Chocolate Pear Cake

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The recipe of this post comes from Emiko Davie’s Florentine cookbook. It is a one of a kind book that beautifully captures the magic of Florence’s markets, trattorias and streets. Emiko’s writing weaves stories of the city’s history and culture with an authentic collection of meticulous regional Italian recipes that are beautifully captured through photography.

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The Torta di Pera e Cioccolato cake particularly caught my attention since I’ve tried combining both of these ingredients in a dessert before and I was not very impressed with the result. So I decided to give it another try – mainly because Emiko’s recipes are meticulous and so reliable!

This is not a flourless cake as it contains almond flour, and it’s not as decadent as the flourless chocolate tahini recipe I posted a few weeks ago, but it does have a melt in your mouth texture that makes it really hard to just eat one slice. Remember, the quality of chocolate matters significantly – the better the chocolate, the better the cake!

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Recipe from Florentine by Emiko Davies

50g granulated sugar
500ml water
2 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths lengthways
150g dark chocolate
90g unsalted butter at room temperature, cubed
90g caster (superfine) sugar
90g almond meal
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon cocoa powder for dusting cake pan
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Combine the granulated sugar with the water in a saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the pear slices and poach for 10-15 minutes, or until tender but not too soft (a knife should easily penetrate the flesh without any resistance). Drain and let the pear cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 9″ round springform cake tin and dust with the cocoa powder.
3. Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie. When melted, remove from the heat, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Add the caster sugar and almond meal, stirring to combine. When the mixture is cool, add the 3 egg yolks.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks, then gently fold them into the chocolate batter. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cake pan. Arrange the pear pieces on the top of the batter, pushing them slightly in. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely before unmolding from the pan and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Coconut Mastic Macaroons

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I tried a variety of coconut macaroon recipes in the last couple of months but none of them made me want to make them again, until I saw this recipe for irresistibly golden coconut macaroons. I was so intrigued but the technique that requires cooking the coconut batter on the stovetop before shaping into balls and baking (that was definitely a first!). It resulted in macaroons that are delicately crunchy on the outside and incredibly moist and chewy on the inside.

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What I love about this recipe is that it’s very adaptable, and you can adjust it based on your favorite tastes. Naturally, I made a couple of tweaks to Claire Ptak’s original recipe and added in freshly ground mastic to the batter. The refreshing smell the mastic paired with coconut is my favorite combination of all time! You can get really creative with this by adding a piece of almond in the center, dipping half of the cookies in dark chocolate, mixing in chopped dried fruits, or just bake them plain!

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Recipe adapted from Violet Bakery Cookbook
Makes 20 tablespoon sized macaroons

4 large egg whites
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey
200g (1+1/3 cups) unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground mastic (about 4 pea sized mastic resins)

1. Preheat the oven to 355°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with two parchment papers (to prevent the bottom of the macaroons from burning).
2. Grind the mastic resins in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Measure all the ingredients into a medium heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium low-heat, stirring constantly. As the mixture warms up, reduce the heat to low and stir until the mixture dries out and holds together into a cohesive mass. Let the mixture cool down before proceeding with the next steps (it will be easier to shape the macaroons).
3. Using a tablespoon, scoop individual portions of the mixture on to the lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand.
4. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the macaroons are puffed and golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before serving or storing. They will keep well for one week in an airtight container, or frozen up to a month.

Sfouf bi Debes (Carob Molasses Cake)

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Sfouf is the most popular recipe on my blog: it’s a semolina anise seed tea cake that’s fluffy, moist, incredibly flavorful and vegan. The baking time is actually longer than the time it takes to mix all the ingredients together; it’s no wonder why it is the most viewed page on this site!

This version of sfouf is made with carob molasses (also known as debes el kharrub in Arabic) instead of refined white sugar. It’s a healthy and popular alternative to regular turmeric sfouf especially during Easter lent.

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Since the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean region, carob molasses is widely consumed in Lebanon. The pods of the carob fruit are mashed with water to release their sugar, then strained and boiled down until a dark thick syrup is formed. In fact it is very common in these regions to make syrups from fruits and there’s an incredible variety ranging from pomegranates, dates, grapes, to mulberry, prickly pears, and figs.

