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Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

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I love everything about fresh figs, really. The sweet stickiness that lingers on your lips, the earthy smell, the bright red flesh that offsets the crisp green or deep dark purple of the skin, the plump texture with just the right amount of crunch form the tiny seeds… I even like the shape of the bright green leaves and the knottiness of the tree branches. Let it be known that if I were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d like to come back as a fig tree.

Mom must have loved figs too, because I remember us bringing back a few saplings during one of our vacations in the South of France. Mom carefully nursed them on our dining room window sill, where the afternoon sunlight would caress their tiny organic bodies and would cause their little leaves to quiver from the warmth. The next Spring, we planted two of them in the backyard, in a post-winter ritual involving partially decomposed dog doodoo and a rusty shovel (with possibly some canned banana shoved in the hollow handle) (*). We didn’t hold much hope for the saplings’ survival of the first brutal Belgian winter that would be nipping at their fragile roots come November, nor did we expect for them to thrive in our cold, wet climate. Despite all odds being stacked against them, these little knotty fig trees have grown to reach the edge of my mom’s single level’s rooftop over the years. Overwhelmed by the amount of fruit they’d produce every late Summer thru early Fall, we couldn’t keep up with the harvest and… well… let’s just say that the crows & squirrels of the ‘Jasmijnenlaan’ were well fed.
(*) For more intriguing story lines of ‘canned bananas’, please read my banana butter post here.

I realize that figs are expensive outside of Southern California. Lucky for me, however, I happen to live in a dry, sunny climate, similar to the Mediterranean where fig trees thrive. Even better is that ‘fig season’ actually comes in 2 installments… The first crop, named the ‘breba’ crop, grows from branches that sprouted the previous year and is the harvest that begins in late Spring. It’s a fairly short-lived season, usually with the last crops harvested around early Summer. The second & larger harvest, sprouting from this year’s branch growth, begins in mid-August and runs as late as October for some varieties. This means that, with a bit of clever pre-planned farmers market hopping, I can actually enjoy fresh figs with nary a hiccup through fall. Most of the figs around here are ‘Brown Turkey’ figs or ‘Black Mission’ figs, with the deep purple black mission fruit usually having a more intense fig flavor. Later in the summer, you see ‘Kadota’ figs and ‘Calimyrna’ figs. Kadota figs are used mostly for drying, but the bright green Calimyrna’s are excellent for eating raw as well. ‘Adriatic’ figs and striped tropical ‘Panachée’ figs are quite scarce over here, so if you see them, grab them.

If you’ve never eaten fresh figs before, don’t be alarmed. When ripe, there are few fruits that compare to their sweet juiciness and I know you’ll love them too. Simply rinse the whole fruit, trim the stems back a bit and sink your teeth in like you would a strawberry. On the other hand, fresh figs are a treat when roasted in the oven with some goat cheese or chopped in salads, or you can bake them into a sweet or savory tart like I did below.

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FRESH FIG TARTLETS WITH GOAT CHEESE & HONEY
– 4 pieces of puff pastry, sliced into 6-7 inch rounds (or squares)
– 5-6 oz of soft, mild goat cheese (or if you don’t like goat cheese, use ricotta)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped
– 1 tsp of lemon zest
– 6 fresh figs, sliced fairly thinly (like you would a lemon)
– Honey, for drizzling
– Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place 4 puff pastry rounds on top, spaced approx. 1.5-inch apart. In small bowl, soften goat cheese with some salt & pepper to taste, and the lemon zest. Divide goat cheese mixture evenly over the center of the puff pastry rounds, making sure to leave approx. 1 inch of the edges clear. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over the goat cheese.

Place fresh fig slices over the goat cheese to more or less cover. Fold the edges of the pastry over themselves just a little bit, so you get a bit of a thicker edge on the outside.

Bake the tartlets in the oven for approx. 15 min until the edges are puffed and the center looks caramelized and somewhat gooey. Drizzle some honey over the top and serve warm.

Flemish Beignets

7 Aug

‘Oliebollen’ or ‘smoutebollen’, Belgium’s answer to American donuts, are firmly planted in youth sentiment for me. They bring back lots of teenage memories, of spending hour upon hour parading up & down the snowy fairgrounds with my friends, often in sub-zero temperatures, in hopes the cute fair hands would notice us and score us a free paper cone of hot beignets or a free ride.

