Vatnsdeigsbollur – Icelandic cream puffs

I am currently more than just a little bit Iceland obsessed. Going there has been at the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember, then last summer I finally went, and fell head over heels in love with the landscape, the people, the culture, the language… Went back again in Autumn for a long weekend, and am now counting down the days to another visit in summer this year. Then perhaps another visit in winter. Then maybe again in spring next year. I want to see every inch of it, in all seasons. And win the lottery so I can buy a holiday home in downtown Reykjavik… and another one in the countryside…

Vatnsdeigsbollur - Icelandic cream puffs

Being a vegetarian, my options for partaking of traditional Icelandic food are incredibly limited. Not that I actually want to consume puffins or whales or fermented sharks! And I understand that the environment doesn’t lend itself to a diet rich in plant matter, when most veggies have to be grown in hothouses and most grains have to be imported from afar. But, none-the-less, they do do a fine line in sweet treats.

Vatnsdeigsbollur translates literally as “water dough buns” – they are a type of choux pastry, filled with jam and whipped cream and topped with icing, served on Bolludagur (literally, bun day) which marks seven weeks until Easter Monday. Obviously, this post is a little late, as Bolludagur was last Monday…

Choux pastry has a reputation for being difficult to get right, but with a bit of practice and a good relationship with your oven, it is not hard at all. By far the most common cause of floppy puffs is underbaking. As they bake, the water in the dough turns to steam, causing the puffs to rise, after which the shell needs to form completely to hold the structure in place. They need to be deep golden all over, and the undersides should be firm.

Makes 12 large cream puffs
Preparation: 10 minutes
Baking: 30 minutes
Cooling: 1 hour
Finishing: 10 minutes

Ingredients

Pastry

125g (9 Tbsp) unsalted butter
250ml (1 cup) water
125g (1 cup, spooned & scraped) all-purpose (plain) flour
4 large eggs

Filling

250ml (1 cup) heavy cream or whipping cream
2 Tbsp powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 1/2 cup jam (I used strawberry)

Icing

250g (2 cups) powdered (icing) sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
5 – 6 Tbsp cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 200°C / 395°F / Gas Mark 6, bottom-only heat if possible, and line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Put the water and butter in a medium, heavy-based saucepan on medium heat until the butter is melted.

Sift the flour into the mixture and stir until the dough is smooth and thick. Continue cooking for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula.

Add the eggs one at a time into the dough and mix well. You can do this using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a wooden spoon.

Using two tablespoons or serving spoons, drop 12 mounds of the dough onto the baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between them.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until deep golden brown all over. Do not open the oven for the first 30 minutes.

Note: Baking time will depend on your oven and on the size of the puffs – mine took 50 minutes for 12 large puffs using bottom-only heat, but if you have to heat from top and bottom, or use a convection oven, or make smaller ones, they won’t take as long so watch them closely. Rotate the sheet frequently after the first 30 minutes to ensure even baking.

Transfer puffs to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Slice the puffs in half and spread the bottom halves with a couple of teaspoons of jam.

Whip the cream with the 2 Tbsp of powdered sugar and the vanilla extract, then spread the cream over the jam. Replace the tops of the puffs.

Sift the 2 cups of powdered sugar into a mixing bowl, add the cocoa powder, then stir in the cream a tablespoon at a time until you get smooth, spreadable paste. You don’t want it too thick, or you risk crushing your puffs as you spread it. Spread it over the puffs with a knife or small spatula.

Best eaten fresh.

Posted in cake, dessert, pastry, snack, sweet | 2 Comments

Pear & frangipane tart

An easy yet elegant dessert that combines the best of winter’s pears with the wonderful taste and texture of sweet almond paste.

Pear & frangipane tart

Normally I serve poached pears with spiced syrup and cream or ice cream, but I do love a tart! This one is fantastic for a dinner party because it can be prepared in stages, so you’re not tied to doing one thing for hours on end. And I love it because my kids aren’t hugely into nut-centred desserts, so dinner parties are an excuse for me to use frangipane ;)

Makes 1 x 30cm (12″) tart
Pastry: 10 minutes blind baking
Pears: 10 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking, plus cooling
Frangipane: 10 minutes prep, 1 hour chilling
Tart: 5 minutes assembly, 50 minutes baking
Can be served warm, room temp or chilled

Pâte brisée / short crust pastry

I used store-bought, but homemade would be great, if you’re into that!

Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5, and butter a 30m (12″) tart dish.

Line the dish with the pastry, prick all over the bottom with a fork, line the pastry with baking paper and fill with dry rice or beans, or pie weights.

Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes, then remove weights and paper and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the elements for the filling.

Pears

6 firm, ripe Bosc (or other firm) pears
200g (1 cup) granulated (white) sugar
700ml (3 cups) water
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract

Peel, quarter and core the pears.

In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, water and vanilla bean, and stir gently over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. It should be steaming but not bubbling.

Add the pears and simmer until cooked through, 15 – 25 minutes, depending on the variety and ripeness of the pears.

Remove pears from saucepan with a slotted spoon, place on a wire rack covered with paper towels and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, halve the pieces lengthwise.

Frangipane

115g (1 stick or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
125g (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g (1 1/4 cups) ground almonds

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating until well combined, then add the vanilla extract and combine.

Stir in the ground almonds, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it has firmed up a bit, about 1 hour.

Assembly & baking

3 – 4 Tbsp pear/apple/apricot jam for brushing

Preheat oven to 170°C / 340°F / Gas Mark 4.

Arrange the pears over the pastry in the tart pan (depending on the size of your pears, it should cover the base pretty snugly), then dollop and spread the frangipane over the top, being sure to fill the gaps and cover the pears as best you can.

Bake in centre of oven for about 50 minutes, until deep golden.

Just before the tart has finished baking, heat the jam in the microwave.

Remove the tart from the oven to a wire rack, and immediately glaze the hot tart with the hot jam with a silicon or pastry brush.

Allow to cool to preferred serving temperature.

Posted in dessert, pudding, sweet, tart&pie | 4 Comments

Eggplant (aubergine) risotto

The flavour of this risotto is both earthy and bright, and the textural combination of the fried eggplant with the creamy risotto is just wonderful. Definitely one for aubergine fans!

aubergine (eggplant) risotto

This one was adapted from Ottolenghi’s recipe in the beautiful “Plenty”. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe to the letter, but have subsequently toned down the lemon a bit and replaced the basil with parsley. In his book, the chef recommends cooking one of the aubergine directly over the burner of a gas stove to give it that beautiful smoky taste, but I suspect he doesn’t have to clean his own stovetop! I prefer the much less messy oven grill (broiler) method. And I have an even lazier risotto cooking method. I do it on the stovetop, but I don’t stir continuously… The rice may not be quite as creamy as the traditional method, but laziness wins. For traditional stovetop and oven methods, check out this recipe.

Serves 4
Aubergine: 1 hour plus cooling
Risotto: 45 minutes
The aubergine can be prepared ahead

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines, about 750g or 1 1/2 lb total
90ml (6 Tbsp) olive oil, divided
1 litre (4 1/2 cups) vegetable stock
40g (3 Tbsp) butter
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g (1 1/2 cups) arborio or carnaroli rice
120ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine
salt and black pepper
100g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan cheese
finely grated zest of half a lemon
8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, minced

Directions

Preheat the oven grill (broiler) to high. Pierce one aubergine all over with a fork, place it on a tray and grill (broil) for about an hour, turning occasionally, until the whole thing is charred and shrivelled. Remove from the oven, allow to cool enough to handle, trim the stalk end off and peel the skin away from the flesh. Discard the skin, roughly chop the flesh and set aside.

Meanwhile, dice the second aubergine into bite-sized pieces (about 2cm, or 3/4″). Heat 60ml (4 Tbsp) olive oil to shimmering in a heavy frying pan and fry the aubergine until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.

Place the stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Melt the butter with the remaining oil in a large heavy-based saucepan on medium-low heat, add the minced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant but not brown.

Add the rice to the saucepan and stir to coat.

Add the white wine and stir until it has evaporated.

Add the hot stock, cover the saucepan, reduce heat to very low (use a heat dispersing mat, if necessary) and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the liquid has all been absorbed and the rice is soft. Cooking time will depend on temperature.

Remove from the heat, season well, stir through the chopped aubergine flesh, parmesan, lemon zest and most of the parsley, then stir through the fried aubergine immediately before serving.

Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley.

Posted in general, italian, rice, risotto | Leave a comment

Poached pears in spiced syrup

This winter classic only takes a few minutes of active time, but is an elegant dessert which is a perfect end to a festive meal. And as an added bonus, the long, slow reducing of the syrup makes your home smell spectacular!

Poached pears in spiced syrup

I used Bosc pears for this dessert, but you can use any variety that holds its shape when cooked (e.g. Conference). Soft pears like Bartlett will fall apart during poaching, so I would recommend checking out the varieties that you can find in your area and doing a bit of research about them beforehand.

