On Procrastination and Chocolate.

Teaser; no chocolate here, though I must say that I made a fabulous chocolate rye brownie recently that I highly recommend trying. You’ll find the link here.

~I needed something self indulgent after a weekend of crafting gifts for others.

FullSizeRenderWriting recipes at times can be challenging. I like to buck the line at precision; and there are times when my “recipes” are just an approximation of this and that. Needless to say, this works much better in the realm of cooking, rather than baking, as there is a bit of science and technique one must follow.

IMG_9827That being said, sometimes it’s perfectly reasonable to “go offline” and trust instinct to guide us in the kitchen. Sometimes precision lies in the imprecision. As in life, occasionally we need to deviate from the path in front of us, the recipe, the method, and allow internal wisdom to navigate.

IMG_9828There are an abundance of holiday cookie ideas floating around at the moment, and I was struck by the simplicity of this Japanese tea flavored almond cookie. That’s often all it takes, an idea, an inspiration, and what follows is an outpouring of measures to translate it into something of my own (along with the mental inventory of what is in my pantry). This cookie had me thinking about shortbread. I’ve been making shortbread from a recipe I’ve refined over the years, a mash of several great ideas, that offers a perfect balance of sandiness, crisp and sweet, and I thought about adding a bit of matcha tea powder to flavor the dough.

As a ran through the park, other variations of tea-infused shortbread cookies came to mind, and by the time I’d arrived home, I’d committed myself to several hours in the kitchen. I was able to produce a batch each of earl grey, matcha and chai varieties before running out of flour…which led to the invention of a rye flour shortbread, flecked with pieces of candied and dried ginger.

IMG_9830In retrospect, I might boost the salt a bit, add an extra pinch. Increase the tea to 2.5 or even 3 teaspoons, and add a bit of freshly grated ginger to the rye version.

IMG_9776Use the recipes that follow as a template; an approximation of wet:dry, and tailor to suit your taste. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Errors are the building blocks to perfection.

IMG_9835These cookies go well with tea, obviously, or tucked into a lunchsack for an afternoon treat. There are fairly benign and can be justified is eaten any time of the day.

IMG_9837I’m trying a method-driven writing technique, rather than the standard approach, however the ingredients are all there. I hope you enjoy it.

Much Love,

J

Tea-Infused Shortbread

*This recipe includes rye flour, which pairs well with ginger. For a more truly authentic shortbread, use 1 cup unbleached flour, omitting the rye, and 2-2.5 teaspoons of ground tea of choice to sub in for the ginger.

Beat 1/2 cup butter wth 1/3 cup powdered sugar until light and fluffy.

Add to that 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger and 3-ish tbsp chopped candied ginger.

In a separate bowl, combine 2/3 cup unbleached flour with 1/3 cup rye flour, 2 tbsp tapioca flour (if you have it – makes them really light and sandy), 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp powdered ginger.

Mix it all together until just combined, then turn out onto some parchment and knead together, minimally.

Roll out 1/4-inch thick, then let dough rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325F.

Using cookie cutters of choice, cut and set on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for ~16 minutes, turning about halfway through. You want them to be just barely golden.

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes on baking sheet, then move to baking rack to cool completely.

Decorate, as desired 😘

This post is dedicated to D. Thank you inspiring me to cook, create, write, not to mention doing the dishes! I miss that.

…and it was like she never left.

In a more relaxed moment, I found myself scrolling through pictures and finding several that were part of a vision unfolding; scenes I’d meant to post and then got waylaid by frenetic holidays and activities that were heartfelt and fulfilling, yet left me a bit emotionally spent.
Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

With the new year, and clear(er) vision, I’ve created goals and aspirations, and been taking steps toward achieving them. All well and good, however it’s so important that I get lost in the process of Being at least for a small amount of time daily.
And the truth is that I haven’t dedicated time to my craft; writing about my experience, that spark that ignites when I have an idea and run with it. That bit of cleverness and openness; that flexibility that comes (truly) from an aversion to running back out into the cold for another stick of butter, fruit or cream.
That Delectable Poached Pear and Almond Tart

Poached Pear and Almond Tart

It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse. Writing, creating, sharing and remembering these experiences  are an essential aspect of my self-expression. It gives me great joy to make beautiful food and share it with friends and family.
Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

