Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes we all need a pick-me-up. For some it's a massage or a new pair of shoes or maybe even a long phone call with a friend - don't you just love those? However for me, it's food and it's usually the sweet kind. This time it comes in the form of a chocolate chocolate chip cookie (that's quite a mouthful!)

It's been a rough summer to say the least. Not a lot has gone according to plan and there's been quite a few bumps along the way that my family and I are still dealing with. And there's also the difficulty of being a fresh graduate and looking for my first official job; the job hunt is a lot harder than I anticipated. But I am hopeful and patient, I believe something good will be coming our way very soon.

In the meantime, I try to cook and bake for everyone at home to keep spirits as high as they can possibly be. I always believed that good food was not just fuel for the body but also for the soul. And if you can bring a smile to someone's face by just putting together a few ingredients as well as your love then, why the heck not?

The name of these cookies is what first attracted me; the way Nigella Lawson described them as, "Being chocolatey to the point of madness" just meant I had to try making them myself. While you make the mix for the cookies, you know that it's going to be a chocolate explosion because the batter leaves glorious marks of chocolate on your fingers that you, of course, lick off. I'm quite shameless about that, might I add. Once these chocolate monsters are baked and cooled, you get a nice crunchy shell (if I may call it that) that you bite into to reach a lovely soft center with pops of more chocolate from the chocolate chips. This cookie's fit for any chocolate fiend lover.
Behold, the ice cream sandwich from Heaven

And if you wanna have a bit more fun with these cookies, why not make an ice cream sandwich? It'll melt as fast as you do in this heat though, so gobble up!

Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express
makes 12-16 depending on size

125g dark chocolate
150g flour
30g cocoa, sieved
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
125g butter, softened
75g light brown sugar
50g white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, cold from the fridge
350g semi-sweet chocolate morsels or dark chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 170°C. Melt the 125g of dark chocolate either in the microwave or in a heatproof dish over a pan of simmering water.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl.
  • Cream the butter and sugars in another bowl. (You can do this with a freestanding mixer or a hand-held mixer). Add the melted chocolate and mix together.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract and cold egg, and then mix in the dry ingredients. Finally stir in the chocolate morsels or chips.
  • Scoop out equal-sized mounds - an ice cream scoop and a palette knife are the best tools for the job - and place on a lined baking sheet about 6cm apart. Do not flatten them.
  • Bake for 18 minutes, testing with a cake tester to make sure it comes out semi-clean and not wet with cookie batter. If you pierce a chocolate chip, try again.
  • Leave to cool slightly on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack to harden as they cool.
  • Enjoy!
To make the ice cream sandwich:

  • Thaw out your favorite ice cream. I like plain, gorgeous vanilla with these cookies.
  • Scoop out a generous amount of thawed out ice cream onto your first cookie.
  • Place your other cookie on top of the ice cream and gently squeeze both cookies together.
  • Prepare yourself for a delicious mess!

Happy Baking!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mini Vanilla & Chocolate Tarts

I've realized not too long ago that I'm pretty much obsessed with all desserts that are made in individual servings. And I simply love anything that's a miniature version of its original form. I convince myself that I'm not consuming as many calories when I have a mini cupcake, a mini apple pie, or brownies cut into tiny pieces it would be criminal to have just one. Everything's cuter when it's mini anyway. Like kittens, puppies and humans; I wouldn't advise those to be consumed though...

This brings me to a treat I like to make which is not necessarily tiny but is meant for single servings: tarts! I first started making these tarts in 2009 when I decided I wanted to try making tart crust/dough from scracth, on my own. Since then, I've learned to follow instructions better and I am now able to make crust which is light and flaky. A personal achievement! Really, anyone can make tart crust/dough, it just needs a little bit of patience and some gentle + cold hands (or a food processor if you don't like to make it by hand).

I would say that this is a fairly easy recipe to follow but is time-consuming especially if you are a beginner at making pastries. However, the results always turn out great - even if your tart crust doesn't turn out as flaky as you'd like, it will still always taste good. Practice makes perfect and I myself am still practicing to perfect this technique. After all, we're just baking to put a smile on someone's face and satisfy that sweet tooth! These tarts are great for parties or gatherings; I've baked them for a picnic and several gatherings in the past and they've always been quite a hit. I made these particular ones for my friend Wajiha who kindly invited me to her place for iftar where her mom cooked up a [delicious] storm.

