Istanbul – A Sweet Journey

Istanbul is magnificent. Exotic and familiar all at once. At times overwhelming. And one of the most rewarding culinary destinations. Home to somewhere around 15 million people, it is the only city in the world that is spread out over two continents, Europe and Asia, which are separated by the Bosphorus. The unique geography and history of Istanbul, which once also went by the names of Constantinople and Byzantium have given this vibrant city its many complex layers.

The first thing I fell in love with in Istanbul were the pastry shops with their gorgeous windows full of giant trays filled with neat rows of flaky, sticky, nutty delicacies. Resistance was futile, that much was clear as soon as we stepped out of our hotel, and we happily spent a week sampling our way through Istanbul’s sweet offerings.

Turkish Pastries, Baklava, And Sweets

My love for baklava goes way back, but eating baklava in Turkey is like the difference between a hamburger from McDonald’s and a gourmet hamburger. What made it so outrageously delicious were the nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios with the most intense flavor. And the sugar syrup was just so. Not too sweet, not too sticky, and not too much. Perfection in every little square.

Many pastry shops also sell various types of traditional puddings. We tried milk pudding (called muhallebi in Turkish) once, a silky, soft concoction with the most sublime taste. For the serious sugar addicts, shops and bazaars offer endless amounts and flavors of lokum, or Turkish delight. The brightly colored jelly-like cubes are covered in powdered sugar and their chewy, intense sweetness is not for the faint of heart.

Wandering through the streets of Istanbul and admiring the artfully prepared sweets on display in the countless pastry shops makes it easy to imagine the splendor of the legendary Ottoman cuisine of bygone days. Luckily, some of this splendor has survived for us to savor!

Turkish Delight

I have loads of pictures to share with you guys, so stay tuned for more about Istanbul coming up soon !

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the lovely Anne who blogs over at pigpigscorner. She recently gave away beautiful tins with tea flowers, and I was so excited when I found out that I was one of the winners! I’ve never won anything, so I’m holding on to my gift just a little bit longer before I brew myself a tea with one of the flowers. Please make sure to visit her wonderful blog, which is full of tons of mouthwatering recipes, restaurant reviews, and inspiring photos.

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Truffle Torte

Truffle Cake

I just got back from my trip to Istanbul and I’m so excited to tell you all about it and share pictures of this incredible city and its even more incredible cuisine with you. But before I do, I thought I’d tempt you with this truffle cake I recently made for my husband’s birthday. He had requested “something chocolaty”, a direction I was more than happy to follow since I had been waiting for an occasion to give this cake a try.

Truffle cake (or Trüffeltorte, as it’s called in German) is one of those heavenly concoctions that you find in every pastry shop in Vienna. This particular version is not for the faint of heart – if you’re on a diet you better click the back button on your browser, because just reading the ingredient list will add five pounds to your weight. For the rest of you who are firmly convinced that life is too short to not have your cake and eat it too, there are three layers of dense, hazelnut studded chocolate cake filled with a luxurious, smooth as velvet dark chocolate ganache that is lightly spiked with rum. For a smooth finish, the entire cake is enveloped in the same dark chocolate and rum ganache and topped with tiny curls of dark chocolate. The contrast between the dense cake and the melt in your mouth ganache is sublime and worth the extra amount of work this cake takes.

Trüffeltorte
For the cake:
200g butter at room temperature
80g powdered sugar
6 eggs, separated
90g sugar
200g good quality dark chocolate (65% is ideal)
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
70g flour
270g finely ground hazelnuts

1. Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler (alternatively, put chocolate in a Pyrex cup set in a pot with barely simmering water).
2. Combine hazelnuts and flour in a bowl.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix the butter with the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar until light and creamy.
4. Add egg yolks, one at a time and mix well.
5. Mix in melted chocolate until well incorporated.
6 Beat egg whites with sugar until glossy and stiff peaks form.
7. Beat 1/3 of the stiff egg whites into the chocolate batter with the mixer running on low until well incorporated.
8. Gently fold in the rest of the stiff egg whites with a spoon, alternating with the hazelnut-flour mix.
9. Pour batter into a 24cm round cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 50 to 60 minutes.
10. Let cool completely before removing from cake pan.
11. If the top of the cake has risen too much and formed a “dome”, cut it off so as to level the cake.

For the ganache:
375ml heavy cream
400g good quality dark chocolate (65% is ideal)
3 tablespoons rum
extra chocolate for decoration

1. Break chocolate into large pieces and put in a bowl.
2. Bring heavy cream to a boil and pour over chocolate. Let stand for a minute, add rum, and then carefully stir, beginning from the center until the chocolate has completely melted and the cream is fully incorporated. Don’t stir too energetically, because you don’t want to whip the ganache.
3. Cover and refrigerate until the ganache has thickened. It should be somewhat firm, but still easily spreadable.
4. Cut cake horizontally into three equally thick layers. Spread bottom layer with ganache, top with cake layer and continue with remaining layers and ganache. Make sure to leave enough ganache to frost the top and sides of the cake.
5. Spread an even coat of ganache onto top and sides of the cake.
6. Refrigerate cake until ganache has further firmed up.
7. When ganache is still wet, sprinkle top of the cake with a layer of chocolate curls. To make the curls, run a vegetable peeler down the sides of a block of room temperature chocolate. If the ganache has firmed up too much, the curls won’t stick. You can easily soften the ganache by gently blowing on the cake with a blow dryer for a few seconds.
8. Once you have decorated the cake with the curls, refrigerate it until the ganache is firm again.
9. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before serving. The cake should not be served cold. It stays fresh at room temperature for about 2 days.

Enjoy!

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Zucchini Tart With Mint And Feta

Zucchini Tart With Mint And Feta

We’ve had the most beautiful spring weather this past week. All of a sudden, it’s as if plants are exploding with bright green leaves and delicately scented flowers, and every morning and evening we are being treated to the most beautiful bird concert. Spring is my favorite season, and I wish it would last all year!

I find cooking to be so much more fun in spring and summer. With all the fresh produce, even the simplest dishes are so satisfying. I didn’t feel like spending hours in the kitchen over the weekend, so I decided to make this super quick and equally delicious Zucchini Tart. The recipe is from an old issue of Donna Hay Magazine, but you really don’t need a proper “recipe” for it. The tart is prepared in 15 minutes (I’m a pretty slow cook), and it takes only 20 minutes to bake in the oven. Served with a simple salad, it makes a great lunch or light dinner.

Zucchini Tart With Mint And Feta (serves 2)
1 sheet puff pastry
1-2 zucchini (depending on the size of the zucchini and the puff pastry)
finely grated peel of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt
pepper
1 lightly beaten egg
feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small cubes
fresh mint leaves
extra olive oil for drizzling

1. Put the puff pastry on a baking sheet, and create a raised border by folding over all four sides by about 1/2 inch.
2. Cut zucchini into thin slices.
3. In a bowl, combine sliced zucchini, grated lemon peel, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Arrange zucchini slices in overlapping rows on puff pastry.
5. Using a pastry brush, brush egg on pastry border.
6. Bake in preheated oven at 200C/390F for about 20 minutes or until pastry border is golden.
7. Let cool for a couple of minutes.
8. Sprinkle with cheese, mint, some extra pepper, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Enjoy!

 

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