Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jewel Yam Walnut Bread (and The Need to Bake)

It's already fall and I haven't posted for more than a season! Things got a little bit out of hand here with all summer activities, travels, volunteering, designing a new blog, and beginning of school. So I had to take a forced break - but not at all of cooking or developing recipes.

Darienne was the brave one who managed to post a wonderful thing in the middle of summer, a souvenir from Hawaii. And then, that was it. But then, faster than I thought, October arrived. Silently and not even the deciduous trees know it yet. Here in the San Francisco South Bay Area the weather is still on dog-hot days. And I needed to bake.

Yes, because above all, Autumn is, for me, is the baking season. I like to test new recipes, create my own, bake with the seasonal ingredients and... have a quiet baking morning while surfing the web sipping nice Italian coffee. So, in total disregard of the outside temperature, I wen there and baked my first seasonal bread: this time, with Jewel Yams.

The result of my experiment - based in one recipes from the web and one from my library- was moist, flavorful and silk-textured bread, perfect to eat for breakfast and to perfume the home wit its spices. I shared slices with friends, and kids suggested that I should cover it with dark chocolate. Which I will do soon for Halloween treats. It looks like it will be a wonderful combination.

Jewel Yam Bread
It's a very free adaption of Epicurious recently published Sweet Potato Bread with Caramel and Aleppo-Spiced Pecans and a Brazilian traditional recipe. 

1 medium jewel yam, baked and puréed (to make about 1 cup purée)
1/2 cup apple juice (I think orange juice would work as well)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Korintje cinnamon (my favorite, but any good cinnamon will do)
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cup all purpose non bleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts (save a few to top the loaf)

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper (or grease it and flour it). Preheat oven to 325 F. In a bowl whisk jewel yam purée, apple juice, eggs, oil, sugars, vanilla and spices up to a very creamy and well blended mix. Add flour and baking powders on top and whisk again lightly on the surface to mix. With a spatula integrate the flour to the wet mix on the bottom. When mixed let it rest for about 5 minutes. Then add walnuts and finish mixing with spatula.  Top with some whole walnuts if you like, sprinkled with sugars. Transfer batter to pan and bake it for about 50 to 75 minutes or up to when it is golden on the top and a knife comes out of it clean.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to make souvenir sea salt

1407_CPE-salt-6 We brought home a special souvenir from our recent vacation: sea salt collected at our newest favorite beach.

The north shore of Kauai is one of our happiest places. We visit Hanalei Bay every year or two, swimming and snorkeling and waking up early to the sound of roosters.

This year, we tried something new. One of my fantastic editors insisted we get boogie boards and head to Kalihiwai Beach, a beautiful little crescent of sand with a river running to the sea.

So we did. And it was all that she promised and more. My boys — often timid in the waves — took to the water like dolphins and rode the surf for days. My husband and I loved it too. I can't believe we waited this long to try it!


It was the perfect place to experiment with making sea salt. My 10-year-old son enthusiastically helped make two batches. He was so happy with the results he's added "making salt" to his grand plan for some sort of hybrid invention/manufacturing commune he expects to launch with his friends.

We ended up with large crystals of salt with a pleasantly briny bite. They'll make excellent finishing salt.


Harvesting salt is a simple process, provided you have a few resources: a container to carry salt water, something to filter the water, and a stove (or several weeks to let the water naturally evaporate).

A common sense warning up front: Only use sea water you think is reasonably clean. I'm no expert, but my feeling is that anywhere you're OK letting your kids swim and swallow a bit of water is probably OK for harvesting salt. And since flavors are unique to each location, be aware that your final product might be good, amazing, meh, or blech.

With that out of the way, here’s how we did it:

We filled empty bottles with ocean water. (From what I've read elsewhere, it's generally advisable to do this on a good-weather day.) Back at our room, we first poured the water through a paper towel-lined strainer and then through a coffee filter to remove sand, bits of seaweed, and other tiny debris. After the second straining, the water looked perfectly clear.

Next, we put the filtered water into a small pot and began boiling it on the stove top. Boiling of course speeds up evaporation, but it also kills any nasty things in the water. Since the Kalihiwai River flows into the bay where we gathered our batch, I wanted to be sure to eliminate any potential leptospirosis contamination.

