Anzac biscotti (oatmeal coconut biscotti)

biscotti

When I get my secret recipe club assignment, I go through the blog’s archives focusing mainly on healthy recipes. Salads,  and vegetarian categories are usually my first stop. This time things were a little different, I started my archive search with  bread and baked goods!

You see, May was a super stressful  month.We are moving to the United Arab Emirates in a couple of weeks and despite the fact that I have been preparing for this move for 4 months, the idea has not fully sinked in! The past few months and May in particular have been a hectic race to get everything done and organised in time for the move. I had to hand over my patients at the clinic to another Dr, the kids’  papers and school transfer arrangements, preparing the house, organizing the stuff to be shipped, the list goes on and on, I will spare you the headache and just say that venting through baking seemed like the only sane option.

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No bake vegan almond date bars

Vegan raw date nut and oatmeal bars

My kids have a love affair with oatmeal, they would happily eat anything with the word oatmeal in it.  Refrigerator oatmeal, granola, cookies, you name it. When it was time to choose my secret recipe club assignment, I went through the Saturday evening pot’s archives.I bookmarked their Berry Smoothies with Hidden Greens,  and their Quinoa with Roasted Vegetables and Balsamic Vinegar recipe among many others. Then I came across this recipe for no bake fruit crumble bars and I instantly knew that this was the one! Before I can get to the recipe let me tell you a little about my assigned blog. The Saturday evening pot is run by the Chef, who graduated from Johnson and Wales University with a degree in Culinary Arts and has always loved cooking.His family, The Lucky Wife and The Well-Fed Kids, who get to be the taste-testers of his new creations .They share their food adventures and recipes through their blog Raw vegan date almond bars This particular recipe was made by the Lucky wife. I loved it because it was quick, easy,nutritious, lunch box friendly and of course it had oatmeal in it. I adapted the recipe a little using dates as  a filling instead of jam, I also added a few spices to jazz things up a bit. I used dates because I wanted to try these bars in their purest form, raw, vegan and with out any added sugar. Why you may ask? Well until recently a recipe described as raw, vegan and without sugar was one I would not even consider. It must be bland and tasteless I always told myself but the more I read about the health benefits of raw and vegan food, the more I am tempted to give recipes like this one a try. So I ventured on,and I am happy to report that after trying these bars, the result blew me away. The crust had a wonderful texture with the earthy oats, the nutty almonds , the hint of coconut and slight sweetness provided by the dates. The filling added a spicy sweet note without making these bars overly sweet. The best part is that the kids loved them so much that they demanded them for school and I was more than happy to oblige. (more…)

Chocolate caramel crispy bites

Chocolate caramel crispy cakes

It is time for our secret recipe club reveal for the month of March. For this month my assigned blog was Trisha’s  My Hobbie lobbie.Trisha is a talented baker who gave up her corporate job to focus on her passion for baking and of late, crafting. My Hobbie Lobbie is her way of trying to keep track of all the recipes and patterns that she has tried so far. She also shares traditional Goan food that her mother taught her.

With the whole family sick with a nasty flue, yours truly included, I choose to make something quick, easy and tasty.  I made the chocolate caramel crispy cakes from Trisha’s Christmas post. The post has a wonderful collection of last minute treats that you can make for a party to enjoy with  friends and family or for the kids to enjoy after school or in the lunch box. All super quick and easy yet tasty and elegant. I made my chocolate caramel crispy treats bite size for the kids. That way they can have a fun treat without me feeling too much guilt :)

Choco-Caramel Crispy Cakes (No bake cookies)
Recipe by: Nigella Lawson
4 (2oz.) Mars or Milky Way candy bars
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups corn flakes
Mini cupcake paper liners (optional)
Chop the candy bars into small pieces and place them in a saucepan along with the butter on low heat, stirring frequently.
When everything has melted, and is homogeneous you can add the cornflakes and mix well, until the cornflakes are well coated with the chocolate mixture.
 With a teaspoon, scoop out the mix into mini cupcake liners or roll into little balls
 Place them on a tray and allow them to set. If the weather is hot you can place them in the refrigerator to set for at least an hour.

