Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treats

Happy Halloween!

Earlier this month, I decided that I just had to throw my own Halloween party. Partly because I'm not allowed to go to any of the big Halloween parties that happen around Dubai and mostly because I've been looking for an excuse to drape my house in decorations.

The über delicious graveyard cake
It was held last weekend, and all my girlfriends were invited. A good number of the girls showed up and were impressed with how much work my family and I put into the set up. My mom had bought around 50 yards combined of orange and black fabric, lots of Halloween ornaments, and one of her good friends who works at an event management company had lent us a tall witch carved out of Styrofoam and a bunch of Styrofoam pumpkins. It was lots of fun to watch everything come together. Lots of candles and lights set the mood and I was ready to party.

What's a Halloween party without the treats, though, right? My lovely friend Qadria arrived to my place early with a pre-baked and frosted dense chocolate cake (which was amaaaaaazingly delicious) that we later decorated to look like a graveyard. She also brought dense chocolate cupcakes frosted with chocolate ganache and topped with meringue ghosts. Super cool! I baked vanilla cupcakes the night before which we later stuffed with a wonderful toffee sauce, topped with a chocolate frosting and then sprinkled crushed caramel Oreos to give the illusion of dirt. Then we put gummy worms on them. Can you say 'heart attack'? We also made brain cupcakes (vanilla cupcakes with pink vanilla frosting) and cake balls that we decorated to look like eyeballs. Decorating with Qadria was so much fun and quite the success.


The girls showed up one by one and I was highly impressed with their costumes. Won't be able to share those photos but we had costumes like The Black Swan, main character Alex from A Clockwork Orange, a pilgrim who made her costume from napkins and a pillowcase (!!!), and a full blown lion from The Wizard of Oz. Overall, my house was infested with some genius women who had really cool costumes. I think my party was the best costume party of all ;)

'Vampire's Delight' punch

All photos are taken by the lovely Devina Divecha. Visit her food blog, she's very talented and one of my favorite bloggers!

Happy Baking!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Y U NO" Guy Cake

I've been a little quiet but I'm going to blame it on the fact that everyone's birthday is coming up in the next 3 months and I'm getting so many cake orders. Lots of fun but just as exhausting! I've been itching to blog so I decided I'd put up something quick for now.

It was Sajid's birthday yesterday and a his good friend Nosheen had ordered a cake for him from abroad (yes, my first international order! I declare myself cool). She sent me this photo and asked if I could make this cake:

Y U NO guy
Those familiar with internet memes will know the Y U NO guy easily. If you're curious though, read up on some internet humor here.

I suggested that we should do something fun with the cake and instead of just a static sheet cake, we could make a giant Y U NO guy with his hands sticking out of the cake and add her message. She loved the idea and gave me the go ahead. Yay!

Now, Sajid's a real-life troll and probably spends a chunk of his free time here. But aside from that, he's a great guy and I was excited to make a big cake for him. So I called up my good friend Hana of Free The Line and asked her if she'd like to help me with detailing for the cake i.e. the very complicated face. And she agreed! She's a wonderful artist and I love working with her.

I prepared everything two days in advance; searched for pure white frosting recipes and suffered with coloring the frosting a nice pure black. But I finally managed. On the morning of October 5th, I picked up Hana and we went back to my place to work on the final touches. I must say that we were quite proud of our accomplishment. We gave ourselves a nice high 10 and decided it was ready to go.

I delivered the cake on the same night and celebrated with Sajid and his friends; it was awesome to see everyone admiring the cake. Such a great feeling!

Happy Birthday again, Sajid!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes With Blue Vanilla Frosting

I'm a sucker for miniature food, especially desserts. No matter how simple they are, they always impress me. They also take way more time to make than when they are made in their normal size but it's always worth it in the end. 

I usually shamelessly attack the miniature desserts at buffets right after I'm done eating my main course. I then go on to tell myself, in vain, that they're so small, how could they possibly be bad for you?

Here's a simple way to add the element of 'cute' to any gathering or occasion: Mini Cupcakes! I added blue food coloring to my frosting and tried them in two different tints. I plan to experiment some more with different colors and different flavors.

For the chocolate cupcakes: (This makes around 200 mini cupcakes)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your mini cupcake/muffin tin with mini paper cups.
  • In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
  • In a separate small bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes. Add the beaten yolks to the butter mixture and beat well. Add the chocolate, mixing until well incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth. 
  • In a separate small bowl, beat the egg whites on the high speed of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter. Scoop the batter in the mini cups.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack. 

For the frosting: Scroll down and check out Sweetapolita's easy recipe for Sugary Birthday Buttercream Frosting!

