Thursday, August 25, 2016

Buckwheat Berry Striped Cake & August Baking

Always on the lookout for recipes with different kinds of flour, I came across this beauty of a late summer cake recipe by Melissa Clark – a pretty as a picture Buckwheat Berry Stirped Cake. Melissa points out that „the combination of buckwheat and whole wheat flour gives this deeply buttery cake a character that is nutty, rich and complex, while a little almond flour adds tenderness“. And, on a weeknight, it is nice to go with something simple yet stunning for dessert – like this amazing cake.

And baking this cake in a tart pan with removable bottom instead of  a cake pan allows the colorful berries to rest on top of the batter rather than sink to the bottom. I found the berry stripes simply striking and opted for late season redcurrants and blueberries here. You should definitely feel free to create any design you like. And do remember to serve this on the same day as you bake it, preferably within 6 hours of baking. It is true, because this is a rather moist cake, it does not keep that well overnight.

Buckwheat actually comes from the seeds of a plant related to rhubarb and is neither related to wheat, nor, technically, a grain.  It is usually found in ground form, but can also be bought as wholegrain groats, cracked as flakes or cereal, and in processed foods such as pasta.  Delicious in salads, it lends itself well to being mixed with other pseudo-grains such as quinoa. Buckwheat flour – or farine de sarrasin in French – is in itself always gluten-free. It can be added to pancakes, muffins, rustic porridges, pierogi dumplings, blinis, galettes, fruit flans and soba noodles. The fine-textured flour is grey-ish, speckled with black.

Buckwheat has an intense, earthy, slightly nutty and smoky flavor. Healthwise, buckwheat is rich in vitamins and minerals. Buckwheat flour is available in specialist stores, Polish or Russian grocers, some supermarkets and most health food stores and it is pretty easy to find online. And note that as buckwheat contains about double the oil of most cereals, which affects its shelf life, once opened, it should be kept it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Some cooks and foodies assert that „buckwheat is an acquired taste. But once you've acquired it, you'll want it all the time“. Andf I believe they are right.

Buckwheat Berry Striped Cake
(recipe inspired by the wonderfully talented Melissa Clark)

Ingredients for the Batter
  • ⅓ cup/40 grams almond flour (or grind natural almonds yourself)
  • ⅓ cup/45 grams AP (plain) flour
  • ⅓ cup/45 grams whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup/30 grams buckwheat flour
  • ½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon (which I believe goes so well with the flours used in this recipe)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 stick/114 grams unsalted butter, softened, more for buttering the tart pan
  • ½ cup/100 grams superfiine (caster) baking sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • ¼ cup/60 milliliters buttermilk, sour cream or whole milk yogurt (I used natural yogurt)
  • 1 cup mixed berries, such as blueberries and redcurrants

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 1 tspn raw turbinado sugar
  • confectioners’ sugar, for serving
  • softly whipped, lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 190° C (375°F) and butter a 25 cm (10-inch) tart pan with a removable bottom. 
  2. Line the bottom with a round of baking parchment, and butter that as well.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together almond, all-purpose, whole wheat and buckwheat flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
  5. Beat in egg, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. 
  6. Beat in buttermilk or yogurt. (The mixture will look curdled, and that is fine - as soon as you add the dry ingredients, the batter will smooth out again.)
  7. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined.
  8. Scrape batter into prepared tart pan, smoothing and leveling the top.
  9. Place berries on top of batter and sprinkle with turbinado or granulated sugar.
  10. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. 
  11. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and unmold. 
  12. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, serve as is or with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Honestly, I cannot wait to make this cake again. I will experiment with other fruit and let you know how that turns out. We took it to one of our picnics and it transported so well, not really needing anything but a slight dusting of confectioners´ sugar on top – that day we skipped the lightly whippped cream or the crème fraîche as we were outside but having served this at home as well, I can attest to the fact that it tastes heavenly with a bit of cream on the side…and this cake is a wonderful alternative to those buckles, grunts, tarts and galettes that are all utterly delicious but that miss that elegant and different look of this beauty of a cake. Let´s not forget to mention the texture of this cake, it is very moist, it literally melts in your mouth and it is ever so slightly crisp at the edges - truly a cake that the Britsih would refer to as a "damp cake", shortly, my kind of cake.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fabulous Coffee & Late Summer Panforte

Summer is almost over but not quite. School starts again in a few days. To say we were treated to nice warm weather would be overstating it, but personally, I prefer a bit of a breeze when we are travelling on route to Belgium and the Netherlands on day-trips. One such day-trip always leads us to visit the Exotic Market in Antwerp, Belgium and there a visit to my favorite mobile coffee roaster has become a must. During my last visit to the Market, the lovely Alfio "an Italian in Belgium with the passion of [sic] coffee" recommended an Ethiopian coffee to me and I happily followed his recommendation, bought a bag of his wonderfully fragrant coffee beans, roasted on sight in his coffee truck, happily sipped a warming, milky cappuccino and glanced at the coloful fruit and veggie stalls all spread out over the Theaterplein, the rather large area where the Exotic Market takes place every Saturday.

