A day of food heaven in Romania

Our hosts here in Romania are showing us the most incredible hopsitality, and really spoiling us when it comes to food – something which I’m sure my waistline is going to start to reflect very soon!

Yesterday was basically an amazing food day – our host Emilian cooked us a delicious herby tomato and spinach omelette for breakfast and we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch by our guide Jonny’s parents’ catering business – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a buffet look so pretty…

Lunch dessert was an apple and cinnamon cake, pictured above, which I’ve asked Jonny to track down the recipe for – I will definitely try to recreate it at home if I can as it was really, really good.

After mentioning we liked ice cream a couple of days ago, in the afternoon we were surprised with basically an ice cream buffet with I think 6 or 7 different flavours – I tried a little wild fruits, rum and raisin and pecan praline, all of which were good but I think the wild fruits was probably the best.

For dinner, I chose a mushroom omelette (Omeleta Ciuperci) partly because I wanted something light and partly because I just love them. It was a good choice, as for dessert the Rotary president here, Uri, suggested we try Papanasi, which he explained to me as ‘the food that policemen eat in cars – I love how certain images work in every culture!

These were basically like doughnuts on steroids, absolutely huge with sour cream and jam – I chose blackcurrant and it really was delicious, although I could only manage one. Anyone who can polish off two gets my ultimate respect!

Today has also been a good food day, after visiting our host’s favourite patisserie and sampling the Romanian version of cheese pasties, apple strudel and a fantastic pecan cake – pictures to come soon!

Apple, maple and pecan bars

When I had to make cakes for a work meeting the other week, I knew straight away that coffee and caramelised white chocolate cupcakes would be on the menu, but choosing a second bake proved a little trickier.

The pony thought I should stick with something simple (read: chocolate) and a straw poll in the office put cheesecake in with a shout, but in the end I was swayed by the incredible looking maple, pear and pecan treacle tarts posted by the Little Loaf, and ended up adapting that recipe to make these bars.

I turned it into a traybake as I was a bit short on time and didn’t want to faff around lining individual tart tins,  slightly altered the ratio of maple to golden syrup to keep the cost down, and swapped pear for apple, just because.

These bars actually made me quite nervous – I thought they were great but I really didn’t know how well they would go down with everyone else.

Luckily I needn’t have worried as they were a winner – the lunchers loved them and my boss even said they would be in his top 3 pick of everything I’ve ever baked, which is a pretty good endorsement!

I served them at room temperature, which was good as it was actually a rare sunny day, but I can only imagine how amazing they would be warm with a scoop of ice cream on a chilly autumn or winter evening… Definitely worth revisiting the recipe to try!

Apple, maple and pecan bars (adapted from The Little Loaf)

For the pastry:

  • 65g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 30g icing sugar
  • 1 medium egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 35g butter
  • 150g maple syrup
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 150g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 granny smith apple (115g) grated
  • 50g pecan nuts, roughly chopped

To make the pastry, beat the butter and sugar until well mixed, add the egg yolk and beat again, then finally add the flour and mix until just combined. Tip the mixture into a greased and lined 8×8″ square tin and press down with your fingertips – this is loads easier than rolling it out and a method I will definitely use more in the future!

Prick the base with a fork and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes while the oven pre-heats to 180 degrees, then bake for around 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Leave to cool while you make the filling.

Heat the butter, maple syrup and golden syrup until melted (you don’t need to bring it to the boil, just get everything nice and liquidy). Stir in the breadcrumbs, grated apple and chopped pecans, then spread in an even layer on top of the base.

Return to the oven and bake at 180 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until set and just crisping up around the edges. Leave to cool before slicing into bars.

Caramel apple and almond tart

Caramel apple and almond tart

As soon as I saw this tart posted over on Apple & Spice, I knew it had to be baked.

How could apples, caramel and frangipane ever be a bad combination?!

As I suspected, the three made very happy companions in their sweet pastry case; so much so that the pony devoured the tart at record speed and I barely got a look in.

The tiny sliver of this I did manage to steal wasn’t anywhere near enough,  and I will definitely have to make it again in the near future so I can have a proper slice.

I changed Katie’s pasty recipe to my usual sweet shortcrust as I didn’t need it to be gluten free, but if you are on a GF diet I would definitely give hers a go. I also left out the peanut brittle, just because I didn’t have any, but to be honest I think the tart is special enough without.

