Friday, November 30, 2012

Mixed Nut Pie with Natural Pie Crust

     I was craving for pecan pie some days ago. I have seen it sold in an upscale supermarket here in the Netherlands, but I couldn't be bothered to go around hunting for it. My love for pecan pie started when I was in Singapore. My parents and I would sometimes go to a barbecue/grill restaurant not far from our home. On the dessert menu, there was pecan pie with ice cream. Since I tried it the first time, I have gone back to that restaurant just to have the dessert.
      However pecan pie, or any dessert pie, is often an unhealthy affair with the use of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and butter for the crust and filling. Since I couldn't be bothered to hunt for a shop that sells pecan pie here, I raided my kitchen for ingredients and came up with a healthier mixed nut pie complete with a good-for-you pie crust. Both the pie crust and the filling are adaptations of recipes that I found online. The pie crust is naturally sweetened. I used mixed nuts instead of pecans for the pie filling because that's all I had in my kitchen, but feel free to use whatever nuts you like (except peanuts, that just doesn't work very well).

     Surprisingly, my husband enjoyed this nut pie. I never thought that he would like it. He took a bite and I swear he said "OH YEAH! This is gooooood! Yeah!" When I told him that the photo of the pie was disappointing and I was wondering if I should post the photo and recipe here, he said that hopefully the readers don't judge by the photo.

      This photo of the nut pie may not look very appetising. I blame the poor natural winter lighting for the less than satisfactory picture. But hey, look beyond the bad picture and give this pie a try. Don't knock it till you try it!

      I made this in a mini-springform pan that is 6" in diameter. It made a nut pie that is about an inch-thick. You can double the recipe for a bigger or thicker pie. You can even make this in an appropriately sized loaf tin. 

      The crust is an adaptation of a recipe from, which is a pretty amazing website. The pie filling is one that is posted on and I liked the fact that there's no corn syrup in it.

Natural Pie Crust
makes one 6" pie base

1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
4 small dates, pitted
2 TBSP dried cranberries
1 to 2 TBSP water

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line and grease the base of a springform pan.
2. Place all the ingredients, EXCEPT WATER, in a food processor or the dry mill of your blender.
3. Blend until everything is the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.
4. SLOWLY add a little water to the mixture to make a thick paste.
5. Spoon the paste out into the prepared pan and use a spatula or your fingers to press the paste evenly onto the bottom of the pan.
6. Bake in the preheated for 10 minutes, then remove pan from oven and leave to cool.

Mixed Nut Pie Filling
makes one 6" pie

1 egg
40g light margarine or butter, melted
(I used Flora Light)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 TBSP self-raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup nuts, broken 
(almonds, macadamia, walnuts, pecans etc)

1. Preheat oven to 190°C
2. Beat the egg till foamy, then add the melted margarine.
3. Lightly whisk in the brown sugar and the flour.
4. Lastly, add the vanilla extract and stir the nuts in.
5. Pour into springform pan and bake at 190°C for 10 minutes, then drop the heat down to 175°C and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and leave to cool before removing the pie form the pan.

* The pie should have risen and look puffy and brown. It will sink as it cools.
If you are doubling the recipe, add 10 minutes to the baking time.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bakewell Slice

    A few days ago, my darling husband suddenly said, "You know what I fancy right now? Mr Kipling's Bakewell Slices." My response to that was "Awwww, I don't know if we can get that here." 
Later that day, we happened to be in a neighbourhood that has an expat shop. We looked for the bakewell slices there, but to no avail. The shop had Mr Kipling Bakewell Tarts, but that wasn't what the dear man wanted. 
What the husband wanted
       I felt a heavy feeling on my shoulders. My husband doesn't usually crave for particular things. Yet here he was wanting the bakewell slices. I asked him if he would like me to make him some. After all, I bake. He actually said no to that because I told him that if I make bakewell slices, I won't put any icing on them. That is because they are not meant to have icing on them. Two days later I asked him "Are you sure you don't want me to make bakewell slices for you? I have all the ingredients on hand." His answer? "Yeah, why not?" My husband is not a very enthusiasiatic man.
       For the uninitiated, bakewell slices consist of a buttery shortcrust pastry base spread with jam, with a layer of frangipane over the jam. It is one of those British things that may be rather unheard of outside of the UK. It is sometimes made with a filling that is similar to a sponge cake, but I decided to go with the 'proper' version.
      Frangipane is a versatile pastry/filling made with butter, flour, sugar and ground almonds although some recipes omit the ground almonds and use almond extract instead. 
It has a delightfully mild flavour with a light but rich texture. Frangipane can be used to fill sweet pies and tarts and sometimes even savoury dishes.

