Monday, January 25, 2021

Salted Halva Blondies from Dessert Person

The January/February baking cookbook for the Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club is Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz. I skipped the first challenge of the blood orange olive oil cake but it certainly looked delicious. The second challenge, which I posted to Instagram on Saturday the 23rd, are the Salted Halva Brownies. I'm copying the recipe from New York Seed + Mill since they had already posted it online.

A tan colored blondie with sesame seeds on top sits on a miniature turquoise cake platter.

I had baked with tahini before (tahini cookies, buckwheat tahini orange chocolate cookies, and tahini chocolate chip cookies) but had not used halva as an ingredient to add to things. I ordered a vanilla flavored halva and chopped it up. You can't see it in the picture but it adds a distinct flavor and chewy texture which made these very delicious.

Salted Halva Blondies


1 ¼  c flour
1 tsp kosher salt 
½ tsp baking powder
6 oz (170g) white chocolate (chopped)
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter 
½ c light brown sugar 

1 large egg 
2 large egg yolks 
1 tbs vanilla extract 
2 tbs sesame seeds
Flaky sea salt (for sprinkling the top) 

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8 x 8” pan with 2 sheets of foil, crossing one over the other. Butter the foil generously and set aside.  
2. Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Gently melt the white chocolate in a double boiler (i.e. in a bowl that is placed over a pot of simmering water). Add the butter and tahini to the white chocolate and stir gently to combine until smooth. Remove the mixture from the heat. 
3. Whisk the brown sugar into the white chocolate. It may start to look grainy and separate (which is normal). Add the egg and egg yolks and vanilla to the white chocolate mixture and whisk vigorously until smooth and glossy. 
4. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mix and use a flexible spatula to combine. Final step is to add the crumbled (or chunked halva) trying not to over mix at this point and break up the halva too much. 
5. Scrape batter into the buttered pan, sprinkle with sesame seeds, flaky sea salt and bake for 20-25 mins (or until blondies are golden brown on the top). Allow to cool in the pan, remove and slice into squares. They should be chewy on the inside and puffed on the top!

Makes 16 blondies. 
You can make these and freeze for up to 2 months.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Heljdopita - Buckwheat Crepe Cake

Every year I focus on a different region of the world for one of my reading goals, and find myself cooking and baking dishes from those countries as well. I recently read the first book for my Europe 2021 goal, a book from a little country called Montenegro. I did a bit of research on recipes from Montenegro, and found a few tourism/travel videos. Many of the dishes are also known in Serbia, of course, since they used to be the same country. It is only very recently that the language of Montenegrin has started to grow more distinct from Serbian as they start to declare their identity. One recipe that came up was what looked like a crepe cake, but the description of it was savory - heljdopita.

I consulted several cooks on the internet. One person made buckwheat crepes and stacked them in a pan to bake, another used a buckwheat type pastry (translated to "buckwheat bark"), and another made more of a dough than a batter, and rolled each piece out separately. I knew I didn't want to have to roll anything out "thin enough" because I never get there. The second person made a lasagna shaped buckwheat pie (referred to as "Perfect and Adorable Buckwheat Pie") but added spinach between the layers, which I liked. So I adapted the first person's recipe, brought in elements for the filling from other recipes, and added spinach between every other layer when I put it together. The recipe videos were all in Serbian and some ingredients are not quite the same, or maybe even measurements, so I did my best!

Heljdopita (aka Adorable Buckwheat Pie)

Ingredients for crepes:

150 g buckwheat flour (I used 1 cup + 2 tbsp)
250 g whole wheat flour (I used 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, but 1 1/2 may have been better)
3 eggs
One and a half deciliters of milk (I used 5 oz)
Three and a half deciliters of sparkling water (I used 11.75 oz, or 1 cup + scant 1/2 cup)


200 g cheese (I used 8 oz feta, they use feta or another sharp crumbly cheese)
200 g cream cheese (I used sour cream since others did, I think the "cream cheese" references is really farmers' cheese, or some other mild soft cheese)
2 eggs
100 ml plain greek-style yogurt (1/3 cup)

Whisk eggs, stir in milk and water. Stir in buckwheat flour; stir in whole wheat flour half at a time. Make crepe like pancakes (medium heat, ladle in just enough to cover bottom, flip when edges start to curl, cook just a few seconds on the other side.)