Served warm it’s definitely more of a winter dessert, but I think it would also work well cold as we finally move into spring – either way it’s a winner!

Caramel apple and almond tart (adapted from Apple & Spice)

For the pastry:

  • 125g plain flour
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 65g butter

For the filling:

  • 150g tinned caramel (about half a tin of Carnation)
  • 3 granny smith apples
  • 55g butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 55g ground almonds
  • 10g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar

To make the pastry, rub together the butter and flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar. Add cold water a teaspoonful at a time, cutting through the mixture with a knife, adding more water until it starts to clump together. Use your hands to squash the dough into a ball, then chill in the fridge for half an hour. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and use to line a fluted flan dish – I think mine is about 10″ which makes quite a shallow tart.

Chill the pastry for another half hour, then blind bake at 180 degrees for 10 minutes, then remove the baking beans and paper and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then spread the caramel in an even layer all over the bottom.

For the filling, beat together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and almond extract. Fold in the almonds and flour, then spread this on top of the caramel. Peel, core and slice the apples, then arrange in a fanned out pattern on top of the tart. Katie’s top tip is to keep the apples in a bowl of iced water with a drop of lemon juice in to stop them going brown while you’re chopping the rest – it works well!

Sprinkle the tablespoon of caster sugar over the top of the tart, then bake at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes – check it’s done by poking a knife into one of the apple slices, if it’s cooked it will slide through with no resistance. Serve warm or cold, up to you!

Apple, marzipan and chocolate rolls

Time has really gotten away with me this month, and of all the baking challenges I had hoped to take part in, Random Recipes, hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen, is the only one I’ve actually gotten around to baking for – I’m hoping April will be a bit less hectic, but I have a rather strong suspicion it will be just the same!

randomrecipes2

The theme for this month’s RR is one of my favourites – cuttings, memories and clippings. I rarely delve into my cuttings so it’s always good to get a bit of a nudge, so I dutifully handed over a stack to the pony and asked him to choose.

I’m never entirely certain how random his selections are, but the spiced apple rolls he picked, from an old Waitrose Seasons magazine, certainly appealed to me to bake and to him to eat.

I did alter the recipe a little, swapping raisins for chocolate and omitting the spice, but I think that’s ok because in the RR rules it does state that you can alter the recipe for dietary requirements, and as far as the pony is concerned keeping his chocolate intake up is a necessity rather than just a desire…

The dough seemed a little on the dry side when I was kneading it, but it rose well, made it easy to roll, and baked up lovely and fluffy, so it may well be a recipe I end up going back to in the future. It also seemed like too much apple when I was trying to roll them, but they held together once baked and all the apple juice that came out in the cooking helped to keep the rolls soft and moist.

The flavour combination worked really well – I’m not the biggest fan of apples and chocolate together but in this, with the marzipan, it all came together, and the pony said they would be perfect for his breakfasts this week, so all in all a success!

Thanks Dom for encouraging me to bake from my cuttings selection, and apologies to all the other challenge hosts who I haven’t been able to bake for this month – I will try harder next month, I promise!

Apple, marzipan and chocolate rolls (adapted from a Waitrose Seasons magazine recipe)

  • 350g strong plain flour
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 7g fast action dried yeast
  • 1 medium egg
  • 100g butter
  • 75ml (ish) warm water
  • 2 apples (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 200g marzipan, chopped
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped
  • icing sugar to dust

Mix together the flour, sugar and yeast in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre and add the egg. Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring jug, then add enough water to bring the total volume of liquid up to 175ml. Pour this into the well with the egg, then stir it all together using a metal spoon until the mixture forms a rough dough. Turn it out onto your work surface, and knead for a good 10 minutes, then place back in the bowl, cover, and leave to rise for about an hour and a half, or until doubled in size.

Once risen, knock back the dough and roll out into a rectangle roughly 50cm long, 15cm tall. Peel,core, and dice the apples, then scatter over the dough with the chopped chocolate and marzipan, making sure they’re all spread out evenly, right the way down the length of the dough but leaving a 1cm border along the top and bottom (long edges) of the dough.

Roll up the dough from one of the long edges, into a long sausage shape, then cut into 9 equal pieces. Place the rolls in an 8×8″ square tin (greased if it’s metal, mine was silicon so I didn’t bother) and leave to rise for another 30 minutes – 1 hour, until risen again. Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a serving plate, dust with icing sugar, and serve warm.

