Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Weekend in Baking Heaven

Baking Heaven?

My kitchen. There is nothing that makes me happier than experimenting in my kitchen. And this weekend, I had three glorious days to do just that. I cooked and baked and baked and cooked some more. Most of the recipes turned out amazingly well - sometimes, you just hit a stride.
Here are a few of them.

This first one is my version of a traditional French "Galette à la Frangipane" - we'll just call it an almond pie. I made it for a potluck we were having at the office on Friday, and it is fair to say that it got rave reviews. It is incredibly easy to make, thanks to "cheating" in the crust department - I bought ready-made puff pastry. It literally takes DAYS to make puff pastry, so I thought that a good quality, pure butter puff pastry (President's Choice makes a decent one, thanks President!) would have to do. As for the filling? Easy as pie.

Pardon the poor quality picture...It had to get in my mouth, and fast. 

Almond Pie:

- 2 sheets puff pastry (1 package), thawed according to package instructions
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1tsp milk
- 1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.
Grease a pie dish and place one of the sheets of puff pastry in.
In a food processor, process the almonds until a coarse meal forms (texture of coarse sand). Transfer almond meal to a mixing bowl.
Add the eggs, vanilla, butter and salt. Whisk until smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust, and cover with the second sheet of pastry. Make sure to get a tight seal by brushing cold water on the bottom crust with your fingers, then pressing the edges together.
In a small bowl, combine milk and olive oil. Brush the top crust with this mixture.
Bake for about 30 minutes, and serve while still warm. YUM.


This next one is adapted from my chocolate-espresso tart. The crust is made healthier, and the walnuts have been replaced with hazelnuts for some Nutella-inspired deliciousness.

Chocolate-Hazelnut-Espresso Squares: 

For the crust:

- 1/3 cup dates (about 10), soaked for a few hours if not soft
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted at 350F for 8 mins, most skins removed
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350F. In a food processor, puree the dates with the butter and vanilla. Add the hazelnuts and pulse a few times, until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add the maple syrup and salt. Mix in the flour, 1/3 cup at a time.
Line a square pan with 2 criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper. Press the crust into the bottom of the pan, and bake for 18 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

For the filling: 

- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hrs and drained
- 1 cup hazelnuts, soaked for at least 4 hrs and drained
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brewed espresso
- pinch of salt

In a small pot, melt choc chips with espresso, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla.
When melted, pour into a food processor with the cashews, hazelnuts and maple syrup.
Process until smooth and pour onto crust.
Freeze for at least 4 hrs, until set.
Let stand for 10-15 mins at room temp before cutting into squares and serving.


The following eggplant casserole is all about perfectly simple flavours. It makes a great vegetarian entree paired with a salad, or a nice side dish to some grilled chicken or salmon.
It takes a few hours to for it to come together, so it is the right project for a lazy Sunday.
Thankfully, it can be assembled in advance, waiting patiently in the fridge to be baked - up to 48 hrs.

Eggplant Casserole: 

- 2 large purple eggplants, sliced and soaked in salt water for 3-4 hours (or overnight), then drained and dried with a paper towel
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 1 5.5oz can tomato paste
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp ground flax
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup ricotta, divided

Preheat oven to 425F. Roast the sliced eggplant on a cookie sheet with a sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil for about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce:
Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, cream, honey, flax, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 35 minutes, until thick and chunky.
Reduce oven temp to 350F.
In a square casserole dish (8x8), start with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta on top. Repeat with a layer of tomato sauce, eggplant, ricotta, then add the last of the tomato sauce and cover with the shredded mozzarella.
Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, then broil for a few more minutes until golden brown and bubbly.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


That is all for now folks - I just made and enjoyed a killer lemon tart that I will share in the next few days - it is so good that it deserves its own blog post (plus it's bedtime)!


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