I had a lot of fun decorating the chocolate tarts. Melted some chocolate and piped out flower shapes then topped them off with edible glitter.

There are so many ways to decorate tarts. I've topped the vanilla ones with berries, kiwis, and pineapples, the possibilities are endless. For the chocolate tarts, if I need something quick to top them off with, I chop chocolate and sprinkle it on top or you could even use sprinkles of your own choice. Again, it's totally up to you and what you come up with! :)

Tarts adapted from Fatafeat Magazine's Houriyat Al Matbakh
makes 25-30 tarts

Tools you'll need:

Pastry cutter (optional)
2 or 3 cupcake/muffin tins (This varies with everyone, depending on how much dough you end up with and how thick/thin you roll it out)
Cupcake/muffin liners or papers
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter, about 3 inches in diameter
Dry beans or dry lentils or pie weights. These will be used for blind baking.

For the crust:

200g all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

125g unsalted butter, fridge cold
120g sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

butter spray or softened butter
  • In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt
  • Cut the butter into small cubes and throw them into the flour mix. Using a pastry cutter, begin cutting the cubes of butter into the flour. Alternatively, you can use your hands: rub the mix between your hands so as to combine the butter and the flour. Keep doing this until your mixture looks like damp sand; little crumbles of dough. Whatever you do, do not knead. This will help you achieve that lovely light, flaky crust in the end.
  • In another bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla until it turns from a dark yellow into a pale yellow color and is fluffy.
  • Add the egg mix into the flour mix and fold it in. Again, do not knead the dough. Simply combine the wet and dry ingredients together; you can use your hands or a spatula, whatever you prefer.
  • If your dough still feels sticky, add more flour as you go. Continue doing this until your dough can hold its own and is formed into a ball.
  • Take a piece of cling foil and wrap your dough in it. Leave it to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Assembling + Blind Baking:
  • Prepare 2-3 cupcake/muffin tins; spray a little bit of butter spray in each cup or if you're using softened butter, brush a thin layer of butter into each cup. Set aside.
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C
  • Take out the dough from the fridge, unwrap from cling foil. To make it easier for you to use, cut the ball of dough in half.
  • On a clean, flat surface which is lightly floured, roll out your dough with your rolling pin. Thickness of the dough is totally up to you, I prefer a crust that has a bit of a bite to it so I roll it out about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Using your round cookie cutter, cut out rounds; try using up as much dough as possible.
  • Take your round pieces of dough and fit each one in a separate cup in your cupcake/muffin tin. Use your fingers to push them into place and shape them as you wish. Don't worry if you mistakenly pierce little holes, just take a little piece of left-over dough and patch them up. Repeat this process till all your dough is done.
  • On top of the dough, place the cupcake/muffin papers or liners. Lightly push them into the dough. Now pour in your dry beans/lentils/pie weights and fill the papers about 2/3 to ensure they weigh down the dough.
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until you can see the edges of your dough turn a nice golden color.
  • Take out the cupcake/muffin tins from the oven. Carry out the cupcake/muffin papers or liners filled with the dry beans/lentils/pie weights. I don't throw away my dry beans as I can use them again for the next time I bake a pie or tart.
  • Switch off your oven's bottom burner and light up the top burner. Put the cupcake/muffin tins back in the oven and bake for just 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn your tart shells, this is just to lightly bake the tops which weren't previously exposed to heat.
  • Remove your baked tart shells from their tins and allow them to cool on a rack while you make the filling.
For the filling:

700ml milk, at room temperature
120 g sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g corn flour
100g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces or chocolate chips*
  • In a large saucepan on medium heat, heat the milk till it simmers. Set aside for a bit.
  • In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until it is a pale yellow and becomes fluffy. Then add the corn flour and slowly beat that into the egg mix.
  • Spoon in about 3 spoonfuls of the heated milk into the egg mix and mix together.
  • Now add the egg mix to the rest of the milk in the sauce pan and return to medium heat.
  • Constantly stir the mix, do not leave it unattended as it can curdle.
  • Keep doing this until your filling reaches a thick consistency; it should have an egg custard-like texture.
  • Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool down. *[For chocolate tarts, I separate half the ready filling into another bowl and while it is still hot, I add the chopped chocolate which melts with ease. And viola, you have chocolate filling!] 
  • Once it is at room temperature, you can either spoon the filling into your tart shells or put it in a pastry bag and pipe it with a star tip.
  • Top off vanilla tarts with fruits of your choice and the chocolate tarts with sprinkles or little pieces of chocolate, or whatever you prefer. Place them in an air-tight container and pop in the fridge to cool.
  • Enjoy!

