Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saffron Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Ever since my visit to the spice market a couple of months ago I have been dreaming about making saffron macarons. I picked up some wonderful quality Iranian Saffron and just thought it would be perfect to combine this exotic earthy flavor with the light elegant French macarons. It would be like marrying an Arabian prince to a French empress...I'm sure they'd have adorable children! I have never seen saffron macarons, even though I have seen macarons made with all kinds of flowers & spices. Some of my favorites have been Hibiscus Macarons by Tartelette & Lavender Macarons by Aran from Cannelle et Vanille.

Saffron is one of my favorite spices and is usually used in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. It's such a versatile spice that can be used for sweet and savory dishes. It looks like little maroon threads but one you mix it with a wet ingredient it immediately emits this golden yellow color. Its fragrance is intoxicating and taste is very exotic. It's also the most expensive spice in the world. Fortunately, I live in a country where we have easy access to Iran and so we get the best of Iran's wonerful nuts and spices! Which reminds me that I will be making a trip to the spice market soon and will keep my eyes peeled for some very green pistachios. I do hope I find them :)

I used a different Macaron recipe this time and did regret it later as I felt they weren't as successful looking as my previous ones. But boy did they taste good, the aroma coming from the oven as they baked was so fragrant. The recipe I used can be found here, and I just added a teaspoon of saffron and pulsed it with the sugar and almonds. Once you add the wet ingredients the yellow color will emerge. You can also add a couple of drops of yellow food coloring if you want a more intense color. I filled them with dark chocolate whipped ganache.

As I was doing the photo-shoot today I saw a little hand creep it's way into my view-finder. I had to include some pictures of my little cookie monster. She just cracks me up.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Raspberry & White Chocolate Opera Cake-Daring Bakers Challenge

I know I am a day late in posting. I've had the images forever but I got so busy these past few days that I didn't have time to post. I liked this challenge because it was different than anything else I have baked. I also really enjoyed thinking of creative ways to make it my own. I know I wanted to create an interesting design for the top layer of chocolate and wanted to include both colors somehow. I assembled the cake upside down. I know that there is a tool called an "Opera frame" where you can assemble an opera cake and allows you to save on the edges since you're using a perfect size frame. You even bake the jaconde using the frame so everything is the perfect size. I didn't have the frame but I just used a rectangular baking tin lined with parchment and poured white chocolate into it, waited till it was a bit set and then used a comb and created these swirly lines. Then I poured some pink white chocolate and let it pass through the gaps. I'm happy with the result, everyone loved the cake so much more than I expected. It's rather too sweet for my taste but I was a winner with friends and family. I didn't want to waste the edges of the cake so I just cut a couple of pieces to photograph.

The Mousse/ganache & buttercream are both flavored with raspberry, I used flavorings used for Gelato (don't ask me how but I had a small sample from a food show I went to. And of course the syrup is vanilla with raspberry essence.
This month's challenge is hosted by : Ivonne and Lisa , Shea & Fran thanks guys it was a fun challenge.

Note: I will be posting the recipe soon but I have no time at the moment...but if you're in a hurry please visit any of the other daring bakers blogs here!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Double Choc-Chip Chilli Cookies

I think I would call myself a picky eater, there are things I won't eat...and refuse to even try. My first taste of crab -when I was 10 years old-was forced down my mouth by my much older brother. My first taste of Egyptian stuffed sausage was again forced and me, flailing arms and disgusted faced, soon would relax to find that I actually liked what I refused to try. But I still have my food hang-ups! With desserts however, I have no hang-ups whatsoever! I'm not a big fan of chili in savory dishes but when I saw this recipe in a woman's weekly magazine I was drawn to it. The combination of chocolate and spices or flavors- usually not used in sweets- thrilled me. I was once watching a show about the chocolatier Vosges and wanted to jump into the screen and try out the flavors. The pairing of chocolate & spices is so interesting and definately adds another dimension to sweets. The nice thing about these cookies is that the chilli flavor is very subtle but when you taste it, just kicks you a's almost like your tongue reacts all over. If you didn't know there were chillis in it, you may not ever guess what it is that gives you that sensation. It's definately a departure from the regular double chocolate chip cookie. Even if you hate spicy food these are worth husband won't even eat too much pepper in his food but he gobbled half of these up.


250g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup (165 g) caster sugar
3/4 cup (165 g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups (300g) plain flour
1/4 cup (25g) cocoa powder (I used dutch-processed)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
400 g dark semi-sweet chocolate chopped (or choc. chips)

candied chillies
1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
1/ cup (60 ml) water
3 fresh thai chillies chopped finely

Preheat oven to 180℃. Grease baking trays & line with parchment paper.
Make the candied chillies.
Beat butter, extract, sugars and egg in a stand mixer or hand-held mixer till light and fluffy, transfer to large bowl. Stir in sifted flour, cocoa and soda in 2 batches. Stir in chilli & chocolate. Scoop out balls of the mixture using an ice-cream scooper and place 5cm apart on the baking trays. Bake 12 minutes. Cool wire racks.

candied chillies method:
Stir sugar and water in a small saucepan over heat until sugar dissolves. Add chilli and boil for 2 mins. Cool, strain and discard syrup.

