Alive and eating…

I know, it’s kinda been a while since my last post – sorry! Things have been pretty hectic recently, and while I have still been baking a bit, time for blogging has been pretty much non-existent.

So, what have I been so busy with? Well among other things, I’ve been back in Romania!

First Dance

I was invited back for a wedding, and wow, what a wedding it was. Romanians clearly don’t do understated, and I think British brides and grooms could take a few tips from their traditions!

The evening reception had more than 300 guests, started at 9pm and continued until 5.30am. The amount of food served was staggering – along with canapes, starter, main and cake for dessert, there was a fruit buffet (below – doesn’t it look amazing!), a cookie buffet, a traditional Romanian buffet with hog roast and sarmale (filled cabbage rolls), and free flowing champagne, wine, whisky and a whole host of other drinks.

Fruit Buffet

The food is served throughout the night (main course was around 3am…) with LOTS of dancing and music the whole time. They have a tradition where the bride is ‘kidnapped’ and the groom has to pay a ransom – in this case a bottle of champagne, bottle of whisky, and a very romantic declaration of love.

There was also a very emotional ritual of removing the bride’s veil and tying her hair with a scarf, which I believe signifies leaving her family to start a new family with her husband – there were lots of tears all round!

Wedding Cake

The cake was then cut, and it was without a doubt the best wedding cake I’ve tasted – layers of chocolate sponge, chocolate mousse, cherries and cream, spiked with some sort of liquor and covered with fondant icing. I forgot to take a picture of the cut cake, but it was seriously delicious!

You’d think that would be enough food to last a week, but I managed to squeeze in one or two other treats…

Mini Macarons

At Paul’s I had mini macarons as a pre-wedding ‘light snack’ – too cute to resist!

At my friend’s hotel in the mountains I ate delicious apple pies, chocolate and almond cake and papanasi – oh how I miss you papanasi!

Mini patisserie

Back in Bucharest, I continued the mini patisserie theme with these – mini apricot and cherry tarts, and a traditional Romanian cake, armandine – chocolate sponge layers soaked in what I think was amaretto, sandwiched with chocolate mousse and coated in chocolate icing. All very, very tasty!

Ice Cream Fondue

I also experienced my first ever ice cream fondue – I’m not sure how this works, but it does, and it’s good. Next time I am in London I’m definitely going to have to visit their parlour in Leicester Square to have it again!

So while I may not have been baking and blogging too much, clearly I have been eating – a bit too much you could say…

I do have a few recipes lined up to post, and a fab cookbook to review, so normal service will hopefully resume shortly!

Although, I do have another wedding this weekend, and a mini-holiday in Wales the weekend after, so bear with me if it takes a little while…

Cherry cheesecake

cherry cheesecake

If there’s one fruit I’ve really gone crazy for this year, it’s cherries.

They’ve never really been my favourite, and I one point I wouldn’t touch them, but this year I just can’t get enough. It may well have something to do with the fact that when I was in Romania cherry trees were in abundance, and the fruits they produced were the sweetest, juiciest cherries I have ever tasted.

DSCF3792

My host in my first week in Romania, Christina, gave me a jar of her homemade cherry jam to bring home with me. I somehow managed to look after it for 3 more weeks of travelling around, and decided that I would save it for something special – and really, what could be more special than cheesecake?

Cheesecake is one of my favourite desserts, both to bake and to eat, and cherry cheesecake is a classic flavour combination.

I based my cheesecake on this recipe from BBC Good Food, but rather than making a cherry puree I used my fab cherry jam. It’s nothing like a ‘jam’ you would buy here, it’s more like whole cherries in a thick sort of syrup, and it’s not as sweet as a jam either – the downside of this is you can, and I do, eat it by the spoonful…

Instead of a creme fraiche topping I used more cream cheese, beaten with a little sugar, and used fresh cherries to decorate. The jam swirled into the cheesecake mixture created wonderful little fruity bursts in each bite, and the texture was, for me, spot on.

If you want to make this, I would recommend either buying the absolute best jam you can find, or making your own, otherwise I think it would end up being too sweet. I hope that doesn’t put you off though, because it really was delicious!

Cherry cheesecake (adapted from BBC Good Food)

For the base:

  • 140g digestive biscuits
  • 35g butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 500g medium fat cream cheese
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 100ml low fat creme fraiche
  • 100g cherry jam

For the topping:

  • 100g medium fat cream cheese
  • 15g icing sugar
  • 8-10 cherries, halved and stoned

To make the base, blitz the biscuits in a food processor to form fine crumbs, then with the mixer running pour in the melted butter. Press the biscuit crumbs down into the base of an 8″ springform tin, and bake for about 10 minutes at 170 degrees, until just starting to crisp.

While the base is cooling, make the cheesecake filling. Beat the cream cheese and caster sugar together until smooth, then add the eggs, vanilla, cornflour, lemon zest and juice and beat again. Finally, add the creme fraiche, beat and pour over the cooled base.

Bake the cheesecake with a tray of hot water on the shelf below, for 10 minutes at 170 degrees, then reduce the heat to 110 degrees and bake for a further hour – the cheesecake should be set but still wobble. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge overnight.

For the topping, beat the icing sugar into the cream cheese and spread over the cheesecake. Arrange the halved cherries around the edge to decorate.

Honey almond cake with macerated strawberries

Honey almond cake with macerated strawberries

I know me going on about how amazing Romania is may be getting a little tired now, but to be honest I don’t care – I loved it there and I want everyone to know!