When the weather gets dreary or downright mean, there’s nothing more comforting than to bite into a crispy hot ball of freshly fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. The sugar instantly melts on the hot surface and forms a crackling coating on the outside of this deep fried dream. I’m telling you now, oliebollen are a ‘must have’ when the temps drop and your nose hairs are starting to congeal.

You can buy yourself some sugary warmth at the many quaint stalls that line the town squares in Holland & Belgium, and waft invitingly through the cold Fall & Winter air. Especially during the times the ‘kermis’ or fair is in town, or the annual Christmas Markets that start showing up in late November, both of which add much needed light & coziness to the short, dark evenings. I mean, just look at it:

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Doesn’t it look all warm and beckoning?

I figured that if I wanted ‘oliebollen’, I would have to learn to make them at home since Los Angeles is short on this kind of campy quaintness… and who can wait for the county fair to arrive… in July! No. I needed to have access to this greasy happiness in Fall & Winter, when evening temperatures drop well below 65F. Don’t judge.

I’ve probably spent too much time browsing the Internet for the perfect recipe, but the winning recipe came from a former colleague of mine, who was tasked by yours truly with the impossible mission of seducing prying the recipe out of our favorite ‘oliebollen‘ baker from the city fair in Ghent. I completely forgot about these, until I recently found her grease-stained email folded neatly in a cookbook of mine… Enjoy!

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OLIEBOLLEN
(aka Flemish beignets… per Marktkramer De Kuijper‘s recipe)
– 1.5 oz of good quality unsalted butter
– 10.5 oz of self-rising flour (or pastry flour or all purpose flour, if you can’t find self-rising flour)
– 1 oz of fresh yeast (or 0.5 oz of dry active yeast)
– 8 oz of whole milk
– 1 tsp of natural vanilla extract
– a pinch of salt
– 1.5 eggs (2 whites + 1 yolk)

Make sure to use room-temperature ingredients, and measure everything precisely!

In a large bowl, sift flour. In a small bowl, crumble fresh yeast into milk, and stir until dissolved. Add yeasted milk & vanilla extract to flour, and stir to create a batter.

Melt butter in the microwave on medium power, and add egg yolk and butter to batter. Stir until well combined.

Beat egg whites in a grease-free bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter, and also add a pinch of salt.
The batter should be fairly loose, so if it feels a bit too stiff, add a splash more milk.

Let the batter rest for 20-25 minutes while you fill a large Dutch oven with peanut oil and heat it to 375F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil doesn’t overheat, which causes uneven cooking.

Use an ice cream scoop to drop 2-3 scoops of batter into the hot oil at a time. Cook each side until golden brown. Doughnuts will cook very quickly in the right temperature oil, so check them quickly after you place them in the oil. Flip and cook the other side. Don’t crowd your pot, as this will cause the temperature to drop too rapidly, causing uneven cooking and can potentially cause your pot to overflow, which is dangerous!

Use a spatula to take the beignets out of the oil and let them sit on a paper towel lined plate for a minute or so, to absorb the excess oil. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven while you cook the rest of them.

When done, dust with powdered sugar and prepare to eat more than one!

Sinful Chocolate Truffles

7 Aug

What could possibly be wrong with a sumptuous mouthful of cream, chocolate and butter? If your genetic profile is anything like mine, there’s a lot wrong with these delicious truffles. As a matter of fact, I might as well bypass my digestive system completely and stick these directly onto my hips and thighs, since I’m incapable of eating just one. Who can, really?

Belgium’s love affair with chocolate ‘pralines’ & truffles traditionally unfolds at various quaint country tables, adorned with one’s best china and grandma’s hand-embroidered floral table cloth. Neighbors and friends eagerly gather around to catch up on the latest small town gossip, and to reconcile important town data such as who is getting married to whom and what was it that Marie overheard whilst standing in line at the butcher’s? To facilitate these impromptu social gatherings, a pot of freshly brewed coffee is there to loosen the tongues and the sugary sweetness of truffles is presented to melt away the bitter shock of hearing that the elderly pastor now has a pretty new housekeeper… and why is she so young? Not proper, I say.

