Category Archives: dessert

Welcoming the New Year

By | dessert, The Food Blog | 7 Comments

There’s vanilla ice cream cooling down in the freezer, and a strawberry frangiapane tart letting off steam on the rack. We’re catching up with friends tonight for a celebration of New Year’s Eve 2011.  I still have to marinate my chicken for shish tawook but I need a moment to rest. Happy new year dear reader. I thought I’d get it in early before I drink too much and my speech starts t to slur 😛

Pistachios & the Easiest Way to Ice Cream

By | dessert, ice cream, Ingredients, pistachio ice cream, Recipes | 14 Comments

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

Are you sick of my pistachio packed posts? I don’t blame you, but really, this is a follow up on my obsessive post on Bronte pistachio paste, so bear with me and you will learn the easiest way to make ice cream, ever.

Now that I had finally experienced what a jar of pistachio paste from Bronte tastes like (bloody amazing), I seriously needed to do something about the low supply situation. A visit to my Greenacre-based Lebanese green grocer Abu Salim provided a good kilo of roasted unsalted pistachios for $15.00. I wouldn’t call us a perfectionist race, but when it comes to roasting nuts, the Lebanese are masters – they get it so right. The nuts were wonderful; the roasting concentrated and amplified their flavour brilliantly.

After shelling for an evening, thumbs sore with pain from the odd stubborn pistachio that refused to open, I ended up with a good amount to try making my paste. I was aiming for a smooth paste, and I knew my food processor was not up to the task. A quick tweet and the incredibly generous Mr Franz Scheurer was quick to donate his time and his Thermomix (what would have cost me $2000 to buy).

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

The Paste

I wanted to create a pistachio paste that I could use in desserts, one that could have a decent lifespan, so I decided not to follow the ingredients of my jar of Bronte pistachio paste and instead omitted the milk. The paste would last longer, and I could add milk when I needed.

To create a good paste, I blitzed the pistachios along with some glucose and created an emulsification with grape seed oil. You could use any neutral oil. I didn’t take measurements and went with feel and taste. I stopped when the pistachios tasted slightly sweet and the paste was smooth enough for me (a bit of coarse meal is fine). The consistency needs to be slightly runnier than peanut butter. I went home and mixed in some cream with a small sample to test out the flavour and the gates of heaven opened and I heard a sweet song, and a choir or angels called out to me. Seriously, it was that good.

It is worth mentioning that if you want to make pistachio paste for ice cream, you may as well add some water into the blender to make the paste smoother. That way, you wouldn’t need a Thermomix, because with that much liquid, your food processor should do the trick. If you do add water, make sure you omit it from the recipe below.

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

The Ice Cream

I was aiming for a custard based ice cream, but as luck would have it, Jules from The Stone Soup posted a churn-free, machine-free lemon ice cream recipe. It looked incredibly simple, and I decided to give it a go. The basic idea is that by increasing the amount of sugar, ice crystals do not form. Jules folds lemon juice and icing sugar into whipped cream and simply freezes the lot for 6 hours. I did the same, but substituted pistachio paste for the lemon juice, and added some water to dissolve the sugar. The result was a beautiful. pistachio green ice cream with the texture of semifreddo, light, airy and delicious. I urge you wholeheartedly to try making ice cream this way. It is so simple – 5 minutes and you’re done, and it tastes ridiculously good.

The Recipe (adapted from The Stone Soup’s Lemon Ice Cream)

Ingredients
300 ml whipping cream
200 grams icing sugar
4 heaped tablespoons (or to taste) of pistachio paste, prepared as mentioned above

Method
Whip the cream until soft peaks form
Mix icing sugar and pistachio paste and 1/3 cup of water until smooth (omit water if already used in paste preparation)
Fold the pistachio and sugar into the cream until evenly distributed
Whip the cream again until it gets to soft peak stage once more
Freeze for 6 hours or overnight

Saj Bread, Labneh, Olive Oil and Mint Mille-feuille – A Dessert Inspired by the Classic Lebanese Breakfast

By | Bread, dessert, labneh, lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 11 Comments

In case you are wondering, yes, these greens in the picture are indeed garden weeds and not micro-herbs; I don’t have easy access to micro-herbs and thought these guys are small enough to do the trick. They look pretty though, do you agree? And another thing, I know this is not a mille-feuille, but let me have this one, please…

I’ve been obsessing about this dessert for around a fortnight now. I came up with the idea in a moment of brilliance (or insanity, call it what you may) and have been dying to make it. For my non-Lebanese readers, a little explanation is needed so that you get a full appreciation of the idea behind the dessert. One of the most, if not the most popular breakfast in Lebanon is a labneh roll. Lebanese bread or saj bread (paper thin bread cooked on an inverted wok, sold in Australia as mountain bread) is slathered with snow-white salted labneh, drizzled with olive oil and rolled up with one or more vegetables and herbs such as mint, cucumbers, tomatoes or olives. Labneh is a cream cheese (yes it is a cheese) made from removing the whey from yoghurt, resulting in a rich, smooth spread. The breakfast roll is salty, savoury and creamy but also light and fresh, a true representative of Mediterranean cuisine with its lavish use of olive oil, dairy, bread and fresh vegetables and herbs.

