Archive for the 'Cakes and Muffins' Category

Cherry Picking with Slow Food Beijing

We spent this past Sunday picking cherries and peas in God’s Grace Garden, a biodynamic farm in the southwest of Beijing. The event was organized by the newly founded Slow Food Beijing. The farm is 25 acres large and was established in 2001 by Therese Zhang, a very interesting Chinese woman who speaks fluent English, Spanish and French. Therese hasn’t always been a farmer. She worked for a canning company when she learned about organic agriculture. She eventually quit her job and started planting fruit trees and vegetables on her new farm to ensure a lifetime of healthful food for her family and friends. She also raises life stock and we got to feed baby chickens, ducks and even turkeys (hopefully we can reunite with one of them on our Thanksgiving table later this year). For more information on God’s Grace Garden, here is a link to a very interesting video I found on vimeo (http://vimeo.com/9902834).

Therese’s daughter-in-law cooked a fabulous lunch for us with produce and meat from the farm, including duck, lamb, eggs, leafy greens, cabbage, zucchini, peas and homemade tofu. I asked her to share some of the recipes with me and hopefully in time I can share them with you.

With full and happy tummies, we headed towards the cherry trees. We tried 3 different varieties, before settling for utterly delicious Bing cherries. I found a lonely ladder and we managed to completely clear two fully loaded trees in less than 2 hours. Naturally, a good part of what we picked went straight from our hands into our mouths, but we also took several pounds home which I could not wait to turn into delicious treats.

I spent the entire next morning searching for recipes that would be a good match to our wonderful cherries. For once I decided that making up my own recipe might be too risky and settled instead on a Cherry Brown Butter tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen and a Cherry-Almond Upside-Down cake I found in a Bon Appetit magazine from June 2008. The first one is a twist on a Raspberry Brown Butter tart, which initially was published by Bon Appetit as well. Both cakes tuned out fantastic, but the brown butter really raised the tart to another level. It was heavenly and very much enjoyed by everyone.

As to the upside-down cake, I changed the cornmeal asked for in the original recipe to almond meal and used Chinese black wheat flour instead of all purpose flour. I am sure white spelt or white wholewheat pastry flour would work just as well. This cake is particularly delicious with ice-cream, Greek yogurt or a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Apple Crumble

Over a decade ago, my English mother-in-law shared her basic and delicious apple crumble recipe with me. It is one of my favorite desserts of all times and I have made it countless times over the years. Mostly with apples, sometimes rhubarb or berries. I tweaked the recipe in various directions, my favorite change being the addition of almonds and extra oats, but mostly I tried to figure out how to get that crumb texture just right every time. I also ventured into the world of vegan, gluten and sugar free crumbles, which were still good, but perhaps a little too wholesome. There is no doubt that butter is a crucial ingredient in crumble and without it, it’s just not the same. A little goes a long way however, so don’t worry.

The best part of making crumble is how quick it’s done and how satisfying it is in the end. I have to admit, I much prefer making a crumble than let’s say apple pie. Pie crusts are not my friend, they take too long and are not fool proof. This crumble recipe on the other hand is so easy, you can give it to your kids and put them in charge. No worries.

My favorite apples to use here are Fuji apples. They taste great, keep their shape and still soften nicely. If you can’t get Fujis, ask your greengrocer for a good baking apple. Sometimes I add some cranberries, to make it a bit more interesting. As you can see not everyone in my family agrees with me…

Sorry, this recipe requires a scale, but this is how I inherited it from my mother-in-law. Go out and buy one as even in the U.S., metric recipes are becoming much more popular. You can’t beat the accuracy.

 

 

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Oatmeal Quinoa Breakfast Cookies

I found a container of cooked quinoa in the back of my new, narrow but deep fridge this morning, which was begging to be eaten. I remembered a recipe for breakfast cookies I read in the latest issue of “Bon Appetit” magazine and decided to give it a try. My kids each have to bring two snack to school per day and with our stack of cereal bars dwindling fast and replacements costing the equivalent of nearly 10 USD, I will probably be doing a lot of baking in the years to come.

Not that I mind really, as it is much more fun than cutting the head and feet of yet another organic chicken which is staring at me from my counter top. I went for a different brand, this one twice as expensive as the last one and I was hoping it would be a bit more plump in the chest and thigh, but no. I did find some organic pork; liver, tiny pieces of very fatty bacon and knuckles. Now I just need to find the “Sauerkraut” and dig up my German cookbooks…

Here is the recipe for the delicious, and very wholesome breakfast cookies, which have been my second and third breakfast today and probably will be my lunch as well. Oh no, weren’t they supposed to be for the kids’ lunch boxes?

