Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wild Things Cupcakes or Happy Birthday Vika!

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Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting I am so excited to finally being able to blog about the cupcakes that made my little girl’s birthday extra special.
Creating something new for my children every year on their birthday is not just fun for them but also an enjoyable challenge for me. Every year when they present me with a request (like a Sonic the Hedgehog or Hello Kitty cake) I am never sure if I can pull it off but after a little bit of research and trial and error I seem to end up with something we all love.

This year was no different except that Vika couldn’t settle on ONE cake  she wanted. I also lacked the inspiration and skill to deliver on her requests until I stumbled upon something very special by Sweetapolita who is my number one stop for anything cake and confection related. Vika is a huge animal lover and has a really soft spot for puppies so when I saw these hand stamped cupcakes by Rosie of Sweetapolita I knew exactly what I needed. Rubber stamps! The great thing about these cupcakes is that depending on a stamp you can create a great variety of cupcakes toppers. You never have to repeat yourself.Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Fondant Medallions
I was delighted with how they turned out. All my hard work paid off when I saw the excitement and joy in my daughter’s eyes! These cupcakes were just perfect for a little girl’s birthday party as the cake toppers themselves evoked images of a child’s drawings. Don’t you think? And the tea towel that served as a back drop was made using the “self-portraits” of  the children in Vika’s class! Here is one done by Vika.:-)

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Fondant Medallions

You can use any cake recipe and any frosting recipe but you do need fondant, never used rubber stamps, paste food colours and a small brush to make these. Here is what I did.

A day (or a week ahead) ahead:

Roll out fondant as thin as you can on an icing sugar dusted surface and cut out medallions to fit the diameter of your cupcakes. Make sure you dust your surface well with icing sugar as fondant tends to be pretty sticky. Lay them out and dry overnight. I live in England where it’s often rainy so I really struggled to get my toppers very dry, and at one point I had a humidifier going for a while to draw all the moisture out!

As soon as your fondant toppers are dry you can stamp them. I used paste food colour (Dusky Pink by Sugarflair) with just a drop of water in it, then I painted each stamp with a small paint brush and stamped the toppers. Rosie of Sweetapolita made a great tutorial on her website if you would like more details. If you have ever used a rubber stamp before you can quickly master this technique.

Ingredients for the cupcakes {Makes 24}:

  • Cake Flour- 2 1/2 cups/275 gr
  • Baking powder- 1tbsp.
  • Salt- 1/2 tsp.
  • Kefir or Buttermilk (I used Kefir)- 1 cup
  • Eggs-1 large at room temperature
  • Egg whites- 2 large at rooms temperature
  • Vanilla Bean (seeds scraped out)- 1
  • Sugar- 1 1/2 cups
  • Butter- 8 tbsp/115 gr at room temperature

Note: Recipe adapted from Sweetapolita

The wild things cupcakesThe Wild Things Cupcakes

Method:

Preheat oven to 325 F/160 C. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, in a separate bowl mix together the egg, egg whites, kefir or buttermilk and vanilla seeds.

In a large bowl whip together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. To the bowl with butter mixture add flour mixture and egg mixture in 2 or 3 additions alternating them, starting with the flour mixture and finishing with the flour mixture.

Fill your 2 lined muffin tins with cupcake batter about 2/3 full and bake for 15-17 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

Ingredients for Frosting:

  • Mascarpone (chilled)- 8 oz/250 gr
  • Cream Cheese(chilled)- 8 oz/250 gr
  • Butter(at room temperature)- 1/2 cup/125 gr
  • Icing sugar- 1 1/2 cups
  • Vanilla- 2 tsp.
  • Paste food colour (Dusky Pink by Sugarflair)

Method: 

Combine mascarpone, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, sugar and food colouring if using in a food processor and pulse just until smooth and creamy. Do not overprocess. It’s important that your mascarpone and cream cheese are cold from the fridge and butter is at room temperature, this way you will have nice and stiff frosting that is easy to pipe. (This frosting could also be made using a hand mixer or a stand mixer.)

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Fondant Medallions

Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes using a star tip and place your stamped medallions on top.