        So I baked a batch of bakewell slices. I must say that it is not on my list of favourite cakes and bakes because I find it too buttery for my liking. I do like it in small doses. I am not a huge fan of anything that tastes very buttery. But that's just me. If you have never tried this, go on and give it a shot!

         This recipe makes an 8x8" tray of bakewell slices. Each slice is approximately 1" thick. Please note that the frangipane filling should be spread over the jam carefully because the jam will tend to get pushed to the sides of the pan, resulting in bubbled over edges. You can also bake this in a round tin.

Bakewell Slices
makes an 8x8" tray (12 slices)

For the shortcrust:
1 cup plain flour
1 TBSP caster sugar
90g butter, cold

150g jam (2/3 to 3/4 cup)
(any berry jam or plum jam)

90g butter, softened (6 TBSP)
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)

1/4 cup sliced or flaked almonds

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line and lightly grease an 8x8inch pan, leaving some extra length of baking paper on the sides for easy removal after baking.
2. Put the ingredients for the shortcrust pastry into a bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. 
Alternatively, use a food processor. 

3. Press the shortcrust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the pastry is very lightly browned and pulls away from the edge of the pan.
Leave to cool while preparing the filling (at least 10 minutes).
Unbaked                   -                        Baked
5. Beat the remaining sugar, butter and eggs until light and creamy.
6. Add in the flour and ground almonds and mix till combined.
*The batter will be a bit lumpy

7. Now spread the jam evenly on the shortcrust pastry base.

8. Pour or spoon the frangipane filling onto the jam. It is better to pour the filling onto several spots rather than in one pile in the middle of the pan.
9. Using a spatula, carefully spread the frangipane as evenly as possible. Some of the jam might get pushed to the sides of the pan. Try to cover all the jam with the frangipane.
10. Scatter the sliced or slivered almonds over the frangipane.
You can see a spot of jam on the bottom left of the picture
11. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
12. Place the pan on a cooling rack and leave till completely cool.
13. When cool, cut into slices.

This is great with a cup of coffee or strong tea!
This can be stored in the fridge for a 5 days and can also be wrapped in cling film then frozen. To thaw from frozen, put the slices in the fridge for at least 4 hours.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Indian Sugee cookies

      Today marks Deepavali in Singapore. Deepavali, or Diwali, is a Hindu celebration. You can Google it to find out the customs and traditions surrounding this day but in my memory, Deepavali is the biggest celebration of the year. My family celebrated Christmas on a small scale but Deepavali was the one day that we prepared for every year. Of course the festivities dwindled down as my brother and I got older, but it still brings back fond memories. We would 'spring-clean' the house, buy new Indian clothes, cookies and goodies leading up to Deepavali and visit relatives' houses on the day.
      There would always be food in the houses that we visited, lots and lots of food. There was also lots of biscuits. Some were traditional, some weren't. It was customary to leave an assortment of cookies on the coffee table for visiting guests to help themselves. We would also give some cookies to some of our neighbours to share the good spirit of the occasion.
      One cookie that I always loved is called Sugee Cookies. 'Sugee' (or 'sugi') is used to refer to semolina in North India. In South India, this is more commonly referred to as 'rava' or 'rawa'. Semolina is used in some recipes for this type of cookie but I opted for a recipe that uses only wheat flour. Sugee cookies are balls of buttery goodness that crumble and melt in your mouth. Some people make it too crispy, which results in an almost non-existent 'melty' mouthfeel. That just spoils the beauty of these cookies. They are meant to be like a pale, crumbly shortbread. They have characteristic cracks on the tops, which are caused by the addition of baking soda in the dough.

      I have missed Deepavali in Singapore for 2 years. Naturally, I missed Sugee Cookies. I tried looking for the essential ingredient here in The Netherlands last year but had no success. Through the year, I found several shops selling this ingredient so I told myself I would bake these cookies these year. And I did. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has tried these cookies that I baked has been wowed. 