This superb, yet everyday sort of breakfast was the inspiration for a creamy yet fresh dessert. The labneh is mixed with some whipped cream to give a lighter consistency, and then sweetened with icing sugar. Then, rectangles of saj bread are brushed with butter and crisped up in a pan, with some pressure applied on top to keep them straight. The saj and labneh “mille-feuille” is constructed on a plate drizzled with olive oil butterscotch, then served with a mint leaf tempura; and there you have it: labneh and saj bread with mint and olive oil! An experienced pastry chef could have turned out something a bit more professional looking, but I had to make do with my crooked design skills. And I also wanted to make a tomato jam to go with it but I couldn’t be bothered, so please imagine that it’s there too.  See how the beautifully reddish orange hue of the tomato jam contrasts with the white?

Now unfortunately, I didn’t take note of measurements when I made this as it was just an experiment, but it was not hard to do once the concept was there. I have to admit though, the dessert exceeded all my expectations. The buttery richness of the labneh and cream is complemented by its sweetness and then offset by the yoghurt’s acidity. That’s why it’s important to use Greek style yoghurt labneh (and not that European style stuff). Then, the crispness and delicate saltiness of the saj bread intertwines with that creaminess, and the multiple layers create a textural explosion that is quite out of this world. The olive oil butterscotch added an extra layer of flavour, and the mint tempura is more a visual and textural addition than one of flavour; it’s just a bit of fun really. It may be worth noting that I made my own unsalted labneh using Meredith sheep’s yoghurt, which is more delicious as a labneh than it is as yoghurt. Sheep’s yoghurt has a sensational mouth-feel due to the high fat content and in my opinion makes a far superior labneh than cow’s yoghurt.

Saj Bread, Labneh, Olive Oil and Mint Mille-feuille Recipe

Now, being an IT guy, and seeing I didn’t really write down the measurements, here’s an “algorithm” as to how to make this dessert:

  • Buy or make your own labneh. Make sure it’s low salt. Making labneh is easy: strain Greek style yoghurt through muslin or on layers of paper towel, changing the paper towels when they are fully soaked. The result should be the consistency of cream cheese
  • Cut rectangles from saj bread (sold as mountain bread in Australia)
  • Brush bread with butter and crisp up in a pan on both sides. Press them down to keep them flat as they crisp up
  • Make the olive oil butterscotch by caramelising some sugar and olive oil and then emulsifying them with cream… Easy?
  • Whip up some cream until semi-firm peaks form and then mix with the labneh and some icing sugar. Adjust the sugar to taste. Don’t use too much cream or the labneh flavour will be lost. Maybe a 60% labneh, 40% cream.
  • Assemble as per the photo: drizzle the butterscotch, layer the mille-feuille with bread and labneh
  • Cover a mint leaf with tempura batter and fry until crisp and put on the side

Pistachio and Almond Milk Ice Cream Recipe

By | dairy free ice cream, dessert, gluten free ice cream, ice cream, pistachio ice cream, Recipes, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Pistachio and Almond Milk Ice Cream

It’s not often that one gets to create something unique in the kitchen. Most of our recipes are based on those created by others, with modifications and adjustments to ingredients and quantities. An ice cream or gelato recipe easily falls into this category whereby most approaches are derived from basic vanilla, but I think my almond milk ice cream (more correctly almond milk gelato) is bordering on the invention side. Well, perhaps. The great thing about using almond milk for gelato or ice cream is that almond milk is healthy, nutritionally dense, vegan and lowers your cholesterol. The trick, however, that while normal cow’s milk is totally understood when it comes to the frozen dessert, there are no easily available resources out there that explain how almond milk reacts in ice cream making.

