Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kolacky or Kolace, From Central Europe With Love

Pretty kolaces filled with jam
I often spend time reading recipes or watching cooking shows online or on TV. This is a great source of inspiration for me as I often discover new recipes and learn about exotic ingredients.

I came across kolaches or kolacky, the recipe featured in this post, while looking for new ideas for baked sweets. This sweet pastry recipe originated in several central European countries like Poland, the Czech Repulic and Macedonia among others.

It seems this cookie started as a yeasted dough filled with jam, fruits, or poppy seeds or cream.  With time many variations were made. The cookie and its many variations are still important in celebrations  in several central European countries. 

With the waves of  Polish and Czech immigrants settling in many parts of the USA, the recipe became popular in the New World  by the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. But as the recipe left its homeland, it underwent some modifications, as such kolacky with cream cheese is a 19th century American invention!

The name kolacky means small cookies in Macedonian, as I am lucky to have friends from all over the world, I contacted my Macedonian friend and asked him about this dessert. Todor, my friend, graciously shared with me his grandmother's recipe of kolace.

I had made pastries made with cream cheese before so I was interested to try the cream cheese version of kolace, but I was more interested in trying my friend's grandmother recipe, after all, the best recipes are those of our mothers and grandmothers passed down through generations and refined through time. 

For the cream cheese colacky you need:
  • 80 g cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 68 g butter softened (20 g of which are salted, if not just add a pinch of salt)
  • 74 g flour
  • 1 tbp vanilla sugar
  • Sprinkle of ground star anise
  • For the filling, use your favorite type of jam
Easy steps to make the kolace
These ingredients are enough to make a small batch of cookies (about 10 to 12). All you need to do is to whisk the cream cheese with the butter, until it becomes light and fluffy using a hand mixer, or an electric one if your are doubling the ingredients. If you need to add the salt do it now, followed by the star anise and  then start adding the flour slowly  in 3 to 4 batches.

You know the dough is ready when it comes all together and nothing is left sticking on the sides of the bowl! The dough needs to rest for at least 6 hours in the fridge or over night.

Take the dough out of the fridge and leave it for about half an hour so it reaches room temperature. On a floured surface, roll out  the dough to 1/2 cm in thickness, then cut 3 x 3 cm squares or circles or whatever shape you desire.
Put a teaspoon of any fruit jam you have in the center of the cut dough. I used cherry, raspberry and grape jam with which I used some peanut butter. Take 2 sides of the dough and fold them over the jam. Once you have all the dough ready put it in the fridge for half an hour, then pop it in the oven and bake them for about 15 min in a preheated over (180C).
Cream cheese kolaces
When the cookies are cooled, dust them with some icing sugar.

Oozing jam from the kolace, inviting sight
For the kolache cookies, todor´s grandma recipe you need:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup of melted butter, oil, or lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 an egg or replace by  30 g of milk or 30 ml (if you are using egg add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla)
  • Pinch of salt
Traditional shaped kolace
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, add the egg and mix then add the oil until all ingredients come together. Let it to rest for about half an hour in the fridge.

Divide the dough into small balls about 25 g each and place them on a baking sheet. With your thumb or a fondant ball tool, make a hole in the balls, fill the hole with jam and bake them for about 15 to 20 min, until they have a golden brown color on the bottom. 

Let them cool for few minutes and sprinkle some dusting sugar.
Very elegant and pretty sweets, but above all very delicious
Here you have it, two different kolacky or kolache recipes with different textures, both very delicious and easy to make!

Friday, October 19, 2012

White Chocolate raspberry caramel Shortbread!

Inviting and tantalizing dessert
Share with your friends and they will come back for more

In the previous post, I shared with you my slightly personal version of caramel caramel chocolate shortbread  also known as Millionaire´s shortbread, I had added some few changes to make the squares a bit wintery and not too sweet.