      Anyway, what's this essential ingredient? Ghee, also known as clarified butter. This is sold in metal tins from Asian or Indian grocery stores. It is used widely in the preparation of a dizzying number of Indian dishes ranging from curries to desserts. Ghee does not smell very appealing in the tin, but releases a wonderful aroma and flavour when heated. It might look weird to you, but the flavour of it is very rich even in tiny amounts. The fact that I am saying this is not to be taken lightly because I am a person who uses as little fat as I can get away with when I'm cooking. It also has a higher smoking point than butter so it can be used at higher heat ranges.

     So, if you want to make these cookies you will have to hunt for Ghee. Without ghee, you might as well just bake a plain 'ol English shortbread cookie. This is an easy recipe with only a few ingredients so it's hard to go wrong. The golden rule of Sugee Cookies is that they have to be pale-coloured, not browned. If they are browned, they become crispy instead of crumbly. I have provided a scaled-down recipe here. However since there are no eggs used, it is easy to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe!

Sugee Cookies
makes approximately 50

135g ghee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour (all purpose)
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
85g powdered sugar (icing sugar)
1/3 tsp fine salt
food colouring (optional)

1. Scoop the ghee into a bowl

2. Melt the ghee on your stovetop or microwave. If using a microwave, check the ghee every 30 seconds to prevent splattering.

3. Leave the ghee to cool for a while then add the vanilla essence to the ghee.

4. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.

5. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, then pour the ghee in.

*You can use the remaining melted ghee in the bowl to grease your baking tray
6. Mix and knead to form a soft dough. The dough will be slightly crumbly.

7. Split the dough between two bowls so that you can work with a small amount of dough each time.

8. Place the bowls in the fridge to chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes. This will make it easier to shape the balls of cookies.

9. Preheat your oven to 170°C. Line and lightly grease a baking sheet.

10. Now take one bowl of dough out of the fridge and shape into small balls. Each ball should be no bigger than 2cm in diameter. Use the other bowl of dough when you have finished working with the first bowl.

*I have found that the best way to shape the balls is to pinch a small portion off the crumbly dough, place the portion on the palm of my left hand, then use my right hand to pinch the dough into one piece, and lastly, roll it between both palms to make a ball. Sounds tedious but it really isn't!

11. You can use the back of a toothpick to put little dots of food colouring on the middle of each cookie. Just dip the end of the toothpick in the food colouring and gently dot the colour onto the cookie. This is purely aesthetic, so it is completely optional.

12. Place the little balls, spaced apart, on your baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This depends on your oven. But the cookies are meant to look milky and pale, not brown.

13. Remove from the oven, leave to cool then store in airtight containers for up to 3 weeks.

      Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy! Now enjoy your addictive, melt-in-mouth cookies!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Italian Tortano with ham & cheese

   Italian food. Ahhhhh. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like Italian food (maybe except my dad, who doesn't eat cheese, mushrooms, ham etc). To me, the best thing about Italian food is that you can easily cook it at home because once you have the commonly-used herbs in your cupboard, you're pretty much set up for any dish. I go through jars of oregano, basil and mixed italian herbs more than anybody else I know.

     This tortano is the result of a recipe that I chanced upon. I thought that it looked so pretty. Even though all the ingredients required for the recipe are items that I always have on hand, I didn't try making the tortano until 2 weeks after chancing upon the recipe. This is partly because I have a slight aversion to baking breads. I am no stranger to bread-making and used to make bagels regularly. However, I never seem to have success with baking simple fluffy white loafs. I am also sceptical of certain dry yeasts because I have bought packets of yeast that seemed useless. I woke up one morning and decided that I would finally give this a try. After some searching, I found packets of yeast in a Dutch supermarket. Hooray!

      I looked at the amount of flour needed for the recipe and wondered if I should halve the recipe. Something told me that I shouldn't. So I didn't. And, boy, am I glad I didn't! I cannot imagine the tortano turning out as well as it did if I had halved the recipe. So people, DON'T HALVE THE RECIPE. If you are cooking for 2 people like I was, just freeze the unsliced leftovers.

      So a tortano is a filled and rolled bread. You can fill it with mozzarella, olives, capers, prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, ham etc. I guess you can fill it with most pizza topping-type ingredients. I opted for a simple ham and cheese filling.  This is a substantial loaf so I would suggest serving it with something light for a main meal or as a tapas for a party. I chose to serve my tortano with a simple tomato and basil soup. It takes some time to make this, as does most bread, but is not a whole lot of work.