Happy Baking!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Muhallabiya | مهلبية

Is there anything better than a dessert that calls for just 4 ingredients? I think the simpler any recipe is, the better. I've never been a fan of over-complicated recipes which call for ingredients that you've never heard of that come from some point on Earth. The best desserts are the ones that focus on 2-3 ingredients and have maximum flavor!

I grew up eating desserts that weren't fussy like Muhallabiya and rice pudding - in Arabic: Riz b haleeb | رز بحليب - and always loved the pudding-like texture. In fact, it's the reason why my favorite dessert is chocolate pudding! But anyway, I wanted to sort of recreate a small part of my childhood by trying to make Muhallabiya on my own. So you can imagine the joy I felt when my mother told me what Muhallabiya consists of: milk, sugar, corn flour and whatever topping you desire which, in this case, was pistachios for me. Just a few steps and you get a lovely milk pudding which isn't too sweet nor is it too heavy.
Thanks to bad lighting during iftar time (sunset), photo quality wasn't so great. Sorry!
I can only imagine the different combinations that people come up with to add into this dessert or to top it off with; the variations are endless!

Muhallabiya - My mother's recipe
makes 4 large bowls

1 liter full fat milk, cold
3 tablespoons corn flour*
1/2 cup sugar (100 g) - you can add more or less sugar, it's a matter of personal taste
A generous handful of peeled, unsalted pistachio; chopped

  • In a separate glass, mix in 1/2 cup of milk with the 3 tablespoons of corn flour. Set aside.
  • In a large pot on medium heat, pour the rest of the milk in and whisk in the sugar.
  • When the milk starts to heat up, add the corn flour & milk mix into the pot. Continue whisking.
  • Once the mixture starts coming to a boil, the consistency of the milk should start to get thicker.
    * If you feel that it hasn't thickened even after it's been boiling for about a minute, go ahead and mix in another tablespoon of corn flour in 1/4 cup of milk and plop that right in. Repeat again if the same happens, but that is unlikely :)
  • Continue whisking until you reach a pudding-like texture (it should coat the back of a spoon quite well). Be careful not to boil too much as it can curdle!
  • Remove the pot from the heat and, using a fine sieve, filter the Muhallabiya into a large bowl. This is to leave out any bits of burnt milk from the bottom of the pot (which is inevitable).
  • Scoop the Muhallabiya into desired serving bowls. Cover with a sheet of cling wrap, allowing the cling wrap to touch the surface of the Muhallabiya, so as not to create a skin.
  • Refrigerate for 4 hours (or until it's cold enough to your liking).
  • When ready to serve, peel off cling wrap and decorate with pistachios
  • Enjoy!

Ramadan Mubarak & Happy Baking!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Churros with Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Ever get those days when you're too lazy to roll out of bed? And so you just stay in there for the next hour either reading a book or contemplating the meaning of life and your purpose in it? And then suddenly you get that sweet tooth calling out to you, pleading that you satisfy it with a nectarous breakfast? Yeah, I get those mornings more often than I'd like to admit. Sometimes I feel a tad more creative and flip through my cook books to find something different, but easy, to make.

This is where the churros come in...

The first time I ever tried churros was when I had my first Taste of Dubai experience. I fell in love with what I'd like to call a Spanish doughnut; they had a crispy shell and were so light and airy inside. Little did I know, they are really simple to make! Apart from the chocolate dipping sauce that comes along with this recipe, the churros themselves have 7 ingredients that you need. And the best part is that all these ingredients can be found in any kitchen where lots of cooking is being done. Yay for convenience! And another yay for laziness!