Once the water was reduced by about half, I lowered the temperature and let it simmer until it was reduced by half again. Be careful not to burn the salt! Better to let it go too slow than too fast.

I poured out what was left into a shallow plate and put it in the oven on the lowest setting — for us, that was 170 degrees. I have no idea how long it took for the water to fully evaporate. It was at least a few hours. There's no need to baby-sit the salt. I simply turned the oven on when we were around, then turned it off when we went out for an adventure or turned in for the night.

Eventually the crystals were completely dry. We carefully scraped them loose from the plate, stirred them with a fork, and packaged them to take home.

Alternatively, you could set the salt water in the sun to dry, which can take weeks, or try a dehydrator. Make do with whatever you have.

We ended up with fairly large crystals, like kosher salt. And they're delicious. About five cups of sea water yielded about a third of a cup of salt.We sent some home with my mother, and took an itty-bitty amount home with us. But it's OK: We know how to make more.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Brazilian Coconut Corn Bread (Gluten Free!)

Every year we have a special day to show off a bit of our countries of origin at the International Faire at school. Years before we brought brigadeiros, ants house cake and even Carioca black beans to share with the students. This time we brought Bolo de Fubá,  one of the traditional foods prepared in the month of June – and sometimes throughout the year in some regions – in most parts of Brazil.

This corn bread is one of the corn-based staples of Festas Juninas. It's a time to celebrate the harvest of the corn, to dance to old folk songs and to dress up like a caipira – a peasant style which includes a raffia hat, some makeup to pretend that we are country people, and gingham shirts. It's also the month of Saint Anthony, Saint John, and Saint Peter.

Baking this cake was a great opportunity to share stories and food with my children and their colleagues about this very special time of year which makes part of my childhood. It was so much fun that we even improvised a little fishing game, also typical on those parties. Kids "fish" prizes from a decorated cardboard box with a bamboo rod with a magnet on its end. That way they all had to fish for cake!

Bazilian Cornbread with Coconut

I chose yellow cornmeal, and I used unsweetened coconut to make sure that it wouldn't be overly sweet, a common taste in Brazilian cuisine inherited from the Portuguese traditions.

For cake:
4 cups yellow fine cornmeal
2 cups unsweetened dry coconut flakes
1tbsp baking powder
2 cups milk
1/2 cup melted butter or canola oil
1 cup sugar
4 eggs

For topping:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Mix eggs, sugar, and oil (or butter) in another bowl. When the mix is creamy, add milk gradually. Add dry mix to the wet ingredients, mixing with a spatula. Pour batter in prepared baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes or up to when it gets a golden crust.

For the topping, melt butter in a skillet and add coconut, stirring as it toasts. When the coconut is toasted, add condensed milk and spices, then reduce it over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mix changes to a custard texture, pour over the cake right after it comes out of the oven. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homemade sugar cubes — a sweet gift

My kids lead a sheltered life. My 10-year-old encountered sugar cubes for the first time just last month, at a café in Paris. His chocolat chaud was served with a small bowl of perfect little sugar cubes — he thought they were the best part of the drink. I let him believe it was an only-in-Europe kind of thing ... until I was inspired to make sugar cubes with the boys for Mother's Day and Teacher Appreciation Week.

Sugar cubes are such fun to make with kids! Minimal effort, big payoff — and you can make them at the last minute or ages ahead of time. The hardest part is keeping the kids from licking their fingers over and over and over.

Here's how you do it: Add a tiny bit of liquid — flavored extract, juice, water, coffee, even liqueur — into sugar. Then firmly press the mixture into small molds, or shape into a flat brick and cut into cubes or with shaped cutters. Let the cubes dry a few hours until they're rock solid.

Packaged in a little jar, they make a beautiful gift all on their own. They're even better presented with a mug and tea (or sparkling wine!).

The flavor possibilities are limitless. The boys decided to make heart-shaped vanilla cubes using a scraped vanilla bean and vanilla extract. I threw together a few more varieties: rose-scented hearts and stars, bright pink cubes made with grenadine, and hearts using lemon verbena-infused simple syrup I had made for lemonade and iced tea.

