Food, Stories

Spiced Plum & Chocolate Yogurt Cake

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle decided to make the most of her countryside life by dragging GodzillaPin blackberry harvesting with her. Not long after, while out on another one of her countryside strolls, she chanced upon a fallen damson plum tree in the next village, Bethelainville. The weather in France has been very bizarre this summer, and in this part of Lorraine, most of August had been dreary, with cloudy mornings, storms and high winds, and lots of rain.

Any chance of wearing summer clothes and getting a tan were out of the question, and even the local flora succumbed to the wild weather, hence the poor fallen tree. Of course, the Ninja Turtle isn’t one to pass up any chance of sampling what Mother Nature has to offer, and since the tree was already done for, she figured it’d be a real shame to leave those luscious fruits to perish in the elements.

Walking the 2 hilly miles home with her pockets loaded with as many plums as she could possibly stuff in them was cumbersome, to say the least. Trying not to squish them made the job even harder, but her heart was bursting with excitement at the thought of what she could do with those.

quetsche

Gorgeous damson plums boasting a deep, rich, luscious shade of violet, bursting with flavour and flavonoids.

What’s most peculiar to the Ninja Turtle was that Lorraine is generally known for another variety of plum, a small yellow spherical ball of sweet juiciness known as the mirabelle. In fact, the mirabelle is so popular here that in Metz, there is an annual festival in Metz known as the Fête de la Mirabelle, where the fruit is celebrated to the fullest for 2 whole weeks, with concerts, food and wine tastings, exhibitions, activities for the children, a parade, fireworks, and even a beauty pageant that finishes with the crowning of a Queen Mirabelle!

The Damson plum, in comparison, seems to silently fade into the background.

So the Ninja Turtle decided to do it some justice, and celebrate it in her own way – by turning it into a cake, with a recipe which has proven to be wildly popular among friends and family this summer. Enter: the lazy baker’s guide to making scrumptious desserts with minimal washing up.

gateaux en moules

In fact, these cakes are so popular that she has resorted to making double batches each time because they get devoured in a couple of days.

The Ninja Turtle has received a few requests for the recipe, so without further ado…

Ingredients for basic cake

4 pots (125g) plain yogurt of choice (works with Greek, soy, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, normal milk, low-fat, non-fat… but this one was with soy yogurt)
4 pots sugar
4 eggs
2 pots olive oil
6 pots flour of choice (this version was a mix of rice flour and buckwheat flour)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 sachet (11g) baking powder

For this spiced plum and chocolate cake, add:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
200g dark chocolate, chopped in large chunks
300g Damson plums, chopped in chunks

Instructions

  1. Empty the yogurt into a giant mixing bowl. Use one of the pots to measure out all the rest of your ingredients. Mix in the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir vigorously.
  2. Add in the next three ingredients of the basic cake mix – the flour, the baking soda and baking powder. Most recipes will warn against over-mixing the flour if you want to avoid dense cakes because over-mixing wheat flour creates gluten, but the Ninja Turtle has figured out TWO key points – gluten-free flours don’t have this problem, and this is a very moist cake batter, so you can mix to your heart’s content without worrying. Even if you use normal wheat flour, the quantity of baking powder and baking soda ensures a beautiful rise so you’ll end up with a soft, fluffy, moist and light cake.
  3. For this version of cake, add in all the rest of the ingredients and give it a good stir.
  4. Pour into your cake or muffin moulds, about 3/4 full.
  5. Pop them in the oven at 180°C (350°F). The Ninja Turtle used deep loaf cake moulds, and these cakes took an hour to be done. However, if you’re using a shallower cake mould, about 40 to 45 minutes will do. If you’re making muffins, adjust to about 20 to 25 minutes. If in doubt, stick a skewer in the largest part of your cake and see if it comes out clean.

The Ninja Turtle has played with various versions of yogurt cake, using those aforementioned blackberries in one, making a chocolate buckwheat streusel in another (that one was a crowd favourite), and even experimenting with a bottle of dark beer in another. The cakes never last, so she’s concluded it’s a recipe worth keeping (and sharing!)

Best of all? Aside from a teaspoon, you’re only using that one little yogurt pot to do all your measuring. How easy is that?

dessert

The Ninja Turtle ate her cake tonight for dessert with a dollop of yogurt and some blueberries.

How do you make the most of summer fruits?

What’s your favourite easy dessert recipe?