Serves 4 – 8
Pears: 10 minutes prep, about 20 minutes cooking
Syrup: at least 1 hour (2 hours, if doubling recipe)

Ingredients

4 firm, ripe Bosc pears
200g (1 cup) granulated (white) sugar
700ml (3 cups) water
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch freshly grated nutmeg or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 whole cloves or 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Directions

Peel, quarter and core the pears.

In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, water and vanilla bean, and stir gently over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. It should be steaming but not bubbling.

Add the pears and simmer until cooked through, 15 – 25 minutes, depending on the variety and ripeness of the pears.

Remove pears from saucepan with a slotted spoon, place in a serving dish and allow to cool to room temperature. The pears can be served at any temperature, but if you want them to be warm you can microwave them, or cover the dish with foil and put it in a very low oven.

Add the spices to the pan and keep at barely a simmer, uncovered, for at least an hour, until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup – you should have about a cup and a half. If using whole vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and cloves, taste it every now and then, until it’s as spiced as you like it, then remove them when ready.

Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a small jug and serve at room temperature with the pears.

Serve on its own, or with a dollop of double cream or a scoop of ice cream.

Posted in dessert, sweet, vegan | 2 Comments

Broccoli & feta quiche

Broccoli & feta quiche

As luck would have it, I was in the middle of browsing for new recipe ideas for quiche when my December Secret Recipe Club assignment email came. Each month you are assigned a blog from which you choose a recipe to recreate. It’s like being handed a new cookbook every month and it is a whole lot of fun. So I thought I’d take a quick break from my search, and have a look at the site that I got – Mostly Food & Crafts. Danielle’s site is an amazing collection of recipes and craft projects, and she even has a whole section dedicated to things she made together with her kids. It’s a page every parent of young children should bookmark!

Well, as always when I get to a new blog, I headed straight for the recipe archive and scrolled to the vegetable section – dinner inspiration is always welcome! And what do I see at the very top of the list? Broccoli & Feta Quiche. Serendipity!

Broccoli & feta quiche

The only changes I made were to use a red pepper instead of green, because I had one in my crisper drawer, and I increased the quantities of broccoli and feta just a little so I didn’t have bits left over.

Broccoli & feta quiche

The broccoli and feta go beautifully together in a flavour-packed quiche that pairs perfectly with a green salad and a glass of dry white wine.

Makes 1 x 30cm (12″) quiche
Preparation: 30 minutes
Baking: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 prepared pie crust (thawed, if frozen)
2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion
1 small-medium red bell pepper (capsicum)
350g (12 oz) broccoli
6 – 8 sprigs flat leaf parsley
4 large eggs
180g (3/4 cup) sour cream
120ml (1/2 cup) milk
pinch nutmeg
150g (5 oz) feta, crumbled
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 200°C / 390°F / Gas Mark 6, and lightly oil a 30cm (12″) quiche dish.

Line the dish with the pastry, prick all over the bottom with a fork, then line with parchment and fill with pie weights or dry beans or rice. Blind bake the pastry for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Quarter and slice the onion, roughly chop the pepper and finely chop the parsley.

Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion and red pepper along with a pinch of salt and pepper until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat.

Cut the broccoli into small florets and steam or microwave for three minutes – it should be bright green but still crisp. Drain the broccoli well, then add it to the skillet and toss everything together.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream and milk, and season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the crumbled feta.

Spread the vegetables over the crust and pour the egg mixture evenly over them.

Bake in centre of oven until the quiche sets and is golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Let rest a few minutes before serving.

*****

See what everyone else made this month!

Posted in general, lunch, src, tart&pie | 14 Comments

Vegan fruitcake

First cab off the rank for my festive baking!

Rich, boozy fruitcake is a favourite around the holidays. Enjoy it with a cup of tea on a chilly afternoon, with a warm sweet sauce for dessert or with coffee for breakfast. It’s equally welcome any time of day!

vegan fruitcake

This fruitcake is eggless and butterless, for a vegan and healthier treat. But… with no eggs or other binders, it’s a bit crumbly and can be prone to breakage, so you need to take care handling it. It’s really good with custard – we use Bird’s custard powder, which tastes great and also happens to be vegan :)

vegan fruitcake

Makes 2 x 24cm (9 – 10″) round cakes
Soaking: at least 24 hours
Preparation: 15 minutes
Baking: 60 – 70 minutes

Ingredients

600g 81 1/3 lb) dried fruit and nuts (see notes)
500ml (2 cups) brandy (see notes)
hot water
500g (4 cups, spooned and scraped) all-purpose (plain) flour
250g (1 cup) raw (turbinado) sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking (bicarb) soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each ground nutmeg, cardamom, mace and coriander
1/4 tsp ground cloves
250ml (1 cup) apple juice (see notes)
250ml (1 cup) sunflower or other neutral oil
4 Tbsp treacle or molasses

