Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Empadinhas de Palmito

I will never forget my first encounter with palmito (hearts of palm).  It was during my first trip to Brasilia where my dear friend, Erik (who was also my very first Brazilian friend) took me to what he claimed was the best place in the city of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, to get a pastel, a fried pastry that can have any number of fillings.
Having sampled almost every sort of pastel the previous week whilst eating my way through Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, I decided to try a filling I hadn't yet sampled. That is when I fell in love at first bite with palmito.  A revelation!
  I still haven't learned to make pastéís (the plural of pastel) yet.  But I did learn to make the wonderful little pies, empadinhas (em-pah-jeen-yahs) with the flakiest crust imaginable...  They also come filled with everything you could ever imagine... The most popular kind is a chicken filling which I will try and post on here at a later date.  In the meantime, try these out!
Note:  I use empadinha forms which I purchased in Brazil to make mine but you can also use mini muffin tins.  They work just fine.

Empadinhas de Palmito


600 grams regular unbleached flour
1 tablespoon salt
300 grams unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
50 ml water


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium roma tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped fine
1 14-oz can hearts of palm, drained well and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 8-oz tub mascarpone cheese
3 egg yolks, beaten, for brushing on the tops

To make the dough, sift the flour and salt together.  Work the butter into the dough with your fingers.  Beat the yolks into the water, add the mixture to the flour and mix well with your hands.  Divide the dough into two balls and wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 min.

To make the filling, saute the onion in olive oil on medium heat until translucent.  Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes and saute until the oil floats free, about 20 minutes.  Add the hearts of palm and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add seasonings to taste.  Let cool and fold in parsley and scallions.  Set aside.

To assemble, cut strips of dough from the ball and press them into the forms trying to make them somewhat thin.  (Don't even think of trying to roll this dough out like you would regular pie dough.)
Place a spoonful of the filling in each form and top with another spoonful of mascarpone cheese.
To make the lids, put a piece of dough on a cutting board and spread in each direction using your thumb.  Place it over the empadinha and trim the edges with a small sharp knife.  Press the top dough into where the dough in the forms meets the edge.  Brush with egg yolk.
Place the finished forms on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or more depending on the size of your forms.
Remove from the oven and let rest a few minutes before running the blade of a sharp knife around the inside of the edges to release the pies.
Serve warm or let cool to room temperature and store in plastic bags.  Reheat just before serving.

Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)

  Out of all the Brazilian cakes I have made, this is the one I keep coming back to.  The ease of putting it together (all done in the food processor) and the intense taste of orange makes this a favorite for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
  For an over-the-top delight in the morning, toast slices under the broiler with butter and turbinado sugar and gild your orange lily with a dollop of mascarpone cheese.  Yes, it's decadent!
  This just in!!!!  I decided to substitute the orange for 1 and a half whole lemons (deseeded) and was very happy with the outcome!

Orange Cake

1 whole unpeeled navel orange, preferably organic, washed and quartered and each quarter cut in two.
1  2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder


Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C)
Butter and flour a tube or bundt pan and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the sugar and orange pieces until thoroughly chopped.  (Do not chop too fine.  You want bits of orange in the finished cake.)
Add the egg and oil and process again until blended.
Add the flour and baking powder, processing again for the final time until well blended.
Scrape into the prepared pan.  Place pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 400°F (200°C) for 30 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool on a rack and remove from pan.
Dust with powdered sugar is desired.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie

  When I lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, a summer destination was The Turkey Farm, a restaurant in the country that served various kinds of turkey dishes made from the birds raised on the premises.  But my favorite item on the menu was the peanut butter pie, a dessert that I had never heard of before going there but one that I quickly became fond of.
   Over the years I found various recipes but never any that I really liked all that much.  But that changed when a family friend, Marjean, brought her version to my dad's memorial service. (Yes, we are all about food in my family and when my dad died, we did all the cooking for the guests who showed up at the service.)
The taste and the texture were almost perfect...
   One thing that I find boring is a graham cracker crust.  Easy to make and done to death, it shows up in places where it should never have been invited.  And store-bought ones are the worst offenders unless you call a box of Jello pudding and a carton of Cool Whip baking..... I don't.  But I did like the recipe and thought it deserved something better than graham crackers and butter so I went online and in no time at all was greatly rewarded for the small effort.
  Anyone who worships desserts knows that Rose Levy Barenbaum is the queen of tarts.  Her strawberry cheese cake, which calls for lady fingers instead of the graham cracker crust, is a fluffy taste of heaven in each bite.  So, when looking for a peanut butter crust for this pie and coming across her recipe, I knew I was in for a scrumptious treat and I wasn't disappointed!
Marjean's Peanut Butter Pie


6oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
Tart pan with removable bottom
1 recipe peanut butter pie crust (see below)

Add sugar to whipping cream and whip until firm peaks are formed.  Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and peanut butter until fluffy.  Add the milk and beat until well incorporated.
Fold in the reserved whipped cream and pour into prepared crust.
Garnish with chopped peanuts and freeze until solid.


1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 large beaten egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor using the metal blade, process the brown and granulated sugars until they are powdered.
With the motor running, add the butter cubes.  After, add the peanut butter and process until creamy. With the motor running, add the egg and vanilla extract and process until incorporated.
Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, pulsing until just incorporated.
Remove the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Press the dough into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom.
Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool.
Remove baked shell from tart pan.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sweetened Condensed Milk Cake (Bolo de Leite Condensado)

When I was a kid, sweetened condensed milk rarely made an appearance in my mother's kitchen. In addition to a Christmas confection, there was also an overly sweet dessert that called for a can of it plus one of cherry pie filling if I'm not mistaken,  Needless to say it was overly sweet and is nothing from my childhood that I ever crave.                                                                                                        It wasn't until I delved into Brazilian cooking that I discovered sweetened condensed milk to be a staple in many households.  Of course, the national confection, brigadeiro ( Brazil's version of the truffle), uses sweetened condensed milk as the main ingredient.  I have yet to master this simple candy that uses just a few ingredients.  Luckily, the cake in this recipe goes together fairly quickly and resembles a pound cake in texture.  The only trick is using the right pan or improvising.

There is nothing worse than using the wrong vehicle for an unruly recipe.  Take a loose batter, for instance.  Use a two-piece tube pan and chances are. you will spend the next afternoon bent over a baked on mess in your oven.  I speak from experience!  I do not own a Brazilian tube cake pan and paid the price of using a loose batter for a Brazilian cake when it leaked out through the bottom all over the floor of my oven.
As you can see from the illustration, the Brazilian tube cake pan comes in one piece (much like a bundt pan which you could also use), allowing it to hold batter of any consistency.  But lack of  this should not deter you from making this delicious cake.

If you only have a two-piece tube pan, you need only tightly secure the bottom with aluminum foil, before pouring in the batter and placing it in the oven to bake.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Cake
1- 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
14 oz whole milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup sugar
2 cups, unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350° F
Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside.
In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, add the ingredients (except for the powdered sugar) in the order listed.  Blend until completely incorporated.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Remove from pan when cool.
Dust with powdered sugar.
Serve with berries and whipped cream if desired

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Banana Muffins

  When life gives you rotten bananas......
I usually associate muffins with something heavy for some reason.  But these, based on a recipe by my sister, are anything but heavy!  Light and full of flavor, these are as close to cupcakes as you can get without adding some frosting.  But speaking of adding...
  The original recipe calls for vanilla.  I don't mind vanilla but it gets a little tedious after awhile.  (Why do we put it in practically everything we bake? )  So I decided to brighten up the flavor with a little lemon oil.  (You can try using some grated lemon zest if you can't find lemon oil.)
  This recipe makes 15 which seems odd as most recipes are put together to make 12.  But this gives me an opportunity to pass on a little tip I learned about using only a few of the forms in a muffin tin.  Fill the empty ones about 1/3 full with water.  This not only saves the tin from discoloration and burning on any residual oil that might have been left behind but also creates helps keep the muffins moist.

