Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf with Elderflower Glaze

lemon poppy seed bread with elderflower glazeWe’ve got a weird spring this year. March was colder than usual, while April turned out to be the warmest in 110+ years. Completely missed that lovely transitional time, went instead from winter coats to short sleeves in a matter of days. Nature is perplexed too – tulips lasted less than a week, lilacs were over before Mother’s Day, black locust are literally everywhere now, a month early.

Same goes for elderflower. I realized they started blooming on one of our walks around the neighbourhood last week. I knew I had to act if I don’t want to miss my window for elderflower cordial so I grabbed a basket and a pair of pruning shears. Ended up with a few nasty scars in the hedgerow, but they’ll heal. The things I do for my cordial! 🙂

Anyway, the syrup is already bottled up and sitting in the pantry. I popped the first one open to make the glaze for this easy dessert I’ve been wanting to bake ever since we were served a slice (ok, I took two…) at the calligraphy workshop with lovely Boglarka Gleichauf (make sure to check her page The Fanatic Calligrapher!). It’s Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake.

The batter is an easy pound cake variation made with basic ingredients, not much to talk about really. It’s just a few minutes to throw together, but the combination of lemon and poppy seed makes this otherwise simple loaf so fresh and cheerful. Hubby said it tastes like sunshine. It’s also moist and tender, and let’s not forget that luscious glaze with the heady aroma of elderflower. What’s not to love?

Now, before I give you the recipe I have to tell I don’t care much for citrus zest so I simply omit it from my cooking. The juice of the lemon gives enough tartness to this cake by itself in my opinion, but do feel free to add the zest as well if it’s something you like.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake with Elderflower Glaze

  • Difficulty: easy
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Moist pound cake with the fresh taste of lemon, crunchy poppy seeds and fragrant elderflower glaze.

Ingredients

For the batter:

2 cups AP flour

2 tbsp poppy seeds

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

6 tbsp butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 cup natural yogurt

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice + zest (optional)

For the glaze:

2 tbsp elderflower syrup

1 cup powderd sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C/350°F. Line with parchment paper and grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and poppy seeds.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add yogurt and lemon juice, mix to fully incorporate.
  4. Switch to a spatula. Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions, folding until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 min to 1 h depending on your oven.
  6. Let loaf cool in pan for 15 min. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. While loaf is cooling, make glaze: mix syrup with powdered sugar. Pour over loaf. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I have visited and paid for the service mentioned in this post. What I write about business establishments on My Chest of Wonders represents my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

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Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Flavored Sugars

infused sugar

I’ve first encountered flavored sugars at my local Lidl, and even though I consider myself a conscious consumer, the marketing totally worked. I mean let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want something called Deluxe Baked Apple Flavour Sugar? Especially on a dark and rainy fall afternoon.

Although I love this product, at one point I started thinking how difficult could it be to make something similar at home. A quick Pinterest search later I realized these fancy sugars are a hit! Bonus points for being inexpensive and virtually endless in variety.

Anything you’d use plain white sugar in/on can be spruced up with infused sugars: they are wonderful to have on hand for stirring into coffee, sprinkling over oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, cookies, even to garnish the rim of a cocktail glass. They take anything up a notch.

The technique for making infused sugars is so straightforward I wouldn’t even call it a recipe, pretty much like infused salts. You will need 4 parts plain ol’ granulated sugar, brown sugar or powdered sugar, plus 1 part flavor of your choosing. Let the sugar sit for at least one week to get optimal flavor.

Spices may be added ground or whole, or both for a pretty presentation (you can always strain the infused sugar into a separate bowl before using to flavor something where bigger particles are not welcome).

Store your creations in small airtight jars (I love these affordable ones from Ikea). My  vanilla-cinnamon sugar is kept in a sifter-shaker so it’s ready for a generous dusting whenever inspiration strikes, which is often.

Flavored sugars made with dry ingredients (like vanilla, cinnamon or culinary-grade lavender) last for months, while varieties with wet ingredients (like fresh mint leaves or citrus rind) have a shorter shelf life of a few weeks. Don’t forget to mark the date you made each batch on the container. Your infusion might clump up a little while drying, but a good shake helps break it up before using.

Consider creating a gift set for Mother’s Day with nice tags and suggestions to use. Have fun experimenting with interesting flavor combinations, and don’t forget to tell me about it!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship, commissions or gifts. No affiliate links are included in this post.*

The Science of Jam Making

apricot jam

Yes, the last snows have just melted and any fresh fruit is still a while away, but being prepared never hurt nobody, right? Read on so you’ll be well-educated and ready when all those lovely local strawberries hit the stands of your farmers market!

