Torta di farina di cocco – {Coconut Flour Cake}

Recently I was thumbing thru one of my many cookbooks that span the variety of cuisines across Italy. A recipe in Acquacotta from Emiko Davies cookbook caught my eye.

The recipe is a simple bunt cake make from chestnut flour, apparently used within the Tuscany region for this recipe. After realizing I could not find chestnut flour anywhere I decided to improvise and see how things turned out.

I made the cake using coconut flour. The result was a beautiful dense cake that surprisingly was simple to make and even simpler to eat!

Here’s what you’ll need:

5.5 oz of room temperature butter (unsalted)

7 oz of sugar

Zest of 1 orange

6 eggs (the recipe called for 4 but I found adding two more worked better)

1 – 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 – 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 cup milk (the recipe called for 1/2 cup but I found 1 full cup worked better)

2 tablespoons of rum

Start by taking your butter,coconut flour, all-purpose flour & baking powder, mixing them in a mixer until well incorporated. It’s important that your butter is room temperature – having it cold or just out of the fridge will cause you problems.

Add in 1 egg at a time to your mix, allowing your stand mixer to get the mix to a nice, smooth and almost pastel color. Slowly add in your milk until well incorporated.

Zest 1 full orange and add in the mix along with your choice of rum.

Allow your stand mixer to run on slow for about 1 – 2 minutes until you have a thick & dense batter. The batter should not be runny like a cake batter, it should stand on its own and be thick.

Liberally grease a bunt pan. Pour your batter into the pan and go over with a spatula so the batter sits evenly on the bottom.

Set your over to 350 degrees and allow to bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until you can stick a knife thru and have it come out cleanly.

Take out of the oven and allow to cool.

In a small sauce pan put 1 cup of sugar, a teaspoon or two of confectioners sugar and 2 teaspoons of water. Put on the stove on low until you notice the sugar is caramelizing. Carefully pour over top your now cooled cake. Add a slice of orange and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary & some powdered sugar to finish the cake off nicely.

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Vanilla & Cinnamon Milk Tart

When it comes to anything involved with pastry my anxiousness begins to slowly creep up. I am fairly competent at pasta dough – but pastry dough is another story! That said, I am getting better and learning more each time I set out for another baking adventure in the Salt & Starch kitchen.

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Recently I was thumbing thru one of my cookbooks I had admittedly neglected for some time – The Jamie Oliver Comfort Food cookbook. As I flipped thru the pages I really began to fall in love with this book and remembered why I bought it in the first place. The recipes along with the food photography are incredible. I found myself stuck on the Milk Tart recipe as it caught my attention last Sunday. I began to read up on it to see if I could give it a go.

From my research online I found that Milktart or “Melktert” is traditionally a South African pastry that is delicate, sweet and creamy.  I was really intrigued and read a number of different recipes online along with the Jamie Oliver recipe from the book. I decided I would give it a try, putting my little personal touches on it as I do with everything I cook (or bake in this instance). In general I followed the Jamie Oliver recipe which was quite simple but I’ve included notes along the way which were not in the cookbook that I found helpful.

Here’s what you will need:

Pastry:

  • 1 2/3 Cups all-purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of 2% milk

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar (see my notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Making pastry dough is fairly straightforward, although I find it difficult at times given the little kneading necessary. I always catch myself kneading it too much.

Pastry Dough:

Start off with running your flour and confectioners sugar thru a sieve into a large metal bowl. Cut your butter into small cubes and then combine your mixture together gently. Add your egg and a pinch of high quality sea salt. (I use Maldon).  Mix for another 30 seconds and then add in your milk slowly. Continue mixing together until you have what looks like a very flaky or ‘scruffy’ ball – as indicated in the Jamie Oliver cookbook.  Again, this is where I struggle because I want that dough to look shiny and golden like pasta dough! Remind yourself it is pastry dough and not pasta dough! Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.

The next part is where I screwed up originally when making this pastry. While my pastry dough was cooling in the fridge I began making the filling. Big mistake! Allow some patience (something I typically do not have much of) with this recipe and let your pastry dough to fully cool in the fridge before you do anything else. This is a recipe you can’t skip ahead on and get away with.