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Fondant Medallions

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Fondant Medallions

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One Week-End Morning

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It’s Friday night and I am beyond excited. I can’t wait till tomorrow because Saturday morning lazy breakfasts with my favourite man and my two little ones is one of my most beloved times.
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Ah…pure bliss.
If you are looking for inspiration for a weekend breakfast look no further. I’ve got you covered- Syrniki Russian Sweet Cheese Fritters, Russian Crêpes Blini , Best Blueberry Muffins or a simple but tasty breakfast sandwich.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey

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"Tvorog" Cheesecake
My dear friends, I’ve been holding out on you and for that I am sorry. I made the most delicious cheesecake this past Easter but just posting the recipe today. The good news is that cheesecake is not seasonal, it’s welcome for any occasion. The recipe for this culinary delight was a bit of a gamble-part tradition/part speculation and experiment but the result was nothing short of divine.

As I wrote in one of my previous posts Easter is one of the biggest holidays in Russia and I wanted to keep the traditions alive in my own family. The least I could do was to cook all the Easter treats. Paskha, Kulich and Coloured Easter Eggs are the three musts for every Russian household. Check out the links to Paskha and Kulich from my talented fellow bloggers, the treats are as delicious as they are beautiful!

I coloured eggs with my children this year but ended up buying Kulich or something similar from a Polish shop nearby instead of making my own. I really wanted to make a sweet cheese Paskha but I didn’t have a proper mould so I opted out for a modern day Paskha. Paskha with a twist.

Traditionally Paskha is made from a farmer’s cheese called “Tvorog” in Russian, eggs, sugar, vanilla and dried fruit and candied orange and lemon peel.  I thought it would be fun to try to use the same ingredients but make it into a cheesecake instead. Russian Cheesecake is called “Zapekanka” which translates as “Baked”, it doesn’t have a bottom crust and the cheese is often held together by eggs and semolina. I have vague and not the fondest memories of ‘Zapekanka’, something that was served for school lunches- heavier on semolina rather than cheese yellowish squares with burned top. It tasted far from stellar, so I successfully avoided eating it whenever possible. Needless to say, I set out to create different memories for my children.

My efforts were worthwhile because what they got as a result of my experiment tasted lighter than a cloud and looked… Actually, a picture is worth a thousand words so judge it for yourself!

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey
The recipe for this beauty is not too different from a standard cheesecake recipe but includes a couple of Russian twists.
Ingredients:

  • Farmers’s Cheese- 750 gr/24 oz
  • Eggs- 3 large
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Semolina-3 tbsp.
  • Lemon zest- from 1 lemon
  • Vanilla Bean seeds- from 1 bean
  • Digestive biscuits crushed( you can use graham crackers, unfortunately they are not available in England)-125 gr
  • Butter- 1/4 cup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 325 F/160 C

Zest the lemon and set aside…or take a picture like I did.

Lemon Crush the biscuits (I equipped my children with a rolling pin and a large bowl and told them to “go nuts” on those biscuits, they happily obliged.) then mix the crumbs with melted butter. Line the bottom of a 21″ springform pan with the crumbs and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, set aside and cool.

Separate your egg yolks from the egg whites. Mix together farmer’s cheese, egg yolks, sugar, semolina, lemon zest and vanilla bean seeds with an electric mixer until well blended. In a separate bowl whip egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold them into the cheese mixture.

Pour the mixture into your springform pan and set it inside a larger roasting pan filled with 1″ water. This technique called “bain marie” helps to evenly distribute heat when cooking delicate foods like cheesecakes and custards. I find it produces much lighter texture in cheesecakes as it infuses them with additional moisture which also helps with preventing cracks.

Bake at 320 F/160C  for 60-65 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the centre is nearly set. Turn the heat off and leave in the oven for additional 20-30 minutes. If your cheesecake still cracks, don’t worry and cover it up with something pretty! Cool completely in the refrigerator.

