quinta-feira, 12 de fevereiro de 2009

Happy 200 birthday Mr Charles

Today, February 12 is the birthday of this sad looking guy on the picture above. If alive Charles Darwin would be 200 years old today. Darwin's most important book The Origin of Species will celebrate 150 years old in November.

This man made an excellent impression on me since I was a school girl, as I liked sciences and specially biology. After I wastched a documentary about life and I learned about his family dramas that I really understood the dilemmas that guided him.

Charles Darwin is a scientist from a completely different scientific universe, without sophisticated laboratories and machines, from a time when research was the product of long and patient observation of nature and animals.

For five years (1831-1836) Darwin made his fundamental trip around half of the world on the ship Beagle and visited many places in Brazil including Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. The passage of Darwin in Brazil has been largely investigated and some new publications were due in 2009.

The NYT editorial today reminds us that "What Darwin proposed was not a set of immutable mathematical formulas. It was a theory of biological history that was itself set in history. That the details have changed does not invalidate his accomplishment. If anything, it enhances it. His writings were not intended to be scriptural. They were meant to be tested" (NYT,12/02/2009).

I could write about Darwin until tomorrow but I have a scientific investigation to conclude in my kitchen as five hours ago I started te stirring process of a home made doce de leite (milk jam, dulce de leche or confiture du lait). This doce is taking a lot more efforts than I could have imagine but I am pretty sure the final product will definitely justify the long effort. The dessert is not ready to be published but it will be available as soon as it is.

It is my way to celebrate Darwin's 200th and to demonstrate how proud I am to belong to the same species as Charles Darwin.

segunda-feira, 9 de fevereiro de 2009

This mother's wish: Plum cake

I was circulating and I saw this beautiful cake. I was surprise to see that the recipe was identical to a 'cuca' my mother used to bake back home. My mother's 'cuca' was mostly baked with bananas and apples. As I had some beautiful and sweet South African plums I decided to give them a try and used my mother recipe to clone the beautiful cake.

'Cuca' are fruit cakes typical of South Brazil and my mother's recipe is a very easy version of 'cuca'.

Plum 'cuca'

6 ripe plums vertically sliced
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons melted butter or if you prefer you can use sunflower oil
1 cup of boiling water


Heat oven at 180C/325F. Butter a small square cake pan. Beat eggs with sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat a little more. Mix flour and baking powder. Add one cup of flour mixture and mix well to incorporate. Add melted butter and mix well to incorporate. Add second cup flour mixture and keep mixing until all is well incorporated. Finally add boiling water carefully and slowly. Mixing to feel the batter. You want a not so liquide batter so eventually you won't need to use the whole cup of water. Transfer dough to buttered pan.

Distribute plum slices on the batter and bake it for 25 to 30 minutes at a 180C/325F.

Makes 12 to 16 squares

Obs. I was influenced by the beautiful looks of this cake and didn't used as many plums as I should. The final result was demanding more plums.

terça-feira, 3 de fevereiro de 2009

Warmth for a cold Monday: pear, banana and chocolate flognarde

Mondays are drag and I must agree with that cat.

February Mondays in Norway can be the draggiest among the draggiest Mondays. I have mentioned sometimes before how high winter really starts in February and how cold these days can be. Yesterday the beautiful sunny winter day was filled with a cloth of cold air and I needed to find some warmth inside to lift my mood, to cheer me up and nothing can give more joy in winter than a warm dessert.

My first plan was a chocolate petit gateau, a dense chocolate cake to be eaten warm followed by a cup of strong coffee. Then I noticed that I had some extra-ripe fruits in the fruit basket that needed to be eaten immediately to avoid giving them a sad end on the next day. I decided to make flognardes to include the ripe fruits in my dessert.

Flognarde is exactly like clafouti except that while clafoutis are made out of cherries only flognardes can be made with all the other fruits. Both are desserts from the French region Limosin.

Pear, banana and chocolate flognarde

I have published another recipe for chocolate flognarde here

2 ripe pears (I used Conference)
2 ripe bananas
6 tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
100 grams semisweet chocolate at least 57% cocoa solids
1/2 cup (120ml) milk at room temperature
1/2 cup (120ml) sour cream, heavy cream or single cream at room temperature
4 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix 1 tablespoon of cocoa with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Butter four ramekins and sprinkle the mixture of chocolate and sugar on the butter layer and set aside.

Melt butter with the chocolate in a double boiler or bain marie and set it aside. Mix milk and cream until well incorporated and homogeneous. Beat eggs with 5 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Add cream mixture to egg mixture and mix well. Add corn starch to the mixture and mix to incorporate. Finally add the chocolate and mix well to incorporate it completely to the mixture. Batter will be very liquide.