Coffee is consumed by the liter in rural Flanders & beyond. You can’t ring someone’s doorbell without being beckoned to sit down at the kitchen table and have an unsolicited cup of joe appear under your nose within the first 5 minutes of entering, usually followed by an invitation to grab something from a box of sweets that permanently lives in the middle of the table. To my mom’s generation, a knock on the door holds the promise of an exciting bit of town gossip and one must be prepared for this kind of opportunity 24/7. No Belgian household is without coffee or chocolate. It’s just not proper.

When I first moved to the USA, glitzy Los Angeles of all, I remember that random people I had never seen before would wave at me enthusiastically on the street or greet me with a smile during my visits back to small town Belgium. It later dawned on me that my move to ‘Aahhhh-merica’ must have been the topic of conversation during many such coffee-orgies, undoubtedly piquing the interest of people who did not know Cecilia’s brave and/or adventurous daughter yet. I’m sure the news of ‘Helga-sightings’ spread fast within the community, like I was some sort of rare caribou one had to look out for. My mother’s main agenda for my visit back home was to cram in as many coffee gatherings as a week would allow. The upside of this was homemade cookies & Leonidas truffles at each one…

The truffle recipe below is an old-fashioned, artisan recipe I found online years ago. I tweaked it for flavor & richness of texture, but it’s fairly authentic and you can proudly serve these in a bowl… on your granny’s hand-crocheted doily. For good measure.

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BASIC TRUFFLES
For the ganache:
– 8 oz of dark chocolate
– 4 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 oz of good quality unsalted butter

For the coating:
– 4 oz of dark chocolate, melted
– ½ cup of semi-sweet cocoa powder

In a bowl, break chocolate into bite-size pieces and set aside. In a small sauce pan, heat heavy whipping cream over a medium heat until very hot. Add butter and stir until butter is melted. Then pour hot cream mixture over chocolate pieces and stir until all chocolate is melted and you achieve a smooth mass. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the chocolate mass, and refrigerate for a few hours until ganache is set.

When cold and stiff, take ganache out of the refrigerator. Using a double-boiler method, melt remaining chocolate for coating in a small saucepan. When melted and cool enough to handle, scoop small balls out of the ganache and gently coat them with the melted chocolate. Needless to say, coating the truffles is by far the messiest part of this recipe, but there’s no avoiding it so you might as well enjoy the mess. The best way to coat the truffles, is by gently rolling them around in the melted chocolate, using a chopstick or toothpick.

When coated, immediately take them out of the melted chocolate with a toothpick and roll them in a coating of your choice. Traditionally, semi-sweet cocoa powder is used, but you can also use chopped nuts, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, coconut flakes.. whatever you fancy, really.

Place the coated truffles on a parchment lined plate, and let harden in the fridge a little before serving.

ORANGE GRAND MARNIER TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following in the ganache:
– 1-2 Tbsp of Grand Marnier or Cointreau liquor
– 2 Tbsp of freshly grated orange zest

Coat truffles with semi-sweet cocoa powder.

IRISH TRUFFLES
Use basic truffle recipe above, and add the following to the ganache
– 1-2 Tbsp of good quality Whiskey
– 2 Tbsp of very strong coffee

Roll truffles in white chocolate shavings.

WHITE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH HONEY & SAFFRON
Use basic truffle recipe above, but replace dark chocolate with white chocolate. Add the following to the ganache:
– a pinch of saffron
– 1 Tbsp of honey
– a splash of white rum

For the coating, use melted white chocolate and roll truffles in powdered sugar, unsweetened coconut flakes or very finely chopped almonds

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Pink Grapefruit & Limoncello Mousse

6 Aug

Last time my mom visited from Belgium, I randomly asked her if she still remembered those little cups of yogurt mousse she used to buy for us by the dozen. We were on our way to ‘Surfas’ kitchen supply store in Culver City, in search of organic black squid ink – don’t ask! There was nothing in particular that sparked my question, so it is entirely possible that I overwhelmed her with the randomness of it, but mom firmly stated that she had no idea what I was talking about and quickly concluded that I must be remember things wrong, because mom is always right… even when she’s wrong. It’s a Flemish miracle, really, and one that should be recognized by a ribbon from the Pope and possible sainthood.

