Recipe Post: Laddu (Somalian Sesame & Peanut Confection)

These remind me of those crunchy sesame bars packed with sugar & corn syrup that you find in all of the delis of NYC, but these laddu are much easier on your teeth (they are soft with a slight chewiness) and your blood sugar levels, AND they have the added richness of peanut and cardamom.

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These are really my kind of treat. They remind me of those crunchy sesame bars packed with sugar & corn syrup that you find in all of the delis of NYC, but these laddu are much easier on your teeth (they are soft with a slight chewiness) and your blood sugar levels, AND they have the added richness of peanut and cardamom. I adapted the recipe from Xawaash, a Somali food blog written by a couple who now live in Canada.Their recipes and stories are full of lovely details that convey a deep love for their native country.

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I adapted the recipe so that it contains no added sugar and requires no cooking.

Ingredients: 

125 g Sesame Seeds, raw
1/2 tspn Ground Cardamom
125 g Roasted Peanut Butter (unsalted)

200 g Medjool Dates, pits removed

Method:

Toast the sesame seeds and cardamom in a small pan over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Let cool. Grind sesame seeds in food processor (pulsing) until they are a fine powder (do not over-grind, or they will become tahini paste!). Remove from food processor and set aside.

Place peanut butter & dates in the food processor and puree until smooth and homogeneous. Add the ground sesame seeds and pulse just until mixed in.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a cutting board. Place the laddu mixture on top and squeeze into a squared ball. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top, and use a rolling pin to roll the paste into a uniform 1/2-” thickness. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and cut into desired shapes. The laddu can also be rolled into balls. My first batch came and went within a single day. Enjoy yours while they last!

Recipe Post: Kleicha (Iraqi Date Pastries/Cookies)

kleicha iraqi date cookie by Fruitcake Farmstand. Sweetened with fruit & no added sugar.Over the course of a recent week, I researched, executed, and adapted recipes from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. I know that I didn’t change the world or relieve anyone’s suffering by baking in my kitchen, but it was important to me to get better acquainted (albeit minimally) with the cultures of these countries, partially through their cuisines. Many of the recipes I referred to I found on blogs written by people who had grown up in one of these countries and emigrated elsewhere. They wrote of their love for their respective native countries and their cuisines, and of their disappointment with the turmoil that grips many of them.

A few of the recipes I tried out adapted easily to my Fruitcake techniques. I’m posting my favorites, starting with Kleicha.

Kleicha (Iraqi Date Pastries) (Adapted from The Iraqi Family Cookbook Blog, Make Cupcakes, Not War, & Maryam’s Culinary Wonders)

These delicious pastries (most blogs refer to them as “cookies,” but I think it’s more apt to call them pastries) resemble a cross between a cinnamon roll and a rugelach. And amazingly the original recipe doesn’t call for sugar in the first place–only dates–so it was very easy to adapt!

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INGREDIENTS:

For the dough:

460 g (3-1/3 cups) All-Purpose Flour
244 ml (1 cup) Whole Milk
8 g (2 teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
80 ml (1/3 cup) Flavorless vegetable oil such as grapeseed
150 g (11 tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, melted
1 tspn Ground Cardamom
1/2 tspn Salt
1/4 tspn Mahlab or a couple drops of Almond Extract
1 tspn Nigella Seeds or Black Sesame Seeds

For the filling:

250 g (1-1/2 cups) Medjool Dates, pitted
14 g (1 tablespoon) Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1 teaspoon Sesame Seeds
Optional: 3/4 teaspoon Fennel Seeds

For egg wash: 1 Egg Yolk

METHOD:

Make the dough:

Heat the milk to 105°F-110°F–just warm when you test it with your finger. Do not overheat or the yeast will not survive! Put the milk in a glass measuring cup and add the yeast and a pinch of date sugar (if you have it). Let sit 5-10 minutes until you see some bubbles on top–evidence that the yeast are alive and active (Here is some more info about how yeast works, if you’re interested).

While you wait for the yeast to wake up, use a small saucepan to melt the butter with the vegetable oil. Once it’s hot, add the cardamom and nigella or black sesame seeds and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant (See here for more info on blooming spices). Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Measure the flour in the bowl of your stand mixer (have the dough hook attachment ready), and add the yeast/milk mixture and the butter/oil/spice mixture.

Knead with the dough hook (or by hand) for 3-5 minutes.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or loose plastic wrap and let rest for one hour.

