Not your usual Brownie

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I like to think I’m not a terrible cook and a baker. When I first started dating my boyfriend I think he had a completely opposite opinion on that. One of the first cakes I decided to make for him was a brownie. I mean it’s chocolate, everyone should like chocolate (I truly believe so) and it’s dead easy to make, what can go wrong? Well, I proved that a lot of things can actually go wrong. For starters you can split the chocolate while melting it, then you can mix the eggs to quickly and make them loose their volume and after that, when you think that in the grand scheme of things it all doesn’t really matter so much in a brownie, you can burn the damn thing. In all honesty I think it was the first cake in my life that I just simply thrown out. A perfect way to impress a boy 🙂
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After that incident I decided to simply not make a brownie. I mean, there are so many great chocolate cakes out there, I don’t think it even makes it to the top 5 of my list. But last week I was just flipping through one of my favourite cake books  – Sweet by Eliza Morawska (she also has an amazing blog, check it out if your polish is decent enough) and found this fascinating combination of chocolate and prunes. I made a bit lighter than a usual brownie by beating the eggs with sugar until very pale and fluffy. If you fold in the chocolate very carefully the cake will be airy and not as heavy as some brownies can be. It’s a perfect cake for an evening when you just got back home and have a chocolate craving – any day until spring as far as I’m concerned 😉
Just a note to those who actually read, I’m not stopping with my Patisserie challenge, in fact I even went to Paris last week to get further inspired 🙂
And as we are approaching December very fast I decided to start a full on Christmas baking – there is so many cookies to make that will make perfect gifts. So as of next week a Christmas Patisserie will start! Yey!

Brownie with prunes
adapted from “Sweet” by Eliza Morawska
  • 200 g of dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into small pieces,
  • 160 g butter, cubed,
  • 150 g sugar,
  • 4 eggs,
  • 80 g of flour,
  • 4 g of baking powder,
  • 300 g of prunes, soaked in a glass of strong tea (Note: add a shot of rum to it if you like it).
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl placed over a pan with simmering water (make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Mix until melted. Let it cool slightly
  2. Beat the egg with sugar until they are pale and fluffy.
  3. Carefully fold in the chocolate into beaten eggs in small batches.
  4. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold gently.
  5. Strain the prunes and add them to the mixture.
  6. Pour into a flat baking tray.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven at 180 C for about 25 minutes. Make sure you check on the cake after around 15 minutes, depending on the size of your tray it might need more or less time. Check if it’s done with a wooden skewer.

A perfect Challah

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Challah is a very special kind of bread. It’s neither sweet nor savoury, it’s perfectly in the middle. It’s a very easy bread to make and at the same time it’s an impressive one to put on the table. I love to eat it with French cheese or to change into French toasts (funny how it works for French stuff 🙂 ). The recipe here is from one of my favourite bread books. I cut it in half, which will make you either one big or 2 normal size challahs. Double it if you want to make someone happy with an extra loaf – trust me, they won’t be complaining.
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If you have a stand mixer making a challah is taking no time (except for the rise of course). If you don’t it’s also OK, there is a really nice technique of kneading that I found lately. It’s very simple and although it might take some time to get it right first time, if you practice you will have a perfect dough in no time. Have a look here and try.

adapted from Jeffrey Hamelan
  • 450 g of flour,
  • 74 g of sugar,
  • 4 egg yolks,
  • 2 eggs,
  • 68 g of sunflower oil,
  • 290 g of water (around 32 C warm, not hottter!),
  • 17 g of salt,
  • 30 g fresh yeast (or 9 g dried),
  • 1 extra egg (for an egg wash),
  • sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle on top.
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer. Mix for 1 minute with a paddle attachment on the slowest speed (until everything in incorporated). Change for the hook, and mix for another 2 minutes on the slow speed. Switch to a second speed and mix for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic and comes off the sides.
  2. Leave it for 2 hours in a temp of around 25-27 C. After an hour you need to degas it by slightly pressing the dough. It’s ready when it triples in size. You can also put it in the fridge after 2 hours and let it rise slowly overnight. It will make breading easier.
  3. Divide the dough in two and then divide each half into 5 pieces and braid the challah. (or another amount, depends how you want to braid it. You can find most of the techniques described here)
  4. Let it raise again for 1,5 to 2 hours (until doubled in size).
  5. Before baking brush the dough carefully with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.
  6. Bake in the middle of an oven at 190 C for about 25 to 30 minutes (keep an eye on it, so that it doesn’t get too dark).
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Brioche Buns with Pears and Walnuts

