Poppy seed and nutmeg cake

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I have a weakness for any baked product that contains poppy seeds; probably because of the flavor and texture they add.

Poppy seeds are commonly used in baking in Central and Eastern Europe (strudel, cookies, breads or added to salad dressings). We are familiar with black poppy seeds, but there is also a white variety commonly used in India ( you can find them in Asian stores).

For this post I made a cake from Italy’s Alto Adige region. It is a rich, moist cake and combination of nuts and poppy seeds make it hard for me to stop with just one slice.

This cake is an example of the influence that Austrian cousine has had in this Northern part of Italy.

It is important to mention that before using poppy seeds in cakes they have to be crushed or ground, so they can release their flavor. I use a coffee grinder.

 

  • 180g butter, room temperature, plus extra for tin
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 5 eggs room temperature, separated
  • 140g hazelnut, ground
  • 140g poppy-seed
  • salt
  • icing sugar for decoration
  • flour for tin

 

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Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

Lightly butter then line the bottom of cake pan with baking paper. I used 18cm (7 in) tin with loose bottom. Then lightly coat entire inside surface with butter and sprinkle with flour.

In a coffee grinder grind the poppy seeds in batches until finely ground, but be careful not to turn it into paste.

Mix together ground poppy seeds and ground hazelnut.

Put the butter, 3/4 of measured sugar and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Beat together until pale and light.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and add them slowly to the butter mixture making sure they are incorporated after each addition.

Fold in poppy seeds and hazelnut mixture.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks. Add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff and glossy.

Fold small amount of egg whites into butter to loosen it then carefully fold the rest of egg whites.Pour the mixture into the tin.

Place the cake tin in the middle of the oven, and bake about  55 min. Take out of the oven and cool for 10 min. Take cake out of the tin and cool on a wire rack, then peel the baking paper.

Cake will deflate slightly when cooled. Invert the cake on the plate and sprinkle with some icing sugar for decoration.

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Potato and spinach gnocchi with mushroom sauce

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This is a simple and delicious dish from northern part of Italy, Alto Adighe, Sudtirol. It is easy to make.

The best is to use fresh ingredients, but if you are short of time, or if you don’t have patience to clean all those fresh spinach leafs, using frozen spinach is just fine.

Alto Adige , very mountainous , and full of forests has a soil that is good for growing mushrooms, particularly Porcini mushrooms, which are often used in recipes. If you can’t find them fresh, use dry ones, or substitute them for bottom mushrooms like I did in this recipe.

The rich taste in this dish comes from the sauce.

gnocchi

  • 350g potatoes (2 potatoes), peeled
  • 300g fresh spinach(coarse stems discarded), or 180g frozen
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 110g flour

sauce

  • 180g mushrooms
  • 30g tablespoon of butter
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 200ml double cream

Wash the spinach and drain well. Blanch for 30sec than refresh in cold water.

Drain and squeeze the water out and finely chop.

Cut the potatoes in half and place them in a saucepan. Cover them with cold water.

Bring water to boil, than lower the heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.

Drain the potatoes. Return them to pan and dry them on the low heat. Take them out and cool.

Press the potatoes through the riser into a big bowl.

Add the egg yolk and the spinach. Work with your hand until lightly incorporated; keep adding flour until the dough is slightly sticky.

Lightly flour a work surface. Divide dough in fourth.

Roll each part in a rope approximately 1.5cm / 1/2 in thick. Using a knife cut each piece into a 2.5cm /  1in size.

You can use a fork or a gnocchi board to get creative ridges.

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Bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Put the gnocchi in the water in batches. Cook until they rise to the surface about 5 min.

Drain them in a colander. Toss a little oil so they don’t stick.

To make a sauce, wipe the mushrooms with a wet cloth or wet kitchen paper. Chop them. Melt the butter over medium heat then add the mushrooms to it and cook until soft.

In a pot add double cream and chicken stock. Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer until sauce thickens.