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mini Apple Pies

I've officially started university this week and I am now in my senior year. Feels a little crazy how the time's just flown right by me. I still remember my first day at university; I was nervous and lost for the most bit. I had missed the Open House a few days earlier which meant I didn't get a tour of the campus. So I decided to check it out for myself and wander. I found myself in classrooms that weren't mine, walking into professors' offices mistaking them for the library (don't ask), and forgetting my locker code combination with all my belongings locked inside. Yeah, not a very good thing when you're already 5 minutes late to your class and need to take another 20 minutes to go get help and finally figure it out. The professor of that class wasn't very pleased with my tardiness.

Thankfully, I met a lot of great people along the way. I made some friends, professors came to know that I wasn't a slacker after all, and I participated in a lot of the activities in university. And soon after, I started working with the Students Services department which I did for the next 2 years. I learned a lot and appreciated every bit of the experience that I gained from my job. It was a lot of work, sometimes I'd find myself staying late till 11:00pm just to get things done! But I loved it.

On my third year I decided I just wanted to be a student. I wanted to play more of my favorite sport, badminton. I had more time to spend with my family and friends and I focused a lot more on my studies. Sometimes I would find myself with nothing to do and think to myself, "So.. This is what it feels like.." Ha!

So, here I am, welcoming my final year of university. It still feels surreal. I'm not sure what to expect but I'm ready for whatever's in store!

I've been daydreaming about mini apple pies for the past two weeks ever since I watched a cooking show on Fatafeat where a chef made them. I was so intrigued and thought that this would be perfect to make for my mom who has been constantly asking me to make her apple pie. Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to make one for her but I've been messing them up so much in the past 2 months that I've been ashamed to try them out again (or share any of my disasters with you). But after being inspired to make them in mini form, I thought maybe I could tackle this!

Only thing that's missing is a big scoop of vanilla ice cream

This a wonderful recipe for mini apple pies that I found on Zoom Yummy, a very helpful blog that you should check out. The pies come out nice and crispy with a soft, juicy filling. I warn you, though, they are very addictive. The first time I made these, I had 15 of them sitting in the kitchen in the morning and then came back home to find just 2 left in the evening!

Mini Apple Pies adapted from Zoom Yummy

For the crust:
2½ cups (350 gr) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (30 gr) sugar
1 cup (226 gr) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ - ¼ cup (60-120ml) ice water

  • Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of your electric mixer. Stir with a spoon until combined (don’t use the mixer yet) 
  • Add the butter and mix (with hook attachment) until the mixture resembles coarse meal. 
  • Pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) water in a slow, steady stream until the dough holds together when pinched. If necessary, pour more water. Mix for only about 30 seconds 
  • Remove the dough from the mixer bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about one hour before using. 
For the filling:

5 medium apples; peeled, cored and diced
½ cup (100 gr) brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (15 gr) cornstarch

Softened butter/butter spray for greasing the pan
  • Peel the apples, core them and cut them into teeny tiny dices. Place the dices into a bowl.
  • Add the sugar, lemon juice, salt, cornstarch and cinnamon.
  • Mix altogether until all the diced apples are well dressed into the mixture.
  • Preheat the oven to 356 F (180 C).

  • Grease your regular sized muffin tin with softened butter/butter spray 
  • For the mini pies, you'll need the bottom crust and the top crust – the bottom circle 4 1/2 inch (11 cm) being slightly wider than the top one 3 1/2 inch (8.5 cm) 
  • Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to about 0.1-inch (3 mm) thickness. Cut out circles (big & small) from the dough. Repeat this step until you run out of dough. 
  • Press the large circles gently into the muffin cup 
  • Fill the dough with the apple mixture so that it comes over the top of the pan. 
  • Take a small circle and put it on top of your pie. With your finger, press the edges down gently. Use a fork or your fingers to seal the top circle to the bottom circle. 
  • Using a sharp knife, make two slits in the centers of your cute pies to allow the steam to escape. 
  • Continue doing this process until you've run out of the dough and apple filling. 
  • Place in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. 
  • Once they are done take them out of the oven and let them sit for about 15 or 20 minutes so they get cool enough to handle.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ma'amoul | معمول‎

I know I'm 4 days late but:


The holy month of Ramadan has (sadly) come to an end and Eid ul-Fitr is here. This Eid is celebrated for 3 days; Muslims all over the world prepare wonderful feasts for family and friends, adults give Eidiya to children (which is mostly money that's gifted to the kids) and everyone wears new clothes that they've bought especially for Eid. It's a joyous 3 days where everyone sends each other messages, makes phone calls and pays visits to congratulate one another on a wonderful month of fasting. 

Just wanted to note that the crochet table cloth was made by my super talented grandmother!

I personally wish I had relatives that lived in the same country as me so that I could visit them one by one and be able to celebrate with them. I would love to bake treats with my grandmother and distribute them to family and friends with my grandfather. Unfortunately, sometimes as an expat you don't get that kind of luxury. I'm thankful that I have my parents and brother to spend it with otherwise it wouldn't be Eid at all. Oh and let's not forget a wonderful network of friends!