Mash cheese, stir in sour cream (or cream cheese), eggs, and yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a springform or dutch oven, layer a crepe with a spoon or so of filling, enough to spread around but does not need to fully cover. Add spinach if so desired, fresh baby leaves fine.

Bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Browned Butter Madeleines

I got a madeleine pan for Christmas and decided to just jump in and try making a batch in the lull between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I find videos helpful when I need to learn a new technique, so I went to YouTube first. If you're here just for the recipe, I used this one over here. But I have things to say about making madeleines!

Inga from BuzzFeed recorded a video of her with Dominique Ansel, both being charming with one another, making matcha madeleines to hand out to the customers who lined up before the bakery opens. I didn't want to make a specific flavor for my first time, plus he chills the batter 12-18 hours, a long overnight (he says this is for the baking powder's sake.) He uses honey as well. "Not bad." One idea this gave me was that you may be able to easily make flavored madeleines with various flavored powders. He also uses browned butter, and fills the pan with a piping bag.

Kim-Joy, famous from the British Baking Show, had a few hints to making perfect madeleines on her basics video, including using the freezer to speed up the chilling time. Whisking 7 minutes is very important, because madeleines are a sponge cake, and this is crucial to the structure. She does a good job showing the difference between the original beating and the gentle mixing at the end. In a separate video, she shows how to make "pandaleines" using her usual cutesy vibe. I wasn't going to go super decorative in my first attempt but she made me feel I could do this in a shorter period of time. (There are step by step directions in her cookbook, Baking with Kim-Joy.)

Then I watched John at Preppy Kitchen make madeleines with browned butter and lemon. Some of what he did reinforced what I'd seen earlier, and his recipe was more straightforward. I think what I ended up doing was his ingredients plus using the cooking spray on the pan recommended by one of the other websites I consulted. If you watch his video, I'm not sure he's correct about Proust inventing the madeleine but that's a topic for another day.

So now I have this pan. Do you have any favorite madeleine recipes? I'd like to do a glaze or a dip in the next version I try.


(recipe courtesy of John at Preppy Kitchen)


  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter (100g)
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (100g)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 1 tbsp (100g) sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt


  • Melt the butter either in your microwave or in a small pot over medium heat. Browning the butter will add a lovely depth or flavor to the cakes but is of course optional. Once melted or browned pour the butter into a bowl and allow to cool.
  • Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl then whisk together and set aside.
  • Add the eggs and sugar to the bowl or your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer. Beat on high until the mixture is a light yellow color with a thick silky texture, about 8-9 minutes. You'll see the beater leave trails when it's ready. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest toward the end.
  • Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and mix until just combined. You can sift the flour mixture into the eggs while you fold to avoid getting lumps or over-mixing the delicate batter.
  • Drizzle the butter into the batter and gently mix until just combined.
  • Cover and chill the batter as well as the buttered tins* for 1 hour then scoop one tablespoon of batter into each scallop-shaped well. Bake at 350F 8-10 minutes.
  • Serve with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

 Notes from JennyBakes:

I am noting that the butter, sugar, and flour all weigh the same in this recipe - I think that's what makes these sponge cakes. The additional ingredients help a bit with texture and flavor.

I did not chill or butter my tins, but they were brand new - I washed and sprayed with non stick spray based on the recommendation I found elsewhere. They were easy to remove!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Gingerbread Cake with Date Syrup Sauce from The Flavor Equation

I'm back with another recipe from The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma, and it was so perfect for the holidays. I just happened to have a giant jar of Iraqi date syrup in my pantry, so I was thrilled to have a use of it in this sauce. I didn't have bourbon so I left it out but will leave it in the directions below (which are from Nik Sharma's website as well as the book, which I recommend.) This was the end of the month challenge for the Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Challenge, an activity that has been such an excellent diversion for this year.