I’ve included a few visual samplings of things made recently that are worthy of a nod.
And so when overcome by the need for a bit of something sweet, I consulted past repertoire for this salted almond and honey pie. 
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Being a fan of tiny things, I thought I’d make tartlets, so as to enjoy and share more readily. I filled half of the tartlets with honey custard, and the remaining with homemade raspberry balsamic preserves; the latter lovingly gathered from my father’s garden this past summer.
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Recipes for pâte sucrée (aka: tart crust) abound on the internet, however I’ll include a simple recipe that I’ve been using reliably for some time. Feel free to let the imagination go wild with the fillings. These baked up nicely in a 375-degree oven in ~40 minutes.
Enjoy, and much love.
J
Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
ice water, as needed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor, or combine well in a large bowl.
Add butter and either process or use a pastry blender to cut into flour just until the mixture resembles fine peas.
Add egg yolk and pulse or mix until combined.
Add just enough water (no more than a tablespoon) to bring mixture to a somewhat cohesive mass; it should still be a bit crumbly.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
Press into well-buttered tart pan(s) and fill as desired.
Bake filled tartlets until set, ~40 minutes

Rêver de l’été (Dreaming of Summer)

The heaps of gray, shadowy, wet days and Winter’s chill have left me with a sweet longing for Summer. At the market, I seem to gravitate toward citrus; the shiny orbs of Cara Cara pink navels, with their pink-hued flesh and pucker-y sweetness; the kumquat, with its deceptively-sweet peel and shockingly sour insides; the crimson flesh and clean bright taste of blood oranges..mmm. And so to nurture my creative side as well as satisfy a roaring sweet tooth, I drew upon citrus as inspiration.

Orange Almond Sablés

Orange Almond Sablés

Often, I do my best creative work while running. That may seem odd to some, however I’ve found that running serves as an outlet not only for expending physical energy, it is a catalyst for new ideas. These seedlings are kneaded and churned about as I navigate urban trails and sidewalks; often as the sun is just starting to make its presence known. I see flavors and textures come together, then the vision takes form, and I’m off to the store, list in hand.

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I recalled a luxuriously silky buttermilk panna cotta I’d made this summer that involved steeping lavender buds and vanilla beans in buttermilk and cream. That fragrance! The buttermilk added a nice perky bit of tart, fooling the palate and masking some of the richness of the butterfat. A friend of mine with whom I’ve shared several meals over the years said it was probably the best dessert they’d had. A high complement, for sure!

Panna Cotta (honey orange rosemary)Rosemary-scented honey and orange panna cotta

And so this weekend, with citrus on my mind, I came up with not one, but two desserts to share. Neither of them yield instant gratification, however if you are willing to set aside an afternoon, I assure that dessert will be stunning. The honey panna cotta has only the faintest hint of rosemary and marries nicely with the orange zest. The cookies are based off a classic French butter cookie, the sablé. They make a perfect tea cookie; lightly scented with almond and the essential oils of orange zest. I recommend using unsalted European butter, if you can find it, as European butter has a higher fat content that is fabulous in baked goods.

best butter.

best butter.

Sablé dough

Of course, cookies are always good for sharing, so I managed to set aside a few for a neighbor.

Sablé, ready to go.

Enjoy, and much love.

J

Honey Panna Cotta with Rosemary and Orange

1 packet gelatin
1 c  whole milk
2 cup whipping cream (not half and half)
1/3 c honey
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 sprigs rosemary
*Simple Syrup (optional)
1/4 c orange juice
 2 Tbsp honey

/–

Method
pour milk into a saucepan; sprinkle gelatin atop and allow to soften for ~5 minutes.
Add cream, honey, and remaining ingrediets. turn heat to low, whisking steadily to combine.
Add rosemary and zest; furn heat to medium and stir occasionally until barely steaming. Remove from heat and steep ~15 minutes.
Pour into ramekinsand allow to chilll nthe referigerator for at least four hours
Pour into 6 ramekins and refrigerate for ~4 hours, until set.

*For simple syrup, combine honey and orange juice in small saucepan over medium heat; stir and allow to bubble softly for ~ 5minutes. remove from heat. Reserve and pour over panna cotta prior to serving.