The next day, I contacted Alfio per Instagram - the fun part is that I posted a picture of his coffee truck a while back and we have been following each other´s accounts since - to get more information about the coffee beans that I bought. And I was wondering what kinds of flavors would complement his wonderful coffee the best - Panforte came to my mind, immediately, it is a cool summer after all and the strong character of Panforte turned out to be a wonderful complement to his Ethopian organic coffee which Alfio comments as follows: "Ethiopia Sidamo, a superb coffee from Ethiopia that has a unique flavour, mild, spicy and wine-like with floral aroma". Ethiopia Sidamo is a type of Arabica coffee of single origin grown exclusively in the Sidamo Province of Ethiopia.

Panforte or as its is also referred to Panforte di Siena is a traditional Italian treat that somewhat resembles fruitcake or German gingerbread (Lebkuchen). It is a flat, yet chunky, rich, boldly spiced indulgence, dense with toasted nuts and dried fruit or candied fruit peel. It may date back to 13th century Siena, in Italy's Tuscany region. Documents from 1205 show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax which was due on the seventh of February that year.

Literally, panforte means "strong bread" which refers to the spicy flavor. The original name of panforte was "panpepato" (peppered bread), due to black pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests, and to the use of panforte in surviving sieges.

But do not let its humble looks deceive you. A dark, bumpy appearance barely concealed by a dusting of icing sugar, panforte is a most delicious thing. It it not really a cake it is actually more like soft, chewy, heavily spiced nougat chock-full with toasted almonds, hazelnuts and a copious amount of candied peel or dried fruit.

The process of making panforte is fairly simple. You toast the nuts (hazelnuts and almonds are traditional) until they are fragrant and golden. Then you chop the nuts very roughly or leave them whole and dice the dried fruit or candied peel. You then mix together the flour, cocoa, spices, nuts and fruit.

Now you make a syrup of sugar and honey. You warm the sugar and honey gently until they’ve dissolved into a syrup. Now working quickly, you pour the syrup onto the dry ingredients and stir until everything comes together into a sticky mass. Now using a spoon and your hands, you press the mixture down into a shallow baking pan you have lined with rice paper or baking parchment. Then you simply bake your panforte for about 30 minutes. Once it is cool you dust it heavily with icing sugar - which always reminds me of the abundant dusting of icing sugar on my German Stollen (here).

Personally, I have a definite weakness for toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried friuts such as figs and sour cherries,  heavily spiced confections, and medieval undertones. As Gillian Riley notes in her Oxford Companion to Italian Food, in the 1500s panforte was said to have „strengthening sweetness and stimulating spiciness“…now what more could one ask for...

If you ask me, this fabulous chocolate confection should not only be an Italian Christmas favorite, and a great homemade festive gift, it should be eaten year-round, best eaten after a big meal with a wonderfully fragrant espresso or espresso macchiato, brewed with coffee beans from your favorite coffee roaster, like the one you will find when visiting the Antwerp Exotic Market (for more info on the market, visit my blog post here and for more info on the lovely coffee I used visit Alfio´s site here)

Late Summer Panforte

  • Vegetable oil, for greasing the baking pan
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting (use Dutch process cocoa powder)
  • 100g dark quality chocolate, chopped - I like to use a high-quality chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa solids, with deep cherry tones
  • 150g toasted almonds, coarsely chopped or left whole
  • 150g toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped or left whole
  • 100g AP (plain) flour
  • 200g dried fruits such as figs and sour cherries that I used OR candied mixed peel, chopped
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 200g superfine baking (caster) sugar
  • 200g clear honey (I used orange blossom)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

