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

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

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

You’ve Got Bread Pudding, We Have THIS

hungarian makos guba

Christmas is unthinkable in Central-Eastern Europe without sweets made with nuts. If it’s mostly walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds in your region, depends on the climate but all of us in the heart of Europe bake similar traditional holiday treats.

And there is another very important ingredient in Hungarian kitchens around festive season: poppy seeds. The symbol of richness, also supposed to bring you luck. Such a favorite many of us enjoy it all year round.

We use poppy seeds in a great many recipes from bejgli (a poppy or walnut filled pastry roll), to nudli (small potato dumplings sprinkled with sugared poppy seeds) to rétes (strudel) to flódni (a Hungarian-Jewish pastry with layers of fillings), and I could just go on and on.

If you happen to have some sweet type of bread that dried on you – because you forgot to put it in the freezer – you are in luck! Your negligence just landed you the opportunity to try the one particular poppy-based dessert that’s intentionally not listed above: mákos guba (pron. maa-kosh goo-bah).

It’s a great and easy recipe to repurpose leftover, dry bread. Whatever you have on hand works from regular white bread to brioche, buns, crescent rolls and the like. Just avoid sourdough or whole-wheat loaves; the savory flavors don’t make them suited to a sweet bread pudding.

Because mákos guba is a kind of bread pudding: the pastry slices are layered in a baking dish, softened with sweetened milk, sprinkled with ground poppy and powdered sugar, than baked until the middles are soft and the top is crunchy and golden.

hungarian makos guba

I always liked this dessert but only begin really loving it when I deviated a little from the family recipe and traded in crescents for challah and sugared milk for crème anglaise. That seriously raised the bar! This new and improved mákos guba made it from a frugal weekend dish right to our holiday table: as part of creating new traditions for ourselves with the Husband, it’s going to be dessert after a hearty soup for lunch on December 24th.

Here’s how I make it:

Hungarian Poppy Seed Guba

  • Difficulty: easy
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Sweet bread pudding layered with vanilla-flavored custard and ground poppy seeds. Serves 4.

Ingredients

100 g poppy seeds, ground

80 g powdered sugar

an 500 g (1 lb) challah or brioche, a little dry, cut to 14-16 slices

800 ml whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 egg yolks

50 g granulated sugar

2 tbsp butter

Directions

Make crème anglaise:

  1. Heat milk and vanilla in a heavy bottomed saucepan until steaming, but not boiling.
  2. While milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the granulated sugar until pale.
  3. Temper custard: whisking constantly, slowly but steadily add hot milk to egg mixture.
  4. Transfer back to saucepan and cook on low heat for a few minutes until the consistency of a pouring sauce is reached. Set aside, divided: use 500 ml to soak challah, reserve 300 ml to serve.

Arrange guba:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (355F), butter a deep baking dish using 1 tbsp of the butter.
  2. Mix poppy seeds with powdered sugar.
  3. Cover bottom of dish with challah slices. Soak slices with custard, than sprinkle generously with the poppy mixture. Continue layering until you run out of challah.
  4. Put remaining butter pieces on top and bake until golden, about 30 min. Enjoy warm, served with remaining crème anglaise and/or whipped cream.

 

Love,

Fruzsi

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

sour cherry slab pie

Pie. One of world’s favorite desserts, an affaire de coeur no matter where you live. Yet it only cleared on me know that I’m writing this post, that slab pies are quite under the radar over at your end in America. That needs to change!

When we use the word pite (pron. pee-tech) in Hungary, 9 out of 10 times it comes in rectangular form. Ditch your circular dish for once and try baking pie in a shallow, rimmed baking pan. It feeds more mouths with less mess ’n fuss, and with the bar outfit you get more crust too. Sensible. Yes, that’s the word for slab pies.

Side by side, sweet quark and sour cherry filled slab pies must be the most popular around here; almost every house in our neighborhood has a sour cherry tree in the front yard. My family moved from the capital to the suburbs some 20 years ago so ours is old now, but we still get a steady supply of the tart fruit year in, year out.

And so it pains me to see how my parents are the only ones there taking the time and effort to harvest the crimson-to-near-black delicacy when these are so sought after at the farmers’ market. Fresh sour cherries don’t show up often in stores as their shelf life is quite short: they bruise easily. That said, packages from the frozen goods section of the supermarket is your next best option.

More acidic and having greater nutritional benefits than sweet cherry, the sour type also holds its shape better when baked. And there’s no need to restrict lovely sour cherries to just pie either! Dry, can, freeze, or make jam from a batch to enjoy later in many kinds of sweet and savory dishes.

sour cherry slab pie

In this recipe, a little cinnamon goes a long way, and a woven lattice-top is making the pie visually pleasing. This crust recipe works with any berry or stone fruit that’s in season near you. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or cold after a good sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yet another reason to love pie!

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

  • Difficulty: medium
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The #1 summer pie in Hungary, coming in a sheet pan.