Put the mushrooms into the sauce and serve over the gnocchi.

Wine soup with croutons

Alto Adige/Sudtirol is a beautiful part of Italy. Before WWI it belonged to Austria, so when you start exploring the area you may think you are in Austria not in Italy. The main language is German, except in government establishments. All signs are written in both languages.

Food also has a strong influence of Austrian, German, and central European cuisine; fantastic apple strudel, barley soup, rye bread, sauerkraut, ect.

I have to admit I am a big fan of that type of food. It may sound a bit heavy, but there is something about that simple, homey food especially in wintertime.

In my next couple of posts I will prepare some of the recipes from this region.

For this post I have chosen wine soup. This is a mountainous area, very rich in beautiful vineyards and great wine. For this recipe egg yolk is commonly used as a soup thickener, but I decided to use a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch is just another way to thicken the soup. When choosing the white wine try to choose a dry one of very good quality.

Wine soup

serves 4

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 500ml beef stock / 2 cups
  • 100ml vino (Pinot blank, or other good quality dry white vino) /  1/2 cup
  • 100ml single cream / 1/2 cup
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • water

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and on a low heat sweat the onion until very soft. Don’t allow the onion to brown.

Add the stock, vino and cream.

Bring it slowly to boil.

In a small bowl put the cornstarch and slowly add the cold water until you don’t get a thin paste.

Slowly, keep adding the cornstarch paste to the soup until soup thickens.

 

Croutons

 

  • 4 slices of white bread, 1cm (1/2 in) thick
  • 1 teaspoon of dry seasoning, like oregano, tarragon
  • 30g of batter

 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Cut the crust from the bread.

Mix the melted butter and herbs in a small bowl.

Brush the melted butter and herbs mixture on both sides of the bread.

Cook about 10 min. Turn over the bread slices. Cook for another 5 min.

Take the toasted slices of bread out of the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Cut the toasted bread into cubes.

Souffle omelette with quince jelly

Late autumn and winter is quince season; fresh quince is a hard fruit with a sour and astringent taste, so it can’t be eaten raw like an apple or a pear.

It is also a fruit that sets jelly and jams well because it has a high concentration of pectin. Quince can be roasted, baked or poached with sugar, becoming bright red in colour.

It is delicious with meats such as lamb and pork. In Persian cuisine it is used in casseroles or stuffed with meat.

One of my favorite quince products is Membrillo, commonly used in Spain and some Latin American countries. It is hard , dark red jelly which goes great with Manchego cheese.

For breakfast I will make a souffle omlet pared with some quince jelly, I bought from my favorute local shop.

 

Souffle omelette with quince jelly

serves 2

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10g butter
  • powder sugar (for decoration)
  • 2 tablespoons quince jelly
  • 2 tablespoons of walnuts, crushed

 

Preheat the oven to 180C /350F.

Separate the eggs.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.

Put the egg butter into pan and melt it over the yolk mixture, and than carefully fold in the rest of the whites.

Cook the omelet for 1-2 minutes or until light golden brown underneath.

Put the oven on the medium shelf for 5-6 minutes.

Carefully spread the jam and fold, then with a spatula transfer on a plate and sprinkle with a powder sugar.

Quince sauce

  • 280g quince / or one quince fruit
  • 55g sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of water

Peel and cut the quince into cubes.

Put th cubed quince in a pan together with sugar and water.

Bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 – 20 min or until tender.Sieve the quince and reserve. Return the liquid into the pot.

Bring the liquid to a boil for 1 minute, until it thickens, then pour over the reserved quince. Let it cool.

Put the fruit into a blender and blend until smooth.

Chestnut waffles

Chestnut flour is made from dry, finely ground chestnuts and it has a wonderful sweet flavor. You can use it in exchange of regular flour in a variety of baking recipes such as crepes, bread or pasta. You can find it in specialty stores.

Chestnuts are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, they contain no gluten so can be used when someone is sensitive to wheat.

