Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mom's Cheesecake

When I was in college, my best friend and I would sometimes take my scooter and ride to a little restaurant next to the beach in Aptos.  There, we would ask for one slice of cheesecake, to go.  We would take our shared treat and eat it out on the beach, savoring each precious morsel.  We couldn’t afford to each have a slice of the cake, never mind actually go to the restaurant and have a meal.  But we could, every now and then, eat a slice of that cake, slowly, thoughtfully and with great relish.

However, as good as that cheesecake was, my mother’s cheesecake is, in my view, the best one there is.  It is distinctly not in the style of NewYork cheesecake, so thick, dense, and rich.  It is instead, light and fluffy with just a hint of spice, in the buttery graham cracker crust. Dinstincly moreish.  I made this cheese cake again, not so long ago, wondering if the childhood memory of the cake was better than the actual cake.  Nope, the cheesecake was even better than I remembered!

1 cup (2.5 dl) graham cracker crumbs (or digestive biscuits—about 7 biscuits)
1/4 cup melted butter (60 grams)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Put the graham crackers or digestive biscuits in a food processor and whizz until the crumbs are fine and evenly sized.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can put the crackers in a bag and whack it with a rolling pin. Add in the melted butter, sugar and spices and mix until well combined. Pat mixture over the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan, up about 1 inch to the sides of the pan.

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream*
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
1 pound cream cheese (450 grams)

Set the oven at 325 degrees F (165 C).

Take out two large bowls Separate 4 eggs, putting the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Beat egg whites until stiff with 1/4 cup sugar.  Set aside.

In the other bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and foamy, a few minutes.  You will see the yolks lighten in color and become thick. 
Add 1 cup sour cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat in 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/4 tsp salt.  Stir in bit by bit, 1 pound cream cheese.  Beat until smooth.  Fold in  a third of the eggs whites and mix well to lighten the mixture.  Carefully, fold in the remaining egg whites, mixing just enough to combine the mixture but no more.  There can be a few lumps of egg white in the batter.

Pour the cream cheese mixture into pan and use a spatula to make sure the batter fills the pan evenly and smooth the batter on top.  Bake about 1 hour until firm to the touch in the center and golden brown.  The cake will be puffed up and may have cracks in it.  When the cake cools, it will deflate. Cool and then chill in the refrigerator.  Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake before taking off the rim. It tastes great both at room temperature and chilled.

If you must, you could put some lemon zest into the filling.  You could also spread a thin layer of sweetened sourcream over the cake once it has cooled. Some fresh berries will taste wonderful with this cake.

*You can substitue yogurt for the sourcream.  If the yogurt is a thin yogurt, then add an extra tablespoon of flour.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rye No-Knead Bread with Orange, Fennel, Anis, and Cardamom

I love the spiced Swedish "limpa" that is so popular here in Sweden.  Limpa means "loaf" in Swedish but refers to a particular type of bread which is spiced and has a lot of sugar syrup in it to sweeten it. It is particularly popular at Christmas. Swedes routinely put various spices into their bread. For example, most sweet breads, like cinnamon rolls, have cardamom in the dough. The old fashioned limpa generally has "bread spice" which you can buy pre-mixed in a packet in Sweden.  The other day, I decided to try to mimic this flavor using my quick and easy no-knead bread recipe. I added a bit of rye flour to get a more earthy flavored bread and dumped in a bunch of spices.  A tad more honey and a generous amount of raisins give it sweetnes.  I stuck it in the oven, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  The loaves were delicious! Both loaves were polished off by me and my two sons in one afternoon...we were so full of bread that we skipped dinner.  There was just a small bit left in the morning, which my sons ate for breakfast.  I call that a success.

2 loaves

25 grams fresh yeast

3 dl water
1 dl filmjölk, buttermilk or yogurt
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
9 to 11 deciliters flour
1 dl fine rye flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground anis seeds
zest of one orange
about 1 dl orange juice
2 dl raisins

In a large bowl, pour in the water, which you have run from the tap

to feel warm but not hot with your fingers.  If the water is too hot, it will kill your yeast.  Crumble in the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  If your spices are whole, grind them now in a mortar and pestle or other spice grinder.  Add the ground spices to the yeast.
 Zest the orange and add to the yeast mixture.  Cut the orange in half and then juice the orange. It should be about 1 dl.  Add the orange juice to the bowl. Add in the filmjölk, salt, and honey. Stir to combine.