Ingredients

For the crust:

500 g AP flour

250 g cold butter, cut to cubes

pinch of salt

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp baking powder

1 medium egg + 1 for eggwash

1-2 tbsp sour cream

For the filling:

1 kg sour cherry, washed and pitted

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 packet vanilla flavor pudding mix (not the instant variety) or 40 g / 2 ½ tbsp cornstarch + 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Mix pitted sour cherries with sugar, set aside.
  2. For the crust, in a medium bowl mix flour with salt, sugar and baking powder.
  3. Working quickly, cut in cold butter until rough crumbles are formed. Do not overwork, clumps should not yet collect.
  4. Add egg, plus 1 to 2 tbsp sour cream and work with your hands until dough comes together. Wrap in cling foil and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  5. For the filling, drain the juice from the previously sugared sour cherries. If it’s less than 300 ml (1 ¼ cup), add water. Mix juice thoroughly with the pudding mix or cornstarch (watch out for lumps).
  6. Heat mixture in a medium pot, stirring continuously, until it starts to thicken. Turn heat off, add sour cherries and cinnamon. Mix well, set aside.
  7. Preheat oven to 180°C / 356°F. Divide chilled dough to 2 equal parts, roll out one half on a lightly floured surface to the size of your pan. Gently lift and fit dough into the pan.
  8. Pour filling over dough (no need to pre-bake), and spread evenly.
  9. Roll out remaining dough, cut strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Weave lattice top, wash with the other egg.
  10. Bake until crust is golden, about 40 min. Enjoy!

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Love,

Fruzsi

Healthy (Kinda) Jam Shortbread Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Update: since I’ve first posted this recipe, I’ve further cut down on the fat, subbed AP flour one-to-one for whole-wheat, and used granulated birch sugar instead of brown sugar.

You know the ‘How to have a bikini body’ meme right? I’m positive we shouldn’t stress so much about our physical appearances (at least lot less than the media would suggest anyway), but I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.

I do watch what I eat and work out regularly, not so much as to fit any mould but to respect my body by treating it right. At the same time I also allow myself the occasional indulgence which I think is necessary for balance in life, and those treats are the things I like to post about.

Today’s recipe is an in-between in the sense that it’s most definitely a dessert, but it’s way less bad for you and that beach bod of yours than the average sweet. That’s what I call a win-win! Read on for my healthier take on the classic jam shortbread bars.

Shortbread is one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. Here I have:

  • substituted 2/3 of the flour with oats, nuts and protein powder
  • swapped the butter for margarine and used less than 40% of the initial amount
  • cut white sugar completely
  • the jam was a naturally sweet, no-sugar-added (diabetic) fig spread

And believe it or not after all this messing around, it’s still amazing! Let’s see why altering the original recipe is good for you:

White flour is heavily processed, the most nutritional aspects of the grain like fiber, vitamins and minerals are stripped away. The downsides to it are an overall lack of nutrients, highly refined carbs and also the gluten if you have sensitivities.

Oats on the other hand are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They are packed with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are high in fiber and protein compared to other grains. Nearly all of the carbs in oats come from complex starches, which you digest slowly. Also, they are naturally gluten-free.

Nuts were walnuts in my case, but the recipe would work with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts or pistachios as well, so knock yourself out! They are nutritional powerhouses: complete packages of protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

I’ve been drinking protein shakes post-workout and just lately started replacing some of the flour with protein powder in baked goods. My favorite whey protein is gluten, lactose and also sugar-free, plus the vanilla flavor complements most sweets well. Work with a 1:3 conversion (that is 1/3 cup of protein powder for every 1 cup of flour).

Figs are a great source of fibre and they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well. They contain prebiotics, which help support the good bacteria in your gut. Moreover, their potassium content helps regulate the amount of sugar which is absorbed into your body. The natural sugar content of figs also allows you to cut further down on the amount of sweetener used in recipes. I made this with a sugar-free, thick plum preserve as well, if you want a more fall-ish taste.

On to the old debate: butter or margarine, as fats and calories in them are about the same. The cold hard truth is, the healthiest option would be to skip both. The problem with butter lies in saturated fat and cholesterol, while the main concern with margarine is trans fats, the result of hydrogenation. Experts suggest consuming monounsaturated fats whenever possible (olive oil uncooked or vegetable oil for cooking). When baking, use a hard stick of trans-fat-free margarine in place of butter but whichever you select, limit your overall consumption.

What I also love about this healthier take is the texture; how crunchy-crumbly it is thanks to the oats and nuts. Frankly, there’s still fructose (fruit sugar) and a fair amount of fat in these bars, but they are incomparable to the average jam shortbread square in nutritional value. If you want a guilt-free dessert, it won’t get any better than this!

And as with everything else, portion size is key!

Healthy Fig Crumble Bars

  • Difficulty: easy
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Healthier, crunchy-crumbly squares filled with a yummy sugar-free fig spread.

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, fine

½ cup walnuts

1 cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup vanilla protein powder

1/4 cup granulated birch sugar (or other sugar alternative)

150 g (10 tbsp) cold margarine, cut to cubes

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1 ½ cup diabetic fig preserves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F), line a 22 by 22 cm (9×9”) baking dish with aluminium foil, covering the sides as well.
  2. In a food processor, pulse nuts until chopped but not too fine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, mix oats, nuts, flour, protein powder, sugar, salt and baking powder for a few seconds until combined.
  4. Add margarine cubes one by one and mix until a coarse crumb of the size of peas forms and margarine is evenly distributed.
  5. With the back of a spoon, push 2/3 of the crumb mixture in bottom of tray. Bake until golden, about 20 min.
  6. Remove from the oven, spread preserves evenly on crust. Crumble remaining streusel on top.
  7. Transfer back to oven and bake until topping is golden, about 30 min.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool before slicing. Enjoy!

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Love,

Fruzsi

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