Apple pie

Apple Pie

Apple pie has been on my to-bake list for forever, and I really don’t know why I’ve taken so long to get around to making it – I love apples, love pie, it’s easy to make, doesn’t need any fancy ingredients and it’s perfect for the autumn/winter. I must have been mad for not making one sooner!

I did fancify this one a little bit by trying out a cream cheese pastry and adding a caramel sauce, but as baking goes it’s still very much at the simple end of the scale. If you can chop apples and press the ‘on’ button of a food processor you’re basically good to go!

I didn’t fall in love with the cream cheese pastry, apart from cutting calories I can’t really see any major benefit to it, but overall I loved the pie and would definitely make it again. It’s such a traditional favourite I don’t think there are many people who would turn down a slice!

Apple pie

For the pastry

  • 75g butter
  • 75g light cream cheese
  • 300g plain flour
  • 25g icing sugar

For the filling

  • 6 large granny smith apples
  • 3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche

To make the pastry, add the flour and sugar to a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and cream cheese and blitz until it goes past being breadcrumb-like and starts to come together into a dough. With the food processor running, slowly pour alittle cold water down the chute, until the dough forms a ball that leaves the sides of the blender. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces, one roughly twice the size of the other. Roll out the larger piece of dough and use to line a 10″ fluted flan tin, or smaller high-sided  pie tin if you prefer. Roll out the smaller piece and use a star-shaped biscuit cutter to cut as many stars as you can, re-rolling and cutting until all the dough has been used up.

For the filling, peel and core the apples, chop into quarters, lengthways, then cut into fairly thin slices. Toss in a bowl with the cinnamon, nutmeg and 1tbsp of the sugar, then spread evenly on top of the pie crust. To make the caramel, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the rest of the sugar, stirring until it starts to bubble and thicken. Whisk in the creme fraiche, then pour over the apples.

Finish the pie placing the pastry stars all over top, making sure they slightly overlap each other. Brush with egg wash or milk, then bake at 180 degrees for about an hour, or until the apples are tender and cooked through. You can cover the pie with foil if the pastry starts to brown too much. Cut into wedges and serve!

Apfelstrudel and baking with Truvia

I have the lovely Dom at Belleau Kitchen to thank for this strudel – it was a huge hit with the pony and I probably wouldn’t have thought about making it if it hadn’t been for Random Recipes – so thanks!

This month’s RR challenge was to dig around at the back of your cupboards to pull out a forgotten ingredient, then randomly select a cookbook and find a recipe that could use it.

When it comes to the kitchen, I’m generally pretty organised and know where everything is, so I put the pony in charge of selecting my ingredient, which ended up being a tin of ready-made custard – very gourmet!

The randomly selected cookbook was Two Greedy Italians, by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, who funnily enough don’t use ready-made custard in any of their recipes. Luckily I did find a recipe that would be perfect accompanied by custard, and so I give you their Tyrolean Apfelstrudel.

As long as you don’t go crazy and try to make your own filo pastry, this recipe is super simple but gives great results.

I swapped the sugar in the recipe with Truvia, a calorie-free sweetener which I was very kindly sent a tub of to sample. I think it’s perfect in a recipe like this, where the sugar is literally just for sweetness, rather than altering the structure of the dish, and no one would ever tell the difference.

I’ve also tried Truvia in a crunchy granola bar recipe, which will be appearing here soon and in which it worked fine, but I think the real test will be using it in a sponge cake – once I’ve tried it out I’ll let you know how it goes!

Apfelstrudel (adapted from Two Greedy Italians)

  • 4 sheets filo pastry (estimate this to be about 75g, but depends which brand you use)
  • 4 large cooking apples, peeled cored and chopped (weight of chopped apples 560g)
  • 50g butter
  • 100ml water
  • 30g Truvia (or 100g sugar)
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • handful ground oats
  • 3 tbsp sultanas
  • 50g butter melted, to brush the pastry

Add the chopped apples to a large saucepan with the butter, water and sweetener and cook over a medium heat until the apples have softened, but not completely lost their shape. Remove from the heat, then stir in the sultanas, cinnamon and ground oats – add just enough to absorb the liquid and make the mixture come together.

