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.

Chocolate Roll with Chestnut Cream and Marrons Glacés

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I named this cake “Chocolate Roll” because first I’m very kind of late to post a Bûche de Noël recipe and second, the cake is so fabulous that there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t make it any time this winter season.

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When I was a kid we always had Chestnut yule logs during the holiday season and it was my favorite thing to eat. I decided to recreate that exact cake for this year’s annual family Christmas Eve dinner. However, I couldn’t find chestnut paste in any local Lebanese market – so I looked up a couple of make-from-scratch recipes and the process turned out to be so much easier than I expected! It’s basically a mix of roasted chestnuts and sugar syrup puréed in a food processor. The most time consuming part is roasting and peeling chestnuts but I didn’t mind it because the taste is absolutely divine. I went with Yossy Arefi’s flourless chocolate cake recipe that I found on Food52 and filled it with the homemade chestnut cream and chopped marrons glacés. The last step is to cover it with rich dark chocolate ganache and refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving.

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I’ve baked this cake three times in the last two weeks. The combination of the airy bittersweet cake, cold sweet chestnut cream, and unexpected marrons glacés pieces got me completely hooked. It also looks so elegant when sprinkled with powdered sugar and decorated with some leaves.

Chestnut Paste is incredibly rich and delicious when made from scratch and it can be used in countless ways from pastry filling to mousse and ice cream. Now that I’m done writing this long post, I’m going to have another slice of cake with a shot of espresso.

Enjoy!

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Ingredients and Directions:

Roasting and Peeling Chestnuts (for this recipe you’ll need 200g peeled and roasted high quality chestnuts, approximately 20 whole chestnuts.)

1. Preheat your oven to 425° F (220°C). Carefully make a long slice across the rounded top of the chestnuts with a sharp serrated bread knife. Be sure to cut through the shell only.
2. Place cut chestnuts in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer.
3. Once the water begins to simmer, remove the chestnuts from the water using a slotted spoon or a strainer and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
4. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them.
5. Remove sheet from the oven, place roasted chestnuts in a bowl and cover with a towel for 15 minutes to allow them to steam. Then proceed to peeling them.


Chestnut Cream Filling
• 200g peeled, roasted chestnuts
• 90ml (1/3 cup) milk
• 68g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
• 80ml (1/3 cup) water
• 2 tablespoons Brandy
• 1 Vanilla Bean
• 120ml (1/2 cup) cold heavy cream, whipped to firm peaks
• 3 whole Marrons Glacés cut into small pieces

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer chestnuts with milk until soft about 10 minutes.
2. To make the sugar syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer until the sugar dissolves.
3. Drain chestnuts and puree in a food processor with the sugar syrup until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and chill in the refrigerator until cool, 30 minutes.
4. Fold in the rum, de-seeded vanilla pod, and whipped cream.


Flourless Chocolate Cake
• 6 egg yolks
• 150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 40g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder, sifted
• 5 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 375° F (180°C) and line a 9″x13″ (25 x 35 cm) jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar on high until the mixture is pale and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla then the sifted cocoa powder.
3. Wash and dry the bowl and whisk, then beat the egg whites on medium high until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
4. Stir 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the egg yolks to lighten everything up. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared jelly roll pan and bake until the cake springs back and is dry to the touch, about 12 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes (the cake will deflate).
6. Turn it out onto a clean kitchen cloth that has been dusted with cocoa powder. Using the edge of the towel, gently roll the cake into a long cylinder. Let the cake cool completely in the towel while you prepare the ganache.

Dark Chocolate Ganache
• 170g (6 oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 180ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream to a bare simmer, then pour it over the chocolate. Stir until smooth and let sit at room temperature until it cools to a spreadable consistency.

Putting it all together
1. Gently unroll the wrapped cake.
2. Spread the chestnut cream over the top and dot with marrons glacés.
3. Using the towel, roll the cake back into a tight cylinder and transfer to a large plate.
3. Spread the cooled ganache over the cake.
4. Drag your spatula or knife over the surface to give it a “barky” look.
5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Finish by decorating the plate with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

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.

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.