I used fresh figs instead of dried fruits that are traditionally used in Easter Paskha and drizzled them with a touch of  dark and deep flavoured chestnut honey I brought from my last trip to Italy. An experiment that turned out to be a true winner. I couldn’t be happier with the end result. 🙂

Lemon Vanilla Cheesecake with Figs and Honey

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey

Beet and Quinoa Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese

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Spring blooms
My children are off school for a spring holiday, only spring itself was here merely in theory or that was the case until two days ago. We were completely overwhelmed by cold, grey and windy days and then suddenly the sun appeared and made everything bright and lively bringing along little green buds and beautiful pink blooms. And although spring is still quite shy and only stays around in short spurts we are hopeful and ready to embrace longer days, brighter clothes and lighter meals.

A little while ago I made Quinoa and Puy Lentil Salad and it was quite popular with my family and my readers. I love adding quinoa, bulgur or couscous to my greens when making salads as they make light things a bit more substantial and satisfying without compromising the health benefits. As I had mentioned in that salad post I usually cook more quinoa and lentils than one recipe requires and use the extras throughout the week in various incarnations. Beet and Quinoa Salad is another tasty way to combine quite a few nutritious ingredients together and end up with a little number that is pure joy to look at and even more to eat.Beet and Quinoa Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese

Ingredients:

  • Quinoa (cooked according to package directions)- 1 cup
  • Lentils or Chick Peas (cooked)- 1/2 cup
  • Beets (cooked and grated)- 1 large or 2 small
  • Radishes (sliced)- 5-6
  • Rocket/Arugula- 2 cups
  • Creamy Goat Cheese- 2 tbsp.
  • Balsamic Vinegar-1 tbsp.
  • Olive Oil- 1/4 cup
  • Lemon -1/2
  • Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley- 2 tbsp.
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Combine quinoa, lentils or chick peas, grated beets and sliced radishes and set aside. If you are not a regular beet eater let me assure you they are very easy to cook. Just boil them like you would regular potatoes until are easily pierced with a knife. Life is even easier for the UK readers as packs of cooked and vacuum packed beetroot are readily available in any supermarket. I would steer clear of the canned beets. They are pretty horrid and lacking in the nutrition department for sure!

Make your vinaigrette dressing by mixing together balsamic vinegar, juice of 1/2 lemon and chopped up parsley, then slowly pour in olive oil in a thin and steady stream while whisking the entire time. You can use an immersion blender or food processor if you like your vinaigrette to be very smooth but a regular whisk will also do the trick.

Dress your salad with vinaigrette until evenly coated, taste it and add salt if needed, toss with rocket/arugula and goat cheese. Allow 15 minutes in the fridge before serving for the flavours to meld.

Quick, easy and tasty! Just what I like for this spring season.

Beet and Quinoa Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese

Beet and Quinoa Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese

Kefir Blini or Russian Crêpes (Take II)

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Kefir Crepes
Another post on Blini? Haven’t I just written about them a couple of weeks ago? True, all true, however since then I found the magic ingredient that my mum always used in her blini and I couldn’t resist giving the crepes another try.

Kefir. What a wonderful thing you are and how have I lived all these years without you?! Are you scratching your head at my odd ode to this unknown kefir yet? I know my husband was utterly surprised when I brought a couple of bottles home from a newly opened Polish shop in my neighbourhood and stuck them in his face with a gleam of victory in my eyes. No, it’s not a type of vodka, it’s not alcoholic at all! Kefir is a dairy drink which is a cross between milk and yogurt in consistency but comes from kefir grains that is very popular in Russia and as I learned also in the rest of Eastern and even Northern Europe. It’s very healthy and believed to regulate people’s digestive system, much like yogurt only better ;-).

Health benefits aside it’s really tasty, especially if you grew up drinking it. Russians cook with kefir a lot, it’s great for baking because it has a natural raising agent. No wonder I was so impatient to make blini again. Here is my recipe.

Ingredients: {Makes 10  9″/23 cm crepes}

  • Flour – 2 cups
  • Kefir- 3 cups
  • Water-1 cup
  • Eggs-2
  • Sugar- 3 tbsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1 tsp.
  • Oil- 3 tbsp.