The cookies are best when they are eaten the same or next day. So you can wrap up the remaining dough in double sheets of parchment and store in the freezer for a rainy day!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mini Lemon Cheesecakes

It's amazing how children are so easily amused. A tiny piece of thread can be such an interesting object. An empty roll of tape can keep them entertained for hours. With children, magic does exist, and I proved it today, I even used a wand (and soap and water). It's a plastic bottle with a plastic bubble wand that I just refill with shampoo whenever it's empty. Didn't cost me much, you can probably get it anywhere but it gave me magic. A magical moment of seeing those beautiful girls (all dressed in pink coincidentally and mostly toddlers) running around on the park grass squealing with delight, throwing themselves precariously, all hoping to capture maybe one illusive bubble of the hundreds of bubbles that I was producing with the bubble wand. The eldest of the group even went to fetch a plastic square lunchbox and proudly held it up to me and said "I'm going to catch it". I wasn't going to explain to her that you can't really catch a bubble...because I loved the fact that she believed she could, I didn't want to burst her own little bubble because I know that life probably why rush?
I love the innocence in those children's eyes. Most people lose their sense of wonder as they grow. Many get hung up on life's negativity and forget to appreciate the simpler things in life. I have seen my share of sadness and maybe have more waiting for me, but children are a blessing and are probably the only thing that makes life worth living.

So how does this relate to food? Well, as I mentioned before in a previous post, I think the reason why I love making desserts is because I never lost MY sense of wonder and I am such a child on the inside. My husband always says it and I always feel it. I don't play with my children just to entertain them, I play because I love playing! Now I cannot always play the way children do so I play around in the kitchen! I think we all need a creative outlet and to "play" and have fun with something.

So this is what I played with today...some lemons, cream cheese & biscuits and I had so much fun! These little cute cheesecakes are the easiest little things to make and they are perfect portions for parties or afternoon teas or just to eat whenever you feel like it!

Mini Lemon Cheesecakes:
(makes 12 mini-cheesecakes)

100g. plain biscuits crushed
50g. butter melted
1/4 tsp lemon extract

500g cream cheese
zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs
70g caster sugar

topping choices:

3/4 jar apricot jam of glaze
2 tsp lemon juice

1 small pot fromage-frais or sour cream
1tsp lemon extract
1 tsp acacia honey

Process the biscuits, butter and extract until smooth. Press biscuits in a baking ring or a muffin pan lined with paper muffin cups. Refrigerate for 30 mins.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the cheese, sugar and zest till combined and smooth, add eggs and mix well. Add the cheese mixture to biscuit until almost full. Bake in a low oven (150 degrees) for 30 mins. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

To make the glaze melt the jam with the lemon juice until warm and smooth (pass through a sieve if necessary). Pour onto the tops of the cheesecake, allow to set in the fridge.

To make the white topping mix the fromage-frais or sour cream with the lemon juice and honey until completely smooth. Add to the cheesecakes and allow to cool in the fridge.

To make the caramelized lemons, place thinly sliced lemons on a baking sheet and sprinkle with caster sugar (you can bake these with the cheesecakes.)

To make the sugared lemon strips see here but substitute the orange zest for lemon zest.

Even though I already submitted an entry for Sugar High Friday, I decided these little cakes deserve it more! Once again Sugar High Friday's created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess & hosted by Tartelette.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Rice Pudding

