Flourless Almond Ricotta Lemon Cake

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When I wrote this post yesterday afternoon I was listening to some classical Arabic songs by Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez (my best friend Wihane can back me up on this because she called me and noticed the background music). I remember my childhood days when I used to beg my mom to turn off “that boring music” but I take that back. As a Lebanese expat, I sometimes feel out of place in NYC and the American culture in general so I guess that’s what drove me listen to music that is familiar and that is grounded in middle eastern culture. I decided to forget all preconceptions I had about classic Arabic music and just focus on the rhythms and meaningful lyrics. Abdel Halim Hafez’s songs in particular are incredibly rich and they go on for up to an hour! Can you believe that? It’s also quite interesting how different melodies are repeated throughout the same song, rendering distinctive characters each time yet tying the whole song together. Is that an expat thing, reminiscing on old Arabic music and the good old days?

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Anyway! Back to this lovely Almond Ricotta Lemon cake: it is undoubtedly my favorite recipe this winter season. In fact, I love it so much that I lost count of how many times I baked it within the last two months! It’s THAT good. You guys, my grandma even wrote it down in her recipe book and bought a kitchen scale just to make this cake, which is A FIRST for sure. That makes me feel proud of myself.

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It’s a mixture of whipped butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, almond meal, ricotta cheese, and of course lots and lots of lemon zest. The first time I did this I thought the cake will turn out very dense because it is flourless – but to my surprise it is the lightest, moistest cake I ever tasted. It also has a beautiful, irresistible ground almond texture that melts in your mouth bite after bite.

Ingredients:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3 tablespoons lemon zest (Around 2 medium to large lemons)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
225g almond meal
320g high quality fresh ricotta cheese

Optional:
Flaked almonds for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting

Direction:
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C  (325°F). Line the base of a 9″ (23 cm) round cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes until pale and creamy.
3. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat until fully combined.
4. Add the almond meal and beat to combine, then do the same with the ricotta cheese.
5. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, decorate the cake with almond flakes (optional).
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin.
8. Dust with icing sugar before serving. Store in the fridge.
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Mango Tart

Mango Tart
The first signs of spring are finally here! It’s been a very long and cold winter in New York City, and nothing makes me happier than the thought of warmer days ahead. Lately I’ve been craving (and day dreaming) of fruit based sweets and pastries – blueberry galettes, pomegranate pavlovas, raspberry ricotta mille-feuille, plum crumble cakes, and blackberry mascarpone cheesecake popsicles! – Ouf my baking list keeps getting longer and longer!

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My absolute favorite is this fabulous mango tart recipe, which I developed from different classic family recipes. I adapted both recipes of the buttery crumbly crust and sweet vanilla cream from my mother’s family book of desserts, and combined them together with the mango slices to create a delicious tart that really makes an elegant statement.

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Also, the timing of making this dessert couldn’t be more perfect since not only is today the first day of spring and mother’s day, but my mom is also visiting me from Lebanon! I’m just so excited because I really look forward to bake and cook with her, she is my biggest inspiration.

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The result – as you can see – was spectacular. It’s true that it takes more time to cut the mango into super thin slices and rearrange them precisely on the round tart, but the result is beyond worth it!

Crust
Ingredients:
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
250 g (2.5 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons icing powdered sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking powder

Directions:
1. Mix the egg yolks and vanilla in a small bowl.
2. In another bowl mix the butter, icing sugar, flour, and baking powder until combined.
3. Add the egg yolks to the dry ingredients and mix by hand until it all comes together and shape into a disk.
4. Refrigerate the dough for 30 min.
5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF)
5. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 29 cm (11.5″) circle then transfer to a tart pan with the same dimensions. Press down the dough with the palm of your hand to level it (the crust will be thick).
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes in the oven until golden and the edges are lightly brown.
7. Let cool on wire rack.

Vanilla Cream
Ingredients:
4 cups whole or skimmed milk
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
1 vanilla pod

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, mix the milk, flour, and lemon zest. Stand for 10 minutes.
2. In another bowl, mix the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer until pale and double in volume.
3. Strain the milk mixture into a saucepan to get rid of any clump. Add the egg mixture.
4. Using the point of a knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and place it in the saucepan along with the pod.

6. Place the saucepan on low heat and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
7. Take off the heat and let cool until room temperature then place in the fridge until cold.

Assembly
1. Peel two medium mangoes and slice the mango halves off the pit, then into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
2. Spread vanilla cream over pastry crust and smooth with a spatula.
3. Start placing the thin mango slices on the outer edge of the tart and work your way in, slightly overlapping the rows.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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I never really thought about making homemade ice-cream until I came across a superb book called The Chocolate Bible. After going through the whole book over and over again (it never gets boring) I decided to try the custard based vanilla bean ice cream recipe – as well as other chocolate recipes.

