Olive Oil Cake with Persimmons

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For my birthday last year, my friend and I went to our favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn called Lillia. It was 11pm at night, we had ordered two Americanos and a slice of olive oil cake served with whipped cream and fresh persimmons. I still remember the taste of that wonderful cake because not only was it a fond memory, but I was also intrigued by the simplicity of the dessert. It wasn’t fancy at all and tasted like a homemade cake my mom would do – except it had an unexpected hint of olive oil and my favorite fall fruit of all time. I’ve made a couple versions of olive oil cakes since but none of them come close to this fantastic recipe.

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Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes one 9″ (23cm) cake

300ml (1¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
250g (1 cup +2 Tablespoons) granulated sugar; plus more for pan and finishing touch
240g (2 cups) cake flour*
28g (⅓ cup) almond flour or fine-grind cornmeal (I used almond flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
60ml (¼ cup) amaretto, Grand Marnier, or other liqueur
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
60ml (¼ cup) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 small eggs, at room temperature

*Substitute cake flour by sifting together three times 238g (1+3/4 cups) all-purpose flour and 24g (1/4 cup) cornstarch.

Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Drizzle bottom and sides of pan with detachable bottom with oil and use your fingers to coat. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and smooth to eliminate air bubbles; coat parchment with more oil. Generously sprinkle pan with sugar and tilt to coat in an even layer; tap out excess (do not skip this step!). Whisk cake flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine and eliminate any lumps. Stir together liquor, lemon juice, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Using an electric mixer on high speed (use whisk attachment if working with a stand mixer), beat eggs, lemon zest, and 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl until mixture is very light, thick, pale, and falls off the whisk or beaters in a slowly dissolving ribbon, about 3 minutes if using a stand mixer and about 5 minutes if using a hand mixer. With mixer still on high speed, gradually stream in 1¼ cups oil and beat until incorporated and mixture is even thicker. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with amaretto mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold batter several times with a large rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl. Gently scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with more sugar.

Place cake in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°F (176°C). Bake until top is golden brown, center is firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edges of cake and remove ring from pan. Slide cake onto rack and let cool completely. For the best flavor and texture, wrap cake in plastic and let sit at room temperature at least a day before serving.

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Rhubarb Cream Scones

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A wonderful seasonal recipe that results in tender yet flaky scones. The addition of heavy cream and egg to the mixture increases the amount of fat in the dough making them richer and softer on the inside than their British counterpart. Always remember to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid a tough or cakey scone!

Scones:
160g rhubarb
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

300g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour, cold
65g (5 Tbsp) granulated sugar
15g (3 tsp) baking powder
¼ tsp fine grain sea salt
½ lemon zest
85g cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
240ml (1 cup) cold heavy cream
1 large egg, cold
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Topping:
1 small egg
½ tsp granulated sugar
pinch of fine grain sea salt
Demerara sugar for sprinkling

1. Mix the rhubarb and sugar in a small bowl and let it sit for at least an hour (you can do this overnight too).

2. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cubed cold butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a food processor to cut the butter). Strain the rhubarb from any liquid and toss in the flour butter mixture.

3. In another bowl, beat the cold heavy cream, egg, vanilla. Add this to the flour and butter mixture and fold gently just until all of the flour has been moistened. Do not overwork the dough. Dump the dough out on to a large piece of parchment paper and gently pat the dough out until it’s about 1″ thick rectangle.

4. Transfer to a large baking sheet and let it rest for 15 minutes in the fridge. Cut the dough into 9 squares using a knife and space them out on the baking sheet. You can freeze the dough at this point before baking if you are planning to make these a few days in advance.

5. For the topping, beat together the egg, granulated sugar and salt. Lightly brush the tops of the dough with the mixture being careful not to drip on the sides (this will prevent the scones from rising). Wait for one minute to set then sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake for 15 minutes rotating halfway until the scones are golden brown.

6. Rest the scone for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes, Serve warm the same day.

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 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).

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.

