Category Archives: Cakes, pies, tarts

Easy Festive Sweet Treats and Desserts

Unbaked Chocolate Cake

If most of your Christmas dishes are time-consuming or difficult, the last thing you need to complicate your life with is an elaborate dessert. Leafing through my old hand-written copy book and browsing through my blog, I realised most sweets I prepare got easier and quicker throughout the years. Thanks to this, the dessert is the part of the meal I am least nervous about because I got used to effortless recipes, which – surprisingly – please my guests as much as the difficult ones used to. The best illustration of what I’m talking about is the above Unbaked Chocolate Cake I have discovered thanks to Katerina, my dear Greek friend and extraordinary inspiring cook from Culinary Flavors. It takes a while to prepare, always yields perfect results and is a huge hit every time I serve it.

Apart from the above cake, I have chosen for you baked desserts, creams, truffles and other sweet treats I consider particularly easy and sometimes also very quick to make. You will notice most of them are light; it’s not intentional but simply illustrates the majority of the sweets I have been preparing in recent years. All are seasonal (I mean from the European point of view), so no need to chase down tasteless and expensive strawberries or peaches in the middle of winter. I hope you will find at least one useful easy idea here. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of my dear visitors!

TARTS AND CAKES

French Lemon Tart or Tartlets

French Lemon Tart or Tartlets

Super Thin Apple and Applesauce Tart

Super Thin Apple and Applesauce Tart

Pear and Fresh Cheese Tart

Pear and Fresh Cheese Tart

Guinness Chocolate Cake

Guinness Chocolate Cake

CREAMS AND CREAMY INDIVIDUAL DESSERTS

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)

Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)

Light Unbaked Cheesecake with Passion Fruit

Light Unbaked Cheesecake with Passion Fruit

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

TRUFFLES AND SWEET FINGER FOOD

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles

Prunes in Chocolate

Prunes in Chocolate

Chocolate Truffles with Prunes and Chocolate

Chocolate Truffles with Prunes and Chocolate

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

3-Ingredient Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

 

 

 

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

filoplumThis shapeless piece of tart might look quite ordinary, but it’s one of the best baked sweet treats I have made in years. Wondering what dessert might bring out the best in my beloved violet oval plums (the ones that become prunes), I substituted filo sheets for the usual tart crust, the solution I have been seeing quite often on internet. This change did all I had hoped for and even much more: the thin flaky layers of Greek pastry didn’t take attention away from the plums, didn’t bring useless heaviness, carbs, calories… but encased them with a crisp delicate “frame”. This lightest tart in my cooking experience was an unforgettable discovery that will certainly lead to further filo experiments with sweet dishes.

TIPS: Most cakes (made by family or friends or bought in pastry shops) are much too sweet for me, so whenever I bake, I cut down the sugar’s amount by half in most recipes. If you consider most cakes you are served or buy normally sweet, then you should double (at least) the sugar amount sprinkled on fruits.

This tart serves four to six people, but since it is a particularly light and thin, I’d recommend dividing it into six only if you serve it after a very rich meal.

Given the big amount of fruits and the thinness of filo sheets, this tart will be soft underneath, only sides will be crisp.

UPDATE: I made this tart a couple of days ago once again with plums from a different source. Given the results I don’t recommend preparing it with very watery and acid plums. Plums should be slightly “meaty”, sweet and firm. Otherwise, the tart becomes too mushy and much too acid. I recommend organic plums because these have given me extraordinary results.

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves four, max. six; fills a 22 x 14 cm/about 8,5 x 5,5 in dish):

3 sheets of filo pastry

4 tablespoons cane sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

about 500 g stoned and halved oval violet plums

(1 tablespoon almond slivers)

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Grease a baking dish with butter.

Spread a sheet of filo pastry, sprinkle half of it with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Fold onto the sweetened part.

Butter the top of the sheet, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and cover with another sheet, prepared the same way.

Repeat with the third sheet the same way.

Place the three folded sheets into a baking dish.

Cut them to adjust to the dish’s shape (it should fit the dish’s bottom size + about 2 cm on all sides).

Brush the top layer of the filo pastry with butter and sprinkle some sugar again.