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Food

Baking Frenzy

Although he doesn’t know it yet, GodzillaPin is a lucky man… upon waking this morning, the Ninja Turtle was struck by baking fever and decided to bake not one, but two batches of biscuits. Of course, there’s always a risk when experimenting with never-tried-before techniques or recipes, that things can go horribly wrong. But that’s just a risk GodzillaPin will have to take.

Strictly speaking, it’s not the first time the Ninja Turtle has baked a batch of biscotti (she did her first try before the duo left for Nice). However, the last batch was a trifecta of baking fail: a little too strong on the orange flavour, the slices were a tad too thick, and insufficient baking time. Calling them enjoyable would be bending the truth, but those biscotti were edible for the first two days. Day three onwards, they became a personal test of will of an epic proportion – GodzillaPin hates waste and refused to throw them away, but wouldn’t eat them lest he broke his teeth. Three weeks of tantrum and tears later, the biscuits were unceremoniously dumped in the bin, with a murmured apology to starving communities all around the world.

So, this time round, she used a different recipe and tried to learn from past errors. Also, this time round she refused to repeat the very expensive mistake of using all her organic almonds in something that could go wrong.

Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti

225g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
135g sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Chopped dark chocolate
Dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (350 Farenheit).
Mix the first three dry ingredients in a bowl.
In another, beat sugar and eggs for a good 5 minutes. The recipe NT followed stated to use an electric mixer, but she’s an amateur experimental home baker, and can think of three dozen more interesting ways to spend money on an electric mixer for now, so instead, she got a nice workout for her arms doing this step.
Add the orange blossom water to the egg+sugar mixture.
Stir in the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until combine. Chuck in the chocolate and cranberries.
Pour it onto a baking parchment and bake for about 25 minutes.

It comes out looking like this. A giant cookie. Resist the urge to eat it at this stage.

It comes out looking like this. A giant cookie. Resist the urge to eat it at this stage.

Remove the monstrosity from the oven and reduce heat to 165 Celsius (330 Farenheit? Math geeks please verify this thanks.)
After about 10 minutes, the pastry should have cooled enough to be sliced with a serrated knife (bread knives are perfect for this) into thin slices. The Ninja Turtle aimed for about 1cm.
Return the slices into the oven with the cut sides facing up, and cook for 10 minutes, then the biscotti to bake the other side for another 10 minutes.

With fingers tightly crossed and the kitchen god smiling upon you, it should turn out a little like this.

With fingers tightly crossed and the kitchen god smiling upon you, it should turn out a little like this.

The second recipe is not new, just a slight variation on the Earl Grey Tea biscuits.

Sablés à la confiture

250g flour
125g sugar
125g butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Jam

Beat sugar and egg like in the above recipe (basically, viciously). Add in vanilla essence.
Pour in the flour, and stir. Then, using clean hands, use your fingers to work the combination, which should resemble a gritty, sandy mess at this stage.
Cut in the butter and mix until the dough is nicely combined.
The recipe didn’t specify this stage, but the Ninja Turtle rolled the dough into 2 logs of about 2cm diameter.
Chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Slice the dough and flatten it to about 1/2cm thickness, and stick your thumb in the middle of each. Fill the holes with jam.

Homemade jams courtesy of Grandma Rabbit: Rhubarb, red currant and apricot.

Homemade jams courtesy of Grandma Rabbit: Rhubarb, red currant and apricot.

Bake in oven for 15 minutes.

In half an hour, GodzillaPin will be coming home to a big surprise.

In half an hour, GodzillaPin will be coming home to a big surprise.

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Food

Earl Grey Butter Biscuits

This last weekend, GodzillaPin was craving something sweet to go with his afternoon cup of tea, so in continuing with the baking theme of last week, the Ninja Turtle decided to try out a cookie recipe that’s been sitting in her To-Do folder. To be honest, her cookie repertoire has thus been limited to mostly drop cookies – think oatmeal raisin and choc chip varieties. It’s the standard mix, scoop and plop on the tray with minimum fuss, but not terribly adventurous.

So this time, she decided to push the boundaries a little bit and try a slightly more complicated baking experiment. These butter biscuits started life as any other recipe does:

Dough. It's so good, you're tempted to eat it raw.

Dough. It’s so good, you’re tempted to eat it raw.

There was a slight hiccup in the process; the duo had run out of eggs as the Ninja Turtle decided it was a great idea to eat three boiled eggs for lunch the previous day. Not to fear, there are some egg-substitutes in baking for those with egg allergies, and here was the shiny golden opportunity presenting itself to the Turtle to TRY SOMETHING NEW!