Karabij (Semolina Rosewater Pistachio Cookies)

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I’ve always been curious about the science of baking. Understanding how ingredients work together to create specific baked goods is so fascinating and that’s what keeps me driven to try out new recipes and techniques. For example, when I think of a simple pie crust recipe, so many questions rush through my mind: Should I use American butter, European butter, or vegetable shortening? Do I need a fork, pastry cutter or stand mixer to blend in the cold butter? Ice cold water, vinegar, or vodka? Ceramic, aluminum or glass pie dish? Not one technique is “correct” or the best – it’s all a matter of using your best judgement and understanding how all these factors result in unique outcomes.

Baking is like a fun guessing game: you never know what you’re going to end up with. Once you get the basic principles of how ingredients work together, then you feel so liberated to experiment with recipes and use your creative imagination to create almost anything. So when people ask me how I got into baking, or why I’m so passionate about it, that’s usually my answer. Baking makes me feel happy, powerful, and liberated. I love that word.

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So I’m sharing a Karabij recipe today. For those of you who are not familiar with these cookies, they’re typically traditional Lebanese cookies made with a semolina butter rosewater dough that’s filled with a sweetened pistachio paste. I’ve been baking a lot with semolina and pistachios lately. They’re two of my favorite ingredients – and I really can’t wait to play around with some baking techniques to (hopefully!) create a completely new recipe for my next post.

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Make about 35-40 cookies (mine were about 1″ wide and 2.5″ long / 2.5cm x6cm)

Semolina dough:
200g semolina flour (or farkha, finer wheat)
100g farina flour (or smid, coarser wheat)
10g powdered sugar or 1 tablespoon
100g (1 stick) melted butter
26g (2 Tbsp.) rose water
26g (2 Tbsp.) water

Pistachio paste:
100g (3.5 oz or 1 cup) ground pistachio
60g (5 Tbsp.) powdered sugar
15g (1 Tbsp.) rose water
10g melted butter

• Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, mix the semolina flour, farina, and powdered sugar.
• Add the melted butter and mix well. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour.
• Mix in the rose water and water then cover with the damp cloth or kitchen towel and leave the dough to rest for another 30 minutes. If the dough is still crumbly, add water until it just comes together.
• In a small bowl, mix the ground pistachio, powdered sugar, rose water and melted butter until homogeneous and forms a dough. Cover with damp cloth or kitchen towel, set aside.
• Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
• Scoop one tablespoon of the semolina dough and roll into a log between the palm of your hands then flatten it to form a thin dough.
• Scoop approximately 2 teaspoons of the pistachio dough and put the filling down the middle. Shape the cookie into rounded logs or fingers with rounded edges.
• Fill and shape the remaining dough and transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven.
• Bake the cookies for 25 minutes until golden (don’t bake too long or the cookies will harden!) If you prefer a reddish toasted top, place the sheet for 5 minutes under a broiler at the end of the baking time.
• Take out the baking sheet and let the cookies cool down completely. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
• Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up 3 months.

Pistachio Baklava

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The intense smell of melted butter began to swirl in my tiny apartment. I peeked into the oven to assure that the little diamond shaped baklava pieces were nicely bronzed and crisp. I knew it was time to take them out. Placing the pan on the stove, I quickly reached for the cold rose flower and orange blossom sugar syrup and poured it slowly between the cracks of the baklavas. As soon as the syrup hit the crisp phyllo dough, a satisfyingly loud sizzle took me aback. I marveled at the bubbly golden surface that looked insanely delicious and wondered how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours waiting for them to cool down. I sprinkled some leftover crushed pistachio nuts on the glazed pastries and immediately started taking pictures on my phone to send to my family in Beirut.

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A few minutes later, my mom inundated me with questions “Is the phyllo dough crunchy? Are they too sweet? Do they taste like REAL baklavas?” I could tell from her voice that she was filled with skepticism about the idea of baking Lebanese baklava at home. But let me assure you that these delectable pastries tick all the criteria of a really good baklava: browned buttery crackly top, thick middle layer of lightly sweetened ground nuts, and chewy bottom with just the right amount of sugar syrup oozing out with each bite. I’m not comparing its taste to the best Lebanese sweet shops who have decades of experience in baking these delicacies, but these come pretty close. It’s a worthwhile weekend baking project that will surely impress people and put a beaming smile on your face.

