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

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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

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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

Perfectly Creamy Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk

creamy rice pudding

Late-winter February. It’s the time of year when I tend to be in a meh type of mood, generally uninspired and unenthusiastic.

It’s probably the lack of sunshine and being stuck indoors. Yes, I work out, take my vitamins, eat my greens and have nothing against the occasional walk in the cold, but still… Hello, weather? Getting desperate for spring here!

When these blues hit, I consciously remind myself how there’s something to like in every season. You have to nip the feeling in the bud, otherwise you’ll end up in a downward spiral.

Luckily, a distraction usually does the trick. Starting a new book (just ordered anti-guru Sarah Knight’s new No F*cks Given Guide ‘You Do You’ which is guaranteed to make for a good laugh based on previous volumes), the annual closet overhaul, or a quick search to see what’s left of Zara Home’s winter sale? Whatever works!

And some cooking: making my No. 1 winter warmer, sweet and creamy rice pudding never disappoints. It’s funny how I never posted this when I make it so often. Now, I know some people think rice pudding is quite a humble food, but I assure you: when done right, it’s as good as it gets!

In my opinion, the best rice pudding is c.r.e.a.m.y. above everything else. That’s what I always aim at. With that in mind, there are a few tricks for making the perfect rice pudding. Also, some points where things can go south (been there, done that). Learn from my mistakes, read the following experience-based notes and go for it!

First, the rice. Over the years, I’ve tried different types (depending mainly on what was on hand to be honest). You’ll want to use medium-grain or short-grain rice here. It’s all about starch: the right amount thickens the pudding, while the grains stay tender through cooking without breaking apart. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make rice pudding with long-grain varieties like Basmati or Jasmine rice, but these are less starchy, take longer to cook and the result will be rather dry. My favorite rice for this recipe by far is Arborio.

Than there’s the milk. It’s a real hazard when it comes to your stove’s cleanliness – not watching the pot as the milk comes to a boil… need I go on? Be sure to keep a close eye on it while warming!

After you’ve added the rice, stir down regularly or it will catch on the bottom. Keep mixture at a gentle simmer, allowing time for the rice to cook. I find this quantity needs somewhere between 30-40 min. Test the rice for done-ness though (grains should be tender), do not rely on the clock completely.

Another thing also necessary for perfect creaminess  – you guessed it: fat. Use whole milk, full-fat coconut milk and heavy cream.

The egg yolks are responsible for that coveted custardy texture, but add hot liquid to the egg mixture too quickly, and the yolks will curdle. Troubleshoot tip: tempering. This means bringing the temperature of the eggs up slowly. Spoon a small amount of hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Keep adding milk until egg mixture is warmed up (this will take about a ladle of milk). Once done, pour warm egg-milk mixture back in the pot in a slow, thin stream, again whisking constantly.

This is a basic recipe, so feel free to flavor the hell out of it! Also, I think it’s perfectly good as it is, but sometimes I feel like putting the bowls of finished pudding under the broiler to brown the tops.

That said, my recipe for the perfectly creamy rice pudding:

Creamy Coconut Milk Rice Pudding

  • Difficulty: medium
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Silky smooth rice pudding with fragrant coconut milk. Serves 4.

Ingredients

600 ml whole milk

1 can (400 ml) full-fat coconut milk

1/2 cup Arborio rice

2 egg yolks

1/4 tsp salt

100 g sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

200 ml heavy cream

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, bring milk and well-shaken coconut milk to a boil.
  2. Stir in rice, reduce heat to allow for a gentle simmer.
  3. Stir down regularly to ensure rice is not sticking to the bottom. Mixture will form a skin – just stir it back in.
  4. While rice is cooking, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, salt, vanilla and cream in a bowl big enough to accommodate the mixture and about a ladle of milk.
  5. Test rice for done-ness: taste a grain if it’s tender with no hard center.
  6. Once rice is cooked, remove pan from heat. Temper the egg mixture with a ladle of hot milk, than pour warmed egg mixture back into the pan in a slow stream, whisking constantly.
  7. Return saucepan to heat. Cook on medium, stirring, until pudding boils – it should be saucy but not soupy in consistency. In this phase, mixture will not yet resemble finished pudding. Don’t worry, the custard will set and thicken as it cools.
  8. Ladle rice pudding into bowls, let cool completely and refrigerate. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Hazelnut Cookie Sandwiches with Chocolate Espresso Ganache

cookie sandwich

We’ve been re-watching Strike Back over the weekend and a good snack was in order. The Husband was hinting at Nutella but since we were out – quelle horreur! – I had to think of some other treat with hazelnuts and chocolate.

Then I remembered pining a cookie sandwich (Hazelnut Espresso Truffle Cookies from The Perfect Cookie Book) by America’s Test Kitchen that would fit the bill perfectly. Chocolate, hazelnut and coffee are a classic Italian combination everyone loves.

I did alter the recipe a bit: instead of using instant espresso powder to flavor the dough, I put the coffee into the ganache (and thus used less cream). The dough is a bit sticky so be generous with the flour when rolling! Also, mine needed more time to bake than the recipe suggested, but that depends on your oven so be sure to keep an eye on your cookies.

They turned out sublime and we had an especially hard time being patient and not eating them before I shot the sandwiches for this post.

cookie sandwiches

Now that I mentioned photography… A goal I set for this year is finding my style. It’s a process and to be honest, something I’ve been struggling with lately.

A thought that occured to me is maybe defining my style will also help in further developing it. Reading Rachel’s post 3 Words To Describe Your Food Photography Style gave me a great tool: I’m doing a word bank now. This technique is about coming up with a bunch of descriptive words, than narrowing them down to the most meaningful. It’s both easy and hard! I’ll share mine soon, and also challenge you to do yours – it’s a fun verbal activity.

And after this short sidenote, the recipe for the cookie sandwiches:

Hazelnut Cookie Sandwiches with Chocolate Espresso Ganache

Decadent cookie sandwiches with a rich, espresso-flavored ganache. Makes about 35.

Ingredients

150 g hazelnut meal

320 g AP flour

1/4 tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

225 g unsalted butter, room temperature

300 g granulated sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

2 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:

50 ml freshly brewed espresso

150 ml heavy cream

300 g dark chocolate, chopped

Directions

  1. In a bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder and ground hazelnuts together.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar with a handheld electric mixer (or in a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment) until pale and fluffy. Add egg, yolk (one at a time) and vanilla, beat until combined.
  3. Add flour mixture in 3 additions and mix until just combined, scraping down bowl with a spatula as needed.
  4. Form dough into a ball, wrap in cling foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until stiffened.
  5. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).
  6. Divide dough in 4 quarters. On a floured surface, roll 1 disk of dough (keep rest in the fridge) into a circle about 3 mm thick. Using a 5 cm round cookie cutter, cut circles, place 2 cm apart on prepared sheets. Gently reroll and cut scraps.
  7. Bake in the centre rack of the oven until edges are just slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
  8. Let cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Make the ganache: Brew an espresso. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming but not boiling. Pour hot cream and coffee over chocolate chips; cover and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk mixture until smooth. Refrigerate ganache until thickened, stirring occasionally.
  10. Assemble cookie sandwiches: Spread a heaping teaspoon of ganache over bottom half of cookies, top with remaining cookies and press lightly to adhere. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Farewell Friday Finds

chic up your office

Not beating about the bush here: I am discontinuing Friday Finds.

The day has come but it’s not a sad day at all. I feel liberated after making this decision because for some time now creating the weekly roundups felt more like a chore, not fun and inspiring like it used to.

I think falling out of love with something you do is a natural part of the journey, and realizing you did is essential to make way for the new. Just like cleaning out your closet, curating your content is a step forward in developing your style. Which is never finished by the way – it should be evolving constantly.

I hope to replace Friday Finds soon with something better and more personal, the outlines of a different kind of regular feature are already in my head.

Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Love,

Fruzsi

Image by Love & Light