Carob molasses has a very distinctive earthy flavor that’s almost reminiscent of cocoa. That’s why it’s a great alternative to chocolate in many recipes, especially when you taste it in its raw form (I think it looses the rich cocoa taste when baked). So there you have it: an even healthier vegan sfouf cake that’s naturally sweetened. Feel free to experiment with other types of molasses if you can’t find carob at your local food market.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp tahini paste
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp anise seed
2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground anise seed
1 cup carob molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted white sesame seeds for decoration (you can also substitute with pine nuts or halved blanched almonds)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF) and grease a 11″ (28cm) round tin pan with the tbsp of tahini.
2. Seep anise seeds in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, toast the white sesame seeds in a non stick pan on medium high heat until fragrant and barely golden. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, baking powder, and ground anise seeds until homogeneous.
5. Slowly add the anise tea, carob molasses, and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps remain. The batter will be slightly thick.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

7. Bake for 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Let cool in the pan completely before inverting onto a wire rack.
10. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container (cake can be frozen up to 3 months).

Flourless Chocolate Tahini Soufflé Cake

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I have a particular weakness for flourless chocolate cakes. All you need to make this incredibly rich dessert is high quality bittersweet chocolate, sugar and eggs – that’s it! It’s simple enough to bake in under an hour yet fancy enough to impress your friends. When done right (I’m talking about whisking the eggs and gently folding in the ingredients), the intense chocolate flavor shines though a lightly textured center with a crackling crisp top and chewy edges.

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Recently, I’ve begun tampering with Claire Ptak’s chocolate sunken soufflé cake and I found that the addition of tahini to the cake batter takes it to a whole other level. The creamy tahini turns the originally dense cake into a silky and velvety consistency that melts in your mouth. Don’t worry about the savory/nutty notes of tahini, they’re very subtle and do not overpower the indulgent chocolate flavor.

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Recipe adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Ingredients:
100g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
100g dark chocolate (85% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter, cut into large cubes
60ml (4 Tbsp) high quality tahini
4 eggs separated, at room temperature
160g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Dutch processed cocoa powder (for dusting on top)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter a 9″ (23cm) springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir occasionally. Once they’re melted, remove the pan from the heat but keep the bowl over the pan of water to keep it warm. Stir in the tahini.
3. Measure 75g of sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg yolks, and whisk for 4 minutes on medium high speed until the mixture has doubled in volume.
4. Set the bowl of melted chocolate on your work surface and gently fold in the whisked yolks. Do not mix until homogeneous, the mixture should be marbly.
5. Wash the mixer bowl, dry thoroughly and add the rest of the sugar (75g) with the egg whites. Whisk on high speed until medium-soft peaks form (do not over-whip). Then fold the whites into the chocolate until just mixed. Slowly pour the batter into the cake pan.
6. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top of the cake is puffed and just started to crack. Place the cake pan on a wire rack and let it cool for 20 minutes. To serve, remove the sides of the pan and slide the warm cake on a plate. Dust with cocoa powder.

Ma’amoul Bil Tamer (Semolina Date Cookies)

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For as long as I can remember, all the women in my family have made these Ma’amoul cookies for the Christmas and Easter holidays. They would all gather together at my grandma or mom’s home to bake the cookies while drinking fenjan ahweh (Arabic Coffee), gossiping about family members, and passionately discussing current events. It literally took them all day to make roughly roughly 3-4 kg (7-8 pounds) of Ma’amoul which are then distributed among different families.

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Ma’amoul are extremely popular in Lebanon, and they’re typically filled with date paste, ground pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. Each flavor has its own shape and geometric design: Dates (Tamer) are typically round, pistachios (Festok) or walnuts (Joz) are domed, almonds (Loz) are crescent. The dough is incredibly soft and crumbly with a toothy semolina crunch that’s flavored with mahleb (more about this spice here), orange blossom water, and rose water.

