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
  • Print

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

Advertisements

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
  • Print

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

Homemade Appleasauce Because It’s Apple Season (Enthusiastic Thumbs Up)

apples on linen

On this climate, apples are one of, if not the most widely available and cheap fruits. I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t like apples, and with colder days approaching, the idea of a warm slice of anything with apple and cinnamon gets stuck in my head like earworms.

Cinnamon-apple is our pumpkin pie spice: come fall, every product gets this flavor update from cereal to yogurt to porridge to rice pudding to bubble gum to scented toilet paper. No kidding!

And while the whole health picture just might be more complex than eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away, apples undeniably supply nutrition vital for good health.

This fruit is a great source of natural fiber that lowers risk of heart disease by decreasing bad cholesterol levels. A serving can supply much of your daily vitamin C needs, plus the flavonoids in apples reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure, and reduce excessive fat production in the liver. Also, phytonutrients in them work as antioxidants.

Not bad from the humble apple, huh?

If you have a few that you won’t be able to eat before they get grainy, soft and wrinkled, or you simply want to stock up on a delicious, healthy and versatile food item, turn them into applesauce! It’s inexpensive, takes no time to make and keeps well canned or frozen as well.

Commercial applesauce is not a common sight in Hungarian supermarkets, but I don’t mind at all. The advantage of making my own at home is that I can choose my favorite apples and make the applesauce as sweet or as tart as I prefer.

Applesauce contains only about 100 calories per serving (if you choose to make it unsweetened), and while most of those calories come from sugar, it’s the naturally occurring fructose.

There’s no fat in it, yet applesauce is a great substitute for fats in baked goods. Try swapping half of a recipe’s margarine, butter, shortening or oil component with applesauce to reduce calories while adding fiber. The finished baked item will have a tender, crumbly texture and a slightly sweeter flavor.

As I said, applesauce is really easy to make. This recipe is for 4,5 kg (10 pounds) of apples, which will yield somewhere around 3 to 3,5 litres (7 pints) applesauce. I used golden delicious apples this time.

homemade applesauce

Here’s how to make applesauce at home:

Wash, peel, and core apples. To prevent browning, slice apples into water containing ascorbic acid (1 tsp to a gallon of cold water).

Place drained slices in a heavy bottomed pot, add ½ cup water. Stirring occasionally to prevent burning, heat quickly until tender (5 to 20 minutes, depending on maturity and variety). Don’t overcook, it’s not a jam.

Blitz with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Reheat sauce to boiling (it will spatter, so be careful) and add the juice of 1 lemon, or 1 tsp citric acid to serve as a natural preservative.

Fill sterilized jars with hot sauce, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in boiling water for 15 min. Applesauce can be frozen as well.

Traditionally, applesauce is eaten along cooked meat or roasts around here, but I’m beginning to see it in desserts as well. I like it either way. If you can’t imagine applesauce with a slice of roast beef, give my healthy oat bars recipe an autumn update substituting the fig jam with applesauce heavily flavored with homemade apple pie spice, or try apple pie baked oatmeal for a delicious and filling breakfast.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image by Lindsey S. Love

Baked Ricotta, the Appetizer You’re About to Fall For

baked ricotta

When I told you guys my plans for at-home cheesemaking and the culinary course I’ve attended, I said I’d report the results – if any – of my attempts. Well, I’m here to make good on that promise, and I’m topping it off with a recipe which defines easy entertaining.

So, ricotta. I was surprised to learn that behind the posh Italian name (simply meaning re-cooked by the way), you’ll find the very same dairy product we call orda, urda or vurda in Central-Eastern Europe. It’s a creamy, neutral tasting fresh cheese made from whey, the leftover of cheesemaking.

I don’t exactly know why, but only a few supermarkets carry it around here and it’s quite expensive for what it is. But good news! Ricotta is easy to make at home and a great secondary use for the whey which still has a lot of the goodness of milk in it, and would therefore be a waste to discard of.

For this fresh cheese, all you need to do is heat the whey from 5 litres (about 1.3 gallons) of milk to 85-92°C (right below boiling) and add 5 g (1 tsp) citric acid. Turn the heat off and wait for the proteins to coagulate: after a few minutes you’ll notice tiny “flakes” floating in the greenish-yellowish liquid. Pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and wait a few hours for the curds to strain. This amount of whey yields around 1 cup of fresh ricotta.