Ok, so now it’s been 30 minutes and you’re chomping at the bit to get this thing moving! Take out a 9 or 10 inch tart pan and spray some PAM into it, making sure the sides are coated well. You can use other oils here as well but the baking PAM spray I have found works well. Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and begin rolling it out to roughly 1/4″ thickness. Remember, this isn’t pasta dough so your dough is going to be flaky and crumbly & possibly sticky.  Continue to put your rolling pin skills to the test until you have a nice even section of dough rolled out – large enough to cover your tart pan. It’s ok to sprinkle all-purpose flour on your surface and dough throughout this process – as your dough is probably a bit sticky. Use the flour to tighten it up if needed.

Roll or place your rolled out pastry dough over top of your tart pan, being sure to push in nicely along all the edges inside. Cut the excess dough around the edge of the tart pan. Take a fork and punch holes through the base of the dough. (A tiny detail I forgot to do my first time making this dish! Poking holes in the bottom will help the dough to cook evenly, prevent it from sticking to the bottom, and will also help the baking process of the filling.) Pop the tart pan into your freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove your tart pan from the freezer and place a sheet of tin foil over top of your tart pan pastry, being sure to push into all the corners gently. Take some rice or baking beans and fill up the tart pan, again putting enough into the pan to get into all the nooks and crannies. I should mention this process confused the hell of me when I read it in the cookbook. The purpose of this process is to cook the pastry dough somewhat before adding the forthcoming filling. This will allow the dough to ultimately be fully cooked. If you do not do this step your dough will not cook fully in the oven the first go around, leaving you with a doughy mess.

Take your tart pan (now filled with rice or baking beans on top of a tin foil sheet) and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove from your oven and dispose of the rice or beans and tin foil. Place back into the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes uncovered.

While your pastry is in the oven for the 2nd time, you can begin working on your filling. Pour your milk into a sauce pan and place on the stove over low heat. Cut your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, adding to the milk on the stove. Throw in the bean stalks as well. (You will remove them later). Allow to simmer for roughly 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl beat your eggs, cornstarch, all-purpose flour & superfine sugar.

Note: Superfine Sugar is NOT confectioners sugar. I have found that superfine sugar can be somewhat difficult to find at a local grocery store. If you cannot find superfine sugar you can easily pop it into a food processor and blend on high for roughly 30 seconds or until the sugar is visibly powdery and much more fine. Your food processor blades will not like this but it’s a work around if you don’t have access to store bought superfine sugar.

Remove your milk & vanilla from the stove which should now be nicely simmering. Remove the vanilla stalks from the sauce pan. Add in your butter, mixing continuously until fully melted. The recipe in the cookbook called for 1 ‘pat’ of butter – which was again confusing to me. What the hell is a ‘pat’ of butter. The term is subjective from what I found. I used 1/2 cup of unsalted butter cut into small cubes which worked nicely. Most recipes would probably say that is too much but it worked for me.

Next gradually stir in your flour/egg/cornstarch mixture into the milk, stirring continuously until fully incorporated. At this juncture I added my own little personal touch to the recipe and put in a dash of vanilla powder. Vanilla powder can be difficult to get but probably can be acquired at any good spice store or farmer’s market.

Place your sauce pan back on stove over med-low heat. Here is another point where your patience will pay off dividends. Continue to stir until your mixture becomes thick. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. Your mixture will get thick and become a pudding like consistency.  Once at this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes – or until it is not steaming hot anymore.

Carefully pour your filling into your pastry tart pan, being sure not to overfill the filling above the rim of your tart pan. Sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top and bake for another 20-30 minutes.

*The Jamie Oliver recipe added some glazed caramel to this dish. I gave it a try and after a disastrous first attempt which included ruining the first tart and nearly burning my thumb off from the glaze – I managed to get it right.  If you would like to add a little caramel glaze to this tart it is actually fairly easy – but the timing is the important part.

For the optional caramel glaze:

Allow your tart to fully bake before preparing the glaze. Your tart should be cooling comfortably on the kitchen counter before you start your glaze.

Take 1 cup of regular sugar and a splash of water and put into a small sauce pan over med heat. Stir regularly until your sugar begins to thicken both in consistency and color. Continue to stir until you have a beautiful golden brown color of caramel and the thickness is still workable. Once the consistency is thick but still ‘pour-able’, remove from the stove and carefully pour over top of your now finished tart.

