Saturday, March 27, 2010

Daring Bakers-Orange Tian

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I never heard of this dessert before reading about the daring bakers' March challenge. I thought it was a perfect selection for this time of the year since citrus fruits are at their best (in the northern hemisphere that is). This was another fun challenge, and I gave it a little spin and based the presentation on a dessert I saw in Charlie Trotter's Desserts cookbook. If you don't know this book check it out because it is amazing, full of beautiful pictures and creations, truly inspirational. In the book each dessert has many different components that can be used alone or together to create beautiful masterpieces. Trotter's dessert was composed by almond cookies, fresh strawberries, whipped cream and a basil syrup.

For the cookies I decided to substitute a third in weight with almond flour to the sablee recipe. I believe it is actually a sucree recipe but I am not Ducasse! I then rolled the dough into a squared log, froze it, cut 1/4" thick slices, added a sliced almond on top, and baked the cookies at 325F. The cookies were great, not too sweet, and the crumb was really nice. It was hard not to eat them all.

I loved the marmalade recipe because the extra added juice helped cooking the fruit pieces and imparted a nice flavor. I didn't add any pectin to the marmalade, just cooked it to a thick consistency. The color was stunning!

For the syrup I used a purplish peppermint I grow in my garden, ground it with sugar using a mortar, added some water and cooked it to a light syrup.

For the final presentation I sandwiched the cookies with whipped cream (that I didn't stabilize), and blood orange marmalade. I then cut some segments of blood oranges, dressed them with a little mint syrup and arranged them around the cookie stack.


Thanks Jennifer for choosing this month's challenge and to Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, the creators of the Daring Bakers' challenge. To see the recipe and more of the daring bakers' creations click here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Multiple Sclerosis Walk

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). MS is more prevalent in women and it afflicts 300,000 people in the North America. The symptoms first appear at age 20 to 40, at a prime in a person's life, in some women the onset of the symptoms happens right after giving birth. I happen to know three women who were diagnose with it, plus two more who were relatives of friends. One of these women is Jane. Jane is a beautiful person, a mom to two small children, she has taught me a lot and is wearing her diagnosis with amazing grace.

Every story is different, every woman has different symptoms or progression, but for some the prognosis is grim, ending with a wheel chair, and for few death. The treatment involves drugs with severe side effects and high doses of steroids, which can mess up a person so much she is not functional for days. There is no cure for MS. Because the symptoms are neurological, many women who have MS appear totally healthy, and I bet you know one or two as well, who may not have told you their story, some can't share it.

Jane is amazingly courageous, after her diagnosis she has embraced eastern medicine, changed her diet, and practices daily yoga and meditation. Jane was diagnosed 8 years ago and today she is symptoms free. The MS society is organizing many events throughout the US, and on April 25th, Jane and her team will be walking 5 miles. I will be walking on her side, cheering for a cure, supporting her in her quest to raise MS awareness. Each participant is asked to raise $300, a small sum compared to other organizations. If you would like to support me, and the MS cause please donate following this link, or by clicking on the MS badge on the right menu bar.

This blog is about food, but ultimately I am human and life around me constantly affects who I am and the choices I make. That's why I decided to post about this, because MS is affecting me, seeing my friend's Jane courage is making me a better person as well.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Flourless Orange Almond Cake-Simple or Sublime

You are probably seeing citrus cakes or other citrus creations popping out every where in food blogs nowadays. The citrus crop is at its peak, so every one is having fun with these versatile fruits, especially after the dull months of winter where one can only find apples and pears. This cake is different than most as it is gluten free, and it has a wonderful bitterness imparted by the orange skin. I am not sure where I saw the recipe originally but it comes from the Times on line food section, and in turn it was inspired by a cake published by Claudia Roden in her boook A New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I knew this cake would be perfect for my Scottish friend and neighbor C., who cannot eat gluten and was coming over for dinner so I made it for her. The cake is super easy, but needs planning as the oranges need to be cooked for more than an hour. I suppose you can cook the oranges the day before you actually make the cake, to spare some time. The original recipe makes a very high cake and I wasn't happy with the too wet/maybe raw center of the cake, so the second time I made it I baked it in two smaller pans and the results were perfect. I also added cardamom because I love it, as you probably have noticed here. Orange and cardamom are one of those matches made in food heaven. For the pictured cake I used blood oranges, so the cake was darker, more brown, the one made with navel oranges came out of a lighter color.

Not because I can't eat gluten, but because I have lots of friends and customers who can't I have been trying lots of gluten free recipes to add to my repertoire. I also plan to offer lots of gluten free options at the restaurant where I will start working in April. This cake is a winner, so moist and delicious. The orange skin gives the cake a bitter note that becomes tamer the next day, and the cardamom is subtle but you know it is there to give the cake an extra zing. I am not sure this is a cake that will please everybody, as it is slightly bitter and not too sweet, but for those who get the flavors, it is heavenly.

This cake is perfect the way it is, with a little powder sugar on the top, but if you want to go over the top, pour some warm chocolate glaze over it, and serve it with orange or tangerine cream (I used paige mandarins), and candied kumquats or orange peel. Delicious!

Orange and Almond Cake
Adapted from this recipe


3 medium oranges
6 large eggs, separated
225 gr. granulated sugar (8oz.)
200 gr. ground whole almonds (7oz.)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cardamom

METHOD: Place the clean, whole and unpeeled fruit in water to cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1½ hours or until soft, adding more water when necessary. Drain the oranges, cut into quarters, discard any major pips, and puree the fruit in a food-processor, then cool. Heat the oven to 180C/350F. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until pale. Beat in the oranges, almonds, and baking powder. Beat the egg whites until soft peak and fold gently into the mixture.

Pour into a 23cm (9") spring form cake pan and bake for an hour, until firm to the touch (cover with foil if over-browning). Cool in the pan and dust with icing sugar to serve. Or dress it up with chocolate glaze and serve it with orange cream sauce.

Chocolate glaze
From Alice Medrich Cocolat

8 oz bittersweet chocolate. chopped finely (225 gr)
6 oz butter (170 gr)
1 TBS light corn syrup
2 TBS water

Place all the ingredients in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the double boiler when it is almost, but not quite, melted. Set the glaze aside to finish melting, stirring once or twice until perfectly smooth. When the glaze is smooth and shiny, pour it over the cake to cover it completely or partially. Chill the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes to set the glaze before removing it from the rack. This glaze last for weeks in the fridge, just warm it up again at low heat in a double boiler.

Orange Cream Sauce

from Emily Luchetti A Passion for Dessert

2 TBS sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed citrus juice (4 oz./12o ml)
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (10 oz./300 ml.)
Grated peel from one orange

Cook the citrus juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the juice reduces to about 1 1/2 TBS. Stir in the cream. Cook until the cream begins to boil around the edges. In a medium bowl combine the yolk with the sugar. Slowly pour the cream into the yolks. Pour back into the sauce pan and cook slowly until thickened, and the cream coats the back of a spoon. Strain the cream and stir in the orange peel. Chill over a ice bath, and refrigerate until ready to serve.


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