halva & roasted strawberry mille feuille

halva strawberry mille feuille
I got an idea stuck in my head a few months back, when my Instagram discovery feed exploded with posts about halva. Now I don’t remember searching for halva, since all I knew up to that point, was that I thought it was one of the items on a Haft Seen table, displayed at nowruz, the persian new year. While I cannot find definite proof that the dish, called samanu, I thought was halva, is actually a kind of halva, it didn’t exactly incite me to go and buy one of the many halva boxes on display at my local grocer. The samanu was a disturbing hue of brown and sickeningly sweet.

Back on my phone, instagramming it up, I was bombarded with all sorts of sweet goodness, making me salivate until I read the description – halva chocolate chip cookies, halva brownie, halva cheesecake. I was disconcerted. Nonetheless, halva started sprouting in my parietal part of the brain (the part responsible for, among other, the processing of taste information). You smart that way, Instagram, you very smart!

I went back to the grocer with an excuse to cultivate my already well cultivated spice drawer. I was slowly making my way to the aisle with the neon boxes. That’s how I knew I had arrived. Apparently halva needs to come with a display otherworldly, for it is not very high screaming in appearance, and, as I later found out, its texture rather.. blah. I chose a plain sesame based halva as opposed to the indian varieties on account that all these boxes didn’t let me peek into its interior. And samanu in mind, I didn’t want to open a box only to find the false promises of delicious sweets of my childhood.

roasted strawberries

The taste, when I finally got the courage to try it, was rather enjoyable. A grown up kind of sweet. A bit bitter as sesame can be, but with more depth that mellows into a sugary candy floss like quality. However, texture-wise, I was not sold. At first crumbly and dry, it then hardens and sticks to the roof of ones mouth. For now, I only have space in my life for one mouth-roof-hugger (peanut butter), so I knew I had to do something about that. I found it blends beautifully into a, well yes, peanut butter consistency. Which then mixes beautifully into whipped cream. I then started experimenting with what uses this halva cream could be utilized (a lot I would imagine), and tried a few designs that made the cream stand out rather bland. Until I realized that simple pleasures like whipped cream goes well with other simple pleasures like, say, puff pastry. Please do yourself the favor of making (deceivingly easy) homemade puff pastry. Not only is it pretty ego-boosting to hear people’s gasps when you tell them that, “yes of course I made it myself, don’t we all do that on lazy Sundays?”, but the flavor of a butter puff pastry is akin to very fresh and delicate caramel. Please don’t skimp on such a simple dessert where all elements are easily dissected. This recipe is great!

Finally, out of a feeling of guilt for shaming a central part of iranian culture, and quite possibly million of people’s taste buds, I decided to pair the halva with, what to me is essential persian, rose-water and the sweetest late-season strawberries. The result is this elegant summer indulgence.

halva strawberry mille feuille

HALVA & ROASTED STRAWBERRY MILLE FEUILLE

Makes 6
400g/14 oz strawberries, hulled
1 tbsp rose water
1 tsp vanilla paste
A quantity homemade puff pastry / 300g/10 oz all butter pastry
100g/3,5 oz plain halva
250ml/1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tbsp icing sugar + some for dusting

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
If necessary halve the larger strawberries, and keep the smaller ones intact. The important thing is to get an even size. In a large bowl, mix the rose-water and vanilla paste. Gently toss in the strawberries until everything is coated. Turn the strawberries onto the lined baking sheet, and arrange into one layer. Bake in the lowest part of the oven for 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through. The strawberries should be soft, but not total mush. Remove from oven. Cool completely. Keep the oven turned on. Drain

While the strawberries are roasting, roll out your puff pastry to a rectangle of 26x45cm. With a sharp knife cut into 5x13cm rectangles. That would make 18 rectangles for a total of 6 mille feuille. Prick pastry all over with a fork. Transfer the puff pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover the pastry with another layer of parchment paper. Put a baking sheet on top, to make sure the puff pastry doesn’t rise unevenly. Bake in the middle of the 200°C/400°F hot oven for 15 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper and bake for 5 minutes more, or until browned and crisp. Remove from oven and cool the puff pastry completely on a wire rack.

In a small food processor, process the halva until the consistency of peanut butter. About 2-3 minutes. In a bowl, whip the cream together with the icing sugar, until semi stiff peaks are formed. Gently fold in the halva. Streaks are fine. Keep cool.