When I was a child we always drank fresh cows's milk. I don't mean the kind you get in the supermarket (that was always the artificial kind according to my mother), I mean real fresh cow's milk that had just been milked and delivered in a large metal milk jug. The milk-man would always knock on our door every other day. If we wanted milk we would have to run inside and fetch a pot so that he could pour the amount we needed. He would dip his small jug into the big metal milk jug-which he usually carried around on a bicycle- and pour the amount we needed in our pot. Then immediately that pot went on the stove and was boiled thoroughly to get rid of any bacteria. Cream was skimmed off the surface and stored and the rest of the milk was cooled and left in the fridge. The milk smelled completely different than milk we get today, you could definately smell cows and nature. Years later the milk-man stopped coming to our door because noone bought his milk. All the big milk companies were taking over and advertising their pasteurizing process, claiming that their products were safer. I never really appreciated this milk-man till I grew up and had kids of my own. I began appreciating all the traditions that I experienced growing up and cherished then. Maybe because I feel nostalgic and miss my parents and family. Or maybe because we live in a world where authenticity has been fogged up by over-processing, over purifying, and pasteurizing, that there's almost hardly anything natural left that hasn't been tampered with. This is what tempted me to make my own jam more often. And maybe this is what tempted me to buy own mill attachment so I can grind my own corn and wheat and make flour. Maybe this is why I was so touched by Aran's post from Cannelle et Vanille where she talks about making her own petit swisse, yogurt etc. I love picking my own herbs from my garden and was even tempted to buy a small cherry tomato to plant but the temperature here soars so high that I would doubt it could survive. Whatever it is I am deeply affected by something that is driving me to make home-produced food that is normally bought from the store. Maybe I am affected by the way my mother, and her mother before her were, maybe I want to be a better mother for my children. So yesterday I was at the store looking at the dairy section and while reading all the different labels on the tiny containers I came accross rice pudding, and it was quite expensive. I make it often but I hadn't made it in a while and really missed it, so I decided to pick up a 2 litre jug of double-cream milk and make it as soon as I got home! I remember reading Aran's post on Rice pudding and thinking how similar it was to ours, we also make it without eggs and almost the exact same ingredients. In Cairo, where I am originally from, rice pudding or as we call it "roz b'laban" which is translated simply as "rice with milk" is a traditional dessert. There are shops dedicated exclusively to the dessert and they have really expanded their menu and produced a variety of flavors and spin-offs on the original. My favorite is "Roz bil Ice" which is translated "rice with ice" which is rice pudding sprinkled with coarsely crushed and roasted mixed nuts and topped with a single scoop of fresh vanilla ice-cream. It may sound weird to have rice pudding with ice-cream and I had my doubts the first time I tried it, but that is one thing you really must try for yourself to appreciate! I remember the first shop of its kind opened up in Alexandria, and we didn't have one in Cairo. It seems like yesterday that we (my college buddies and I) drove up from Cairo to Alex and back just to have rice pudding (it's roughly a 2 hour drive). Those were wonderful days!

My brother and I always debated on what made the best rice pudding . I spent some time trying out different recipes to achieve the perfect texture and taste. The secret, I discovered, it all boils down to the quality of the milk, so I use double-cream milk. I also noticed that fresher rice pudding isn't solid, but much looser than most other varieties and realized that stopping the cooking process earlier achieves that runnier (but not too runny) version. The less starch that comes out of the rice during the simmer, the thinner it sets. Some people half cook the rice and then add it to the milk, but i prefer to make the whole process easier on myself. When you use double cream milk you get a lovely rich top layer in the pudding that is a lot thicker than if you're using single cream milk. The recipe is below if you want to try it!

Rice Pudding:

2 liters double cream fresh milk
170 g. short-grained rice (I use Egyptian rice)
8 tbs sugar (you can use brown or white)
1 tbs cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

Optional additions:

crushed nuts or crushed pistachios
powdered cinnamon
vanilla ice-cream

Wash & drain the rice. In a medium saucepan slowly heat the milk and cinnamon, add rice and simmer slowly on low heat. Add sugar and mix well. I usually use a metal heat diffuser on the stove to avoid burning or over-heating the rice. Stir occasionally for about 40 mins until the mixture thickens slightly. Take off the heat and pour into bowls, jars or even glasses. Sprinkle with nuts or cinnamon and leave to cool. Store in the fridge.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I was first introduced to this curious sweet in England in the 1980's. That's when I had my first crunchie bar ever, it came in this shiny bright orange wrapper. My brothers and I loved it, and fought over it whenever we had one to share... it was all about the golden, crisp, sweet and air-filled center. I remember wondering how they got it in there and what it was made from. It tasted so wonderful and the texture was so enticing that it made you want to take another bite, and another, and pretty soon the mysterious chocolate bar was gone. If I had known then as a 5 year old, what I know now...that the golden crisp centre was made using very simple ingredients and that it can be easily cooked up using a saucepan and some heat I would have gone nuts. But then again the mystery of the crunchie would have been dissolved and I would be left with an obvious "it's just sugar, duh"!! I think I still would've eaten tons of it because I made this yesterday and it's all gone today and I'm 30 not 5!!!

The sweet originated in New Zealand and seems to be a popular favorite there. I don't know how it got it's name (which usually refers to a dance that kids do) but apparently early ice-cream wrapped in wax paper was called hokey-pokey. I saw Nigella Lawson make this on TV a while back. What I like about Nigella is that she reminds me of myself...she's passionate about what she cooks. She eats with such fervor and passion and almost devours food in a way that can't be fake. She made a batch of hokey-pokey for a friend and she ate it all in the taxi on the way there... this what I would do...When I saw her make it my mind was racing with all the possibilities I could use this for...mix it with vanilla ice cream, add it to cheesecake...and make it into shapes, so that how I thought of pouring it into a mold.
Anyway I adjusted the recipe a bit and instead of just pouring it on parchment or a silpat I used a silicone mold. The mold allows sugar to set thicker and so you get more of the amazing texture that the hokey-pokey is all about (and that's what it's all about he he)!!

Basic Hokey-Pokey:
(can be stored in an airtight container for a few days)

200g caster sugar
3 tbs golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda

In a medium saucepan add the sugar and syrup and stir once or twice on low heat. Turn the heat to medium and once everything dissolves turn it back to low. Don't stir too much, just let everything melt together and once it starts bubbling stir a few more times. It should be golden and completely dissolved. Don't leave it on the heat too much or it will burn and taste awful. Take the saucepan off the heat and working quickly add the baking soda stirring once or twice. Once it starts expanding and bubbling up pour it into the molds, parchment or on a silpat (note: the mixture will be bubbling like an erupting volcano so it won't pour perfectly, you have to sort of pour it and then spread it a bit). The mixture will be VERY hot so resist touching it. Leave it alone for 20 mins. or so. Break it up & eat..