Almonds and Almond Milk

As you may know, successful ice cream and gelato making is all about achieving a balance between sugar and fat, both of which play a part in ensuring the ice cream does not freeze to a solid block full of huge ice crystals and that it has a good, creamy mouth feel. Egg yolks add to the fat content and are the key distinguishing factor between an ice cream (contains egg yolks) and gelato (contains no egg yolks). Additives such as sahlep, cornstarch, xanthan gum or guar gum increase the ratio of solids to liquids in an ice cream, which lowers its freezing point without adding too much in terms of fat derived calories. Alcohol and egg whites are also useful, but result in a “slushy” ice cream if not carefully balanced. And so, my key target was to naturally raise the content of “good” fats in the ice cream by extracting concentrated, rich almond milk, and by further enriching it with the fats from the pistachio nuts. Then the sugars need to play their normal part. I used 80 grams of sugar and 80ml Agave nectar. I like Agave because it is low GI and it is already in a liquid state, which assists in lowering the freezing point. Thickening the mixture with cornstarch is standard gelato business and the result is a smooth, nutty and 80% healthy almond milk and pistachio gelato. Enjoy it before it gets too cold.

Pistachio and Almond Milk Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rehydrated almonds (soaked in water overnight)
  • 1 cup rehydrated pistachios (soaked in water overnight)
  • 80 g white sugar
  • 80 ml Agave nectar (or an extra 80 g sugar)
  • 4 cups water
  • 20 g cornstarch

Method

  • Put nuts and water in a blender and wizz away
  • When well processed, strain in a cheese cloth, extracting every bit of liquid possible
  • Create a slurry by whisking the cornstarch with half a cup of the extracted milk
  • Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar and Agave and bring to a simmer
  • Add the cornstarch slurry and mix well. It will thicken very quickly, but you must keep stirring for around 2 minutes over the low heat
  • Put in a container, wait for the mixture to cool down and then refrigerate overnight. It will have a wobbly pudding like consistency
  • Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions and store in the freezer
  • If it is too thick, and your machine is not up to the task, give it a helping hand by stirring the ice cream in the machine with a wooden spooon. My machine has a crappy engine, and always needs a hand

Maamoul – Recipes from a Traditional Lebanese Easter

By | dessert, lebanese food, lebanon food, Of Arabic Origin, orange blossom, Recipes | 32 Comments

Happy Easter! It’s really great to be able to share this recipe with you, and maybe from the photo above, you too will feel there are things worth coming back to this world for. This is my tray of maamoul, a traditional Lebanese sweet that is made especially for Easter. Maamoul is a semolina shortbread bound with butter, orange blossom water and rose water which on the inside holds a sweet filling. The filling is either buttery dates, or a concoction of walnuts or pistachios with sugar, more orange blossom water and rosewater. Now consider that for a minute. Imagine biting through that buttery, crumbly crust and getting the faint hint of roses and orange blossoms, followed by the chewiness of pistachios, nutty and sweet. Delicious opulence and comfortable luxury. Maamoul works on so many levels.

If you look through the photo series, you will get a basic understanding of how these Easter cakes are made. You can see the beautiful pattern that is formed when the filled dough is pressed into a traditional wooden mold. There is a shape for every flavour and that makes it easy to know which is which. According to Ludwig’s sister, who’s a real wiz with computers, there’s anecdotal evidence pointing to the tradition of making maamoul on Easter. Apparently the wooden mold symbolises Jesus’ cross, the mold’s pattern resembles the shape of the sponge with which Jesus was given vinegar to drink, the crust contains no sugar in reference to Christ’s death containing no happiness, and the inside is sweet and joyful to symbolise the resurrection. I’m not sure how steeped in tradition all this symbolism is, but at the least, it’s a nice story.

It’s been nine years since I’ve taken part in a maamoul making session, and this is actually my first attempt at it, as it was usually my mother who took care of the whole mission. Long distance phone calls with mom, mirrored by similar efforts from Ludwig resulted in the recipe we used. Just like we used to do, the dough was prepared on Good Friday and the maamoul was baked on Easter Saturday. But unlike being under the strict, observing eyes of our parents, this time we allowed ourselves to indulge in trying the maamoul as it was warm, instead of having to wait for Sunday as tradition requires. I am now convinced that eating maamoul warm is the only way to do it with the filling still gooey and slightly runny. The flavour warms my heart and the scent takes me back to my childhood, and the result is a maamoul I know even mom would be proud of!

Maamoul Recipe

Ingredients – Crust

  • 900 g coarse semolina
  • 150 g fine semolina
  • 550 g good quality butter at room temperature
  • 125 ml rosewater
  • 30 ml orange blossom water
  • 1/2 cup milk (used on the second day)
  • Equipment – maamoul molds bought from a Middle Eastern supply store

Ingredients – Fillings

Fillings are tricky to give amounts with, because it depends on how many types you want to make. Use these ratios as a guideline, and make less/more depending on how much you want to make

  • 2 cups dates and 1/2 cup butter combined in food processor
  • 2 cups coarsely ground walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tbsp rosewater and 1/2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 2 cups coarsely ground pistachios and 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tbsp rosewater and 1/2 tsp orange blossom water
  • Try the combinations and adjust the sugar and aromatic waters as you like