Usually chestnut flour is added in a ratio of 30-50%; be aware that if you use a higher proportion the taste can be a little overpowering.

I like to make waffles on Saturday mornings, in the recipe below I have exchanged part of the regular flour for chestnut flour, that gives the waffles a mild sweet taste. I suggest you serve them with a delicious chestnut cream.

  • 150g white flour
  • 50g chestnut flour
  • 1 egg, room temperature, lightly whisked
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of butter, melted or tablespoon of sunflower oil
  • extra oil for brushing
  • 2-3 tablespoons of walnuts, crushed
  • 200g chestnut puree
  • 200ml double cream, or whipping cream
  • powder sugar for decoration

 

Heat the waffle iron and then grease with oil.

In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking powder and salt.

Add the tablespoon of brown sugar.

In a small bowl mix the milk, egg and melted butter.

Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and then pour in the liquid ingredients. Mix.

With the spatula spread the butter so that it almost reaches the edges of the waffle iron.

Cook until browned.

Brush the waffle iron with oil before you make a new batch.

In a small bowl mix the chestnut puree and 2 tablespoons of water to make it lighter.

In a bowl whisk the cream, and gently fold the chestnut puree.

Top the waffles with the cream and sprinkle a little bit of powder sugar over.

Chestnut truffles

Last week little stands with roasted chestnuts appeared on streets of Switzerland; it’s a symbol fall has arrived. Chestnuts are a great snack, they warm you up in a cold day and are very feeling. They are also delicious, it doesn’t matter if you prepare them sweet or savory.

This year I plan to roast them at home; it will be wonderful to have the smell of roasted chestnuts fill my home.

These rum-filled  truffles are not only delicious with a cup of coffee or tea, but they are also fun to make!

They are coated in cocoa powder, but you can also coat them with finely crushed walnuts or dust them with icing sugar.

makes about 15

  • 200g chestnut puree
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 140ml double cream
  • 120g chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • cocoa powder, for coating

Put the rum into chestnut puree. Mix. Add walnuts and mix well.

Roll mixture gently in your hands into small balls approximately 1.5cm / 1in. Put into refrigerator until making a chocolate cover.

Place the finely chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl.

Bring cream to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and slowly pour on the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Add vanilla extract.

Put a baking sheet or a paper under a small wire rack.

Using two forks dip each ball into the chocolate to coat ensuring it is evenly coated.

Put on a tray and allow the excess of chocolate to drip, or you can put them directly on a baking paper.

Let the chocolate set in a cool place. Refrigerate until firm.

Put the cocoa powder in a shallow bowl.

Roll the ball in the cocoa. Place in a small paper case. Store in a sealed container.

Pumpkin dessert

Walking in front of a small Swiss farm and seeing such a pretty display of pumpkins I couldn’t resist buying one and preparing something sweet with it.

In the Middle East there are many versions of candied pumpkin desserts, the one below is a delicious Turkish recipe and it is very easy to make. If you are a fan of pumpkins this can be a great substitute for pumpkin pie.

The pumpkin is slowly cooked in sugar syrup and you can increase the level of sweetness by thickening syrup for a sweeter version. Vanilla, walnuts, pecans, or cardamom are all great compliments to pumpkin.

The only labor involved in this recipe is to cut the pumpkin into squares. Many supermarkets sell packages with pre-cut squares.

4 servings

  • 500g pumpkin flesh cut into squares 1-2cm – 1/2in
  • 250g sugar  1 cup
  • 250g water  1cup
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Cut the pumpkin into squares.

Place the squares into a wide dish and sprinkle with sugar. Let it stand for 3-4 hours until the sugar dissolves or leave it overnight.

Put the pumpkin squares and dissolved sugar in a pot, then add water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender.

Take the squares out of the pot and cool at room temperature.

Put the remaining syrup on gentle boil for 10 minutes, or until thickens. Cool.

Sprinkle walnuts over pumpkin.

Serve dessert in small dishes with reduced syrup on the side.