Pear and chocolate cake

Grandma is always the best cook, isn’t she? I think it’s because they stick to proven recipes. “Old school” cook doesn’t care for hips and belly if they put little more sugar of fat in meal. Everyting must be done according to a recipe which they store in memory. Interesting, they write your telefone number but know by heart how much flour or eggs to put in a pie or cake. I started cooking as a teenage, showing always interest in pots and pans. It was time I tried to convince my grandma to prapare everything more ” light” because it’s age when most girls start waching calories intake. It was later I realized why her lunches and dinners taste so yummy and why her soup tastes and smells the same all the time she makes one. My grandma makes best fresh pasta in the world, every time we gather there’s no doubt what will be served on table. We order only šurlice, fuži or pljukanci, fresh pasta traditionally made in some parts or Croatia. She complains often that she would like to cook something else but pasta but we satisfy her desire just for holiday occasions like Easter, Christmas or New Years! Why change something perfect? Her origins are from island of Krk, later married my grandpa from Istria. Both parts of Croatia prepare great pasta and gnocchi but she underlines that she learned everything before marriage, obviously proud of her origin.

It was my grandma’s bday few days ago. We ate meat soup and pljukanci with gulash. It was my task to do a dessert. I choose to use 100% organic pears from garden combined with fine chocolate.

p.s. I plain to ask my grandma to learn me how to make pljukanci, I’ll be happy to share once I learn.

Grandma said she won’t have time to make a dessert after pljukanci, gulash and soup so I was happy to help. My choice was pear and chocolate cake, there are so many recipes one can find online, if you like try this one, it’s really tasty.

My father warned me grany might also make pear crostata (because she allways makes one during pear season) and she did! So we had two pear desserts that day! What a pear party!

It’s important to choose mature pears that contain lot of juice and good quality chocolate. It takes about half an hour to prepare this cake plus 40′ baking time. If you don’t have amaretti, butter buiscits will also do the job, I actually put “cantuccini”, great italian dry almond buiscit that my grandma made about 2 weeks ago. Cantuccini taste great and can last for months if closed well in air proof bowl.

PEAR & CHOCOLATE CAKE

1 and 1/2 cup (200 g) all purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup (170 g) unsalted butter

1 tsp baking powder

4 eggs

1/2 lb (about 200 g) dark chocolate

10 amaretto buiscuits

7-8 medium size pears

300 ml prosecco (or some dessert wine on your choice)

1 tbsp cognac

DIRECTIONS:

First, peel the pears, cut into quarters, remove the seeds and the central hard parts. Place them in a large pan without overlapping, pour in prosecco and cook until complete evaporation of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile chop dark chocolate and steam it adding 1/3 cup of butter cut into small pieces, stir to dissolve well. Then cool. Mix the remaining butter with 1/3 cup sugar and egg yolks until you get a nice smooth and light cream, to which you now need to add to the melted lukewarm chocolate. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and add finely crushed amaretti biscuits, the flour and sifted baking powder. Beat the egg whites until stiff, stir in the remaining sugar beating for few more seconds. Unite egg whites gently into the chocolate mixture, stirring from the bottom up. Divide dough in two parts, pour the first part into a greased and floured 9 inches cake pan, cover with the pears  and finish with second part of the dough. Put cake in a preheated oven at 350 F for at least 40 minutes. When ready, leave it for about 10 minutes in the cake pan to cool, and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold, as you like it.

Shame I didn’t take picture of my grandma’s crostata, it was very delicious! Well, I hope she’ll make one soon while pear season lasts.

Fresh Fig Crostata

I love figs, they’re perfect fruit in every sense. It’s not just the taste but also beauty it’s leafs, delicate nectar and strong tree. This seductress comes in late summer but going away so quickly… you’d better hurry up and prepare something delicious.

We have big fig tree in our backyard, I love to eat them directly from tree (so rarely bowl returns full in kitchen when I go to pick up figs). There are so many great ways you can prepare figs, it’s a pity to use them just for jelly. One of best desserts one can taste is definitely “Kukuriku Figs” from one excellent Croatian restaurant. It combines figs cooked for hours in prosecco and rosemary, served with mascarpone cream and pieces of homemade cinnamon biscuit. I plain to make and share soon because I never made it with fresh but dried figs, curious to see a difference.

Today we had great lunch, anchovies carpaccio served with toasted baguette, grilled sardines  with potatoes and plenty od chicory salad. Everybody liked Fresh Fig Crostata I made last night for dessert so I wanted to share recipe. It makes about 10 servings.

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FOR THE DOUGH

  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Kocher salt
  • 2/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

FOR THE FILLING

  • 1 pound fresh figs (about 15), sliced into four pieces
  • 4 tbsp sugar (I used Wiener zucker)
  • 3 tbsp fine prosecco vine (I used Hektorovic)
  • 1 tbsp fine Cognac (I used Hennessy)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 10 wheatmeal butterbiscuits

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 pound fresh figs
  • 4 tbsp sugar (again Wiener zucker)

Make dough: In a food processor, pulse flour, sugars, salt, egg yolks and cold butter, it takes not more than 2 minutes in food processor or few more if you do it manually. Do not overmix. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. On a large lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 9-inch round. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 40 minutes.

