April 30, 2016

Blood Orange Chia Pudding

All winter long I’ve been basking in the wonderful taste and nutritional value of the striking blood oranges.  And even though spring is well upon us, I’ve been lucky enough to still get my hands on them at the grocery store.  Now, the real magic happens when you marry blood oranges with yogurt and chia seeds to create an exceptional and lip-smacking treat that you’ll crave every morning.  Yes, we’re talking breakfast and the best part about this breakfast is that this Blood Orange Chia Pudding is a no-cook silky pudding that you whip up the night before.   
  



People have been going gaga over chia seeds for a long while now and I have been on the chia bandwagon myself.  Truth is, with all the nutritional benefits of fiber and omega-3s that they pack they are hard to ignore.  Plus, once drowned in the velvety blood orange juice and yogurt mixture, these chia seeds plump up and turn into tiny fat bubbles that burst onto your tongue and crack under your teeth.  As Giada de Laurentiis noted in her cookbook, they do remind you of tapioca pearls, which I happen to adore, but even if you’re not a tapioca fan, this Blood Orange Chia Pudding will convert you into a chia lover in no time.    





Although it might look like one while sporting a beautiful pale pink hue, this pudding is more than just a flavored, textured yogurt.  It is a smooth, pleasantly thick, creamy, tangy, citrusy and sweet pudding with a lovely somewhat bubbly texture that provides a substantial and filling breakfast in a tiny serving.  Top it with bright fruit and toasted pistachios and you’ve created the breakfast of champions.  





In addition, this Chia Pudding is quite versatile.  While I love the blood orange version, Giada offers a recipe that calls for vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk instead of orange juice.  So, you can definitely replace the blood orange juice with almond milk and still end up with a phenomenal and slightly creamier concoction.  Enjoy!    





Blood Orange Chia Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appétit (February 2016)

Makes: 2 servings

Ingredients:

·         ½ cup Greek yogurt (or plain yogurt)
·         ½ cup fresh blood orange juice
·         2 Tablespoons honey or agave nectar or maple syrup (whichever you prefer or have on hand)
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         Pinch of salt
·         ¼ cup chia seeds
·         Blood orange segments or blueberries or any other fruit you like
·         Chopped pistachios or sliced almonds, toasted





Instructions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, blood orange juice, honey, vanilla and salt.  Whisk in the chia seeds.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 8 to 24 hours.  When you’re ready to eat the pudding, stir the pudding and divide it between small bowls or glasses.  I, however, recommend that you divide the mixture between small bowls and glasses, cover them with plastic wrap and then chill for up to 24 hours.  That way, come morning, I only have to grab one of the glasses from the fridge, stir, top the pudding with fruit and nuts and enjoy.  





Before serving, layer the pudding with some orange segments (or other fruit you prefer).  Top with the chopped pistachios and remaining orange segments.  Drizzle with more honey if desired and serve. 





Note: To top the pudding with orange segments, cut the peel and white pith from 2 blood oranges.  How to do that: cut a slice off the top and bottom of the orange, making sure you cut just past the pith to expose the fruit underneath.  Stand the orange upright on a cut end.  Following the curve of the fruit, use a small knife to slice away the peel and pith.  Working over a bowl, cut along either side of membranes to release the segments.  




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

March 31, 2016

Vanilla Walnut Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll state it again – my family has an uncanny fascination with buttercream-covered cakes.  We favor them over crisp cookies, juicy pies, and somewhat drier cakes.  If there is a lick-your-fingers-buttercream-covered cake, it will always take the coveted first prize.  And you already know about my infatuation with vanilla – yes, I’d always choose it over chocolate; that’s why, when my grandma asks which dessert to whip up when I’m in Romania, this Vanilla Walnut Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is at the top of my list. 




This Vanilla Walnut Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting is yet another masterpiece that can only be achieved by nursing and diligently whisking the egg and sugar mixture in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, which at times can be daunting and irking.  However, I’m proud of my merry path to mastering the art of cooked cream over a double boiler because the nicely thickened silkiness you create is worth a small fortune and will make you ignore the free facial and aching bicep muscle!  




The cake is vanilla-infused, soft and pillowy, textured with toasted, fragrant walnuts and offers the perfect balance to the luxurious, velvety vanilla speckled frosting, while the glossy chocolate ganache on top brings a beautiful, rich counterpart to the whole experience.  There are lots of flavors and textures woven into this glorious cake albeit in the end it all comes down to the same humble yet mighty potent main ingredient and star of the show – you guessed it, vanilla.  And if I haven’t dished enough about my love for vanilla or this particular cake, let me make it clear: this is my favorite vanilla cake and I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do!   





Vanilla Walnut Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 24 squares

Ingredients for the Batter:

·         6 egg whites, at room temperature
·         180 grams sugar
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         120 grams all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         Pinch of salt
·         150 grams roasted walnuts, roughly chopped





Ingredients for the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

·         6 egg yolks, at room temperature
·         210 grams confectioners’ sugar
·         Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
·         50 ml whole milk
·         250 grams butter, at room temperature





Ingredients for the Chocolate Ganache:

·         170 grams (6 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
·         2/3 cups heavy cream
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract





Instructions for the Batter:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 x10 x 2-inch baking pan with butter and flour.

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

Separate the egg yolks (you will use the egg yolks for the buttercream frosting) and egg whites.