However, little changes don't always cut it for me, I decided to modify the recipe even further and create a different flavor sensation. The previous recipe calls for the use of dark chocolate, but why not use white chocolate?  As you probably know white chocolate is primarily made from cocoa butter extracted during the process of chocolate making. White chocolate is not to everyone's taste, but I love everything related to chocolate and I decided to give white chocolate a try with caramel shortbread.

Some fruits go better with chocolate than others, a prime example would be berries. Berries offer a perfect flavor combination with chocolate especially with white chocolate as the tartness of berries offset and balance the sweetness of the chocolate.  

I wanted to create a cookie sandwich with a whitish bottom layer, a rose-purple heat and a creamy white top. The first time I tried to do it, I used brown sugar to make the caramel and when I added the raspberry, the resulting caramel was brownish and too sweet. I adjusted the process until I got the result I wanted.

Enough talking now and let´s start with the recipe making.

For the dough you need:
  • 67 g Butter
  • 85 g flour
  • 10 g vanilla sugar
  • 15 g powdered sugar.
As I said in the previous post, there are several ways to make the dough, but I find that the easiest is using a food processor. First mix sugar and butter for few seconds, then add the flour, which I added it in 2 batches. When you take it out of the processor just make sure everything is well blended. Press the dough on a prepared tray (covered with parchment paper), make sure it´s well leveled then put in the freezer for half an hour.

Prick it and bake it for about 20 min (it depends on the oven so check from time to time). 
When it´s lightly brown on the edges then it´s ready. Set it aside to cool.
Easy to make and packs a wonderful taste

What you need for the caramel:
  • 35 g butter
  • 20 g vanilla sugar
  • 5 g light brown sugar
  • 20 ml of condensed milk
  • 15 ml cream
  • 35 g seedless raspberry purée
Raspberry caramel, perfect color and flavor
On a low heat, melt the sugar and butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan, when well melted add the milk and the cream, stir carefully or just swirl the pan, when it gets thick, start adding the raspberry purée. Add slowly until you get the desired color, and let it get thick again, it should be pourable but not runny.

Pour the caramel over the cooled dough, leave it until it gets to room temperature then put it in the fridge to set. 
Fruity, buttery and chocolaty, a perfect combination
Meanwhile prepare the chocolate layer. Melt 150 g of chopped white chocolate or buttons, on a double boiler, and pour it over the caramel.

Leave the chocolate layer cool down, but cut it before it is totally set, or just score it. 
When chocolate is set, cut the squares with a serrated knife, and there you have it, a refreshing, crumbly and sweet treat.
Enjoy these cookies with your daily cup of coffee

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Caramel Chocolate shortbread or Millionnaire´s shortbread

Rich, buttery, chocolaty and sweet, a perfect dessert
My first experience with caramel chocolate shortbread was three years ago. I found them in a local delicacy store, they looked too tantalizing to dismiss. I am glad a bought a few; indeed they were amazing. Unfortunately, they are not readily available and if I were to rely on stores to quench my appetite for these delicacies, well I would hungry! No such thing is allowed under my watch! Do your ingredient hunting and prepare yourself to make these chocolaty treats at home.

Shortbread is not new to the culinary world. In fact, it has been made since the 16th century in reference to a crumbly type bread. Shortbread relies on the taste and the texture that butter infuses in the dough. Earlier recipes, like the Elizabethan ones, had oatmeal as a main ingredient and was popular among unprivileged classes. Almonds were sometimes added to fancy things up, but the main ingredients were simple including   wheat flour, butter and sugar. Back in the days, sweet cookies were mainly consumed during festive times, especially Christmas, as everything nice and sweet was reserved for such occasions!

Now, we can enjoy those cookies all year long with their endless varieties and ingredients such as chocolate chips, cranberries, nuts among other ingredients. Caramel chocolate shortbread, a decadent recipe that can satisfy any craving soul for comfort, is like a cookie based sandwich  which you will be happy to know how to prepare.

The traditional recipe is made with dark or milk chocolate, but I decide to try something new and make one with white chocolate. For now I will share the dark chocolate recipe first which will be followed by the white chocolate recipe.

