Sunday, December 20, 2009

Filled vanilla cookies

A very simple yet cute dessert that can be assembled in 30 minutes. You do need to leave it in the fridge overnight though.

1 pkg of Maria cookies or a similar dry, round cookie
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavor
1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
1.5 cup milk
4 tbsp butter
unsweetened coconut flakes

Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and coffee powder in a small pot. Slowly add in the milk and mix in as well as you can (it doesn't need to be completely smooth at this point). Heat on medium-high stirring constantly. The mixture should become smooth and thick. When the cream is very viscous, pull it off the heat, add the butter and keep stirring until smooth.

Stack the cookies layering the cream in between them. Put only a thin layer of cream, about half the thickness of a cookie.

When all the cookies are used up, lay the stacks on their sides and connect them into one roll. Coat the top with the cream and dust with coconut flakes. Roll this side to the bottom, and spread cream on all the other sides, coating with coconut. It should prevent the aluminum foil from sticking to the cake.

Roll it up in the foil and place it in the fridge overnight. The next day peel off the foil and slice the cake sideways.
You can prepare a coconut, almond or vanilla cream by leaving out the cocoa powder and adding in almond flavor, coconut flakes or vanilla sugar. Using the chocolate cream in combination with a white cream you can make brown and white stripes.

In Hungary we used to make this using Albert cookies, but it works equally well with the Norwegian Marie kjeks or the Spanish las galletas Maria. Though in my opinion, Albert cookies are tastier, with a stronger vanilla flavor :-)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snowball or Cossack's hat

A week before Christmas my family's kitchen would transform into a council room. The women of the family, my grandmother, mum, and myself, would sit around the table poring over the traditional Christmas recipes. Most of the cakes required the best of a day's work, and many needed to sit in a cold room for a day or two to reach an edible state. But they also kept well, as the lack of refrigerator space and the desire to abandon all hard work for a few days compelled our ancestors to select recipes with that criterion in mind.

So, one would imagine cookies were the sweets of the season. Alas, it was not so. Christmas was a time when even if we lacked the monetary ability to ensure nice gifts would await everyone under the Christmas tree, the women would try to provide rich, creamy cakes for every day of the holidays. And as you will see, these were not cakes layered with simple buttercreams, but rather with pastry cream-types. They were not the (in my opinion) overly sweet, whipped butter and icing sugar mixtures, but ones based on a cooked custard which was then enriched by the incorporation of some butter. There is an enormous difference, I think everyone who has ever tried one of my Hungarian-style cakes can attest to this.

Snowball, variations of which are also called Cossack's hat, is a traditional Christmas cake in my family. Google "cossack AND hat" and you will immediately understand the name choice. The above picture also contains a little rummy coconut ball, which happens to be a delicious byproduct of this cake. Such rum-coconut balls are a popular way to recycle leftover cake materials in Hungary. Personally, I think Snowball makes the best leftovers for this.

On to the recipe:
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites whipped to a hard foam
200g / 1cup sugar
4 tbsp hot water
125g / 1.25cup flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
30g / 2tbsp cocoa powder

2.5tbsp flour
200mL milk
1 tbsp vanilla flavor
100g butter
100g icing sugar

unsweetened, organic coconut flakes for coating

Optional: chocolate and butter for the icing

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease and flour a 9x11 inch baking shape.

Mix the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and light yellow. Add in the hot water and mix.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Add to the egg mixture and stir until smooth. If the batter is too hard, you may add a little more water. Whip up the egg whites and fold the foam into the rest of the batter.

Pour evenly into the baking shape. Immediately bake in the preheated oven. Done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute. The edges will separate from the baking shape during this time. Place a cutting board on top of the baking shape and flip them together. Allow to sit for 20 seconds, the cake should fall out from the shape onto the board.

Remove the baking shape and flip the cake on the board so the top is facing up. Set aside.

For the filling: mix the flour and the milk in a saucepan, adding a little milk at a time. When they are blended, turn on the heat and stirring constantly bring to a boil. The flour should thicken the mixture until it's a thick custard. Pull off the heat and allow to cool completely, finishing up the process in the fridge.

