Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Speculaas Pâte sablée

I spent quite a great portion of last week accessorizing my kitchen.

One of my most prized possessions are my pestle and mortar. A small, mass produced ceramic version, its not the giant raw marble kind I would ideally have, but it does the job since I only buy my spices whole and raw (they taste a world better).

Ever since my trips to the Netherlands I have been obsessed with the Speculaas spice mixture and have recreated it in cakes, pastry, and meringues. Speculaas combines cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper, but I use whatever is at hand for an aromatic constant gratification.

I now mostly use salted butter in pastries. I find that is balances the sweetness, and also acts as an enhancer, resulting in dough, tart bases and meringues with a complex and round flavor, adding another layer of complexity to the overall result as opposed to just being ‘sweet’. Nothing in life is black or white, and similarly neither are flavors sweet or savory. Its all about balance and a dialogue between two extremes.

This spice mixture has proved extremely successful in short crust pastry as a base for a lemon curd tart. The sharp fragrant spices in the pastry are enhanced by the salted butter and bring out the zest in the smooth lemon curd.

Speculaas Pâte sablée

(for a Ø20cm tart case)

For the dough

1 cup flour, sifted

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Speculaas spice mix (see recipe below)

90 gr cold butter (I use salted), cut into small pieces

1 egg

Speculaas spice mix

4 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp mace

1/3 tsp dry ginger

1/5 tsp white pepper

1/5 tsp cardamom

1/5 tsp coriander seeds

1/5 tsp anise seeds

1/5 tsp nutmeg

Using a pestle & mortar or a coffee grinder, grind the spices together (Its ok if you leave some spices out). Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor mix the flour, sugar, Speculaas spice mix and butter. Pulse until the texture resembles coarse sand.

Stir in the egg and pulse only until the dough pulls together.

Alternatively, if your food processor is broken (!) you can make the dough using your hands.

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar and the spices. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and, using your hands, work quickly to combine the mixture until the texture resembles coarse sand. Add the egg and work only until the dough pulls together. The most important thing is not to fiddle too much with the dough.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Pat into a ball and flatten into a disk.

Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic, for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

On a lightly floured baking sheet, flatten the disk with a rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. This prevents the dough from sticking to the surface.

Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll out until the dough is about 5mm thick.

Using the paper as aid, flip the dough into a tart pan with removable bottom, then peel off the paper.

Lightly press the pastry into bottom and up sides of pan. Roll your rolling pin over top of pan to get rid of excess pastry and with a thumb up movement, press the dough into pan.

Roll rolling pin over top again to get rid of any extra pastry.

Prick bottom of dough, cover and freeze for about 10 minutes.

Line unbaked pastry shell with parchment paper and fill the tart pan with pie weights or beans (make sure the weights are evenly distributed over the entire surface).

Bake the crust for 10 minutes.

Remove the pie weights and the parchment paper and bake for a further 5 minutes.

The crust should be dry and a light golden brown color.

Allow the crust to cool on a wire rack before filling.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Spinach with Sesame sauce

Tel Aviv was designed as a tapestry. A series of boulevards cross and intersect the city and much like a gorge those seem to gather and collect the street life, doubling as an intimate communal space and a place for interaction. This is where cyclists, pedestrians, coffee drinkers, dog walkers, pensioners, strollers, stoners, and first date-ers all share a narrow urban stretch.

I live close by to such a boulevard, though far enough that I don’t live in it, as such. Four small huts are strategically spaced on it: One sells fruit and vegetable juices of all kinds, colors and seasons. I’ve been eying the cold coffee and banana drink, and would have tried it already had it not been for the copious amount of sugar it contains.

The second hut is always busy but I recall the fresh seasonal salad consisting of mostly canned vegetables.

The third is ‘Friday brunch’ hut. I think it must be the free seat, the weekend newspapers and it's relative isolation from the bustling boulevard. Just what I need on a Friday.

The fourth café serves good coffee and occupies tables and chairs that belong to the boulevard. The miniature picnic tables nailed to the ground are co shared with locals and passers-by, and on a mild summer evening like the ones we’ve been experiencing for the past week (on a what should be a cold February), you want to seat outside with friends and enjoy a cup of tea in the night breeze. So we made tea, took the teapot and grabbed a table. Conveniently we ordered some cookies from the café and at one point an ice cream tub from the nearby all night store made its way to our table.

Moments like this remind me why I love this place and why it is like no other.