Place the halves of plums very tightly, overlaying each other on top of the tart.

Sprinkle with the rest of sugar and with almond slivers, if using.

Fold the edges inside, so that you obtain rounded edges (this is only for aesthetic reasons). Brush them with butter.

Bake until the edges are golden brown (after 30 minutes, check every ten minutes, so that it doesn’t burn).

Thin Strawberry Tartlets (Tartelettes Fines aux Fraises) with Vanilla Pastry Cream

tartefraiseppA cute colourful mini-tart with delicate buttery crust is what comes first to my mind when I think of the magical world of French pastry. I have always particularly appreciated its typical thin crust and its version called “tarte fine” – with extremely thin, completely flat base – leaves even a greater space for the ripe fruits’ fragrance and flavours, especially when enhanced with light vanilla cream. 

Strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream is quite popular and many pastry shops sell it in season. Whether you prepare a standard tart with crust also the sides or this light “tarte fine”, the recipe is not complicated, but it does take time. The secret of the best result lies in the perfect crème pâtissière, or pastry cream (often called simply “custard”), with a real vanilla pod, the 100% butter-based thinly rolled out pastry sheet and, of course, in the highest fruit quality. The pastry cream is inspired by the recipe I have found in “Plaisirs sucrés” by Pierre Hermé, a famous confectioner whose macarons’ discovery was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. Even though this is the best and lightest pastry cream I have ever tasted, I have slightly modified it after the first test (mostly cutting down the sugar amount). The same recipe can be adapted of course to a big tart, but I usually prefer individual portions.

Here are some other strawberry sweet treats you might like:

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Strawberry Gratin

Strawberry Gratin

And see here what to do with leftover egg whites, though 99% of the time I prepare my Easy Moist Coconut Biscuits (Macaroons for US visitors):

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

TIPS: If you don’t feel like playing with sideless, very thin crust, you can of course make the same tartlets or tart with more popular crust, baking it in a tart/-let form. In this case, while baking the crust, put a piece of baking paper over each tartlet form filled with raw pastry and cover it with dried beans (to stop the bottom from rising).

Needless to say, you can make one big strawberry tart (tarte fine aux fraises) instead of individual portions.

You don’t need to decorate these tartlets with mint leaves, but I find a hint of mint fragrance fantastic with both strawberries and vanilla cream.

Special equipment :

a round pastry cutter and 6 small round ramekins of the same or slightly bigger diameter

Preparation: less than 2 hours

Ingredients (makes 6 x 10 cm diameter tartlets):

about 200 grams/about 7 oz thinly rolled out all-butter puff pastry (or home-made sweet butter pastry)

400 – 500 g/about 14-18 oz strawberries (preferably equally sized); the amount depends on the way you place them on the custard (you use less if you slice them and more if you place halves, for example)

Pastry cream/Custard:

500 ml/about 17 fl oz milk

5 flat tablespoons corn starch

4 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (or more if you like very sweet desserts)

1 vanilla pod

4 egg yolks

50 g/about 1,8 oz butter (can be omitted, but the taste will be simply worse)

(fresh mint leaves for decoration)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).

Cut out the circles. Put them on the baking paper. Cover with another layer of baking paper and block from rising, blocking them with round ramekins with a similar diameter.

Bake until golden (check often because they burn quickly).

Put aside to cool down.

In the meantime prepare the pastry cream.

Bring to boil 400 ml/about 13,5 oz milk with the vanilla pod cut in two lengthwise.

Put aside and let it cool down.

Scrape off the two vanilla pieces so that the small vanilla grains stay in the milk.

Combine the yolks, the sugar, the corn starch and the remaining cold milk.

Strain the warm vanilla milk, constantly stirring, into the yolks mixture.

Discard the vanilla pods (wash them, dry them and put into a confectioner’s sugar jar: you’ll have vanilla scented sugar or you can also reuse them: they will yield hardly any grains, but will still give a slight vanilla aroma).

Put back the obtained mixture into the pan and, constantly stirring, bring to the boil.

Put aside when it thickens to a cream consistency.

If the cream is not smooth and you see lumps, mix it in a blender.

When the cream is no longer hot, but still very warm, combine it with butter.

