eat in my kitchen

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Kwareżimal – Maltese Easter Sweets without Eggs and Butter

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

No eggs and no butter, but lots of spice and flavour and a soft and chewy texture. Maltese Kwareżimal are an almost guilt-free pleasure that tastes so good, that I ask myself why I didn’t bake them earlier.

This ancient treat dates back to the medieval times, when the Knights in the Mediterranean traditionally baked Kwareżimal during Lent. The little dark brown loaves are made without dairy products, just ground almonds (or hazelnuts in my recipe), spices, and honey create a beautifully fragrant cakey sweet. Sugar was allowed, as it was seen as a spice in those days. It’s not a healthy bar after all.

The name derives from the Latin word quaresima, the 40 days of the Lenten season. Although you can find Kwareżimal in some confectionaries on the Maltese islands throughout the whole year, my favourite bakery for sweet treats, Busy Bee, only pulls them out of the oven as Easter is nearing. The problem was that I have never been to Malta around this time, so I had no idea how good Kwareżimal tastes. I knew that I wanted to try them at Busy Bee first and thanks to Jessica and Luke this day has finally come. Our friends visited us a couple weeks ago and gave me – besides many other goods – this plain looking miniature cake as a present. It only took me 12 years to have my first bite of Kwareżimal and it was pure enjoyment. I didn’t share a piece with anyone.

So I finally knew what I was aiming for, I felt ready to give it a go. My Kwareżimal are made with ground hazelnuts, as my Maltese man doesn’t like almonds, but feel free to use whatever nut you prefer. I mixed in some white spelt flour (plain flour woks just as well) to lighten up the texture. But don’t worry, it’s still as soft and chewy as it should be thanks to the juice of half an orange.

The texture is divine, almost moist, it reminds a bit of rough marzipan. And it tastes so rich, nutty, and citrusy, with strong tones of rather Christmassy spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, citrus zest, and flowery orange blossom water. I went for a crunchy pistachio topping, bedded on sticky honey running down the sites of my little Kwareżimal. You can also chop almonds or hazelnuts. When you buy this sweet from a shop, you get a single bar, not more than 12cm / 5″ long, that was my measure. To serve, I cut it in thick slices – it’s a bit like a cookie with a chewy feel.

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

Kwareżimal

Makes 2 small bars (serves 2-4)

finely ground hazelnuts (or almonds) 120g / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
plain flour (I used white spelt flour / type 630) 100g / 3/4 cup
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
cocoa powder 1 teaspoon
baking powder 1/8 teaspoon
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon
cloves, finely ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
vanilla bean, scraped, 1/4
freshly grated orange zest 2 generous teaspoons
freshly grated lemon zest 2 generous teaspoons
freshly squeezed orange juice 60ml / 1/4 cup
honey 1 tablespoon
high quality orange blossom water (preferably organic) 2 tablespoons
candied orange peel, finely chopped, 1 tablespoon

For the topping

honey 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed orange juice 1 teaspoon
shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped, a small handful
freshly grated orange zest 1/2 – 1 teaspoon

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ground hazelnuts, flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla seeds, orange zest, and lemon zest.

In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice and honey over low heat and whisk until the honey has melted. Take off the heat and whisk in the orange blossom water. Let it cool for a couple minutes, then stir into the dry mixture. Add the candied orange peel and stir until well combined. The dough will be soft, but you should be able to form a bar; if it’s too soft, add a little more ground hazelnuts.

Wet your hands lightly, divide the dough in half, and form 2 bars, about 5cm / 2″ wide and 2cm / 3/4″ tall. Mind that they aren’t too flat or they will dry out in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, the top of the loaves should still be soft and just slightly baked.

While the Kwareżimal are baking, prepare the topping: in a small saucepan, heat the honey and orange juice over medium heat and whisk until combined. Take the pan off the heat.

Brush the warm Kwareżimal with the warm honey and sprinkle with the pistachios and a little orange zest. To serve, cut into thick slices. Wrapped in cling film, it stays fresh for days.

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

 

Kwarezimal - Maltese Easter Cake

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

This cake was a little teaser and tested my nerves – I needed two attempts to bring it to perfection. The first version tasted divine but was far too soggy and didn’t bake through. We didn’t mind and still ate half of it. But it didn’t help, my pride as a baker made me go back to my kitchen and work on the texture.