With this weather stews and soups are out the window. Its back to light food that’s better suited to the current climate. There’s a particular variety of spinach that has caught my palette. Locally it is called “Turkish spinach”. Its has soft, large flat leaves, its sweeter then the ‘meatier’ kind and you can also eat the stalks. When blanched it exudes a luminescent green color and its flavor intensifies. Since most of the food I enjoy makes a great companion to a pure sesame paste (ie. Tahini), spinach is no exception and it was a joyous moment when I discovered a Japanese recipe that celebrated this combination.

The recipe calls for making the paste from the seeds, which replace fat and oil rarely used in Japanese cooking. Having a suribachi at hand helps, though a regular mortar and pestle (or an electric grinder) will do the job.

This is a simple dish to make and if you use a good, high quality Tahini the sesame paste-making phase can be skipped, while the spinach can be substituted with other vegetables like green beans or roasted sweet potatoes.

Spinach with Sesame sauce

(Recipe taken from yasuko fukuoka “Classic Japanese”)

Serves 4


450 gram Spinach

Sesame sauce

1/3 cup sesame seeds (I used Natural brown sesame seeds)

2 Tbs Shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

1½ Tsp caster sugar

1½ Tbs Dashi stock or the same amount of water with a pinch of dashi-no-moto (Japanese stock)

Make the sesame sauce. Grind the sesame seeds in a suribachi , a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder if you must.

Transfer the crushed seeds to a small bowl and stir in the shoyu, sugar and dashi stock. When mixed it should be a thick paste.

Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds in boiling water.

Drain and cool under running cold water, to stop the spinach from cooking any further.

Drain again and lightly squeeze out excess water.

Gently mix the sesame sauce with the spinach. Serve garnished with dried Yuzu, sesame seeds and shredded Nori (available in specialty food stores selling Japanese products).


To make a different type of sauce the sesame seeds can be substituted with walnuts or peanuts.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lemon Drizzle Cake with Lemon Icing

Its been one of those weeks. I planned on making, cooking and baking, there was some roasting and frying involved too. And then a cold hit me, congestion along with a ‘ I can’t smell, taste or hear anything’ sort of sensation. No problem, I’m flexible, I can adjust. This called for chicken soup, and my first one ever at that.

In went the chicken, along with a deconstructed cauliflower, some carrots, leeks and parsley root. For good measure and herbal aroma there was dill and parsley and I even threw in some smoked ham.

As if this pot of comfort was not enough, when it was time for healing I made a simple form of knodels straight from the Shtetl; mixture of egg, flour, pepper and some grated Parmesan mixed together and plopped by the teaspoon into a saucepan of boiling water.

Whilst the process was a source of comfort, by the end of it the cold was there and so was the crave for comfort. Am I immune to the powers of chicken soup?

Luckily, a Saturday Tchulnt provided me with the consolation I was looking for.

It is my personal belief that anything that plans to show up next to Tchulnt has to keep light, tart and zesty. Dessert is no exception and since lemons are in season, I decided to make a lemon drizzle cake from a recipe I bookmarked long ago from Coco & me, a blog written by Tamami who runs a chocolates & cakes stall holder at London’s Broadway Market.

I modified it slightly, based on my preferences and what I had in my pantry.

The cake turned out chewy, zesty, and all round lemony, with a pleasantly fresh tart frosting. If I’m to be honest, it was quite difficult to stop sampling it, which is why I always prefer to leave my cakes at others’.

Lemon Drizzle Cake with Lemon Icing

(20cm spring form pan)


Zest grated from 1 lemon

1 Tsp sugar

4 eggs

1 cup + 1 Tablespoon unrefined sugar

A pinch of salt

½ cup sour cream
 (I used heavy cream)

4 Teaspoon squeezed lemon juice

1 2/3 cup plain flour

½ Tablespoon baking powder

100g Ghee (clarified unsalted butter)

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon + 1 teaspoon unrefined sugar

For the lemon syrup to drizzle:

3.5 tablespoons lemon juice

60g castor sugar

For the lemon icing:

7 teaspoons lemon juice

200g icing sugar

For the garnish:

Roughly chopped pecan nuts

Chopped dried orange peel

Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking paper.

Butter the baking tin sides then move around some flour in it so that it clings to the sides. Tap out excess flour and store the prepared tin in the refrigerator until needed.