Tortano with Ham & Cheese
makes enough for 4 to 6 people

7g instant yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP salt
250g bread flour
180g wholemeal flour
4 large slices of ham (approx. 100g)
50 to 75g grated cheese (choose a strong cheese)

1. Combine the water, oil, honey and yeast in a cup/bowl. Stir to combine. Leave to sit for a few minutes.
2. Combine the flours in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flours and pour the water/oil/honey/yeast mixture in. 
3. Stir with a sturdy spoon until most of the flour is wet, then use your hands to continue the mixing process.
4. Keep kneading the dough to thoroughly combine the wet and dry ingredients.
5. Lightly flour a work surface and continue to knead the dough until it becomes elastic.
*This will take about 10 minutes of kneading. You might have to add more flour to the dough. If necessary, do so 1 TBSp at a time. You want an elastic dough, not a dry dough so don't add too much flour unless your dough is too wet.
6. Oil a clean glass bowl with olive oil and shape the bread dough into a ball. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place. 

*I put my microwave on for 1 minute then turn it off and quickly put the bowl in the warm microwave.
7. In about 45 minutes, the dough should have risen to double its size. You can now prepare your filling ingredients.
8. Put the dough ball on a well-floured surface and pull/stretch the dough to form a 1cm-thick rectangle, with the long edge (length) facing you. Resist the temptation to use a rolling pin or to knead the dough because that will knock too much air out of it.
9. Making sure to leave a border around the edges, arrange the ham slices on the dough and sprinkle the cheese.

10. Starting from the long edge closest to you, roll the dough Swiss-roll style as tightly as you can, pinching the dough to length when you have finished rolling.
11. Now bend the roll into a wreath, leaving a fist-sized hole in the middle and pinch the ends to seal them together.
12. Leave to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 250°C.

13. After the dough has risen for 30 minutes, knock the oven temperature down to 200°C and put the bread in the oven.
14. Bake it for 30 to 35 minutes, then remove from the oven to cool on a rack.
15. Slice as thick or thin as you want, then serve!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Healthy Aargau Carrot Cake

      I fancied carrot cake one afternoon. Actually, that's a lie. I was thinking of carrot cake all morning and fantasized about sinking my teeth into a slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I remembered that some time ago in Singapore, I baked a carrot cake that used ground almonds as a base for the recipe. I remembered that the name of that type of carrot cake starts with an 'A'. 
      So I looked it up and I found it: Aargau carrot cake. Aargau is the name of a canton in Switzerland that is famed for its carrot cake. There are a few recipes out there that claim to be authentic but all are very different from each other. The most popular recipe seems to be one which contains no added fat besides the fat that is in the almonds and the eggs.

     Being a person who can hardly leave a recipe alone without making alterations to it, I made an already healthy cake a little healthier by reducing the sugar content very slightly, increasing the amount of carrots and using whole wheat flour. I also added some spices to the cake for some warmth. It turned out with a dense crumb and the whole wheat flour gave it a slightly crunchy top. I spread some light cream cheese frosting on it and it was so good!

     Without further ado, here is the recipe along with the recipe for light cream cheese frosting.

Healthy Aargau Carrot Cake
makes one 8-inch cake

3 eggs
1½ cup grated carrots
1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon/orange rind
1½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line an 8-inch cake tin with baking paper.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices in a small bowl

3. Put the sugars into a medium sized bowl.
4. Separate the eggs, putting the egg yolks in the same bowl as the sugar and the egg whites in a separate bowl.
5. Beat the egg yolks into the sugar thoroughly, for about 2 minutes.
6. Add the lemon juice, rind, ground almonds and flour mixture into the egg yolk/sugar mixture and mix well.

7. Beat the egg whites until frothy. This will take at least 3 minutes if done by hand.

8. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter until well combined.

9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes

* The top of the cake may brown too quickly, so after the cake has been in the oven for 10 minutes, check on it and cover it with foil then continue baking. Leave to cool completely.

Light cream cheese frosting
makes enough to cover cake

90g light cream cheese
2 TBSP orange juice
2 TBSP honey
2 TBSP light margarine (approx 15g) 
I used Flora Light

1. Whip all the ingredients together with a whisk or electric mixer
2. Add more honey if desired
3. Spread on cooled cake

     Let me know your results if you try this recipe! I would love to hear from you.