Note: This is where I burned my finger horribly the first time I did this. The glaze might not look hot but it is like lava! – trust me! Be careful during this step!

Allow your tart to fully cool – for a few hours before even thinking about removing it from the tart pan or serving. The best course of action I have found here is to let it cool on the counter for a few hours and then stick it in the fridge overnight. The subtle flavors of the creamy filling will come thru better the next day after it’s been cooling for a while. You’ll be left with a delicate, creamy and impressive pastry dish which you can add creme fraiche too, decorate with fresh blueberries or simply with the caramel glaze.

 

How to make Challah Bread

I am no baker, that’s for sure. However, I have made my fair share of bread in the past and I continue to bake bread occasionally all while trying to understand the magical chemistry that occurs between yeast, water, flour, etc.

Challah bread is a beautiful way to start making bread, and it’s fun to make! It’s rich texture along with a very slight hint of sweetness can be noticed when trying it for the first time. It’s recipe is straightforward and the end result is almost always impressive to look at. I particularly like making challah bread on occasion because I can never seem to get it just right. My braids always open up on top but the end result still looks fantastic and most importantly the taste is great.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Ingredients: 1 loaf
  • 1 cup water – best if lukewarm or room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of dry yeast – you can use active dry but I tend to use the instant yeast
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (regular salt, not sea salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 large egg yolks separated – (Save the egg white in a small bowl, set to the side)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil such as Canola oil – (Do not use olive oil here!)

How to:

The first step you need to do is to dissolve your yeast. Place your yeast in a small bowl with the water, adding a little pinch of sugar. Mix well until all is incorporated. At this point you want to let your bowl stand for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should be doing its magic and you should see a cloudy or frothy layer form across the top of the water. If you do not see this your yeast has most likely expired and you will need to start over.

Mix your dry ingredients: Place your 4 cups of flour, your sugar and salt into your stand mixer bowl. Make a well in the middle of your flour and add the oil, eggs and egg yolk. Pour the yeast mixture into the mix and stir together with a wooden spoon until you get a messy dough.

*You can add sprinkles of dry flour as you go – that will help with the wetness of the mix and will assist in it all coming together. (Don’t go overboard however with adding more dry flour at this step – use it sparingly to assist with the dough coming together).

With a stand mixer, fix the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for roughly 6-8 minutes.  If you do not have a stand mixer you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough feels sticky or wet you can sprinkle dry flour into the mix as you continue to knead. The goal is to get a silky smooth texture that easily forms a ball.

Once the dough is kneaded and form nicely, place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for roughly 1-2 hours. The dough needs to double in size – use this visual measure of the indication it is risen enough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Stretch each part to roughly 14-16 inches in length creating ‘ropes’. Many times while doing this you will notice the ropes tend to shrink up. If this happens let them rest for 5 minutes or so giving the gluten more time to relax.

For a 3-stranded challah you want to gather the ropes at the top, pinching together. Braid the 3 ropes together (as if braiding hair) making sure your braid is relatively tight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your braided challah on top and sprinkle with a little dry flour. Place a kitchen towel over top and let rest for roughly 1 hour in a warm and dry place.

While your braided challah is still resting (roughly 20 minutes before you put it in the oven), add a little water to your egg whites that you set aside from earlier. Whisk the mixture gently. Brush and coat the challah bread with the egg wash making sure you get into all the crevices and especially on top.

Pre-Heat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for roughly 30-35 minutes, checking every so often to ensure the top is evenly being baked.  The challah should be browned thoroughly on top.

Let the Challah cool on a baking rack until just warm.  Serve & enjoy!

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*You can add caraway seeds to the top before baking to add a little spicier flavor if desired.

 

 

 

 

Verdure Gratinate

Baked vegetables with bread crumbs is one of the easiest side dishes you can prepare. I love this dish because it sets up perfectly for new cooks. It allows for a newbie in the kitchen to practice their knife skills and prepare an incredibly easy and flavorful dish almost every time within minutes.