Peel the fruits, cut them in small pieces and divide among the ramekins. Divide the batter among the ramekins and bake at 180C/325F for 40 minutes or until golden.

Sprinkle some confectioners sugar on topo to decorate.
Tastes better served warm.

segunda-feira, 2 de fevereiro de 2009

Vanilla cream with passion fruit jelly to cheer me up

I am quite impressed by the way I have been using food as a way to cheer me up. Maybe I should give more attention to what Chicó(*) have to say and buy a Canary instead of think about food all day long. As part of my food obsession, yesterday I made this passion fruit jelly with vanilla cream. Passion fruits do have the color of the feathers of the Canary and they really cheered me up.

It is probably a little bit unfair to write such thing, but I must complain about the Asian passion fruits. They are very different from the Brazilian passion fruits (of course they are, how couldn't they be? Nothing compares to Brazilian passion fruits). Brazil is the largest producer of passion fruits in the world but the passion fruit available here in Norway come from Malaysia and is, according to me, almost tasteless. The skin is dark red and inside they are light yellow. The taste is very sweet but too mild, almost insignificant, completely different from the strong taste of the Brazilian passion fruits which have a light yellow skin and the pulp is dark yellow, almost orange. The perfume is strong too and the flavor is as much acidic as it is sweet.

I have heard somewhere that the Brazilian passion fruit belongs to the so called 'Panamá' family which bear different characteristics. The Malaysian passion fruit is also very small and one single fruit does not allow much, you have to buy at least half a dozen of them to make a dessert. Even if they are small and almost tasteless, these passion fruits are very beautiful I must say. The dark red skin and the yellow pulp make a beautiful fruit which is definitely attractive to the eye. The skin of the passion fruit was also in its perfect ripeness as the music produced by the skin was simply amazing. I have always loved to here the music of the passion fruit skin, have you noticed it?

Vanilla cream with passion fruit jelly is the alternative I found to substitute the passion fruit mousse tart I was dreaming about. These little passion fruits are just too mild for the tart. The last time I made a tart with these red passion fruits it not only looked very pale but tasted like eggs which was pretty frustrating. As the flavor is very mild I made the jelly with very little water and little sugar as a way to keep the flavor of the passion fruit.

Vanilla cream with passion fruit jelly

For the passion fruit jelly:

4 small red passion fruits or 1-2 yellow Brazilian passion fruits
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tea spoon gelatin
8 tablespoons cold water

Since this dessert has two layers of gelatin, one on the bottom and the other one on top, you have to divide the ingredients and prepare the layers separately.

First sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of gelatin in two tablespoons of water and let it stand. Meanwhile in a small saucepan over low heat mix half of the fruit pulp with two tablespoons of water and one tablespoon of sugar and let it boil. Remove it from heat and let it cool for a minute. Add the gelatin mixing well. Take the mixture back to low heat and mix well until gelatin is incorporated and totally melted, just before boil. Remove pan from heat and let mixture cool for a minute before dividing in the ramekins or glasses to make the bottom layer. Let it cool and refrigerate.

When the vanilla cream is ready and refrigerated you can prepare the top layer of the gelatin exactly the same way you prepared the bottom layer using the second half of the ingredients.

Obs. I like to eat the black seeds of the passion fruits in this dessert but if you prefer you can make it without the seeds, just drain the pulp with the water before transferring it to the saucepan. You must press the pulp with a metal spoon a little to release the pulp from the seeds because they are entwined.

For the vanilla cream:

400 ml cream or heavy cream
80 to 100 grams of sugar (the amount of sugar depends on your preference)
2 teaspoons gelatin powder
Scraps of half vanilla bean (only scrap one side of the opened bean)

Let the melt gelatin in half cup of cold water. Meanwhile in a small saucepan over medium-low heat bring the cream, sugar and vanilla scraps to a boil stirring it all the time. When the mixture is boiling remove it from heat and let it cool for a minute. Add the melted gelatin to the cream mixture and mix it well to incorporate the gelatin to the cream. Return cream to heat and let it cook until gelatin is completely melted just before it boils again (**).

Take cream mixture from heat, drain to remove any solids and divide the cream among the four ramekins, over the layer of passion fruit jelly. Let them cool for 10 minutes before transferring to refrigerator.

Prepare the second layer of passion fruit jelly when the vanilla cream slightly hard and cold. After adding the second layer of gelatin let the ramekins refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

(*) Chicó is a character from the play Auto da Compadecida by Brazilian playwright Ariano Suassuna.

(**) The scraped vanilla seeds tend to stick together in the pan forming some lumps of vanilla. You have to press these little vanilla lumps with a wooden spoon to release them from each while stirring the cream mixture.

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