Going to India for dessert: Mawa cake and bolinhas de coco

Bolinhas de coco

I am 3 days behind schedule on posting my daring bakers post of this month but if you watch the news you may know why . The drums of war are resonating through out the middle east. Being glued to the TV is something you can’t help, no matter how painful or stressful the news may get and it is getting worse by the minute!

Everyone is worried. Memories of the gulf war are vividly coming back. I was 13 at the time and I  remember the evacuation drills in school. Windows taped to prevent them from shattering in case of bombs. The news being  the one and only topic that everyone is discussing. All that and Jordan was not directly involved in it all as it seems to be this time. Everyone around you hopes and prays that this too shall pass without us “becoming the news” instead of watching the news..

To keep my head from exploding I am trying to re-focus on simple things, things that bring me joy. The new school year, blogging, photography, anything and everything that can keep me away from the TV and the gloomy news coming out of it. One of those simple things that I truly enjoy is doing my daring bakers and cooks challenges

Mawa cake

 

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!

Mawa (also known as Khoya/ Khoa) is made by slowly reducing milk (usually full-fat) until all that remain is a mass of slightly caramelized granular dough-like milk solids. Mawa is used in a wide variety of Indian sweets like Gulab Jamun. Mawa is pronounced as Maa-vaa; Khoya is pronounced as KhOh-yaa.

In this cake, Mawa lends a rich and a caramelized milky taste.The cake is slightly dense and reminiscent of a pound cake.The cardamom taste is subtle in the baked cake but it definitely sets it apart from a plain cake. We all loved it with a cup of tea, it also goes beautifully with coffee because of the cardamom in it.(I am not a coffee drinker but still I love the combination of coffee and cardamom, it is one of those unbeatable matches like cinnamon and apples!) Typically mawa cakes are made with  cardamom and cashews but you can also make it with blanched almonds like me. I baked my cake in an 8 inch round pan but next time I plan on trying it in cup cake form.

Mawa cake, dense and delicious

 

Mawa cake

Ingredients

For the Mawa:
1 liter (4 cups) full fat milk

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted Butter (soft at room temperature)
3/4 cup (180 ml) packed crumbled mawa
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (10 oz) (280 gm) castor sugar
3 large eggs
5 to 6 cardamom pods, powdered, (about 1-1/2 tsp powdered cardamom)
2 cups (500ml) (9 oz) (260 gm) cake flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract (optional)
Cashew-nuts (or blanched almonds) to decorate (about 18 to 20)

Directions:

1. First make the “Mawa”. Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably a non-stick one. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring it on and off, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Turn down the heat to medium and keep cooking the milk until reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This should take about an hour to an hour and a half.

2. The important thing during this process is to watch the milk and stir it frequently to make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom of the pan and get burnt. The danger of this happening increases as the milk reduces and gets thicker.

making mawa mawa2

3. Once the milk it has reduced to about one fourth, 1/4 quantity, lower the heat to low and let cook for a little while longer. Keep stirring regularly, until the milk solids (mawa) take on a lumpy appearance. There should be no visible liquid left in the pan, but the mawa should be moist and not stick to the sides of the pan.

Mawa

4. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the mawa to a bowl and let it cool completely. Then cover and refrigerate it for a day or two (not more) till you’re ready to make the cake. It will harden in the fridge so let it come to room temperature before using it.
You should get about 3/4 to 1 cup of mawa from 1 liter (4 cups) of full-fat milk. My mawa turned out to be light in color and I only got 1/2 a cup of mawa. The mawa quality and quantity differs with the type of milk you use

5. Now start preparations for the cake by pre-heating your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Beat the butter, the crumbled mawa and the sugar in a largish bowl, using a hand held electric beater, on high speed until soft and fluffy.

6. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed till well incorporated. Add the vanilla and milk and beat till mixed well.

7. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt onto the batter and beat at medium speed until the batter is well blended. If you cannot find cake flour, place 2 tablespoon of cornstarch in the bottom of your 1-cup measure and then fill it with all-purpose (plain) flour to make up to 1 cup.