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Recipe adapted from Wandering Spice

Ingredients:
Sugar Syrup
350g (1.5 cups) granulated sugar
180ml (3/4 cup) filtered water
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose flower water
½ tsp orange blossom water

Clarified Butter
226g (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed

Nut Filling
400g (3 cups) high quality whole shelled unsalted raw pistachios
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp rose flower water
4 tbsp sugar syrup

Decoration
2 tbsp. ground pistachios

Directions:

1. Remove phyllo dough from the fridge and thaw overnight in the fridge.

2. Prepare the syrup: place sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).

3. To clarify the butter: Line a sieve with paper towel and place over a bowl. Melt the cubed butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the top and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into the lined sieve. Leave at room temperature. Note: Hot butter will make the phyllo soggy.

4. Place the pistachios and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Slowly pour 4 tbsp. of sugar syrup and the additional ¼ tsp of rose flower water into the mixture. Continue pulsing until the pistachios are finely ground. Reserve 2 tbsp. for decoration.

5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and place a baking sheet in the oven – the hot sheet will ensure that the phyllo layers at the bottom stay crispy. line the bottom of a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) baking dish with parchment paper – I used a glass pyrex. Place a baking sheet in the oven.

6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut the stack of dough (20 sheets) in half to fit the size of your baking dish (40 sheets total). Place a clean, damp cloth on top to keep them from drying out.

7. Butter the bottom and sides of the lined pan with clarified butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and gently brush clarified butter onto it. Add a second sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Continue stacking and brushing sheets until you have 20 sheets on the bottom of the pan. Note: Do not use a lot a lot of clarified butter, only brush sparingly in the first 20 layers – Otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy bottom.

8. Pour the ground pistachio mixture on top of the phyllo stack, and spread out evenly throughout the pan.

9. Repeat the buttering and layering process with 20 more sheets on top of the nut mixture. Once done, refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the butter to firm up and hold its shape.

10. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the raw baklava into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (or, just cut crosswise to make rectangles).

11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the tops of the baklava have puffed and are golden brown.

12. Pour the cold syrup between the cracks of the baklava diamonds – it will sizzle. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature. Store covered in a container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Note: for a less sweet baklava pour about half the amount of syrup

Pomegranate Cake with Tangerine Rosewater Syrup

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Semolina flour is one of those incredibly versatile ingredients that’s always worth having on hand. I’ve used it in desserts like Halawet el Jibn, Bohsalino, and even Sfouf cake (which is the most viewed recipe on my blog!)

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In today’s post, I baked a simple semolina lemon butter cake and paired it with two seasonal fruits: pomegranate and tangerine. The juicy pomegranate seeds that are sprinkled on top of the cake batter add a subtle crunch to each bite and the tangerine syrup is mixed with rosewater, giving a bolder citrus taste. The result is an insanely moist cake with a hearty texture, slightly chewy edges, and refreshingly bright flavors that reminds me of warmer weather.

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Ingredients:

Cake:
¼ cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
185g butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
150g (2/3 cup) sugar
150g (1 cup) flour
80g (½ cup) semolina
½ cup pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Syrup:
125ml (½ cup) freshly squeezed tangerine juice
55g (¼ cup) caster sugar
60ml (¼ cup) water
2 teaspoon rosewater

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and line one 8″ (20cm) round cake pan with parchment paper.
2. Mix yogurt with lemon juice, set aside.
3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat room temperature butter with lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
4. Fold in the flour, semolina, and yogurt-lemon into the butter mixture using a rubber spatula. Mix until just combined.
5. Spread the thick batter into prepared pan, top with pomegranate seeds then sprinkle demerara sugar evenly.
6. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Meanwhile, make the syrup: Stir the tangerine juice, sugar, and water in a small saucepan over high heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Take off the heat, stir in rosewater, and strain into a jug.
8. After taking the cake out of the oven, let it stand in the pan for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack top side up. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and pour about 3/4 of the syrup over hot cake. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and extra syrup.

Optional:
 Sprinkle extra pomegranate seeds before serving.