Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chocolate and caramel tartlets

Chocolate cream tart.

My name is Agnieszka and I am a chocoholic. Quite an intimate confession, isn't it?  ;) Sadly, in my case, it is rather a serious addiction.  It can be as strong as nicotine or alcohol. I wonder if there are any Chocoholic Anonymous because I suppose I'm not the only one in the clutches of addiction.

In contrast to people who are satisfied with only one cube of dark chocolate (70% of cocoa solids at least) per day, I worship milk chocolate. When it melts in my mouth I am in heaven. Unfortunately, I can only satisfy my desire with an ever increasing quantity.

What is really funny - I'm not very fond of chocolate flavour in other sweets. Chocolate ice cream does not tempt me at all. Once a year I have a craving for a nice Portuguese chocolate mousse. As far as chocolate cakes are concerned I'm extremely picky and demanding. Here I agree with the "not worth the calories" concept. What does this strange term mean? Well, it's quite simple: if you take a diet break and you want to devour something hypercaloric you better choose a food that promises you a culinary ecstasy.

And there are some chocolate pastries that can lead me to nirvana. Today's tartlets reflect my passionate desire for a decent chocolate creation. They are perfect for a party because you can make them in almost no time if you bake the crust shells one day ahead.

So close your eyes, forget about calories and enjoy a creamy chocolate filling with a delicate caramel aftertaste, all of this inside a crunchy hazelnut crust.

Chocolate caramel tartlets

Chocolate and caramel tartlets

12 small or 6 medium tartlet tins

Hazelnut crust:
210 g all-purpose flour
30 g hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
125 g cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons ice cold water (optional)

50 g light brown sugar (my favourite is rapadura)
20 g butter
60 ml single cream or half and half (12% fat)
150 g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
60 ml whipping cream (35% fat)
3 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1-2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder

Hazelnut crust:
  Put flour, nuts and sugar into a food processor. Pulse a few times until you get a finely ground mixture. Add the butter and process until the mixture begins to resemble crumbs. Now add the egg yolk and pulse until the dough forms a ball (you may need to add some ice cold water). Flatten into disk, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF).
Roll out the dough on lightly floured surface (silicone pastry board is excellent for that purpose) to 2/3cm thick. Press the dough onto bottom and up sides of buttered and floured tartlet pans. Prick the dough with a fork. Bake until golden brown for approximately 8-12 minutes. Leave to cool down on rack. Carefully take out the pastry shells from the pans.

Put chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, heat the sugar, butter and liquid cream. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Continue cooking on low heat for 2 minutes without stirring. Pour hot liquid on chopped chocolate in the bowl and mix until it dissolves. Add the whipping cream and mix again thoroughly. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge for 10 minutes. 

Pour the filling onto completely cooled crust shells. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and cocoa.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Arrufadas or bread rolls from Coimbra

I have to confess that I am not particularly fond of Portuguese pastries and bread. Perhaps it is because of my Polish roots. I used to eat dark wholegrain bread and here in the Iberian Peninsula, we have mainly the white. I love elaborate cakes with fruits, layered with whipped cream or full of spices.  Portuguese bakers do not need much more to make a cake than one thousand eggs, a tonne of sugar and maybe some flour. ;) Pastries and cakes are always wildly yellow and often covered with some ovos moles (a kind of paste made with yolks and sugar, of course).

Here, in Lusitania (as they sometimes call Portugal), the food is usually rather simple, which definitely does not mean tasteless. The local cuisine puts more stress on the extraction of flavour from a specific, high-quality product, than on the complex marriage of flavours and culinary techniques. Fortunately we don´t lack fresh fish, seafood, good wine or cheese. The Portuguese coffee is excellent as well.

Occasionally you can also find something very tasty in the realm of sugar and eggs. My last discovery is called arrufada (from the Portuguese arrufar for sulk, fuss, get angry). These are sweet buns usually sprinkled with sugar. But do not worry! The buns are not so fussy as their name suggests. I suppose this funny name comes from the little picky eaters. These sweet arrufadas are sometimes the only thing kids want to eat!

In the past these sweet bread rolls were eaten mostly on festivals, fairs and were very popular during Easter. Today you can buy them in almost every bakery in Portugal.

We love to eat fresh sweet bread for breakfast, so I decided to give them a try. It proved to be a very interesting recipe, although my idea of adding some sweetened condensed milk changes a little the "all-Portuguese" original. The crust is nicely browned and very delicate. The crumb is light, sweet, rich in flavour and, of course, as befits a Portuguese roll, intensely yellow. ;)

Arrufadas come from Coimbra, the city famous for its university - one of the oldest in Europe (est. 1288 A.D.). In the South of Portugal the buns are almost always sprinkled with sugar but in the Northern part of the country you can also find some coconut on the top. But most of Portuguese people will call the latter version pão de deus (divine bread). To avoid excessive sweetness I sprinkled my bread rolls with black and white sesame seeds.
Sweet bread rolls from Coimbra 

Wet ingredients: 
50 g (1.75 oz) butter, melted 
75 ml (2.5 fl oz) milk, warmed 
3 eggs, slightly beaten 
200 g or 150 ml (5 fl oz = 2/3 cup) sweetened condensed milk 

Dry ingredients:
500 g (17.5 oz) white wheat flour type 65 (you may substitute it with bread flour)

grated peel from 1/2 lemon 
25 g (1 oz) light brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 and 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

1 egg, beaten with 3 tablespoons of single cream (10% fat) to brush the top
sugar or white and black sesame seeds to sprinkle

Sift all the dry ingredients. Put in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour all the wet ingredients into it. Mix in the bowl and then knead on the counter until you have a smooth and elastic dough. You may do all of this in a bread machine on "Dough" cycle. Cover the dough and  leave it to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Slightly flatten it with the palms of your hands, form a long roll, and divide it into 12 equal portions. 
Form each piece into a roll (here I found an excellent tutorial). Put the rolls seam side down on the baking paper and leave to rise to double in volume again (it takes about 40 min). 
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180ºC. Brush the rolls with a mixture of egg and cream and sprinkle with sesame seeds or sugar. Bake until they are golden brown for about 25-30 min.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Triple chocolate cheesecake

First cheesecake this year. My "cheesecake monsters" (my husband and son) were already craving it so much I had to make it.  