Let it cool down in the fridge, covered with plastic film (otherwise a darker “skin” will form at the top).

Put a couple of tablespoons of the cream on each tart circle.

Cover with the strawberries (cut in halves, in four pieces, sliced or whole… whatever suits your strawberries shape and size).

Serve slightly chilled.

You can decorate the tartlets with fresh mint leaves.

 

Far Breton (Brittany Prune Pudding Cake)

farbretonpp

I rarely bake (at least compared to most bloggers I follow), mainly because, no matter which season of the year, I crave usually light creams, custards or mousses you will find published quite often on my blog and I often find a piece of good dark chocolate totally sufficient as a daily sweet treat. When I do bake, I often go back to my favourite thin French-style tarts or moist, creamy cakes, such as Polish Light Cheesecake, Moist Coconut Cake or… Far Breton, which is my definite favourite. Actually, if I were to show here every single sweet treat coming out of my oven, I think it would appear on my blog probably 80% of the time. I hope my love for this light, custardy pudding cake and a slight photographic improvement are valid excuses to rewrite about it after two years.

Far breton is as easy to prepare as it is impossible to translate. It’s not exactly a cake, nor a custard, nor a flan… Since nothing I have ever tasted has a similar consistency, maybe “a baked, dense, slightly elastic pudding” (in the German sense of the word) would be a good definition. As its name suggests, far breton is a Brittany region specialty and a small Breton village bakery shop is the first place where I discovered it . Apparently, several centuries ago the dish called far was a kind of gruel with dried fruit, far meaning “wheat” or “spelt” in Latin. Afterwards the dish evolved into the today’s dense pudding-like cake. The oldest written trace of the present form of far breton dates back to the XVIIIth century, when both savoury (made from buckwheat and served with meat) and sweet fars (usually without any fruit) were popular. Nowadays only the sweet one is very popular not only in Brittany, but all around France.

Most people prepare it, like me, with prunes, some add only raisins, some both, and some purists refuse any kind of fruit. I find the most popular, slightly tangy version the absolute winner. I think it is best served cold, preferably left overnight in the fridge. Having prepared far breton according to the same method for at least ten years, I no longer remember where I found this recipe, but I appreciate it for the absence of butter or any fats and also for its low sugar content.

Coolness, extreme softness, moisture and a slight elasticity are the main reasons I find this cake irresistible. I also appreciate it for its lightness and low flour and fat content. My far breton is only slightly sweet, so if you are not the kind of person who cuts down the sugar content by half in every recipe (I do), add at least 50% more. The balance between the sweetness and acidity depends also on the prunes though.

TIP: Many people worry about the fact that prunes fall to the bottom. I don’t mind, but I have heard that coating prunes in flour prevent them from falling. (I have never tested it though).

Preparation: 1 h (+ at least 2 hours in the fridge)

Ingredients (fills a 10 x 30 cm or 20 x 20 cm baking dishes):

250 g/about 9 oz flour

70 g / about 2,5 oz sugar

4 eggs

750 ml/ about 25 fl oz milk

1 pinch salt

a bit of salted butter to grease the dish

25 big prunes (stoned)

a bowl of hot strong black tea

50-100 ml/about 1,7 – 3,5 fl oz rum

Soak the prunes in tea until they become soft. Drain them.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Grease the pan with butter (or line with baking paper).

Warm the milk until it is hot (don’t boil it!).

Combine the eggs, the flour, the salt and the sugar.

Slowly add the warm milk and the rum, stirring.

Pour the batter (it will be very liquid) into the baking dish. (If it is not smooth, mix it in a blender or pass it through a sieve).

Place the prunes inside, more or less regularly.

Bake for about 1 hour until golden brown.

Let the far cool down before putting it into the fridge for several hours.

Serve very cold, sliced.

Moist Poppy Cake with Matcha Ganache

matchapoppy_p

Christmas is the time for indulgence, so here I am indulging myself with the matcha cake I have been planning to make for ages. Even though layered cakes are still difficult for my clumsy hands, the beautiful green hue made me forget the uneven layers and other imperfections. In case you have doubts, I swear I haven’t added any food colouring! Actually, even I am still in awe of such a vibrant green cream. I owe it entirely to the excellent matcha I have been bringing from Japan.