Up until recently, I thought jam making was kind of an occult science. Weird, because I watched my grandmother and mother make batch after batch after batch as I was growing up, and it seemed to be the most straightforward thing in the world. Still, I was intimidated to try myself because I could only think of the ways it could go wrong – what if my jam spoils and I food-poison my family?

I don’t think either granny or my mom ever worried about their jar disinfecting practices or pectin percentages, but I am admittedly a bit of a nerd. So if you too are curious about how jam making works, geek out with me for a bit and learn the simple science behind this preserving method. It’s gonna be fun!

First of all, why bother with jam making at all? Two reasons. First, although the quality of commercial jams are improving, those are still just the shadows of a good homemade jam, often containing more coloring, preservatives and artificial flavors than actual fruit. And also because buying jam gives no way near the satisfaction of making it yourself!

Once I made my first batch, there was no stopping me. Pictured above is a vanilla-cardamom apricot preserve from last summer. I have dozens of flavor variations in a notebook that I want to try, and the list is growing.

So what is jam?

The wonderful jams of summers past are actually creative exercises in chemistry. Today, jam generally refers to a spreadable, chunky-textured mix made from the juice and flesh of fruit. A clever balance of pectins, sugar, and acid turns the cooked fruit into our favorite topping for toast.

The fruit

The choice of fruit for jam-making is simply endless. Always try to use seasonal fruit to get the best flavour. Remove leaves and twigs, wash if needed, remove cores and/or stones.

The equipment

You’ll need a wide-mouthed pan big enough that the fruit does not reach more than halfway up the side. Use one with a heavy bottom for even heat distribution – otherwise the jam will catch and burn. Also, a wooden preserving spoon (it has a flat head that helps keep the mixture moving and stops it sticking to the bottom of the pan), a ladle, a funnel, jars, and optionally a food thermometer.

The chemistry

To achieve a perfectly set jam, a number of factors need to be just right. The three key elements that go into jam making are sugar, pectin, and acids. Understanding the chemistry behind why jam sets can also help you identify and fix problems.

The sugar

Sugar imparts a preservative effect: binding water molecules to itself reduces the amount of water available in the jam, to the point at which it is too low for microbial growth. Binding the water molecules also frees up the pectin chains so they can form their network.

Finished jams have a sugar content of roughly 60%. To achieve this, recipes comprise mostly equal weights of fruit and sugar. While you can totally play with this 1:1 ratio, be aware that too much fruit and you may lose the preserving effect, while too much sugar and the jam will be the consistency of set honey, losing the color and aroma of the fruit.

The pectin

Pectins are long, chain-like sugar molecules found in the skins and cores of fruit. These compounds are the ones that turn the wet, sloppy fruit sauce into the semi-rigid, elastic substance of our dreams, a texture referred to as a gel.

Through boiling, pectin is released from the fruit and at one point forms a mesh structure that holds the liquid together. As the pectin content of different fruits varies, some may require an added dose in the form of commercially packed pectin or a pectin-rich other fruit. See this chart for specific pectin contents.

The acid

High acidity makes your jam an unpleasant place for micro organisms to breed, helping to extend the shelf life. Acids also help the pectin branches to bond. Fruits naturally contain acids (the most well-known is citric acid), but often this won’t be enough to reach the desired pH. For this reason, lemon juice or powdered forms of citric acid is added. As a rough guide, the juice of a whole lemon (30-40 ml) will be needed for low acid fruits, half a lemon will be enough for medium acid fruits, and you won’t need any for high acid fruits. In general, fruits with high pectin will also have high acidity.

The process

Heat the fruits slowly, without sugar, until a very gentle boil is reached, then cook until just tender. The heat will break down the structure of the fruit, release the moisture and cause the whole fruit to soften. Add the sugar (it may foam up, so be careful). Allow the sugar to dissolve over a low heat then bring to the boil. If you want larger fruit pieces, avoid stirring at this point. Not only does the texture change by boiling, the water content is also reduced, increasing the concentration of sugar and fruit components. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the setting point is reached.

How do I know it’s ready?

There are simple ways of telling when the pectin network has formed and you are ready to pour the jam out. Get the thermometer: if the temperature is around 104-105°C, the sugar content is high enough to allow the pectin branches to join. A direct measurement can also tell the doneness: pour a small blob of jam on a saucer, let cool in the fridge and then push with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it means the pectin network has solidified and setting point has been reached.

You can now take the jam off the heat. Note that if you don’t boil it long enough the pectin network will not form properly and you’ll end up with a sloppy liquid. Boil it too long though and you risk having a too thick preserve, losing the fresh flavour and color.