To assemble: Lay out six puff pastries, pipe half the halva cream on these six. Arrange half the (somewhat well drained) strawberries on top. Top with a layer of puff pastry and repeat. Lay the third layer of puff pastry on top and dust with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Gin & Tonic Cheesecake

gin and tonic cheesecakeHere, the cherry blossom trees have peaked – full bloom is over and they are shedding their flowers, making for a flowery sweet and heady scent when stepped on. It kind of reminds me of spring, which of course it is. I know. It’s just oh so cold and gloomy some days. I am pardoned for this bickering, however; living in Denmark you have to complain no matter the weather. It’s a national pastime.

While I wait for the real spring (equivalent to 1 week of no weather-whining) to arrive I’m dreaming of swinging in a hammock, drinking G+T, reading ‘Peyton Place’. Which reminds me of Twin Peaks, which reminds me of the return of one of the most defining cultural impacts to me. So while we aaaaall wait for both spring and the return of Twin Peaks, I will urge you to make something sweet and grown up to feel in control. Of course, back looping back to the cherry blossom trees and ending in a David Lynchian universe, I should make a Cherry Pie. However depending on the weather, I have to wait a few months still. Damn you nordic atmosphere. So G+T it is. No complaining about that though.

This cheesecake is inspired by Gin and Tonic, with the flavor profiles to match: Ginger, Fennel, Lime, Juniper and the gin in its pure state. I have added blackberries which have a slight bitter and citrus-y taste which goes hand in hand with Gin and Tonic. Try adding frozen blackberries to your next G+T. Just saying.

Also if you do not secretly want to eat the ginger-fennel crust as a giant cookie, I don’t know what to believe anymoregin and tonic cheesecake


GIN & TONIC CHEESECAKE
Makes 1 25cm/10inch cheesecake

FOR THE CRUST
250g ginger biscuits
125g butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp ground fennel seeds

FOR THE CHEESE FILLING
½ tbsp whole juniper
250ml heavy cream
500g cream cheese
125g powdered sugar
Lime zest from 2 limes
4 sheets of gelatine (1,7-2g pr sheet)

FOR THE GIN GELÉE
8 sheets of gelatin (1,7-2g pr. sheet)
200ml water
200g caster sugar

Juice of 2 limes
100ml good quality gin

150g blackberries, sliced

INSTRUCTONS

FOR THE CRUST: Heat the oven to 175oC/350 Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of a 25cm/10inch cake tin with parchment paper. Finely crush or blend the biscuits. Mix in melted butter and ground fennel. Press the crust into the cake tin, making sure it is even. Bake in the oven for 12 min or until golden. Let cool completely.

FOR THE CHEESE FILLING: With the back of a knife or in a mortar, crush open the juniper berries. In a small pot over low-medium heat combine the heavy cream and juniper berries. Stir often. When the cream comes to a near boil remove from heat and let the mixture cool and the juniper berries infuse for 30-40 minutes. The cream will likely clump, that is fine. Strain and press out as much liquid from the juniper berries, as possible.

In a small bowl, completely cover the gelatin sheets with water. Let bloom for 10 minutes.

In the same small pot as before, combine the bloomed gelatin sheets (no need to squeeze out all the water) and the cream over low heat, until the gelatine is dissolved completely. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and lime zest. While still whisking, slowly, and in a thin stream, pour the slightly cooled cream-gelatine mixture into the cream cheese. When all is incorporated, pour the cheese filling into the cooled crust. Even it out if necessary. Cover with cling film and let the cheese cake set until firm in the refrigerator. A couple of hours.

FOR THE GIN GELÉE and FINAL ASSEMBLY : In a medium bowl, completely cover the gelatin sheets with water. Let bloom for 15 minutes. In a small pot over medium heat combine the water, sugar and lime. When the sugar has dissolved pour in the gin and remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the bloomed gelatin sheets until completely dissolved. Cool the gelée keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t set.

Arrange the sliced blackberries on the set cheesecake.

When the gelée has cooled and thickened, but is still pourable, pour carefully and slowly over the cheesecake. The blackberries will float, but will stay in the same pattern when taking care.

Cover with cling film and let the cake set until firm in the refrigerator.
Serve and enjoy.