This cake is based on my all-time favourite Moist Poppy Cake with Chocolate Ganache with the chocolate replaced by matcha. First of all, I had some reservations about matcha, which is not easy to pair, so the poppy seeds, a typical Polish Christmas ingredient, seemed a big risk. On the other hand, as the only matcha and poppyseed fan at home (and among possible guests), I was also afraid of a possible successful outcome, which would mean having the whole cake for myself. Obviously, the latter arrived. I don’t have words to describe how unusual and complex the combination of poppy seed and matcha is. I am spellbound and will certainly explore this idea in other sweet creations. Strangely this cake doesn’t put off the usual matcha haters because the white chocolate reduces matcha’s  astringency (which I love, so I sprinkled the cake with matcha very generously). This cake should of course be served with a cup of good Japanese green tea.

If you don’t like matcha, you might like the original cake this recipe is based on: Moist Poppy Cake with Chocolate Ganache. As much as I have enjoyed this vibrant green matcha version, the chocolate original will always remain my favourite.

Moist Poppy Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Moist Poppy Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Before I pass to the recipe details, I would like to wish all my dear readers and visitors a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May these approaching days be filled with joy, love and culinary delights.

TIPS: Ganache (pronounced “ganash”) is a mixture of chocolate and cream, sometimes butter is added. It thickens when cold and is a perfect base for chocolate truffles (see my two previous posts) and an excellent – lighter – alternative to butter creams in layered cakes. When I prepare dark chocolate ganache I usually skip the butter, but white chocolate is so sweet, I have cut down its amount and replaced with butter to reduce the sweetness.

I have prepared a rectangular version of this cake. You can make it round of course.

The white chocolate and matcha cream is really sweet, so the poppy seed cake is much less sweeter than in the original dark chocolate cake version.

If after several hours in the fridge the ganache isn’t thick enough yet to be spread as cream melt some chocolate or butter (for example 50 g) and add to the mixture. Refrigerate for one more hour. The chocolate’s quality and/or brand may make more or less thick ganache.

Preparation: about 5 hours, but count a whole day (both the cake and the ganache can be prepared the night before, kept in the fridge overnight and assembled the following day)

Ingredients (for a 20 x 8 cm (about 8 x 3 in) rectangular dish or 20 cm (about 8 in) diameter round baking dish):

4 eggs

50 g/about 1,8 oz castor sugar

125 g poppy seeds

6 highly heaped tablespoons dry bread crumbs

pinch of salt

Cream (matcha ganache):

2 highly heaped teaspoons matcha

250 g/about 8 oz white chocolate 

150 ml/about 5 fl oz liquid cream (25% fat or more)

60 g/about 2 oz butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Prepare the chocolate ganache.

Break the chocolate into pieces, put into a pan with cream and butter, and, constantly stirring, dissolve the chocolate and butter on a very low heat (do not boil!).

Put aside and when it has cooled down, add the matcha and mix well in a food processor.

Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until the ganache thickens.

Prepare the cake.

Put the poppy seeds into a pan with cold water. Bring to boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

Drain the poppy seeds and grind them in a meat grinder (with the smallest holes) or mix well in a blender (they will become moist and mushy).

Separate the yolks from the whites.

Mix the yolks with the sugar, add the mixed/ground poppy seeds and the bread crumbs.

Beat the egg whites and incorporate them delicately into the poppy mixture.

Line a rectangular dish with baking paper or grease it with butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs (the cake will be very sticky; I advise rather the baking paper).

Pour the poppy cake and bake for about 40-50 minutes.  (Make a wooden skewer test: if it comes out dry, the cake is ready).

Let the cake chill out and put it into the fridge for at least one hour (it’s easier to cut when very cold).

When the cake is completely cold, cut it horizontally into 2 slices.

When deciding in which order you should put the slices, bear in mind the bottom of the cake is always smooth and perfect for the top.

Divide the ganache into two equal parts.

Place the first part of the cake and spread 1/2 of the ganache over it.

Cover with the second part of the cake and spread the remaining part all around the sides and on the top of the cake.

Refrigerate for at least three hours. Serve cold, sprinkled with sieved matcha.