Time to can

Allow the jam to cool and thicken for about 10 minutes before pouring into prepared jars (read how to disinfect jars and lids here). Don’t leave it any longer, as lukewarm jam is a breeding ground for mildew spores present in the air. Each jar should be topped up to just less than a centimetre below the surface. Adjust lids, process, than cool jars.

Don’t forget to test your seals before labeling and putting jars away in your pantry! Gently press the middle of the lids with a finger – if the lid springs up when you release your finger, it’s not sealed properly. No need to throw these out, just keep refrigerated and consume shortly.

Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place away from direct sunlight and accidental freezing. Once a bottle of jam is opened, micro organisms have been reintroduced. The same applies as with unsealed jars: keep in the fridge and consume shortly.

Hope all this makes sense and you’ll try your hand at jam making too! Let me know!

Love,

Fruzsi

 

10+1 Essential Kitchen Gadgets to Get You Started With Baking

*This is not a sponsored post and no affiliate links are included. Images are used for illustrational purposes only*

If you are building your first kitchen or have decided to get more serious about your baking (Farewell, pre-made cookie doughs and muffin mixes!), thumbs up and welcome to the community! I made you a shopping list of the things you should own to make the most of your baking, all based on experience.

I am a self-taught baker and a sucker for all things kitchen. Sometimes I honestly feel I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an Ikea, let alone online shopping (can anyone relate?), but at least some good comes of my culinary hoarding problem – I can tell you what get’s used a lot and what stays idle collecting dust.

It’s funny because I’m actually a very conscious shopper but somehow could not yet master up that kind of moderation over kitchen-related purchases. Working on it though!

For a more minimalistic approach on your kitchen collection (or anything else, really), the first step is to get rid of the things that have accumulated in your space over time. I’m after the latest kitchen cull, where I was brutally honest with myself about the gear I really use, and the stuff that’s just taking up precious cupboard space.

I found a local charity that accepts kitchen goods as well, and donated my barely ever used items. If you are a bit of a kitchen hoarder like me, I strongly encourage you to take the time and clean out your cabinets. It’s liberating!

That said, the things you will actually make good use of are the following (you’ll find them at various price points so you can make it work whatever the budget):

#1 Baking spatula. You’d want to find the best combination of size, flexibility and strength: small enough to fit in jars, flexible enough to scrape the sides of bowls and strong enough to press down doughs. Also, look for a slightly angled tip and ’heatproof’ written on the label. (GIR Ultimate High Heat Silicone Spatula)

GIR Silicone Spatula

# 2 Balloon whisk for breaking up liquids, dispersing solids, and incorporating air. Get a medium and a small one with a comfortable, grippy handle and flexible wires. Choose the one with the more loops. Non-stick, no-scrape silicone coating on the wires is a plus. (OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk)

OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk

#3 Bench scraper. This rectangular piece of metal with a grip is used for cutting, scraping, lifting and folding pastry, bread and other doughs. The blade needs to be stiff enough for cutting, with a sharper blade rather than a dull one. Look for a model with a ruler on the edge for easy measurements. (Ateco Stainless Steel Bench Scraper)

ateco stainless steel bench scraper

#4 Measuring tools. More precisely, a sturdy Pyrex jug for liquid measures, and a set of measuring cups and spoons for dry goods. Stainless steel over plastic. (Pyrex Measuring Jug and Hudson Essentials Stainless Steel Measuring Cups Set)

pyrex measuring jug

hudson measuring cup set

#5 Mixing bowls. You’ll need a bigger and a smaller one, preferably microwave and dishwasher-safe. Opt for a design featuring a spout and a handle for easy, spill-free pouring. (Ikea VISPAD)

ikea mixing bowl set

#6 Pastry blender. This gadget is created to work solid fats quickly into flour without melting, but is equally good at mashing anything. Ok it’s not a necessity, but you still would be glad to have it around, trust me. Look for a solid stainless steel construction and sturdy handle. (Cake Boss Stainless Steel Pastry Blender)

Cake Boss Pastry Blender

#7 Pastry brush. To brush eggwash onto pastry or oil a baking tin. Pastry brush bristles come in plastic, silicone or natural fibres. Silicone brush strands are less likely to fall out or splinter, plus they wash easily. However, liquid tends to drip off silicone rather than grip. Natural brushes give a more even coat, but the bristles tend to flake. Whichever material you choose, go for a brush that’s flexible, soft-haired, wide and flat. (Matfer Pastry Brush)

matfer patry brush

#8 Scale. If you’re still wondering why you need one: for more accurate measures and more consistent results. You’d be surprised how wildly inaccurate volumetric measurements can be! A small, reliable digital scale that can do conversions is a must-have kitchen tool and could be the difference between a perfect or a collapsed cake. (AWS Digital Scale)

