Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

At the end of this year, and what a year it was, I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I only wanted to use 2 colors to decorate these cookies,  white for peace and gold for wealth, maybe it would be a good omen! :)

You can check many of my sugar cookies recipes perfect to decorate!

May 2015 bring you nothing but joy, good health, prosperity and lots and lots of good food and exquisite baking!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas chocolate treat from Switzerland: Brunsli

In my previous post I talked about the cookies I used to decorate the dried fruits Christmas cake. These are Swiss cookies that are usually baked during Christmas time. They are easy to make yet really delicious and perfect for this season whether you want to enjoy them with your loved ones or to wrap them in a beautiful package and gift them to friends and family.

It´s almost natural to think about Chocolate when you talk about Switzerland. It´s the land of the finest chocolate and renowned manufacturers, and it's no surprise that this wonderful product is the star ingredient of Brunsli cookies. They are also spiced with cinnamon, ginger and many other aromatic ingredients. You can use your own mix of spices that you usually use for baking and that complement the taste of chocolate.

I often bake cookies and gift them to my friends, and for Christmas I couldn't think of better than Brunsli cookies as a personalized gift! I am sure that they will appreciate this sweet gesture.

You will need the following ingredients to make many small cookies using a variety of molds. You should get around 30 pieces:
  • 100 g sugar
  • 200 g almond flour (or 100 g of hazelnut and 100 g of almond flour)
  • 25 g flour
  • 25 cocoa powder
  • 55 g egg white
  • 80 g melted chocolate
  • 15 g kirsh (sour cherry brandy) 
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp of different spices: ground star anise, cloves, nutmeg and freshly grated ginger

Combine all dry ingredients and process in a food processor until well combined. Transfer them into a big bowl.
Whip the egg white until foamy. With a spatula or using the paddle attachment combine the eggs with the dry ingredients. When well combined add the chocolate then the kirsh and mix until incorporated. 
Flatten the dough and shape it into a disk, wrap in  plastic and leave it in the fridge for at least 4 hours or over night.

When you are ready to roll the dough, sprinkle icing sugar over your working surface and roll it until it is 0.6 to 1 cm thick. Personally, I opted for a thinner dough. 
Cut the dough into the desired shapes, put the cookies over a tray covered with parchment paper and leave them to rest and dry slightly for about 15 to 20 minutes, un-refrigerated or covered. Meanwhile preheat the oven at the high temperature of 220 C (428 F), and after 20 min you can bake the cookies. Put the trays in the oven for only 2 minutes and not more as you want the cookies to be really chewy in the middle. 

These cookies are delicious on their own but if you cut them using beautiful molds you can use them as decorative elements in festive cakes like I did with the dried fruits Christmas cake. If you are into cookie decoration using royal icing, fondant and more, these cookies form a wonderful base. 

All is left for me to say now is: MERRY CHRISTMAS to everybody and may your New Year be filled with love, peace and joy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ultimate Dried Fruits and Nuts Christmas Cake!

What´s Christmas without cold weather, snowy mountains, decorated streets and houses, the hustle and bustle everywhere, the perfect gift hunting and of course the countless calories one packs from all the delicious season's food!!

I absolutely love how a couple of days before Christmas Eve everything is on speed drive, preparing as much food as you can beforehand and then what took days to prepare disappears in mere hours. Of course food is not what Christmas is all about, but nothing gathers families and loved ones more than good food bringing them together in joy and happiness. Of course, every copious Christmas meal should end with a sweet note and I am not the one to disagree with that!

Some cakes are typically associated with Christmas. In our family we usually prepare the Christmas Log cake (or Yule cake) and serve it at the end of our rather rich Christmas meal. However, this year I wanted to try something different and make a fruit cake that is also famous around Christmas time but not exclusively as it is made during weddings, baptisms and similar events. This cake has everything I love and I expect on Christmas: dried fruits, nuts, spices and alcohol.

I made some research to find the perfect recipe for the perfect Christmas fruit cake, but I eventually had to make some little tweaks and adjustments to suit my taste. I omitted raisins or sultanas, as I am not a big fan  and I replaced them with dried fruits that I preferred. Instead of feeding the cake with brandy, I prepared a spicy brandy syrup that elevated the cake to a whole new level.

Christmas or not this cake is a must try!