Needless to say, Eid ul-Fitr is my favorite Eid. And on this Eid, every year, we make a special treat called Ma'amoul. We use my grandma's recipe which she's perfected over the years (Oh God, please make me a super baker like her one day!)

Ma'amoul is a shortbread cookie filled with either dates, pistachios or walnuts. They are known not to be overly sweet, so you can pop a whole lot of 'em at once! Some people decorate them by hand while others use special wooden molds to create wonderful designs on the cookie. Ma'amoul is very popular in Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. You'll usually find it in abundance during any religious festivals (such as during Easter celebrated by Arab Christians).

Mom preparing the dough

Filling the pastry with walnuts and sugar

What I love about making Ma'amoul is that it brings people together; you rarely find one person in the household making it all by themselves. Well, at least that's like blasphemy in my house! This year, my parents and I made a huge batch together to give out to friends. 

Once the pastry is filled, you roll it up into a ball and push it into the wooden mold
To get the pastry out of the mold, the most effective way is to flip it over and THWACK it on any solid platform 
Date filling with an unintentional heart-looking design, anyone?

Date filling is by far my favorite. I can eat 10 of these in one go. I did not just say that out loud.

Freshly baked and ready to roll around in some powdered sugar

I hope that whomever celebrated Eid ul-Fitr had a wonderful one filled with family, friends, and lots of delicious treats!

Ma'amoul - معمول‎ 
my grandmother's recipe

What you'll need:

4 cups semolina
2 cups flour 
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup cooking/vegetable oil
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract/essence
Water at room temperature, enough to add till the dough is formed.

  • Mix the dry ingredients until well incorporated
  • Add butter and oil and work in with your hands
  • While kneading the dough, add water at intervals until the dough forms. Once you're able to handle the dough and form a flat pancake-like shape, it's ready. (Refer to first series photo to know what I mean about this)

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Qatayef | قطايف

Ramadan is a beautiful time of the year and I find myself waiting for it to come around. It's been a very peaceful and spiritual month, more so than ever for me. I feel that as I'm growing older and exploring more about Islam and the essence of it, I am falling more and more in love with it.

With Ramadan comes its special sweets. And what says Ramadan like Qatayef? In my house, it's the Ramadan staple. We don't go a day without making it on this blessed month. Qatayef has been described as the Middle Eastern dumplings or Middle Eastern pancakes, if you will. The dough generally includes ingredients such as corn starch, flour and semolina to give it its fluffy texture. We've tried making the dough at home but have failed quite miserably to get it right so we just go over to the nearest bakery and buy a batch (it's common to find them ready and packed to go during Ramadan) But if you're feeling adventurous, here's a good recipe that you can try out.

Our favorite fillings are walnuts with brown sugar & cinnamon and sweetened Akawi cheese with extra sugar.

Best way to make qatayef is to start pinching from one corner to the next. If you feel like it's difficult to close, then you may have too much filling. Just scoop out some and try again. Remember that they are delicate and need just a little bit of patience, but after some practice it becomes so easy to handle.

Walnut + brown sugar + cinnamon
Sweetened Akawi cheese

Swimming in the deep fryer and then cooling off

The Qatayef is deep fried and then dipped in luscious sugar syrup. Yup, it's all about that sugar rush after a whole day's worth of fasting!

Come to mama!

I decided to get a little creative during Ramadan. One day I had a severe chocolate craving while fasting (although, this happens even when I'm not fasting) and decided that I wanted to stuff Qatayef with chocolate instead of the regular fillings. I kept telling my mom about it, describing how wonderful it would be to have hot chocolate oozing out of the dough as you sink your teeth into it. I imagined dipping it in Nutella just for an added twist and also because I, like many others, am shamelessly in love with that wonderful hazelnut cream spread.

So, I decided it just had to be done. I just had to do it. The next day, I was surprised with mini Qatayef pancakes that my stepfather had brought. We decided to make some of them into mini chocolate Qatayef. At first, we tried spreading some Nutella as the filling but it made a big mess and was all over the place. Not a good idea with mini Qatayef, I suppose.

Instead, I started chopping up some bittersweet chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, salivating over the idea of finally satisfying my craving which I've had for over a week. We stuffed the Qatayef and into the deep fryer they went. I patiently (not so much) dipped them into some Nutella, tried my hand at some food modelling and failed quite miserably and then... AND THEN! I finally took a bite out of one of them. Oh hot chocolate, please melt into my soul and rid me of this craving that won't seem to go away! But.. I got nothing.. The chocolate had dried up by the time the Qatayef was done frying and all I got was crispy Qatayef dough with Nutella and hazelnut crunch. It wasn't so bad, to be honest. It just wasn't what I'd expected. I might attempt it again but with normal-size Qatayef pancakes.

I'm sad that Ramadan is almost over but I wish you all a wonderful last few days of this lovely month!

Happy Baking!