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There are a lot of good recipes of Ma’amoul in cookbooks and online that call for other ingredients or techniques, but that’s my family’s version and it’s the most valuable one. This recipe produces more than a sweet snack or a delicious treat, it connects me to my roots, brings up memories, offers comfort and nourishes me way beyond its nutritional value. It’s been passed on and tweaked across generations of women in my family who spent countless of hours in the kitchen together working on their skills and creating experiences. Knowing that – not only instills a gratifying sense of wonder and excitement – but also drives me to keep our tradition alive by baking.

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Recipe: – Yields roughly 40 cookies

Dough:
• 400g farina (smeed – coarse flour)
• 200g semolina flour (farkha – fine flour)
• 300g unsalted butter, melted and warm
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1¼ tsp mahleb powder
• 60ml (1/4 cup) orange blossom water, warm
• 60ml (1/4 cup) rose water, warm
• 3 tsp orange blossom water, warm
• 3 tsp rose water, warm

Date Filling:
• 800g high quality, soft medjool dates pitted and white interior skin removed
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 tsp orange blossom water
• 1 tsp rose water

Day 1: Prepare the dough
In a large bowl mix the farina flour, semolina flour, and mahleb powder. Gradually add the warm butter and vegetable oil and mix with your hands. Gently rub the mixture with the palm of your hands for about 5 minutes until it’s no longer lumpy. Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place overnight.

Day 2: Make the date filling and bake the cookies
1. After removing the pits of the dates and cleaning them, place them in a medium saucepan with the butter over medium heat. Stir for 20 minutes until a date paste is formed.
2. Let it cool down for a few minutes then transfer to a food processor and add the rose and orange blossom water. Pulse a few times until homogeneous.
3. Using a tablespoon, form roughly 40 balls, place on a large plate or baking sheet and cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.
4. Uncover the dough from Day 1, add the 1/4 cup of each rose and orange blossom water, and knead with your hands for about 2 minutes until it comes together – Don’t worry if it’s still crumbly at this point.
5. Divide the dough into three even portions and cover with a damp towel. Take out one portion and add 1 teaspoon of each rose and orange blossom water and knead on a clean surface until it becomes a smooth and silky dough.
6. To make the cookies: Prepare 2-3 large baking sheets and line with parchment paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the semolina dough, roll into a ball and flatten with the palms of your hands. Place a date ball in the middle, bring the edges of the dough together and roll again into a ball then flatten to form a short cylinder. Using a wooden spoon, poke a hole in the middle of the cookie. Smooth the edges and use a decorative pinch or fork to create a design. Place the cookie on the baking sheet. Repeat this step until all the cookies are molded then repeat step five with the rest 2/3 of the dough.
7. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway, until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool completely before serving.

Notes:
• Serving suggestion: dust the ma’amoul with powdered sugar before serving.
• Ma’amoul cookies will keep unrefrigerated in an airtight container for one month or frozen up to 4 months.

Olive Oil Ricotta Semolina Cake with Roasted Quince

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I’ve been playing around with this recipe for quite some time now and made several versions of it with different winter fruits. The addition of the semolina and high quality olive oil in the batter makes a tender and light cake that’s complex in flavor. It’s studded with quince, that’s slightly roasted in orange blossom water to keep it firm to the bite, and crunchy blanched almonds – adding yet another contrast of textures and flavors. In the cold long winter days, this fruit dessert is guaranteed to brighten and uplift your mood.

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Recipe extensively adapted from Food52

Roasted Quince:
2 large quince (450g)
80g sugar
25g water
Zest of a small lemon
1½ tablespoon orange blossom water

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. Peel quince and cut each into 8 thick slices (roughly 450g total). Place the slices in a baking pan. Cover with sugar, water, zest and orange blossom water.
3. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the quince is starting to soften.