I added a dab of food coloring to the lemon verbena cubes. They came out VERY BRIGHT.

A few tips:
  • Don't add too much liquid. The mixture should be grainy. Think wet sand for castle building, or a good snowball. If you use food coloring, add just a teeny tiny dab so you don't end up with, say, Day-Glo yellow.

  • Keep them small. If you have tiny candy molds or cute little cookie cutters, use them. Big, thick pieces take longer to dry — and are a lot of sugar per bite. Mine are a little bigger than ideal, but the kids aren't complaining.

  • Pack firmly. Too loose, and they'll be crumbly.

  • Leave them alone to dry. Just let them sit on the counter, in the mold if you're using one, and resist the urge to poke them. After a few hours, check them carefully. When they're hard enough to handle, gently remove them from the mold and turn all of them upside-down. Ours were done within 3 to 5 hours, except for the grenadine batch. I put those in the oven at 200 degrees for half an hour to finish drying them. 
The colorful grenadine ones ended up being the kids' favorites — they ate them straight, and popped them in ginger ale for an instant Shirley Temple. But they took a full 24 hours to dry thoroughly. We kept poking them impatiently and mashed quite a few.

The small cutters were my favorite tool for crisply edged shapes, but the molds were easiest for the kids. I love our rough-cut cubes, but if you want something dainty and perfect, this silicone mini cube tray would be perfect. I'm loving the idea of using this tiny leaf mold for minty sugar cubes to serve with tea.

Homemade sugar cubes

To fancy things up, try rose water, orange blossom water, or extracts such as almond, mint, or lemon. Or you can make simple syrup infused with whole spices or herbs (follow this technique for lavender syrup). You can even add vanilla bean, edible flowers, or a bit of spice.

1 cup sugar
2 to 4 teaspoons water, infused syrup, extract, or a combination
optional: food coloring
molding equipment suggestions: candy molds, cookie cutters, spatula, dough scraper

Add 2 teaspoons of liquid to the sugar (and a tiny bit of food coloring, if using) and stir with a fork until well blended. Stir in more liquid, just a few drops at a time, until the texture is like wet sand. It should be almost slushy, but not so wet that the sugar dissolves.

For molded cubes, press sugar firmly into molds and smooth away loose sugar.

To make cubes or use cookie cutter shapes, pour sugar into a straight-sided square or rectangular container and press down to pack it in firmly. It doesn't need to cover the whole bottom — use a dough scraper, spatula, or even an old credit card to press it down and square off the edge (see photo at right).

For cubes, use a sharp knife to cut cubes. Leave them in place for an hour or so, until they're pretty firm, then gently separate them a little bit.

To use cookie cutters, press cookie cutter into sugar, then carefully lift up the cutter and drop the shaped sugar on a piece of parchment paper. If it doesn't slide out easily, use your finger to gently push it down.

Leave the sugar cubes in the mold or on the paper to dry completely. Once they're hard enough to handle, gently remove cubes from the molds and turn them over to finish drying completely. You can put them in a 180 degree oven for 30 to 60 minutes to speed things up.

Store cubes in an airtight container.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Simple sweet potato soup for spring

This is a light, fresh soup just right for spring. You can pull it together in minutes with just two pantry basics: a sweet potato and a can of coconut milk, which adds creaminess without overwhelming the flavor.

Add a little something extra — a touch of vinegar, a stalk of lemongrass and some time, if you have it, or a few drops of hot sauce — and you have a refreshing soup that's a perfect bridge from cold-weather curries to summertime gazpacho.

I threw this together after coming home from a long holiday to a mostly-empty pantry. Spring showers called for soup, but all I had for veggies were some lettuce and a lone sweet potato.

I zapped the potato in the microwave, opened a can of light coconut milk, and pulled a stalk of lemongrass from the garden. (I know, lemongrass is hardly a pantry staple. But if you have some, use it!) Everything went into a pot for half an hour, and I stirred whenever I passed through the kitchen. A splash of vinegar and a squeeze of lemon, and it was ready to go.