Hokey-Pokey with Peanut Butter & Chocolate:

Leave the hokey-pokey to cool down in the mold. The middle should sink in a bit giving you a sort of cavity that you can fill with peanut butter (I used crunchy for added texture). Melt some chocolate melts, cake covering or even milk chocolate and pour over the peanut butter and level it with the tops of the molds.

Allow to cool at room temp or in the fridge very briefly. Carefully un-mold the cups breaking the edges away (make sure you don't have any sharp edges). Take a bite and enjoy.

Alternatively if you have no molds you can just dip hokey-pokey pieces in chocolate and let them cool then spread some peanut butter on top...heavenly!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mango & Lemon Chiffon Trifle...

It's starting to get really hot here in Dubai. We're not quite at the highest temperature of the year but we're getting there. My children love their evenings in the park but everyday their cheeks get redder than the day before and the weather is slightly less bearable. We're very fortunate to live in a nice community and are blessed to have a little garden where we can plant flowers and trees and even grow some herbs. M, my husband is obsessed with the garden. It's his little sanctuary and spends so much time watering and tending to it. Now it's so hot that the grass has turned yellow and it's made him sad. It's almost impossible to sit outside in our little gazebo without feeling sticky and uncomfortable. So when a couple of our friends came over during the weekend (for a swim & BBQ) I had to think of the most cooling summery desserts ever. I wasn't in the mood to make something difficult. I really wanted to spend as much time as I could with my family. M only gets one day off a week and it's so precious when we get to spend the whole day together. I was finishing up the lemon chiffon as they arrived, we decided to skip the BBQ as it was too hot to stand outside, so instead they picked up take-away on their way over. After eating, swimming, bathing the kids, it was finally time for some mint tea and a cool dessert. We were sitting in the gazebo and everyone was so hot. In came the trifle, even though it's so simple to make, it is always impressive. The top light lemony layer of chiffon is so light and fluffy and when you dig in all the way you get a taste of the sweet mango with the cake & jello, so delightful...

Mango & Lemon Chiffon Trifle
(makes 6)

1 small (about 200g) plain pound cake (best to use dry cake or store bought).
1 packet Mango Jello (you can use apricot or lemon)
1 Mango peeled & sliced

Lemon Chiffon

2 eggs
2 egg yolks
110 g caster sugar
1 tsp lemon rind
1 tsp gelatine
l tbs lemon juice
60 ml water
180 ml heavy cream

Dice the pound cake into cubes and place in the bottom of 6 dessert bowls, or glasses. Make the jello according to the packet instructions and add 1/2 over the sponge. Refrigerate until set. cover the remaining jello and cool till it's the consistency of an unbeaten egg white.
Pureé most of the mango reserving some slices for decoration. Add the cooled jello to the set jello and top with the mango pureé. Follow with a the lemon chiffon. Decorate with mango slices.

Lemon Chiffon Method:

Beat all of the egg yolks, 1/2 of sugar and lemon rind in an electric mixer until creamy and thick. Dissolve gelatine in hot water and add the lemon juice. Stir until dissolved and add to the egg yolk mixture. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, add sugar slowly, dissolving well. Fold into the egg yolk mixture, whip cream until soft peaks form and fold in to the lemon mixture.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rich Chocolate & Orange Mousse and a Thank You!


I think what is great about keeping a blog is that it provides structure to our otherwise cluttered life. Everyday when I go to sleep I always make a mental list of the things I need to do the next day, make my sons weekly purees, or clean out my closet, get an assignment ready for a class. I sometimes even think about what I'll cook or wear or buy. It's so overwhelming and when I wake up the next day I set about to fulfill the tasks I rehearsed in my head. Sometimes I complete them and other times I don't and a hint of frustration sets in. But when I've written a post, or baked something, it keeps me satisfied. It gives a sense of completion and there is evidence of productivity and I think that's really all that matters. I've been unsure whether or not to keep blogging since I'm new and not sure if my blog "means much" but as someone helped me realize that I'm not doing it for people, but doing it for myself and it can be therapeutic and give so much satisfaction.
I've read in some blogs (the links to are at the bottom of this post) about giving back and the self-indulgence involved with creating and the guilt that comes with it. Creating is an act of giving in itself, it doesn't matter if what you're creating is a painting, a cookie or a movie. I don't think blogging is a Pygmalion-like activity, at least not for most. It’s not like you’re admiring your creation, boasting about it or even out to satisfy a selfish streak (well maybe a tiny bit and we’re all entitled to it). I think the bigger picture is about sharing. Sharing what you’ve created, sharing the memories & excitement of how you made it and the stories that come with it. Giving it a place in more than one person’s consciousness. Since sharing is an act of giving then it cannot be a self- indulgent act.