AWS digital kitchen scale

#9 Sieves. Bowl-shaped metal sieves are among a kitchen’s most versatile tools. The metal mesh has to be able to handle some pressure without pulling loose from its frame. They come with medium (used for sifting, draining and straining), fine (for separating particles and refining textures), and superfine mesh for dusting. (Premium Fine Mesh Strainers)

premium fine mesh strainers

#10 Thermometer. In recipes calling for specific internal cooking temperatures, a thermometer can make all the difference between a perfectly done dish and one that’s under or overcooked. An instant-read digital thermometer is generally more accurate, consistent and convenient to use than an analog. (Habor Instant-Read Digital Thermometer)

Habor Instant-Read Food Thermometer

+1 Stand mixer. If you can only afford one splurge, a stand mixer should be it. Totally pays off! I don’t happen to own the you-know-which-one generic trademark, but I’m perfectly happy with my more affordable piece as well. These workhorses are more efficient at evenly combining ingredients than a human could ever be, and help cut down on prep times tremendously. (KitchenAid Classic Plus Series)

KitchenAid Classic Plus white

So that’s my list. Curious to see how yours look like!

Love,

Fruzsi

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear All,

I am a bit sad but also very excited at the same time. I am writing this post to tell you that after much consideration, I’ve decided I will temporarily focus my attention elsewhere.

My Chest of Wonders was always a hobby for me. As a creative outlet, it gave me so much – I’ve learned a great deal in the past 2 years. I still love blogging, cooking, creating recipes and sharing it with you, but I am currently working on a new project and after that and a nine to five, I just don’t think I’ll have the time to create content on a regular basis like I used to.

I wish I could keep doing it, but for the foreseeable future I’m going on a different path. This is not a farewell though, rather hitting pause on a few things to be able to focus on others. I am keeping the blog, but I might not update it every week like I used to.

So whether you are a Follower, Reader, or Visitor dropping by, thank you! Thank you for all the encouraging words left in the comments, for every like and click. I hope I will be seeing you soon.

Have a lovely week!

Love,

Fruzsi

Hello March: Sour Cherry Coffee Cake with Whipped Crème Fraîche

cherry sponge cake

They say self-deception will not serve you well. Not when you dream of warmer seasons and decide to play make-believe with your senses by a dessert featuring one of summer’s signature fruits!

The base of this well-known Hungarian treat is a sponge cake. I think I will need to elaborate on that because there are a Whole Wide World of Sponge Cakes: Victoria, Angel food, French biscuits, Génoise, chiffon, foam cakes, and so on and so forth.

Generally, pastries of this family get their light, open texture from whipped egg whites a.k.a. egg foam. They are relatively quick and simple to make, but you need to be skillful (read: gentle) with your folding.

The name sponge cake around here is used to refer either to a light foam cake made with just 3 ingredients (eggs, sugar and flour), or a heavy foam cake made with added butter. The latter is denser, crumbly and stays moist longer.

A sponge cake is among the first things your granny teaches you to bake. They are wonderfully versatile and used in a multitude of Central-Eastern European recipes. This particular one plays in the ‘with butter’ league and also employs some baking powder, as it needs a little added strength to rise under the weight of all those juicy fruits.

The sour cherries I used here were home-grown (I wrote about my parents’ horticultural vein before), but it’s totally comme il faut in my book to bake with store-bought fruit. I prefer frozen to canned though, and I don’t think you need that syrup in your life either.

What elevates this classic besides the crunchy, toasted walnuts on top is the dollop of whipped crème fraîche served on the side. Do you like crème fraîche? Is it even available where you live? It’s still quite exotic here – that much is obvious from the price tag. If you can find it, that is.

For those of you not yet familiar with this dairy: crème fraîche is similar to sour cream, but thicker, richer, and less tangy. It’s great in both sweet and savory dishes. I particularly love how it offsets the sweetness of tarts and pies perfectly, adding another layer of flavor to every bite. You can whip crème fraîche into a thick, creamy topping just like you would do with heavy cream.

It’s also a no-brainer to make at home, not to mention considerably cheaper! All you need is heavy (whipping) cream, full-fat natural yogurt and about 24 hours on the counter. Just mix a cup of cream with 2 tbsp yogurt, and let it sit in a glass jar at room temperature until it becomes thick and creamy. Keep it in the fridge afterwards and use within 5 days.