Slice of gingerbread cake with shiny date syrup sauce on top, in front of a lit christmas tree.

If I made this again I would have baked it 5 minutes less (I was worried about it being done enough and that left it just a little bit dry.) I still think the Smitten Kitchen take on Gramercy Tavern's gingerbread is my favorite, but it is legendarily difficult to get out of the pan - not a problem with this one. This also had some unique techniques involved, and I almost forgot to mix in the hot water at the end.

Gingerbread Cake with Date (Bourbon) Syrup Sauce
(recipe from Nik Sharma in The Flavor Equation)


For the cake:

¾ cup [165 g] unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground green cardamom
1 tsp lime zest
2½ cups [350 g] all-purpose flour 
1½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 oz [55 g] crystallized ginger, chopped 
¼ cup [50 g] sugar
¼ cup [85 g] honey
1 cup [320 g] unsulfured molasses or sorghum 
½ cup [120 g] crème fraîche 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup [240 ml] water warmed to 158°F [70°C] 

For the date syrup bourbon sauce:

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup [240 ml] date syrup
1 cup [240 ml] heavy cream
2 Tbsp honey bourbon or whiskey
¼ tsp fine sea salt 

For serving: 

Lightly sweetened crème fraîche 
Fresh lime zest


Grease a 9 in [23 cm] square baking pan with a little butter and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.

 Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and lime zest. Let steep for 10 minutes.

 Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Reserve 2 Tbsp of the flour mixture in a small bowl, add the crystallized ginger to it, and toss to coat well.

 Preheat the oven to 325°F [163°C]. Place the sugar, honey, and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer. Scrape out the melted butter from the saucepan with a silicone spatula and add it to the mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until it turns a toffee-brown color, 4 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl, add the crème fraîche, and mix on low speed until combined, 1 minute. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Mix in 1 egg at a time on medium speed until combined. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, add the water and mix until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the sides. Fold in the crystallized ginger and transfer the cake batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown on the surface and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan. Run a knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake and transfer to a serving plate.

 To prepare the date bourbon sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Swirl the butter in the saucepan until the milk solids start to turn red. Whisk in the date syrup and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream, followed by the bourbon and the salt. Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make this sauce 2 days ahead of time.

 To serve, cut the cake into slices and serve with sweetened crème fraîche, a little lime zest, and a generous drizzle of the date bourbon sauce.


Notes from JennyBakes:

I used sour cream for the crème fraîche but would have used plain yogurt if I'd had it. I made a half recipe of the sauce, without the bourbon or any replacement for the alcohol, and that was enough for us! I also only had about 2/3 cup molasses so used date syrup for the rest of that as well.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Muffins (gluten-free, grain-free, lower-sugar)

I had leftover butternut squash to use, and ordered myself my own hazelnuts, and had wanted to make this recipe forever. I also had fresh cranberries still leftover in the freezer, so I added them to half the batter, but this greatly increased the baking time due to the amount of moisture! If you make them with the grain-free ingredients, prepare to bake them up to twice as long as the recipe indicates. 

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Muffins
(based on the recipe at Italian Food Forever, but modified for grain-free ingredients and to make half as many)


  • 1 1/3 cups almond flour
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour (optional but I find it helps the texture)
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk of any variety (I used almond-coconut)
  • 1/2 cup pureed, baked butternut squash
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (I used coconut sugar)
  •  2 tablespoons mild flavored vegetable oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  •  1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts) 


    1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
    2. In one bowl, stir together the flours, spices, baking soda, and salt.
    3. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, squash puree, maple syrup, oil, and extract until blended.
    4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry along with the hazelnuts and stir with a wooden spoon just until blended.
    5. Divide the batter into the muffin liners, then sprinkle the tops with the hazelnuts.
    6. Bake for 7 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for about 7 to 8 minutes longer, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out cleanly.
    7. Cool 5 minutes then serve.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Francincense & Myrrh & Cardamom Cookie Bars