I know that I didn’t dream up this deliciousness, because I still remember exactly what the packaging looked like and I remember that this fluffy delight came in lemon, strawberry and blueberry flavor. The tart, sweet lemon flavor was by far my favorite, and I recall I would secretly re-shuffle the containers in the fridge so that the lemon ones were always hidden from plain sight in the back of the fridge, thusly, increasing the odds of saving them for yours truly by 200%. I was stealth like that.

Besides custards, mousses are my next favorite dessert things. I love their airy, light fluffiness. It was only recently that the idea of a pink grapefruit mousse slapped me in the face, when I read an article about how incorporating this fruit into your daily diet promotes weight loss… and what better way to do it than with dessert? Right?

Yeah.

I’m sure this is not what the author had in mind, but whatever. Don’t rain on my culinary parade, please.

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PINK GRAPEFRUIT & LIMONCELLO MOUSSE
(Adapted from a variety of mousse recipes)
– 2 ruby red or pink grapefruit
– 6 oz of thick Greek yogurt
– 7 oz of heavy whipping cream
– 2 Tbsp of limoncello (or another citrus-flavored liquor)
– 3 egg whites
– a pinch of salt
– 4 sheets of gelatin
– 2 Tbsp of sugar

Place gelatin sheets into a bowl of cold water and allow it to swell. When gelatin is soft, pour cold water out of the bowl and add 2-3 Tbsp of very hot/boiling water and allow swollen gelatin to melt. Let cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.

Juice both grapefruits and strain juice so all fleshy bits and pits stay behind. Combine clear grapefruit juice with limoncello. Fold sugar into yogurt, and add juice. Beat yogurt mixture with handheld mixer until well-combined and somewhat fluffy. Taste for sweetness, if it’s too tart, add a bit more sugar.

Beat heavy whipping cream until it is firm & fluffy, but not super stiff. Fold it gently into the yogurt mixture, together with the lukewarm melted gelatin.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, and gently fold these into the yogurt/cream mixture. Try to keep the air in the egg whites, as this will give your mousse a light, fluffy texture.

Divide mousse over 6 ramekins or small glasses, and allow to set in the refrigerator for at least 2-4 hours.

Belgian Rice Pudding with Saffron

5 Aug

‘Rijstpap’ or rice pudding is a much celebrated treat in Belgium, and it’s no coincidence why this rice dessert became a traditional regional dish in the Province of Brabant, encompassing the central heart of Belgium.

Every year in Flanders, from small rural towns to larger cities, this creamy dessert makes a star appearance during the annual ‘Brueghel Feesten’. These medieval-type festivities compare to the American renaissance fairs, but traditionally focus around food & drink whilst celebrating Flemish cultural heritage and the world-renowned artwork by ‘Master Painter’ Pieter Brueghel. During the 16th Century, Breughel’s work was highly sought after by the wealthy elite of the richer cities, and the humble ‘peasant’ painter was warmly embraced & respected in the high society circles of thriving medieval Brussels. His works mostly featured magnificent landscapes and bustling farm village life, often painted with a comical yet honest approach and illustrating the abundant food & drink at the festive farmers’ table in great detail. Since then, the often 2-day long ‘Breughel Feesten’, for which people dress up in traditional 16th Century peasant grab, are synonymous to copious amounts of free-flowing ‘tap’ beer, fantastic food and… plate after plate of creamy golden ‘rijstpap’.

Rijstpap made an appearance early on in Flemish history, and quickly became associated with rural life and heavenly simplicity. After all, as per an old Flemish folkloric saying, heaven welcomes you with bottomless bowls of rijstpap and golden spoons. I can’t testify to the veracity of this tale, but I’m on board!