The sound of the light crackling & popping of the oil when deep frying the churros is like music to my ears. (I promise I don't deep fry as much as the previous statement makes me sound like I do..) It reminds me so much of my childhood: when my mom used to make chicken nuggets and french fries for me and my brother on a lazy day in. Deep-frying seems to be synonymous with being a couch potato, huh? Ah well, everyone deserves a break from time to time. But yes, the churros. Once they touch the hot oil, they almost immediately poof up into little pillows and float on the surface. Just be careful not to burn yourself with oil popping everywhere and you're set.

The perfect lazy sweet snack for the ultimate lazy day in.

P.S. Am I a glutton for thinking these would be absolutely delicious with dulce de leche? WOW! Need to make some more to try that out.

Churros with Chocolate Dipping Sauce adapted from Nigella Lawson's Kitchen

For the churros:

50g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1x15ml tablespoon olive oil
250ml freshly boiled water
approx. 500ml corn or vegetable oil, for deep frying

- Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a wide, shallow dish: this is for shaking the cooked churros in to coat them later.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl then beat in the olive oil and the boiled water.
- Keep mixing until you have a warm, sticky dough.
- Leave it to rest for about 10 minutes.
- Heat up the oil in a small saucepan, the oil should come up about a third of the way up the sides of the pan. It should be about 170°C. 
- Load up a piping bag with a large star-shaped tip and fill it with the churros dough.
- Squeeze short lengths (4-5cm) of dough into the hot oil, snipping them off with a pair of scissors as you go.
- Cook about 4-5 at a time and, once they turn a rich golden brown, fish them out of the oil with a slotted spoon or spatula or with tongs onto a baking sheet lined with some kitchen roll.
- To keep the cooked churros warm while you fry the remaining dough, transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet and hold in a low heat oven.
- Once you're done cooking all the churros, allow them to rest for a few minutes.
- While they're still warm, toss them in the sugar and cinnamon mixture and shake them about till they all get a good covering.

For the chocolate dipping sauce:

100g good-quality dark chocolate
25g chocolate milk
1x15ml tablespoon golden syrup
150ml double cream

- Melt all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over low heat.Once the chocolate starts to melt, stir everything together and take it off the heat.
- Leave it in a warm place.
- Serve in individual pots/bowls.
- Enjoy!

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

BBQ Cake

So, guess what? I'm graduating... TOMORROW! *breaks into a dance* I can't find the words to describe my excitement. Albeit I will still be doing my last couple electives so I'll officially be a graduate by mid July (إنشاء الله) But still, VERY EXCITED! :D Bought myself a new dress and a pair of shoes to wear on the occasion. I think I earned it after 4 years full of hard work, craziness, emotional roller coasters, life lessons, friendships, tough decisions, growing mentally (and physically ;) ), and wonderful memories. Here's to many more years full of character!

On to the cake! As you may have read in my previous post about Majed helping me out so much in my cake-making adventures, I decided I had to return the favor to him in some way. And what better way than to do it through cake? Majed's known as the BBQ Man in our circle. It was inevitable to make him a BBQ cake; it just simply had to be done. (I was actually planning to make this since late January and it was all hush hush since then).

All toppers are made with molded/shaped cake & covered with fondant
It was a three-day affair, with the first day dedicated to baking the cakes and getting all the fillings and butter cream frosting ready. The second day I packed all my tools, cakes, frostings and the odd rolling pin over to Hana's place to get decorating. Hana was enjoying hand-crafting the cake toppers while I got down to icing the base of the cake and trying to smooth it out as much as my spatula allowed me to. After 7 hours of hard labor (read: serious cake decorating), we were pleased with our result. Now it was all down to getting it to Majed's place the next day to surprise him with it.

Majed's hearty steak

The surprise was successful! Majed had no clue. He was wildly confused; it was amusing to watch him walk around his living room and greet all of us with a big question mark on his face. Quote of the day from Majed: Holy sh*t! This is the best cake EVER! *Yasmin and Hana put success faces on and tip their hats* Our work here is done.

"burning coal" made from tinted marshmallows
Enjoying his [sweet] steak
This cake goes right to the top of my list. Not trying to blow my own horn but I am very proud of this cake because it brought so much joy to everyone who saw it and ate it!

Filling: center + top is chocolate ganache & the rest is chocolate butter cream with crushed Maltesers

Death by cake, it happens.

Once again, Happy Birthday Majed. Hope you enjoyed it x

Happy Baking!