Banana Muffins

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F,
Line muffin tins with paper baking cups.                                                                                        Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and beat until well incorporated.
Add mashed bananas and lemon oil (or lemon zest) and blend thoroughly.
Mix yogurt and baking soda and set aside.
Add flour and yogurt mixture to sugar and butter mixture in 3 additions beginning and ending with flour taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Fill the lined muffin tins about 3/4 full with the mixture.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the muffins comes out clean.
Let cool for about 5 minutes or so before removing from muffin tins.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

   I think there must be as many recipes and variations for this  popular Brazilian corn flour cake as there are for chocolate cake.  A staple at hotel breakfast buffets, this Brazilian cousin of our corn bread varies in taste and texture from recipe to recipe.  One of the most interesting I had was at a cafe in the park across the street from my hotel in Manaus, this particular Bolo de Fubá had corn incorporated in the batter.  Some others include cheese and maybe more like a cross between a custard and a cake.  These latter ones are known as Bolo de Fubá Cremoso and are very different in texture than the one pictured on the left which, nonetheless, departs from most straight forward versions which call for the basic ingredients of flours, oils, eggs and sugar.
   A little note about ingredients:  All the ingredients except the corn flour can be found in the regular sections of the supermarket.  For the corn flour, you will have to look in the Latin section or visit a local Latino market.  Pick up the one called masa harina (Quaker makes a version of this), a finely milled corn flour used for making tortillas.  Regular corn meal is too coarse and you will not get the desired texture.

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups corn flour such as masa harina
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside.
Sift together the two flours, baking powder and spices and reserve.
Beat sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add egg yolks one at a time and beat until fully incorporated scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
In a clean bowl (and using clean beaters) beat egg whites until they form soft peaks,
Add half the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture and mix well scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add all the milk and thoroughly mix
Add the rest of the flour and combine.
Fold in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites until no white spots show in the batter.  Fold in the remaining 2/3 of the beat egg whites and fold in taking care not to let them deflate much.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, leveling off with a spatula and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool before removing from pan.
As with many kinds of corn meal products, this dries out sooner than traditional cakes.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sicilian Bolognese

   I was always under the impression that spaghetti bolognese (spagbol) was an invention outside of Italy. (And perhaps it is outside of Bologna.) And also that there was only one way to execute this sauce properly, the method I learned from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the great author and teacher, Marcella Hazan.   But last night something happened to change my mind..
   Yesterday my mom wanted me to make spaghetti for her dinner, the kind of spaghetti we had growing up, the kind that takes forever to make and which I am not sure how to cook.  The bolognese I am used to making (the Marcella Hazan type) does not lend itself well to spaghetti. For that reason (and others...I wanted to do something different...I was bored.)  I grabbed a few books and started looking for a sauce that used ground beef.  I didn't need to look far.  
   I found a recipe in the book  La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio that I had used a number of times before but I had forgotten about which doesn't require several hours of cooking and which, it turns out, the author recommends for spaghetti as the pasta of choice.  Wow! Sicilian spagbol!  (I'd only ever used the sauce before as a filling for arancini, the tasty deep-fried rice balls so popular at the snack bars in Sicily.)  It worked wonderfully and, what's more, mom loved it.  I'll still make the longer version from Marcella's book but this is definitely in my permanent repertoire!

Spaghetti con Ragú di Tritato

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chuck
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1- 4-inch parmesan cheese rind
1 medium carrot, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a pot and add the onion and meat stirring just until the meat loses its pink color.
In the meantime, dilute the tomato paste in the water.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and let simmer for an hour or longer taking care to stir every 15 minutes or so and scraping down the sides of the pot.
It may be necessary to add a little water towards the end if the sauce is getting too dry.
Correct for seasoning, and discard the carrots and cheese rind.