This cheesecake is made of three chocolate layers.  Dark chocolate gives it an intense flavour that stays in contrast with subtle milk and white chocolate fillings. I used German quark (fresh and soft curd cheese). It is called topfen in Austria, serek homogenizowany in Poland, queijo fresco batido in Portugal or fromage frais in France. Quark can be easily substituted by cream cheese (because the latter is thicher you should add 3 extra tablespoons of sour cream to the filling).  

Triple chocolate cheesecake

23 cm (9 inches) spring cake pan

150 g (5.5 oz) chocolate cookies
50 g (about 3 tablespoons) butter, softened

1 kg (35 oz = 2.2 pounds ) quark cheese (20% fat content)
150 g (5.5 oz = 2/3 cup) sugar
25 g (about 3 tablespoons) cornstarch

4 eggs
150 ml (5 fl oz = 2/3 cup) sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

100 g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate
100 g (3.5 oz) milk chocolate
100 g (3.5 oz) white chocolate
4 tablespoons single cream (15% or more fat content) 

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Crush cookies with butter in a food processor to make fine crumbs. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of spring cake pan (previously lined with baking paper or aluminium foil, just to be sure that nothing leaks through) with the aid of the bottom of a cup. Bake for 10 - 12 min.

Beat cheese with sugar and cornstarch until smooth. With the mixer still running add eggs one at a time, then sour cream and vanilla extract. Mix briefly, only to combine the ingredients. 

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. In 3 medium bowls melt 3 types of chocolate with single cream added, starting with white, then milk and finally dark (to white and milk chocolate add 1 tablespoon of cream, to the dark one 2 tablespoons). This can be done in "bain marie" or in a microwave (I melt my chocolate at 360 W in 50 seconds, take it out and mix it energetically to melt completely). 

Leave melted chocolate to cool a little. To each bowl with chocolate add gradually about 1/3 of cheese filling(it was about 500 g of added filling to each bowl ) and whisk througoutly until smooth. Initially it may seem that you finish with lumps of chocolate in filling, but they all disappear as you whisk. 

Pour the white chocolate filling onto the cooled crust. Then, very carefully and evenly, spoon the milk chocolate filling and spread it gently to create a second layer. Next goes the dark chocolate filling and you get a third layer. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 180ºC, lower the temperature to 160°C and continue to bake for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes , until it is set on the sides and a little shiny and moist in the center. Turn the oven off and leave the cake to cool inside with the door slightly open.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wheat bread with toasted corn flour

When we visited the Azores Islands I bought some local toasted cornflour. It has a beautiful toffee colour and a quite intense, albeit pleasant nutty aroma. The only problem was, I had no idea what to do with it. Well, usually if I do not know what to do with flour, I... bake bread.

I used foolproof proportions of 1/3 low-gluten flour (in this case it was cornflour) to 2/3 of wheat flour. Toasted cornflour in this bread provides an interesting flavour and bread flour keeps the crumb elastic, evenly aerated and gives some bite to the crust. As a result we get a nicely baked loaf with a scrumptious and rich toffee coloured crumb. Rye sourdough, which is added the bread, must be active and bubbling, so it is better to feed it with some wheat flour and leave on the counter for about 8-12 hours. If you want to bake bread in the morning you have to feed it the night before, but if you desire to become a home baker after work, you should nourish your sourdough early in the morning.

Sourdough wheat bread with toasted cornflour

Sourdough starter:
120 g (1/2 cup) liquid rye sourdough starter (150% hydration)*
80 ml water, lukewarm
60 g bread wheat flour

Bread dough:
250 ml water, lukewarm
45 g (2 tablespoons) molasses
30 g (2 tablespoons) butter, softened
430 g bread flour
65 g toasted yellow cornflour **
65 g of yellow cornflour
1 and 1/3 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 teaspoon dried yeast

Sourdough starter:
Mix your sourdough starter with water and flour and leave on counter for 8-12 hours

Bread dough:
After that time, add to your active starter 250 ml of water. Melt molasses and butter on low heat or in microwave and add to the starter. Pour this liquid mixture into the rest of mixed dry ingredients and knead a soft dough (adjusting the quantity of liquids or flour if necessary). All this can be done in bread machine on the "Dough" cycle.

Allow the dough to rise and double in volume (it usually takes about 1 hour). Take the dough onto a floured worktop, flatten with your palms and shape a loaf. Leave it in well floured and covered bread rising basket in warm place for a second rise. The dough has to double in volume again. This usually takes about 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 240°C (with the baking stone inside and a shallow pan beneath it). Just before baking pour some boiling water in the shallow pan (about 2/3 cup). Put the loaf into the oven and spray it several times with water. Bake in a falling temperature for about 35 minutes (15 min at 240°C, 10 min at 220°C and 10 min at 200ºC).

* 150% hydration is liquid sourdough, made with 1 part of rye flour and 1.5 parts of water (e.g. 100 grams of flour per 150 g of water), it should have the consistency of thick sour cream

** If you can't find toasted cornflour you can toast it yourself. Just put some regular yellow cornflour in a dry frying pan, and toast it until you get a beige colour and nice nutty flavor.