This sweet, milk-based porridge bears somewhat of a resemblance to American rice pudding, but not entirely. For starters, a traditional Belgian rice pudding is spiced with saffron & cinnamon, and not just vanilla. Secondly, the texture is more porridge-like (‘rijst’ meaning rice, and ‘pap’ meaning porridge) and not quite as sweet or sugary as a pudding. And lastly, the dessert is classically eaten with a hefty dusting of dark brown sugar, that slowly melts into a molasses-type syrup when it blends with the milky rice. It’s ridiculously good and it brings back many happy childhood memories of the ‘Brueghel Feesten’ for me…

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Belgian Rice Pudding
(As per a childhood recipe)
– 1 liter of whole milk (or approx. 32 fl oz)
– 4 oz of long grain, white rice (dry)
– 1 vanilla bean
– 1 stick of cinnamon
– 1-2 hefty pinch(es) of saffron (if you like the flavor & color of saffron, use 2. If not, use 1)
– 5 Tbsp of sugar

Add the milk, rice, and sugar in a heavy pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to separate the grains. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and saffron threads, cover and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes or more, until the rice is tender and has absorbed the milk. Do not stir the rice during this part of cooking.

Stir with a wooden spoon when rice is tender, to spread the saffron color evenly.

Discard the cinnamon and vanilla, scoop the rice pudding into small bowls and allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar before serving.

Rose Water & Lemon Turkish Delight

4 Aug

Yesterday evening, I drifted into a beautiful Pinterest dream and stumbled upon picture after picture of gorgeous Polish and Turkish pottery.

There are times where I reminisce about my life in Belgium with somewhat of a pang of homesickness in the pit of my stomach, and seeing that beautiful pottery made me miss the Turkish markets in my town there. Compared to so much cultural history and ‘couleur locale’ (local ‘color’), California seems sterile at times, despite the Hispanic and Asian influence we’re inundated with over here. It’s not the same. I miss the public open-air markets in Belgium. They usually run once a week and are set up like our farmers markets over here, just with a lot more variety in goods and tremendously more local color. They bring together a variety of people, from the old bitties to the young hipsters, all in search of hot waffles and exciting market finds. The many vendors or ‘markt kramers’ are celebrities on their own turf, luring customers by loudly broadcasting their wares in a thundering voice and colorful language, or blatantly flattering the female population in hopes of piquing their interest. Market days were fun, even when temperatures dropped to single digits and rain puddles formed alongside the cobblestone streets.

One of the things I would regularly indulge in whilst browsing around on market days, was delicious ‘lokum’ or Turkish Delight. Sweet, gooey & soft, it was the perfect kind of treat to reward yourself with after a busy morning at the market, or to make you forget you’re entering your fifth week of nonstop pounding rain & howling wind. Paired with a hot cup of mint tea, it brings a bit of Oriental flair into your home and you can pretend you went shopping at the ‘casbah’ or Turkish bazaar.

Turkish delight is easy to make. It’s traditionally flavored with rose water, like marzipan, but you can add whichever flavoring you prefer. I prefer the authentic rose water flavor, but I add in some fresh lemon juice as well. You could even add in some pistachio nuts, fresh mint leaves or a pinch of saffron. The possibilities for these gelees are endless.

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ROSE WATER & LEMON TURKISH DELIGHT
(Makes approx. 60 pieces)
– 1 2/3 cups of cold water
– 7 tsp of unflavored gelatin (approx. 4 packages)
– 2 1/3 cups of sugar
– 3 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
– 4 tsp of rose water
– 2 drops of red food coloring
– corn starch
– vegetable oil

Brush a 8x8x2-inch non-stick metal pan with the oil. Place 2/3 cup of water in a small bowl, and sprinkle gelatin in it. Set aside until gelatin softens, approx. 15 minutes.

Combine remaining 1 cup of water, sugar and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup boils. Cover, increase the heat and boil 3 more minutes.

Uncover, attach a candy thermometer, and boil until temperature reaches 238F, which should be about 5 min.

Remove pan from the heat and add in gelatin mixture, store until completely dissolved. Mix in the rose water and food coloring (*), and pour into oil-brushed prepared pan. Let stand at room temperature until set, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.

Cut candy into small squares and completely coat with corn starch. You can keep these in the fridge in an airtight container for approx. 1-2 weeks.

(*) Food coloring is strictly for color only and you can leave this out or add as much as little if you desire. You can also play around with different colors.

Mama’s Tiramisu

3 Aug

In my post about lasagna, I’ve hinted before that mom was mystifyingly Italian, for a Belgian. While she not only was is a passionate believer in enhancing verbal communication with dramatic facial expressions and/or hand gestures, she also prepared certain Italian staples like a real ‘Mama Gina’, with ‘passione’ and the prerequisite matriarchal dominance of the kitchen quarters.

