Tag Archives: sweets

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake

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Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Do you have a recipe you’ve made so many times you know it by heart? Better yet, was that recipe passed on to you by your momma? The one I am about to share with you is one of those recipes. The first time I made it I was in my early teens and since then I’ve made it hundreds of times…literally. It was my mom and my “go to recipe” when there was only about half an hour between a phone call and guests appearing on our doorsteps. ¬†We made it so many times we used every kind of fruit filling possible. I thought we exhausted all the options but I was wrong.

Last Saturday morning I woke up with a strong urge to bake and I knew I was craving something Slavic. ūüôā That’s right it’s a thing. I made a dash to the closest Polish shop and picked up a pound of farmer’s cheese. It was a good start. When I grabbed the closest to me cookbook an old, marked with food stains piece of paper fell out. I grinned widely when I picked it up. The precious sheet of paper contained a collection of our family’s favourite recipes typed up by my mom and sent to me when I left for college in America. Bingo! That’s exactly what I needed.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
If you follow my blog you’d know that when it comes to recipes nothing is sacred to me. I love to change things up and what started out as my mom’s favourite recipe became highly experimental at some point of the process. Needless to say, I was beyond pleased when I cut into it (after hours of waiting for it to cool) and found out the risk payed off!
What my mom and I always made was essentially a seasonal fruit encased in rich and buttery pastry but somehow I ended up with a fruit cheesecake with a buttery crust and almond crumb topping. Pure luxury.
Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Have I convinced you that you too need it in your life?

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • Flour-2 1/2cups
  • Butter- 1 cup/250 gr.
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Egg- 1
  • Baking powder-1/2 tsp

For the filling:

  • Apricots- 12
  • Farmer’s Cheese (Tvorog)/Cream Cheese- 500 gr/16 oz
  • Eggs -2
  • Sugar- 1 cup
  • Semolina- 2 tbsp.
  • Vanilla bean/Vanilla extract- seeds from 1 vanilla bean/ 1 tsp.
  • Ground Almonds ( for the topping)- 1/4 cup

Method:

In the food processor combine flour, cold butter, sugar and baking powder, pulse until the  mixture resembles fine bread crumbs, add the egg and pulse until just combined.  (This could also be easily done in a regular bowl with a pastry blender.) Take the pastry out of the food processor, it will be soft.  Pinch off 1/3 of the pastry, wrap it in a plastic wrap and put in the freezer. Wrap the rest in the plastic wrap as well and put this portion in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake

Now let’s take care of the filling. ¬†Cut your apricots in half and pit them. Set aside. (I also planned to use the red and black currants at first but then changed my mind and that is why they are in the picture.)

Combine farmer’s cheese or cream cheese, eggs, sugar, semolina and vanilla bean seeds in a large bowl using a hand mixer until smooth or a food processor if you want your farmer’s cheese to be less grainy. ( I processed mine in the food processor for a silky consistency.)

When the pastry is finished chilling take it out of the fridge and roll it out to fit an 9″ springform pan lining the bottom and the sides all the way to the top. Don’t worry if your pastry tears, just take the overhanging pieces and patch up the holes! That pastry is very pliable and forgiving. When your springform pan is lined all the way put it back in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Then take it out of the fridge and fill it with the cheese filling and top with apricots.

Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
Now it’s time to get your crumb topping out of the freezer. In Russia this dessert is called “Tertiy Pirog”, which literally means “Grated Pastry” because the top is being frozen and then grated directly on the filling with a vegetable grater like so.
Crumb Apricot Cheesecake
I decided to toss my crumbs with ground almonds for an extra indulgence. Trim off your overhanging sides and press them gently in to blend with the crumb topping. When the pastry casing bakes it magically all blends together beautifully.

Put it in the preheated oven at 350F/180C and bake for 50 minutes or until golden. Cool it for an hour until cool to the touch and then chill it in the refrigerator for at least 2 more hours to ensure the cheese filling in cooled completely. (Waiting for it was the hardest part for me. :-)) Crumb Apricot CheesecakeDust with additional powdered sugar if desired and enjoy with a cup of tea!
Crumb Apricot CheesecakeCrumb Apricot Cheesecake

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Summer Berry Tart

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Summer Berry Tart
Berries are quite possibly THE thing I love the most about summer and the presence of berry desserts signals holiday for me more than anything else. As every Russian child that grew up in the city I loved going away to a “dacha” on weekends and getting lost in the garden picking or, more likely, eating copious amounts of plentiful fruits and berries.