The other beautiful aspect of this dish is you can use virtually any vegetables you like. You’re not bound by only a few certain vegetables. So, that said – pick your favorites and get started! I’ll show you how …

Common veggies I like to use:

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (Green, Red & Yellow)
  • Zuchinni
  • Onions
  • Tomato
  • Fresh herbs of your choice. Parsley, Oregano & Marjoram work wonderfully.
  • Salt & Pepper (Try to use high quality salt, not iodized store bought salt. Good salt such as Maldon Sea Salt or other sea salts make a huge difference in cooking. Freshly ground black pepper should also be a staple in your kitchen)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Don’t skimp on quality here either. Get the good stuff)
  • Bread Crumbs – roughly about 1-1/2 cups

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How to:

Take your fresh herbs and put your knife skills to the test, getting them fully chopped finely.  Once you have a lovely mix of herbs (finely chopped) add them to your bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl – stirring well to make sure the herbs are fully incorporated with the the bread crumbs.

Cut your veggies roughly 1/4″ in thickness, or a bit thinner depending on your preference. This is another good exercise for your knife skills because you will have a few different vegetables to cut. Make your cuts even focusing on even lengths for all your veggies. This will make your dish look even better when its plated. (see photos)

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Place your cut vegetables on a baking sheet that has been drizzled with a little EVOO, spreading them out evenly. Don’t overcrowd them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle your breadcrumb mix on top of the veggies but don’t go crazy here putting more than is needed. This is a common mistake, one I committed the first time I made this side dish. If you put too many bread crumbs on top you’ll be left with burnt vegetables and a mushy breadcrumb pile on top. Less is more in this situation.

Drizzle some EVOO over top of the vegetables to finish.  Bake for roughly 45 minutes at 375 F until breadcrumbs are browned on top.

Sprinkle a little high quality sea salt on top and serve!

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Funfetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Baking doesn’t have to be difficult. Many times it is. Many times I’ve stared thru the little glass door to the oven, nervously hoping I didn’t overfill the cake pan with batter. Inevitably when the batter pours over the edge of the pan I reconsider why I even attempted baking a cake in the first place (again).

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or nerve-wracking. After a few attempts and failures at making a layer cake I’ve managed to figure out some easy steps you can use also to bake your next cake.

Today I decided to give the all to popular ‘Funfetti’ cake a try. It’s all the rage on the foodie shows, and perhaps the funnest cake one can bake without too much hassle.

Here are a few easy steps to follow:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Buy 3 boxes of cake mix from the store. (You can make your own but remember – this is the easy recipe option!)

Follow the easy instructions on the cake mix box which usually is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cake batter and 3 eggs. If you have a stand mixer use that option, as it’s easier to mix together with a stand mixer rather than try to mix it together old school style by hand.

Once the batter is mixed thoroughly add up to 1/2 cup of sprinkles into the batter, allowing the mixer to get them well incorporated within the mix.

Take three 8″ cake pans and coat them liberally with either PAM cooking spray or Crisco.

Pour the batter into the cake pan being sure not to overfill the pan – a common mistake!

(Note: if you overfill the batter into the cake pan you will quickly have a mess in your oven and unfortunately might need to start over after cleaning up the mess)

Bake all (3) filled cake pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes depending on your oven. (I check the center of the cake with a dry knife every 5 minutes or so after the first 10 minutes in the oven)

The next step is the frosting. Personally I am not a huge fan of over frosting. For this recipe I decided to make a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – just enough to fill the layers of the cake.

In your clean mixer add 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp of Vanilla extract, 1/3 unsalted butter that is room temperature. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to incorporate fully. Slowly add a tablespoon of whole milk as your mixture comes together until the texture is creamy and soft. (see photo below).  Put the frosting mix in the fridge while your cakes finish off in the oven.

Finally, remove your cakes allowing them to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pans. I like to cut the the dome tops off the cakes so everything is nice and even. Take your frosting out of the fridge allowing it to return to room temp. It needs to be room temp to spread on the cake – if it’s too cold or stiff you will tear the cake very easily.

Liberally spread the buttercream frosting on the first layer, add the second layer, and if you choose to the top layer. For me, as mentioned earlier, I only like a little frosting so I decided to only incorporate frosting to layer the cakes but not to top the cake or for the sides. Plus I like the open top showing off the sprinkles!

And just like that – you have Funfetti cake. Enjoy!

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