So what would happen if suddenly the blog-o-sphere collapsed. And there were no more blogs, beautiful pictures or comments. Could we survive? The answer is an easy yes. Even though our blogs provide structure, satisfaction and allow us to share, even a small part of ourselves with others. Losing them does not matter. Just like if lose your home, it hurts…but when the shock wears away, what you miss most are your old photos and letters maybe…but when you have people you care about around you, then you count your blessings and move on. Even when we lose a person close to us. Now that really does hurt. But it is the end? No, because we have our memories. Because we’ve shared so much with that person and those acts of sharing and giving will always remain with us no matter how far apart we are.

Part of why I love reading blogs and writing in one is because you can read/write about anything from the mundane trivial everyday matters to the more complex, profound, serious or even universal issues. Precisely what life is about. You may have a tragedy happen to you one day and a day or two later you're laughing at a silly joke or doing your laundry. it doesn't mean the pain has gone or has been trivialized. It only means we our keeping our sanity. Just like what I read in Tartlelette's blog yesterday, peeling tangerines may keep your mind of your pain for a few seconds...those few second may be enough to keep you sane. And everyone needs a creative outlet, something they can plant, water and watch grow, something that gives back. Yes, tragedies may happen anywhere in the world or anytime in your life, but just because you keep a blog or make a painting or even sing in the shower doesn't mean you are taking life any less seriously.

Even though I am trained as an Artist I always come back to food and desserts specifically, I find myself staring at the colors and shapes of desserts at any shop with the wonder of a 5 year old, and the admiration of an art-critic looking at a pollock. I find myself smiling when I think about the infinite possibilities I can whip up in my kitchen. Your whole being is involved when you're making something sweet. You senses, your hands, your brain and like someone told me recently, your heart. It is the immediate gratification you get when you see your finished creation and the suspense that builds up to it and the suspense and satisfaction involved in tasting it. Like when you're developing your own photos and wait for the developer to work on your image and it finally appears its like magic. Almost like opening a brand new brightly wrapped present, part of the whole thrill is not knowing what's inside. All of these activities bring out the child in us. Every day when I check all my Google page, with feeds from all the blogs I love, and I see a new title, I get so excited. I click and wait, the page goes blank to reveal a new treat, and an equally thrilling anecdote and in my mind it creates a beautiful memory.

Before I get to the recipe I wanted to write a thank you to two people I don't know very well but showed me that blogging can be a support network and motivated me to keep creating & sharing. So thanks Aran & Helene, your blogs are truly inspirational!

I created this recipe for Sugar High Friday's created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess & hosted by Tartelette. This month's flavor is citrus... and when I first read it I thought I would make a citrus cake like the Clementine or Minneola Cake that I made so many times before and is a friends & family favorite. But I wanted to make something different this time. Terry's chocolate orange is one of my favorite chocolates and this rich mousse reminds of it in a refined way. I love chocolate in combination with fruits and the rough texture of the sweet, citrusy zest of the orange compliments the rich, smooth chocolate perfectly.

Rich Chocolate & Orange Mousse
(by Michel Roux)

150g plain chocolate (55%-70% cocoa solids) chopped.
1 tbsp liquid glucose
2 egg yolks
150ml double cream
30g Icing sugar

to decorate:
1 orange washed
100g. caster sugar

Prepare the decoration: Finely pare the zest from the orange into fine strips using a zester. place in a saucepan & cover with cold water, bring to a boil, over medium heat. Refresh and drain & repeat twice more. Put zests in small pan with 100ml of water and the caster sugar. Bring to a boil & buble for 1 minute. Leave the zests in the syrup. When cold drain & set aside.

To make the mousse, place chocolate in a double boiler. Bring water to a simmer. When the chocolate has melted take the bowl off the heat. Mix the glucose with the yolks and 2 tbsps of hot water, then mix into the melted chocolate.
In another bowl whip the cream & icing sugar to a ribbon consistency, then delicately fold it into the mousse without overworking. Pour 1/3 of the mousse in 4 glasses or glass bowls, scatter 1/3 of the zests on top repeat the layers twice finishing with a layer of mousse sprinkled with orange zest, refrigerate for one hour before serving. If refrigerated for longer then remove 30 mins before serving.


Cinnamon Date Soufflé & a Book...