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I love buying cookbooks. It’s great to have a lot of them around. It’s not only about having amazing recipes at hand, just waiting on a shelf to be made. Form me it’s also about just going through them over and over again, getting inspired, reading tips and trying to imagine flavour combinations. Recently I spend way too much time reading cookbooks, but it’s just so relaxing. I always have a  long list of cookbooks to buy, with almost 3 new coming on it the moment I buy one. I try not to buy too many at the same time, just so that I have time to explore one before moving to another. But this week I went a bit overboard, mostly because there was a great promotion at my favourite local book store..
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First recipe to try are brioche buns. I’ve been experimenting with brioches for a while now. Different recipes have different ration between butter and flour. This one is on of the lower butter percentage. That makes it really easy to make and handle (especially if you have a stand mixer). The most important thing while making a brioche is to give it time to slowly rise overnight in the fridge. You can either make the dough and put it right in the fridge (that’s the method used be Rachel Khoo) or give it 1-2 hours rise at a room temperature, roll it out, stuff with pears and let rise again overnight. I prefer the second option, cause you can have fresh buns for breakfast. And that is always appreciated, especially on a lazy Sunday morning..
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Brioche Buns with Pears and Walnuts
adapted from Rachel Khoo
For the dough:
  • 75 g butter,
  • 50 ml milk,
  • 15 g fresh yeast,
  • 250 g flour,
  • 50 g sugar,
  • pinch of salt,
  •  1 egg,
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract.
For the filling:
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices,
  • 50 g of walnuts, slightly crushed,
  • 1 beaten egg for the egg wash.
  1. Melt the muter in warm milk (not warmer than 35 C!). Add fresh yeast and allow them to dissolve.
  2. Add all the remaining dough ingredients and knead a smooth, loose dough (If you have a stand mixer: use a paddle attachment for 1 min on slow to combine everything and then use the hook for 3-5 minutes, until the dough is not touching the sides of the bowl.)
  3. Let it rise for 1-2 hours.
  4. Roll out the dough to 40 by 30 cm on a lightly floured surface (try not to use too much flour).
  5. Put the pears and walnuts on top. Roll it into a rolade and cut into 6 equal pieces.
  6. Butter lightly a 24 cm spring form and arrange the buns inside, leaving 1-2 cm in between. Cover with plastic foil an place in the fridge overnight.
  7. In the morning take it out around 1 hour before you intend to bake it (to bring it to a room temperature). Brush the buns lightly with an egg wash (you can do it twice if you have time, it will taste better).
  8. Bake at 160 C, in the middle of an oven for 30-40 minutes.
Note: In the original recipe, Rachel uses dulce the leche which she spreads on the roll out dough and the adds apples and nuts. I didn’t have any dulce de leche or apples, so used pears (besides I prefer pears over apples anyway). Worked brilliantly!

Too many egg whites…

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One of the (maybe the only) downsides of baking French pastries is the sheer amount of egg yolks you need.  Every recipe calls for more yolks than whites. Poor egg whites, so under appreciated.. I decided to find a cake where they can be given a central stage as part of my ‘use all, waste nothing’ policy in the kitchen.
I found the recipe on one of my favourite cooking blogs – smitten kitchen. It does not look special, but the taste is anything but ordinary. It is incredibly light, with a very nutty taste and aroma. I would use it as a base for tiramisu or a layered cake. I would, but the cake was quickly gone with just some sugar sprinkled on top and an espresso on the side..
The greatness of this cake comes with the combination of the toasted hazelnuts and brown butter. If you never tried brown butter before go ahead and make some. Eat it with anything (fresh made pasta, steamed veggies, roasted asparagus,you name it). It’s absolutely delicious! Browning the butter gives it a nutty aroma and flavour. No matter what you use it with, it will make it taste better. Just give it a try.
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Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
adapted from smitten kitchen
  • 150 g of hazelnuts,
  • 225 g of butter,
  • vanilla pod, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out,
  • 150 g of powdered sugar,
  • 75 g of flour,
  • 6 large egg whites (Note: I use small eggs so I took 8 egg whites, in total 260 g),
  • 45 g of sugar.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast them for 5 minutes. Wrap them in a kitchen towel and after a couple of minutes rub the towel vigorously so that the brown skin comes off.
  2. Blend the hazelnuts and powdered sugar in a food processor. Add the flour and pulse a couple more times.
  3. Brown the butter. Put it on a medium heat in a pan with a heavy bottom with the vanilla seeds and the pod. The butter will melt and at some point will get very foamy. Wait until it subdues. Scrape the bottom with a spatula to make sure the butter browns evenly. Once it starts smelling nutty take it off the heat and cool. Discard the vanilla pod.
  4. Whip the egg whites with 45 g of sugar until they fold firm peaks.
  5. Gently fold the dry ingredients and the butter into the egg whites in small batches.
  6. Pour the mixture into a buttered 24 cm spring form or use a rectangular shape (Note: I used a 25 by 35 cm shape).
  7. Bake in the centre of the oven at 180 C for 40 minutes or until golden.
  8. Cool before serving.

