Tag Archives: baking

Goji Berry Granola Bars

15 May


IMG_7693The other day while I was wandering around the charming Orticola Flower Market in Milan I picked up a bag of Goji berries at an organic fruit tree stand.  I think we’ve all heard, over and over again over the past years, how healthy and beneficial these berries are for our health.  To tell you the truth I was actually avoiding them due to all the hype (and the fact that I read you’d have to eat a truck full to reap any sort of special health benefits from them).

In any case, I was hungry and the berries were there at the right time and place.  I have to admit that when I tried them I was pretty disappointed with the fact that they are….tasteless.  Seriously, I think cardboard has more flavour than those goji berries.  I was expecting something sweeter and with a rich flavour (especially since the berries have such a beautiful dark brick orange-y red colour).

So yesterday when I was looking for something to bake for the kids I decided to try and use up some of the berries (in order to make them a bit more edible than straight out of the bag).

Since they were quite dry I decided to soak them in a little bowl of apple juice for about 10 minutes before using them.  And the berries actually came to life.  They became soft and plump and the apple juice brought out a distinctive  flavour that I didn’t taste before.  It’s possible I ruined all the health properties of the berries by soaking them but it was worth it.

IMG_7683Read on for the recipe… Continue reading

Fudgy Chocolate Cake with Dates

4 Mar

This past Christmas a good friend of ours brought us some dates back from his recent trip to Algeria.  I’m going to be honest here and tell you that I thanked him and then proceeded to hide them away at the back of my baking cupboard.  I’ve had a thing against dates that goes back to childhood.  My mother and grandmother would always sneak them into various sweets and desserts or try and get me to eat them straight-up.  It was torture.  Just the look of those dark brown sticky LARGE looking raisins really made my stomach turn.

But I’m happy to announce that at 39 years old I’ve finally matured and realised that dates aren’t all that bad actually.  I’m still not interested in eating them straight-up but can admit that added to certain dishes they can really enhance the taste and texture (including a mind-blowing Lamb and Date Tagine we ate in Morocco).

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So a few weeks ago I dug in the back of my baking cupboard and got out the box of Algerian dates.  I decided I wanted to try to make a fudge chocolate cake and thought the dates could be a perfect way to intensify the flavour (and make it a little bit healthier?).  And the result was delicious.  And keeping with family tradition I did not tell my kids the secret ingredient in the chocolate cake they were so happily enjoying.

This recipe seems quite fussy with all of the different steps and bowls that have to be used but it really is quick to make and so worth it.  The addition of cinnamon with the chocolate and dates makes it a really deep and rich cake.  I’ve proclaimed my love of the chocolate and cinnamon combination here in the past when I made these Chocolate and Fresh Cherry Cakes with Cinnamon.

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San Valentino

12 Feb

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and the internets are abuzz with everything from heart shaped foods, to quirky Valentine’s cards to the ULTIMATE gifts to make your loved ones swoon.  Personally I like to keep the whole holiday pretty low-key and relaxed (easy here in Italy where it’s not so celebrated).  I usually bake something sweet (and yes, heart shaped) and maybe make a little card or handmade gift to leave on the breakfast table for when the family wakes up.  Here are a few of my favourite V-day recipes, diy projects, Valentine’s inspiration and cards that will make you giggle.

For over a month my lovely friend Giova has been posting a handmade heart a day on her blog One Bunting Away.  She is a talented embroiderer and paper artist and I’ve really loved reading each and every heart post.  Read her passionate Valentine’s Day manifesto here.

These seemingly rude Valentine’s cards from Etsy Shop Sunny and Susan really make me laugh. 

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I’m going to try and make these Red Velvet Cupcakes in a Jar (because we all know that desserts in jars taste so much better!).  And as I do every year I’ll also whip up a batch of my grandmother’s rich and buttery Brown Sugar Shortbreads.  And I’m thinking this heart shaped bacon and heart shaped egg in the hole would be perfect for a Valentine’s breakfast or brunch (although I think I’ll pass on these Weiner and Cheese hearts).

This round-up of Nerds in Love Valentine’s cards by Mighty Girl had me in stitches.

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Last year my daughters and I sewed up some of these little puffy heart necklaces for their friends.  Easy to make and really cute to see a little gaggle of girls wearing them.  These necklaces were featured on some really great Valentine’s round-ups herehere and here.

