Cherry Pie spiced with Mahleb

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Baking pie from scratch will test your patience. The pie dough is refrigerated overnight, the cherries are halved, pitted and macerated with sugar, the assembled pie is chilled in the fridge then baked for over an hour for an ultra flaky and fantastically browned finished. And finally – just when you thought that you were going to serve it – you will have to let it sit on the counter for a few hours to set the cherry filling completely. I’m not scaring you away, the process is not as challenging as an elaborate pastry project, but it does require prepping ingredients in advance so it’s a good idea to read this recipe carefully before getting started!

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I used sweet dark cherries for this recipe and a hint of mahleb powder which is completely optional but I was looking for something unique to complement the cherry flavor. Other options include a splash of rum, lemon zest, a hint of cinnamon etc. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors!

Pie Dough: Recipe from Serious Eats
350g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour, cold
25g (2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
5g (1 tsp) kosher salt
280 grams (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
85ml (6 Tbsp) ice cold water

1. Make ice water by combining enough water with ice and have it ready.
2. Cut the butter sticks into cubes and chill if needed.
3. Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine (I usually put it in the fridge at this point to turn it cold).
4. Spread the butter cubes over the flour surface and pulse until the butter is the size of a large pea. Trickle ice water through the tube a tablespoon at a time while pulsing to evenly distribute the water in the mixture until the dough just starts to collect in clumps up the sides of the bowl (the dough will look sandy at this point but holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hands).
5. Tip the dough in a large bowl and get rid of any gooey clumps that usually collect around the blade. Take half of the mixture and wrap in plastic wrap then using a roll pin, roll the plastic packet into a circle about 6″-8″ wide, making sure to roll it very tightly especially around the edges. Repeat with the other half.
6. Chill overnight (8 hours or up to 3 days) or the freezer until later use.

Filling:
925g pitted cherries
100g granulated sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

1 vanilla bean, scrapped
1 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp cornstarch flour
1 Tbsp ground mahleb
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Cubes of butter (Roughly ¼ in. or ½ cm)
Egg wash (beat 1 small egg with 1 tsp water and a pinch of salt)
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Mix the pitted cherries with the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Cover and let sit overnight in the fridge.
2. The next day, drain the cherries from their juices and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the vanilla bean, lemon zest, cornstarch, ground mahleb, sugar and salt making sure that the vanilla bean paste is evenly distributed. Sprinkle mixture over the strained cherries and toss to combine.
3. Roll out the first disk on a lightly floured surface into a 14″ (35 cm) round for a 9″ (23 cm) pie pan. Wrap dough lightly around a rolling pin and transfer to the pie pan. Gently press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the dough to allow a 1″ (2.5 cm) overhang. Pour the cherry filling into the pastry shell. Roll out the second pie crust to top the filling and create small slits to allow venting or create a decorative lattice top.
4. Brush the pie crust with the egg wash, dot with small cubes of butter through the lattice crust, sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Refrigerate the pie for at least 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and place a large baking sheet in the middle rack. Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 80-90 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool completely at least a couple of hours on a wire rack before serving.

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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.
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Decorate it. Lovely.
after
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.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I had a red velvet craze a few months ago when they got uber trendy (everywhere). I used to read blogs and gawk at pictures of red vevet cupcakes trying to imagine what these insanely red colored cakes would taste like. I decided to bake a batch for my friend’s birthday because I was falling in love with a cake that I’ve never tasted before!

I really wanted these cupcakes to taste delicious so I looked up recipes and read many reviews online. I am not a fan of food coloring in general, so I tried to reduce the amount as much as possible (that’s why the cupcakes turned out to be burgundy in color rather than a bright red). The cupcakes were extra moist and light. Just perfect with the super rich cream cheese frosting!

My frosting recipe is not very thick because I don’t like overly sweet icing, but you can always add more sugar if you prefer a stiffer consistency. The frosting can be either piped or smeared on the cupcakes with a spatula.

I would definitely bake these cupcakes again 🙂

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Ingredients: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
4 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1+1/4 cups sugar
1+1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons liquid red food color
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk*
1+1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
*You can substitute buttermilk by placing 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a 1 cup measuring cup. Then add enough milk to bring the liquid up to one cup. Wait for 5 minutes before using it.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  • Whisk together cake flour, cocoa, and salt.
  • With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla.
  • Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
  • Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup (110g) butter, almost room temperature
8 oz. (225g) cream cheese, cold
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
3 cups powdered confectioners sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

  • Blend butter and cream cheese in large mixing bowl, about 30 seconds.
  • Add vanilla extract and powdered sugar and blend on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed and beat until it begins to get fluffy.
  • Slowly add the heavy cream.
  • Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
  • Use at once or keep refrigerated for a few days.

red velvet3 Red Velvet Cupcakes

For the Lebanese Independence Day!

 

Chocolate Chip Brownies

Chocolate Chip Brownies
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I’m very excited to write my first post on my blog that I named after my favorite chocolate treat! I baked and tested several brownie recipes and this is my BEST go-to brownies recipe. They’re very dense and moist in texture and the chocolate chips really melt in your mouth, especially when they are warm and freshly baked.

I baked these brownies on several occasions and they are ALWAYS a big hit. They don’t require a lot of time to prepare and it’s a very easy one-bowl recipe. So go ahead, try it! And make sure to follow the recipe exactly.

Ingredients: adapted from The Golden Book of Chocolate
85g (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
150g (5 oz.) bittersweet dark chocolate
113g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
150g (3/4 cup) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100g (1 cup) chopped pecans or walnuts
180g (1 cup) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1.Preheat the oven 180°C/ 350°F/ gas 4.
2. Butter and flour a 20 cm/ 8″ square baking pan. Line with baking sheet.
3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (bain-marie) over barely simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.
5. In a separate bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer (or with a fork) until creamy.
6. Stir the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
7. Fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the pecans and chocolate chips.
8. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs.
10. Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack or stove for 40 minutes before turning them over on another wire rack. (don’t miss this step because the cake will crumble if it’s still hot!)