The flavor of lime has not always been one that I have enjoyed. It always seemed to have an overall harsh characteristic about it. After we spent a few holidays in the Yucatan, Brion started using lime juice in his chicken soup and really enjoyed it. From there I swapped out the lemon juice for lime in our guacamole. Now here I am putting it in cheesecake. Who knew it could be that good!
A squeeze of lime juice is vital to many classic dishes. It’s the kick in a margarita, the spark that ignites many curries and the tart foil to sweetness in a host of desserts. Conveniently, for such an indispensable ingredient, limes are available year round.
Lime pairs well with apple, berries, cherry, ginger, papaya, plum and strawberry to name a few. Today, I’m using it in a cheesecake filling. It seems like a nice little dessert to start off the month of June.
Strawberry Lime Cheesecake Cups
In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar & lime juice & beat well. When cookie cups have completely cooled, pipe the filling in them & top with a fresh strawberry. Refrigerate until served.
The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.
You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.
Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.
Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.
OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.
With Victoria Day week-end upon us, many people will be thinking of outdoor events. For some reason, food just tastes better when it is cooked over a campfire (or barbecue).
To date, no one seems to know who actually started toasting marshmallows on a stick, over a campfire. S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout Handbook. No doubt it was given its name ….. short for ‘some more’.
It seems there are endless campfire dessert concoctions such as: dessert pizza, apple pie foil packets, monkey bread, pineapple upside-down cake foil packets, walnut chocolate burritos, cinnamon buns in orange peel cups, etc., etc.
Since Brion & I are not inclined to go camping, I baked these in the oven. The orange peels infuse the chocolate with a fragrant, citrus flavor. Nice!
Chocolate Cupcakes in Orange Peel Cups
Oranges & Cake
Cut oranges in half. Using a grapefruit knife, remove pulp from each half. Juice the pulp & reserve 1 cup for the cake mix.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil & 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Mix until batter has no lumps.
Place the orange cups into a muffin tin & fill with about 1/4 cup each of the chocolate batter. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a bowl, blend cream cheese, vanilla & orange zest with a hand mixer until smooth. Add butter & mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. Add powdered sugar & blend until topping is uniformly smooth. Place a dollop of topping on each dessert.
If you wish to bake these desserts over a campfire:
- Wrap each orange loosely in aluminium foil, taking care to keep the oranges upright.
- Place the wrapped oranges on the edge of the camp-fire, out of the direct flame but close enough to the embers so the cakes will bake.
- After 25 - 30 minutes remove the cakes from the heat and carefully unwrap. You should see cooked cake peeking out of the orange cup. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before adding a dollop of topping or just eat as is.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day, many special memories come to mind. My mother passed away in 1978 but even after 42 years, time has changed nothing. I still miss the sound of her voice, the wisdom in her advice, the stories of her life and just being in her presence. I miss her today as much as the day she left us and I always will.
It is also with very loving thoughts, I celebrate my mother-in-law, Dolores, for her loving and kind ways and for raising that ‘special’ man I love sharing my life with. Love to my sisters, who gave so much of themselves to be the great mom’s they are.
Babka ….. an old world beauty with roots in both the Jewish and Eastern European communities. A cake like, sweet yeast bread, richer than that of a cinnamon bun but not as rich as a Danish pastry. The name Babka means ‘little grandmother’ in many European languages.
Traditionally, babka was filled with seeds, nuts and sometimes even honey or filled with layers of cinnamon sugar or chocolate. This classic baked good has been making its way into every corner of the food world. A great babka dough is a blank canvas for almost any filling. Many other flavors have been developed and have become equally popular.
Fruit lovers can now indulge in apple-cinnamon or raspberry and apricot cream cheese babkas. There is also a Middle Eastern favorite using halva (sesame candy) or a completely savory version with sun-dried tomatoes.
This bread seems very fitting on our Mother’s Day blog.
Blueberry Babka Rolls
In a small bowl, place water & sprinkle with the yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Allow to stand until frothy, about 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar & salt. Make a well in the center of the flour & add eggs, yolk & oil. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs & flour with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface & knead for about 10 minutes. If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth & holds a ball-shape.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugars & salt. Add water & blueberries; cook until clear & bubbling. Remove from heat & add lemon juice; cool completely.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, powdered sugar, salt & baking powdered. Cut butter into small chunks & add the flour mixture. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it forms LARGE, coarse crumbs. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into a rectangle, roughly 40 X 60 cm (15" X 24"). Spread half of the filling on center third of the dough. Fold one of the sides over the center & spread the remaining filling on top. Next, put opposite side of the dough over all & gently press together.
Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut 15 strips, between 2 - 2.5 cm (3/4"-1") thick. Twist each strand of dough a few times then, holding one end between you thumb & forefinger, coil the dough to form a circle. Finish by pinching the outer end to the ring, so it holds the circular shape when baking. Repeat with remaining strips. Place rolls on lined baking sheet as you make them. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap & set in a draft-free place until rolls have doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush rolls with egg wash. Sprinkle streusel & chopped nuts evenly over the tops, pressing lightly so the crumbs adhere to the rolls. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & place on a cooling rack.
This is a spring version of summertime fresh blueberry tarts. Even though we are a long way from blueberry season, nothing wrong with using some frozen ones. At our house we use a lot of lemons which means there are always lemon peels available. Candied lemon peel is an excellent way of using up the flavorful but not as tasty peel.
Candied or crystallized fruit, has been around since the 14th century as a method of food preservation. It seems to have started out in the Arab culture, being served at banquets. Candied fruit as a whole, would reach the west where they became the key part of some of the most well known cakes and breads of European tradition, such as Italian Panettone and German Stollen.
Candied lemon peels are a very versatile ingredient. Chopped up, they can be used in baked goods for a lemony flavor boost, whereas whole strips can be dipped in chocolate and used as an edible gift.
For my blueberry tarts, I thought some candied lemon curls would make a pretty garnish not to mention the additional flavor they give.
Blueberry Custard Tarts w/ Candied Lemon Curls
Candied Lemon Curls (MAKE ONE DAY EARLIER)
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, yolks, & cornstarch together until smooth. When milk is simmering, whisk half of it into the egg mixture then gradually add the egg/milk mixture to the rest of the milk.
Return saucepan to the heat & cook, whisking constantly until very thick. Whisk in the butter & vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate. Be sure the plastic is touching the top of the custard to prevent it from forming a film over it. When custard is cooled & you are ready to use it, whip with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine butter & sugar; cream well. Add vanilla & combine. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture. Blend well. Divide dough into 8 portions. Press each portion into a 4 X 3/4-inch mini tart pan. Using a fork, poke some holes in the bottom of each shell. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool before filling.
In a saucepan, whisk all ingredients together & cook over medium-high heat until thickened.
Candied Lemon Curls
Cut the ends off of the lemon. Carefully cut down ONE side of the lemon. Continue the same cut through the FRUIT of the lemon, stopping at the peel. Do NOT cut through the peel.
Carefully open up the lemon & make more cuts through the FRUIT so that it will lay flat; remove the fruit from the peel. Turn the peel over & trim the edges & carefully remove all of the white pith from the inside of the peel. Cut the peel into strips about 1/8-inch wide.
In a small saucepan, add sugar & water & bring to a simmer. Add peels & gently simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lay peels on a cooling rack. Allow to cool slightly, then toss in a bit of granulated sugar. They will slightly curl as they cool.
Divide custard between tart shells, top with blueberries & garnish with candied lemon curls.
- I find this recipe works the best if everything is made a day earlier than needed. That way each component has a chance to cool well before you assemble & serve.
Nothing says spring more than the zesty, fresh flavor of lemons. Just to kick it up a notch, I decided to make some limoncello desserts.
Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.
Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.
Some years ago, while travelling in Italy, Brion & I tasted athentic limoncello in the town of Sorrento. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came accross one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!
Today’s little cakes use limoncello not only in the cake but the frosting and glaze as well. Definitely gives them some spring zing!
Limoncello Mini Cakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter & flour 4 mini bundt pans.
In a small bowl, cream butter & sugar; add egg & mix well. Fold in the flour then add milk & limoncello; beat well. Spoon mixture into the bundt pans & bake for 18 minutes or until they test done. Allow to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
In a small bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese & limoncello (if using). Add powdered sugar & mix until smooth.
In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon zest & egg. Cook until sugar dissolves & the mixture turns light in color, about 2 minutes. Stir in limoncello & cook for about 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat & whisk in butter. Cover with plastic wrap & cool before using.
Place cakes on a serving plate. Fill the center indentation from the bundt pan with glaze as well as glazing the tops. Place frosting in a piping bag with a tip that has a small hole. Pipe frosting to look like lemon slices.
When I think about Easter, one of the first foods that comes to mind are hot cross buns. I’m sure you think I’m going to have a nostalgic memory of my mother’s hot cross buns, but strangely enough, I don’t. The memory I do have from that time in my life is of some very yellow, cylinder shaped loaves. They were soft, sweet and yellow from the many eggs used in the dough. My mother just called it ‘Easter Bread’. It didn’t have icing, candied fruit and nuts or extra spices, it was just plain and gloriously good.
