Saturday, July 25, 2015

Madeira cake

Madeira cake / Bolo Madeira

Every time I tell people that my husband doesn’t like sweets I usually get a “I can’t believe it!!!” in return: for the amount of baking I do it must be really hard to believe he doesn’t eat all the cakes, cookies and brownies – well, he doesn’t, so the rest of the family enjoys them with me, no problem. :)

Even though I love sharing my baked goods, there are times I like having something around just for myself, like a slice of cake, for instance, to go with coffee or tea, but as much as I love sweets I can’t polish something off in a short period of time, that is why I was thrilled to make this Madeira cake – the recipe says that the cake improves if eaten the next day, so I imagined that it would improve even more a few days later and I was right: the citrus flavors get more intense and the smell is intoxicating (every time I opened the container for a slice of cake it smelled better than before).

This Madeira cakes has a different texture from the one I baked a long time ago – it is more compact, not so tender, but I found it perfect with a cup of coffee; this cake is tastier, too, and the little nuggets of crystallized orange peel add a nice twist to it.

Madeira cake
slightly adapted from the delicious and beautiful National Trust Simply Baking

170g all purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
170g granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest of 1 lime
170g unsalted butter, softened
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten with a fork*
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons Cointreau (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
55g crystallized orange peel, chopped – toss it with a bit of the flour so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the cake

Preheat the oven to fan 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x10cm (8x4in) loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter it as well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, orange and lime zest and rub together with your fingertips until fragrant. Add the butter and cream until pale and fluffy – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, waiting until the egg is fully incorporated before adding some more – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the lemon juice, Cointreau and vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the dry ingredients and the orange peel.
Spoon the mixture into the pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 30 minutes, then carefully unmold and cool completely on the rack. Peel off the paper and wrap the cake in cling film, then in foil. Leave it at room temperature overnight.

* my eggs were way too big, so I used 3 instead of 4 and each weighed 75g

Serves 8-10

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saffron lemon cookies and Claire Danes

Saffron lemon cookies / Biscoitinhos de limão siciliano e açafrão

Those of you around here for a while know how much I enjoy movies and TV awards – I root for my favorites, hate it when the ones I find untalented and undeserving win and usually go to sleep at 2 in the morning. :)

For a couple of years I saw Claire Danes take home lots of awards for her role in Homeland and I did not quite understand why: I like her, I find her a talented actress and very versatile, too – who doesn't love Angela Chase? –, but those were the years she was going against Glenn and Mireille, and those two certainly deserved taking the awards home – I was rooting for them for Damages and The Killing are deep favorites of mine.

Now that I have started watching Homeland – and got completely addicted to it – I understand all the fuss: Claire is really amazing in it! If at first I did not understand all the awards, now I say “keep them coming!” :)

I’m OK with my favorites not winning as long as the ones who do actually deserve the awards, and now I see that is exactly what happened with Claire Danes; in September my heart will be divided for I would love her to win, just as much as I would love Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss and Robin Wright – I haven’t watched season 3 of House of Cards yet but I am sure she’s fabulous in it.

As for these cookies, they look plain but they have a very special ingredient in them: saffron (which was the name of a character’s dog in Damages). :) I don’t use it very often for it is an expensive ingredient, but I could not resist trying them in cookies along with lemon and almond – they were delicious! The almond meal gives the cookies a wonderful texture that is why I recommend this recipe even if you don’t have saffron around: I am sure that cardamom would be beautiful here, or nutmeg, for instance.

Saffron lemon cookies
slightly adapted from the beautiful and delicious Annie Bell's Baking Bible: Over 200 triple-tested recipes that you'll want to make again and again

1 cup (100g) almond meal
1 cup (140g) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 egg
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
20 saffron filaments, ground and mixed with 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water – let it cool before using

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in the egg, lemon zest, vanilla and saffron infusion. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until a dough forms. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll 2 teaspoons of dough per cookie into balls and place 5cm (2in) onto prepared sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden around the edges. Cool on the sheets over a wire rack for 5 minutes then carefully slide the paper with the cookies onto the wire and cool completely.

Makes about 45

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stripy courgette, tomato and polenta tart

Stripy courgette, tomato and polenta tart / Torta de polenta, tomate e abobrinha

New cookbooks can be a lovely surprise, a big disappointment or something in between – even with the “Search Inside” feature at Amazon I’ve had my share of regret buying some of them.

My latest purchase, however, was an epic win: I got Annie Rigg’s beautiful cookbook on fruit and Georgina Fuggle’s Take One Veg, and they’re both insanely beautiful – I feel like making each and every recipe on both of them, for there is nothing tricky despite the deliciousness of everything.

I made one of Rigg’s recipes and it was wonderful, but more on that later on this week – Georgina’s idea of using polenta as a tart base was such a hit at home that I had to share it with you: even my husband ate it gladly, and that is certainly something not to be taken lightly. The tart was a cinch to make and served with a green salad it was a delicious meal, one that I plan on repeating with different vegetables.

Stripy courgette, tomato and polenta tart
slightly adapted from the absolutely delicious Take One Veg: Over 100 Tempting Veggie Recipes for Simple Suppers, Packed Lunches and Weekend Cooking

Crust:
500ml hot vegetable stock
140g polenta - since the recipe doesn't state what kind of polenta it is, I used this one (I was out of instant polenta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Filling:
2 tablespoons crème fraîche – I used homemade sour cream
1 small courgette, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced into thin slices
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Start by making the polenta crust: bring the vegetable stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan and pour the polenta into the water. Keep your pan over a low heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture constantly, thrashing out any lumps that try to form. Continue for around 6 minutes until the polenta is very thick.
Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan and stir until they have disappeared. Cool for 5 minutes, then stir through the beaten egg and season with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly – in the meatime, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.

Lightly grease a square 21cm tart pan with olive oil (I used butter). Put the polenta in the centre and, using a spatula or oiled fingers, gently tease it up the sides of the pan to create the sides of the crust.
Smother a thin layer of crème fraîche over the base of your tart and top with half the Parmesan. On top of the cheese, alternate slices of courgette and tomato. Finish with the thyme leaves and the remaining Parmesan.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F and bake for a further 15 minutes. Remove and allow the tart to cool for 5-10 minutes to allow it to ‘come to’. Serve in slices.

Serves 4 – I made the recipe above using a 30x10cm (12x4in) tart pan – there was a bit of polenta left that I formed into pancake, grilled on both sides with a tiny bit of olive oil until golden and topped with cheese and dried oregano for a snack (there is a photo here).

The recipes says it serves 4, but the tart I made was polished off by 2 served with a green salad! :)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Butterscotch blondies

Butterscotch blondies / Blondies de caramelo

The first time I ever heard of anything butterscotch was after I started blogging – I used to make caramel all the time for this dessert, but it was always the simple kind, the one made with sugar and water only: the caramel made with sugar, butter and cream was a revelation to me.

After that, I saw many recipes with butterscotch in their names, but it meant that they called for butterscotch chips, something one cannot find here. I can’t remember how many recipes for butterscotch blondies and cookies I’ve seen so far and most of them called for the chips, that is why I was really eager to make these blondies for they did not call for any chips at all: the caramel was part of the batter, and that sounded too good not to try.

Another thing that having a food blog has taught me is to trust my feelings: the recipe sounded good, indeed, but the amounts of sugar and flour looked way too much – I would end up having a sugar high or baking a stodge (or both). So I baked the blondies my way and they turned out not tooth achingly sweet, gooey and soft, the way I wanted them to be, and with a strong caramel flavor – delicious.

Butterscotch blondies
slightly adapted from the beautiful Home Baked Comfort (Williams-Sonoma) (revised): Featuring Mouthwatering Recipes and Tales of the Sweet Life with Favorites from Bakers Across the Country

½ cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter
300g light brown sugar
1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon table salt
250g all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir in the brown sugar and cook until the sugar starts bubbling like molten lava, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the cream, and let it bubble away, stirring with a big whisk, until smooth and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, rum, and salt. Let cool to room temperature.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20cm (8in) square baking pan, line it with foil leaving two overhangs on opposite sides and butter it as well.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Stir the butterscotch mixture into dry ingredients, then whisk the eggs in, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Spread the batter into the prepared dish and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.

Makes 16

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Orange and rosemary cake and hoping for the best

Orange and rosemary cake / Bolo de laranja e alecrim

Much is said about small joys in life, but today I got myself thinking also about small hopes: things we do hoping for the day (or the week, or the month) to be better.

I entered a shop earlier on today searching for a product that would make my hair shinier and softer without making it greasy (those of you who have oily hair like I do know what I’m talking about). I know it might sound silly or even vain, but that small gesture was done in order to make my day a bit sweeter – when you spend months searching for a new job without any success it is the small things that keep you going, combined with the support from your loved ones. It is putting a pair of comfy socks on a cold day, discovering a great TV show, singing in the shower, making a delicious meal out of whatever is left in the fridge or taking a beautiful cake out of the oven – on those days when frustration gets the best of me I avoid anything else that can disappoint me: those are the days for tried and true recipes, when you need a success to lift the spirit, not the days to try something new that can look (or taste) weird.

On one of those blue days I made my current favorite cake, the moist and delicious recipe by Nigel Slater, but swapped the lemon and thyme for orange and rosemary (I told you I would try to be braver when it comes to rosemary, right?). The flavor combo worked beautifully in cake form as it did in the cookies and the day was saved.

Orange and rosemary cake
slightly adapted from the always fantastic Nigel Slater

Cake:
100g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
100g almond meal
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves, packed
200g granulated sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened
finely grated zest of 2 medium oranges
4 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Syrup:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of the 2 oranges used in the cake batter
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, packed

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 900g/2lb loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Cake: in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then stir in the almond meal. Set aside. Using a pestle and mortar, crush the rosemary leaves with some of the sugar until the leaves are finely ground and the sugar turns green and perfumed. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, the rosemary sugar, remaining sugar and orange zest until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the vanilla. On low speed, gradually mix in the dry ingredients.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

When the cake is almost baked, make the syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the sugar and orange juice. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, add the rosemary and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat (fish out the rosemary right before pouring the syrup over the cake).

As soon as the cake is out of the oven, prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer and gradually pour the syrup, waiting for the cake to absorb it. Cool completely before unmolding and serving.

Serves 6-8

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