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.