Orange Almond Sablé

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter; softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
*Decoration
1 egg yolk
Granulated sugar

Method

  1. In a small bowl, mix orange zest with granulated sugar until fragrant. Add powdered sugar and sea salt to combine
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter. Add sugar and mix to combine.
  3. Add egg yolks and almond extract; beat until incorporated
  4. Lastly, add flour. Mix only until pastry forms a cohesive mass; this is reminiscent of pie pastry; you’ll want the end result to be light and crumbly
  5. Form dough into two, 9-inch logs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (at least 3)
  6. When ready to bake. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  7. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
  8. Remove dough from refrigerator, brush logs with egg yolk and granulated sugar.
  9. Using a sharp knife; slice into 1/3 to 1/2-inch rounds.
  10. Bake 15-20 minutes; longer if the cookies are on the thicker side. Cookies are ready when the bottom and sides are golden; the tops should remain pale.

Allow to rest for a couple of minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to cool completely on wire rack

Copy Cat. Or, if Baklava had a Sister.

Even though I’ve completely saturated myself with sweet indulgences this holiday season, I’ll never deny a good pastry. My oh so lovely friend Donna sent me a link a few week’s back to an online zine that featured a couple of pies from the famed Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. She’d made a pear pie with juniper berries that sounded fantastic. You can find the link, here.

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava's sexy sister

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava’s sexy sister

Once I saw the recipe for a salt-studded honey pie, I knew I had to make it mine. It looked simply stunning. And yet…I thought I could personalize it a bit with a few enhancements. I’d recently been gifted a jar of fabulous local honey.  I wanted to do right with it, and this pie seemed like the perfect vehicle to transcend it into something extraordinary.

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The recipe called for vanilla paste. I thought I could do a bit better by using whole vanilla bean. I scraped the seeds out of the bean and set them in sugar, with a bit of freshly-grated lemon zest. I love the sensuous feeling of using my fingers to combine the sugar with aromatics, the sugar crystals unlocking the essential oils and perfuming the air with vanilla and lemon-scented goodness.

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I added sliced almonds to the top, to accentuate the crunch of salt and contrast the silky filling. This pie and baked went from a pale sandy yellow to a dark caramel brown; the almonds developing a tan as the crust bubbled and spit.

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Drizzled with a bit of thyme and vanilla-infused honey, sprinkled with flaky Maldon salt and crunchy toasted almonds, this pie is pure heaven. Probably one of the flakiest pastry crusts I’ve made in some time, which I attribute to a bit of old-school pastry cutter technique. A quick blitz in the food processor flirts a bit too much with the gluten in the flour. If nothing else, this crust inspired me to go back to my humble ways of tactile experience with the dough. When you work with your hands, the hands become the intuitive barometer of when something is near completion. The bits of butter strewn throughout the dough formed delicate air pockets that left layers of flaky, meltingly-tender crust.

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Oh! And the flavor! The filling, similar in consistency to pecan pie, but without the cloying, one-dimensional sweetness of corn syrup. The elements of buttery pastry, crunchy almonds, and sweet honey reminded me instantly of baklava, the incredible Turkish sweet.

I am already dreaming of when I’ll make it again.

Much Love,

J

Honey Almond Pie

Note: I used a basic recipe for pate sucree; you can find recipes and techniques in previous blog posts, however I encourage you to try to make the crust without using a food processor. There are excellent tutorials for basic pie crust techniques available online.

For the filling:

3/4-cup sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

Seeds of one whole vanilla bean pod (reserve pod for later)

3/4-cup honey

1/4-pound (one stick) butter, melted

1/2-cup cream (not half and half)

3 eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp cornmeal

2 tsp white vinegar

You will also need:

1 prepared pie crust, frozen

~2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1/4 c honey

Several sprigs fresh thyme

Vanilla bean pod

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, rub together sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds until aromatic. Set aside.
  3. Combine honey, salt, and cornmeal; whisk together, then add melted butter, cream and eggs, one at a time, whisking until well-incorporated.
  4. Add scented sugar and whisk again well, then pour through sieve into prepared crust.
  5. Bake for ~35 minutes, then sprinkle with slivered almonds. At this point, you may need to cover lightly with parchment to prevent excessive browning. Bake for another 20 minutes until set. This is best tested by giving a gently nudge to the pan; it’s okay if the filling is slightly jiggly; it’ll continue to cook once removed from the oven. However, if it’s sloppy, keep pie in the oven and check at ~5-minute intervals until set.
  6. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a flourish of sea salt and let it cool. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, warm honey with a few sprigs of thyme and the vanilla pod, then let steep for ~10 minutes. Strain into a jar, then drizzle over pie and garnish with a few fresh thyme leaves.

The Great Cookie Experiment.