Make filling: cook figs in sugar, prosecco and cognac on medium heat. Add cinnamon and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cook for about 15 minutes. Cool and then add finely blended butterbiscuits.

For topping: caramelize sugar on medium heat, then add figs cut in four. Take figs out very quickly from pot, it takes less than a minute.

Take out baked dough lifting edges of parchment, transfer crostata to a serving plate.

Fill crostata with fig filling and then put caramelized figs. It’s not necessary to refrigerate cake unless it’s really worm inside the house.

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Really easy to make and everybody liked it, even children. It you can find some organic oranges it would be great to combine them with figs. Great idea is to serve it with nice scoop of vanilla flavored ice-cream (forgot to buy it, it would match perfectly)

Buon appetit!

Perfect Sunday

We had great family lunch yesterday. My sister recently got back from NY with her family so they invited us for family gathering. It was very sunny day, couldn’t imagine better way to spend Sunday. My only task was to make a dessert while our husbands were busy doing everything else, from waking up at 4 am to get lamb from Island of Krk, choosing wine, preparing food and even decorating table.

I love having lunch with my family as we all appreciate precious moments we spend together, having good time making jokes on one’s expense and enjoying food set on table.  We had delicious meat menu, this time nothing vegetarian: spicy lamb chowder, grilled lamb chops and lamb roasted with potatoes and fresh rosemary.

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We tasted great wines… Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa Valley from Grgich Hills Estate, Tomislav Tomac’s sparkling wine, light-skinned white wine grape Pošip from Grgich Hills Estate and Super Istrian Cuvee 2008 from Roxanich. I didn’t tried dessert wine as I was busy serving cake so I continued drinking my absolute favourite Cabernet Sauvignon that my sister and her husband bought directly from Grgich during their first visit in California.

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Lamb chowder was delicious, have to ask a recipe. It cooked for hours in wonderful Staub Dutch oven so it has to be yummy.

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My choise of desert was double layer chocolate cake, it would be a sin to continue lamb menu with something light as fruit cake, wouldn’t it? Here’s a recipe, you won’t regret trying although fondant decoration is not really necessary, it depends on occasion.

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Double layer chocolate cake

For biscuit:

– 8 egg whites

– 8 tbsp sugar

– 1/2 tsp salt

– 5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

– 1 tsp vanilla sugar

-1 tsp baking powder

-10 tbsp bread flour

– 3/4 cup plain yogurt

– 3/4 cup oil

Wisk together egg whites, salt and sugar. Mix until sugar is melted and egg whites firm. Slowly add yogurt, oil, cocoa powder,flour and baking powder.  Line ring mold (I used 10.2 in) with acetate paper and place it on a sheetpan. Measure the circumference of the ring mold and cut a strip of cake accordingly. Place mixture in mold and bake in preheated oven on 338 F for about 30′. Let it cool.

For dark chocolate ganache:

– 1 cup heavy cream

– 1/4 cup milk 

– 170 g fine 70 % chocolate

– 1 tsp granulated sugar

-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Bring the heavy cream, milk, sugar and vanilla extract to a boil and pour over the  chopped chocolate. Mix slowly starting from the center until all incorporated and creamy. Let it cool. Place in fridge.

For white chocolate mousse:

– 1 and 1/2 cup heavy cream

– 170 g white chocolate

– 1 tsp granulated sugar

-1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

Mix heavy cream with sugar and vanilla extract until is tender, add melted and cooled white chocolate and mix until is reaches mousse texture. Let it cool in fridge.

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For fondant:

– 700 g powdered sugar

– 1 tbsp cold water

– 8 tbsp fruit sugar

– 6 tbsp cold water

– 1 tbsp glycerin

– 1 tbsp 14 g gelatin

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It was my first time making fondant so I was patient (you should also be if it’s your fist time). It’s actually not so complicated as it seems so one should try for fun.

First step is to measure 700 g sifted sugar and to place it in a large bowl. trying to make a well in the center. Dissolve fruit sugar with 1 tbsp cold water in small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over 6 tbsp water in a cup. Let sit for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently and then stir to dissolve gelatin. Don’t forget to add glycerin, it is really necessary for good rolled fondant. Pour the warmed, dissolved gelatin-glycerin mixture into the well over the top and mix in with rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Mix until the dough is too stiff to stir.  Knead dough until of the sugar is incorporated.

Transfer to a surface covered with powdered sugar and continue to knead until smooth and satiny. This will be the texture of clay. If the fondant is too dry, add in a few drops of water and if it is too dry, add in a bit of powdered sugar. Shape the fondant into a ball, flatten slightly and wrap well in plastic wrap. Let rest for 20 minutes before rolling and using. Put it in hermetic bowl in fridge, then it can be used for few months. When you want to use it place in microwave for few seconds. Be careful not to overheat because it gets very warm inside, 1-2 seconds are enough.

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Cut biscuit in half, cover one half with dark chocolate ganache and then carefully pour over white chocolate mousse. Finish with other half of biscuit. Then roll fondant bigger then you think it needs to be, put it back on rolling pin and put it directly over cake.  Cut off all excess using pizza or pastry cutter. If you have fondant smoother, smooth it all down. If not you’ll have to use your own hands, like I did. Unless it’s a wedding of special occasion cake, result will be quite good as well.

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That’s all folks. We all enjoyed cake, I hope you will too!