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:
4 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

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Oat, orange and ginger cookies and Saul Goodman

Oat, orange and ginger cookies / Cookies de aveia, laranja e gengibre

I know no one likes being sick and I am no exception: I’m still not sure if it is a very strong cold or the flu, but I have been in bed for the last two days – I had many plans for the weekend that had to be dropped, unfortunately (like making burgers for lunch again, including the bread), and those got replaced by watching TV in bed between naps (all the medicine I’ve taken makes me quite sleepy).

I picked up Better Call Saul but I’m not sure I’ll go on with it: maybe I was expecting more than I should because of how much I love Breaking Bad, but aside from the pilot I did not enjoy it much (I’ve watched four episodes), and I think it is a shame since Saul was one of my favorite characters (and Bob Odenkirk played him to perfection). Have you watched the show? How did you like it?

Aside from making burgers I planned on baking cookies too this weekend, but that is not going to happen – I’m off to bed again, but I’ll leave you with a tasty and easy cookie recipe that doesn’t even require a mixer. These cookies smell amazing from all the orange zest and ginger and since they are packed with oats I find them great for snacking between meals.

Oat, orange and ginger cookies
adapted from the always delicious Donna Hay Magazine

¾ cup (130g) light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
2 cups (180g) rolled oats
¾ cup (105g) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of salt
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (90g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine sugars and orange zest and rub them with your fingertips until sugars are fragrant. Stir in oats, flour, ginger and salt. Add butter, egg and vanilla and mix until combined.

Roll 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie into balls and place 5cm (2in) apart onto prepared sheets. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden around the edges. Cool in the sheets over a wire rack for 5 minutes, then slide the paper with the cookies onto the rack and cool completely.

Makes about 30

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Caramelized onion and gruyere focaccia and the excellent "Bloodline"

Caramelized onion and cheese focaccia / Focaccia de queijo e cebola caramelizada

Now that I have brought my husband to the dark side – the side of the addicted to TV series – he keeps asking me what we’ll watch next: I find it both funny and lovely and I hope he stays this way for good. :)

We finished watching the first season of The Americans and while Netflix doesn’t bring us more episodes – I cannot wait! – I suggested we watched Bloodline, for its great cast and because Ben Mendelsohn had impressed me very much in the great Animal Kingdom. One of my readers had told me it was a wonderful show and she was right: it is well written, well directed and definitely spot on in acting – my husband loved it, too, and as we moved on through the episodes things got more and more interesting, to the point my husband said that he hoped there would be a second season (good news: there will be).

If you like dramas like the ones I usually write about here on the blog I can’t recommend Bloodline enough, and if you like baking bread and having something tasty to nibble on with a glass of sparkling wine or beer go to the kitchen and make this focaccia: it is not complicated to make and it tastes absolutely fantastic.

Caramelized onion and gruyere focaccia
slightly adapted from the delicious Home Baked Comfort (Williams-Sonoma) (revised): Featuring Mouthwatering Recipes and Tales of the Sweet Life with Favorites from Bakers Across the Country

Dough:
2 ¼ teaspoons (7g/1 sachet) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup (240ml) warm water
3 1/3 cups (465g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 scant teaspoon table salt
150g (5oz) Gruyere cheese, shredded

Topping:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, oil, salt and cheese. Attach the dough hook and knead on medium-low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, put it back in a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté over medium-low heat until they start to wilt, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sugar and a good pinch of salt and continue to cook until the onions are golden brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Oil a rimmed baking sheet with 1 ½ tablespoons of the olive oil. Dump the dough onto the prepared pan and press it into a rough rectangle. Using your fingers, stretch the dough into a rectangle about 20x30cm (8x12in). Cover the dough loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until puffy, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 220°C (425°F). Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingertips. Gently brush the remaining oil, then sprinkle evenly with the onion. Bake until gorgeously golden, about 20 minutes. Cut into squares and serve while warm.

