November 30, 2014

Pumpkin Tiramisu

I was born in Arad, a fairly large city for Romanian standards located on the Hungarian border in the western part of Transylvania.  As I mentioned before in this blog, the German, Austrian and Hungarian influences are strikingly visible everywhere in my city from the grand architecture to the rich and flavorful food.  But recently, a thick tide of Italian interests, businesses and investors added a new dimension to the food scene of my humble hometown with Italian restaurants springing up like mushrooms after rain.  In no time, Romanians happily embraced the new cuisine with many local owners striving to keep it as authentic as possible with just the right amount of Romanian touch.  My parents were no exception and for several years, they owned the most popular Italian restaurant in town, Il Padrino

Il Padrino, a very suitable name for the two story restaurant, was a place that screamed Italian flair from the dark green linens and deep brown wooden chairs to the intrinsic movie-based artwork displayed all over the white walls, and the faithful, real Italian patrons that would mob to the restaurant every time they came to town.  The locale had an extensive menu that incorporated homemade pasta dishes, thin crust wood oven pizza, mouthwatering meat plates and antipasti, fresh salads, and delicious Romanian offerings interjected through the menu to satisfy the demanding local palette.  But what would please any palette, Romanian and Italian alike, would be the ever-present tiramisu.  This iconic coffee-flavored Italian dessert would always do the trick.    

Leafing through this month’s Food & Wine issue, I came across a very intriguing tiramisu recipe that brilliantly incorporates the season’s most valued ingredient.  Curiosity won out and I had to try it.  So glad I did!  The Pumpkin Tiramisu is everything a classic tiramisu should be plus the added bonus of the pumpkin.  The layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers and smooth pumpkin-spiced mousse topped with sweet whipped cream, a dust of cocoa powder, shaved chocolate and peppery candied ginger meld in a beautiful carnival of autumn flavors.  Although this Pumpkin Tiramisu is intended to be a fancy trifle dessert, if you’re like me and don’t own a proper trifle dish and don’t entertain the thought of buying one, I can fully attest that the end result looks beautiful and is just as wonderfully tasty in a plain cake pan.  I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!      

Pumpkin Tiramisu
Adapted from Food & Wine (November 2014)

Makes:  12 servings


·         1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
·         ½ cup light brown sugar
·         ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
·         ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
·         Pinch of ground nutmeg
·         ¾ cup granulated sugar
·         1 ½ cups mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
·         2 ½ cups heavy cream
·         2 cups brewed coffee, cooled
·         2 7-oz. packages dry ladyfingers
·         Cocoa powder, chocolate shavings and candied ginger, for garnish


In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree with the brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ½ cup of the granulated sugar.  Add the mascarpone cheese and 1 ½ cups of the heavy cream.  Using an electric mixer, beat the pumpkin mixture at medium speed until soft peaks form; do not overbeat.  

In a medium bowl, whisk the brewed coffee with 2 Tablespoons of the granulated sugar until it’s dissolved.  Dip both sides of the ladyfingers in the coffee and arrange them flat, one by one, in a single layer in the bottom of a 14 by 10-inch baking pan.  Spread half of the pumpkin mousse on top.  Layer the remaining ladyfingers over the pumpkin mousse.  Spread the remaining pumpkin mousse on top.  Cover and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight. 

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1 cup of cream with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar until soft peaks form.  Spread the whipped cream over the tiramisu, dust with cocoa powder, garnish with shaved chocolate and candied ginger and serve.

Note:  If you have a trifle dish and intend to use it, this is how you adjust the recipe.  Follow the instructions up to dissolving the 2 Tablespoons of sugar in the brewed coffee.  Then, dip both sides of 6 ladyfingers in the coffee and arrange them in a single layer in a 4-quart trifle dish.  Spread 1 cup of the pumpkin mousse on top.  Repeat the layering 5 more times, ending with a layer of the pumpkin mousse.  Cover and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.  Once you’ve prepared the whipped cream, dollop the whipped cream over the tiramisu, dust with cocoa powder and garnish with shaved chocolate and candied ginger and serve.  I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!      