When the cooked portion of the cream is cold, with a handmixer whip into it the soft (not melted!) butter, the icing sugar and the vanilla. You can taste the cream now, it should be delicious :-)

Finally, assembling the cakes: cut the rectangular cake horizontally in the middle to form two layers. Using a round cutting shape, cut small (1.5 inch) circles from both the top and the bottom layers. Match the top and bottom circles so you get equally tall pairs in the end.

With a knife, spread the butter cream in the middle, and around the cakes as well, leaving the top and bottom dry.

Roll the creamy edges in coconut flakes. All done. Now repeat with each of the pieces!

The remaining cake will be crumbled into the leftover cream. Rum can be added for flavor, as well as extra milk if necessary to bring the mix together. Then form balls (you can insert a rummy sour-cherry in the middle...if you have some at hand...if you don't, I will post the recipe for those later :-), finally roll the balls in the coconut flakes as well.

Now, if you are fond of chocolate, you may want to coat these with some real chocolate frosting. If so, melt about 100g of dark chocolate on the lowest possible heat (alternatively over a water bath or in the microwave). Mix in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter until you get a shiny, smooth chocolate sauce. Use this to top the cakes. It will solidify into a beautifully glossy, real chocolate frosting.

If you are brave enough to make these, let me know how they worked!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cheesecake brownies

Another quick and easy recipe.

19.8 ounce package brownie mix plus whatever is required on the package (oil, eggs, water)
8 ounce cream cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to the temperature designated on the brownie package. Grease a 7x11inch pan. Prepare the brownie mix per the instructions on the box. Pour into the greased pan.

With a hand mixer blend together the cream cheese, egg sugar and vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Distribute in dollops on top of the brownie mix in the pan. Swirl together using a knife.

Bake according to manufacturer's instructions. Done when a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan, then cut into bars and serve. Delicious!

I usually use a fudge brownie mix, as I don't like chocolate bits, but I like my brownies stickier than the original. Try it with a glass of cool milk! Yumm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cranberry apple cake

I prepared this coffee cake recently, in an attempt to use up some leftover dried cranberries. All in all it was an easy cake to make with rather tasty results.

2 medium Gala apples
5 tbsp softened butter
1/2 cup milk
1.5 cups flour
0.75 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves, and ginger each
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 egg
1/2 cup dried cranberries
icing sugar to decorate

Grease and flour a 10inch round baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and finely chop the apples.

Mix the flour, baking powder, coconut flakes and spices together.

In a separate bowl mix the butter with the sugar. Add in the vanilla extract and the egg, beat till smooth. To the mixture add the milk and the flour blend in small portions, alternating between the two. Finally fold in the apple and the cranberries. Pour into the baking shape and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the shape for 2 minutes, then remove onto a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar.

I was in trouble at this step, as I didn't have a sieve. I resolved the problem by using the small holes on my grater to distribute the sugar. It worked out surprisingly well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pumpkin muffins

I'm sharing a quick and easy recipe for these autumn favorites. My husband or I usually make a batch and freeze them to eat for breakfast over the week.
A must-have for every cinnamon lover!

1.5 cups flour
1.25 cups sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup canned, solid-pack pumpkin
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

In a bowl mix the eggs, pumpkin, oil, spices, baking soda and sugar. Whisk until smooth. In a separate bowl mix the flour and baking powder. Combine with pumpkin mix, do not overmix!
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour the baking shape, or line the muffin cups with paper.
Spoon the muffin batter into the muffin shape, distributing it equally among the 12 cups. (If you are using a medium cup size.)

Dust the top of the batter with sugar and cinnamon. Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 3 minutes in the shape, then remove onto a cookie rack.

Try these with some whipped cream on top. An amazing combination!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pita bread and pita chips

Spicy gyros served in soft, slightly chewy but warm pita bread is an unbeatable fast food. The pita pockets and other packaged pita bread options of supermarkets don't even approach the qualities of a piece of freshly-baked pita straight out of the oven. And they aren't hard to make. In fact, as far as breads go, they are about as easy as it gets. And the "pockets"... well they appear on their own as you bake the bread. Each piece puffs up in the oven, and if you cut off a piece of the finished product, you will discover that there is indeed a pocket inside.