Makes 1 flatbread (serves 6-8)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Almond syrup cake and more bad TV news

Almond syrup cake / Bolo de amêndoa com calda

I apparently spoke too soon, guys – days ago I found out that another one of my favorite TV series has been cancelled. :(

The good thing is I’m not the only one disappointed by the news about Hannibal and like me many others are hoping that the show gets saved by Netflix or some other network – let's hope it works, right, boys? ;)

I’ve loved Hannibal ever since its beginninghow could I not? – and might be a little behind on the episodes because so many other shows have grabbed my attention lately, but it is still one of the best series I’ve seen even though I know it might be a little too graphic for many people – I don’t mind the gore at all because in that case it is absolutely necessary to the story being told, and not only splashed there to shock.

I haven’t baked much lately (which is a shame), but I did make this delicious cake weeks ago and here it is: I know I can be a little too repetitive when it comes to almond cakes – or TV shows ;) – but this one is really special: it tastes delicious and if there’s any syrup left after the cake is gone it is wonderful poured over pancakes or waffles.

Almond syrup cake / Bolo de amêndoa com calda

Almond syrup cake
slightly adapted from the always gorgeous Donna Hay Magazine

Cake:
3 eggs
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (150g) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups (125g) almond meal
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
finely grated zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons Amaretto
½ cup (60g) flaked almonds

Syrup:
1 cup (240ml) water
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (60ml) Amaretto

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) round cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter it as well.

Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for about 8 minutes or until thick, pale and tripled in volume. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour, baking powder, salt, almond meal, butter, lemon zest and Amaretto. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan over a wire rack while you make the syrup: place water, sugar, vanilla and Amaretto in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until reduced and thickened. Pour ¾ of the hot syrup over the cake gradually, making sure it gets absorbed by the cake before pouring more syrup. Cool completely in the pan, then carefully unmold.

Serve the cake with the remaining syrup.

Serves 8-10

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dulce de leche swirl congo bars

Dulce de leche swirl congo bars / Barrinhas congo com doce de leite

Sometimes I buy cookbooks and wait anxiously for them to arrive by mail only to go through them back and forth countless times without any idea of which recipe to start using them from – I know it sounds stupid, but that is exactly what happens around here.

Then it takes me forever to go back to that cookbook, not because I did not like it but because there were lots of other recipes grabbing my attention in between. I suddenly see the book while looking for something else and take it to the couch with me to go through it back and forth all over again, until I find that makes me run to the kitchen.

I made these bars a long time ago, after making the delicious coconut and pecan bars from the same book, but never posted them – they were scrumptious and were a hit with my former coworkers. I ended up taking a “healthy” route in my baking a while ago and thought that bars made with pecans, chocolate and dulce de leche were a bit too much. While searching for a certain photo I found this picture and thought that it was such a waste not to share this recipe with you – after all, eating a couple of these bars once in a blue moon won’t kill anyone.

While you read the recipe I’ll grab Nancy Baggett’s book and choose something tasty for the weekend. ;)

Dulce de leche swirl congo bars
slightly adapted from the delicious Simply Sensational Cookies

¾ cup (1½ sticks/170g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 ¼ cups (215g) packed light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
1 cup (110g) pecans, chopped
1 cup (165g) dark chocolate chips – I used 53% cocoa solids
1 cup dulce de leche

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 22x32cm (9x13in) baking pan, line it with foil and butter it as well – I used a 20x30cm (8x12in) pan.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring, until melted. Remove from the heat and cool to warm. Stir in the sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla until well blended. One at a time, vigorously stir in the eggs. Stir in the flour just until evenly incorporated. Fold in the nuts and chocolate until evenly distributed.

Spread a generous half of the mixture evenly in the pan. Put evenly spaced heaping tablespoonfuls of the dulce de leche over the batter. Then drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter over the top. Using a table knife held vertically, swirl the two together to produce a slightly rippled effect; don’t blend them too much.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Makes 18

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