The first recipe is the closest to the original, but again, it has a twist. It has a double of chocolate since the shortbread has chocolate too. You can never have enough chocolate, right?
Dark and white chocolate shortbread!
So to prepare the double chocolate caramel shortbread, you will need (makes about 15):
For the dough (18 x 18 cm tray):
  • 67 g butter
  • 8 g cocoa powder
  • 78 g flour
  • 10 g vanilla-infused sugar (I used castor sugar to which I added a pod of vanilla in advance)
  • 15 g powdered sugar
  • A teaspoon of orange zest (optional)
Preparing the dough can be done in several ways: beating the butter and sugar with an electric mixer then add the flour with a wooden spoon or you can mix all the ingredients by hand. However, you can do what I did which is to mix the butter and sugar in the food processor for few seconds then add the flour and cocoa powder, and mix for an additional times, usually not more than few seconds, until the dough comes together, add the zest and mix again for a very short time until all is blended well.

Place the dough on a tray lined with parchment paper to prevent it from sticking and to ease the job of removing it from the tray when baked.

Flatten the surface of the dough, making sure it's even. Like all buttery dough, it is best to chill it before baking; 30 min is ideal.

Before baking the dough, prick it and place in a preheated oven at 180 C degrees for about 20 min. 
The chilled and the baked dough
While the dough is cooling start preparing the caramel, which requires the following ingredients:
  • 35 g butter
  • 20 g vanilla-infused sugar
  • 5 g dark brown sugar
  • 20 ml condensed milk
  • 20 ml cream
  • 7 ml of corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla
In a heavy bottom sauce pan, combine sugar, butter and corn syrup, place over a gentle flame and wait for the sugar to dissolve with the butter, then add the milk and cream. Let the mix simmer for few minutes until it starts to thicken, stir gently from time to time, then add the vanilla.

I cut the amount of condensed milk and used cream to get a balanced caramel taste and not a sickly sweet taste. 

Pour the caramel over the cooled dough. Let it cool at room temperature then place in the fridge until it is well set.
Pour the caramel on top of the baked dough and let it set
And now for the final adornment, the chocolate layer. Pick your favorite chocolate type (dark, semi-sweet, milk,...) and brand and melt around 100 to 150 g of it in a double boiler or bain-marie.  When melted, pour over the caramel and let it set. 
The set caramel on top of the shortbread and the set molded chocolate
Leave it to cool and try to cut it before the chocolate completely hardens, because if you do it will crack and the slice won't come out as nice as you wanted. It's not an easy job, but it will be made easy if you use a serrated knife.
The various layers of the this chocolate treat

If you examine the pictures you will notice that the chocolate on top looks like a piece of chocolate bar, which is not difficult to reproduce. Place half the amount of melted chocolate in a silicone molds which has a chocolate candy bar look. As they set they take the shape of the mold. Layer the molded chocolate over the shortbread pieces, brush lightly with melted chocolate to the layers together. This is an optional decorative step, you can simply pour the chocolate, let it set, slice it and serve it as such.

A chef once named these chocolate shortbread cookies as millionaire´s shortbread because they are very rich and indeed, it cant get any richer!

While you wait for the white chocolate caramel shortbread version, sit back, relax and enjoy the chocolate ones with coffee or tea.
Perfect for a 5 o´clock tea!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Znood al Set or Lady´s Arms! زنود الست

Znoud al Set, a sweet, crispy and delicious sweet
Previously I showed you how you can make, in the comfort of your home, traditional Arabic clotted cream (kachta or achta). This cream is a basic in many desserts, once you get the hang of it you can make your own pairings and combinations based on seasonal products or your personal preferences.

I decided to keep things simple yet elegant and delicious and I went with the choice of using the cream with phyllo pastry. One of the traditional recipes that call for the use of both ingredients and is quite popular in the Levant countries is called Znoud al Set which basically means Lady's Arms.