I was quite disappointed when I first moved to the States to find that the “berries” were reduced to strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, and perhaps blackberries if you are lucky. In my world there were so much more! What about gooseberries, ¬†wild strawberries. black, red and white currants?

Summer Berry Tart
Thankfully, due to the resurgence of farmer’s markets and people’s general interest in gardening my little summer heros are popping up all over the place which means lots of desserts for me!

Summer Berry TartSummer Berry Tart
Ingredients:

  • Mixed seasonal berries- 600 gr
  • Meringue nests (broken)-4
  • Double Cream- 250 gr/1 cup
  • Creme Fraiche- 125 gr/1/2 cup
  • Icing Sugar- 1/4 cup
  • Vanilla bean (seeds scraped out)-1
  • Rum (optional)- 1 tbsp.

For the tart:

  • Flour-250 gr plus extra for dusting
  • Icing sugar-50 gr
  • Unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)-125 gr
  • Egg-1 large
  • Milk- a little splash
  • Butter for greasing the tart tin

Summer Berry Tart

Method:

First off, if you can find a great tasting all butter pre-made tart and it’s blazing hot outside, go ahead and purchase one! I am all about shortcuts in the kitchen as long as it doesn’t compromise the taste.

If no such tart available here is what you will do:

Mix the flour and icing sugar in a large bowl, add cubed butter and work it in the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add your egg and a bit of milk just to bring the dough together, form it into a ball.  Wrap it in a plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 30 min.

Sprinkle your work surface and the rolling pin with some flour, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out big enough to fit a 9″ loose bottomed tart tin. Grease your tart tin with some butter, drape your dough over the rolling pin and transfer it into the tart tin making sure it comes up the sides, trim off the extra bits and prick it with a fork all over, cover it with a plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F. Take the tart dough out of the fridge and line it with parchment paper pushing it into the sides, fill the tart with baking beans or rice and bake it “blind” for 10 minutes, take it out, removes the baking beans and parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes longer until firm and golden, cool completely before filling it. (Note: Don’t be tempted to skip the blind baking step, otherwise your tart shell will shrink. I’ve learned the hard way.)

Before serving whip the double cream and creme fraiche with icing sugar, vanilla bean seeds and rum until soft peaks form. Mix it with broken meringue nests and fill your tart with the mixture. Top with mixed berries.

In the last week I’ve made this tart twice!

For this one I used raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

Summer Berry Tart
Then a few days later I went to a farmer’s market and found red currants. So I had to make another Summer Berry Tart using a generous amount of red currants!

Summer Berry Tart
Dust with a bit of icing sugar for extra drama. ūüôā
Summer Berry Tart
Note: This recipe was adapted from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie Does Sweden”.

Banoffee Tartlets

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Banoffee Tartlets
If you are not from England chances are you’ve never heard of Banoffee Pie before and it’s a real shame. I reckon the invention of Banoffee Pie should stand on equal footing with industrialisation and discovering of DNA and other great things that came out of England. Well, maybe not quite as equal, maybe just a teensy bit lower. Banoffee Pie is the magic combination of everything that is good and true. Sweet and silky Banana plus rich and indulgent Toffee equals Ban+offee. Throw in some chocolate and you get the picture. Pure bliss.
Banoffee Tartlets
The best thing is they are EASY to make and even easier to enjoy. I served them for dessert last weekend for my giant dinner party because when you cook a big meal the last thing you want is to fuss over a dessert as well. A snap to make but do they ever look impressive! Here is my version of the  famous Banoffee Pie. I made a couple of changes but nothing major that would alter the taste. I filled the tarts with dulce de leche instead of toffee and added mascarpone to the cream in order to create a more stable frosting that could be piped.Banoffee Tartlets