As a child, I recall there were many times I’d be perched on the kitchen counters, intrigued by the tantalizing smells and mom’s busy activity, but there were an equal number of times where our mere presence in the kitchen would catapult her into a peppered tizzy and we instinctively knew to keep our distance. On ‘tiramisu-days’, we’d be lucky if we were even allowed to stand in the doorframe and watch… And even then, the sight of us would often result in an annoyed hand gesture and a quick dismissal, as though tiramisu was top secret and you needed special Governmental clearance before you could watch.

I’m not even sure where mom got the recipe below from, but if you’ve ever had the opportunity to savor the ‘real thing’ from a sun-drenched patio in Napoli, you’d instantly recognize that mom was on to something with this recipe. It’s so creamy and velvety, that the first bite of this deliciousness sends you straight to a cobblestone piazza somewhere in Rome. Furthermore, tiramisu is so easy to make, it should be a mortal sin, really.

While it takes some advance planning since tiramisu needs 8-10 hours in the refrigerator, it’s a ‘no bake’, foolproof dessert that is a real show-stopper. Heck, even your teenage daughter may briefly forget about your ‘lameness’ and kiss you on the cheek for this one. And wouldn’t that be worth it???

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MAMA’S TIRAMISU
(As per my mom’s top secret instructions… Sshhh!!!)
– 10.5 oz of ladyfinger cookies (*)
– 9 oz of mascarpone
– 3 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz Amaretto liquor
– 7 oz of very strong cold coffee (coffee that is so strong, you can’t drink it!)
– 2 Tbsp of golden brown sugar
– 1/3 cup of sweetened cocoa powder (Nesquick works great!)
(*) The trick to a great tiramisu is using ‘real’ ladyfinger cookies like they sell in most of Europe. They are crunchy and light, and dusted with a bit of crystal sugar on the outside. The American ladyfinger cookies are too ‘cakey’ and not crunchy at all. If you can’t find Italian ladyfinger cookies or ‘savoiarde’, use Nilla wafers instead.If you don’t know what ladyfinger cookies look like, you can see some of them in the picture of my chocolate mousse post.

Beat egg yolks, mascarpone and sugar into a smooth consistency with your electric, handheld mixer.
In a clean, oil free bowl, beat egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into the egg/mascarpone mixture by hand.

Combine coffee and Amaretto liquor.

Take a 9×13 oven dish (or similar in size). No need to butter or flour, because this is a no-bake dessert!

Dip ladyfinger cookies quickly in coffee mixture one-by-one, and place in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Don’t make the mistake I made once and drop your entire package of cookies all at once in the coffee, as you will not have enough time to take them out and they’ll disintegrate into a sloppy coffee mess before your thy very eyes. You need to really do this one by one, and dunk ’em, don’t let them ‘sit’ for too long in the liquid, as they will start to fall apart.

When you’ve completed a layer of coffee-dunked cookies, spread a 1/4 thick layer of the mascarpone mixture over the top with a spatula. Place another layer of coffee-dipped cookies on the top, and repeat this process until you reach the top of your pan. Finish with a layer of the mascarpone mixture.

Dust the top layer of the mascarpone mixture liberally with the powdered cocoa, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. This will allow the cookies to soften and absorb the creaminess of the mascarpone. In the morning, the cocoa on the top will have melted into a shimmering layer of chocolatey goodness. If you like, you can sprinkle some shaved milk chocolate over the top right before serving.

Now go and make this. Do it now. Really, your family will love you.

Jozefa’s Chocolate Mousse

2 Aug

Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Blech!

Not to trample on an American staple, but telling me that this overly sweet and unnaturally flavored syrup tastes like ‘chocolate’, is like telling me that fried pork rinds are wholesome. I fully comprehend the nostalgia behind Hershey’s syrup and, just like Velveeta, I believe there’s a place for it in our culinary repertoire, but let chocolate mousse not be part if it. OK?