I am very new to the blogging world. So I was surprised to receive an e-mail from Simone Nowell of Zodiac Pubishing inviting me to the launch of their newly published book, Dates by Jo Parfitt & Sue Valentine . Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the launch because of my babies, she did suggest that I take them with me but I don't think she knows my toddler can be quite a nuisance, in the evenings especially. So the second best thing was that she sent me the PDF copy of the book! I love dates, not just because I am "Arab" or that dates "date" back to Ancient Egypt (where I am from) or that they are associated with the gulf region (where I live) but because they are a miraculous fruit. Religiously and culturally -in this part of the world at least-dates have been associated with healing and nourishment. After a long day of Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, the first thing a Muslim will eat is a date, it will give him/her enough energy to finish prayers without any hunger pangs. It gives a gentle but firm nudge to a stomach that's been asleep for 12 hours. And even though it's quite sweet the sugar in dates gives sustained energy that lasts a lot longer than the false high of refined sugars. They contain so many vitamins & minerals and they are also safe and healthy to give to young children as an alternative to chocolates and other sugary sweets. My daughter loves dates and raisins and to her they are real treats, (thank God for that)! Fortunately for us dates come in endless varieties and they cost a lot less and are better quality than anywhere else in the world. There are shops that are dedicated to selling dates, plain dates, dates with nuts, chocolate covered dates etc.. The dates I used in this recipe are Omani dates which are very dark and very soft and their pits are so tiny (easily overlooked). They have a distinctive flavor that just melts in your mouth and they are good for baking because of their softness and sweetness and they limit the need for sugar.

Back to the book....I thought it included so many recipes that I would love to try, like the "Date Syrup Cheesecake" or the ever so simple yet brilliant "Baked Apples with Dates"! But the one that I kept coming back to is the "Cinnamon Date Soufflé", it sounded so simple, and a soufflé is always such an impressive dessert to offer guests. A recipe that looked like it would take 15 mins to make would be a life-saver when guests just drop by. I also love spices and some of my favorites are cardamom & cinnamon, and the recipe uses BOTH. So here is the recipe as it appears in the book. Personally, I prefer a more pronounced flavor with spices so I used whole cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks but the original recipe calls for ground spices.
Thanks Simone for giving me the opportunity to use this great book! (If interested in the book Dates by Jo Parfitt & Sue Valentine please check out the Zodiac Publishing website!)

serves four
I know people who won’t dare make a soufflé but this one is easy - really! JP

90g/3oz dates (stoned and chopped)
120ml/4fl oz milk
a few drops vanilla extract
pinch of cardamom
4 egg whites
pinch of cinnamon
120g/4oz plain low fat yoghurt
2 teaspoons date syrup
dash vanilla essence

oven 160°C/325°F/gas mark 4; medium soufflé dish (greased)

First make the sauce, mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Chill, covered, until required.
In a small saucepan, combine dates and milk and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer,
stirring occasionally, until the dates are soft and the mixture is creamy (7-8 minutes). Place the date mixture into the blender along with the vanilla and cinnamon and process on low speed until smooth.
Beat the egg whites and cinnamon together until stiff peaks form. Place the date mixture into a large bowl and gently fold in a quarter of the eggs to lighten the mixture then fold in the rest. Pour into soufflé dish and bake until puffed and golden brown (about 30 minutes).
Take to the table immediately, serving each portion with some date syrup yoghurt sauce.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Green Tea Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache!

It's been a while since I made macarons...The last time I made them thty were after about 17 ++ failed attempts. I went over this in my Pistachio Macaron post so I won't get into it again. Nevertheless, my love and respect for the mighty macaron remains. What hasn't remained is my oven. I used to own a tiny gas cooker/oven that I've had for 3 years now. The oven was great don't get me wrong, but since my interest in baking has grown tremendously, my tools had to adapt to this. I have space for a 90 cm free-standing cooker and the one I had for 3 years was only 60 cm. So there was about 15 cm of empty space on either side that was just gathering dust and home to all of our BBQ and grilling utensils. So UGLY! So finally, after putting up a bunch of items for sale on an Ebay-like site, I finally had enough cash to buy my new bad boy. It's an electric fan-assisted multi-functional oven, with a gas stove on top. I hate cooking on electric stoves and so I when I found this dual function cooker I fell in love. I've had it for a month now but never tried to make macarons with it. I thought that would be the ultimate test...and guess what? It passed!!
The only downside is...that one side of my marble counter changed color from all the heat because the people who installed it have it jammed against one side more than the there was an advantage to having that smaller cooker after all...oh well...the price we pay for those macarons feet is way too high if you ask me...
The recipe can be found here, simply mix in two tablespoons green tea powder (I don't have matcha powder so I just used ground green tea leaves). I also sprinked some of the leaves onto the macarons before I baked them. I also used a tiny bit of green food coloring (add it to the meringue).

The white chocolate ganache recipe is similar to any dark chocolate ganache recipe but obviously using white chocolate, after the ganache cools completely, whip it in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment until it holds soft peaks.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Please sir, can I have s'more?