In a large bowl, beat the egg whites using an electric hand mixer until they hold medium-firm peaks.  Add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.  Gradually, add the flour mixture.  Using a spatula, fold in the chopped walnuts. 





Pour the batter into the prepared pan making sure the batter spreads all throughout the pan, and bake for 22-23 minutes or until a tester comes out clean and the cake is nicely golden-brown.  Cool completely in the pan on a rack.




Instructions for the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

In a medium heat-proof bowl, beat the eggs yolks with the confectioners’ sugar for 2-3 minutes.  Add the seeds from the vanilla bean and beat to incorporate.  Slowly, pour in the milk and beat until fully incorporated.  Put the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl doesn’t come in contact with the water.  Gently and leisurely beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk mixture with a whisk until it thickens and looks like a thick cream, about 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally. 




In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Slowly and in batches, add the vanilla cream and beat on medium-low speed, scrapping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.  Don’t whip!   

With a knife or offset spatula, evenly spread the frosting over the cake.  




Instructions for the Chocolate Ganache:

Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl and set aside.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips.  Using a fork or a spoon, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  




Drizzle the chocolate ganache all over the cake.  Allow the ganache to harden.  Cut the cake into squares and serve.




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

February 29, 2016

Romanian Coffee Cake with Coffee Buttercream Frosting

It’s been a long while since the last time I made it home to Romania for Christmas.  And the funny thing – I was really impressed with how things improved; the city was lively and joyous during the holiday season dotted with bright lights, ornate Christmas trees and open markets where vendors were eager to entertain and sell their goodies to the hungry and curious crowds.  Without a doubt, there was a delicious excess of options – everything from hot mulled wine, traditional offal concoctions and deep fried flatbreads slathered with fat dollops of sour cream, cheese and garlic, to a wide assortment of cookies, candies, homemade fudge and other Christmas breads and cakes we simply can’t live without.  Overabundance is an understatement and I welcomed it with open arms because we, Romanians, never shy away from a big feast whether at home or on the city streets!  





The same can be said about the bonanza of extravagant options on my grandmother’s dessert Christmas table.  But among the usual suspects of cookies and homemade pretzels, buttercream-covered cakes stood front and center.  And one of them was this grand Coffee Cake with Coffee Buttercream Frosting.





This is not your regular coffee cake to be enjoyed with a nice cup of coffee or tea.  This cake is the coffee.  It’s so intense and loaded with coffee that paired with coffee would feel redundant and overdone.  This Coffee Cake with Coffee Buttercream Frosting will overshadow all the coffee cakes you’ve ever made; because this is a cake of layers of coffee upon layers of more coffee, upon layers of cocoa and more chocolate.  I can easily say this coffee cake is in a league of its own and a single bite will give you that invigorating boost of espresso that you didn’t know you wanted but so desperately needed. 





The cake is refined, moist, laced with coffee and spiked with rum.  The frosting is firstly cooked into submission until it becomes pleasantly thick and velvety with a cafe au lait hue and deep coffee aroma; then it’s gently whipped with my favorite ingredient – butter – and speckled with toasted walnuts that only add a charming texture to the already assertive flavor.  And you can never have too much chocolate because the rich chocolate ganache drizzled on top completes this spectacle of a cake.  Enjoy!  




Romanian Coffee Cake with Coffee Buttercream Frosting
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 24 squares




Ingredients for the batter:

·         8 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
·         240 grams sugar
·         120 grams all-purpose flour
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         25 grams ground coffee
·         25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder

Ingredients for the Rum Syrup:

·         ½ cup sugar
·         ½ cup water
·         ¼ cup rum




Ingredients for the coffee buttercream frosting:

·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         240 grams sugar
·         14 grams instant coffee crystals
·         300 grams butter, at room temperature
·         50 grams roasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Ingredients for the chocolate ganache:

·         170 grams (6 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
·         2/3 cups heavy cream
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract





Instructions for the batter:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 x10 x 2-inch baking pan with butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, coffee grounds and cocoa powder.  Set aside. 

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. 





In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric hand mixer.  Gradually, add the flour mixture. 




In a large bowl, beat the egg white until medium-firm peaks form.  In batches, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.  Continue to fold and gently stir until the batter thins out. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pan on a rack.  




Instructions for the Rum Syrup:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Off heat, add the rum, whisk well and set aside to cool completely.  Once the cake has cooled, pierce the surface with a fork.  Using a spoon, drizzle the syrup all over the top of the cake.  You will use more than half of the syrup.  However, you want the cake to be moist but not overly damp.  Just discard the remaining of the syrup.  Allow the cake to sit and absorb the syrup, about 1 hour.    




Instructions for the coffee buttercream frosting:

In a medium heat-proof bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar for 2-3 minutes.  Put the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl doesn’t come in contact with the water.  Gently beat the eggs and sugar mixture with a whisk until it thickens and looks like a thick cream, about 25-30 minutes.  Add the instant coffee crystals, mix well and cook the cream for 2-3 minutes longer.  Set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally. 




In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Slowly and in batches, add the coffee cream and beat on medium-low speed, scrapping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.  Don’t whip!  Gently fold in the walnut pieces.  

With a knife or offset spatula, evenly spread the frosting over the cake.  




Instructions for the Chocolate Ganache:

Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl and set aside.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips.  Using a fork or a spoon, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  




Drizzle the chocolate ganache all over the cake.  Allow the ganache to harden.  Cut the cake into squares and serve. 




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)