I like eating it as-is, but you may find this dairy to be a little bland. That means it’s a blank page and you can flavor the sh*t out of it! Wether you make or buy your ricotta, the following cheese number is a hugely versatile dish you can whip up in a blink of an eye even ahead of time, and play around with spices and other additions to suit your fancy.

Rich, creamy and indulgent, baked ricotta will rise nicely in the baking dish. Like a fancy soufflé, just easier – no need to worry about your folding technique. Only a few ingredients, but a gourmet addition to your repertoire.

baked ricotta

baked ricotta

Your baked ricotta will somewhat collapse after taking it out the oven but this is only natural, the steam holding it up evaporates. Serve warm on fresh baguette or as a dip with crackers.

baked ricotta

Here I made it with basil and oregano, but since then a few other variations emerged from my oven: sage and lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, rosemary and thyme… Can’t seem to get tired of this! 🙂

Baked Ricotta

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A versatile, creamy cheese number. Makes 4 ramekins.

Ingredients

500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta

2 medium eggs

½ cup grated parmesan

pinch of salt and black pepper

any variety of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Directions

  1. Grease a medium baking dish or 4 ramekins with a few drops of olive oil, preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F
  2. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with eggs, salt, pepper and parmesan until combined with a fork.
  3. Fold in herbs of your choice, fill ramekins 2/3 full.
  4. Bake until “soufflé” has risen and set, top starting to turn golden (about 40 min).

Love,

Fruzsi

Making Jam Then and Now

flatlay jam

Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?

By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.

After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.

See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.

You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.

What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.

Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.

Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.

Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.

I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.

So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik

Further Adventures in Dairyland – Cheesemaking at Home

fresh cheeses

I am in a place in life right now when I feel the need to learn new things, so I’m on the lookout for culinary classes. Earlier I wrote a piece about how I started making my own yogurt and butter, and now my adventures in the land of dairy continue with cheese.

Man has been making cheese from raw ingredients with non-industrial methods for 7,500+ years. That is, waaay before refrigerators, thermometers and sterile lab equipment, so it must not be too complicated.

Or so I thought. Truth is, making cheese is both art and science. After the workshop I’ve attended hosted by chef Balázs Sarudi, this became very clear to me. Here’s a short summary of what I’ve learnt while we made our own mozzarella- and parenica style cheese plus some delicious ricotta to take home with us.

Real cheesemaking requires extensive knowledge (think MSc levels of biochemistry and microbiology) and years, if not decades of experience relying on your senses.

There are many types of cheese and just as many methods for making it. But while the recipes for all types of cheese vary (some undergo more steps and require more time to make than others), the basic process of turning milk into cheese stays the same: curdling and then separating the solids from the whey.

To make even the simplest forms of cheese – fresh cheese – at home, the most important of all is to buy quality raw whole milk, preferably from pastured cows. Evident as it may sound, getting your hands on it could be trickier than you might think. Once you’ve managed that though, you can be sure it will yield the best flavor.

Now, to turn that lovely dairy to cheese, you need to heat it first. When the milk is warm, a starter culture containing lactic bacteria is added to change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This process changes the acidity level of the milk and begins turning milk from liquid into solid.

The next step is called coagulation, when we further encourage the milk to solidify. There are two ways to do this: using acid (like lemon juice or white vinegar) will yield small, crumbly curdles. Using enzymes such as rennet will result in a gel-like consistency, allowing curds to be stretched and molded, unlike curds formed with acid. Rennet, found in the stomach linings of cattle and sheep, is the oldest method.

After some resting, it’s time to cut curds to expel and separate whey. Generally, the smaller the curds are cut, the harder the resulting cheese will be. Whey is then drained, but it would be a shame to discard as it is full of protein and nutrients. It can be used for many things from feeding to animals, using it fresh in place of water or milk in recipes like bread and pastries, making other dairy products such as ricotta, or processed foods e.g. whey protein.

Salting the curd adds flavor and acts as a preservative as well so the cheese does not spoil. After this, the cheese is put into a mold and is pressed or turned regularly to expel remaining liquids.

And voilà! What you have now is fresh cheese, cheese in its youngest, purest form. It has a simple yet satisfying flavor, mild, maybe a little salty or tangy. With time, it would ripen and could be called aged cheese.