Cake:
2 large eggs, room temperature
200g granulated sugar
245g ricotta cheese
80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
180g flour
80g fine semolina flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
– Confectioner’s sugar and a handful of blanched almonds for decoration
1. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 9″ (23cm) springform cake pan and line with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale about 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, oil and lemon zest. Pour the cheese mixture into the whipped eggs and mix until combined.
3. Sift all of the dry ingredients directly over the wet ingredients. Mix with a large spatula gently until just combined, using a folding motion.
4. Pour the batter into the cake pan and spreading it out evenly. Arrange the roasted quince slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles until the top of the cake batter is covered. Sprinkle with blanched almonds.
5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the edges are pulling away from the pan, and a cake tester or toothpick comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out to finish cooling on a rack.
6. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Brioche with Mahleb Date Paste and Walnuts

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There’s something about making brioche from scratch that brings comfort and pleasure: the rich smell of butter and yeast, the pillowy soft dough beneath your hands, the quiet hours of the kitchen, the dark golden loaf rising in the oven. The whole process calms me and makes me forget about stressful weekdays and the constant buzz of people in this chaotic yet charming city.

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The flavors I used here are inspired by K’aak bi M’aamoul, these little round semolina cookies filled with dates, nuts, and orange blossom water. They remind me of home – Beirut – and my family’s traditional recipes. What I love about this combination is  the thick pockets of mahleb date paste layered with crunchy walnuts and the soft aerated brioche dough.

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A freshly baked warm slice of buttery brioche brings a smile to my face but if you end up with leftovers the next day, go ahead and make french toast. The bread is naturally sweetened with dates so there’s no need to douse it with honey or maple syrup.

Brioche dough recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
Makes two 9″x4″ (23 cm x 10 cm) loaves

Ingredients:

Date Paste
250g pitted medjool dated
30g butter
3 Tbs water
1 tsp orange blossom water
¼ tsp ground mahleb

Make the Date Paste:
1. Place the dates and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, and stir until the dates get really soft.
2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Blend until a smooth thick paste is formed. Cover and set aside.

Roasted Walnuts
1 cup, chopped roasted walnuts (reserve a handful to sprinkle on top of the loaves)

Brioche
372g bread flour
8g instant yeast
45g granulated sugar
5g fine sea salt
186g eggs, room temperature
63 g whole milk, room temperature
170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/8th inch dice
1 small beaten egg with a dash of water  (for the egg wash)

Make the Dough:
1. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.
2. For the brioche, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly.
3. Add all of the remaining dough ingredients except for the butter and mix on low speed for 4 minutes.
4. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, incorporating after each addition before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and push the dough off the hook. Mix for a total of roughly 20 minutes on low speed. (it is ready when the dough is elastic and holds together in one piece)
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold the left side over to the right, the right over to the left, then the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top so you have a “package” with the seam at the top. Place the dough seam-side down in the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it ferment for 1 hour.
6. Repeat the folding process, place it back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (up to 24 hours).

7. Grease a 9×4 inch (22 x 13 cm) loaf pan. Line the tin with parchment paper, making sure to let it slightly overhang the sides. Set aside.
8. Remove the brioche from the refrigerator and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Work with one piece of dough at a time while keeping the other half in the refrigerator.
9. Lightly dust your working surface with flour and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to form a rectangular shape, about 10 x 15 inch (25 x 40 cm).
10. Spread half of the date filling onto the brioche using an offset spatula, reaching all the way to the edges but leaving half an inch (1.3 cm) of dough bare on one of the long sides. Sprinkle with half of the chopped walnuts.
11. Brush the bare part with water. Starting from the other long side, roll up the dough tightly and evenly. Refrigerate the dough for 15-20 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
12. Using a large knife, make a cut in the dough log. Place the right half of dough over the left, then repeat until you have a “braid” of dough. Gently press the ends of the dough together them together, then place in the prepared loaf pan.
13. Place a piece of oiled plastic wrap lightly on the surface of the brioche and let it proof in a warm place for 2 hours. (Note: I turn the oven for a minute and place boiling water in a cup to add some steam – make sure the oven is not too hot!). Take the brioche dough out of the oven.
14. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly brush the brioche with egg wash, sprinkle with more walnuts, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
15. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. (Repeat the process for the second brioche dough).