Ingredients:  {for 8 Tartlets}

  • 8 all-butter pre-made tartlet cases (You can of course make your own)
  • Sweet and condensed Milk- 1 can
  • Banana, sliced-2
  • Mascarpone- 1/2 cup/ 100gr
  • Whipping Cream/Double Cream- 1 cup/ 250 ml
  • Icing Sugar- 1/4 cup
  • Vanilla-1 tsp.
  • Rum-1tbsp. (optional)
  • Chocolate for chocolate curls or cocoa for dusting-50 gr or 1tbsp of cocoa

Banoffee Tartlets

Method:

Remove the label from the can of sweet and condensed milk and put it in the pot completely submerged in water. ¬†Bring to a boil and continue cooking for 1.5-2 hours. Make sure your can is completely covered in water through the duration of cooking or it will explode. ¬†Cool until it’s ready to use. When you open it you will discover that your “ole” plain can of sweet and condensed milk got transformed into glamourous and silky dulce de leche.

This step could be done well in advance. I had mine stored for a couple of weeks before I got around to use it. On a side note, ¬†I have to brag about the fact that Russian babushkas have been making dulce de leche¬†for years before it became trendy all over North America, so the taste of “sgushenka” is the taste of childhood for every Russian child.

Whip mascarpone with double cream, icing sugar, vanilla and rum until it’s the right consistency for piping roses.

Spread your dulce de leche equally among 8 tartlets, top with sliced bananas. Pipe the mascarpone cream frosting on top and dust with cocoa or decorate with chocolate curls.

For Chocolate Curls:

Melt the chocolate in the microwave and spread it thinly on a baking tray, pop it in the fridge for 3 minutes to set. Take it out and let it stand for a couple of minutes to soften a bit. Drag a knife or a cheese slicer like I did  along the surface of the chocolate to make the curls. When you have enough curls, put them back in the fridge for a couple of minutes to harden.

Banoffee Tartlets
Leave one or two of your tartlets curl-free to show off that gorgeous rose, just a little of cocoa dusting will do.

Banoffee Tartlets
Banoffee TartletsBanoffee Tartlets

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. ūüôā

Lemon Vanilla Cheesecake with Figs and Honey

Lemon Scented Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey

Strawberry Mousse Cake

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Another friend’s birthday passed, another cake made, eaten and enjoyed. I know I get excited about every cake I write about but this one was truly special and quite different from the usual – cake + frosting deal. ¬†Imagine dark chocolate sponge sandwiched together with a light, cloud-like, creamy strawberry mousse, topped with fresh strawberries and cream. Sounds like a dream? It was pretty close to perfection in my opinion and fortunately a snap to make at home.

Strawberry Mousse Cake

I made this cake years ago following the recipe from the Chocolate cookbook I have and although I liked it I knew a few changes had to be made to perfect the recipe. Many English baking recipes call for self-rising flour and this cake was no exception. I am not a big fan of self-rising flour as I find it produces cakes that are too heavy and compact. In this particular cake the texture of the dense sponge didn’t match the light and fluffy mousse.
Fortunately I have my trusty chocolate sponge recipe that I swapped for the original and voila…Perfection! Two layers of delicate chocolate cake filled with light and creamy strawberry mousse made that birthday delight irresistible.
Strawberry Mousse Cake
Ingredients for the cake:

  • Flour -1 3/4 cups
  • Cocoa- 3/4 cup
  • Sugar- 2 cups
  • Baking powder- 1 1/2 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1 1/2 tsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Eggs- 2 large
  • Milk- 1 cup
  • Oil- 1/2 cup
  • Vanilla essence- 2 tsp.
  • Strong hot coffee- 3/4 cup

Method:

Note: The recipe I used here makes two cake layers or 1 cake layer and a dozen of cupcakes. I made 1 9″ cake and a dozen cupcakes for my kids to enjoy as the cake was for the adult party and I didn’t want them to feel left out.

Preheat your oven to 325 F/160 C and grease your 9″ springform cake pan and line with parchment paper. (Instead of using parchment paper I dusted mine with flour but it was a bit of a mistake as flour shows on the dark sponge. It’s usually not a big deal but because this cake doesn’t get covered with frosting you want the layers to look attractive.)

Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a separate bowl mix eggs, milk, oil and vanilla essence. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and beat with an electric mixer until well incorporated. Now make your coffee and pour  3/4 cup of it in the ingredients ( enjoy the rest!) and quickly mix everything together. I promise you the cupcakes don’t taste anything like coffee but it is a magic ingredient :-).