8. Grease and line only the bottom of an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan. Pour the batter into this and lightly smooth the top.

Mawa cake before baking

Place the cashew nuts (or blanched almonds) on top of the batter randomly. Do not press the nuts down into the batter. A Mawa Cake always has a rustic finished look

9. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 1 hour until the cake is a golden brown and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Do not over bake the cake or it will dry out. If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, cover it will aluminium foil hallway through the baking time.
Mawa cake with cardamom

10. Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 min in the tin. Release the cake, peel off the parchment from the base and let it cool completely.

Notes

You can make the “Mawa” a day or two ahead of making the cake and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. When you take it out, it will look dry and a little lumpy because of the fat in the milk solids. This is alright. Just let it come to room temperature before you use it to make the cake.
The Mawa Cake is usually served as it is, without any other accompaniment, as a snack with coffee or tea.

bolinhas (Indian coconut semolina  cookies)

Bolinhas de coco

Bolinhas are cardamom flavored coconut and semolina cake like cookies from the Indian state of Goa. When they come out of the oven, they are a little crisp/ crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. When they cool, their texture changes into a melt-in-the-mouth cloud of coconut and semolina with the wonderful taste of cardamom whispering from the back ground

What is unusual about these cookies is that they are made entirely with semolina and fresh grated coconut . There is no flour in them. To make them you have to allow the batter an overnight rest so that the semolina can soak up liquids. That is what results in the irresistible melt in your mouth cake like cookie. The process of this overnight rest reminds me of semolina maamoul another heavenly semolina based cookie

Bolinhas de coco

This recipe makes 4 dozen cookies and it can be halfed

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) (5-1/3 oz) (150 gm) fresh grated coconut, packed
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) semolina
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (8-3/4 oz) (250 gm) granulated sugar
3/4 cup water (180ml) (6 oz) (175 gm) water
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) ghee (clarified butter) or melted unsalted butter
2 large eggs
8 to 10 pods cardamom, powdered (about 1-1/2 teaspoon)

Directions:

1. Run the grated coconut in your processor or the small jar of your blender a couple of times so that the flakes are smaller and uniform in texture. Do not grind into a paste. Keep aside.

2. Put the semolina in a pan and toast/ roast it, over low to medium heat, until it starts giving off an aroma, and looks like it’s about to start changing colour. This should take a couple of minutes. Do not brown. Transfer the semolina into a bowl and keep aside.

3. In the same pan, pour the water and add the sugar to it. Place it on medium heat and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Once the sugar has dissolved, keep stirring the solution and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. The sugar solution should just begin to start forming a syrup but is still watery. Do not cook until it forms a thick syrup.

4. Add the toasted/ roasted semolina and mix well. Then add the coconut, salt and ghee (or melted butter) and mix well. Put the pan back on the stove, and over medium heat stir the coconut mixture until it is really hot and easily forms a thick clump. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Take the pan off the heat and let the semolina coconut mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer this into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, ideally overnight. For really fluffy biscuits/ cookies, the overnight rest is recommended.

6. The next day, take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Separate the yolks from the egg whites.(See notes) Lightly beat the yolks with a fork to break them and add to the dough. Also add the powdered cardamom and mix well with a wooden spoon or fork.

cardamom cookies

7. Whisk the egg whites by hand until frothy and add to the dough. Mix well till incorporated.

8. You will now have a slightly moist and sticky dough. Refrigerate this dough for about half an hour so it firms up a bit.

9. Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line your baking trays with parchment or grease them well with some ghee or melted butter.

10. Take the dough out and pinch off walnut sized bits of dough. The dough should be firm enough to handle without difficulty. If the dough is sticking to your palms, lightly dust your palms with flour before shaping the dough. Roll the bits of dough into balls and then flatten them very slightly.

11. Decorate the top by marking criss-crosses (3 equidistant lines one way and another 3 crossing them at right angles), with a table knife. Press down a bit but not too deep or right through the biscuit/ cookie. Use up all the dough this way.