I'm not a pastry chef, I'm an amateur baker who loves desserts. There's a very big difference between your grandmas homemade apple pie and a French tart you eat at a nice Parisian restaurant. They may be at either ends of the spectrum. Pastry chefs tend to use refined & special ingredients and the tastes can be complex yet subtle. Your grandma makes simple treats that she creates using seasonal fruits or homemade jams. Nothing has to look perfect because it's going to be eaten up anyway and the taste is always very ...home-made, comforting and nostalgic. This pie is the embodiment of those's a pie that a pastry chef would turn his nose up on, but it's a pie that gives you this warm fuzzy feeling inside. I don't mind eating & making either desserts...because I don't follow a particular direction in my baking. Anything that looks good to me will end up on this blog, whether it's a French Macaron, Austrian strudal, Belgian waffle, Egyptian Baklawa or even American Pie :)

So, inspired by a love for s'mores, I decided to make a s'mores pie. I normally have something sweet that I've baked lying around the kitchen, but if I don't, I simply make the 5 second treat known as the "s'more". My daughter loves Barney (a big purple dinosaur I secretly hate but pretend to love) but basically in Barney's words this is how you make a s'more:
"You take a graham cracker and you break it in two
You melt a chunk o' chocolate and get it just right
You melt a marshmallow and you get it real hot
you smush 'em all together and you take a big bite
mmmm smores you know it's alright!" (or something along those lines...haha)

We don't always find Graham Crackers here in Dubai. And if you find them they'll probably cost triple of what "digestives" cost. Digestives are the British version of Grahams. Some argue they don't even come close but ever since I was a child my mother used digestives for cheesecake since we lived in England for almost 5 years. It is only when I traveled to the US for graduate school that I discovered the Graham, and honestly I do prefer it to the digestive, I don't know why exactly, maybe it's the crunch, not daughter (she's about 20 months) prefers the digestive still.

Basically, the pie is a graham cracker crust that I made from scratch (I happened to find graham flour), the middle is a rich chocolate custard and it's all topped with a yummy gooey layer of mini-marshmallows.

So here is the recipe:

Graham crackers/pie crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups graham flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks or 1 cup of butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbs. honey

Preheat oven to 350ºF degrees.

Mix both flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat sugar, honey and butter till fluffy and light. Add flour mixture slowly and when combined transfer to a floured surface and shape into crackers or if making pie crust line the pie tin. Refrigerate for 20 mins and bake if making cookies. If making pie line the crust with parchment paper and add pie weights or dried beans and bake for 20 mins. Remove beans and bake for 10 more mins.

The chocolate custard pie filling:
6 tbs cornsarch
1/2 sugar
1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt

Lightly whisk egg yolks and set aside. In a medium saucepan whisk the milk, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa & salt, bringing the mixture to a simmer not boil. Slowly had a quarter of the milk mixture to the egg yolks mixing well. whisk in the remaining mixture and at this stage add the chopped semi-sweet chocolate and whisk until melted. Return to the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly for 3-4 mins. Do not boil but allow mixture to thicken. Rerigerate and cover with plastic wrap till needed.

To assemble the pie:
Pour custard into the baked pie shell and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. When chilled add mini marshmallows and using a kitchen torch scorch the marshmallows till they melt slightly and turn golden in places.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

I Love Cheesecake Pops...

This is my first official Daring Bakers challenge and I was so excited to get my hands sticky with the Cheesecake Pops hosted by Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms & Deborah from Taste & Tell and they are adapted from the book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. The whole idea of making cheesecake pops seems really unique...I mean I've seen cake pops & even cupcake pops at Bakerella's blog. But cheesecake pops? Now this is a first. I wanted to make the pops unique, I really like the idea of making cheesecake balls dipped in chocolate, but I wanted more of a challenge and more room for personalization. So I dug up an old heart-shaped ice-cube mold and decided to use it to create heart-shaped pops! I started to make the actual cheesecake, which calls for a huge amount of cream-cheese. Everything seemed to work well except that it took a lot longer then 40 mins in the oven (about 77 mins). The hardest part was getting the cheese-cake into and out of the mold because it was a bit fluffy (which is why it tasted amazing), but that made it hard to get rid of any air-bubbles. I froze the mold in the freezer for a few hours and then had to carefully pop the little cheesecake hearts out without squishing them. Finally, I used a candy fork to dip the pops in white chocolate cake covering (by super cook) mixed with pink food coloring. I let it harden before I drizzled the dark chocolate on top and finally stuck the bamboo skewers into the center (couldn't find lollipop sticks here in Dubai). It was so much fun to have an idea and then see it work and so here are the making-of images and also the recipe for the pops!!
For more pops look at all the other Daring Bakers' creations, thanks to Lisa & Ivonne we have a new website and public forum set up which is great for people who need advice and help with baking and don't want to commit to baking a challenge every month!

This is the original recipe:

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

I had so much left-over cheesecake after making the pops that I made mini-cheesecakes with crushed digestive biscuits and decorated them with the remaining chocolate & strawberries...
This cheesecake is so versatile and tastes so great, I definately think I will make it again. A couple of night after making the pops (of course they were all gone), a friend came over and I had some left-over cheesecake sitting in the fridge. I crushed some digestive biscuits in a bowl, scooped out some cheesecake on top and drizzled it with chocolate was heavenly!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You say Clementine, I say Minneola!

It's an orange, it's a, It's a Minneola!!