The result is a little sweet without being cloying — the vinegar really elevates the taste. Adults and spice-happy kids might like it with a drop or two of Sriracha. This one is definitely going into regular rotation: Even my coconut milk-averse, sweet potato-hating husband liked this and helped himself to a second bowl. (He says it doesn't taste like sweet potato; I say it does, and he just hasn't given sweet potatoes a fair chance.)

Springtime Sweet Potato Soup

To cook a sweet potato quickly, prick it several times with a fork and set it on a plate in the microwave. Cook on high for 8-10 minutes until soft, turning once halfway through. Let cool and peel.

The vinegar and lemon/lemongrass aren't essential, but they elevate this soup from good enough to mighty tasty.

1 medium sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water (or broth)
1 to 3 teaspoons cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper
2 stalks lemongrass, stalk only, peeled and split in half lengthwise, and/or a squeeze of lemon juice
Sriracha (optional)

Stir together mashed sweet potato, coconut milk, and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lemongrass stalks, if using. Warm to barely a simmer, stirring occasionally. If using lemongrass, keep on the burner for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove the lemongrass stalks.

Purée soup with an immersion blender (or blend in batches, carefully, in a blender or food processor). Stir in vinegar, a teaspoon at a time, until it has the right amount of zip to suit your taste. (If you're adding lemon juice, this is the time to do it.) Season with salt and pepper. If it's too thick, stir in a little more water, broth, or coconut  milk.

Optional:  Serve with Sriracha for those who want to add a little more heat.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

No Bake Chocolate Clusters

Hello Spring! This might be a great way of using leftover chocolate bits and pieces (aka broken and forgotten easter eggs) and make them part of a healthier treat. The first version is the one I made with kids at school: just a swirl of melted chocolate ove a nest of grains and mashed banana, and grapes are pretend-to-be eggs. The second, made with leftovers of the project is based on lots of chocolate biding grains and coconut. It was a nice way to celebrate Earth Day and shape the clusters like little planets. Just choose yours and play with the imagination to make your nest a unique piece of art.

No Bake Chocolate Clusters
Before beginning to mix and shape, melt chocolate chips on a double boiler (my favorite process), or in the microwave (70% power stirring every 30 seconds up to when chocolate is totally melted and ready to swirl. 

1  cup quick oats
2 cups high fiber cereal shaped like wood chips or sticks
Bananas (1/4 per person) - optional if just swirling chocolate
1/2 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
8 oz semisweet or milk chocolate chips or any chocolate you find in the house, melted

Mix all dry ingredients. Mash bananas on the plate to make the base for the clusters, nests or planets. After adding cereal mix  shaping bind with a swirl of melted chocolate. If your choice is to make just the cereal chocolate shapes, forget the bananas and fold chocolate into dry mix. Shape with the help of two spoons or inside a baking cup, and let it sit at room temperature up to when chocolate is back to solid.  Decorate with grapes or chocolate candies. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Coconut and Raspberry Macaroons

It's the last night of Passover and I've been cooking so much for these holidays that I didn't have time to sit quietly to share my latest recipes here.
Belonging to a interfaith family has its advantages but sometimes is just plainly overwhelming. It's great that Passover lasts for 8 nights, so that we can keep trying new recipes and variations over some staples, like matzo balls soup and gefilte fish.
I made theses sweet treats for the first night of Seder when we had some friends and family over, and despite of the extreme sweetness, it just almost vanished from the table. This photo was taken today, with some hidden in the fridge goodies.
Usually guests bring these as dessert but at this time I just thought it would be nice to make them anyway. For my luck they were the only macaroons on the table, so no competition - and absolutely one of the items that I will incorporate to my family's tradition. They are good on their own or topping a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Raspberry Coconut Macaroons
This is a variation of Mark Bittman's recipe. I added and substituted some ingredients and needed to adjust some of them, as I added more texture with the dried raspberries. 

