Red Wine Poached Pears

red wine poached pears

Impressive, spectacular, elegant, fancy: a few words popping to my mind when I look at poached pears. They are complicated only until you try making them though, because actually this dessert is really easy. Hint: Holiday Table Showstopper.

When it comes to fall fruits, pears usually take the backseat to apples in terms of popularity. Why, I don’t know. Next time you’re out grocery shopping or better yet, at the farmers market, be sure to pick some up either to make this beautiful dessert, to roast them with honey and walnuts, bake up a cake with or to enjoy along some good cheese.

I admit I made wine poached pears last weekend because I was too ashamed to make mulled wine. The weather is still very much summery here with high temps and lots of sun, and you start drinking mulled wine when the cold rainy days hit… right?! Not me. I am already in the mood for mulled wine, in fact I’m rarely ever not in mulled wine mood. I should be the ambassador for this drink, if such a title exists.

Aaanyhow. For poaching, you’ll need pears that keep their shape when cooked, so look for firmer varieties. Any pear that is not overly ripe is ok, but mushy and bruised ones are not the way to go.

Poached pears take a little time to make but lucky for us, most of that time is hands-off.

First you put together the poaching liquid – spiced wine in this case (I used a Cabernet). Be sure to buy a decent bottle! When choosing wine for cooking there’s really no need for top shelf, but remember to always get something you’d be willing to drink. And you are not limited to red wine either – white wine, moscato, champagne, even chai tea works great for poaching fruits.

While the spices are infusing the liquid (and I get my fix of mulled wine smell), peel the pears: work in long, even strokes, leaving the stems on. If you want to serve your poached pears upright, slice the bottoms flat.

Next, transfer pears to poaching liquid. Depending on size and firmness, it takes 20-30 minutes of gentle simmer for the pears to get nice and tender. Turn them with a slotted spoon occasionally to ensure even cooking and color. Pro tip: put a small plate over them to weigh down if necessary.

The longer the pears sit in the flavorful spiced wine, the better they’ll taste so if you are making this recipe ahead, cool the fruit in the liquid once cooked and refrigerate overnight. If you don’t have that much time on your hands, the poaching liquid can be cooked down to a syrup immediately after the pears are ready.

The last step is to remove the pears from the wine and to reduce the liquid to a thin syrup. You do this by bringing the poaching liquid to a boil, than lower the heat to a steady simmer and cooking it down to about half its original volume, stirring occasionally.

Poached pears are great served chilled or warm (you can reheat them gently). Provide your guests with both a fork and a spoon – a fork to help secure the pear and the spoon to eat it with. Serve pears drizzled with the syrup, add a dollop of whipped cream, greek yogurt, whipped mascarpone, or vanilla ice-cream, and for some added texture, sprinkle with crunchy hazelnut croquant or toasted sliced almonds.

Red Wine Poached Pears

  • Difficulty: easy
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Spectacular yet easy poached pears in a spiced red wine syrup. Serves 4.

Ingredients

1 bottle dry red wine

½ cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

2 allspice

4 firm, ripe pears

Directions

  1. Combine wine, sugar and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 min. While liquid is infusing, peel pears.
  2. Place pears in poaching liquid, simmer for 20-30 minutes turning occasionally. Pears should be cooked but still firm.
  3. Remove and discard spices, set pears aside. Bring poaching liquid to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until reduced by half and syrupy, about 30 min. (Alternatively, cool pears in liquid to room temperature, than refrigerate 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Reduce wine before serving.)
  4. Place pears on serving plates, drizzle with sauce and serve with vanilla ice-cream sprinkled with hazelnut croquant. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

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Ever Made Elderberry Syrup?

elderberry syrup

Because you should. The stuff is all around now to be harvested and enjoyed.

Elderflowers do get more of the spotlight when it comes to making cordial. Early summer and the heady white blossoms may be gone, but they are replaced with the umbrella-shaped clusters of blue-black fruit: welcome elderberries!

Please note: Eating uncooked elderberries, leaves, bark or roots can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, when I’m talking about the elder plant I refer to European or Black Elder (Sambucus nigra). If you are collecting the flowers or berries yourself, ensure that you have correctly identified the plant as other types of elder may be more toxic.