Gateau Basque

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Over the past weeks I explored quite some recipes for the tart pastry. They were all great and all work best for a specific purpose. One thing I learned that works perfect every time is to soften the butter. It makes mixing the pastry way easier and if you give it an at least 2 hour chilling time after mixing, you will still end up with a crumbly tart. It actually works best to make the pastry one day ahead, if you like planning your meals like I do 😉
This is the last last recipe for a tart pastry. It’s a very crumbly, almost shortbread like, pastry with an addition of ground almonds. Traditionally this cake is made in the Basque part of France. It can have two filling: a classic pastry cream or a cherry preserve. I used them both in one cake, keeping the cherries on the inside and cream on the outside of the filling.
This cake has a very nostalgic feel to it (not only to French people) and is filled with well known and comforting aromas. It’s perfect for the upcoming winter evenings.
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One more note: you will use more egg yolks than egg whites (as usually). Hold on to the whites, you can store them safely in the fridge for up to 3 days. I will soon post a nice cake recipe to use all the leftover whites 🙂

Buttery Basque Cake
adapted from Christophe Felder
For the Basque Pastry:
  • 175 g of butter, softened,
  • 125 g of sugar,
  • 85 g of ground almonds,
  • zest from 1/2 lemon, finely grated,
  • 1 egg yolk,
  • 25 g of a beaten egg (reserve the other half of the whole beaten egg for the egg glaze),
  • 225 g of flour,
  • pinch of salt.
  1. Beat together butter, sugar and ground almonds with a spatula.
  2. Mix in the lemon zest.
  3. Beat in the egg yolk and 1/2 egg.
  4. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth.
  5. Form into a flat disk, wrap in a plastic and chill for at least 2 hours.
For the fillings:
  • 250 ml full fat milk,
  • 3 egg yolks,
  • 45 g of sugar,
  • 20 g of flour,
  • 30 ml of dark rum,
  • 120 g cherry preserve (not too sweet).
  1. Bring the milk to boil over a medium heat.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with the sugar and flour. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the egg mixture to the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until it thickens.
  4. Add the rum and continue cooking for a minute (still whisking). Take off the heat.
  5. Cover the cream directly with a plastic wrap and cool in a room temperature.
Assemble the cake:
  1. Cut the dough in a half. Roll out one half to about 4 mm thick. Transfer into a 24 cm tart pan with a removable bottom. Cut the sides to the tart form (Note: You should make the sides a bit thicker, so that you can glue the top and the bottom of the cake together easily – do that by making a rope from the leftover dough and place it around the tart form).
  2. Dip you finger in water and lightly moisten the edge of the crust (the top of the rope). Prick the base with a fork.
  3.  Spoon the pastry cream on the outside of the tart.
  4. Spread the cherry preserve in the centre.
  5. Roll out the second piece of pastry (until 4 mm thick).
  6. Place it delicately on the top of the tart and trim the edge with a side of the rolling pin.
  7. Brush the top of the cake with an egg glaze.
  8. If you want you can make a pattern with a fork.
  9. Bake for 30 min at 180 degrees in the middle of an oven.
  10. Cool in the tart form.
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Pate a Etirer and an Appel Strudel

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When you take a challenge you know sooner or later you will have to face your fears. When it comes to baking I have two major ones, puff pastry and strudel. It’s not that they are a bit more complicated and time consuming to make. It’s about getting the right texture.To get a perfect strudel you need a very thin and crunchy dough that is filled with an incredibly smooth and flavourful apples. Easier said than done 😉
I was a bit afraid but also very excited when I started with this recipe. I admit it is some extra work, but I think it’s worth it. If you make the dough yourself it will be far superior to any ready made filo pastry you can get. I guarantee you that. The most important thing in this recipe is stretching the dough. It’s not that difficult actually. Just work delicately and keep calm. And if it tears? Well, no one will see it anyway, so don’t be bothered by it too much. Let it be fun! Ever since I made my first strudel I can’t wait to start with the puff pastry. It’s coming in a couple of weeks! 😀
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Apple Strudel
adapted from Christophe Felder
For the Strudel Pastry:
  • 350 g of flour,
  • 1 egg,
  • 150 ml cold water,
  • pinch of salt,
  • 400 ml grape seed oil.
Those ingredients will be enough for 2 strudels.
  1. Sift the flour into a bowl.
  2. Add egg, salt, water and a tablespoon of oil.
  3. Knead until the dough is smooth, it shouldn’t stick to your fingers.
  4. Shape into a smooth bowl. Put in a deep container and pour the remaining oil over it. Leave for 7 minutes and the discard the oil. Cover with a plastic foil and chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
For the Apple Filling:
  • 6 large baking apples,
  • 30 ml of dark rum,
  • 200 g of sugar,
  • 125 g clarified butter,
  • 75 g powdered sugar.
  1. Peel and core the apples. Slice them lengthwise in 2 mm slices and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Mix the apples with rum and 40 g of sugar.
Assembling the pastry:
  1. Place the dough on the cutting board and flatten it with your hands. Roll it out slightly to make it perfectly smooth. Cut it in half. Cover half in a plastic foil and reserve for later.
  2. Now you need to stretch the dough. I recommend looking at this video for detailed instructions.
  3. When the dough is thin and even (should be around 120 by 80 cm) melt the clarified butter. Brush the dough lightly with the butter and sprinkle with half of the remaining sugar.
  4. Cut into 10 squares of 25 by 25 cm.
  5. Arrange 8 sheets in the 24 cm tart pan with a removable bottom, leaving some dough to overhang.
  6. Fill the dish with half of the apple slices. Fold the dough over the apples and arrange two remaining squares on top.
  7. Sift the top with the powdered sugar.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 C, until the pastry is crisped and lightly browned.
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