Indian cardamom cookies

12. Place the shaped dough on the baking trays leaving a little space between them. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until they’re a golden brown and done. Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool completely.

13. Store the biscuits/ cookies in airtight containers. This recipe makes about 4 dozen Bolinhas de Coco.

bolinhas (indian cardamom cookies)

Notes

  • Once the first part of the dough has been made it must be refrigerated for at least 8 hours. About 10 hours to overnight is even better, because this allows the semolina to absorb moisture and become soft. It also produces fluffier cookies.
  • If you can find fresh grated coconut, please use that as it gives you the best taste and texture. If you’re using frozen grated coconut let it come to room temperature before using it.
  • If using dehydrated shredded coconut or desiccated coconut, please look for the unsweetened kind. Also re-hydrate your coconut by adding about 1/2 cup warm water to 2 cups of dehydrated/ desiccated coconut and let it sit for about half an hour. After half an hour, drain off any excess water, if any and then use in the recipe. You should have moist coconut not wet coconut.
  • The first time I made these I made them following the recipe and separated the egg white from yolk. The second time I forgot that step and actually ended up having cookies that rose more in the oven and were better in texture

gevulde speculaas (Dutch spice cookies filled with almond paste)

dutch spice cookies @chef in disguise

Blog-checking lines: Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

The first thing I check when reading a recipe for the first time is the spice blend that gives it character. There is something I find irresistible about mixing different spices in different proportions, feeling, smelling, tasting to make sure you get the perfect balance. So when this month’s challenge was announced I could not wait to make gevulde speculaas. Gevulde speculaas if you are not familiar with them are Dutch spice cookies filled with almond paste. Not only do these cookies look elegant but they are loaded with flavor. Biting into a slice of gevulde speculaas  you will first get the buttery crust and topping. The texture is like that of a really dense cake or chewy cookie  but the real pleasure is the explosion of warm spices in your mouth. Next comes a change of texture and flavor, a soft almond paste scented with lemon zest providing beautiful contrast to the crust, taking the edge off the spices and providing that perfect balance.

Speculaas spices

“speculaaskruiden” (speculaas spices) should always contain cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger. You can also add any or all of these spices to taste: pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg. The smell of speculaaskruiden is enchanting, especially if you take the trouble to mix them yourself. The delicious aroma of that blend of warm spices is perfectly suited for the cold winter months.

The longer you allow the spices time to permeate the dough, the better the out come. It is said that bakers sometimes make the dough up to three months in advance.

From the golden age onward, this spice mixture was used to bake a crisp, buttery biscuit: speculaas. For centuries it remained a luxury item, baked only in the holiday season, and often given as a present. In the course of time many recipes were created using speculaas spices. Speculaasjes (“speculaas  cookies / windmill  cookies”) which are shaped using a wooden mold, speculaasbrokken (“speculaas chunks”), kruidnoten (“spiced nuts / miniature spiced cookies”), gevulde speculaas (“speculaas stuffed with almond paste”). And it does not stop there: speculaas spices can be used in custards, cakes, muffins, bread toppings, cheesecake crusts and so on.

spices @ chef in disguise

Speculaas Spices Recipe

You can buy the speculaas spices but making your own gives you a chance to smell and taste the different ingredients and adjust the proportions to your own taste and liking.The general rule you have to stick to is

Mandatory:

cinnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount

ground cloves 1 or 2 parts

mace ½ or 1 part

ginger ½ or 1 part

Optional:

white pepper ½ or 1 part

cardamom ½ or 1 part

coriander ½ or 1 part

anise ½ or 1 part

nutmeg 1 or 2 parts

The spice mix I used was

1  teaspoons of ground cloves,

½ teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ginger.

1 teaspoon of cardamom

1 teaspoon of coriander

1 teaspoon of anise

Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.

almond2

Almond Paste recipe

You can use store bought almond paste but homemade almond paste tastes better.

Ingredients:

7/8 cup (210 ml)(125 gm)(4½ oz) raw almonds (or 1-1/3 cups (320 ml)(125 gm) (4½ oz) ground almonds)

5/8 cup (150 ml) (125 grams) (4½ oz) granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) lemon zest

Directions:

If the raw almonds still have their brown skins, remove them as follows.