And that’s about it. I did not share an exact recipe as you could find everything online, but do please let me know if you’d still like me to, I am at your disposal. 🙂

At-home cheesemaking kits are available at specialty shops and also from online retailers (to my Hungarian readers: visit Panni sajtműhelye for recipes and webshop). Can’t wait for mine to arrive, hopefully my efforts will be worth sharing.

One more thing though, if you are even slightly interested in trying your hands at homemade cheese, I do encourage you to find a dairy workshop near you and attend. YouTube might have it all, but going out to see, touch, smell and taste for yourself makes all the difference.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I’ve visited, and/or used services offered by business establishments mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such entities represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

‘Fresh cheeses on white wood’ stock image via Shutterstock

Say Bye to the Cereal Box with Homemade Granola

homemade banana granola

They say in America everything is bigger and better. Surely not everything, but this certainly holds when it comes to the world’s most popular breakfast foods: I’m talking about the granola vs muesli debate. Both are simple, filling, and (more or less) full of good stuff, but there are differences.

Granola, invented in Dansville, NY by Dr. James Caleb Jackson is a sweetened, baked cereal consisting of oats, nuts, seeds, often including mix-ins such as dried fruit or chocolate. Some kind of fat is also added to achieve the crumbly texture.

Muesli on the other hand, introduced by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, is neither baked nor sweetened, and not that crunchy either.

As a European I feel inclined to say how I enjoy the pure flavor of muesli, how much I appreciate the distinctness and the way oats, nuts and seeds complement one another, but I’ll cut the bullshit right there. Let’s face it: granola is just more delicious. That’s it, I’m sorry Max!

The perked-up version is more popular state-side and humble muesli on this side of the pond. We therefore don’t have such an impressive selection of baked cereals in our supermarkets here. And what we do have is quite expensive for what it is.

My old favorite comes in a big cardboard box with a small plastic bag inside containing just a handful of the simply too sweet stuff bind together with a not specified type of vegetable oil (how reassuring). A 100 g serving contains about 60 g carbohydrates and over 12 g fat. Wow. I still eye that fucker on the store shelf sometimes, but my body just deserves better.

Luckily, making the crunchy clusters at home couldn’t be easier! Replacing the processed, packaged kind is great not only because from now on it’s in your control what goes into your brekkie bowl (I loathe thee, raisin!). It doesn’t have to have a shitload of sugar and fat either!

(I was about to add reducing your ecological footprint too, but had to revise my opinion as the ingredients you’re about to use also come packaged. Bummer.)

homemade banana granola

Checked out many recipes and made a few batches until I found what works best for us. Granola is not an exact science, you have to tweak the ingredients to suit your taste, but that’s the beauty of it: having your own, special edition.

I wanted mine to be free of processed sugar, so I use bananas and a little honey instead to sweaten. Also decided to cut down on fat and substitute it with a healthier alternative: extra virgin olive oil, one of the richest in polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a the good guys).

I use the same seed mix in my granola that I bake into my breads: equal parts sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, lint seeds and pumpkin seeds. As for the nuts, almonds and walnuts are our favorite, but hazelnuts and pecans are also a great choice. For mix-ins, I prefer spices. OK, sometimes I give in and add dark chocolate chips too. 🙂

This amount, kept in a glass jar, lasts for about a week in our house. I like to eat it with low-fat natural yogurt and berries that are a bit sour (just.love.blackcurrant.) while Husband is not that hard-core as he likes to put it, and prefers milk and banana slices drizzled with pure maple syrup.

homemade banana granola

See how a healthier, homemade granola is such a no-brainer:

Banana Granola

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A healthy take on store-bought cereals

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats (half fine, half coarse)

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ cup almonds, whole or sliced

¼ cup seed mix (sesame, lint, sunflower, pumpkin)

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In two separate bowls, mix wet and dry ingredients except chocolate (if using).
  3. Combine wet & dry ingredients well to coat evenly.
  4. Spread mixture on baking tray in a thin layer.
  5. Bake for 30 min or until dark golden.
  6. Allow to cool, than crumble.
  7. Mix in chocolate chips, transfer granola to a glass jar or other airtight container.

How do you do breakfast cereal? I’d love to see some ideas so I can switch things up a bit from time to time.

Love,

Fruzsi