  1. Heat your oven to 150°C (300°F).
  2. Line the base of a 22cm (8 or 8.5 inch) cake pan (springform pan) with oiled baking parchment paper, and dust the base and sides with cocoa powder.
  3. In a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the cocoa, nuts, flour, dried fruit, salt and spices.
  5. Gently heat the sugar and honey in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, then cook over a higher heat for three minutes.
  6. Pour the syrup and melted chocolate into the nut mixture and stir to combine. NOTE: it will be very sticky.
  7. Use a firm spatula to scrape the mix into the prepared baking pan and, once cool enough, wet your hands and smooth the top so the surface is flat and even.
  8. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven, transfer the pan to a cooling rack and leave to cool in the pan.
  10. Turn out the panforte, peel off the parchment paper and dust the top with icing sugar, rubbing it all over with dry hands so the baked panforte is completely covered and white.

There are many shops in Italy producing panforte, each recipe being their jealously guarded interpretation of the original confection and packaged in distinctive wrapping. Usually a small wedge is served with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal, though some enjoy it with their coffee at breakfast.

In Siena, which is regarded as the panforte capital of Italy, it is sometimes said that panforte should properly contain seventeen different ingredients. This is said to link back to the number of districts within the city walls of Siena. It means that depending on the recipe you use, you could be forced to add a bit of variety in terms of the ingredients. In my recipe, if you count the mixed fruit as two different ingredients, I did indeed get to the magic number. What does matter, however, is that if you’re going to make panforte, you need to go with the right ingredients and try to use high-quality chocolate, Dutch process cocoa powder, good nuts and your favorite dried fruit or candied peel.

To serve the panforte, cut into thin wedges with a large sharp knife. The cutting will take some force, so be careful.

This traditional Italian nut and dried fruit chunky, sweet and chewy treat is not only delicious, I assure you, but it is also highly addictive. It will keep at room temperature for up to three months if wrapped well in plastic wrap and up to a year if kept in the fridge. Of course, you won’t be keeping a batch around for that long because it is that good, especially when you have friends and family around to enjoy it along with you.

Therefore, I highly recommend you have some on hand all year round, no matter the occasion. Panforte is easy to prepare and in my Late Summer Version the dried figs are absolutely delicious in combination with the dried sour cherries that harmonize so well with the dark chocolate - a perfect match for Alfio´s Ethiopian Sidamo coffee.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Orecchiette con Grano Arso with Watercress, Aubergine, Broad Beans & Burrata Pugliese

Recently I have developed a foodie obsession with a little known variety of Pasta with grano arso - grano arso literally translates as burnt grain, hence the dark color of the pasta. This unusual pasta is made with Farina grano arso which is a type of flour from Puglia in the south of Italy on the Adriatic coast. The two main theories as to the origin of Grano arso are both associated with the so-called cucina povera, or the cuisine of the less fortunate.

One theory with respect to the origin of this pasta claims that in the 18th and mid-19th century landowners permitted poor farmhands struggling to survive and feed themselves and their families, to remove the bits of grain left in the fields following the harvest and subsequent burning of the fields. Back then, landowners would harvest the wheat and then burn off the stubbles that were left in the field, to be plowed under. After the farmers burnt their fields and before the fields were plowed, the less fortunate farmhands would hurry across the field, gathering the burnt remnants of wheat, which they would then grind into what was basically burnt flour.

Another theory suggests that villagers would sweep their communal wood-burning ovens to collect the burnt flour that was left behind after baking bread, then mill it to obtain a flour that was intensely dark, with a bitter taste, to make pasta or more bread.

In either case, the burnt grain couldn’t be used by itself. It was necessary to mix it, at a proportion of one part grano arso to four parts all purpose flour, for it to become palatable.

These days you are unlikely to find people running out to the burnt fields or communal bread ovens anymore to augment their poor diet. Instead I find myself trying to track down this amazing tasting flour and/or the pasta that is made with Grano arso. I learned that a few Italian flour mills have been producing a newer version of Farina grano arso, a type of toasted grano duro (durum wheat) flour that reproduces the nutty, smoky flavor of the original. But being far from Italy these days, although I was unable to track down the flour itself, the Farina grano arso, I found Orechiette con Grano Arso. 

When I tasted the Pasta with grano arso for the first time I was immediately intrigued. As a homecook, I’m always looking for new flavors, textures, and interesting ingredients, and Grano arso reminds me of the burned edges of Italian bread such as Ciabatta or pizza that emerged from a wood fired oven, which are flavors I truly treasure.

