Rose hip picking

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We have been blessed with some very sunny weather in the past few days. In trying to make the best out of it, we spent one Saturday working on our tea collection for the winter. I also toyed with the idea of making some rose hip jam but sadly did not come close to having the time to do it (at least not yet). Making rose hip jam is very elaborate and time-consuming - but so worth it. The idea of having my own homemade, fresh rose hip jam for the winter is still attractive to me, so I guess we'll see what happens.

There is something to be said about getting out there and collecting your own teas. Now the tea-drinking takes on another component: carrying the vivid images of summer mountain walks. Since we will all soon crave some color, and since memory is fallible, I also made a few shots to keep things animated throughout the winter.

There is a wonderful little centuries-old village some 40 minutes from my house, tucked away in the hills of mountain Bjelasnica. Couple of hundred meters above it is a tiny shepherd's village, and right past it a valley with a brook running through. It is just a beautiful place for a long and quiet walk, until you reach what seems like finis terrae with a view of Rakitnica canyon.

What I find very refreshing about this region is the people. They do not get that many visitors on any given day, so you are instantly a novelty when you visit. By now I have become acquainted with many of them. It is the place I go to for fresh eggs and free apple-pie :)

My plan is to snowshoe through the valley in the winter (fingers crossed). If it happens, I'll be sure to share some images and stories with you.

The buds are now resting all over my house (floors and tabletops). All the red reminded me that red is Layla's favorite color. I don't know how many times mom has suggested to her that not everything has to be red in her paintings. Kind of wish I had one of them to share with you now... Soon, perhaps.

See you around.

Rainy day celebration

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Well, it is safe to say that fall is officially here. We have pulled out the winter clothes from our closets and the rain has been around just to make sure we do not forget that its time has come. Even though the transition from sunny to gloomy days can be sombering, I truly appreciate each season and all it brings (including in-season produce). We have been absorbed in harvesting the fall-goodies but in the past week it was all overshadowed by one special day. 

These days we celebrated my husband's birthday. Even though he is not too fond of anything with sugar (a blessing, I say!), I decided to try to make something new especially for him. He loves chocolate cream and fruit in desserts, so I started looking for something that combines the two, and ended up with a chocolate-citrus combination.

I also took up the task of making the dreaded macaron. This delicate French dessert is notorious for the number of times you need to fold the meringue when preparing it. You can easily go too far, but also come up short. For me, cooking is also a lot about learning, so I persisted. Third time was the charm.

So he had a fruity-chocolatey cake for birthday as well as the sight of me happily dancing around after the macarons came out of the oven perfectly crunchy, perfectly soft, and feet-ful. We both had a reason to celebrate, you might say.
Depending on how kitchen-experienced you are, the cake itself might look quite elaborate. In truth, it really is not. Essentially, all you need to make is one chocolate-based biscuit and three cremes.


For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (preferably aged overnight in the fridge)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr finely ground almonds

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam and slowly add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (do not overbeat it!). Sift together suger and almonds, and add them to the meringue.. Give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully (the whole process should not take more than 50 strokes). Fill a plain tip pastry bag with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment paper or silicone mat. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit. In the meantime, preheat the oven to140 C.
When ready, bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon of butterceam in the center of one shell and top with another one.

Vanilla Buttercream

100 gr sugar
60 gr egg whites

170 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeded

Place the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, until the mixture feels hot to touch, about 3-5 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. 
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 6 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add slowly add the butter, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean to the buttercream and fold with a spatula until fully incorporated.

Lemon Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Biscuit

140 grams egg yolks
120 grams sugar
140 grams egg whites
25 grams sugar
45 grams cocoa powder
75 grams flour
45 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Whip the egg yolks and the sugar to a thick ribbon. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until almost fully whipped. Sprinkle in the sugar and whip until firm peaks form. Add about fourth of the meringue to the egg yolk base. Sift the dry ingredients into this base and fold gently. Fold in the remainder of the meringue.Add the melted and cooled butter and fold. Bake at 190C for about 10 minutes.

Lemon Syrup

50 grams water
50 grams sugar
juice of one lemon

Cook the sugar and water together until sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool and then add the juice.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

5 grams powder gelatin
40 grams granulated sugar
10 grams glucose
15 grams water
50 grams egg yolks
175 grams dark chocolate, chopped
250 grams heavy cream
Soften the gelatin in cold water (preferably using a larger bowl). Beat the egg yolks for about 5 minutes until very light in color. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes.Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.