Among the many, many delicious foods we ate there, the fresh strawberries and acacia honey we ate at the farm of Gabriel, one of our hosts, really stuck out, and as I was eating I knew when I returned home the combination would have to be recreated in some sort of cake form.

When I saw this post by The Little Loaf, I knew straight away it was the recipe I was looking for – a really simple cake that could let the delicate flavour of the honey shine through, with slightly sauced strawberries to serve alongside.

Gabriel very kindly gave me a bottle of his honey to bring home, and I can honestly say it is better than any honey I have ever bought in this country. To up the flavour of the honey, instead of making The Little Loaf’s spiced strawberries, I simply macerated them in honey and a squeeze of orange juice, bringing out all the natural sweetness and juices of the strawberries.

I think this cake may be the perfect marriage of cultures – Romanian honey meets British strawberries, to create the perfect cake to enjoy in the summer sun.

Honey Almond Cake with Macerated Strawberries (adapted from The Little Loaf)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g acacia honey
  • 135g low fat yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 60g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 500g strawberries
  • 1 tsp honey
  • juice of 1/2 orange

Start by whisking the eggs until light and tripled in volume, then whisk in the honey, yoghurt and vanilla. Sift together all the dry ingredients (try to get the ground almonds as fine as you can) and fold into the liquid mixture. Pour into a greased and lined 8″ cake tin and bake at 165 degrees for around 25 minutes, or until golden and springy.

For the strawberries, wash, hull and halve them then add to a bowl with the honey and orange juice. Leave for an hour or more at room temperature for the juices to come out. Serve slices of the cake with a spoonful of strawberries on top, and a little thick to finish.

tea time treatscalendar-cakes

‘Tis the season for summer fruits, and they’ve been chosen as the July theme for both Tea Time Treats, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and the newlywed Kate at What Kate Baked, and for Calendar Cakes, hosted by Laura at Laura Loves Cakes and Rachel at Dolly Bakes – so I’m entering this cake for them both!

The rest of Romania

Sorry for the lack of updates the past couple of weeks – Romania was hectic but amazing and I hardly had time to think, let alone blog!

I’m back home now, and looking through my photographs from the trip is just about the only thing making me smile – I always get so down after an amazing time away, coming back to reality isn’t easy!

Since my last update, I have eaten LOTS more delicious Romanian food, including cakes, patisserie, and some of the most delicious fresh produce you can imagine. Here is the rest of my food journey in pictures…

This is Orannia, my honourary little sister for week three – together we baked a 12″ chocolate cake which everybody loved!

Tiramisu AND ice cream – they must have known I was coming…

Cozonac – a traditional bread made at Christmas and Easter with swirls of chocolate and nuts

Freshly picked cucumber

Cherry trees are abundant in Romania, but these rose ones were unlike any I’ve tried before

Possibly the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted

There was a fair bit of wine tasting to go with all the food…

Not sure how traditional these cakes are, but they look delicious!

Right, normal blog service will resume shortly – I have plenty lined up including chocolate, vegetables and a cheesecake to die for – it should be a busy month of blogging and baking!

Patisserie Romanian style

While in Targoviste, our host Valentin took us to his favourite patisserie in town so we could sample some traditional Romanian baked goods.

I was lucky enough to visit twice, so I got to sample lots of different things, including a savoury cheese pastry, apple strudel, a sweet cream cheese filled bread and my personal favourite, a panettone rippled with a delicious pecan mixture which I would love to find a recipe for.

We were also treated so some of Valentin’s grandmother’s home baking, two different types of layered cakes, one with chocolate and vanilla and the other with apricot, chocolate and a meringue layer on top. Both were delicious, but I especially enjoyed the meringue and is another recipe which I will definitely have to try and recreate at home.

There is so much good food here to try that my team members will probably have to roll me off the plane when we get back as I’ll be too fat to walk, but in the name of research I will keep eating and posting about everything I try!

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!

Serbian pie and an adventure

Serbian Pie

I don’t often blog about cakes that I haven’t made myself, but over the next four weeks things will be a little different here…

The picture above is of a Serbian pie, which I would probably describe as the Eastern European equivalent of a cheesecake.

It has five layers of super thin pastry, not quite as crisp as filo but a lot, lot thinner and crispier than shortcrust; layered and baked with a mixture of soft cheese, eggs, honey, vanilla and raisins.

The texture of the cheese mixture is denser than a regular cheesecake and not as sweet, making it easier to consume large portions in one sitting – although this slice was way bigger than it looks in the picture and I could only eat about a quarter.

So why am I eating and blogging about a Serbian pie? Well, I’m not in Serbia which would maybe be the obvious answer, but I am off on an adventure in another part of Europe – Romania!

Serbian pie is actually a traditional Bulgarian recipe, brought to Romania a couple of hundred years ago. It was at a time when Romanians and Bulgarians weren’t the best of friends, and so people moving to Romania from Bulgaria pretended to be Serbian so that they would be welcome.

This was eaten at a restaurant called Cocosul Negru, in the city of Targoviste in southern Romania. I’m here on a four-week Group Study Exchange programme organized by Rotary International, and will be traveling to four different parts of the country taking part in vocational activities and building relationships with various Rotary clubs.

A team of five of us will be blogging about our adventures at www.gseromania.wordpress.com, so if you’re interested in what I’m doing please head over there and take a look.

I’ve had a bit of a baking frenzy over the past few weeks so I do have some normal recipe blogs scheduled to post, but hopefully I’ll also have the chance to share some of the traditional Romanian food I get to try throughout the trip.

Internet access is limited and I’m going to be super busy so apologies if I don’t reply to any comments as quickly as normal, but I will do my best!