While I have the patience to prepare Arabic clotted cream at home, preparing phyllo dough at home is a different level of complexity. It's not that the ingredients used in the pastry are complicated, but it's almost impossible to achieve the level of thinness needed for phyllo dough using home utensils. Luckily phyllo dough is widely available in supermarkets so by all means, buy from a brand you trust. This paper thin dough is to make baklava but lends itself marvelously for a wide array of sweet and savory recipes.

It is believed that the art of stretching the phyllo dough into a papery thin pastry took place in the palaces of the Sultans of Istanbul. As for the dessert featured in this post, the story of its birth goes like this: In a dinner of the governor of the Ottoman provinces of Tripoli and Lattakia (1798-1833), Mustapha Agha Barbar, a new dessert was served, kachta rolled in phyllo pastry and that had the shape or the appearance of arms, so one of the guests suggested that these sweets should be called Znoud el set (or lady´s arm); perhaps to honor the big number of women guests to that dinner party, and so it was!

Traditionally, the phyllo is stuffed with kachta and rolled in cylindrical shape similar to the Chinese spring rolls. The rolls were then deep fried in oil and drizzled or dipped in sugar syrup. The rolls are then garnished with pistachios and rose petal jam.

Inspired by the traditional recipe, I made Znoud al Set but added a few twists here and there.  In order to prepare the recipe you will need the following (serves about 7):

  • One pack of phyllo pastry, thawed
  • A cup and a half of kachta 
  • Sugar syrup
  • Chopped pistachios
  • Whipped cream (about a cup)
  • Rose water or rose essence
  • Figs
  • Melted butter
For the syrup you need:
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • Tbsp of dried rose petals
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • Peel of half a lemon
  • Tsp of orange blossom water 
Flavoring the syrup with aromatic ingredients will make it much more interesting
In order to prepare the sugar syrup you need to combine all ingredients together except for the  orange blossom water. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 to 15 min. After removing the syrup from the heat add the orange blossom water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Don't add the orange blossom water while the mix is still boiling, because the delicate essence of orange water would be lost with the heat.

Now you would want to prepare the rolls. Brush a sheet of phyllo with melted butter and fold it in 2, repeating this process with another sheet. Place on top of each other, place a tablespoon of kachta in a raised cylindrical fashion towards the end of the dough making sure that the cream doesn't touch the edges.
Fold the sides of the dough over the cream and roll the dough over the cream starting with the side closest to the cream and going outwards. You might be tempted to put too much cream inside the roll, don't do that. The cream will leak out during cooking.
Easy steps to make the roll

Brush the finished rolls with some butter again and place them on a baking tray in a preheated oven (200C) and cook them for about 20 min or until golden brown. You can fry the rolls in vegetable oils instead of baking them, and they will be delicious, but I prefer to bake them, it is a slightly healthier option, yet nonetheless as delicious if not more.

After being baked, traditionally, the rolls are dipped in sugar syrup. I decided to avoid that, and drizzled just a bit on top. More syrup can be added while serving the rolls.

Figs, a typical fruit of the Middle East, work so well in this recipe
You can pair the rolls with several fruits, but I think figs go really well with them. The sweet and tasty Mediterranean fruits can be cut in halves and  lightly sauteed in butter until they are lightly brown or you can just serve them fresh.

Light whipped cream adds a special note to the recipe

Finally, you can serve the znoud al set with some extra cream on the sight for extra indulgence and decadence. The whipped cream doesn't need to be sweet, but it is much more interesting if you flavor it with few drops of rose water.

Arrange the different ingredients in a serving plate, decorate as you find suitable and there you have it, a tasty sweet from the East.

You can try and you might succeed and taking a bite of all the ingredients at the same time. The mellow sweetness of the figs complement the crispy butteriness of the rolls and the milkiness of the kachta. The whipped rose infused cream adds this special light note at the end. Make sure you try this recipe, you will love it!

A sweet treat that combines complementary tastes and textures