Apparently, people have used things like bananas, silken tofu and ground flaxseeds in place of egg while baking. The Turtle didn’t have the first two, and after ten minutes of trying to grind flaxseeds in her pepper grinder and getting nowhere, she had a sudden brainwave. What else in her pantry turns gelatinous? Chia seeds!

She used 1 tablespoon of chia seeds soaked in 3 tablespoons of water, in place of one egg, and quickly got a consistency which promised to bind the heck out of all the other ingredients.

And since she was on a roll with the whole experimenting thing, she figured, why stop there? Sure, the Earl Grey tea lends a beautifully delicate flavor to the cookies, but why not add something else to give it another dimension?

Enter stage left: Maggie Beer Burnt Fig Jam, a little delight from the Barossa Valley, South Australia.

Enter stage left: Maggie Beer Burnt Fig Jam, a little delight from the Barossa Valley, South Australia.

Butter biscuits tend to be a little dry, so the addition of jam can lend a little moisture, depending on how much you add. They didn’t want theirs to be anything more than flavoured, so it was only a tiny smidge of jam that was added on the cookies.

Earl Grey Butter Biscuits
Ingredients
200g flour
100g brown sugar
100g butter, softened
5 Earl Grey teabags, snipped
1 tablespoon chia seeds, soaked in 3 tablespoons of water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Jam (optional)
Instructions
Cream butter and sugar together.
Add in Earl Grey tea from the teabags, soaked chia seeds and vanilla essence. Stir.
In another bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add in increments to the wet mixture, stirring constantly.
The dough should be stiff. Roll into a log and put it in the freezer for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
Take the frozen log of dough out and slice with a bread knife to a thickness of 1cm (just under half an inch).
Top with desired quantity of jam, or skip this step.
Bake for 12 minutes.

The smell was to die for. 12 minutes was too long to wait.

The smell was to die for. 12 minutes was too long to wait.

Of course, any jam would work, but the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin wish to rave a little bit about this burnt fig jam. It’s got that caramelized flavor with a bitter edge characteristic of any “burnt” sugar. Although it’s not been tried yet, one could assume that normal jam flavors could technically develop the same burnt flavor from the baking process anyway.

The chia seeds also worked as a perfect substitute for eggs, since they didn’t have any particular flavor of their own (as opposed to bananas). This batch only produced 24 cookies, so we’ll see how long it lasts, but we promise you, it’s definitely a keeper to repeat.

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Food

Peasant’s Dinner

Ever had the feeling like this isn’t your day? Or week? Or for that matter, month? Well, you’re not alone. The Ninja Turtle is beginning to suspect that 2014 is simply not her year. Just as she received a phone call last Monday from her doctor proclaiming that she was back in the pink of health, she hardly had any time to celebrate when she found herself hacking up her lungs once more on Wednesday night. It progressively worsened until Friday saw her confined in bed, feeling utterly miserable about being alive. When it simply hurts to breathe, running is completely out of the question.

What’s a Turtle to do, but sit in bed with a thermometer and sulk? Reading running websites only made her depressed; she doesn’t need motivation to run outside, she doesn’t need advice on preventing injuries, she just wants to be able lace up and GO. There’s no excuse, since they have a treadmill in the apartment, except it’s not possible to even walk between the bed and the bathroom without the world spinning.

Question: when there is a race 3 weeks away, and you’re ill with a second bout of bronchitis, do you: A: Train anyway. You’re supposed to be peaking at this stage!
B: Lie in bed and hope for the best. Your base fitness will just have to see you through.

It’s a 10-miler, so the Turtle has decided on the latter. There is no point expecting a PR on this one, but the way she sees it, if she gives herself a week (or two at the very most, she hopes) to rest and recover, she will still make it to the race in a semi-decent shape to cross the finish line. If she pushes herself now and fails to recover, she may not even toe the starting line.

How does one usefully employ the time one normally spends running, then? It’s easy to feel restless and depressed, thinking about all the miles one ought to be accumulating but isn’t. It becomes a vortex that sucks you in if you’re not careful, and the Turtle was beginning to get stuck in a funk when she decided to stop feeling sorry for herself and bake.

Yes, baking cures everything. Tonight, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin are having a peasant’s dinner after she spent the better part of 4 hours kneading and baking bread while watching Doctor Who. They’re going to have it with some garlic oil and dukkah they purchased from the Wayville Farmers’ Market in Adelaide during their trip in December, because she could really do with some happy memories of sunshine and heat right now. It’s regular white bread, nothing fancy, but sometimes, it’s best to keep things simple.

Pain fait-maison, à la main

Pain fait-maison, à la main

So here’s to hoping that with the simplicity of home-made goodness, she recovers soon.

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