Well they're not the same thing but they're definately related. Minneola is Clementine's big brother. He's got thicker skin, a darker color and a big big nose. This is the easiest way to identify a Minneola, is the nose, a very distinctive characteristic. A Minneola is really a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit...I remember it as a child because my grandma's neighbour, who is a very close and dear person to our hearts, always made Minneola Preserve, which is very similar to Marmalade. So where do clementines fit in? Well I made Nigella Lawson's Clemetine cake many times and it's always been a big hit. So frankly I saw some great looking minneola's at the market and thought they may work just as well, and they did...actually they worked better. I first saw this recipe on TV and had to try it...the reason was that Nigella used the whole fruit rather than the zest or juice, which I thought must make the flavor very distinctive. Most cakes taste best right out of the oven but this is one cake you want to bake in the evening and let it sit, un-moulded, on your counter till the next morning. While you tea and coffee are brewing this cake will be there waiting for you, and will definately awaken your taste-buds. The reason why you need to wait is because the almonds and the clementine mixture make this cake so soft that it almost feels like it's been drenched in syrup, but if you have it fresh out of the oven it tends to taste a bit too mushy. I did this very thing yesterday night (baked it and left it alone, went to sleep) and this picture was taken at 7am, you can see the morning light seeping through the window, the browned exterior gave way to the golden bright yellow interior and at that moment it resembled a large slab of gold. I couldn't resist trying a couple of slices before heading to work and it was heavenly, true edible gold.

So to the recipe:

375g Clementines, Oranges, Minneolas or even Lemons
6 eggs
225g sugar (i use caster)
250g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder

  • Prepare two pans, I used a 20 cm spring-form pan and a 25cm loaf pan. Make sure you butter and line them (sides too) with parchment or else the cake will stick.
  • Preheat oven to 190ºC.
  • Boil clementines (or other citrus fruit) for 2 hours non-stop.
    Drain & cool. Cut in half and remove pips.
  • Blitz whole fruit in the food processor until completely liquidized (you can add a tiny bit of the liquid to facilitate).
  • Mix dry ingredients and add to the fruit, mix very well. Add one egg at a time mixing well after each addition. Mixture will resemble a thick liquid.
  • Pour into prepared pans and bake at 190ºC for 1 hour. (if your oven tends to brown cakes quickly then cover cake after 40 mins).
  • Take out of the oven and place on a cooling rack for at least an hour (better left overnight). Carefully run a knife around the edges and un-mould (for the spring-form pan) or lift out the cake using the parchment paper (for the loaf pan).
Enjoy :)


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The gooiest chewiest brownies!

It wouldn't be a normal occurrence for me to follow the chocolate almond cake -which is really chewy and soft in its own right- with a gooey chewy chocolate brownie recipe...however, my husband wanted gooier!!! And so I said you must be craving brownies...he just gave me a puzzled look. My husband doesn't care about names....cake brownie, biscuit, macaron....who cares what you call it as long as it tastes yummy. A close girl-friend came over the next day for some girl talk and also needed a chocolaty accompaniment!! Nothing can possibly be a more perfect companion to gossip than a gooey chewy brownie topped with a nice scoop of vanilla ice-cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. So I asked her to bring the tub of ice-cream and while my husband got dressed to go see his mum and dad I baked the chewiest gooiest brownie ever. Adapted from the Martha Stewart Baking book...if you like a cakey brownie this is definately not your cup of tea...but if you like "fzzt fzzt" ( that's the squishy sound my husband made when describing the texture he was after in a chocolate dessert), then this will definately indulge your senses...


8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick of butter (about 110 grams)
11/2 cups of sugar
1tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Line a buttered 8 x 8 inch baking pan or pyrex pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 175 ℃.

Melt chocolate and butter in a water bath. When fully melted, let sit to cool. Mix in the sugar and vanilla and eggs one at a time. Gently fold in flour and salt, mix well and pour into prepared pan. Place in oven and bake for 45-55 mins until the top is a lighter brown color and when a cake tester is inserted it comes out with a few crumbs.
Lift out the baked brownies from the pan onto a cooling rack and when completely cool chop into squares. The top may crumble and crack but the insides will be soft and chewy!!


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chocolate Almond Cake

Chocolate Almond Cake, originally uploaded by bakerette.

My in-laws were coming to visit us from Alexandria. My Father in law is a football enthusiast and so that particular day there was a very important match on TV. I decided to bake a rich chocolaty cake to drain some of the tension that the match would inevitably cause. I resorted to my tried and tested flourless chocolate cake. This recipe uses no flour or butter and instead uses ground almonds (almond meal or almond flour). My husband loves this cake and I love that he loves it because it is somewhat healthier than other chocolate cakes. It's amazing how chewy, gooey and soft this cake is. It's very versatile and I featured it before on the blog as a base for the Miniature Cake. However the cake is perfect on it's own, this time I simply filled it with some leftover chocolate ganache I had in the fridge and dusted it with cocoa powder. It's great served with vanilla ice-cream, fresh cream or even ......cheese-cake, well not really cheesecake, just the creamy, cheesy upper layer of cheesecake, I was using it for a recipe that I will post soon and I had a lot left over and I found it to be a great accompaniment to this chocolaty cake.