Notes: • Here I have made an almost 1:1 ratio of cream cheese filling to gelée. For a less boozy version, simply half the gelée recipe. It will still be great. • I’m using grams because nothing else really makes sense when baking. Soooorrry 🙂 

 

Vanilla meringue with mango & lime curd

vanilla meringue mangoEver since New Years Eve, where I served this for dessert, I have been dreaming about meringue. In fact, every time I come by a bakery the meringues catch my eyes. Not the croissants, not the cream buns, not the danishes. No, the simple crispy meringue. Just waiting to be eaten as is, or crumbled on top of desserts. It’s a great excuse to eat sugar in its almost pure form. And a bit more grown-up than eating sticky pink candy floss (although yay for summer fun fairs).

Cravings shall not go unfed in my household. So, to make up for the grey, cloudy and cold rainy weather that is Denmark in February, I decided to make the sun come to me. In the form of tropical flavours. I paired the sweet crisp and chewy vanilla meringue with a tart mango and lime curd. For even more beachy dreamy feels, I sprinkled coconut and lime zest on top.

Meringue is actually really easy to make and not very intimidating, if you follow the directions. But please don’t be like me and use a hand blender with a whisk that is going to break in the middle of everything, splashing egg whites on the floor, your clothes, the walls, your eyes. Also it really hurts your hand when the metal wires snap. But then I learned that, and also that making meringue in the food processor is not worth it. At all. Please just use a good electric hand mixer.

vanilla meringue mango lime curd


VANILLA MERINGUE WITH MANGO & LIME CURD
Makes 6 servings

FOR THE MANGO & LIME CURD:
1 mango
120 g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) sugar
Juice of 2 limes
3 egg yolks (see notes) 
50 g (3,5 tbsp) cold butter, cubed
FOR THE VANILLA MERINGUE:
(very slightly adapted from here)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
170 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
½ tbsp cornstarch
4 egg whites
Juice of half a lemon

  1. FOR THE MANGO & LIME CURD: Peel and cut the mango into cubes. Puree in a blender. Strain the puree through a fine meshed sieve.
  2. In a small saucepan combine sugar, lime juice and egg yolks. Heat it up on the stove at low-medium heat, while whisking gently. Don’t let it come to a boil. When it starts to thicken a little, add in the mango puree and butter cubes.
  3. Continue whisking until everything is combined and the butter has melted. The curd should start to thicken. Keep on heat, while still whisking, until it comes to a boil. Let it boil for 20 seconds. Remove from heat. It should have a consistency of slightly thinner crème pâtissière. While it cools it will thicken even more.
  4. Let cool completely.
  5. FOR THE VANILLA MERINGUE: Heat the oven to 125°C (255 Fahrenheit).
  6. In a small bowl mix together the vanilla and vinegar.
  7. In another bowl combine the sugar and cornstarch.
  8. Combine the egg whites and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. With an electric hand mixer, whisk until the mixture holds soft peaks.
  9. Slowly, while whisking, add in the sugar/cornstarch mix, 1 tablespoon at a time, increasing the speed to maximum at the end. 
  10. Whisk until the mixture is glossy and makes stiff peaks.
  11. Add in the vanilla and vinegar and whisk until combined, a few seconds.
  12. On a baking tray lined with parchment paper, divide the meringue and form into 6 circles with a spoon, working quickly so as to not disturb the mixture.
  13. Bake in the oven for approx. 60 minutes. They are done when they are a little cracked, slightly brown and hollow when tapped.
  14. Cool completely.
  15. TO SERVE: With the back of a spoon, carefully make an indentation in the meringue, spoon over the mango & lime curd, sprinkle with coconut and lime zest. Voila!

Notes: • Both the meringue and mango & lime curd can be made in advance – up to several days. Store the curd in the refrigerator and the meringues in an airtight container. • The recipe for the mango & lime curd will make more than you need for this recipe, but is delicious on toast, on ice cream and just eaten with a spoon. • Use whole eggs; you will need three yolks for the mango & lime curd, save the egg whites for the meringues.

COFFEE, CARDAMOM & ORANGE BLOSSOM ICE CREAM

Please don’t kid yourself. Ice cream is an excellent choice in the wintertime. It really always is a good idea. 

This recipe came about one morning when I was drinking heaps of much needed coffee. After several cups and due to time progressing, my consumption dwindled and the coffee became cold. That didn’t stop me from downing the last little sip (yup, I knew it was going to be cold and yup I knew I was going to wince) and that’s when I noticed that this particular coffee had a hint of cardamom to it, that I hadn’t noticed when my mouth got scolded for trying to wake up my body faster than possible. My analytical gene couldn’t let that be a moment of only curious joy – I had to research. 