In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 30 grams of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir 100 grams of whipped cream to temper. Add the pate a bombe. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Lemon Cream

215 grams eggs
75 grams sugar
215 grams lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons
300 grams butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, juice and zest. Place this bowl over a double boiler and cook while whisking until the custard thickens. Immediately, strain the custard through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Let the custard cool (it will be warm to the touch but not too hot that when we add the butter, it will melt right away). Once the custard has cooled, start adding the butter and blend the cream with a mixer. 

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

250 grams heavy cream
90 grams milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Boil the cream and pour over the milk chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Let this ganache rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Then whip it as whipped cream.

Build the cake
I made this using the cake frame with removable sides. Make the chocolate mousse right when you are ready to start building the cake. Soak the biscuit with the lemon syrup. Spread the chocolate mousse evenly on top of the biscuit. Let this harden in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
In the meantime, make the lemon cream. When the chocolate mousse has hardened, spread the lemon cream evenly on top of it. Freeze the cake overnight.
This is when you remove the sides of the pan. Cut the cake when it is semi frozen. Pipe the milk chocolate chantilly over the lemon cream and decorate.

Hope you are staying warm.

Happy birthday, love.

Damned lies, chocolate truffles and an awful truth

Monday, October 3, 2011

Right, so I lied to you in the first post (what a way to begin). It did not actually go ''3, 2, 1... aaaand published!''. No. It went more like this: ''Ok... previeeew (click)... ... um, wait... what just happened?''. 

So yes, I accidentally clicked Publish. I guess my browser got fed up with all the previews or something. Eventually I sighed, murmured something along the lines of kismet, and closed the window. What I'm trying to say is that I kind of took this accidental click as an indication that I should start writing. How deliberate of me (come to think of it, my main computer which holds all my photographs crashed just last week; now, perhaps I should have taken that as a sign).

And now for the reason why I am truly mentioning this: I am simply trying to excuse my tardiness with the new post (remember how I mentioned that my computer crashed?). Insert smile and batting lashes.

Now that we got that out of the way, perhaps we can start talking about things that truly matter: like food and photography. So here it comes, a terrible truth about me: I don't like chocolate. I hardly ever eat it, and when I do, it has to have 90% of cocoa in it. I listen in disbelief as my (girl)friends talk about their 'addiction'. Shelves of chocolate products in supermarkets are completely lost on me. I secretly think that my friend who eats chocolate with bread for breakfast is a little crazy. I think by now you got the point.

But to cook with chocolate? Oh, my. To melt it, shape it, add stuff to it... That's where I go to the opposite extreme. You know the craving you get as you mix the perfect chocolate-y batter? I certainly do (I admit, I've licked more batter-dipped spoons than I, well, than I care to admit). I love its earthy, cocoa color, its versatility, and the elegance of its movement as it is being poured out of the bowl. So you won't see me hesitate to use it in recipes, especially when cooking for my loved ones (layla says: cocholate). I love it in desserts.

In addition to being a feast for your chocolate-loving friends' palate, with this dessert you can be easily creative in terms of presentation and ingredients. You can roll it in sprinkles, have whatever surprise you want in the center, and even mix the ganache with ground almonds, cocoa, cookie crumbs... The possibilities are endless. 

Chocolate is fun, what else can I say?

I am sure that most of you are already in a committed relationship with chocolate (and will, therefore, have no consideration for my chocolate-insensitive palate). Go easy on me please, nobody is perfect!

I will post the recipe below, and would love to hear from you about other variations you may have tried. Have fun trying it out, and I almost promise to post new ideas soon.

So there you have it. I've lied a little, I admitted to something terrible, and I made a dessert. What more can you ask for in a day? :)

Cocoa and Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles:

250 grams bittersweet quality dark chocolate (broken in pieces for melting)
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large egg yolks
1 cup (125 grams) confectioners' sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
hazelnuts as needed

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Remove from the heat and add the butter in about three heapings. Stir until completely incorporated. Add the egg yolks and powdered sugar whisking until the batter is smooth.
Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
When ready to roll, scoop out balls of ganache with a spoon, roll them in between your palms pretty quickly (the chocolate will start to melt) and place them in a plastic bowl lined with baking paper. I prefer to shape smaller size balls. At this point, you have two options. You can immediately roll the balls in cocoa powder (spread the cocoa powder on a baking sheet and roll on top of it), or you can refrigerate the balls overnight and roll them in cocoa powder the next day. 
To prepare the hazelnut truffles, start by selecting a hazelnut, and then scooping out some of ganache and shaping it in a circle around the hazelnut. Have chopped hazelnuts ready for rolling.
Keep them refrigerated until ready to eat.