Dough after all the flour is mixed in.
Add the rye flour and then the regular flour, a bit at a time until the dough starts to form a ball. At first it will look like you have too much flour and it will look shaggy.  Stir it a bit more and the flour will absorb more
Dough with raisins forming a ball.
water. Give it a good stir to make sure that all the flour is well mixed in. 
If you have the perfect ratio of flour and liquid, it will come together as a ball and your bowl will be clean, although the dough will still be very
Dough doubled after 2 hours.
sticky.  But if this doesn't happen, don't worry. This recipe is forgiving.
Add the raisins to the dough and mix again until the raisins are nicely distributed through the dough.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let stand in a warm and draft-free place for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  The dough should more than double.

Pre-heat an oven to 225 degrees C.  Pour the dough out onto a well floured board or smooth counter-top.  Divide the dough into two pieces, making sure your hands are well floured.  Lay each piece onto a baking sheet covered with parchment.  Dust each loaf with flour.  Let it rest with a cloth over it while the oven warms. When the oven is hot, you can slash the loaves with a very sharp or serated knife, if you like.  The dough is quite soft so if your knife is not very sharp, it will just mush the dough.  If so, you can just skip this step.  You do not need to let the bread rise a second time, it will rise further in the often. 

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until nicely golden brown on top.  Take out and let cool, preferably on a rack of some kind, in order to let the moisture from the bread dissipate.  If you just rest it on your cutting board, the moisture coming out of the bread as it cools will make your crust soggy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sticky Almond Cakes with Jam

These lovely little sticky cakes are one of my favorites for afternoon tea or fika. They are easy to make, with the only fiddly bit being to grate the almond paste.  Grating almond paste is a trick that I have learned here in Sweden, which makes it easier to incorporate the paste into a batter. The Swedes love almonds and use almond paste in all sorts of baked goods.

Almond paste is a mixture of ground almonds and sugar, usually in
a 50/50 mixture.  It is very similar to marzipan, but marzipan normally has a higher percentage of sugar, about 75%.  These ratios are very dependent on the country you live in, and the proportions can actually be reversed.  So, it is important to read the labels to know what you are getting.  This recipe uses an almond paste with a 50/50 ratio.  You can use whatever you can get at your store and just adjust the sugar levels in the recipe.  Almond paste generally comes in sausage shaped packets, and can be very soft or hard, depending on how long it has been stored.  That is why this recipe recommends grating it.  If the paste is very soft or you make your own, you can omit this step.

You can make your own paste by grinding almonds in a food processor until it is a fine flour and mixing it with confectioners sugar, in the desired proportion.  If you wanted marzipan to, for example, make figurines with, you can add a bit of egg white to bind the mixture together.  For this recipe, the egg white will not be necessary.

You can use any kind of jam that you like. I have used a lovely rhubarb raspberry jam which contrasts nicely with the almonds.

Makes 12 cakes

200 grams almond paste (mandelmassa)
200 grams sugar  (2 dl)
200 grams butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
75 grams flour (1.5 dl)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
About 4 teaspoons jam
50 grams flaked almonds

Prepare a muffin tin for 12 muffins by buttering generously or insert paper muffin forms.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Almond paste and butter
Grate the almond paste into a large bowl. Making sure the butter is quite soft, mix into the almond paste.  If the butter is not soft enough, you can use a pastry cutter or mixer to work it together.  Add the sugar and
After adding the eggs
beat until fluffy.  Add in the eggs, one at a time and beat until well combined.  Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla, and mix in well.  The mixture will be quite thick, almost like a soft cookie dough.

Ready for the oven
Divide the dough evenly among the 12 muffin forms, smoothing the tops with a spoon or your fingers.  Each cake form should be almost full. Put a small blob of jam in the middle of each muffin, less than half a teaspoon per each cake.  Do not give into the temptation to put more jam in.  The jam will sink through the cake batter and if you put more in, you will just get a sticky mess.  Sprinkle each cake liberally with the flaked almonds.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the outside of each cake is golden brown and the almonds are beginning to color.  Test the cake with a wooden pick or knife.  It should be a bit sticky but not gloppy when the cakes are done.

If you are not using muffin paper, then let the cakes cool for about 15 minutes, and then turn them out onto a board while they are still warm.  The cakes are quite sticky, and the jam sometimes sticks to the bottom of the tin, especially if you have put too much jam in.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Chocolate Kahlua Bundt Cake

Another rainy day here in Sweden....what we need is cake to perk up the spirits!  I seem to be in a Bundt cake phase  The shape makes even the most simplest cake more festive.  And there is no need to do anything fiddly like frosting, because the cakes look great with a simple glaze or just a dusting of powdered sugar.  This recipe is made easier by melting the butter with the cocoa on the stovetop. Without having to cream the butter, you don't even have to take out your mixer.  Just do it by hand with a whisk.

I have taken a classic chocolate Bundt cake recipe and enriched it with Kahlua, a coffee liquer. The coffee flavor justs adds  depth to the chocolate flavor, without taking over.  If you don't have Kahlua, you can substitute some strongly brewed coffee, or even a heaping teaspoon of instant espresso powder mixed with water.