I slightly changed the original recipe, substituting spelt flour for wheat, maple syrup for honey and walnuts for almonds. I am sure you can use whatever you have available. These cookies seem to be very forgiving.

Off to my first Mandarin lesson today. Got to find myself some coffee on the way.

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German Christmas Cookies No. 3 – Vanille Kipferl

And here is the last Christmas cookie for this season, ‘Vanille Kipferl’. They are one of our all time favorites and always disappear quickly out of the tin.

‘Vanille Kipferl’ are one of the most traditional Christmas cookies made in Germany, Austria and parts of Eastern Europe. They are crescent shaped, usually include ground almonds in the dough and are rolled in vanilla sugar after baking. I love their fine crumb and delicate consistency.

Don’t be surprised, but I used plain flour and white sugar in this recipe because I didn’t want to mess with the texture.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 2 – “Gewuerzprinten”

I brought these cookies to a potluck dinner on Sunday and the lovely lady to my right at the dinner table – Cornelia – asked me for the recipe. She bakes 20 different varieties of cookies every Christmas, putting most good German housewives to shame.

Printen are a type of “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread and contain very similar spices. They also include figs, maple syrup, brown sugar and finely ground rock candy or “Kandiszucker, which I substituted with turbinado sugar. Don’t worry, they are not as sweet as it sounds here, and they contain hardly any butter.

Again, I apologize that this is another “metric” recipe for which you’ll need a scale. Good luck!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 1 – Linzer Stars

I know this must come as a bit of a surprise, but I have decided that it is time for a new post after a nearly 4-month absence from the blogging world. Your encouragement has been much appreciated, and ideas kept popping up in my head, unfortunately without the time to either realize them or document them on foodvergnuegen. Most of my energy was spent getting ready for our upcoming move to Beijing, which as most of your know is far from our first move, but it is definitely the hardest yet. We have left Perth a couple of weeks ago, the house is empty, the cars and white goods sold, the container fully loaded and our good-byes said. It’s been really busy and exhausting and my cooking was reduced to the bare minimum. So now that we are in our hide-away spot in the Berkshires to decompress until the end of January, I hope all this will change and I am looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the stove and the oven just in time for the holidays.

As to our future in Beijing, I am looking forward to exploring a whole new world of food, markets and recipes. I have sourced a few organic farms around Beijing which I’ll be sure to tell you all about. I am grateful they exist in a land were mass-food production is a top priority to feed the large Chinese population. For the rest, it is either imported for a large premium or I will have to bring it in my suitcase. I am sure we will be fine and well-fed as usual.

But for now, I’ll stick with what I know, which today is German Christmas cookies.  I use a trusted and much-loved collection of recipes that I have made for years now. These cookies make great gifts and brighten up our days waiting for snow and Santa to finally arrive. A scale is needed as I haven’t even tried to measure everything out in cups, tablespoons and ounces. This is a good reason to buy one; you can get them quiet cheap and even IKEA sells them. Make sure it has a lbs./oz. function as well as grams. You also need a round cookie cutter, about 2″ in diameter, a small star shaped one and the best raspberry jam you can find.

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Mysterious Brownies

Looking at the title, you might wonder if you should even consider reading this post. How can brownies be mysterious, if all it takes is flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate to make them. It really doesn’t get much more straight forward.  To my excuse, I am in a state of frantic pre-holiday chaos and with my brain crammed with to-do-lists, I had to come up with something quick, and this was it. The title actually does fit the brownies quite well, since they got a few untypical ingredients that are best not mentioned when it comes to picky eaters. I assure you however, that no one will ever be able to tell what exactly they are and these brownies will be devoured in no time. There’s no way you can detect the pumpkin (even if you want to) and my family thinks they are just delicious. Guilt free snacking at it’s best!