Apart from its unsatisfyingly undone center, cake no. 1 had the advantage of the banana halves lying perfectly on top of the baked cake and the batter rising around it – quite dramatic. It was beautiful, but unfortunately, slightly burned as the temperature was too high from the start. Cake no. 2 decided to swallow the fruit and let it sink to the bottom. Not as pretty as the former but it had a scrumptious concentrated banana taste once you got to the sunken fruit. The cake itself was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s wonderful Fresh Gingerbread from her Domestic Goddess book, it’s a recipe I truly adore. However there isn’t much left of her original recipe, I only aimed for the stickiness, which she mastered to perfection. I added butter, more eggs and spices, and mashed bananas to my ginger bread. And some baking powder for more sponginess. After my disastrous first attempt, I decreased the amount of milk and turned down the heat. It looked completely different but tasted so, so good. The cakey bread (it’s actually more of a cake than bread) is infused with the honey-sweet aroma of bananas, lots of freshly grated ginger, and warming cinnamon. It’s so good that I forgave the bananas for their disappearing act.

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

plain flour 260g / 2 cups
baking soda 1 teaspoon
baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
butter, at room temperature, 120g / 1/2 cup
ripe bananas 3 (2 mashed bananas, about 180g / 6 1/2 ounces, and 1 cut in half lengthwise)
sugar beet syrup (or a mixture of molasses and corn syrup) 200g / 7 ounces
brown sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
freshly grated ginger 1 heaping tablespoon
ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons
organic eggs 3
milk 60ml / 1/4 cup

Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (preferably convection setting). Line a 11 x 26 cm / 4 x 10″ loaf pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the mashed bananas, sugar beet syrup, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon and continue mixing until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between. In batches, add the milk and the flour mixture, alternating, about 1/3 at a time. Mix until just combined and no more flour is left. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, lay the banana halves on top (cut side up), and bake for about 65-70 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown and firm on top. Insert a skewer, it should come out clean when the cake is done. Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before you take it out of the pan. Let it cool on a wire rack for another 15 minutes before taking it out of the parchment paper.

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

Sticky Banana Ginger Bread

 

bananagingerbread16

 

bananagingerbread12

Dutch Honey Cake

Dutch Honey Cake

This cake was one of my childhood’s culinary highlights. Whenever I visited the Netherlands I had to get a large loaf of this juiciest, spongiest and stickiest of all spice cakes. You can buy this sweet treat all over the country, from artisan bakeries or simple supermarkets, which I did most of the time. The long square tightly wrapped in foil is stuffed with the wintery aroma of honey, ginger, cloves, aniseed, nutmeg and cinnamon. I’ll never forget the moments when I opened the package, sitting on a long and lonely beach, the sand in my shoes and the cold wind blowing against my face, my fingers touched the sticky golden cake to break it into chunks. Fantastic!

I never dug too deep into the Dutch cuisine, although the country is quite close to my hometown. My appetite focused more on the culinary pleasures coming out of France and Italy, or England when it comes to pies. I’m a big fan of milky Gouda cheese from the flat meadows of the Netherlands but apart from my beloved honey cake I’m not too familiar with the country’s cooking and baking traditions, I’d love to learn more about it.

To bake my first Dutch honey cake in my kitchen was only the start. I did some research and learned that the dough needs some strong black tea (or coffee), most of the sweetness – and the particular taste – comes from the honey and the spices, and a little sugar beet molasses is responsible for the cake’s dark warm tone. It was much easier than I expected, taste and texture left no doubt that this is a real Dutch honey cake – baked in Berlin.

Dutch Honey Cake

 

Dutch Honey Cake

Dutch Honey Cake

Makes a 24 x 10cm / 9 1/2 x 4″ cake

plain flour 260g / 2 cups
a pinch of salt
baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
baking soda 1 teaspoon
butter 45g / 3 tablespoons
honey 170g / 6 ounces
sugar beet molasses 45g / 1 1/2 ounces
milk 120ml / 1/2 cup
organic eggs, lightly beaten, 2
strong black tea 60ml / 1/4 cup
Demerara sugar 55g / 2 ounces
ginger, freshly grated, 1 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons
aniseed, ground in a mortar, 1/3 teaspoon
cloves, ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
nutmeg, freshly grated, 1/4 teaspoon

For the topping

pearl sugar (optional)

Set the oven to 160°C / 320°F. Lightly butter a 24 x 10cm / 9 1/2 x 4″ cake pan and line it with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and soda.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, let it cool for a few minutes and add the honey, molasses, milk, eggs, tea, sugar, ginger and spices to the warm pan. Whisk well, stir into the bowl with the dry mixture and mix with an electric mixer until well combined. The dough will be quite liquid. Scrape the dough into the lined cake pan and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the cake is done. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before you take it out of the pan.

Keep the cake wrapped in paper and cling film to keep its moisture.

Dutch Honey Cake

 

Dutch Honey Cake

 

Dutch Honey Cake

 

Dutch Honey Cake

 

dutchhoneycake8

 

dutchhoneycake10

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