To gild the lily, I have dusted the buttered bundt pan with dried coconut.  It helps the cake release from the pan smoothly, makes a pretty pattern on the cake, and gives some extra flavor.  If you don't like coconut, you can dust with cocoa powder instead.

The cake has a light, moist texture, with a medium chocolate flavor. Eat it as is, with a glass of milk.  Or serve with whipped cream and some berries for a more elegant dessert.

Serves 10
(using a 10 to 12 cup Bundt pan)

226 grams (1 cup) butter
28 grams (1/3 cup) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
256 grams ( 2 cups) flour
325 grams (1 3/4 cups) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup Kahlua or other coffee liquer
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
a handful of dried coconut

Heat your oven to 180C (350F). In a small pot, put in the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water.  Put it over a medium heat, letting the butter melt, stirring occasionally.

While the cocoa mixture is heating, take out a large bowl and put in the flour, sugar and baking soda.  Stir with a whisk to mix.

Once the butter has melted, stir the cocoa mixture until it is well combined.  Pour the cocoa mixture into the flour mixture, stirring well to combine.  Add the Kahlua and the two eggs and beat with the whisk until it is well combined.  Finally, add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until a smooth batter forms.

Butter your Bundt pan very well, making sure to get all the creases. Throw in a handful of dried coconut and shake it around the pan, making sure that the bottom and sides of the pan are well covered with an even coat.  Shake the pan and toss out any excess coconut.

Fill the pan with the batter, and bake 40 to 50 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Let the cake cool for about 15 minutes, and then invert it onto a serving dish.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Elderflower and Rhubarb Cordial

One of my favorite things about Sweden is that old traditions and a connection to nature are still very much alive.  In a land of less than 10 million people, the population density of Sweden is among the very lowest in Europe (only Finland, Norway, Russia and Iceland are lower).  This means that there is plenty of land and it is very common for people to have a little cottage in the countryside. In late June and early July, you will find many at their summer houses making "saft" or cordial, particularly elderflower cordial.  Where our summer house is, in the west coast of Sweden, elderflower trees are everywhere and you can smell the flowers as you walk along most of the roads.

I was sitting in our garden two weeks ago with my friend Anna, and we chatted about whether the elderflower were ready and she gave me the idea to combine elderflower with rhubarb to add both flavor and sourness.  A traditional elderflower cordial recipe contains both citric acid and lemon, as the sour flavor goes really well with the elderflowers.  Rhubarb is also very sour and is ready in the garden as the same time, so it seems a natural combination.  A bonus is the lovely pink color.

Dilute the finished cordial with water for a lovely summer drink. Or why not add a dollop to a glass of champagne?

About 2 liters cordial
This is about 50 elderflower blooms.

2 liters water
1 kilo sugar
4 to 5 stalks of rhubarb
50 elderflower blooms
1 pinch sodium benzoat (one mililiter) (natriumbensoat)

In a large pot, put in the sugar and the water.  Bring the water to a boil and let cook until all the sugar is fully dissolved.  While the water is boiling, cut the rhubarb into pieces.  Once the sugar is dissolved, take the pot off the stove and add in the rhubarb, elderflower blooms, and the sodium benzoat and stir very well.

The sodium benzoat is a preservative.  You can leave it out, if you like, but then you should either keep the finished saft in the refrigerator or freeze it.  If you do use the sodiumbenzoat, do NOT add it to the water while you are boiling it. This can make your saft very bitter flavored.

Stir the mixture and put on a lid.  Leave the pot to sit in a cool room for 4 to 5 days and let the syrup infuse with the flavor of the rhubarb and flowers.  Strain out the rhubarb and elderflower by pouring the mixture through a fine sieve.  Decant into clean, sterilized bottles.  If you have used the preservative, the cordial can stand in the cupboard.  If not, then keep it in the refrigerator or freeze it in baggies.

To serve, dilute with water to taste.  Try a spoonful over vanilla icecream or in a glass of champagne.  It would also be nice in a gin fizz!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

No-Knead Bread with Seasalt and Sesame Seeds

There cannot be an easier bread than this. You mix up the dough, let it rise, shape it into loaves and then bake.  Because you do not knead the dough, the consistency of this bread is chewy, with airy big holes like a ciabatta rather than evenly grained.  The yogurt, salt and honey make the bread more flavorful, without being overpowering. Unlike some homemade bread, it also tastes great the next day, perhaps in the French manner spread thickly with butter and a slice of ham.

2 loaves

25 grams fresh yeast
4 dl water
1 dl filmjölk, buttermilk or yogurt
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
10 to 12 deciliters flour
Flaked sea-salt and Sesame seeds for sprinkling on top.

