Back to Baking

Because of the insufferable heat the islands offer in summer, I had to pause my baking activities and took a two-month break. Using an oven in the middle of a Maltese summer is the equivalent of adding Tabasco to a chilli burger and then complaining it’s too hot and spicy. My hands were itching (quite literally!) and I was drooling over recipes I was searching for and going through in my cooking books and magazines.

Then last week, the weather cooled down a bit.

And so I baked!

And as I always do, I get over-excited. There is something about a lit oven with a baking cake inside that makes me happy. Be it the warm heat, the delicious scent coming out of the oven or the bubbly excitement when finding out how the cake actually tastes!  We had friends over for one night and family the next, so the occasions called for two cakes.  The first one was quite straightforward – it was an Almond and Apricot cake, whilst the second one – a Mojito Genoise, required that bit more work and effort, but the results were simply yummy!

(In my excitement I forgot to take any photos, but I can assure you, you won’t mind the appearance of the cakes because you’ll be too busy devouring them!!)

I’ll give you the online link of the Mojito Genoise cake only because the other cake is easy to find. One minor tweek I’d recommend is decreasing the amount of sugar used in the Mojito syrup because it comes a bit too sweet when using the recommended amount. The rest is as good as it’ll ever get 😉

The Mojito Genoise cake

I did not cover the whole cake with buttercream only because I did not have the time to do so. This cake may require some extra effort, but it'll definitely be appreciated by your guests!!

I did not cover the whole cake with buttercream only because I did not have the time to do so and I did not want to over-sweeten the cake. This cake may require some extra effort, but it’ll definitely be appreciated by your guests!!

Pistachio, ricotta and chocolate tart

As promised, here’s the recipe to this tasty tart! I made the sweet pastry from scratch, and although it takes longer and requires more effort, the end result makes up for it, and how!

It’s a Giorgio Locatelli recipe, and just like he himself says,

“This is almost like a chocolate ricotta cheesecake, with a delicious pistachio topping…there won’t be any left by the end of the evening’.

 

True!

Sweet Pastry:
– 140g unsalted butter, slightly softened
– 90g caster sugar
– 1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
– 1 egg
– 250g plain flour
– 25g ground almonds

(Or you can use 375g shop-bought pastry.)

Filling:
– 700g ricotta
– 200g caster sugar
– 2 lemons, zest
– 150g dark chocolate, blitzed in a food processor or grated
– 3 eggs, lightly beaten

Topping:
– 50g caster sugar
– 100g pistachios

– To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the vanilla seeds and egg until combined. Add the flour and ground almonds in 3 stages, mixing well each time. Knead lightly on a lightly floured surface. Shape into a disc and wrap in clingfilm, chill for at least one hour.
– Preheat the oven to 200 celcius. Line the base of a 20-cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a circle. Use to line the tin and trim the edges to 5cm high, don’t worry if it cracks. Just patch it up with the trimmings. Line to blind bake, then chill for 30 minutes. Blind bake for 10-15 minutes until just cooked. Set aside to cool.
– Lower the oven to 170 celcius. Mix all the ingredients for the filling and then spoon into the pastry case. Bake for 30-40 minutes. It should be a little wobbly in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin. Don’t worry if the cake seems too wobbly because it will harden when it cools down!
– Meanwhile prepare the topping. Heat the sugar and 50ml water over a low heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and bubble until you have a thick syrup that has not started to caramelize (117 celcius on a sugar thermometer). Add 75g of the pistachios and stir until the syrup sticks to them but they don’t quite stick together. Spoon onto greaseproof paper and leave to cool, and then break into clumps. Crush the remaining nuts in a food processor.
– Lift the tart from the tin. To decorate use a ruler to help you sprinkle alternate 2-3 cm strips of candied and crushed pistachios over the top.

Enjoy!

The Hot One!

It was quite a relief last night waking up to the sound of the wind blowing through our bedroom blinds. The past couple of days were exhaustingly hot and utterly draining. My energy levels were rock-bottom and every chore required that bit extra effort to do. Thankfully it’s cooler today but the sun is no less hotter.

This weekend I baked a pistachio and ricotta cake which came out really, really good! I made some strawberry ice-cream and today I made Cesca’s birthday cake. The decoration of the latter will be left to more capable hands than my own. As you may know by now, I’m good when it comes to flavour, not so much when it comes to decoration…

The cake which took a whole afternoon to make was gobbled up in record time! Good sign ;)

The cake which took a whole afternoon to make was gobbled up in record time! (Recipe coming in following post!)

 

Almond cakes!

Almond cakes!

Cesca’s been spending all afternoons in her inflatable pool. She throws in all of her toys and spends hours at end playing and splashing around!

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Lethargy is hitting her hard poor thing – she has to get used to this heat! In the meantime, her naps have extended to three-hour ones!

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I hope your weekend was a great one and that you’re coping much better than I am with these temperatures. I need my body to start readjusting to the severe weather-change going on!

Have a great week 😉

Substituting Alternatives

Yesterday I baked cupcakes. Somehow Thursday has become my Baking Day, and seeing how my baking lot gets divided up between so many (dare I say eager?) mouths, it’s fun and encouraging to set forth with my apron and utensils.

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I needed soured cream for one lot of these cupcakes. And as it turns out, soured cream is not that easy to find on The Rock. Same as buttermilk, passion fruit, pretzel bread, individually-packed chicken breast (although I have found a patient butcher who does this for me), raspberries, the sweet-sounding conference pears and jazz apples, and the wide variety of readily-cut and sliced stir-fry vegetables. I miss the weekly recipe cards Waitrose had available and which nearly-filled my recipe book. I miss the 3 for 2 offers, the slashed prices at the deli counter at the end of the day and the gazillion of choices in everything.

Three supermarkets later I found my soured cream, and needing two tubs of it, I figured paying six Euro for that alone was a tad too much. So I did what I am now often doing – I googled substitutes. Turns out natural yoghurt with some baking soda works just as well as soured cream. And buttermilk’s substitute? Milk with some lemon juice or white vinegar.

It’s amazing how much you learn when things aren’t presented to you ready and finished.

I’m still discovering the supermarkets here. I only really knew one that well before I left for England. But having to bulk-buy, I have started dividing up my shopping – I go to A for deli, B for household cleaning goods, Mr. C sells me fresh vegetables and fruit and D has a great deal on C’s nappies. So I often find myself wandering aimlessly up and down an aisle trying to locate something, only to realize I’m in the wrong aisle. The supermarket set-up of some does not help – supermarket B has its dried fruits and nut packets scattered round three areas, so trying to compare like goods is a tough one. Supermarket D has an explosive jumble of things going on, whilst A changed its layout a couple of months ago but of course I’m only just learning the new position of everything just now.

I am a supermarket junkie. I loved the English ones, I would visit them everyday and spend hours (and lots of money) there. The variety of items, the vastness of the shops and the service of the employees always made it an enjoyable experience. So it makes perfect sense to me that whilst I’m getting lost in a supermarket somewhere on The Rock, deep deep down I’m silently crying out for my Waitrose and M&S. I could walk down the aisles there blindfold and still find every single thing I was looking for.

Yes, I’m still missing England.

I'm not the only one in the family who loves supermarkets...

I’m not the only one in the family who loves supermarkets…

Late-Night Baking!

Thanks to my KitchenAid, free evenings and lots of mouths to share my baking with, I am now baking at least 2-3 times a week. It’s much easier to bake when you know you do not have to eat the whole thing out of guilt plus the mixer is so easy to use and it does a perfect job. After the lemon drizzle cake I did on Wednesday, today I tried out Italian Almond Biscuits – or as they’re better known, Biskuttini.

They’re dead easy to make. Yes, a bit messy but nothing some flour and water won’t fix.

So go on, try them out!

You’ll need:

– 250g plain flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– pinch of sale

– 150g caster sugar

– 2 beaten eggs

– finely grated rind of one orange

– 100g whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted.

– Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius and lightly dust a baking tray with flour.

– Sift the flour,baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the sugar,e ggs and orange rind and mix to a dough. Knead in the almonds.

– Roll the dough into a ball, cut into half and roll out each portion into a log about 4 cm in diameter. Place the logs on the prepared baking tray and then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes.

– Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into 1cm diagonal slices. Arrange the slices on the baking tray and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

– Transfer onto a wire rack and leave to cool and go crisp.

And voila’!

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I may have let them in a tad more than necessary, so once they are lightly golden I suggest taking them out immediately! They might not need the full final 15 minutes.

Mid-Week Treat!

The good thing about owning quite a number of cookbooks is being able to take bits and pieces of various recipes and making your own custom-made dish. The same goes for baking. This week I was craving pistachios and immediately starting looking up recipes to incorporate them in. Since I could not go out to purchase missing ingredients, I mish-mashed three recipes and came out with my own take of the:

 

Pistachio and Apricot Cake with a White Chocolate Frosting:

 

120g plain flour

140g caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

40g unsalted butter, soft

120ml whole milk

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

(I added 30g roasted pistachios and some chopped up dried apricots).

 

Frosting:

 

80g white chocolate

300g icing sugar

150g unsalted butter, soft

 

– Heat up the oven at 170 Celcius.

– Mix the four, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a mixer and beat slowly till it’s of a breadcrumb consistency.

– Gradually pour in 60ml of the milk and mix.

– In the other 60ml of milk, mix in the vanilla and beaten egg.

– Add this to the flour mixture and beat. Fold in the pistachios and apricots and bake for around 20 minutes, until an inserted knife comes out clean. Leave out to cool.

– For the frosting, melt the white chocolate. Beat the butter and half of the sugar.

– Add the chocolate and gradually add the remaining 150g of sugar.

– Sprinkle and decorate as you wish 🙂

Yum, yum – Enjoy!

 

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Bits of Randomness

For some reason I can’t seem to manage and write a decent (or half-decent at that) post on one particular topic. My mind is a mish-mash of things, and as a result I’m giving you a random post. Whatever comes to mind, I’ll write down.

 ♥

First of all, this week I baked. I did some tasty cupcakes, thanks to a recipe I stole from Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa). It was an appropriate recipe since I could add whatever I wanted, and add I did. I put in some goji berries, white chocolate and almonds and they came out good without being too sweet. For Halloween dinner I made an apple, raspberry and blueberry crumble. I love crumbles, they’re so easy to make, the house smells fantastic while baking it (cinnamon, apples, berries, nutmeg!) and add to it some hot custard and you really won’t want for anything else, especially when it’s raining outside and you’re in a warm home! However cooking has become a bit of a patience-test for me. Why?

I blink and Miss Busybody is there. She’s everywhere!

The cupcakes about to go in!

A case of over-baking. I guess American measurements are a bit different from ours…

Crumble Delight!

Goodness.

Halloween came, and while we did not make it for the trick-or-treating part (rain outside, tired baby, hot home – you get the picture?), we did welcome some young fairies, pirates, pumpkins and vampires. Baby Pumkin who is two months younger than C and a nearly 4-year old Vampire (that’s 4 years in his actual life) were C’s favourite visitors. She could not stop gawping at them, whispering ‘baby, baby’ over and over again. Yes, 16-month old Cesca is all grown-up now and anyone under the age of ten is a ‘baby’ in her world. I’m afraid I didn’t make the cut…

Canterbury’s Wicked Witch. Bed-hair, unwashed face, pj’s and all 🙂

The Husband and I watched Drive. Now I don’t know about you (ladies) out there, but I have a soft spot for Ryan Gosling. Ever since he turned my insides to putty in The Notebook, I can not resist anything he features in. Now this film was a bit gory, a bit too crude at times, and for the first half an hour of the film, Mr. Gosling nearly said nothing at all. That of course made it better for me to study him better without any interruptions. He does not possess that obvious good look about him, but something about him just makes you stop and stare. At least it does for me.

We have also finally decided on Santa’s and our presents to C for Christmas. The problematic part will be taking everything with us to Malta. What I saw last week in our Fenwick, and totally loved was a wooden horse on a stick.  Not only would it look great standing upright in a corner of C’s future room (practically mummy thinking here), but in an episode of Charlie and the Numbers, Number One has an exact same horse. She loves the episode and loves the horses that appear, so I’m thinking it’ll be a nice addition to her toys. Yes I know, I could buy it from The Rock and save myself the hassle, but I have a large selection to choose from here in England, much more than in Malta I”m thinking. So although I will probably be limited by height, I must start  measuring the luggage…

I’d love a horse on a stick like this, though not this design.

Have a happy weekend!