Directions

Combine all the dried fruit and nuts in a bowl, pour over the brandy and add enough hot water so everything is covered. Stir, cover and allow to soak for at least 24 hours at room temperature. Top up with water and/or brandy as needed to keep the fruit and nuts covered. Drain when ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2, with racks in the middle and lower thirds. Grease 2 x 24cm (9 – 10″) round springform cake pans with vegetable oil or non-stick spray and line the base and sides with parchment.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Toss through the drained fruit and nuts.

In a bowl, whisk together apple juice (or other liquid), oil and molasses.

Add liquid to flour mixture and stir just enough to combine, until there are no traces of flour visible.

Divide into prepared cake pans and smooth the surface.

Bake in middle and lower third of oven for 60 – 70 minutes, swapping racks every 20 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Start checking after 60 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack and allow to cool to 15 minutes. Remove from pans, remove parchment and allow to cool completely. To remove parchment from bottoms, take another rack and place it on top of the cake, holding both racks with the cake between but in such a way that you don’t squash the cake, flip it over, remove the parchment, then repeat to turn it back right side up.

Notes:

For the fruit & nut mixture, I used:
100g (2/3 cup) chopped dried apricots
100g (4/5 cup) dried cranberries
100g (2/3 cup) golden sultanas
100g (2/3 cup) raisins
100g (4/5 cup) slivered almonds
100g (2/3 cup) hazelnuts, chopped
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon

Liquid
You can replace the brandy and hot water with apple juice, if you don’t cook with alcohol.

You can replace the cup of apple juice with soy or nut milk for a slightly richer cake, orange juice for a tangier cake, or replace some or all of it with the soaking liquid drained from the fruit for a boozier flavour.

Store in an airtight container – it should keep for several weeks.

Posted in breakfast, cake, dessert, pudding, snack, sweet, vegan | 1 Comment

Candied cranberry cake with cream cheese frosting

Candied cranberry cake with cream cheese frosting

I don’t recall ever having seen a fresh cranberry in Australia. Sweet, shrivelled little dried ones, yes, but not fresh ones. They must have been there, but I suspect further south than where I lived in the sub-tropics. When I first spotted them in the markets here in Switzerland, I passed by them with a mild sense of curiosity which was quickly erased by a complete lack of familiarity with them. Well, curiosity generally wins out in the end, especially when the internet is full to bursting with pages determined to overcome my ignorance. So I bought a box and started searching. Cranberry sauce, cranberry jam and candied cranberries filled tab after tab of my browser. The latter won out.

I’m now a fresh cranberry convert.

And I think I could live quite happily on the ones rolled in sugar. A little sweet, a little tart and utterly moreish.

Makes 1 x 25cm (10″) ring or bundt cake
Cranberries need to soak overnight
Cake: 15 minutes plus 45 minutes baking
Frosting: 10 minutes

Candied cranberries

340g (12 oz) fresh cranberries
400g (2 cups) granulated sugar
500ml (2 cups) water
additional sugar for coating cranberries for decoration

Cake

250g (2 cups, spooned and scraped) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch fine salt
225g (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
3 large eggs (about 200g or 7 oz), room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
180g (3/4 cup) sour cream, room temperature

Frosting

115g (4 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
55g (2 oz or half a stick) unsalted butter, diced, slightly softened
85g (2/3 cup, unsifted) powdered (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra as required
1 tsp vanilla extract

Candied cranberries

Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Rinse the cranberries and prick each one with a toothpick, then place them in a heat-proof bowl.

Pour the hot syrup over the cranberries, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Drain cranberries, reserving liquid (to use in cocktails or mixed with soda water).

Take about 1/4 cup of the cranberries and roll in additional granulated sugar to use as decoration for your cake – either larger ones to cut in half or smaller ones to keep whole. Spread on a sheet of parchment to dry.

Cake

Preheat oven to 175°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Grease and flour a 25cm (10″) ring or bundt pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated.

Add vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, folding in with a firm whisk until just combined after each addition.

Fold in cranberries that you did not roll in sugar.

Spread batter evenly in pan.

Bake in centre of oven until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a little at a time until smooth and creamy, adding extra as needed to get the desired consistency. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Spread the frosting all over the cake.

Take the reserved sugar-coated candied cranberries and arrange them on top of the cake.

Posted in cake, dessert, general, snack, sweet | 10 Comments