Make the filling:

While the dough rests, make the filling. Again, melt the butter in a small saucepan and once hot, add the spices and heat a moment until fragrant. Remove from heat. Put the pitted dates in your food processor. Add the butter and spices and puree until smooth.

Roll the dough & filling:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare egg wash: in a small bowl or glass, mix an egg yolk with an equal amount of water. Get a pastry brush out.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces and use a rolling pin to roll the two halves into two rectangles of about 6 in. by 18″ (The dough should be about 1/8 in. thick). Next, remove the filling from the food processor and divide it into two equal portions. Place the first half between two large pieces of plastic wrap and use the rolling pin to roll the filling out into a rectangle the same size as the dough rectangles. Carefully flip the filling onto one of the pieces of dough. Repeat for the second half of the filling.

Roll each rectangle, long edge to long ege. Then cut the rolls into 1/2-in. to 1-in. pieces. Arrange them, spirals facing up, on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Allow at least an inch of space between each kleicha.  Brush the top of each pastry with egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly golden in color. By then, your kitchen is going to be smelling amazing. Let the kleicha cool, and then enjoy with some tea or coffee!

Kleicha Iraqi Pastries / Cookie by Fruitcake Farmstand. Sweetened with fruit & no added sugar.

Purer Pumpkin Pie (Recipe Post)

Okay, I know you’re sick of being bombarded with pumpkin everything, but the fact is Thanksgiving is going to come around and you are going to need a pumpkin pie to serve. And the truth is, you want some for yourself too. By “you,” I mean me. Anyway, I came up with this recipe that is sweetened only with fruit and is one of the best darn pumpkin pies I’ve ever had. I’m definitely making it again for Thanksgiving.

Okay, I know you’re sick of being bombarded with pumpkin everything, but the fact is Thanksgiving is going to come around and you are going to need a pumpkin pie to serve. And the truth is, you want some for yourself too. By “you,” I mean me. Anyway, I came up with this recipe that is sweetened only with fruit and is one of the best darn pumpkin pies I’ve ever had. I’m definitely making it again for Thanksgiving. Here goes:

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For the Pastry Dough:

155 grams All-purpose flour (or whole wheat, or your preferred blend)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Date sugar (optional)
113 grams (1 stick) Unsalted butter, very cold & cut into approx. 1/2″ cubes
1/4 cup Cold juice (apple, pear, or grape)
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Ice cubes

For the Filling:

70 grams Freeze-dried apple (or baked apple chips, 100% apple only!)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/8 teaspoon Ground allspice
1 tablespoon Vanilla extract
200 grams Dates
227 (1 brick) Cream cheese (or coconut milk / heavy cream / cashew cream)
3 Large eggs
370 grams Pumpkin (organic canned)

For the Toppings:

Pumpkin seeds, toasted with olive oil and salt
Heave cream (or coconut cream), whipped with vanilla extract

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Make the Crust:

Combine the juice, vinegar, and ice in a liquid measuring cup with a spout.Set aside.
Place the flour, salt, ginger, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until a lumpy/sandy texture appears. Continue pulsing while slowly adding the cold juice & vinegar (don’t let the ice go in; it’s just there to keep the liquid cold!), just until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, flatten slightly into a fat disc, and refrigerate to chill until nice and firm, an hour to a couple days. Clean and dry the food processor, as you’ll be needing it for the filling!

Once chilled, roll the dough out to a circle, 1/8″ thick. Place in your pie dish and crimp or cut as you wish. (Here’s a Martha Stewart video showing different crimping techniques.) Use a fork to poke holes through the bottom surface of the crust in order to avoid bubbles during baking. Chill the crust while you make the filling.

Pre-Bake the Shell & Make the Filling:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place parchment inside the chilled pie crust and add pie weights or beans. Bake the shell for 10 minutes, remove the weights and parchment, and give it a light egg wash. Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until it just starts to get a light golden color.

Put the first 6 ingredients in the food processor and process until the freeze-dried or baked apple is a fine powder. Then add the dates and the vanilla and puree until the dates form a chunky paste. Then add the cream cheese and eggs and puree until very smooth. Add the pumpkin and process until combined. Pour the filling into the pre-baked shell and bake at 325°F for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling no longer jiggles. Let cool to room temperature and serve with toasted pumpkin seeds and fresh whipped cream. If you don’t finish it all in one go, cover with plastic or foil and store in the fridge. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Autumn!

Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread / Cake (Recipe Post)

Having harvested a bunch of zucchini from my garden two days ago, I had to figure out what to do with all of them. Zucchini bread was the obvious use in the sweet department. Here is the resulting recipe that produced a DELICIOUS cake.

Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread / Cake with teff flour and dates (no refined sugar)
Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread.

Having harvested a bunch of zucchini from my garden two days ago, I had to figure out what to do with all of them. Zucchini bread was the obvious use in the sweet department. I remembered the zucchini cake with crunchy lemon glaze by my former boss, the late pastry chef Gina DePalma. It appears in her 2007 book Dolce Italiano and is available here on David Lebovitz’s site. The cake is full of flavor, with warm spices balanced by tart lemon and a strong undertone of olive oil. My attempts at adapting it yielded a result that was better than I had hoped for. I actually had a kind of breakthrough with this recipe, realizing that in some cases (including this one), it’s better to chop dried fruit and coat/mix it with a gluten-free flour (gluten-free because that way you don’t have to worry about developing the gluten while mixing with the fruit over a long period) than to puree the dried fruit and attempt to work it into a batter. Here is the resulting recipe that produced a DELICIOUS cake:

Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread (Adapted from Gina DePalma’s Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze, Dolce Italiano)

Makes two 6″ round pans.

Ingredients:

180 g All-purpose flour (or your preferred gluten-free flour blend)
2 tspn Cinnamon
1 tspn Ginger
1/2 tspn Nutmeg
1 tspn Salt
1 tspn Baking powder
1/2 tspn Baking soda

3 Eggs, room temperature
250 ml Olive oil
2 tspn Vanilla extract
Zest of half a lemon

300 g Zucchini, grated & squeezed to eliminate liquid
135 g Walnuts, toasted and chopped

385 g Medjool dates, chopped
110 g Teff flour

Zucchini, freshly harvested from the garden
Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread.

Process:

To toast the walnuts, place the whole, raw walnuts on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake at 350°F for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant (once finished, lower the temperature to 325°F for the zucchini bread). Once cooled, finely chop in the food processor. To chop the dates, pulse them in a food processor until they are chopped and just starting to clump (the goal is to chop them as fine as possible without pureeing them into a paste). Toss them into a stand mixer bowl along with the teff flour, and mix with the paddle attachment until the chopped dates are well coated with teff (See below). Set aside.

Chopped Dates and Teff Flour (refined sugar free)
Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread.

Make sure the oven is at 325°F (convection, if you have that option).

Place the first seven ingredients together in a bowl and mix with a whisk until well-combined. Using the stand mixer, beat the eggs on medium-high with the paddle attachment while SLOWLY adding the olive oil in a THIN stream from a measuring cup. After several minutes, the color should be lighter and the mixture should be the consistency of hollandaise sauce (Think runny mayonnaise). Add the vanilla and lemon zest.

Add the flour-and-spice mixture to the egg mixture, and beat at medium-high speed for 30 seconds to develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the zucchini, walnuts, and date/teff and beat on medium-high speed until well combined (but don’t over-mix). Scrape down the sides and give it a little mix with a rubber spatula, making sure that the batter looks homogeneous.

Evenly distribute the batter between two 6″ round pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester (knife, skewer) inserted in the center comes out clean.

Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini bread / cake batter ready to go into the oven. With dates (without refined sugar) and teff flour.
Spiced Olive Oil Zucchini Bread.

Wedding cake prep: Blueberry purée

My friends are getting married next weekend, and I’m making the wedding cake (my first!). After tasting a few options months ago, they decided on a lemon génoise with blueberry mousseline buttercream between the layers and white chocolate mousseline buttercream on the outside.

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Gorgeous Blueberry Puree: the fruit and its reduced juice, blended in a food processor.

Yes, the cake will contain added cane sugar. BUT, there is one component that is entirely fruit-sweetened: blueberry purée.

For the tasting, I’d flavored the buttercream with St Dalfour blueberry jam (of which I’m a big fan), but for the actual wedding I wanted to make the blueberry flavor from scratch, just to make it more special, fresh, and less sweet. In her Cake Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum details her technique for producing raspberry and strawberry purées with exceptionally pronounced flavor and (optionally) no added sugar, so I applied the technique to blueberries, and it worked beautifully.

Blueberry Purée (Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Raspberry Purée” & “Strawberry Purée” in The Cake Bible):

Ingredients:

Fresh or frozen blueberries
Lemon juice
Blueberry-infused vodka

Tools:

1 Fine-meshed sieve
1 Bowl that the sieve can rest atop
1 Small or medium saucepan
1 Whisk
1 Spatula (preferable heat-resistant silicon)
1 Food processor or hand blender
1 Storage container (preferably glass)

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Frozen blueberries, thawing.