I follow a handful of bakers in social media, and last week Louise Miller tweeted about the Los Angeles Times holiday cookie list. I immediately knew which recipe I would be trying, because I'm a sucker for cardamom (so much so that I ended up not even having enough for this recipe, and now I'm out!) and immediately knew I could use my holiday plum butter instead of the prescribed raspberry jam. I buy plum jam and plum butter any time I see it at an import store or international grocery because it's rather hard to find in the United States yet is is a standard holiday flavor in some places in Europe, I imagine because of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Cardamom Plum Cookie Bars
(based on the Cardamom Raspberry Bars from Silvia Razgova at the Los Angeles Times)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan, then line the bottom and two long sides with a sheet of parchment paper; grease the paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cardamom, baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, both sugars and the salt. Add the eggs and yolk and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Using a sieve, sift half the dry ingredients over the batter, then use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to stir until almost combined. Sift in the remaining dry ingredients and stir until the dough combines and there are no more dry patches of flour visible.
  3. Scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan and spread into the corners and in an even layer. Fill a resealable plastic bag with the raspberry jam, then cut one corner off. Pipe the jam in about six or seven 1-inch-thick rows widthwise over the dough (or dollop the jam evenly over the dough with a spoon). Run a thin-bladed knife or a toothpick through the surface of the batter in opposite directions to create a feathered effect. 
  4. Bake, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through cooking, until golden brown at the edges and set in the middle, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely.
  5. Use the parchment paper to lift the cooled cookie slab out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 bars to serve.  

You can substitute any complimentary flavored jam, but the author of the recipe is clear that if it's too thin, the dough will absorb it rather than bake it as a self-contained entity. My plum butter did sink down a bit and not do as much marbling on top, but it tastes delicious. The cardamom adds an element of depth

Monday, December 07, 2020

Fudgy Brownies from A Good Bake

I made the fudgy brownies recipe from A Good Bake by Melissa Weller and Carolynn Carreno. It is always a good idea to see how a baker's brownies are, and these were . I liked the way the recipes are laid out, very clear, and many of the more complex baked goods come with full-color photographs of the major steps. This will be one to add to my collection because next year when I focus my reading on Non-Western Europe, I will have to make khachapuri and babka, at least. 

I am putting the recipe in more of a standard format, but the cookbook is laid out in a more precise fashion, with preparation notes, making notes, technical notes, and more. I felt very clear on what would be required.

Fudgy Brownies

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
8 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Arrange the oven racks so one is in the center position. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Spray the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cut a piece of parchment paper 8 inches wide and 15 to 16 inches long. Lay the paper in the pan so it travels up and over two of the sides. Spray the paper with cooking spray.

Pour 1-2 inches of water into the bottom of a small saucepan and choose a bowl that fits over the saucepan to make a double boiler. Make sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl; if it is, pour some water out. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer.

Roughly chop the chocolate. Put the butter and chocolate into the bowl of the double boiler and melt them, using a heat-proof rubber spatula to stir and scrape down the sides of the bowl so the chocolate doesn't burn.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and wipe the bottom of the bowl so no water drips. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk them in. Add the eggs one at a time and whisk until the batter is shiny and smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the salt and flour and stir with a rubber spatula until no flour is visible.

Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Use the spatula to smooth out the top of the batter. 

Place the brownies on the center rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking. Remove the brownies from the oven and cool on a cooling rack. the tops will appear dry, but the insides will should remain fudgy if you poke the center with a toothpick or cake tester. Holding the sides of the parchment paper, lift the brownies out of the pan and place them on a cutting board. Using a large knife, cut the brownies into 16 equal pieces.

Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Here are the recipes I really have my eyes on from A Good Bake

-Chewy Gingersnaps
-Khachapuri with Cheese, Baked Egg, and Nigella Seeds
-Kale and Cheese Khachapuri with Zhoug
-Cinnamon Babka with Brown Butter Cinnamon Glaze
-Chocolate Babka
-Cranberry Cream Cheese Babka
-Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls with Buttermilk Glaze
-Strawberry Jam and Hazelnut Rugelach