In a large bowl, pour in the water, which you have run from the tap
Crumbled yeast and water
to feel warm but not hot with your fingers.  If the water is too hot, it will kill your yeast.  Crumble in the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add in the filmjölk, salt, and honey. Stir to combine.
Add the flour, a bit at a time until the dough starts to form a
Adding the flour
ball. Give it a good stir to make sure that all the flour is well mixed in. The dough will still be quite loose and sticky, so don’t worry.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let stand in a warm and draft-free place for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  The dough should more than
Finished dough

Pre-heat an oven to 225 degrees C.  Pour the dough out onto a well floured board or smooth counter-top.  Divide the dough into two pieces.  Lay each piece onto a baking sheet covered with parchment
Let it rest with a cloth over
or baking paper.  Don’t worry if the pieces are knobbly and funny looking, they will look charming when baked.  Brush some water over the top of each loaf and sprinkle with sea-salt and sesame seeds.  You could also substitute chopped nuts, caraway seeds,
More than doubled in size
or poppy seeds for the sesame.  You do not need to let the bread rise a second time; it will rise further in the oven.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 to 20
Loaf ready for baking
minutes until nicely golden on top.  Take out and let cool.
The finished bread!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Bread Adventures Part 1: Making the sourdough starter

This summer I have decided to try to learn to make really good bread.  I have vowed not to buy any bread and just bake what my family needs (I am hoping they go along with this as I haven't actually told them yet).  I am going to try out different types of bread, different methods, and different flour. For the beginning of my bread adventure, I am going to rely mainly on the instructions given by Sebastien Boudet in his book "Den Franske Bagaren" (the French Baker).  Those who live in Stockholm might have eaten at Broms on Karlavägen where he started the bakery.  The fine crusty breads they have are his work.

Mr. Boudet is passionate, as you might expect, about bread and
about the provenance of the flour, salt, and even water that he works with.  I am not as zealous as he, but he did make a good point which is that good flour gives good bread.  So instead of
buying the normal flour, I have invested in Wapnö wheat flour. Wapnö is a farm just 40 minutes away from us.  They are mainly a dairy farm with the happiest cows in the world (we always drink their milk when we are at our summer house) but they also do a little of this and that and we try to support their business by buying what products we can.  I have also bought rye flour from Salta Kvarn, which is a smaller mill, which we pass every time we drive to our summer house from Stockholm.  Mr. Boudet wishes that everyone would visit the mill that their flour comes from in order to ensure the quality. Later in the summer, I would like to do some taste testing to see how much a difference I can detect in the flour.

Mr. Boudet also firmly believes that while yeast has its place, a really good tasty bread needs time and a sourbread starter.  All of his breads take a minimum of two days, and most take three.  So, clearly patience is a key compenent of bread.  I doubt that I have ever been accused of being patient, but the slowness of this process is just what I am after for the summer. So, today I am beginning the 5 day process to make my starter.

What you need:
A glass jar with a lid that will hold about 5 dl (2 cups)
a fork to stir
rye flour
wheat flour

Day 1:
Put about 1 dl (a bit less than half a cup) of water in the jar.  Add
 1/2 dl each of wheat and rye flour.  Stir until all the flour is combined and you have a smooth consistency like a pancake batter.

Put a platic bowl over the jar and let it stand in a warm part of the kitchen. Presumably the bowl is to keep bugs and other icky things away.

For the next three days, I will be feeding it every day with more water and flour in the same proportions.  I will report back.

The reason that I use both white and rye flours is, well, because Mr. Boudet said so.  But I have read, and Mr. Boudet confirms, that you want to have as many little microrganisms in your starter as possible.  So ideally, you will use different kinds of flour.  Further, you want to definately use the kinds of flour that you will bake with.  As I intend to mainly use wheat and rye, then these are the ones I started with.  Later I want to try dinkle flour, which is an old fashioned wheat variety as well as some semolina.

Once the starter is ready, then I am going to make a levain which is a breaddough that takes 5 days to make.  Then from this levain dough, I will make bread and save some of the dough to use as a starter for the next bread.  You can also use the sourdough starter instead of the levain.  If you are not making bread at least every other day, Mr Boudet informs me, then it will be better just to use the starter as the levain will go bad.  Bread every other day sounds a bit much for our family, but I have lots of neighbors who I am sure wouldn't mind taking care of some of my loaves, assuming that they are any good.

While I wait for ten days, I will be making some other things, among them a baguette which uses regular yeast only takes two days and from which Mr. Boudet makes other things like pizza.

I think the biggest test of this will be whether or not I have enough endurance to bake bread every other day, when I could be lying in the garden or on the beach sleeping.

Stay tuned!