Alright. I’ll come right out saying that I’m a bona fide chocolate snob. I’m Belgian, you can’t hold it against me, really. I’ll take Swiss chocolate as a close second, and San Francisco’s Ghirardelli as a third, if all else fails and I’m at imminent risk of turning into a brooding murderous harpy during that time of the month. If it’s any consolation, British Cadbury ranks right down there with Hershey’s as well in my book. Don’t get me wrong: I love America. I will defend America vehemently in cultural debates with my European friends. I love baseball, Texas BBQ and bull riding. Just not American chocolate.
I think one of the worst chocolate experiences I’ve had in this country was a chocolate mousse I ate at a little bistro in Morristown, NJ several years ago. It wasn’t per se horrible but it definitely wasn’t ‘chocolate’ what my taste buds were concerned. And it certainly wasn’t anything like the chocolate mousse my grandma used to make, but then again, Jozefa set the bar way high.

With my hips arbitrarily expanding from a size 12 to a size 16 at the mere sight of dessert in the blink of an eye, I try to watch what I eat but let me be clear: there’s a time and a place for everything, and dessert is no place to skimp on butter, cream and/or sugar. As a matter of fact, I’d rather not have dessert at all if I can’t have the full fat stuff. My grandma understood this too and her chocolate mousse would have earned her a ribbon from the Pope. It’s that good! So without further ado, I must bring her genius into this world and spread the love.

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JOZEFA’S CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
(My grandma’s recipe for a perfectly delicious chocolate mousse!)
– 8 oz of good quality semi-sweet dark chocolate (the higher the cacao %, the better!)
– 1.5 cups of heavy whipping cream
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3.5 oz of sugar

Melt chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

HELGA’S GROWN-UP HAZELNUT AMARETTO MOUSSE
(Adapted from my grandma’s chocolate mousse recipe above)
– 4 oz of good quality dark chocolate
– 4 oz of gianduja chocolate (*)
– 1 cup of heavy cream
– 3 Tbsp of Amaretto liquor
– A splash of pure hazelnut extract (or hazelnut liquor like Frangelico)
– 6 eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 3 oz of sugar
(*) Gianduja is a firm, Italian chocolate bar made from ground hazelnuts and milk chocolate. You can usually find bars of gianduja chocolate at your local Italian delicatessen. If you cannot find gianduja chocolate, replace it with Nutella, but drop cream down to 3/4 cup.

Melt all chocolate ‘au bain marie’, aka in a double boiler, until completely liquid. In the meantime, beat egg yolks, amaretto, hazelnut extract and sugar into a firm, light pale foam. Add liquid chocolate to the yolks, and fold everything together by hand.

In a clean & oil-free bowl, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture by hand, making sure not to break the air bubbles in the egg whites too much. Do this slowly and gently, until everything is well combined.

In a bowl, beat cream until fluffy but still runny. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll end up with stiff whipped cream! You want the cream to be fluffy and somewhat airy, not stiff. Fold cream into chocolate mixture by hand. Divide over 6 bowls and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to stiffen.

Brussels’ Waffles

26 Jul

A thing that always makes me chuckle a bit inside and silently go pffft!, is when my American friends ask me about ‘Belgian’ waffles… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that question, nor do I mock the inquisitor, it’s just that there’s many different kinds of waffles and for a Belgian, there’s no such thing as a ‘Belgian’ waffle. For starters, there’s the ‘Liege’ sugar waffle with crunchy bits of pearled sugar baked into them and usually served gooey & hot, then there’s the ‘vanilla’ variety which has more of a dry, crumbly tea cake consistency and is frequently sold pre-packaged in the grocery store, or the ‘Stroopwafels’ you find near the border with Holland, which are traditionally filled with a buttery caramel… just to name a few. But for the sake of good cross-cultural understanding, I can tell you that the traditional ‘Belgian’ waffle, adored by so many, is actually a yeast waffle from the city of Brussels.

Airy, fluffy and light on the inside, they’re browned to a buttery crisp on the outside, with just enough sweetness & crunch to please every palette. As a regular pitstop on our way home from the ‘Museum of Natural History’ or the ‘School Museum’, it’s exactly the kind of waffle my grandpa would look forward to when he’d ring the bell & we’d step off the busy tram. He’d eagerly grab it with both hands, skillfully balancing the sugared whipped cream on top, and bite into it with such gusto, that his custom-made pearly whites would cling to the deliciousness the minute he’d pull the waffle out of his mouth, and we’d snort with laughter. Not that that ever happened! Carry on.

‘Brusselse wafels’ rose to fame (pardon the pun) because of one special guest appearance: YEAST! Yeast dough is like the Ella Fitzgerald of all pastry doughs: jazzy, smooth and easy to digest. Think about it. It’s no surprise that doughnuts made with yeast are 10x more delicious than the ones who aren’t… Krispy Kreme? Anyone?

Here’s an homage to a true Belgian classic. (Fixodent not included…)

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BRUSSELS’ WAFFLES
(from grandma’s handwritten recipe booklet…)
– 3 farm fresh eggs, yolks & whites separated
– 12 oz of warmed milk, preferably whole
– 3/4 oz of fresh yeast (or 1 packet of dry active yeast)
– 12 oz of sparkling water, room temperature
– 16 3/4 oz of self-rising flour (approx. 3.5 cups), sifted
– 5.3 oz of good butter (approx. 10.5 Tbsp)
– a pinch of salt
– 1-2 Tbsp of sugar

Heat waffle iron until it’s piping hot!

Seperate egg whites and yolks in two bowls, and set aside.

Warm milk and combine with yeast and sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 min.

Lightly beat yolks and add warmed milk and yeast. Beat until incorporated, then add sparkling water and stir gently until well-combined. Sift flour directly into the milk mixture, beat with an electric mixer until all lumps are smoothed out.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan and beat egg whites into stiff peaks. Pour melted butter into batter and gently fold in stiffened egg whites by hand, and add a pinch of salt as well. Set batter aside for 20-30 minutes, so yeast can work and batter has time to rise.

When the batter shows bubbles an appears “alive”, you’re ready to start baking!

Make sure to butter all sides of your waffle iron, regardless of whether it is non-sticker not. Pour 1/3 cup of batter per waffle, and allow waffle to brown completely. Every waffle iron is different, so it’s a bit hard for me to say how long this will take with your machine. You want the waffles to be crisp and brown on the outside.

Serve with powdered sugar, brown sugar or whipped cream for an authentic Belgian treat… or go a bit crazy and add crisped bacon, ham or cheese to the batter for a hearty salty & sweet combination!

Banana Butter

24 Jul

It is no secret that there was a lot of banana-love to go around in our humble, ranch-style country home. As a matter of fact, my brother & I loved them so much that – to this day – we both vividly recall a traumatic very unfortunate episode from our youth in which mom decided to stock up on canned bananas, in an effort to meet basic supply & demand on a teacher’s budget. Since our mother was of the ‘no-nonsense’ type breed, she didn’t just buy a single can or two to give them a try. NO! She went ahead and bought a Costco-size pallet of them, to ensure she’d get us through the banana-famine that were our harsh Belgian Winters back in the day. Her heart was in the right place, but seriously mom?! Canned bananas???

If you’ve never heard of ‘canned’ bananas, go hug your mom now and thank her for not crossing over to the dark side. They were, for lack of better wording, nasty! Mom Tootsie Farklepants didn’t help the matter by maintaining a strict zero-tolerance policy in wasting food so… There you have it. I’ll spare you the gory detail, but let’s just say that for several months later, you would find partially-chewed canned bananas stuffed in the most peculiar places. Including our lawnmower.

None of this was enough to kill my banana-love, though. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than a warm, toasted English muffin, schmeared with butter and topped with honey-drizzled sliced bananas. Yum!

I have to include a moment here to thank ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’ for feeding me that delicious apple-butter that comes with their sweet, warm biscuits. The recipe below was totally inspired by that genius, so I owe them at least an honorable mentioning.

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BANANA BUTTER
(Inspired by ‘Lucille’s Smokehouse’)
– 1 stick of room-temperature butter
– 1/2 of a very ripe banana
– 1/3 of a small, sweet apple, grated
– 1/4 cup of agave syrup (or honey)
– 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
– a pinch of grated nutmeg
– a pinch of ground clove

In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, combine all the inredients until well-combined & blended. Scoop mixture onto parchment paper and make a 1-1.5 inch roll out of it. Twist ends of the parchment to press butter roll together. Place roll in the refrigerator and allow to firm up for a few hours.

Coincidentally, this sweet butter goes great with the crepes I posted the other day, or melt a slice of the butter into some warm dark rum for a tasty hot buttered rum beverage!

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