Sour Cherry Coffee Cake with Whipped Crème Fraîche

  • Difficulty: easy
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Classic sponge cake loaded with fruits and crunchy walnuts, served with rich crème fraîche.

Ingredients

4 medium eggs, separated

1/4 tsp salt

180 g butter, room temperature

250 g superfine sugar

4 tbsp AP flour

1 packet (8 g) vanilla sugar

1/2 packet (7 g) baking powder

100 g walnuts, chopped

300 g fresh or frozen sour cherries, pitted and drained

butter and flour for greasing the pan

Directions

  1. Thaw and drain, or if using fresh, wash, pit and drain sour cherries. Roughly chop walnuts. Mix flour with baking powder. Set aside.
  2. Thoroughly butter and flour a 22×33 cm (9×13″) pan (I’ve divided the batter into smaller dishes for photography purposes).
  3. Preheat oven to 160 C (320 F).
  4. In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter with a handheld electric mixer until fluffy.
  5. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until incorporated.
  6. Add sugar in 3 portions to the egg-butter mixture, mix on medium until pale and fluffy and sugar has dissolved, about 4-5 min. Set aside.
  7. In another bowl, whip cold egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form.
  8. Gently fold egg foam into egg-butter-sugar mixture with a spatula.
  9. Fold in flour and baking powder until incorporated.
  10. Pour batter in the prepared pan. Arrange cherries on top. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and vanilla sugar.
  11. Bake until batter has risen and golden brown, about 30-40 min.
  12. Let cool in the pan before slicing. Enjoy slightly warm or cool with a dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped crème fraîche on the side (optional).

Love,

Fruzsi

Carrot Cake, Because We’re So Ready For Spring

carrot cake

Let me start with a question: how come it’s a tradition to make carrot cake around (for) Easter when this popular root vegetable is going right out of season in spring? (Yes, carrots have a season too: late summer and fall, although they are available from storage year round)

Anyway. I think we’d all agree that every season is a good season to make something as delicious as a rich and moist carrot cake, late winter being no exception.

Everyone likes this decadent dessert a bit different spices, nuts, raisins or pineapple-wise and that’s fine. Make it the way you like it! I happen to be a (wal)nuts and for-the-love-of-all-that’s-holy-please-no-raisins kinda girl. And I use apples, sans pine. Different strokes for different folks!

carrot cake

As for the other single most important bit, the frosting – and this is guaranteed to make frowned foreheads across the pond – your cream cheese+butter+sugar combo is something I just can’t come to like. No offence, but I find it too sweet and thick.

To coat my cake, I substitute mascarpone for cream cheese. Let’s stop here for a sec: if you are wondering how cream cheese and mascarpone are different, in short cream cheese is tangier and mascarpone is milder. Mascarpone is made from cream coagulated with just acid, richer and creamier with a higher fat content. Cream cheese is made from milk with lactic bacteria, more acidic and with a lower fat content. I love both but in this recipe, I happen to like mascarpone better.

I also swap butter for whipped cream. A generous slathering of this airier, frothy filling suits my taste better but then again, it’s just a personal preference.

carrot cake

As is the way you arrange the cake. To give a fancier look for this otherwise simple dessert, I prefer layers and frosting, generous on top and thinner on the sides. I know the uniqueness of naked cakes has worn off a bit, but I’m still making them in 2018 and #notsorry.

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Filling

Moist and deliciously spicy carrot cake filled with airy mascarpone whipped cream.

Ingredients

For the cake:

350 g carrots

1 medium apple

100 g whole wheat flour

200 g AP flour

100 g walnut meal

1 packet (15 g) baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

3 eggs

150 ml neutral vegetable oil

150 g brown sugar

For the filling:

250 g mascarpone

400 ml whipping cream

1 packet (7 g) vanilla sugar

Directions

  1. Generously butter and flour two 17 cm cake tins (6.5″).
  2. Peel, core and grate apple. Peel and grate carrots. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 150C (300F).
  4. In a large mixing bowl, mix flours, baking powder, salt, spices and walnut meal.
  5. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and oil until frothy.
  6. Fold egg mixture into flour mixture. Add carrots and apple, mix until combined.
  7. Divide batter equally between the tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about an hour.
  8. Let cool 20 min before removing from tins. Cut both in half horizontally so you have 4 layers. Cool completely.
  9. Why layers are cooling, make filling: mix mascarpone and cream with an electric mixer on low to combine. Increase speed and whisk until stiff peaks form.
  10. Arrange cake. Refrigerate for 1 h before serving. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi