Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Totenbeinli - Hazelnut Cookies

If you love hazelnuts, then you'll love this recipe. The nuts aren't hiding in the shadows, they are the main star. So when you bite into each cookie you are guaranteed to get a good helping of whole ones, and the ground ones will linger in your mouth helped along by the sweet tang of the lemon zest. I love the simple pleasures in life. Hazelnuts are one of mine.

I'm pretty frugal when purchasing ingredients, so when I use 'expensive' ingredients (like these nuts were) then I like to use them in recipes that I feel will show them off at their best. And this Swiss recipe of my mum's is one of my favourite ways to do so. Roasting the hazelnuts adds to the experience even more. Btw "Totenbeinli" means "dead legs" in English. Creepy name, delicious taste.


75g butter/margarine
200g sugar
2 eggs
The grated zest of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp clove powder
1 pinch salt
50g hazelnuts, ground
200g hazelnuts, whole
250g flour (you may need to add extra)
1 egg yolk (this will be used as an egg-wash. You could skip it but it gives a nice yellow sheen to the tops of the cookies)


First you'll need to roast the hazelnuts. I find it easiest to cook them in the oven on a roasting tray, just spread them out and cook them at 200 Celsius for 5 minutes or so, until they are golden. You'll need to babysit them as they will go from golden to burnt, pretty quickly. Then to remove the skins, just grab a clean tea-towel and roll the nuts around in it, the friction will slough the skins right off.

Now onto the dough...
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and lemon zest, beat until fluffy and foamy. Mix in the ground hazelnuts and the whole hazelnuts.
Fold in the flour, you may need to add more if you find it too sticky. You now want to turn it out on to a floured surface and knead it a wee bit.
Roll the out the dough, until approx 1cm thick. Cut into finger-sized sticks, approx 1cm wide and 5cm long.
Beat an egg yolk and brush onto the tops.
Bake at 200 Celsius for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Polenta Cake, With Lemon & Lavender Syrup

The first time I used polenta in baking it was a bit of a disaster. However, after some swift googling I came to the realisation that not all polenta is created equally. There is quick-cook polenta (takes about 3 minutes) and slow-cook polenta (takes about 30 minutes). And the polenta that I had used in my polenta cookies must inevitably been the slow-cook variety because it was like eating sand. I wondered if that was just how the texture was supposed to be, but I didn't think most people enjoyed chewing on gritty sand, so thanks to the interwebs I did some more research and got re-inspired and realised that baking with polenta didn't have to be disastrous. Nessie's yummy polenta creations on her blog 'baking=yum' were a great inspiration and spurred me on. So I tried again, with a different cake recipe this time, and wow I was delighted with the result. It was easy and moist (and not gritty!), and gobbled-up in no time. Originally the recipe uses rosemary instead of lavender, but I've often used rosemary in baking and as much as I love it I wanted to try something different. Here is the link to the original recipe if you want to give it a go, I will give it a go myself sometime. Happy baking!


114g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cup (187g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup (105g) polenta (To be on the safe side, I used instant)
4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
Zest of 2 lemons (or other citrus)

5 lavender flowers
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup (66g) sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon


Melt the butter, set it aside to cool. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and polenta.

Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy and doubled in size. Add the lemon zest.

Fold in a third of the dry ingredients and then half of the melted butter; repeat until everything is incorporated.

Pour into a greased or lined 9 inch cake tin (a spring-form tin is fine too). Bake for 35-40 minutes at 180 Celsius, or until golden and cooked through.

While the cake is baking, you can prepare the syrup: Heat the water, sugar, lemon zest, and lavender in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil then take the saucepan off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 15 minutes (this just means let it sit there so all the natural oils and flavours get extracted). Before using, strain then add the lemon juice.
Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then spoon the strained syrup over the cake and let it sit a little for a while to fully absorb. The syrup will actually be very watery, but you will be surprised how thirsty that wee cake will be. I like to lightly prick holes in the top of the cake with a knitting needle to help this process along.

Remove cake from pan and serve. I think this cake goes really well with the sharpness of a nice thick plain yoghurt.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Pastetli (Swiss Vol-Au-Vent)

Apologies for the bad photo, I only managed a few quick snaps before gobbling the subject up. I didn't want to be the weirdo at the table taking millions of photos while everyone was already enjoying the meal. Besides, I wanted to eat it asap! So yeah, if it's hard for you to tell what the food is:  it, is a pastetli. Basically a Swiss vol-au-vent, a wee pastry case filled with a yummy white wine sauce made with stock, and a mushroom and meat filling. It's also what my mother and I made for my birthday dinner on New Year's Eve.

My sister and I share the same birthdate (but born two years apart) and for birthday dinners my mum would often offer to cook us our most favourite meal. I don't know why she kept asking because from what I remember the answer was always "pastetli". Clearly we are not sick of them because I happened to be in my home town for my birthday  this year, and yip, we  stayed with tradition. I took this as the perfect opportunity for me to learn how to make them. Yes they are quite involved,  probably why they were a special occasion meal at our house, but thankfully there's nothing difficult about them.  The filling is actually better when made the day before and slowly reheated, and I suppose you could also save time by purchasing pre-made pastry cases, but  freshly baked pastry cases straight from the oven are just heavenly...

