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.

Flourless Butternut Squash Loaf

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I roll out of bed each day thinking about food. I love starting my day with cooked cinnamon banana steel cut oatmeal, boiled egg on avocado toast, any of Nature Path’s gluten free cereal with Califia almond milk, and of course organic decaffeinated green tea. Ever since I started eating and living a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been interested in incorporating what I learn about “green food” in baking: such as looking for recipes that are naturally sweetened, gluten free, and focused on vegetables or fruits as main ingredients instead of butter, sugar, and dairy.

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People always ask me if I’m vegan or on a constant “diet” but the truth is I don’t follow a specific lifestyle because I love eating healthy whole foods and enjoy everything in moderation. Nothing gets me more excited than plant-based recipes like wholesome salads made with seasonal ingredients, fish or lean meats, beans, and nuts. Eating this way gives me a better body image and makes me feel great inside out. Don’t get me wrong, I still love eating cakes, cookies, and ice cream in small quantities but I’m more mindful about the quality of food that I put in my body everyday.

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This butternut squash loaf is a new favorite and totally guilt-less. It’s made with pureed squash, honey, ground almonds, oat flour, eggs, and cinnamon– basically everything that’s good for you! I love eating a slice in the morning or as an afternoon snack with a tiny sliver of butter or jam.

Ingredients:
120g (1 cup) ground almonds (grind in food processor until a meal forms)
60g (2/3 cups) oat flour (you can also grind rolled oats in a food processor)
113g (1/3 cup) honey
180g (2/3 cup) puréed butternut squash*
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
Extra rolled oats/chopped walnuts/sliced almonds/pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

*Can be replaced with sweet potatoes

Directions:

For the butternut squash purée: (can be made 5 days in advance)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Cut a medium squash in half and remove the seeds.
2. Place the squash facing up on a lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until the flesh is fork-tender.
3. Take out of the oven and let it cool down for 15 minutes.
3. Scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor, then purée until smooth.

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and grease a 3.5×7.5 in (9×19 cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil and line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until homogeneous.
3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and add your preferred garnish.
4. Bake for 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Christmas Fruit Cake

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Can you believe it’s almost 2014? Where did time fly?! I haven’t posted a recipe here in over 5 months! But I’m back just in time for the biggest holiday of the year.

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It’s that time of year again when people start shopping, wrapping presents, decorating their homes, cooking, and of course baking Christmas cakes! I’ve been wanting to share this recipe at the beginning of the month; I finally got my act together and prepared all the ingredients ahead of time.

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This cake, paired with coffee, is my weak point. It has a perfectly balanced taste of sweet dried fruits, dark brown sugar, and brandy. The secret to a richly moist cake is the amount of brandy you add to it: my mom bakes it a week before Christmas Day to mature it, and brushes the top of the cake with brandy at regular intervals. Woah! That’s an insane amount of liqueur. I prefer sticking to this recipe which is equally tender.

dried-fruits
Dried fruits are soaked in honey, brandy, and spices overnight to create juicy bursts of fruits.

unbaked
Baking pan is lined with two thicknesses of baking paper and batter is leveled with metal spatula.

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Ingredients: (Adapted from Women’s Weekly Cookbooks)
1 cup dried currents
2 cups dried raisins
1 cup dried dates, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup Brandy (liqueur can be substituted with rum, sweet sherry, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

250 grams (2.2 sticks/ 1 cup) butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1+3/4 cups (300 grams) plain flour, sifted
2+1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons orange zest
Handful of blanched whole almonds (optional)
2 tablespoons extra brandy

Directions:

1. Chop dried raisins, dates, and apricots to the size of the currents. Toss with brandy, honey, and spices in a small bowl.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight or up to two days.
3. Preheat oven to 350 °F (180 °C).
4. Line base and sides of deep 19-cm (7.5 inches) square cake pan with two thicknesses of baking paper, bringing paper 5 cm –2 inches– above side of pan.
(Can also be baked in a deep 22 cm – 9 inches– round cake pan).
5. Beat softened butter and dark brown sugar in a small bowl with electric mixer until just combined.
6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until just combined between additions.
7. Transfer mixture into a large bowl, add dried fruits, and mix by hand or wooden spoon.
8. Sift flour over the mixture, add the orange zest, and mix well.
9. Scrape and spread mixture into the pan.
10. Drop cake from a height of ~ 15 cm/5 inches onto the kitchen counter or the floor to settle mixture into the pan and to get rid of air bubbles.
11. Level surface of cake mixture with wet metal spatula. (Optional: decorate top with blanched whole almonds)
12. Bake cake in oven for 1 hour. Give the cake quarter turns during baking to avoid uneven browning.
Note: Cover cake loosely with foil during baking if it starts to over-brown.
13. Remove from the oven, brush top with extra brandy, and cover pan tightly with foil; cool cake in pan.
14. Cake can be served the same day, or stored for several days to create an even more moist cake (read storage tips below).