Method:

(I added oil to this recipe to increase elasticity)

In a mixing bowl mix eggs, flour, 1 cup of kefir, baking soda, sugar, salt and oil with a whisk. When the mixture is smooth and has no lumps add remaining kefir and water. The consistency should be the same as of heavy cream.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes. You should see small bubbles on the surface of your batter. Preheat your non-stick frying pan on medium heat and grease it with an odourless oil. ( I usually put some oil on a paper towel and rub the frying pan with it to ensure even coating, I re-aply oil before frying each crepe.) With a ladle or a measuring cup pour 3/4 cup of batter in the pan and tilt the pan slightly so batter runs to the edges forming a thin and round crepe. Cook it until batter looks dry, then flip with a spatula and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove to a platter. Repeat with the next crepe and continue cooking until the batter is used. Stack the blini on top of each other. In Russia cooks usually brush each crepe with melted butter but I find it a bit too excessive.

Kefir wasn’t the only treasure I found in the Polish shop, I also came away with Cherry Compote and yummy sour cream.

Cherry Compote and Sour Cream

Traditionally Blini are served with sour cream, jam, honey and tea and kids drink compote. (Compote, in our definition, is slightly different from the trendy foodie version. It’s a homemade fruit drink. Extremely delicious and flavourful.)

Russian Crepes "Blini"
Russian Crepes Blini
After taking pictures for a while I just had to take a bite! YUMMMM!

Kefir Crepes

If you are looking for ideas for crepes add-ons, check out my other Blini post.

{Note: If kefir is not available feel free to use buttermilk, the result is also delicious.}

Easter Eggs and Our Traditions

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Easter EggsEaster Eggs
Every Easter I am taken back to my childhood in Russia where the holiday is steeped in century-old traditions and memories. The holiday so loved and revered by people that even Communism wasn’t able to erase it from the nations’ psyche. It seems like the early childhood memories are the strongest and what I remember is my babushka starting to collect onion peels in a plastic shopping bag weeks before the arrival of Easter, so there would be enough to colour dozens of eggs. How could we possibly eat them all? We didn’t! With the rise of the dawn on Easter Sunday we would start hearing little knocks on our front door and my granny with a big bowl of beautifully coloured eggs at the ready opening the door to hear cheerful choir of the neighbourhood children, “Christ is risen!” to which she would reply with no fail, “Risen Indeed!” and give them each an egg. That went on for hours. That is one of the Easter traditions that carried on through centuries and was carefully preserved during the tough years when Christ was not welcome anywhere in the country. I still don’t understand how it was possible but one thing I do know there was not one family that didn’t celebrate Easter in one way or another. Miracle.
Having moved away from Russia many years ago I’ve lost many traditions but I was not about to lose the joy and anticipation of Easter by not colouring eggs with my own children! We colour eggs each Easter to remind us of what Christ has done, paving the way to new life, new birth and new beginning.
Easter eggs
Easter Eggs
The design on the eggs I have here is so beautiful yet so simple to achieve and what is even better is completely natural, no chemicals involved! Here is what you will need:

  • Onion peels(red or yellow) from about 10 onions
  • White Eggs
  • Any leaves you like e.g. rose leaves, parsley, dill, anything interesting you can find in your back yard!
  • Salt -1 tsp.
  • Pantyhose
  • Thread

Take the onion peels and put them in a pot. The next step is quite simple but a teensy bit fiddly. Place a leaf of your choice on the egg and slide it inside a pantyhose, tie a thread on each side of the egg to prevent the leaf from sliding. Repeat the process until all the eggs are “dressed” in pantyhose. I learned that very stiff leaves don’t work as well because they don’t “hug” the egg too tightly and produce an unclear print. Fill your pot with water and boil the eggs for 15-20 minutes. Make sure the heat is not set on very high as you don’t want your eggs knocking around in the pot and cracking. Cool the eggs, remove the panty hose and the leaves, wipe any leaf remnants with a cloth. The last step is to make them shiny! Simply rub each egg with a little bit of oil.

Easter egg colouring-The Russian method
I am sure I don’t have to tell you how much fun you will have with your children colouring eggs! However, if you have very young children the above method might be a bit too intricate for their little fingers. Not to worry, this is what I did with mine.
Egg colouring
Egg colouring
Use food colouring pastes and a tablespoon of vinegar per each cup of colour, top up with boiling water. Drop a cooked egg and let it sit for 5 minutes. I recommend using gel colours as they produce more vivid hues than their liquid counterparts.
Easter Egg Colouring
Easter Egg Colouring