Besides, this is the kind of dish where people will appreciate the time and effort you  put into making them. But be warned, you might end up having to make them year, after year, after year...

First I'll explain the ingredients you'll be using, then I'll move on to how it all goes together. Bear with me!

The pastry cases:
400g flaky puff pastry (high-five to you if you make your own.) Otherwise store-bought pastry is fine, avoid the pre-rolled stuff though.
One beaten egg.

The stock and meat:
800ml water
1 carrot, cut into small cubes
1 whole onion, peeled and spiked with a clove
1 bayleaf
1 tsp salt
400g cubed bratwurst, skin removed. Alternatively you can use veal, chicken or even cooked ham, or skip it and add more vegetables.

The sauce:

1 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 1/2 Tbsp flour
The leftover stock that was created earlier
200ml cream
150g mushrooms (these will be sautéed  in butter and 1/4 cup white wine before use)
Salt, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste

Creating the pastry cases: 

Roll out the pastry until approx 3mm thick.
Use round cutters that are approx 8cm in diameter and cut out 8 circles.
Take 4 of these circles and use a smaller round cutter and cut circles into the centre of each. This will create a 'ring' which will become the sides of the pastry case, and a 'lid'.
Brush the edges of the whole circles with beaten egg.
Take the cut-out rings that you  have created, and lightly press these on top of each whole circle.
Now place the tiny circle cut outs into the centre (after baking, these will be removed and become the lids). Brush over all the tops with beaten egg. For, hopefully, less confusion see pic:

Bake in the middle of the oven at 210 Celsius, for about 15 minutes, or until golden. These, or store-bought cases, can be reheated when needed, at 120 Celsius for just a few minutes. 

Making the filling: 

Add the water, carrot, onion with clove, bay leaf and salt to a pot. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Note: add in the meat when it is appropriate to their cooking time. e.g sausages will only take 10 minutes so I would add them in the last 10 minutes, however, if I was using raw cubed veal I would add it in the last 15-20 minutes. Also, make sure to simmer with the lid off, as you want the stock to reduce down to approx 350ml. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Keep the stock.

Now to create the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and fry briefly. Add the strained leftover stock that you kept aside, bring it to the boil while stirring continuously. Add the cream and lower the temperature, simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally. The sauce base is now ready. When ready to serve: add the meat to the sauce along with the mushrooms (along with the wine that they were cooked in). Reheat slowly over a low heat and add salt and nutmeg to taste. Drizzle over warmed pastry cases.

Makes 4

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Ricotta And Spinach Filo/Phyllo Baskets

I'd always thought that working with filo would be far too laborious, what with all the brushing and layering. So consequently, I had avoided working with it. Well, until the day someone happened to give me a packet. And after a bit of research, a.k.a Googling, I came away with ideas that made me realise it didn't have to be a chore. So armed with a can of cooking spray, I went to work, and these are what I came up with.

I was so impressed as they looked like something I would buy from a cafe, only tastier. What I like most is that they are so quick to create, and the recipe is very adaptable if you want to bring your own touch to it. Just chop and change the fillings to suit your taste; you could use different vegetables or add meat or add lemon zest, roasted pine nuts, or other cheeses such as feta. Just use your imagination. It is a nice basic recipe for a beginner like me, one you can bring your own flair to.


1 small red onion, chopped.
Spinach, about 100 -500g (depending on your preference).
250g ricotta.
2 eggs, beaten.
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint.
Small bunch of parsley, chopped.
40g Parmesan, grated.
Pinch or two of nutmeg.
Salt and pepper, to taste.
5 large sheets of filo pastry, approx 190g.


Heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and lightly fry until soft.
Chop the spinach then add to the pan, cook for a couple minutes until wilted.
Drain the juices from the pan, you may also want to manually squeeze out any excess liquid using your hands. This step is important so the pastry basket wont get a soggy bottom. Set the veges aside to cool a little.
Now add the rest of the filling ingredients to the spinach mixture.
Mix well and give it a taste test and adjust your seasonings accordingly.

Take your 5 sheets of filo and spray each sheet of filo with cooking spray, stacking them evenly on top of each other as you go. Cut the stacked layers into 8 even squares. This is easiest to do with a pair of kitchen scissors.

Lightly grease a 12 hole muffin tin. Press each filo stack into the holes in the tin. This is easy to do by 'punching' it in with your fist. It will make 8.

Divide the ricotta mixture amongst the baskets.

Bake at 190 Celsius for 10-20 minutes until pastry is golden and filling is cooked. Keep an eye on them. If the pastry is golden but the filling needs to be cooked longer, just cover them with aluminium foil.

Makes 8