Method

  • Knead the coarse and fine semolina with the butter until incorporated
  • Gradually add the orange blossom water and the rosewater until all added
  • Knead for 30 minutes
  • Rest for 12 hours, kneading it around 3 times in between
  • Before you start using the dough, you must knead it one last time, this time you wet your hands with the 1/2 cup of milk and kneading until all the milk is used up
  • Now your dough is ready, create a little ball of dough and make a hole in it, making the sides even
  • Look at the picture that shows the stages of filling the maamoul. Fill with your desired filling. If you are using dates, they should be formed into individual balls to fill the dough
  • Close the dough so that the filling is totally covered by dough
  • Put in the maamoul mold and push firmly but not overly so, otherwise the dough will stick
  • Put a cutting board and cover with a kitchen towel
  • Strike the top tip of the mold on the kitchen towel to release the maamoul
  • Repeat and when you have a tray full, put into an oven that has been preheated to 220 degrees Celsius
  • It will take around 15 minutes to bake, but what you are after is the slightest colouring. You don’t want it to brown
  • Remove, cool down and eat when warm or cold

Ghraybeh with Dulce de Leche Recipe – Middle-Eastern Shortbread

By | dessert, lebanese food, Of Arabic Origin | 15 Comments

ghraybeh with dulce de leche

Before Lili (Pikelet and Pie) packed up and embarked on an adventure in the exotic land of Vietnam, I paid her a visit and became the official custodian of her collection of cook books. Lili also went through her pantry and fridge, and I was given a box of smoked Maldon sea salt, pomegranate molasses that I had convinced her to buy, and a large tin of homemade dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is sweetened milk that has been heated to induce caramelisation. Lili simmered cans of condensed milk for two and a half hours and the result was a buttery sweet caramel, intense in colour and flavour. I try not to make overly sweet indulgences at home, in an effort to avoid type II diabetes and Lainy’s scornful looks, and so the can of dulce de leche sat in my fridge collecting rust as days turned into months.

A few weeks back, I noticed that the coffee shop next door was selling alfajores filled with dulce de leche and I mentioned them to my Brazilian friend Priscila. I often joke around with Priscila about how much Brazilian culture and much of Latin America has borrowed from the Lebanese and the Arabs (in the style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), especially in the realm of culinary exploits. I scored another win in that department when Priscila researched alfajores, which turned out to be a Spanish specialty of Arab origin, originally named alfakher in Arabic meaning “the grand” or “the luxurious”. This reinforced my opinion that Spanish words beginning with “AL” are originally Arabic.

lili’s dulce de leche

I thought I would deviate a little bit from the modern version of alfajores and attempt to recreate what the Arabs would have invented. The alfajores I’ve tried have a texture and flavour akin to shortbread. So my mind went to ghraybeh, the Middle-Eastern shortbread. Ghraybeh is very simple cookie, containing only 3 ingredients, but as with many Middle-Eastern pastries, the recipe is almost always poorly documented and frustratingly vague. Chef Ramzi uses cups for measure, which is terrible when used with non-liquid ingredients. I encountered complete failure on the first attempt, but have since been able to perfect the recipe. Ghraybeh can be eaten alone, or used to sandwich dulce de leche as I have done here. For the recipe of dulce de leche, please view Lili’s blog here.

Ghraybeh Recipe

Ingredients

300 g cups white, all purpose flour
150 g ghee (dairy, not the vegetable based one)/clarified butter
150 g icing sugar (not the icing mixture, which contains cornflour)
Nuts for decoration such as peeled dry pistachio, almonds or pine nuts

Method

  1. Cream the ghee and icing sugar in a mixer for 5 minutes until fluffy, creamy and white
  2. With the speed on medium, add the flour gradually and incorporate well
  3. Now it’s time to use your hands. Grab the mixing bowl and using one hand, keep kneading the mixture for around 10 minutes. This encourages the flour to absorb the fat and creates the all-important texture. The dough will feel oily and loose, but 10 minutes of heavy kneading should be enough
  4. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour
  5. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Cover your baking tray with baking paper
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge. You must work fast here as the pastry will go soft if you handle it too much. Pinch a bit of dough and roll it up to a ball between your hands, flatten it slightly and then place it on top of the baking tray and flatten until the shape is of a round cookie.
  7. Repeat until the tray is full, leaving some space between the cookies
  8. Decorate with nuts of choice
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then take out of the oven and cool down on a cooling rack
  10. If you have dulce de leche, you can sandwich it between 2 cookies. If you are making plain cookies, there is a nice step you can add which involves dipping your hands in orange blossom water when you form the balls of dough, which gives the ghraybeh a distinctive aroma. You can also make different shapes and decorate with nuts