If using fresh blueberries (as I did. If not, you can skip the freezing step and go straight to thawing.): Seal the blueberries in a storage container and freeze them overnight. In the morning, transfer the frozen berries into a fine-meshed sieve, and rest the sieve on a bowl. Let the berries thaw completely. This will take a long time (after several hours, my berries had not yet completely thawed because of the large quantity I was using, so I set them over a bain-marie–just placed the bowl directly on a saucepan containing lightly boiling water–and thawed the berries quickly without exposing them to much heat). Once thawed, cover the berries with some parchment paper and crush all of the berries by hand, then remove the parchment and use your spatula to squeeze as much juice as possible through the sieve. Set the fruit aside in the refrigerator, and transfer the juice to a saucepan. Boil on medium-high heat until reduced to 1/3 of the original volume (I started with 3 cups and ended up with 1 cup). Remove the juice from the heat and add the vodka and lemon juice. Combine the juice and fruit in the food processor and puree until smooth. You’ll end up with a purée of exquisitely beautiful color, as in the above photo.

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Gorgeous Blueberry Puree: the fruit and its reduced juice, blended in a food processor.

I used my blueberry purée to flavor buttercream frosting. You can also use it to spread on toast, to bake into coffee cake, to garnish a dessert plate or to top vanilla ice cream (add some water and heat it to use as a sauce). Enjoy!

Lucuma Powder

 

How have I never heard of lucuma powder until today? I was at Whole Foods looking at the “superfoods” section (namely the mulberries), and this powder I’d never heard of, marked “alternative sweetener” caught my eye.

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After buying a bag of and doing some research, I’m happy to learn that the powder is made from whole fruit dried at a low temperature, so it would appear it might be a perfect addition to the fruitcake pantry! This is an exciting discovery. I’m looking forward to trying it out in a recipe as soon as possible. Given that the fruit’s flesh is described as rather dry, I’m hoping that it will work well in cakes.

For more information on lucuma & lucuma powder, see this article.

Nonfat Dry Milk Powder (NFDM)

No, it’s not a fruit, but early in my experimentation with eliminating cane sugar from recipes, I discovered that I’d need something other than fruit to help take on the structural role that refined cane sugar (sucrose) plays in dessert recipes, especially for cakes and cookies.

Nonfat Dry Milk Powder, for use in fruit-sweetened recipes (refined sugar free)
Organic Nonfat Dry Milk Powder

I found a helpful friend in nonfat dry milk powder, which instantly became a staple of the Fruitcake kitchen. Nonfat dry milk powder (NFDM) consists mostly of protein and sugar. Like fresh milk, its sweetness comes from lactose, which is much less sweet-tasting than cane sugar. Its flavor is definitely milky with a hint of something extra–caramel? nutiness, as in a brown butter? It’s a cozy, sweet flavor you’ll recognize if you ever drank Carnation Instant Breakfast or ate Astronaut Ice Cream.

There’s a long history of drying out milk in order to extend its consumable life. In the 13th century, Marco Polo noted that sun-dried skimmed milk was carried by Mongolian soldiers. The predominant drying method nowadays is spray drying, which consists of a few key steps: Fresh milk is skimmed and preheated, then a major part of the water in it is evaporated off by boiling in a vacuum (which means the boiling temperature is much lower than it is with normal air pressure). The concentrated milk is then sprayed as tiny droplets into hot air, which quickly dried them so that by the time they land, they are forming a pile of fine, dry powder.

NFDM has served me well in surprising ways. When sweetening with fruit, the challenge lies largely in avoiding the addition of a ton of water to a recipe. So finding natural, organic products that have already had most of their water content eliminated is extremely helpful. Dried and freeze-dried fruits fall into this category, and I’ve found them very useful, but they mess terribly with the structure of, say, a cake. I’m not a chemist, but I believe it’s the high protein content in NFDM (versus the high fiber content of dried fruit, which lends itself to chewiness) that gives strength and stability to back to a recipe from which cane sugar has been eliminated. As scientific as all of this sounds, let’s not forget that NFDM brings along with it that wonderful sweet, nutty, milky flavor mentioned above. In addition to cakes and cookies, milk powder’s flavor and texture of course work beautifully in dairy desserts like custards, ice creams, and cheesecakes, adding a sweetness that enhances their dairy flavor rather than overpowering it.

For more information, see the NZIC’s “Milk Powder” article.