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

October 31, 2014

Apple Sharlotka

With all the culinary influences that Romania has been blessed with, you would surely think that we would be well acquainted with the popular Russian Apple Sharlotka cake.  Well, not so much, or at least my family isn’t.  Granted, my grandmother has her own arsenal of apple pies and apple tortes to keep our greedy tummies satisfied.  So, until stumbling across this recipe for Apple Sharlotka in the November issue of Food & Wine, I had never heard of this kind of sweet delight.  But I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally discovered it. 

The Apple Sharlotka is a traditional Russian apple cake-torte-pie-all-in-one kind of dessert.  In fact, I personally find it to be vaguely similar to the Vanilla Pudding Apple Torte that my grandmother spoils us with especially during the apple season; just as few if not fewer ingredients and no need for the glossy vanilla pudding draped all over the cake.  The top is delectably flaky, crusty and thoroughly dusted with powdered sugar, while beneath it the cake is light and fluffy, not too sweet and spiced with just the right amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and almond extract to create a heady, appetizing spectacle of flavors.  And at the bottom, you are greeted by a healthy layer of tart juicy and soft apples.  It’ll be hard devouring only one slice and most likely, you’ll end up making this treat again and again. 

Beside the fact that this cake is ridiculously easy to whip up, it’s very likely that you already have all the ingredients in your pantry and you don’t have to hastily scramble to the supermarket to fill up the basket.  On top of that, the sharlotka goes perfectly with tea or coffee, and makes for a quick and glorious breakfast or afternoon guilt-free snack.  I know that we’re in the midst of pumpkin frenzy and I should probably switch my attention to this autumn staple fairly soon, but right now I just prefer to indulge in the apple season and this apple sharlotka a tad longer.  Happy Halloween everyone!  

Apple Sharlotka
Adapted from Food & Wine (November 2014)

Makes: one 9-inch tart


·         4 Granny Smith or any firm, tart apples; I used Honey Crisp apples – peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
·         1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from half a lemon
·         1 cup sugar
·         ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
·         ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         Pinch of kosher salt
·         3 large eggs, at room temperature
·         ½ teaspoon pure almond extract (or pure vanilla extract)
·         Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Grease the bottom and side of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar and let stand for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the flour with the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the almond extract and the remaining ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar at medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow and a ribbon forms when the beaters are lifted, about 8 to 10 minutes.  In two batches, gently fold in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  

Spread the apples in the prepared pan in an even layer, then pour the batter evenly over them.  Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the batter to sink in a little.

Bake the sharlotka for about 55 to 60 minutes, until it is golden and crisp on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack and let rest for 15 minutes.  Unmold and transfer to a serving platter.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

September 30, 2014

Meringue Plum Cake for the third anniversary!

On September 19, my little blog turned three!  Another year filled with recipes and stories that wouldn’t be the same without all of you, my dear readers.  YOU, whom I all consider my friends by now, make this experience exciting, inspiring and so, so much fun.  And I can’t thank you enough for being here and for all your kindness and support! 

It seems to be a recurring theme to celebrate my blog birthday with some sort of delicious plum concoction.  This year is no exception.  But there’s no better way to let go of summer and celebrate the third anniversary than with a classic recipe from my grandmother.  This is another stellar summer dessert and one of my grandma’s favorite sweets to whip up during the sizzling summer heat. 

What I love about this cake, besides its luscious flavors and stunning colors, is its versatility and easy transition to richer tastes and ingredients.  Although I like to honor the last plums of the hot season by making this beautiful dessert, you can also try this cake with peaches, apricots or sour cherries, and I encourage you to swap the stone fruits for ricotta cheese when cooler weather rolls around.  You’ll be in for a special treat!     

This Meringue Plum Cake is humble in appearance but huge in flavor.  The tartness and juiciness of the plums pair beautifully with the intense sweetness and relaxed stickiness of the meringue.  In the end, the two complement each other to create a well-balanced sweet treat. 

