top but they got burnt and had a bitter aftertaste. So I'll either cover the whole dish with foil before they burn or will try to hide them among the slices next time. Or subsitute them with dark chocolate chips ;) YUM!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chocolate cake and nostalgia

Ilana's recent post about pandiramerinos put me in a nostalgic mood. It reminded me how much I owe to a bunch of friends over on It made me think of the many occasions when someone would try a recipe and a random cookalong would result from it where everyone displayed their versions of the same recipe. I loved it. Pandiramerino was one of them but I could list quite a few more.

Anyway, from all these memories jumped out another recipe I've often made and which is from Maria, fellow-forummer, Queen of Cakes :) This is her mamma's recipe and even the name fills my heart with comfort and cosiness: Sjokoladeformkake. It is a very simple but seriously good chocolate loaf cake which I've made several times and it has slowly found its way in my steady repertoire. And it warms my heart that when I'm much older I'll have such fond memories attached to this recipe which I'll be able to relate to my children.

So here's the recipe, I hope Maria won't mind ;) I've made several variations of it, including ones with candied orange and orange juice and one with coffee and white chocolate chunks (I substituted 1/3 of the milk always). Either way, it is really good. And comforting.

Mamma's Sjokoladeformkake

4 tablespoons cocoa powder
150 ml full fat milk
150 ml sugar
110 grams (1 stick) butter
2 medium eggs
300 ml all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Loaf tin, approx. 23 x 13 cm, buttered and floured or with a paper insert.

Mix cocoa, milk and half of the sugar in a pan, bring to boil, leave to cool a bit.
Whisk butter and the rest of the sugar until it turns pale, add the eggs and vanilla and whisk again.
Pour in the chocolate mixture and stir.
Mix flour and baking powder, sieve it over the bowl and stir again.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and bake for about 45 minutes (or until cake tester comes out clean) in a 170C/350F oven.