Each year, at Easter time, I really enjoy to make some version of Easter bread or buns (of course, trying to make it just a bit better than the year past). This year I’m going to make a hot cross bun ‘loaf’.
While hot cross buns are now sold and enjoyed throughout the year, they were once reserved for Good Friday alone. There is no one clear explanation … some theories rest in Christian symbolism while there are also more than a few stories that indicate hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday for superstitious reasons.
No matter what the reason, Brion & I have always loved these soft, spicy little buns. No doubt, this ‘loaf’ will probably make some good french toast for an Easter brunch.
Hot Cross Bun Loaf
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, oil, eggs & sugar. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine 4 cups flour with 3/4 tsp cinnamon. Add to yeast mixture & combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover bowl with a tea towel & let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
In a small dish, combine 1/4 cup sugar with cardamom & ginger; set aside. In another small dish, combine paste ingredients for crosses, stirring until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag with a small opening; set aside.
In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup flour with baking powder, baking soda & salt. When dough has risen, add this mixture & combine. Move dough to a lightly floured surface. Press to slightly flatten dough.
Sprinkle 2 Tbsp spiced sugar & a third of the fruit mixture over the dough. Fold dough over on itself & flatten again. Repeat the process two more times, ending by folding the dough in on itself. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. With floured hands, quickly roll the pieces into balls.
In a buttered, OVERSIZE loaf pan, place 6 rolls then top with remaining 6 rolls. Pipe whatever cross design you prefer on loaf. Cover & allow to rise for about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for 30-40 minutes. If the loaf is browning too fast, place a sheet of foil over it to prevent this.
Combine sugar & lemon juice. When loaf is baked, warm glaze for a few seconds in microwave then brush over loaf.
- If you do not have an oversized loaf pan, a bundt pan will work just fine.
The quintessential Mexican ‘Conchas’ are a type of sweet roll topped with a cookie crust, shaped for it’s namesake, a seashell. Though its precise origin is not known, all conchas are made from an enriched, yeasted dough similar to brioche or challah. What isn’t really clear, is the point at which a baker decided to cover a small round of sweet dough with a thin layer of cookie dough and then bake it.
Traditionally, the bread roll itself is not flavored, but the cookie dough topping has either a vanilla or chocolate flavor. This topping is an essential element on the sweet roll but the color or the way it is scored or decorated can be done in many different ways. Sometimes, brown or white sugar or even colorful sprinkles are dusted over the topping.
Conchas are sometimes split in half horizontally and filled with anything from whipped cream, custard or even refried beans. Some bakeries have been experimenting with new concha flavors. Cinnamon, walnut, agave nectar with golden raisins and pecan flavor are some that have been introduced.
It seems that conchas are at their best when eaten fresh which makes good sense being made from a yeast dough. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can create some of these little conchas with such a mysterious past.
Mexican Sweet Buns or 'Conchas'
In a dish, add yeast to lukewarm WATER & allow to sit for 5 minutes so yeast can activate. In a large bowl, whisk together lukewarm MILK, sugar, butter, salt & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine. Add flour, about a 1/3 at a time, combining after each addition. Once all the flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes. The dough should be elastic & slightly sticky but easy to handle.
Place dough in a large greased bowl & turn the dough over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
In a bowl, beat the sugar, margarine & vanilla together until light & fluffy. Stir in flour & mix until a thick dough forms. Add additional flour if needed. Divide dough into 3 or 4 even pieces & tint each with food color. If the dough becomes sticky from the food color, add more flour. Cover pieces with plastic wrap until ready to use.
When dough is ready, turn out on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces ( press dough into a 14 x 14-inch rectangle; with a sharp knife cut into 4 strips in each direction). Shape each dough piece into a ball by tucking the corners under ( don't roll between your palms, this will just deflate the dough & make it tough). Place dough buns on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Roll out the topping pieces on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or pastry ring. Use the pastry ring to score lines into the dough to resemble the ridges on a seashell (concha).
Transfer the scored topping dough rounds to the buns using an offset spatula. If the topping doesn't adhere naturally, use a pastry brush to apply a few dots of water on the underside before applying to the buns.
Allow the buns to rise for about 40 minutes. Before its time to bake, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake buns for 18-20 minutes or until they are just lightly browned on the bottom.
- The topping is made with margarine as it will yield a crunchy & flaky texture.