Scones with Dried Cranberry, Apricot and Tonka Bean

4 Sep

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This past summer a friend of mine visited the small Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and brought me back a tiny little plastic bag containing Tonka Beans.   Until that moment I had never in my life heard about Tonka Beans and was immediately curious about what they were all about.  These little dark brown shrivelled beans have a heady sweet vanilla aroma with a hint of spiciness as well.  They’re meant to be grated and used like nutmeg and are quite often added to dishes such as custards, ice creams and cakes (as well as some savoury dishes).  And from what I’ve read they boast having impressive herbal and even mythical properties.  My kind of ingredient.  I’m officially a fan.

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock because the Tonka Bean has almost become a celebrity in the culinary world these past years.  Read here for a fascinating article of the bean and the fact it’s technically illegal in the States (thanks to the high amount of coumarin found in the beans).  And drool over all sorts of delicious Tonka Bean recipes on Pinterest here.

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(photo source)

Being the curious baker that I am I was busy grating these little beans in my kitchen within hours of receiving them.  I decided to make some simple scones with dried cranberry and apricot.  I thought Tonka paired with the dried fruit would help make it possible to really taste the beans without being overshadowed by other big flavours.  And in the end they were perfect.  There is definitely a very familiar vanilla flavour that the beans give the scones but with a deeper more delicate flavour underneath that I haven’t managed to pinpoint yet.

I love that there are still wonderful new ingredients out there waiting to be discovered.  And I love that I have friends who bring me back these ingredients from their jaunts around the world.

Read on for recipe:

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Japanese Sponge Cake (Castella Cake)

7 Aug

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Here I am getting ready for a three week vacation to Canada. The bags still aren’t fully packed and the house not ready to be left for almost a month. And I’m feeling really relaxed. Did I mention we leave in an hour? I’m usually one of those people that has everything ironed and packed a week beforehand, the house spotless and in order and the kids cleaned and clothed and ready for the airplane hours before we leave the house. Did I mention the kids are still in their pajamas splayed out on the carpet reading comics as I type this? I blame it on the heat.IMG_0783

So the other day, instead of ironing clothes for five people for three week’s vacation, I decided to make a cake that I’ve been dreaming about since we were in Japan last year. It’s a typical sponge type cake that you find all over Japan and it has this soft and moist spongy consistency that is light and fluffy at the same time. Confusing I know. It’s thought that the cake actually originated in Portugal and was brought over to Japan in the 16th century (to the southern island of Kyushu).

Surprisingly enough there is no butter or oil in this cake. Which means it’s absolutely sin-free and healthy of course. It has a lovely pale yellow colour (thanks to the 6 egg yolks) and is so pretty when served on a plate with a side of peaches (which I saute in butter and brown sugar).

Read on for recipe…

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Italian Crostata

4 Jul

IMG_9551First of all I have to admit something.  For my first decade of living in Italy I didn’t even attempt to try a piece of crostata.  To me it looked dry and tasteless.  And it was full of jam.  I used to despise any sort of dessert that involved jam.  Then one day I found myself starving at a kid’s birthday party  and the only thing being served was crostata.  So I took a piece to relieve my hunger induced headache and I couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  At first I thought it was probably due to the fact I hadn’t eaten all day and chopped liver would have tasted divine.  But in the end I realised that crostata is delicious.  Really delicious.

This past week I spent the morning with one of my closest Italian friends and she kindly taught me how to make the basic Italian Crostata.  It’s surprisingly easy, only has 5 ingredients and it takes minutes to prepare.  That’s my kind of recipe.  There are the traditional jam filled crostata as well as the blind baked crostata pie shells which are filled with anything from pastry cream to Nutella to fresh fruits after being baked.  The options are endless.

IMG_9553Read on for recipe. Continue reading

Chocolate Cherry Cakes with Cinnamon

13 Jun
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Today I have a really fantastic and surprisingly quick and simple cake recipe.  Seeing as it’s full on cherry season over here I thought I’d bake something cherry inspired.
So the other day I donned my latex gloves and got to work pitting the cherries (I have a pretty serious allergy to cherries as you can read about here).  I had even considered wearing goggles but I was expecting the delivery man and just couldn’t imagine what he’d think about the already weird Canadian women once he saw me in a get-up like that.  And I’m happy to report that I got through the entire recipe with zero contact with the cherries and I didn’t end up looking like a monster as I did last year when I attempted the Cherry Lavender Jam.  My kids still have nightmares about that.
These deep chocolate cakes paired with the tartness of the cherries and the delicate spiciness of the cinnamon ended up being a really delicious combination.  I think these would be fantastic with raspberries, blackberries or even chopped peaches.  I made them in individual miniature pans but it would be just as nice baked in a large tart pan as well.

Read on for recipe… Continue reading
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