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Pumpkin, Maple and Walnut Bread

Pumpkin has entered center stage in my kitchen over the past few weeks. I love it in in all shapes and forms, in soups, salads, sides, mains and especially deserts. I have been trying out lots of recipes recently and this pumpkin bread is one of my newest inventions. I had some roasted pumpkin left over from a major Sunday dinner experiment – a whole stuffed and roasted pumpkin. I filled a rather big white (also called “Ghost” or “Casper”) pumpkin with rice, Moroccan spices, chickpeas and apricots and roasted it for 2 hours. As this was an experiment, I had no clue how much time everything would take to cook, which led to an overcooked pumpkin and undercooked stuffing. Aside from that, the pumpkin also ruptured and all the lovely juices escaped. Not good! I salvaged the whole thing by cooking the stuffing with some of the pumpkin and more chicken stock and turned it into a Moroccan pumpkin risotto. Unusual, not overly attractive, but delicious nonetheless. My kids warned me however to not post this one on my blog, which I reckon was good advice.

The left-over pumpkin was delicious, beautiful dark orange in color and very sweet. Perfect for pumpkin bread. I added some lovely spices to it and sweetened it with maple syrup. It turned out delicious and I can’t wait to make it again. It’s great for breakfast with maple sweetened yogurt or afternoon tea with a dollop of whipped cream.

Note: I made this recipe again with roasted butternut squash. The squash was much moister than the pumpkin I used initially and the bread turned out very “soggy”. My advice would be to either drain the roasted pumpkin/squash over a towel-lined colander for an hour or to use less of it. Another option is to use raw grated pumpkin (a food processor does the trick) the same way you use carrots in a carrot cake. I used this method successfully with 3 cups of raw grated pumpkin. Good luck!

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Birthday Fare

I can’t believe I failed with my promise of a daily post this week already on the second day. I guess this means I need to write two today, including a “healthy” one to make up for what you’re about to discover below.

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen, cooking and baking for my son Frederick’s 9th birthday. He had asked for meaty lasagna, a double layer chocolate cake with lots of frosting and sugar cookies to take to school. None of which should go on a blog about healthy food. I did however take a few pictures to share with you and will post the links in case you’re curious about the recipes. I didn’t take a picture of the lasagna – it was gone so quickly. But it was a typical, bolognese type sauce, layered with bechamel, Parmesan and store bought (albeit whole spelt) lasagna sheets. Thank goodness for the 12 hungry boys eating the cake. I really didn’t want it to sit in my fridge and tempt me every time I open the door. It contained 7 bars of dark chocolate to give you an idea…

Anyway, here are a few pictures and recipe links.

Dark Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

I used 1.5 times the ingredients in the original recipe and a 9″ (22.5cm) spring form pan.

Link for the cake: http://www.marthastewart.com/281296/dark-chocolate-cake-with-ganache-frostin

Link for the ganache: http://www.marthastewart.com/281300/dark-chocolate-ganache

Sugar Cookies with Sprinkles

http://www.marthastewart.com/338471/basic-sugar-cookies

I have used this dough recipe over and over again over the past decade. It works really well, even on hot days and cheap counter top surfaces. The dough doesn’t stick to the surface, like I experienced with so many other recipes. I have also used this recipe with whole wheat pastry flour and half white/half whole wheat before, and it worked. I use less sugar than the recipe asks for, decreasing the amount by about one third. They come out plenty sweet, especially with the sprinkles or any icing you might use. I egg wash the cookies (whisk together one egg yolk with 1 tablespoon milk and brush it on the cookies) before I put the sprinkles on. Then I refrigerate them on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before sticking them in the oven. This turns them into lovely and crisp cookies.  They keep in a tin in a cool place for a week (if you’re lucky).

Amazing Chocolate Cupcakes

My daughter decided she wanted us to make chocolate cupcakes together yesterday. Not really being a big fan of sugary, buttery and frosted baked goods myself, I tried to persuade her to bake muffins instead, but she had none of it. So I started my search for an easy cupcake recipe, which I could change a bit to make it not quite so sugary and buttery. It didn’t take me long until I found a “One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake” recipe on marthastewart.com. I liked the recipe, because it mentioned ‘one bowl’ in the title and didn’t include butter. It also listed lots of glowing reviews from people raving about these cupcakes. I decided to apply my general rule for Martha Stewart’s baking recipes, using only two thirds of the sugar requested and substituting white flour for whole wheat pastry flour.  It always works.

My daughter requested pink icing and pink sprinkles, but I changed the icing to a chocolate ganache and only stuck to the sprinkles request. We used India Tree’s Nature’s Colors Pink Nonpareils on the kid’s ones, which I love and buy every time I go back to the U.S.

The cupcakes turned out so delicious, I was shocked. The frosting was a delight and I couldn’t get enough of it. I finally understood the cupcake craze and am sure to give these another try VERY soon.

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