3 egg whites, lightly beaten with 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 cups dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup toasted shredded unsweetened coconut (10 minutes in the oven before using)
3/4 cup ground dry raspberries (I used Trader Joe's), measured before grinding
1 teaspoon orange oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a wired whisk, beat eggs with salt up to very soft peaks. Slowly fold in sugars and orange oil, and finally coconut and ground raspberries. The mix will look very dry.  Using two teaspoons, lay each macaroon on the baking sheet, and shape them like pyramids with wet hands. Bake for about 40 minutes or up to when peaks are looking slightly charred. Cool down on a wired tray and transfer to the fridge up to when serving.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Leprechaun Shelter Salad... and Green Pea Dip

Photo by J. Balbi
Maybe they say they don't like greens. But when it comes to building a hiding place for a leprechaun... perhaps the little ones will change their mind.

While looking for ideas of something healthy to make with the kids at school I finally put the project together while browsing the aisles of my favorite grocery store. Lately I've been working a more with food presentation with older children, but thought that the idea of building a hut, a bed or even a boat made of vegetables would be enticing enough to make kindergartners and first graders enticed.  After building,  we were working with the notion that the best place to "hide" the secret leprechaun hideout would be their tummy, not the trash can.

I was lucky enough to have J. working with me at school that day, who was fortunate enough to have a mini figurine of a leprechaun in her bag, and a good eye for taking the photos which are in this post.
Photo by J. Balbi
A big bag of romaine hearts, some micro-greens to imitate little shamrocks, pea stick and lots of imagination made the whole experience a great activity. They all helped to blend the green dip, excited with the mouse from the hand blender. The green pea dip, inspired on this dip recipe by Darienne, was the foundation. For some children, it was a unique chance of eating salad, disguised as something they had built for the little man.

Happy St. Paddy's Day!
Photo by J. Balbi

Leprechaun Shelter Salad with Green Dip
You can always play with the greens around the project, but it's good to have something to make the structure possible, like a big leaf for the shelter, and some cucumber sticks to be the support. 

For the salad

Romaine Heart Leafs as needed
Cucumber, cut in sticks in same length
Green pitted olives
Green pea baked snacks (such as Inner Peas by Trader Joe's
Baby Spinach
Curley Parsley

For the dip

1 bag frozen organic green peas
4 oz whipped cream cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons oregano
Kosher salt to taste

Cook peas as directed by package. Drain and blend with all other ingredients in a food processor or hand blender up to when it reaches a creamy texture. Serve on the side of salad or on the bottom of the late to serve as the foundation for the hut. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fortune cookies made easy


Making fortune cookies has been on my list for years. Every time I started to poke around recipes online, I balked because of the reviews. For every person who said such-and-such recipe was easy and perfect, there was another who said it was an utter disaster. I wanted better odds of success before wading into that territory.

But this year, I forgot to get a new bag of fortune cookies on our annual Lunar New Year shopping trip to Chinatown. We usually swing by Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. to see the treats being made and bring a bag home. This year we filled up on dim sum, boba tea, and egg tarts, but rushed home without our cookies.

This was it: The Year of the Horse would be the year I tried fortune cookies.

And they were a success! They tasted delicious and the kids loved them. And they weren't too difficult. We'll happily make them again soon. Probably within a few days.

One of these is not like the others... the one on the left is smoother and has more defined edges because we used parchment paper to help shape it.

Anna solved the trickiest challenge: getting each cookie thin and flat. These cookies need to be ridiculously thin — almost translucent. Most recipes say to use a spatula or spoon to spread the dough in a circle on a greased sheet or silicon mat. We did that for most of ours, and they came out OK but were uneven, a little bumpy, and with crumbly edges.

Our trick: Anna spread them on floured parchment paper, then used another sheet of floured parchment paper to press them flat. We popped them in the oven, covered in parchment paper, and they came out beautifully. (That's a little pastry technique she picked up in Paris. Never miss a chance to give credit to things from Paris.) You can see the difference in the photo above: The cookie at the bottom left is from the parchment paper batch. Perfect!


Before you try them, you need to know a few hard truths:
  • Your fortunes will have grease spots. You could try making the cookies without butter, but reviewers of butter-free versions often say the cookies needed butter, for taste and to avoid sticking to the pan. (With Anna's parchment paper technique, butter-free might work. I hope to try it soon and report back.)
  • There will be losses. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, and even then there will be casualties.
  • Making fortune cookies is time-consuming. Relax and make an afternoon of it.
  • Crispiness is a high goal. A few of ours crisped evenly and nicely, but most had slightly chewy centers. Practice will help, and some advise returning the shaped cookies to a 250 degree oven for a few minutes to crisp. We ate all ours, and so didn't try it.
This is a fun one to do with kids. Spreading the batter and shaping the cookies may be difficult for young ones, but kids who can write or draw of course can prepare the fortunes. (Ours, not surprisingly, turned out to be focused on the boys' current obsession: "Your mom will let you play Minecraft" and the like.)