Lay one of the sheets of filo out on a baking tray and brush all over with the melted butter. Place another sheet on top, and repeat with all four sheets. Spoon the apple mixture into a line lengthways down the centre of the pastry, leaving a couple inches at each end. Fold in the short ends first, then roll up from the long side. Brush the top with butter, then bake at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

Serve hot with your ready made custard, cream or ice cream!

Apple and blackberry crumble pie

I am fully in Autumn/Winter baking mode now, and as far as I’m concerned nothing signifies the end of summer and start of autumn more than blackberries.

This pie is adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for the Guardian, which was about pairing the last of the summer’s produce with the start of the autumn’s, and used raspberries with the apples. He must be living in some strange micro-climate as raspberries were long gone around here when it was published!

Luckily the blackberries were still ripe for picking, and are a classic partner for apple. I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, but I found Hugh’s quantities for both the pastry and the crumble were far too much, you could probably make 3/4 of the pastry and 2/3 of the crumble and still have some to spare.

Although I made this mainly for the pony to have for breakfast, I think it’s a perfect dessert for chilly evenings, served hot with a big dollop of custard. Which is probably why winter makes me fat…

Apple and blackberry crumble pie (adapted from The Guardian)

For the pastry:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 35g icing sugar
  • 125g butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 6 medium apples (about 750g), peeled and cored
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 225g raspberries

For the crumble:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 50g rolled oats

To make the pastry, stir together the flour and icing sugar the rub in the butter with your fingertips, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, cutting through the mixture with a butter knife, then add a little cold water, a tiny bit at a time, until the mixture starts to come together and can be pressed into a dough. Wrap the ball of dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out and use to line a 10″ flan tin. Bake blind for 10 minutes at 180 degrees, then remove baking beans and paper and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

For the filling, quarter and slice the apples, then heat in a heavy based saucepan for about 5 minutes, or until starting to soften. Hugh FW uses butter for this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Add the brown sugar and leave on the heat just until the apples are starting to caramelise, then transfer into the baked pie case. Scatter the blackberries on top.

For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour then stir in the sugar and oats. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the fruit, clumping some of it together a bit, then return the pie to the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and the fruit juices are bubbling. Remove from the tin and serve while warm.

Caramel apple cheesecake

Cheesecake is basically my favourite dessert, and also one of my favourite things to bake.

Over the years I’ve been making this recipe, I’ve adapted and tweaked it to what I think is cheesecake perfection – although of course that depends on your personal cheesecake preference!

I know most people prefer a biscuit base, but I like a sponge base and that’s what I’ve used here. It’s an easy recipe, but quite time consuming – it’s best done over 2 days if you have the time.

The basic cheesecake will suit any number of toppings, and is equally delicious plain, but as I had a large bag of apples waiting to be used, I went for caramel apple.

It’s insanely calorific, and a bit pricey to make, but well worth it for a special occasion, or just if you need some indulgence!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake:

For the sponge base:

  • 65g butter
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 4tbsp cornflour
  • 1 egg
  • 65g self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder

Line a 9″ springform tin with baking paper, and grease the paper and sides of the tin. Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy, then beat in the egg and fold in the flour and baking powder until combined. Spread into the tin and bake at 180 for about 20 minutes, until golden and springy.

For the cheesecake:

  • 900g full-fat cream cheese
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 375ml double cream

Beat the cream cheese to soften, then add in the sugar and cornflour and beat until well combined. Add in the eggs one at a time, then add the lemon zest, juice and vanilla extract. Finally, fold in the cream, until it’s mixed in well. It should be a fairly liquid consistency.

Remove the sponge from the tin when cooled, grease the sides of the tin and put the sponge back (with the paper still on the bottom). Pour the cheesecake mixture on top, and bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. When you are pre-heating the oven, leave a baking tray at the bottom to heat up, then when you put the cheesecake in pour a couple of centimetres of hot water into the tray, to make the oven nice and steamy.

After the first 15 minutes of baking, turn the heat down to 110 degrees, and bake for a further hour and a half. When the time is up, the cheesecake should be set but still have a bit of a wobble in the centre. Turn the heat off, but leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool for at least 3 hours, when it can be transferred to the fridge to chill overnight.