Tips:
• Nuts can be added to the fruit mixture ~1 cup / 125 grams blanched whole almonds or walnuts chopped coarsely.
• Dust cake with powdered sugar before serving.
• For storage: Turn cake upside down onto wire rack and peel the paper away from the sides, leaving the base paper in place. Wrap cake in plastic wrap and then foil to keep airtight, and place in a sealed plastic bag in a cool dry place. Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 months, or frozen for up to 8 months.

Sfouf (Semolina Anise Tea Cake)

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Sfouf is by far one of my favorite Lebanese desserts. It’s a moist cake characterized by its intense yellow color from the turmeric spice. It is made from semolina, flour, oil, sugar, and aniseed which gives it a distinctively awesome taste. Some people say it has a “magical” taste – and hey, I don’t disagree. It is also very easy to make, you just have to mix all the ingredients in a single bowl, pour the batter in a cake pan, and garnish the cake with slices of blanched almonds before putting it in the oven.

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Lebanese sweets are usually heavy with sugar, cheese (like kashta), and lots lots of butter! But this spongy cake is light and slightly sweet with a dense melt-in-your-mouth texture. After tasting it from renowned Lebanese bakeries, restaurants, and even home-made cakes, I found out that typical Sfouf are dry and lack the unique turmeric/aniseed flavor. So after reviewing and adapting my grandmother’s recipe, I finally found the perfect balance of ingredients for an insanely moist, rich, and flavorful cake. The secret ingredient is the addition of brewed anise tea to the batter. Typical recipes call for plain water or milk, but I found that freshly brewed tea enhances the taste and texture of the cake.

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The cake is traditionally cut into squares or diamond shapes in the baking pan, that’s why it is called Sfouf, meaning “Rows” in Arabic. After taking the first bite, I knew that this is THE recipe to follow every time I plan on baking Sfouf. And it tastes so much better the next day! It’s unbelievably good!

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Let me take you through the step-by-step recipe – as usual 🙂

anise seed
This is aniseed. It smells awesome. So will your cake.
brewing
Make some Anise tea by mixing boiling water with the seeds and letting it steep for a few minutes.
tea
Transfer tea to a bowl and let it cool.
anise powder
Finely ground aniseed using a spice grinder.
semolina
Mix the fine semolina (above) with the flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder. Then add the tea and oil.
tahini pan pan 2
Cover the cake pan with some Tahineh (Sesame Paste)
batter
Pour the cake batter into a 23 cm (9 inch) round pan. You can also use a rectangular pan.
batter3
Decorate it. Lovely.
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Bake it.
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Turn it on a wire rack and cut into squares.
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And that’s the best part. Yum.

Makes ≈ 26 squares.
Preparation time: 25 minutes.
Baking Time: 40 minutes.

Ingredients:
2 cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons aniseed

2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
1 tablespoon finely ground aniseed (you can use a spice grinder)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons Tahineh (sesame paste)

Blanched Almonds, halved (for decoration – you can substitute with pine nuts or 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds)

Directions:
1. Boil water then add the aniseed and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Strain tea and put aside to cool a little bit.
3. Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF)
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder until homogeneous.
5. Add sugar to the tea until dissolved.
6. Add oil and tea/sugar mixture to the dry ingredients, then mix well. The batter will be slightly thick.
7. Cover the bottom and sides of a 28 cm (11 inch) round pan (or a rectangular pan) with Tahineh.
8. Decorate with blanched almonds (or substitutes – above)
9. Bake for 40 min, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
10. Let cool in the pan for 30 min then invert on a wire rack.
11. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container.