You first bite into the crackly, foamy meringue top and then sink your teeth into the meaty and zesty plums only to finish with the soft, subtle, dough.  And while my grandma usually fancies a light, fluffy dough in her summery cakes, this time around, the base is more subdued allowing the succulent plums and frothy meringue to shine through.  I made a full tray of this gorgeous cake for my husband to indulge while I was away for a couple of days; upon my return, all I found was an empty tray filled with crumbs and traces of (what was) a wonderful cake.  I guess he loved it!

Meringue Plum Cake
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 18 squares


·         200 grams (14 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
·         200 grams (scant 1 cup) sugar, plus more for dusting
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 Tablespoon sour cream
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         350 grams (2 ½ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         1 kilogram (2 pounds) plums, about 5 large ones, pitted and quartered or sliced as desired
·         200 grams (1 ½ cups) confectioners’ sugar         


Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 by 10-inch baking pan with butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites and keep close at hand.  In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-low speed beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks one at a time and beat until incorporated.  Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated.  In batches, add the flour and baking powder mixture and beat until incorporated; the batter will be neither soft nor hard.  Using clean hands, gather the dough into a ball and place it into the prepared pan.  Spread the dough into an even layer with your hands or a spatula.  

Arrange the plums on top and sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of granulated sugar over each slice of plum.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cake is golden and about 85-90% ready.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  In batches, add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is glossy and holds firm peaks, about 7-10 minutes. 

Take the cake out of the oven.  Dollop the meringue topping over the cake and spread it carefully all over with a spatula.

Place the cake back in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the meringue browns gently.  Check constantly as the browning can happen faster.

Take the cake out of the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack.  Slice the cake into squares and carefully take the squares out of the pan and arrange them on a serving platter. 

Variations: If you prefer to try this cake with ricotta cheese instead of stone fruits, mix 500 grams (1 pound) whole milk ricotta cheese with 2 large eggs, zest from half a lemon, and 2-3 Tablespoons sugar to taste.  Place it over the dough base and follow the rest of the instructions.    

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

August 31, 2014

Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios

When your husband goes away on a weekend-long trip with the boys, sleeping in until noon, catching up on your reading and finally getting to that tardy spring cleaning suddenly feels like the right thing to do... and so therapeutic!  As the exemplary wife I try to be, I just couldn’t send my husband empty-handed on his getaway trip with the guys.  So, besides the usual snack-type and finger food, I also added this summery, berry studded Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios, which turned out to be a big hit!  

Since summer is a joyous fruit bonanza, juicy sweets are inevitably a must.  When I stumbled upon this Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios recipe while thumbing through the June issue of Bon Appétit, I instantly knew I wanted to make it and take advantage of the bright, fresh berries that abound at the markets these days.  The initial recipe called only for raspberries, but I feel that a mixture of berries enhances the texture and adds a vivid color to this blissful cake. 

This lemon cake is tender and zesty, citrusy and sweet, crunchy and toasty.  The fragile berries work wonderfully nestled in atop the lightly dense batter, while the fruity olive oil complements the lemony sweetness of the cake.  And the nuttiness of the pistachios completes the delightful circle.  This cake sounds, looks and tastes a lot like summer and comes just in time to celebrate the season’s last gasp.  The best part of this sweet treat is that it’s great for dessert and even better for breakfast or brunch, late afternoon snack, or a lovely picnic in the late summer heat.

Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appétit (June 2014)

Makes: 8 servings


·         Butter for the pan
·         1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 ¼ cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
·         1 Tablespoon plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
·         ¾ cup olive oil
·         ½ cup fresh raspberries
·         ½ cup fresh blueberries
·         3 Tablespoons toasted pistachios, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Butter and flour a 9-inch diameter springform or cake pan (personally, I think that a springform works better).  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  With the mixer running, add the vanilla extract and 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, then gradually add the oil, mixing just until combined.  Fold in the lemon zest and the dry ingredients.


Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Scatter the berries over the cake, then the pistachios and 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  Bake the cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and the remaining ¼ cup of lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Let the lemon syrup cool. 

Transfer the hot cake (still in the pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush the cake with the lemon syrup (use all of it).  Let the cake cool completely in the pan.      

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)