For the caramel apples:

  • 3-4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into wedges
  • 1tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown or muscovado sugar

Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted, then add in the sugars. Stir until dissolved and bubbling, then add in the apples. When the apples are starting to soften, remove from the saucepan and set aside. Keep cooking the sugar and butter mix until it becomes a thick syrup, then stir into the apples.

To assemble the cheesecake, run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake and remove the side of the tin. Cover a plate with clingfilm, then turn the cheesecake upside down on to it. Take the paper of the bottom of the sponge, then flip back onto a cake board or whatever you want to serve it on. When the apples are cooled, spoon on top of the cheesecake and serve!

Apple and blackberry frangipane tart

This is my entry for Kate’s Autumnal Baking Challenge – an amazing idea as I think autumn may be my favourite season for baking!

I’ve made quite a few things recently that probably could have been entered for the challenge, but I wanted to make something especially with autumn in mind, and I’m glad I did as this was delicious!

I adapted a recipe from Delicious magazine for an apple frangipane tart, used Mary Berry’s sweet pastry recipe, and added in blackberries for extra autumnalness (yes, that is a word).

The blackberries were all picked within 3 minutes of my house and the apples came from my bosses tree, which in my mind makes this extra tasty!

Can’t wait to see the round up of everyone else’s Autumnal Baking!

Apple and blackberry frangipane tart:

For the pastry:

  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 175g plain flour
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1tbsp water

Chop the butter into small chunks and blend in a food processor with the flour and sugar until it has a breadcrumb texture. Add in the egg yolk and water and blend again, until it just comes together as a ball. Chill for about half an hour, then roll out to line a 10″ flan tin, and chill again for 10 minutes. Blind bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees, then return to the oven for a couple more minutes until golden.

For the filling:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 3-4 small apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 100g(ish) blackberries

While the pastry is baking, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then fold in the ground almonds and flour. Once the pastry case is done, pour the almond mixture in and spread level. Arrange the fruit in a pretty pattern (you probably don’t need to spend quite as long doing this as I did), then return to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Heat 2tbsp apricot jam, then brush this over the tart and return to the oven for a final 10 minutes of baking. This amount of baking will make the top of the crust go quite brown, but the filling should be golden and shiny. Serve warm or cold.

National Cupcake Week – apple and cinnamon cupcakes

I’m not quite sure how it gets decided that there will be a National Cupcake Week, but not for one minute does that stop me jumping on the bandwagon and getting my metaphorical baking hat on.

It was pretty easy to decide what type of cupcakes to make, after I was gifted with a lovely bag of apples fresh from my bosses garden…

I found this recipe on What The Fruitcake?! and decided to go with the basic sponge, but skip the caramel filling and swap the cream cheese icing for a brown sugar cinnamon buttercream. As I had lots of apples I also make caramelised apple slices to go on top, which give them a nice bit of colour!

I warn you, these cupcakes smell AMAZING when they are baking and it took a lot of willpower to stop myself devouring them the minute they were baked.

I took these into work and also to visit some family, and everyone seemed to like them. I maybe went a bit over the top with the cinnamon dusting, but I think it’s a good balance to the sweetness!

Apple cupcakes with cinnamon brown sugar buttercream:

For the sponge (recipe from What The Fruitcake?!)

  • 1 cup of peeled, cored and finely diced apples (this worked out at 2 small apples for me)
  • 45g butter
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup apple sauce
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
Beat together the butter and both sugars until creamy and smooth. Beat in the egg, then half the apple sauce. Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and nutmeg and sift half into the batter. Mix well, then add the rest of the apple sauce. Beat until combined, the fold in the remaining flour mix and chopped apples. Divide between 12 large cupcake or muffin cases and bake at 180 degrees for approximately 18 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
For the icing
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 2-3tsp cinnamon, plus extra to dust
Beat together the butter (softened) and brown sugar until well mixed. Sift in the icing sugar and beat for a further 5 minutes, until really light and delicious. Add in the cinnamon to taste, then spread on top of the cooled cupcakes. Dust with a bit more sieved cinnamon.
For the caramelised apples
  • 1 small apple, cored and cut into 12 slices
  • 10g butter
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted, then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Add in the apples and keep stirring until they caramelise, maybe 5 minutes. It seems like it’s going really slowly then all of a sudden they turn golden, so keep a close eye and keep stirring! Tip onto a plate to cool then use to top the cupcakes.