While I love all things food, what really nails it for me is baking. I am always in awe at the evolution of a fanciful treat arising from just a handful of ingredients. Butter, flour, sugar, eggs. These are the beginnings of something wonderful. I recall watching a video clip recently of Dorie Greenspan, famed writer and owner of Buerre and Sel, as she spoke with pure exuberance about the wonder of such simple things as these. If you have two minutes to spare, click here: http://doriegreenspan.com/2013/09/post-11.html.

Dorie is simply adorable. As I was watching her speak to her love of baking, I found myself thinking that this woman and I must be psychically linked. Her passion for baking, for sharing her food is astoundingly similar to mine; her words echoed my own thoughts about baking. I was awestruck.

As I’ve written before, I often find myself in the kitchen wanting a little bit of sweetness, and not wanting one bit to venture out again for ingredients. I’d had a mind for shortbread ever since I’d enjoyed a nibble of a colleague’s vanilla shortbread earlier in the day. I was craving that richness, that simplicity. Of course, I thought I could do something a bit more lustrous. What came through was this: an almond shortbread, rich with flavors of caramel and not a bit too sweet. I added a touch of cinnamon, just to give the flavor a boost, however it might be nice with a bit of orange zest as well. Perhaps I’ll try that with the next batch, as this is sure to be a repeat.

Go on. Put your feet up with a mug of earl grey and a couple of these babies. You won’t regret it.

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Almond and Brown Sugar Shortbread

(Makes almost two dozen cookies)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for ~1 hour

1 c. brown sugar

1 tsp almond extract

2 c. all purpose flour

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 c thinly sliced almonds

Egg white, for brushing the tops

Sanding sugar (optional)

Tools:

Stand mixer

Rolling pin

Parchment

2-inch round biscuit cutter

Pastry brush

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar 2-3 mins until light and fluffy, scraping down sides once or twice to ensure all sugar is incorporated
  3. Add almond extract
  4. Combine flour, salt and cinnamon. Add to butter/sugar mixture in two parts, mixing well until combined.
  5. Remove from mixer and shape into a disk. Allow to rest for ~20 minutes in the refrigerator.
  6. Remove and roll to ~1/2 inch thickness.
  7. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut disks from dough and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place tray in refrigerator while working on second batch.
  8. Lightly brush tops of dough with egg white; sprinkle on almonds and sanding sugar, if using.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden and the almonds are toasted, rotating about halfway through
  10. Cool on baking sheet.

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Enjoy, and much love,

J

Feed Me, Seymour!

After a weekend being in good company of friends, being nourished in both body and heart, I find myself in the kitchen today. It feels like I’m making up for lost time. The week has been bubbling over with activity, so cooking a meal has been little more than an afterthought.
So, gifted with an extra hour in my day, I found myself laying in bed dreaming up what I wanted to make.
Something hot and stew-y, for sure, something sweet, and something with raw elements.
Garbanzo Bean Stew with Preserved Lemon
I wanted to create an unctuous, meat-free stew and had been pouring over recipes that paired game-y meats with fruit. I’ve had this thing for Moroccan spices lately and was dying to test out my recent batch of preserved lemon. I use garbanzo beans frequently for hummus and in salads, however I rarely use them in soups, preferring the many varieties of lentils available. Garbanzo beans are firm, nutty and can hold their own in a soup with lots of competing elements. Adding a bit of harissa heightens the flavors and adds extra heat.
This stew is stellar, and can be served with couscous, bread or another grain. I served it over quinoa to give it a bit of a protein boost and keep it a bit lighter, as I always like to keep room for dessert!
Garbanzo Bean Stew with Preserved Lemon
2 onions, sliced thinly
1/4 cup olive oil
3 c cooked garbanzo beans
2 32-oz cans whole plum tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 preserved lemon, insides removed, chopped
3/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, quartered
1 Tbsp harissa
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
2 cinnamon sticks
2 c. vegetable or chicken broth
1 bunch kale, chopped
Method
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
2. Add onion and cook ~15 minutes, giving a stir every few minutes to evenly caramelize.
3. Turn the heat up to high, and add all remaining ingredients except kale.
4. Once boiling, turn heat down and simmer for ~40 minutes.
5. Toss in kale, allowing it to steam for ~5 minutes, then fold into the stew.
6. Serve over cooked quinoa or couscous; with cilantro and harissa as garnish.
pomegranate arils

pomegranate arils

I also had this pomegranate I’d been meaning to break into. As I was waiting for my press to steep my coffee, I spotted the pomegranate and popped myself up onto the counter, knife in hand. A colleague taught me a fancy technique for scoring pomegranate so as not to bruise the fruit. I peeled back the flesh to reveal the plump juicy jewels inside. After plucking away for about 10 minutes, I had a nice full bowl of seeds. I could have easily gone with a simple arugula salad with pomegranate and toasted pistachios, however I also wanted to do a bit of roasting and satisfy my squash addiction. What I ended up with was truly gorgeous and flavorful as well; kale marinated in a lovely vinaigrette and tossed with roasted delicata squash and pomegranate seeds.
Kale and Delicata Squash Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