There are many recipes out there, the one I'm about to share here is simple and never fails to yield perfect pita pockets.

1 tbsp dry yeast
1.5 cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
3-3.25 cups flour
1 tsp salt
olive oil to coat the dough

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 0.5 cup warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes, until the top gets frothy. Meanwhile combine the flour with the salt in a medium bowl and form a hole in the middle. When the yeast solution proofed, pour it into the hole and add the remaining 1 cup of warm water as well. Mix until it comes together into a sticky dough.

Remove from the bowl and knead for 3 minutes (or until smooth) adding more flour as necessary. You should get a soft, elastic dough in the end. Take a clean, dry bowl and add a little bit of olive oil to the bottom (as little as possible in order to coat the dough completely). Roll your dough in the oil to lightly coat. Cover the dough in the bowl and allow to rise for 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 500
°F with a baking sheet on the shelf closest to the bottom. Arrange your other oven shelves so that later you can toss the pita dough onto the hot baking sheet easily.

Pinch off balls of the dough without deflating ith too much, to form 10 equal sized balls in the end. Place them onto a floured surface and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 15 more minutes.

When your oven is ready, take 3-4 balls and roll them out into a thin (1/4 inch) circle. Toss onto the hot baking sheet in your preheated oven. Bake for around 3 minutes, then turn and bake for 2 more minutes. Allow to cool a bit on a cookie rack under a piece of cloth before serving (or freezing). You will need to adjust the baking times according to your oven.

These can also be turned into scrumptious pita chips: slice each pita into 8 wedges, brush with extra virgin olive oil (this gives it a wonderful taste). Place the wedges onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Salt and pepper to taste (paprika is delicious on them too). Bake for 5-10 minutes in a preheated 400°F oven, turning once. You want the chips to be golden brown. Be careful not to burn them! Serve with your favorite hummus:

Jo etvagyat! (Bon appetit!)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hungarian plum dumplings aka szilvas gomboc

First of all, I need to clarify right from the start: Hungarian dumplings ≠ Chinese dumplings. They are both delicious, but definitely not the same thing. Hungarian dumplings are usually served as a sweet dish after a hearty soup.

Plum dumplings were not a favorite of mine, until I decided that they deserved more attention and experimented to optimize the recipe to my liking. I have to mention that my entire family plus our granny-aged neighbor enthusiastically approved of my alterations. I always found the sugar-cube-stuffed, whole plum inside the dumpling repulsive and the surrounding dumpling material too dry. My dad admitted that he used to 'pit' the dumplings, disposing of the plum on the inside. If you had either of these issues with the traditional dumplings, give these a shot!

Without further ado, I give you the ultimate plum dumplings:

500g (1 pound) of potatoes
120g all-purpose flour
1tsp semolina/farina
1 egg
1tsp sugar
a pinch of salt
10 prune plums washed, pitted and halved
1 tbsp cinnamon
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Peel, boil, drain, cool and puree the potatoes. The potato mash needs to be nice and smooth.

While the potatoes are boiling, you can prepare the breadcrumb coating. In a frying pan mix the sugar and breadcrumbs with the oil. Heat on medium, stirring often until the breadcrumbs turn light brown and the sugar caramelizes onto them. Be careful not to burn them! Mix in the cinnamon and pull of the heat. Keep stirring for a while to make sure the crumbs don't burn. Set aside.

In a bowl mix the potato mash with the egg, then add the flour, salt, sugar and semolina. Work into a smooth albeit sticky dough. Amply flour a work area and with your fingers push the dough into a small rectangle. Spread the top with flour as well, and roll out into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Cut into 3-inch squares.

Set a large pot of water to boil.

For the filling mix the cinnamon and the sugar.

Place half a plum and approximately 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon sugar at the center of each dough square. Take the squares and squeeze together the corners, enfolding the plum and the sugar. Gently form them into balls. Place them onto a well-floured surface. When the water is boiling, lower them into the water a few at a time. They will likely stick to the bottom of the pot, so after a few minutes carefully dislodge them with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to squish them!