Bring water to a boil, add the almonds, cook them for one minute, drain immediately and let cool for a few minutes. Rub them between your fingers to remove the skins.

Grind the almonds for one or two minutes in a food processor, until you see nothing but very small pieces. (Or skip this step if you use ground almonds.)

step1

Add the sugar, and grind for another one or two minutes. It must be very fine after this step.

Add the egg and let the food processor combine it

step2

Store the almond paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Safty notes

Although the flavor gets better as days pass by, it is not wise to store the paste for too long, as it contains a raw egg. For the same reason you should not eat the paste unbaked.

To be safe, you could choose one of these options: use egg powder and water to replace the egg (follow instructions with the powder) use 50 ml of an other liquid, like lemon juice (in that case, leave the zest out) add the egg just before you are going to bake the pastry

The paste can also be kept in the freezer.

Speculaas Dough Recipe

Ingredients:

1¾ cups (250 gm) (9 oz) all purpose (plain) flour

1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder

¾ cup (150 grams) (5-1/3 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed

a pinch salt

2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) speculaas spices

3/4 cup (1½ stick) (175 gm) (6 oz) unsalted butter

Directions:

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.

Cut the butter into cubes and add to the dry ingredient.

Knead until you get a smooth dough. You may need to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.

step3

Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.

If you wish to get more flavor it would be better to keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days

Chef in disguise:dutch stuffed cookies

Assembling and baking the Gevulde Speculaas

Ingredients:

speculaas dough

almond paste

whole almonds without skins for decoration

1 large egg

shallow baking pan, 8×10 inch (20×26 cm) or, round with of diameter 10 inch (26 cm)

Directions:

1. Grease your pan or line it with parchment.

2. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas 4

3. Divide the dough in half into two parts.

4. Roll out both portions on a lightly floured surface, until they are the size of your baking pan.

5. Place one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to make sure it fills the bottom.

step4

6. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water.(I used 1 teaspoon of vinegar with 2 teaspoons of water to avoid eggy smell)

7. Brush 1/3 of the egg over the dough in the pan.

8. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of clingfoil, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and gently transfer it to place it over the dough in the pan. (If you chose to make the paste soft, you can smear the paste instead of rolling it.)

step5

9. Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan and to makw sure it adheres to the dough beneath it.

10.Brush the next 1/3 of the egg over it.

11. Place the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.

12. Smear the last 1/3 of the egg over the dough.

step6

If you choose to cut the speculaas into squares or diamond shapes, score the dough with a knief before baking, that can help you with the decoration

13. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.(You can decorate the speculaas any way you like, you can use the almonds to draw patterns or flowers or trees. This is also the place to allow kids to help)

14. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven.

15. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut it in portions as you like.

gevulde speculaas @chef in disguise

16. If you wrap the stuffed speculaas in clingfoil, after it has cooled completely, you can store it a few days at room temperature. Freezing is possible, but fresh speculaas tastes better.

Notes about making Gevulde speculaas:

You  can choose to make this recipe in one day. But to enjoy the full flavor you should make the dough a few days and allow the spices to permiate the dough. Because of the egg in the almond paste recipe you need to work hygienically and store it in the fridge for no more than 2 days or you can make the paste without the egg and store it in the fridge  and then add the egg right before baking. Another option would be to replace the egg with another liquid like lemon juice or use powdered eggs (the ones you mix with water to reconstitute)

dutch1

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:

Speculaas spices: store them airtight, dry and dark, and they will not spoil for a long time. Almond paste: keep it in the refrigerator. Some people keep it there for months, but if it contains raw egg, I recommend not more than a few days. Can easily be frozen. Speculaas dough: can be kept in the refrigerator for days, or in the freezer for months. But remember: fresh tastes better.

Stuffed speculaas: if you let it cool completely, you can wrap it in clingfoil and keep it a few days at room temperature. And again: freezing is possible, but fresh is better

Thank you Francijn for a wonderful challenge.

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