For starters I tossed the cooked Orechhiette with olive oil, young garlic, chili and shards of Parmigiano Reggiano. Another time I mixed the pasta with with fresh young peas, Pecorino Romano, and prosciutto.

For today´s recipe, I decided to pair the almost black pasta with that noticeable smoky taste with freshly-podded broad beans, grilled slices of aubergine, decidedly peppery watercress and decadently indulgent, creamy Burrata Pugliese. The colors and flavors mix beautifully here. - Perhaps it is noreworthy that three of the components, namely the Orechhiette, the Burrata as well as the Farina grano arso all originate in Puglia.

Orecchiette con Grano Arso with Watercress, Aubergine, Broad Beans & Burrata Pugliese
(Author: TheKitchenLioness)

  • 250g Orechiette con grano arso (or use regular orechiette here)
  • 500g broad beans in their pods – you will end up with about 125g broads beans once their pods and skins have been removed
  • 2 aubergines (M) or one large one
  • 2 spring onions, white and green parts, cleaned, dried and sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves young garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
  • watercress, a whole bunch, washed, dried, stems removed and leaves plucked – keep a few stems with leaves intact for decoration 
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • a good quality mild olive oil
  • 2 Burrata (approx. 350g), torn into nice chuncks (or leave whole if using small Burrata, also called „Burratina“)
  • herbed grilled chicken breasts or salmon (optional)

  1. Prepare the orechiette: put a large pot of deep water to a boil. Salt it generously, as you do for pasta. Always salt the water and let it come back to the boil again before adding your pasta. Add the orechiette to the boiling water and simmer for about 12 minutes (or follow the package instructions), testing regularly for doneness, until tender but retaining some bite (al dente). Drain thoroughly, tip into a bowl then drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat evenly. This will stop the orechiette from sticking together. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the broad beans: after you have removed the pods, blanch the broad beans in boiling, salted water for a couple of minutes (about 2 to 3) and then drain. Cool. Remove the tough skins. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the aubergine slices: heat the oil in a grillpan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced aubergine and salt well. Fry until you see grill marks and the slices are cooked through. Then transfer the aubergine slices to a paper-lined plate to drain off some of the oil. Cut in half or quarters.
  4. Prepare the spring onions and garlic: warm some more of the oil in a  shallow pan, add the sliced spring onions and garlic and fry them gently until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Now add the drained orechiette to the pan, together with the grilled aubergine slices and drained broad beans, continue to fry gently until warmed through. Turn off the heat, add the watercress leaves to the pan, season with salt and black pepper to taste, then stir briefly to let it wilt ever so slightly.
  6. To serve, ladle the orechiette and veg into individual bowls or one large bowl and then serve with sliced, herbed chciken breast, salmon or as it and place burrata on top. Decorate with a few watercress stems.

Buratta pugliese is becoming increasingly popular and is an insanely decadent cheese. It is made in a similar way to mozzarella. It is a cooked curd, and the only real difference is that it is made with cow's milk, not buffalo's milk like the Mozzarella di Bufala. The curd is stretched, and the stringy pieces of curd tucked inside, making little pouches. Some cream, or panna, is then added into the pouch, and a knot is tied at the top before the pouches are placed in brine.

The way to serve burrata is very simple, as it has a peculiarly delicate and special flavor, you can serve it with grilled bread or you could serve it with seasonal tomatoes and basil with a drizzle of olive oil on top. Again, a typical strong-tasting olive oil from Puglia would be most authentic. But it also wonderful when integrated in a pasta dish such as this one.

One of the qualities I love about pasta called Orecchiette is the texture and size.  If made correctly, and boiled for the right amount of time, you’ll end up with a lovely, al dente, bite-size pasta morcel that will go brilliantly with a variety of sauces. Orechiette literally translates to "little ears" in Italian. Outside of Italy you can find Orecchiette in specialty Italian food shops or in other grocery stores who stock import foods. The same holds true for Burrata or Burrata Pugliese - chances are you will have to go out there and look for it nnd then order it - but this insanely decadent treat is worth the effort. If you cannot find it, use Mozzarella di Bufala.

You can combine the pasta recipe with grilled herbed chicken breasts or salmon or enjoy on it its own. When you taste this dish, you will notice that the texture of the pasta is slightly grainy, and the flavor is deep and toasty which in turn combines rather well with the creamy broad beans, mild Burrata, slightly smoky aubergine slices and decidedly peppery watercress.

And never underestimate the reaction you will get to the color of this amazing, and yes somewhat elusive, Pasta con grano arso.