It’s hard to believe my year abroad is over, but I’m so excited to be back in my own kitchen with all my toys, an oven I understand, and familiar ingredients readily available.
For my first baking adventure now that I’m home, I went decidedly simple but not very Christmas-y. It will be gone by then anyway! 🙂
Chocolate Chip Cake
A while back, I introduced a local cake made from nut flour, the basbousa. I’ve become so addicted that baking one has pretty much become my Friday morning ritual…after a double espresso, that is. It’s so easy to throw together, though, you could even start before that first cup is brewed.
This basbousa is a little more rustic than the traditional version. Instead of adorning the pieces with neatly placed whole almonds, I opted for the less fussy scattering of coarsely chopped pieces, guaranteeing the crunch and amazing flavor of toasted almonds in each bite.
Pour another espresso, plate up a couple of pieces of warm basbousa and some fruit, and open up that newspaper. It’s the weekend; start your own tradition!!!
Pistachio Cardamom Rose Basbousa
Almonds get all the attention, but I’ve always been partial to walnuts. The halves look like little brains, and I kind of like that they aren’t sweet. Of course they taste good with chocolate (brownies and fudge anyone?), but add coffee and the faintest hint of cinnamon and we’re talking near perfection.
You’ll be surprised how light and tender the crumb of this cake is – delicate as the flavors themselves. You could easily go the healthy route (skip the mocha frosting) and serve it for breakfast or for tea, but then it would just be coffee walnut cake, and you would miss out on the chocolate and the affinity that these flavors have for each other. Besides, who am I kidding? Frosting has rarely stopped anyone from eating cake for breakfast.
Mocha Walnut Cake
Each weekend, I try to get out and explore another facet of this small country. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a boozy brunch now and then, too, but if that’s all I did with my weekends, no amount of working out could keep the weight off. More importantly, I’d have squandered an opportunity to experience the culture and history of a place I’d lived in for a full year.
One of those adventures also led me to a tasty discovery, basbousa. Normally made with semolina, the woman running the museum cafe assured me that their version was gluten, dairy, and egg free. It was so moist, tender, and sweet without being cloyingly so. Sadly for me, the fact that yogurt is dairy got lost in translation.
Unfortunate reaction aside, the dessert did lead to another delicious experiment with nut flours — this time pistachios — inspired by a flavor combination borrowed from an Eid favorite, gulab jamun — cardamom and rose. The result, Pistachio Cardamom Rose Basbousa, isn’t authentic Arabic, but to me, it captures the spirit of this island and the cultural melting pot that it has become over thousands of years.
Here’s the challenge: the recipe has you cut the basbousa before drizzling it with the rose syrup to make cutting/serving easier. It also means that, in mere minutes, once the basbousa has cooled, practically nothing is left to slow your consumption except will power and good friends. Okay, at least you might feel a bit more cultured than you would after a boozy brunch…
I don’t remember eating dessert in Spain. It’s not that there aren’t any desserts, but usually, I was so full and it was so late at night, that if I had room left, I tended to ask for fruit, like oranges with cinnamon and honey. This tart fuses those flavors. Bright, citrussy, and not too sweet, it is the perfect finish to a sunny day.
Valencia Orange Tart
I’ve been living in the mideast for a month now, and I’m slowly starting to get my bearings in the kitchen. I’ve been able to find gluten free food pretty darn easily, but dairy free and egg free has been a nightmare, especially when I’ve got a craving for sweets. No problem. I’ll just bake. …Except, I’ve been to nearly every decent sized market within 25km of the capital, and I can’t find xanthan gum or guar gum to save my (baked goods’) life. And for some reason, the fact that I haven’t been able to bake (edible, non-disintegrating) cookies has made me miss my loved ones even more than usual.
I could just order xanthan gum online or have my parents ship some, but I need to bake now. My first attempts at baking without xanthan gum were tasty but otherwise disasters. I’m still trying substitutes like chia, but I need a lot more practice…and patience.
Then last night I remembered that peanut butter cookies don’t need flour, and if they don’t need gluten in the first place, then I wouldn’t need a substitute. And, since I’ve found peanut butter (and sugar) in every country I’ve ever been in, I may have just found a connection back home, regardless of where my oven is.
Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Cookies
BTW, these make awesome sandwich cookies. Try layering them with strawberry jam or chocolate spread just before serving.
It seems I’m on a bit of a breakfast kick lately. One thing I’ve noticed this last couple of months traveling is that no matter how nice the hotel, they generally don’t have many, if any, options for someone like me. If you have time, you could try to find a non-hotel restaurant open for breakfast, but good luck finding one with options that are gluten free and dairy free and egg free. How am I supposed to fuel up for a busy day on a cup of coffee, glass of OJ, a banana, and if I’m lucky, a rasher of bacon or a sausage link? Finding a tofu scramble on the menu in Philly was a huge win, but it was out of the way and I had to hunt for it.
I guess it bugs me, because I’ve learned how easy it can be to make breakfasts pastries that don’t contain all those off-limits ingredients. So easy, that today we’re taking the humble blueberry muffin up a notch. Ladies and gentleman, may I present the Blueberry Doughnut with Almond Crunch Streusel.
…But only when it comes to my plate.
Generally, I avoid most breakfast pastries. If they don’t have gluten, someone has inevitably snuck in an egg or two for leavening or butter for flakiness.
The freezer aisle options aren’t bad, but I want a real waffle – crisp on the outside and light and airy on the inside, with indentations deep enough for my blueberries to play hide and seek in. Aren’t you worth the extra ten minutes?