Kale and Delicata Squash Salad with Pomegranate Arils

Kale Salad with Delicata Squash and Pomegranate Arils

2 delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch crescents
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large head lacinato (flat leaf) kale
Vinaigrette:
4 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tap salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss squash with a bit of olive oil (~2 tbsp), a generous pinch of salt and several grates of pepper. Roast for 40-45 minutes, giving a toss about halfway through so that the squash caramelizes evenly.
Wash kale and chop into ribbons. Set in a large bowl.
Combine vinaigrette; massage into kale. Add delicata and mix lightly. Fold in pomegranate seeds and garnish with pistachio seeds and chèvre.
Pear and Almond Cake

Pear and Almond Cake

Moving on to dessert. Initially, I’d planned to do something with pear and ginger, and then I recalled having a bit of almond flour in my larder. I discovered a recipe on food 52.com, which you can find the link here:
I made few deviations from the recipe, with exception of increasing the proportion of almond flour to baking flour and substituting olive oil for canola oil. This made for a dense, moist cake, which I served with some vanilla-scented creme fraiche. It was truly divine.
Much Love,
J

Kitchen Therapy.

I’m constantly balancing work and play, ensuring adequate self care, investing myself fully in being a mother, a partner, a colleague; a friend. I keep lists of ‘to do’s, deleting my accomplishments as I go. Vitamin: Check! Pick up kid: Check! Pedicure: Check! Run – no need to make a list for that one. It’s a part of my operating system now.
Mediation I still struggle with. So, as I sit here with consciousness-invoking tunes streaming through my headphones, I naturally relax into creativity mode.
Which brings me back to Sunday:
I love casual Sundays; the rain in Seattle really helps invoke that nurturing and creative side in me. Most recently, I wanted to make a dinner that would really impress. And of course, dessert would be involved.
I have a thing for citrus cakes; last year I was on a grapefruit-olive oil cake run that I made multiple times, inspired by the incredible Yellow House blog post. I served it at dinners, I made it for friends. Be sure to take a gander, if you have time.
This cake is similar in its density, with citrusy bitters mingling with syrupy sweetness in a dense almond flour base. I loosely followed a recipe for clementine almond cake found in the Jeruselem cookbook (again – planning to cook my way through this one!), however while out procuring ingredients, my eyes wandered over to the giant globes of grapefruit.
Grapefruit Almond Cake

Grapefruit Almond Cake

A combination of citrus would work really well here; I’m thinking blood oranges would be lovely, once in season. Feel free to play around with sweeteners; this cake is quite forgiving. It’ll keep several days, and makes an excellent breakfast, topped with a bit of plain Greek yogurt or cultured cream.
Mmm. Already fantasizing about when I will make this again!
Grapefruit Almond Cake
2.5 c almond flour (finely ground almonds)
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c butter
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 c sugar (I used unbleached cane sugar)
Zest of one grapefruit
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
Syrup:
1/3 c sugar
Juice of one grapefruit and one lemon
Method:
1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Butter and line a 8.5-9-in springform pan with parchment
3. Combine all dry ingredients; set aside.
4. In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar, along with lemon and grapefruit zest.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating into the batter.
6. Add almond extract.
7. Work in dry ingredients, about a cup at a time; beating until just incorporated.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for ~50-60 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
(note – monitor cake ~40 minutes in, as it may need to be covered with foil or parchment to prevent excessive browning)
While cake is baking, prepare syrup:
Bring sugar to a boil, then simmer on low for just a few minutes, stirring to prevent burning. You’ll want to have ~1/2 c of the juice/syrup.
Pour over cake immediately, once removed from oven
Let cake cool completely, then remove from pan. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or whip cream.

I won’t go into great detail about dinner, however I must share a teaser, as it was a truly stunning meal:

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Lamb Kofta with Tahini Sauce

Much love to you!

jlh