Now let´s start baking.
The list of ingredients is quite long, but its mostly ingredients within reach. The amounts listed here are ideal for a small 15 cm (6 inches) pan; adjust the amounts according to your pan. You will need:
  • 120 g soft butter
  • 100 g brown sugar (use muscovada or panela)
  • 150 flour, all purpose
  • 3 medium eggs at room temperature (between 53 to 63 g each)
  • 400 g of mixed dried fruits (I used cranberries, apricots, plums, cherries, blueberries)
  • 120 g mixed nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds) chopped and lightly toasted
  • 55 g candied orange peel
  • 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spices. I used, cloves, allspice, crushed coriander seeds, star anise and nutmeg.
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • the zest of an orange
  • dash of salt

For the brandy syrup:
  • 80 ml orange juice
  • 50 g sugar
  • 50 ml of brandy
  • Mixed spices. I used the same I put in the batter. You will need : 2 cloves, 1 star anise, 2 allspice berries, a small piece of nutmeg, half a cinnamon stick and 2 orange peels and few coriander seeds)
First, chop the dried fruits into small pieces and soak them in 80 ml of brandy and 80 ml of orange juice. This needs to be done one day in advance to allow all of the flavors to marry.

On the next day, mix the flour with the spices, the rest of the dry ingredients, and set aside.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, cream the sugar and butter. Then add all of the eggs along with the orange zest and mix till well incorporated.

Fold in the flour, once well combined add the dried fruits, peels and nuts with any left juice and mix till they are distributed evenly throughout the batter.

Pour the batter in an 15 cm tin, covered with parchment paper. Line the paper so it is higher than the rim of the tin; this helps the top of the cake from drying too quickly in the long baking process.
Bake the cake in a preheated oven (140 C/285 F) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. After 2 hours insert a toothpick into the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean then the cake is done. Set it aside to cool.

When completely cooled, cover and place it in airtight container. You can start feeding the cake as of the next day. Feeding means that you prick the cake with a fork or better with a long thin toothpick to create small holes that allow the brandy to soak in the cake. Then you "feed" the cake with brandy by putting some liquor on top and waiting till it is completely absorbed. That's the traditional process, however, I tried something different and created a sweet spicy brandy syrup that adds more flavor than brandy.

To make the syrup, just combine all the ingredients but the brandy and let them simmer on a low heat. Once the sugar is completely dissolved  and the mix is simmering gently add the brandy let it simmer for few seconds and turn off the heat.

With the cooled syrup, I started feeding the cake. I fed it for just 2 days.  Usually the process is repeated over a longer period, but two days are enough for an outstanding result.  Any left over syrup can be served as a drizzle over the piece of cake.

You can make that cake months earlier, if you are able to provide optimal storage conditions. But I wouldn't have the patience to prepare a week or two in advance without sampling it as I don't have a high level of self-restraint when it comes to food!

You can decorate this cake in many ways. Sometimes using just a holy leaf is enough. You can cover it with marzipan and add some decorating elements if you you want to do more. I accompanied the cake with decorated brunsli cookies, a recipe I will share soon.

I will be making this cake soon as it is quite a delicacy. Sure enough it is not the easiest cake out there, it requires lots of ingredients, some planning ahead and quite some time to finish all the needed steps but it is well worth it.

Christmas is right around the corner, gift yourself and your loved ones this scrumptious fruit cake. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

White chocolate and cranberry blondies!

It's Christmas season already! I know it's hard to believe, but time flies by and why should anyone complain? Christmas time is my favorite season of the year.

Culturally, there are certain colors, aromas and ingredients that we typically associate with Christmas. Cranberries are one of those ingredients that have the colors and spirit of Christmas.

Usually, I find dried cranberries everywhere but the fresh ones start appearing in late November. I buy them whenever I find a small box filled with those lovely jewels. I rarely eat them fresh as I believe  it´s when cooked or used in baking that their taste goes to another level.

I like to use them with white chocolate, their strong tangy flavor pairs to perfection with the sweetness of the white chocolate. I personally don´t like sweets that are too sweet but I do like white chocolate and whenever I bake it I try to use a sour ingredient, usually a fruit, to have a more balanced and enjoyable flavor.

To feature these two wonderful ingredients,  I used them  in a blondies recipe, the whiter version of one of the most popular and delicious desserts: the brownies. The end result was blondies that were just as delicious as their brownies cousins, perhaps even more.

For this recipe you need (18 x 18 cm pan):
  • 80 g fresh cranberries (you can use dry ones but they won´t give the tangy flavor as the fresh ones)
  • 100 g butter
  • 120 g flour
  • 1/4 tsp of salt and another 1/4 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 100 brown sugar (for optimum results use dark brown sugar, I used panela)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100 g chopped chocolate (small chunks)

First start by combining the flour with the salt and baking soda.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan; you want to melt the butter and not to heat it, just warm it.  Add  the butter to the sugar  and whisk until well combined.
Now add the egg and the vanilla extract and mix well again.
Slowly fold in the flour. Finally, mix in in the chocolate and the cranberries.

Pour the batter in a pan (previously lined with baking paper), and bake them in a preheated oven (180 C; 350 F) for about 20 to 25 min, or until the edges and the top have a golden brown color.

Give this recipe a try and believe me  you will not regret it, it´s just out of this world but beware it might become really addictive!