Grate 1 large unwaxed lemon and mix it with a teaspoon of sugar (remember not to grate the bitter white pith). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

In a large steel mixing bowl, loosely whisk the eggs, using an electric whisk.

Put the mixing bowl above a pot with simmering hot water (bain marie) and whisk the eggs with the sugar for 5 to 10 minutes until light cream in color, and thick in texture.

The egg mixture should look like it tripled in quantity.

Remove the bowl from the heat source.

Put together sour cream, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt in a separate bowl and then whisk it into the egg foam.

Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the batter.

Warm the clarified butter to just above body temperature.

Take a little of the cake batter and mix it in to the butter dish. This will ensure that the butter mixes in evenly & quickly.

Fold it into the rest of the batter and make sure it is thoroughly folded Pour the batter in to the prepared cake tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is in the oven, make the lemon drizzle syrup. Heat castor sugar with lemon juice in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and melted completely.

When the cake is ready quickly de-mold it from the tin and turn upside down on an oven tray so that the bottom is now the top of the cake. This way, you have a leveled top surface perfect for the flat icing.

If the cake has risen too much you can also level the opposite surface using a sharp knife, ensuring a flat base.

Place the cake-tin wall back around the sponge, keeping the hot lemon syrup from spilling everywhere.

Skewer the sponge and spoon the hot syrup over it. Let it soak in to the hot sponge.

For the lemon-icing place the icing sugar in a small bowl and pour in the lemon juice. Stir to a paste.

Place the cake on a level surface and pour the white icing in the middle, all in one go letting some drip to the sides.

While the icing is still wet garnish the top with the orange peel and chopped pecans.

For an extra glossy icing put the cake back in a pre-heated oven (230 degrees) for under 1 minute.

Wait for the icing to harden and do not try to move the cake while the icing is soft, as it will crack the icing surface.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sweet yeast dough Monkey bread pull- apart muffins

My obsession with sweet yeast baked goods has taken a turn for the best recently. Tracking down a unique recipe is pleasing enough, but when juxtaposed with an original thought it can turn into a magical, and dare I say it, euphoric experience. I’m only saying this because it happened to me last week. Twice.

The first was a Sweet yeast dough Monkey bread pull- apart muffins. A mouthful. The second time was a lemon curd tart I made with a salted butter Speculaas Pâte sablée.

I found out about an American phenomena called ‘monkey bread’. Loosely based on pastry this is a violent recipe involving some cinnamon, but mainly the brutal drowning of industrial frozen biscuit dough chunks into what can only be described as butter. It was the cinnamon that caught my attention.

I would own this monkey bread, I thought. The industrial biscuit was quickly substituted with a sweet yeast dough recipe, making this a high quality muffin version of the cinnamon delight.

The dough is cut into bite size chunks before it is baked, so it has an ergonomic design, what with the bites pulling apart.

Sweet yeast, cinnamon and butter turned toffee pastry that’s user friendly – what more can and should pastry be?!?!

The result is breath taking and mouth watering and left me gob smacked and flabbergasted.

Sweet yeast Monkey bread pull- apart muffins

Makes about 15 muffins

For the dough

500 grams sifted all purpose organic flour

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon active dry yeast

320 ml milk

75 grams butter

For the dry sugar cinnamon mixture

2 cup brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cardamon

For the butter sugar mixture

40 grams cold salted butter, diced

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients. Knead for about 5-8 minutes, either by hand or stand mixer until dough is smooth and elastic.

Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise for approx. 45 minutes at room temperature.

Divide the dough in 15 pieces. Form into little ball shapes, cover and leave for 20 minutes.

In a small bowl mix together the ingredients for the sugar cinnamon mixture.

Grease a muffin pan with butter, dust it with flour and set aside.

Turn out one ball of dough at a time onto lightly floured surface. Press it with your hands until it is about 1 cm thick. Cut the dough into small chunks, about the size of a thumb and roll them in the sugar cinnamon mixture until covered. Set aside. Do the same with all the remaining dough balls.

Add the cold butter into the sugar cinnamon mixture and mix with your hands until combined.

Fill each muffin to the halfway point with dough chunks, softly packing them in. sprinkle about a tablespoon of the sugar mixture, then top with more dough chunks, packing lightly. Finish with more sugar mixture.

Bake at 175°C degrees for about 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on them. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

Run a sharp knife around the edges of each muffin then gently scoop out of the muffin tin.

This is when the magic happens and the sugar and butter have turned into oozing, juicy toffee.