Hey, look! Another fortune about Minecraft!

Fortune Cookies

This recipe makes 18-20 cookies. Adapted from Allrecipes and Fifteen Spatulas

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
scant 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water
2/3 cup flour

Write your fortunes before you bake the cookies. Cut paper into strips, about 1/2 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long, and write fortunes. (This is a great job for the kids. We used ballpoint pen, to make sure the ink didn't bleed onto the cookies.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (trace 3" circles onto the paper as a guide, if you wish) and dust lightly with flour. Lightly dust a second sheet of parchment paper with flour and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and sugar until they're frothy. Whisk in the melted butter, extracts, and water, then mix in the flour just until it's blended in — don't over-mix. The mixture should be like a light pancake batter, not a doughy cookie batter.

Scoop a generous 1/2 tablespoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Use the measuring spoon to spread it into a very thin circle, about 3 inches across. Do no more than 3 or 4 cookies at a time (and for your first try, I recommend doing only two). Lay the second piece of parchment over the batter, floured side down, and press down to ensure evenly flat, thin cookies. Leave the paper in place.

Bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven for 6 to 7 minutes. They're done when they're just golden around the edges. They need to be soft and pliable for folding.

Be ready to work quickly: Peel off the parchment paper, flip each cookie over, and lay the fortune across the middle. With a spatula or your fingers (gloves might help), fold each cookie in half — don't crease it flat, just pinch the open edges together. Then set the cookie on the edge of a cup, with the folded edge on the rim and the open side on top, and pushing the corners down while you hold the pinched edges together. Tuck each folded cookie into a muffin pan so it will hold its shape as it cools and hardens. (Check out these videos for helping shaping cookies.)

Repeat with the remaining batter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

So bring me a Figgy Cake... And a Happy New Year!!!

It's my first post of the year and yet it's something I baked last year... . But this is not your average end of the year celebration cake! It was so good that I had to stop all my fourth day of the new year activities to post it. Maybe you will want to bake sometime to celebrate something other than Christmas. If you are a grown-up who drinks, it's a perfect pairing for a bubbly. But a warning: it's so delicious that I had to make an effort to freeze a slice to be able to replicate it later, once it was a very improvised recipe.

The project was to bake a original British style figgy pudding so to go with the song, as my sons are always repeating "So bring me a figgy pudding"asking me when I was going to bake one. The problem was that I was crazy busy as most of you guys, and had to improvise the steaming for something like "wet" baking. I will explain myself: Once I came across this recipe that recommended to bake normally adding a water filled pan to pretend it is also steaming. And it worked. Happy 2014!!!

Almond Figgy Cake
This recipe is vaguely based on Simon Rimmer's Figgy Pudding, published in Something for the weekend, and online at BBC.

2 cups chopped california dried figs
1/3 cup cognac ( I used Remi Martin)
3/4 cup hot water
1 cup flour
1.5 cups almond meal (ground almond)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup concord grape raisins soaked overnight in1 cup of your favorite wine
1 orange, zest and juice
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F, with a large baking pan filled with water on the lower rack of oven. Start soaking figs in cognac and hot water for about 15 minutes, or overnight, if you have time. Mix flour, almond meal, baking powder and nutmeg in a bow and set aside. In another bowl mix brown sugar, eggs, olive oil and whisk up to when you get a creamy texture. Slowly add cognac and water mix from the figs. Add figs and raisins to flours and mix up to when they get fully coated. Add liquid mix to flour mix stirring with a wooden spoon. Let it rest for 5 minutes, mix again and pour batter on a flutted tube pan.  Bake in the oven from 45 to 55 minutes (still with the water filled pan in there, refill if necessary), or up to when crust is golden and core dry. Serve it hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold for brunch with a latte. 


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