Sadly for me (but not for the birth of this recipe) I didn’t really need to research, seeing that owning this book makes knowledge about flavour matching a breeze. According to the book the Bedouin way to prepare coffee is to grind coffee beans and cardamom together – even adding in a bit of orange blossom water. I could get down with that. But I would much rather drink my coffee traditionally black and instead have an ice cream for dessert. The result is this well rounded, kind of grown up, delicate dessert that would be lovely served after a simple meal.

The recipe is completely hassle-free as it is a parfait-style ice cream, needing no attention once put in the freezer. Just remember to attend to your enjoyment when eating.


COFFEE, CARDAMOM & ORANGE BLOSSOM ICE CREAM

1/2 strongly brewed coffee, hot
7 cardamom pods
1-2 tablespoon orange blossom water

4 egg yolks
70 g powdered sugar
2,5 cups heavy cream

DIRECTIONS

  • Start by crushing the cardamom pods with the side of a knife. Put into the hot coffee and let infuse for at least 1 hour. Strain.
  • In a bowl whisk together egg yolks and powdered sugar until light and airy – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the (now cold) cardamom-infused coffee and the orange blossom water to the yolk mixture and stir to mix completely.
  • In a large bowl whip the heavy cream to just before stiff peaks.
  • Take a couple of spoons of the whipped cream and carefully fold it into the yolk mixture.
  • Then carefully fold the yolk mixture (now with a bit of whipped cream) into the rest of the whipped cream until just incorporated.
  • Pour mixture into a container and freeze for several hours or overnight until frozen.

Remember to thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Pears poached in rose water and elderflower vinegar

I am not really a dessert kind of person (I will contradict this statement throughout the course of this blog – many times) seeing that I will choose fat and salt over sugar any day. Another reason is my fear of unexpected things; despite my background in chemistry and biological processes I do not enjoy making a fancy dessert just to find out, just as I am about to serve, that somewhere along the process I made a crucial mistake by whisking X amount of minutes instead of Y amount which leads to the complete deflation of said dessert. 
That being said, I am not immune to the lure of a delicious dish of sugary comfort. SO what I will most likely do is make desserts that are more like cooking and that lets me check in along the way. As with these poached pears.

Poached pears are such an easy dessert and it will garner awe that far exceeds the time and effort spend. I wanted these poached pears to chime in with the increase in temperature and feel of spring approaching, so the poaching liquid is made from flowery and perfumery rosewater and also an elderflower vinegar for acidity. Ginger is added for a kick and a fat fat fat vanilla pod (I used Madagascar bourbon) to bring it all together.

I finish it all off with a spoonful of whipped cream and Greek yoghurt, and then pour over the reduced poaching liquid.

Although this recipe is 2 servings you can easily double the recipe by doubling the amount of pears, but only increase the poaching liquid by 25-50% as this recipe makes a lot in itself – and the pears need not be fully emerged in the liquid.


PEARS POACHED IN ROSE WATER AND ELDERFLOWER VINEGAR
makes 2 servings

1 (½ inch) piece of ginger
1 vanilla pod, divided (see directions)
1/4 cup elderflower vinegar
1 tablespoon rose water
½ cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 big, ripe but firm, pears
A little lemon juice
2 tablespoons whipped cream
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt

DIRECTIONS

  • Peel and chop the ginger in small cubes.
  • Halve the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out seeds, reserving half the seeds for the whipped cream/yoghurt topping. DO NOT discard the pod.
  • Combine ginger, vanilla seeds + pod, elderflower vinegar, rose water, water and sugar in a small saucepan – bring to a boil on high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 9-10 minutes until the simmering bubbles are a bit thicker than they were in the beginning, but still being fairly watery.
  • Meanwhile, peel the pears, quarter them and remove seeds and stalk. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them to prevent them from browning.
  • When the poaching liquid has been simmering for 9-10 minutes, add in the pears and let simmer for 15 minutes. You can turn over the pears after 7 minutes, but I didn’t find it necessary.
  • Make the topping while the pears simmer: mix whipping cream and yoghurt together with the reserved vanilla seeds.
  • Check that the pears are done – they should be soft and easy to break with a spoon, but not mushy. Divide the pears on two plates to cool off. Put the saucepan back over high heat to reduce the poaching liquid: 5-10 minutes, depending on the desired consistency. I did 5 minutes, which made it pretty runny still. Strain.
  • To the plated pears add a big dollop of cream/yoghurt, then spoon over the strained poaching liquid and serve.