Greece: Baklava

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Cakes can be instrumental in making you eat healthily. This is a clear example of a cake that will ensure a perfect healthy eating record for at least a week. Impossible you cry? How can a cake help you eat healthily?

Well my friends I will explain.

Baklava 001

In this cake it comes down to the construction. After spending  upwards of 30 minutes, brushing layers and layers of thin, crisp filo pastry with melted butter and then drowning the resultant baked pastry in enough honey/sugar syrup to drown a beehive, you will only ever want to eat salad. Case in point; after making this cake all I could face eating was vegetable salad – even protein felt like it would not be a good choice!

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Having said all that, when you sit down to eat one of the tiny, sticky chewy delicious morsels, the laborious, butter-filled work becomes worth it. That small piece is not only sweet pastry perfection, but also lasts for a long time – one tray makes a staggering amount of pastries which unless you have a stupendously high sugar tolerance will last you for many days to come.

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Health-giving and long-lasting – what more do you want?

Ingredients

For the Syrup:

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip orange peel

For the Pastry:

1 pound walnuts, toasted
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 (16-ounce) package phyllo dough, thawed
1½ cups unsalted butter

Instructions

To make the syrup, combine the water, sugar, honey, cinnamon stick and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, before reducing the heat and simmering for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Process the walnuts, cinnamon and cloves in a food processor until finely chopped.

Over a very low heat, melt the butter in a small saucepan, keeping the pan on the heat to ensure that the melted butter does not solidify.

Brush a 9×13-inch pan with melted butter and place one layer of filo at the bottom. Brush the filo with the melted butter, before adding a second layer, brushing with more butter. Continue this process until 7 sheets have been layered.

Cover the layers of filo with a quarter of the chopped nut mixture. Continue the layering of filo dough, but this time you only need to stack 5 sheets. Spread the next quarter of the mixture over the dough, and repeat the dough layering process twice more. The last layer of filo should have 7 layers of filo, in order to create a thicker top. Finish by brushing the top layer with melted butter. Before cooking cut the baklava into either squares or triangles before baking in the oven for 50-60 minutes until the top is golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and drench in the syrup. Leave the baklava to soak for at least 4-5 hours and preferably overnight before serving – this allows the syrup to soak into all the crevasses effectively.

Cyprus: Aubergine,Walnut and Mint Cake

Flag of Cyprus

This cake is proof that sometimes not reading something properly can actually work in your favour. When researching this cake, I read a passage that talked about sweets made from small aubergines and walnuts. I combined this with fresh mint, one of the iconic flavours of Cyprus and used in almost everything to create this very delectable cake. Going back to my research I noticed a comma – the sweets were in fact made of aubergines OR walnuts, not both.

Having said that, the flavour combination is undoubtedly relevant, and so it earns its place in the blog. Chocolate, as some of you may be shouting at your screens, is not particularly traditional but it results in a wonderfully moist and rich cake, which unlike most desserts actually improves over time, both in taste and texture. The recipe is adapted from Harry Eastwood’s Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache.

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Please do not disregard this cake merely because of the added aubergine. If you do, you will have missed out on one of the most delicious, moist cakes ever created. Maybe just don’t tell veggie-haters the surprise ingredient – they will never guess!

Ingredients: 

  • 2 small aubergines
  • 300g best dark chocolate
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 60g ground walnuts
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g clear honey
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 small handful of mint, chopped
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 180 degree C. Grease and line a 9 inch springform tin.
Cook the aubergines by puncturing the skins with a skewer, then placing them in a bowl. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until soft and limp. Discard any water at the bottom and leave to stand until they are cool enough to handle. When cool, skin and puree the aubergines in the blender. Add the warm aubergine to the broken up chocolate, and stir gently to allow the chocolate to melt.
In a large bowl, whisk up all the other ingredients for a minute until well mixed and gently foaming. Add the melted chocolate and aubergine mixture into the bowl and fold in until completely combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the bottom of the oven for 30 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack and peeling off the parchment. Quickly turn it the right way up again and place on the serving plate. Finish by dusting with cocoa powder and decorating with a sprig of fresh mint.

England: Victoria Sponge Cake

Greetings! It’s all been rather quiet here recently, due to the fact that I have been in America and most hotels do not have baking facilities for their guests… However, now that I am back in range of a kitchen, normal service will (try to) resume!

Today’s post concerns the mainstay of English baking, and a cake that is seemingly not present in America (though the upcoming posts on my baking adventures here will show you some of the great bakes I did sample!). I speak of the Victoria Sponge Cake. Ridiculously simple, but if made well, this cake can be elevated from tea time treat to dinner party dessert.

The basic cake is a vanilla sponge cake, which is then filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Traditionally jam is the chosen filling, but the addition of fruit makes this cake moister and gives a stronger fruit flavour. I have stipulated strawberries and raspberries here, but the choice is really up to you – any berries will work well.

The lack of pictures on this post is a testament to the quality of this cake – the family gathering demolished this cake within 10 minutes of the cake being completed…

Victoria Sponge Cake

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 8oz softened butter
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 punnet of strawberries (or other soft fruit of your choice)
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/375 degrees farenheit, and flour and grease  two 8in round sandwich tins. Cream together the butter and sugar, before beating in the eggs one by one. Sift in the flour and baking powder and beat until well combined. Mix in the vanilla essence before pouring the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until well risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the tin and cooling completely on a wire rack.

To construct, whip the cream and icing sugar until thick and fluffy. Place one cake on a serving plate and spread with the cream. Top with the fresh fruit and then place the second cake on top. Smooth the edges and dust the top of the cake with icing sugar. Serve in large slices with tea.