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Custard based ice cream is also known as French-style ice cream; it’s thick, silky, and very scoop-able because of the addition of egg yolks which thickens the mixture. American style ice cream is not as dense, and it’s far quicker to prepare since it doesn’t require cooking a custard base; it is simply a combination of milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring.

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For the custard, you first start cooking the milk, vanilla, and egg yolks over low heat for a few minutes and add the whipping cream at the end. After chilling the mixture for two hours, you pour it in an ice cream maker which will simultaneously freeze the mixture while churning (to aerate it and avoid ice crystals to form). The result was so wonderful: the ice cream was rich and creamy, it tasted exactly like Häagen-Dazs! Can you imagine how impressed everyone would be when they find out that you whipped out a delicious traditional vanilla bean ice cream from scratch?! You will feel special, I’m telling you ;).

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Serve this ice cream with Fudgy Brownies, Chocolate Ganache, Apple Tart, or chunks of chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies… My mouth is watering while writing this post, so I’m going to jump right ahead with the ingredients and instructions.

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Ingredients: (from The Chocolate Bible)
• 5 egg yolks
• 125 grams (½ cup+2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
• 500 ml (2 cups) milk
• 1 vanilla pod, split
• 50 ml (¼ cup) whipping cream

Instructions:
1. Beat the egg yolks and 60 grams (5 tablespoons) of the sugar until pale, yellow, and creamy.
2. Pour the milk into a saucepan; add the remaining sugar.
3. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod – using the point of a knife – into the milk. Add the pod in the saucepan and slowly bring it to the boil.
4. Whisk 1/3 of the hot mixture into the eggs and sugar mixture, stirring well to combine. Then pour this mixture into the remaining hot milk.
5. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over low heat until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon. (~10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to boil).
6. Stir in the whipping cream and remove from the heat immediately; strain into a bowl.
7. Stand a bowl in crushed ice and place in fridge for two hours until the mixture is cold.
8. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and churn for 30 minutes.
9. Remove the ice cream from the machine and transfer it to the freezer before serving.

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes for Valentine’s Day

Ok I have a confession to make. I’m in love with these vanilla cupcakes.
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So I know that Valentine’s Day falls on a week day, but these vanilla cupcakes are so simple to make and they make a great gift for your loved ones. I’m always on the search for a great vanilla cake recipe, and since I baked my famous Chewy Chocolate Chip Brownies last year for my friends I decided to bake the best vanilla cupcakes this year. I stumbled upon Cupcake Project‘s recipe called “The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake – Test Baked by 50 Bakers and Counting”. I was so excited to try them out! The reviews were great and the recipe called for vanilla beans. Ohhhh yum.

The cake recipe is very simple and it contains basic ingredients such as oil, sugar, and cake flour (which I replaced with all purpose flour and cornstarch). The vanilla bean frosting requires vanilla bean paste, but you can always replace this ingredient with a vanilla bean. It’s important to use the best quality ingredients in all of your baking endeavors.

I am really happy with how they turned out! The texture of the cake was great, so moist and fluffy. The frosting was delicious and heavenly, it tasted just like vanilla ice cream *swoon*. For the mini red hearts, I made some icing, added some liquid red coloring, piped them on a baking sheet, and popped them in the fridge. (watch this video to learn how to pipe using a Ziploc bag)

This recipe yields 18 vanilla cupcakes. I think it pairs lovely with any frosting flavor but I decided to try the Vanilla Bean frosting for the  “ultimate” vanilla experience. 😉

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Ingredients: (Adapted from Cupcake Project)

  • 1 cup (225 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 + 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup cornstarch (half a 1/4 cup)
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) full-fat sour cream (or yoghurt)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil (60 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon pure liquid vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (Watch this video to learn how to get the seeds out of the bean.)
  3. Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
  6. Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes (you’ll end up with a very fine crumb texture).
  7. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
  9. Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined.  The batter will be liquid.
  10. Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
  11. Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it.  The cupcakes should appear white, NOT a golden brown.  If they are not done, test again every two minutes.
  12. When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack or on your counter to cool.

Vanilla Bean Frosting: (Frosts 16 cupcakes)

  • 3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (I got my Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste from here), or substitute with a vanilla bean.
  • 2+1/2 tablespoons milk
  1. Mix together sugar and butter until they are blended and creamy.
  2. Add vanilla bean paste and milk and continue to beat for another minute.
  3. If desired, add more vanilla bean paste to taste, or more confectioners’ sugar to make it stiffer.