Pour half of the mixture in the prepared pan and level the top. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minuted or until cake tester/toothpick comes out clean. Le the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife along the sides of a springform pan, release the sides and turn the cake out on the cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile , make the strawberry mousse.

Ingredients for the Mousse:

  • Eggs (separated)- 2
  • Superfine sugar-4 tbsp.
  • Strawberries (processed in a food processor to a pulp)- 3/4 cup
  • Gelatine-3 tsp.
  • Water-3 tbsp.
  • Whipping Cream- 1 cup

For Decoration:

  • Strawberries (sliced)- 200 gr. for decoration
  • Cream 1/2 cup
  • Icing sugar-2 tbsp.
  • Vanilla- 1/2 tsp.

Method: 

Beat the egg yolk and sugar until light, then whisk in the processed strawberries. Sprinkle the gelatine over the water in a small bowl and allow to go spongy, then put in the microwave for 30-40 seconds until the gelatine has dissolved. Stir in the mousse.

Whip the cream until holding its shape and fold into the mousse. Whisk the egg whites until standing in soft peaks, then fold in. Let stand in a cool place until starting to set for about 30 minutes.

Cut the cake in 2 layers. Place the first layer back in the springform pan and pour in the mousse and let it set for 2 hour in the refrigerator. Place the top layer directly on the mousse layer and continue chilling for 2 more hours or until ready to serve. Whip the cream and icing sugar and vanilla. Decorate the top of the cake with fresh sliced strawberries and pipe cream rosettes around the edges.

This cake is incredibly light and not overly sweet due to the absence of frosting yet the silky mousse layer makes it feel like a great indulgence. Double win!

Strawberry Mousse Cake

Note: Because the eggs in the mousse are not cooked, however tempered by the hot gelatine mixture, I have used free-range and organic eggs to be on the safe side.

Note: The mousse recipe was adapted from Chocolate cookbook by Practical Cooking. I substituted orange for strawberries.

Yellow Plum and Blueberry Galette

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Yellow Plum and Blueberry Galette
What a stunner, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe this galette was made as a desperate attempt to save yellow plums that weren’t moving in my house. They looked so beautiful and so appealing but after a few days in the fruit basket remained hard as a rock and quite sour.Typical problem for winter fruit shipped from who knows where.
Yellow Plums and Bluberries
I love making galettes, they are very easy to throw together and seem to provide a more even pie crust to filling ratio than a traditional pie. I also paired plums with blueberries to liven up the flavours. As I mentioned earlier the plums were not ripe, so the only way to make sure blueberries and plums had the same texture once the galette is done was to pre-cook plums.
Ingredients:

  • Yellow plums- 13-15 small¬†
  • Blueberries- 1 cup
  • Sugar-1/4 cup plus extra for dusting
  • Vanilla essence- 1 tsp.
  • Water- 1/4 cup
  • Prepared pie crust (your favourite recipe or pre-made)-1
  • Egg (beaten)-1

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400F/200C.

In a saucepan combine plums, split in half and pits removed, sugar, vanilla and water. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes or until the plums are tender. The length of this step will depend on how hard your plums are, if they are ripe feel free to skip this step.

Remove the plums from the pan to a plate and let them cool. Meanwhile dust your work surface with some flour and roll out your pastry 12″ in diameter. Wrap the pastry around the rolling pin and transfer it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Arrange your plums cut side down and blueberries attractively on the the pastry leaving an inch wide border filling free. Fold the border over the fruit while brushing the pleats of pastry with a beaten egg to hold the pastry in place and also to give your galette a beautiful golden colour. Sprinkle the pastry with additional sugar if desired. Bake in the oven for 25-30 min.

Yellow Plum and Blueberry Galette

Such an easy and beautiful treat to enjoy after dinner or on a quiet afternoon with your cup of tea and a friend. Life couldn’t get any better than that!

Yellow Plum and Blueberry Galette
Note: If you have a real sweet tooth you might want to increase the sugar amount but it was perfect for me. Also, you can continue cooking the syrup from the plums until it’s reduced in volume and looks like a jam. Use it as a vanilla flavoured homemade plum spread for your morning toast.