That said, elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants, it’s usually taken as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms. In folk medicine, the berries are also known to be used as remedy for infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic. Elderberries have many nutritional benefits as well: a good source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

All that in a berry. And they taste great too, so go and pick some – the funky tart aroma is so unique! Making elderberry syrup is not a big deal at all, the recipe only calls for 3 ingredients: the berries, sugar and citric acid. When filled into sterilized bottles, the syrup has a decent shelf life of 12 months (as with any other canned product, discard if color, texture, taste or smell has changed). Refrigerate after opening.

A few tips, before you begin: wear rubber gloves when handling the berries, they stain everything deep purple. Wash berries after you have removed them from the stems. Mature berries will sink and remaining stems, immature berries, leafy matter and insects will float. You can store washed berries in ziploc bags in your freezer, or you may dry them as well for later use.

Drink simply diluted with water, or mix it up with lemon, mint or ginger. Just the type of refreshment you need in this heat!

Elderberry Syrup

  • Difficulty: easy
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Tasty, refreshing syrup made from the blue-black berries of the elder plant. Makes cca. 3,5 l syrup.

Ingredients

1 kg elderberries, stems removed

1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs sugar

3 l / 12 cups water

2 ½ tsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Wearing latex gloves, pick elderberries from stems. Wash.
  2. In a large pot, bring berries and water to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 30 min. stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain/press through a fine sieve.
  4. Add sugar and citric acid to juice, bring to a boil. Cook syrup uncovered for 15 min, until sugar has dissolved and syrup-y consistency is reached.
  5. Fill into sterilized bottles with the help of a funnel and ladle.
  6. Keep in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening.

Love,

Fruzsi

Image: Laura Muthesius / Our Food Stories

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.*

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

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

Classic Custardy Blueberry Clafoutis

 

blueberry clafoutis

I like to think of myself as a frugal shopper. There are a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to groceries – one in particular is I make good use of my freezer. Our local supermarket sells near ‘best before’ date food 20, 30, sometimes even 50 percent off and that’s exactly when I stocked up on blueberries a few months back.

Frozen fruit is great in smoothies, for baking, making sauces and small-batch jams, tossed in plain yogurt or a granola bowl… the list just goes on and on. It’s good to have stocks of your favorites, especially in these dark and gloomy winter days when you crave the fresh taste of fruit. Yes it’s 2018 and indeed, everything is available always, but I’d rather spend money on local, in-season products than pay double for something that was picked unripe on the other end of the world and travelled long-haul to get here.

That said, on to the matter of clafoutis. I’ve posted this French country dessert before, that time with a twist in texture. Now it’s back to the roots, by which I mean the pancake-like, custrady batter.

By the way, beignets last week and now this? What is it with French recipes? (Maybe the fact that France has one of the most renowned food cultures in the world… but IDK) Anyway, after that near-fail this one is simple, quick and no-fuss.

Call me lazy, but I put my blender to work again. (Remember dutch babies?) It couldn’t possibly get any easier: all ingredients – which aren’t many – in, a good whizz, batter done. You can even make it in advance, just don’t forget to pulse again before pouring. And for the people having something against blenders (please imagine my eyebrows shooting up): a good old-fashioned whisk and some muscle will do the same.

I find the thicker the slice, the better the clafoutis so I use a deep Pyrex dish for baking. A cake tin or a deep pie dish works as well. A trick I picked up over at Meilleur du Chef is sprinkling the baking dish with sugar after buttering – this extra bit of sweetness is just what you need when using tart fruits, plus it makes for a thin, caramelised crust. And who wouldn’t want that, right?!

Blueberry Clafoutis

  • Difficulty: easy
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Custardy French clafoutis – a classic country dessert. For 4-5.

Ingredients

4 eggs

110 g AP flour

100 g granulated sugar

500 ml whipping cream (30%)

150 ml milk

25 ml dark rum

1 packet vanilla sugar (7-8 g)

pinch of salt

400 g blueberries

butter and granulated sugar for the pan

Directions

  1. Put all ingredients except fruit in a blender and pulse to a homogenous, lump-free, pancake-like batter. Alternatively, in a large mixing bowl, combine eggs with sugar. Whisk in flour, add cream, milk, rum, vanilla sugar and salt. Mix well.
  2. While batter is resting, preheat oven to 210°C (410°F). Butter a deep baking dish and sprinkle with sugar. Shake off excess sugar.
  3. Place blueberries in the baking dish, cover with batter.
  4. Bake until dark golden, about 40 min.
  5. Let cool to set at least 30 min before cutting to portions. Can be served warm or cold. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Chocolate Beignets, As In Cooking Is Not Always Success and Glory

chocolate beignets

Remember when I told you how during carnival season it’s customary here in Hungary to make donuts? Since it’s that time of the year, I thought I’d post a donut recipe again, this time exploring how other nations do donuts. Pillowy French beignets (pron. ben-yay) were on top of the list.