At this point they will be able to float to the surface when done. The picture below shows the dumplings before cooking.

When the dumplings are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon draining off the water. Place them into the breadcrumb mixture. Start cooking the next round of dumplings. When the ones in the breadcrumb mix had a minute to cool, coat them with the breadcrumbs by shaking the pan. Carefully remove them into a serving dish. They may be very soft at this point, but as the dumplings cool they will get harder.

Serve them warm, dusted with icing sugar:

If you have leftover breadcrumbs, you can freeze them for your next cooking experiment.

These dumplings are also delicious filled with hard plum marmalade. The marmalade will get soft as you cook the dumplings.

The same dough can be used to make nudli, a Hungarian version of gnocchi. Simply cut the rolled out dough into small bits and boil. Remove into the caramelized breadcrumbs and serve with icing sugar and drizzled with hot jam. Jo etvagyat!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Potato langos: a Hungarian, fried, soft bread

A simple, quick and delicious Hungarian "fast-food". If frying scares you, just remember: when done at the right temperature barely any oil gets absorbed into the fried item. For this particular baking experiment I collected the oil at the end, and measured the "loss". Only two tablespoons of oil disappeared into the langos, which made 10 meals...and some of the oil remained coating the dish I used for frying. So, don't be scared!

3-4 medium potatoes peeled, cooked and finely mashed
2-3 cups of flour
1 egg
1 tbsp dry yeast
1tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
1 inch deep oil for frying in your choice of cookware

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm milk, allow to sit at room temp or warmer for around 10 minutes. It should get frothy on top.

Meanwhile measure out 2 cups of flour and have more ready nearby. Salt the flour (I used around 2tsp, but tastes differ) and mix. Add the potato mash to the flour and mix. Finally add in the egg and yeast solution and work it together.
The dough should be on the soft side, but not too sticky. Add flour or warm milk as needed.
When the dough is smooth and elastic, cut into 10 pieces. Form them into balls of dough and place them onto a well-floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for around 40 minutes in a warm oven.

For this part I usually turn on the oven for a very short period of time before I place the dough inside. Make sure the oven is not too hot, you don't want your yeast to die, or your langos to bake! Below is a picture of a few of my dough balls:

About 10 minutes before you want to start frying your first langos, start heating the oil at the medium-high setting. You don't want the oil to burn, but the oil should be on the hot side.

When the oil is ready, just take a ball and trying not to deflate it too much, stretch it into a circle with your hands. Quickly lower into the oil. Be careful and avoid getting burnt!

When one side of the langos is golden, turn with a fork. It happens very quickly (60-90 seconds), so keep careful watch over it!

When both sides are cooked, remove onto a paper towel in order to drip away the little oil that sticks to the surface.

People serve these delicious pieces of soft bread with many different toppings. Sour cream and cheese are typical in Hungary, as well as garlic. In Sweden, where langos is a popular dish at festivals, they also serve it with shrimp and caviar.
I prepared them with chopped onions, red peppers, sour cream and grated cheddar. But sour cream remains my favorite topping.

Serve them warm. If you can't eat them all (or if you are able to restrain yourself even though you could) it's possible to store these frozen. After a quick spin in the microwave, they are nearly as delicious as fresh.

I tried very hard to snap a good picture which would illustrate just how soft these are...but alas, I failed. This pic was perhaps the best:

I can only encourage you to be brave and try it, you will see, these are worth the trouble!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spicy oven fries

I love fries. There is something about the greasy starch, flavored by the Maillard reaction, that I find irresistible. As deep frying is such a hassle, and not terribly healthy either, I had to find alternatives to satiate my hunger for the crispy potato wedges.

Here is the ultimate recipe that makes spicy, crispy and all around delicious chips:

3-4 large red skinned potatoes (works with other kinds as well, but these are the best)
1tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper, paprika to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into 0.5inch x 0.5inch sticks. Toss them with the olive oil and the spices. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and for best crunchiness arrange the potato wedges on it in a single layer, and minimize their contact surface. Bake for 35-45 minutes...this will depend on the final size of your potato bits and your oven. Serve warm. Delicious stuff!

It's easy and yummy. Try it, and let me know how it worked!