I wanted them square, States-style. Yes, I know they make them round in Paris, but I had enough round donuts already and no squares yet. Also, the chocolate filling. That don’t need explaining I reckon.

So I got to it. And although they tasted awesome (like, really awesome!) and I eventually managed to shoot an ok-kinda photo of them, the honest truth is that I had quite a difficult time making these.

The dough was too damn sticky (which is probably my fault because I bought the same flour I previously found hard to work with). The beignets were turning over in the frying oil all by themselves. Half the amount would have been more than enough of the chocolate ganache, and it is simply impossible to fill the donuts with it when it’s still warm, like the recipe was saying. The smallest nozzle of my piping bag turned out to be still too big for the job, and there were sticky chocolate and sugar and oil everywhere.

I struggled, cursed, made a terrible mess of my kitchen, cursed some more, and even wished at one point the whole thing would just go and eff itself.

There. It’s out, and I feel liberated. (I also had a glass… ok two glasses of wine, so all is good now.) I wanted to tell you this because 99.9 percent of the time authors – me included – are being like oh, this recipe is so ridiculously easy, you can “make it from scratch” and it “comes together in a blink of an eye”. Moderate breakdowns and piles of dirty dishes are seldom mentioned.

Easy recipes do exist. This is not one of them. Or let me put it this way: it wasn’t for me at first try. I still decided to post it, difficulties and all. Cooking is fun and I thoroughly enjoy it, but I’d lie if I said it’s always a triumph. My kitchen and its output is not Instagrammable all of the time. So if you goofed up your last recipe, don’t be disheartened. Shit happens.

That said, I’m sure I will make beignets again. It’s a learning curve, plus they are just.so.good!

chocolate beignets

This is the recipe, adjusted to suck way less for you than it did for me. Good luck!

Chocolate Beignets

  • Difficulty: requires effort
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Fluffy-soft French donuts filled with a rich chocolate cream. Makes 12.

Ingredients

For the donuts:

50 g granulated sugar

150 ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

15 g fresh yeast

50 g unsalted butter

320 g AP flour + extra for dusting

pinch of salt

2 egg yolks

vegetable oil for frying

2 tbsp powdered sugar + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, for dusting

For the filling:

125 ml double cream

125 g dark chocolate, chopped

30 g unsalted butter, cubed

Directions

  1. Gently heat the sugar and milk in a small pan until warm and sugar has dissolved. Add vanilla.
  2. Crumble the yeast into a bowl, pour in half the sweetened warm milk, then mix and leave to activate.
  3. Place the remaining milk back on the heat and add the butter. Heat until butter melts, but don’t let the milk boil.
  4. Sift flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the hook attachment and make a well in the centre. Add the egg yolks, yeasted milk and the butter-milk mixture.
  5. Mix on low until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the mix is too sticky, add extra flour, a teaspoon at a time.
  6. Place dough in a clean bowl dusted with flour, cover with cling film to stop the dough forming a skin. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  7. While dough is rising, make the filling. Put the cream in a pan and heat until steaming, but not boiling. Put the chocolate and butter into another bowl. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy. Put ganache in the fridge to stiffen up.
  8. When dough has risen, knead lightly on a floured surface than roll out to a rectangle with a thickness of about 2 cm.
  9. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 12 rectangular pillows, then leave to rise again until doubled in size, about 30 min.
  10. Combine powdered sugar with granulated sugar in a bowl for dusting, set aside.
  11. Pour oil in a deep saucepan filling it one-third full and heat to 160°C. Fry the doughnuts in batches of 2-3 until evenly golden brown and cooked through. You will need to moderate the heat between batches, otherwise the doughnuts brown too quickly and remain raw inside or too slowly and suck up too much oil.
  12. Using a slotted spoon, remove the doughnuts from the oil and transfer to a dish lined with kitchen towels to drain excess oil. Once cool, transfer in the sugar to coat.
  13. To fill the doughnuts, spoon the chocolate ganache into a piping bag fitted with a small plain nozzle. Insert the nozzle into the doughnut and gently squeeze in the filling. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi