Tag Archives: Almond

Apricot Almond Low Carb Muffins

Apricot Almond LC Muffins_6062_wm_1x1I get so many requests for low carbohydrate recipes, I wish I had a dollar for every time I get asked.  I’d be a bazillionaire!  It does speak volumes about the popularity of low carb diets though.  For some, it’s about losing body fat and maybe some weight.  For others, it’s a lifestyle choice due to health factors like Type II diabetes, food intolerances, or carb sensitivity.  For others, it just makes them feel good.

Whatever the reason, there is no need to feel as though one has to miss out much on foods that are typically high carbohydrate.  Breads, cakes, snacks … there are so many options.  Nut flours and lower carb flours make life more nutritious and lower carb without deprivation.

One such flour that is gaining popularity but is perhaps less well-known, is lupin flour.  Lupins are a legume and popular in some Mediteranean cuisines.  Unlike many other legumes, lupins are quite low in carbohydrates while containing healthy omega fatty acids, a whopping dose of dietary fibre, and they pack a solid punch of protein.  There has been a lot of commotion about the potential for lupin flour use in breads to boost nutrition and give greater satiety thereby aiding weight loss, as well as it’s ability to help lower cholesterol and provide a range of nutrients.  Bread makers are starting to make lupin flour breads and they are gaining in popularity.  That’s all good.

But ultimately, I say yay because it’s high in protein, low in fat and carbs and high in dietary fibre.

Lupin beans are about 45% protein and 30% dietary fibre, and have negligble carbohydrate.  That is awesome.

100 grams of lupin flour contains:

1365kJ / 362kCals
39 grams protein
5.5 grams fat (0.1 gram saturated)
11.5 grams carbohydrates (2.9 grams sugars)
31.3 grams dietary fibre

It is also gluten-free.

For.  The.  Win.

Right?

On the downside, being a legume, it is likely that it may cause problems if you happen to react to FODMAPS, specifically fructans and galactans.  In particular, it’s likely to contain galactans as most legumes do.  I have yet to see it on a list of FODMAP foods, but it’s a reasonable assumption.  But that is not to say that it will cause someone a problem.  These things are highly individual.  So it might be worth checking out.

OK.  So, how does this lupin flour bake up then?  Well,  I like to go easy early on trying out a new flour so I went for muffins.  I’ve wanted to make my mum some low carb healthy muffins and these really hit the spot.  She likes her muffins fruity and is a big fan of the wheat free muffins I make for her, especially those with almond flour.  They have a lovely fall-apart, flourless texture but are not heavy or stodgy.

Apricots are in season now and apricots and almonds are a great combination.  You could substitute whatever fruit you like but be aware of the impact on the carbohydrate count.  One usually discounts fruit when thinking about a low carb option but these muffins prove you can enjoy a fruity muffin without a carbohydrate blow out.  Alternatively, you could leave out the fruit and just make them vanilla, or add some chopped up 100% chocolate or spices, or anything else you fancy that meets your low carb requirements.

Great, so where do I buy this lupin flour, CCM?  Well, I don’t know about elsewhere but here in Australia, Lotus Foods make a really good lupin flour that is widely available in health food and organic shops.  I have yet to see it in a supermarket but I suspect it’s only a matter of time.  You can also get it online.

I have used a granulated stevia based sweetener in place of sugar.  You can substitute your preferred sweetener, knowing that the amount in the recipe is equal to the same amount of sugar, so please substitute accordingly.

They are sugar-free, gluten-free, lower in fat than most muffins, and have a good dose of protein per serve, without adding any protein powders.  These are not suitable for a low FODMAP diet, however, but watch this space … I also follow a low FODMAP diet so the likelihood of a suitable version is high 🙂

They taste fantastic!  I hope you enjoy them too.

Macros are provided below the recipe, as always 🙂
Apricot Almond LC Muffins_6065_wm_1x1

Makes 10

Ingredients
80 grams almond meal
100 grams lupin flour
65 grams Natvia (or substitute your preferred sweetener or sugar, equal to 65g sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder
140 grams apricots (2 large), diced
2 large eggs
125 millilitres almond milk (or substitute your preferred milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Directions
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.  Line 10 muffin molds with muffin liners and set aside.
Mix together the almond meal, lupin flour, sweetener, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make sure you break up any lumps.  Toss in the diced apricots.

Whisk together the eggs, almond milk, and vanilla bean paste.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix lightly with a fork.  It’s okay if the mixture is a little lumpy as these are muffins.  Do not over mix the batter.  Pour the batter into the 10 lined muffin tins.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until risen, golden, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack before turning out.
Apricot Almond LC Muffins_6066_wm_1x1

Macronutrient Profile
I have included macros for the recipe as stated above.  Any variations and substitutions will, of course, vary the macros to some degree.

Apricot Almond LC Muffins_macros.jpg
Apricot Almond LC Muffins_183928_wm_1x1

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Filed under All Recipe Posts, Breakfast, Fruit, Muffins, Nuts, Protein, Protein Muffins, Special Diet

Lemony Almond Protein Bread

Welcome to Almondfest 2012 … or maybe Protein Bread Fest?

Anyone following the CCM Facebook page will notice I’ve gone totally nuts with the almonds lately.  I’ve recently started making my own fresh almond milk again, after a long period of laziness.  I just got sick of buying almond milk that wasn’t 100% almond milk.  I like to know my food’s origins.  Since I use and consume vast quantities of almond milk, it makes sense to make my own.   It’s cheaper too.  So now I just buy vast quantities of organic raw almonds and make everything from scratch.  Almond milk, and of course almond butter, yummy almond baked things, and this now includes protein bread with almonds.  I’ve been a bit protein bread crazy too of late 🙂

This almond bread is adapted from a lovely recipe by 24/7 Low Carb Diner.  Lisa is a genius.  The recipe is fantastic!  Make it.  Do it NOW.   But, as I’m a natural-born hacker, I had to hack away and adapt this fabulous recipe into oblivion.  Well, not quite oblivion.  A little extra protein, a little more fibre, a fresh zesty lemon yumminess … it’s beautiful.  Truly scrumptious.  Way too delicious to be this healthy.  I kid you not.

No, I didn’t add any protein powder.  Doesn’t need it.

Yes, I was tempted.  Doesn’t need it.

We are having some renovations done at home so the house is upside down and I have nowhere now to take pictures.  I’ve moved furniture and side tables into pools of fast changing light just to rush this post so I can share this wonderful recipe with you!  Hopefully, you get a sense of the deliciousness of this bread, despite the pics.

Plus, I’ve been reminded a couple of times by my protein gal pal extraordinaire over at Protein Pow(d)er … so this one’s for you, Anna!

I love love LOVE this almond bread!  Adding a little psyllium makes it more bread-like in texture.  It’s fabulous with any topping or as an accompaniment to any meal.   It makes excellent toast, and would make an awesome French Toast (ooh la la).  I love it with tuna or salmon gravlax as the lemon and almond combo is perfect with fish.  Dijon mustard loves this bread and so does any type of salad vegetable.

No need to suggest that chocolate goes well with this, is there?  I mean, seriously, it really really does.  I love to melt a little dark chocolate and drizzle or spread it all over a slice.  Also wonderful with fruit and ricotta as a topping.  Jam.  More almond butter.  Be radical … try it without anything.  Yum.

Oh who am I kidding?  ANYTHING.  It goes with literally ANYTHING.

Trust me.  Make it.  Bake it.  Eat and enjoy it.

I’ve made it a few times now with variations and it never disappoints.   You don’t need to make your own almond butter, I just do because I prefer it (cheaper, easy, I know what’s in it …).  You can use whole eggs in this recipe, but I like to give the loaf extra lightness and more protein per serve so I’ve gone with the egg whites only.  A few variations are included with the recipe.

More almondy stuff coming soon … what to do with that leftover almond meal from making almond milk?  Oh wow … 🙂

Macros in their usual spot, below the recipe.  This is a low carb bread, with plenty of protein and healthy fats.

It is also gluten and dairy free, suitable for anyone following a low FODMAP diet.  Some of you will see it as either paleo or vegan, depending on your dietary leanings.  It is all these things and so much more 🙂

As a guide, if you were to slice the loaf into 20 equal slices, a serving of 2 slices would provide: 243.4kCals, 10.2g protein, 20.5g fat (1.4 saturated), 3.2g carbohydrates (2g sugars), and 4.7g of dietary fibre.

Energy to move, power to lift.

Makes 1 loaf  (21cm x 10cm loaf tin)

Ingredients
375 grams raw almonds* or 100% raw almond butter
250 grams liquid egg whites (or whole eggs)
15 grams (2 tablespoons) psyllium husks
1 teaspoon baking soda (bi-carbonate of soda)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 small lemon OR 1/2 large lemon

*You can substitute dry roasted almonds for a more toasty flavour.  I prefer to start with whole almonds and make my almond butter first but it won’t affect the texture of the bread if you use ready-made nut butter.

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180℃.

Grease a loaf tin lightly with olive oil spray or line the tin with silicone paper, if not using a silicon mold.

If using whole almonds, place the nuts into the bowl of a food processor and process until it forms a smooth paste.  This will take time, and you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl now and then.  Depending on the sturdiness of your processor, you might need to let it rest now and then to make sure it does not overheat.

Add the egg whites, psyllium, baking soda, and salt to the almond butter.  Finely grate the zest of the lemon and add this as well.  Finally, add the juice of the lemon.  Process until smooth.
If using prepared almond butter, you can simply add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix with an electric mixer until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin.  Even the top, if you’d like a square loaf.

Bake for about 40 – 45 minutes until golden and risen, and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Remove and cool on a wire rack before turning out.

This loaf keeps, wrapped in foil or a freezer bag, in the fridge for up to a week.  You can also freeze it.  If freezing, it’s easier to slice the loaf before freezing.

Variations
This bread would also be great made with walnut, cashew or sunflower seed butters.  Peanut butter would also work but will have a very strong flavour.  Might be good with chocolate or fruit preserves, or banana.  There is no downside to this bread.   You could also add some flaxseed meal to the mix or chopped nuts for added texture and crunch.

I have also made this bread with lime instead of lemon zest and juice and it was wonderful.

Delicious topped with tuna, avocado, mustard and wild rocket 🙂

Macronutrient Information
I have based the macronutrient information on the recipe, as stated above.  If you make any substitutions for the ingredients, note that the macros will change.

To determine the macros per serve, simply divide the macros provided here by the number of slices you cut from the loaf.  Macros will vary depending on how many slices and how evenly you cut them.

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Filed under All Recipe Posts, Nuts, Protein, Protein Bread, Savouries, Special Diet

Amaretto Darkness Protein Truffles

They say you shouldn’t mix water with chocolate.  They are usually correct.  But not always 🙂

Last week, I decided I would spend seven days … a whole week … abstaining from all things chocolate.  No chocolate, no cacao, not even in my post-workout protein shake.  I would not even work with chocolate in the kitchen.  No melting, tempering, dipping, or coating of any kind.  Just to see what would happen.  You see, I can’t imagine a life without cacao.  The stars would dim and die.  The air would grow thin.  My universe would implode.  Totally.   I love it that much.

But what does that mean?  What is the source of this passion?  Food cravings or a genuine love of the bean?

I’m currently eating and training to gain quite a lot of lean tissue, without gaining fat.  Big ask.  A seriously big ask for me.  Honestly, it would be a lot easier if I just popped down to my local butcher and bought kilos of trimmed eye fillet steak and made a skirt to wear.  Except that this would be insane.  In a Lady Gaga kind of insanity I’m just not prepared for now 😀  So, I literally force feed myself because training is, by comparison, the easy part.  I’ll always turn up for a workout unless I’m seriously incapacitated.   Eat eat eat it is then.  But I love to experiment with my diet.  Going sugar-free isn’t so hard.  Despite my love of baking, I don’t have the sweet tooth I once had, and limiting or eliminating refined sugars isn’t that big a deal for me.  I feel great.  Forget all the hyperbole about going sugar-free.  The best part?  You start to appreciate the natural sweetness in foods you may not initially think of as being sweet.  But chocolate?  If you follow this blog, you know I love the good stuff … and I like it really dark.  It’s clear I’m not addicted to the sugar.  So what am I addicted to?  The magnesium?  Maybe. 

What did I discover during that week?

I’m not actually addicted to eating chocolate.  I didn’t have any cravings to eat chocolate at all.  In the first few days I found myself reaching for it, but thinking “I don’t actually want to eat it, I just need to know it’s there”.

Ahhh.  Reassurance.

Let me give you some context.  I have over ten kilograms of chocolate and cacao in my house at any given time, spread across three rooms, often in full view.  Yes, I really really really love my chocolate.  Yet, I was able to abstain from consuming it, without a hitch.  Yes.  Even I’m impressed.  But I missed it’s company.  I felt like I’d betrayed my best friend.  Like I was giving it the cold shoulder.  I was despondent.  We were such a good team.  I even apologised to a bag of Valrhona couverture (the Araguani, my fave).  Yes, that’s pathetic, and yes, I did do that.   But I survived the week intact.  With the knowledge that I’m more emotionally attached to cacao than is probably normal, and I do appreciate it’s aromas and flavours and subtlety, but it’s not a food craving of mine.

So now?  I’m happy to have my chocolate and appreciate it even more, but I find I’m eating much less of it.  Since getting back on the cacao choo-choo train, I’ve only had two squares of chocolate (the divine Michel Cluizel Vila Gracinda … it’s like warm buttered toast).   But I feel good about being around it again and playing with it in the kitchen.  The aroma of melted chocolate, of fresh cacao when you toss truffles into it, to coat them … I’m a happy camper again.

With a genuine, passionate love of the cacao bean.  Validated.  I don’t care if it’s weird.  There are worse things one could do … like make clothing out of steak, for instance 😉

Truffles.  That’s my mission this week.  Because I’m on my health kick and need to cram in some more protein when my appetite isn’t looking, protein truffles sound like a damn fine idea.  Low in saturated fat and low carb … almost no carb one might say.   So I can scoff them any day.

I wanted them to be as creamy as possible without adding anything creamy to them.   A blend of micellar casein and rice protein isolate gives you a sweet creaminess and soft texture.  I love Amaretto so I added a little almond and natural almond extract.  OK I added quite a bit of almond extract … and water.  You can use almond milk or dairy milk if you like.  But water works really well and doesn’t distract from the flavour.  The casein adds a nice creamy flavour anyway.   The addition of a little cacao butter doesn’t add a lot of fat but it does add a little depth to the chocolatey-ness, flavour, and texture.  You can adapt these to any flavour you like using other nuts, adding pure peppermint oil instead of the almond extract, or a little coffee, spices, chilli, anything.  You could also dip these in some dark chocolate but that would impact on the macros.

They’re very intensely chocolate and amaretto flavoured and, considering the lack of any sweetener, they are sweet enough.  Delish.  The sea salt is enough to intensify the chocolate and bring out the sweetness of the nuts and protein powders.  If you are a slave to your sweet tooth and need more, add a little sweetener of your choice.

Proper truffles coming up soon.

Macros are provided at the end of the recipe.  A serving of three truffles provides 113 kCals, 9.3g protein, 7.8g fat (1.2g sat), 1.8g carbs (0.6g sugars), and 2.4g dietary fibre.

Makes 24 standard truffles (or make large ones)

Ingredients
30 grams unsweetened cacao (raw or good quality)
30 grams unflavoured micellar casein* (I use Professional Whey Micellar Casein)
30 grams unflavoured brown rice protein* (I use SunWarrior)
40 grams almond meal
55 grams 100% almond butter
12 grams cacao butter**
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, bean paste, or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1/2 – 1 teaspoon natural almond extract/essence (I use two!)
a pinch of sea salt
water (or almond milk)

*If using a flavoured casein, I’d recommend chocolate or vanilla.  The same is true for the brown rice protein.

** Cacao butter is the fat in the cacao bean.  It is much more widely available now, particularly in health food and organic stores.  Brands selling raw cacao and cacao beans and nibs usually sell the cacao butter too.  If you really cannot find it (yes, you can!), then substitute a little coconut oil or organic butter.

Instructions
Melt the cacao butter in a heatproof bowl in a microwave for about 1 minute, or set the bowl in a larger container of boiling water, until it melts.

Place all ingredients, except the water, into a mixing bowl.  Mix on a low to medium speed until it starts to form clumps – a bit like dough before adding moisture.  As you mix, add water (or milk) a little at a time, until the mixture forms a thick paste, like a set ganache.  By a little, I really mean about a tablespoon or so at a time.  Don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with batter 🙂

Refrigerate the mixture for about 15 minutes.  Roll into truffle sized balls and toss in a little extra cacao.

Store the truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  They are at their best if you let them sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours or overnight before eating.  Sometimes it’s just too hard to wait that long though 😀

Macronutrient Profile
Macros for protein powders are based on the ones I have used.  There might be slight variations between brands, but if using unflavoured casein and rice protein isolate, the differences will be very slight.

If you use milk instead of water, or add any sweetener, you will have to factor that into the macronutrient count.

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Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Nuts, Protein, Protein Chocolates, Special Diet

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bombs! (Protein)

Hello world … I’m your whe-ey girl
I’m your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb 😀

Am I feeling a bit pleased with myself?  Just a bit.  OK, quite a lot actually.

While baking and making lots of sweet stuff for family and friends for Christmas, I started feeling a little left out of the picture.   Mostly because over the holiday season, I still want to eat as healthily as possible and stick to my fitness goals.  Right, if my trainers read this, they’d laugh hysterically, but I’ll keep my delusions about being on track over Christmas, thanks.  I have to deny myself any respectable indulgence in nougat, pandoro, panettone, and most cookies due to food intolerances anyway.  All the things I associate with Christmas in my Italian family.

Thank the gods for chocolate.  I could never be allergic to you, dearest Cacao 🙂

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been a bit crazy mad with the cherries as they are in season now … and might I add, they are exceptionally good this year.  Cherries are synonymous with Christmas here in Australia.  I love all cherries but especially the sour cherry varieties.  They are usually in season for a few short weeks, and are getting harder to find fresh, as unfortunately the market hasn’t really taken off here.  Well, you know …

WAKE.  UP.  FOLKS!!!

Not only are they the bomb in baking, desserts, and with chocolate in any shape or form, they are also REALLY REALLY good for you.  They are lower in sugar than sweet cherries, have ZERO fat, and a number of fairly well-run studies have shown sour cherries to be a fantastic aid in muscle recovery after hard workouts.  So, I’m thinking, this obsession with Morello cherries is JUSTIFIED.   And even more so now that I’ve tossed them into these fabulous protein chocolates for Christmas!

I’m rather chuffed at how delicious these are.  Of course, I had to throw in some almonds, and there are cherries so in went the coconut.  A little vanilla, a little spice … a chocolate coating and voilà!  You have yourself a sweet treat for Christmas day, or anytime.  You’re getting some decent protein, some healthy fats, and good carbs so you don’t have to feel guilty.

I’ve suggested about 80 grams of chocolate for this.  It really depends on what molds you use in terms of size (surface area to coat) and the thickness of the chocolate coating.  I used a silicon mold for mini muffins to make these as little cups.  While silicon molds make life easier for unmolding baked goods, chocolate is a little different and will crack if you need to apply a little pressure.  How do I know this?  Guess … well, I got to taste them straight away by  eating the broken ones 😉

I would suggest you line the moulds with mini-muffin or mini-cupcake liners so you can use a thinner chocolate coating if you wish and can just peel off the paper lining.   Of course, you can use chocolate molds for making these but I’m assuming most of you probably don’t have them.  I do but the molds are smaller and frankly, mmm mmm I didn’t want them to be smaller!

As usual, this recipe is made using only fresh ingredients and a good quality unflavoured whey protein.  If you use a flavoured whey, try to choose vanilla for this and consider how sweet your whey powder is before adding the coconut sugar to the recipe.   I tried using pure stevia extract to sweeten the filling mix the first time around but it was horrible.   The coconut sugar?  Perfect.  You can also think of it as getting some extra iron and zinc, both of which are good things you won’t get from sucralose or aspartame, right?  🙂

These will make sure you don’t lose any of that energy to move, power to lift! over the holidays.

I have included the macros below the recipe.  Make, eat, enjoy!

These are best made the day before you want to eat them as chilling in the refrigerator allows the filling to develop both in flavour and texture.  Otherwise, make at least several hours ahead of serving.

Makes 8 mini muffin sized bombs

Ingredients
35 grams almond meal
60 grams unflavoured whey protein (I used Professional Whey NZ WPC)
15 grams unsweetened shredded coconut
10 grams coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 or 2 drops almond extract (optional)
30 grams pitted Morello/sour* or sweet cherries
water or coconut water

80 grams dark chocolate (e.g. Lindt Excellence 90%)

*If you cannot find fresh sour cherries, they are becoming more widely available frozen or you can just get the preserved ones in jars.  Try to find the ones that are preserved in just water, without added sugar.  They are usually imported from Europe and available in many supermarkets and delis.  Thaw and/or drain them well before using.

Instructions
Combine all ingredients except the cherries, water, and chocolate in a large bowl.  Add a little water (or coconut water), about 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix with a fork, until you get a smooth creamy mixture.  You want it to be batter-like in consistency – not runny or sloppy and not too stiff.

Chop the cherries finely. Stir through the whey mixture until combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water or in a microwave.   Stir to cool slightly.  Pour about 2 teaspoons into each mini-muffin cavity and work it up the sides as evenly as you can. you can use a flat bladed knife to do this.  Place in the freezer for a few minutes to set.

Fill each mold with the cherry whey mixture.  Cover with the remaining chocolate.  Freeze to set the chocolate.

Very carefully unmold the bombs on to a tray.

They can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

Nutritional Profile
I have provided macros based on using sour cherries and the unflavoured whey I indicated in the recipe.  If you use different ingredients and a different whey, it may change the macros somewhat.

I have also based the macros on using Lindt Excellence 90% chocolate.  You can honestly use whatever dark chocolate you love.  My preference is for other brands personally, but the Lindt Excellence is rather good and easily accessible at supermarkets and chocolate shops.   If you use less chocolate for a thinner coating, the calories and other macros will come down a bit too.

18 Comments

Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Fruit, Protein, Protein Chocolates, Special Diet

Pear and Walnut Frangipane Tart

I love autumn.  Not the weather getting colder, days getting shorter part.  I’m not so enthused about that.  I need my sunshine.  But while everyone else is raking up leaves and cursing about the mess they make, I think they lend a real beauty to our urban landscape.  Plus it’s fun going for a run and crunching them underfoot.  Yes, I’m rather immature in that way.  And yes, I really do that.

I love autumn because of the fabulous seasonal foods that appear.  Like pearsNuts.  I LOVE pears and nuts.  On their own, they’re wonderful.  Together, they are divine.  Thrown together in a tart with a light flaky crust, the walnuts and almonds whipped into a light frangipane, and the pears gently poached in a vanilla and cassia bark syrup?  There are no words.  Do I detect a little drool?  Totally understandable.  😉

This is the dessert that I make every year for Mother’s Day, but who needs an excuse?  It’s a great dessert for autumn, full stop.  Try to find the most perfect pears you can.  I was lucky enough to get some beautiful unblemished Williams pears at our local organic grocer.  They were just ripening and perfect for poaching.  I usually make this tart with almonds only, but I substituted half the almonds with walnuts this time for something different.  The walnuts give the frangipane a more rustic texture and the flavour is *insert random superlatives here*.

You can prepare the pastry and the poached pears the day before to save time.  I line the tart tin, cover it, and place it in the freezer to chill overnight.  I poach the pears the day before and store, covered in their syrup, in the refrigerator.  Leftover poaching syrup is great kept for use in other desserts or to mix a little through yoghurt or pour over ice cream.  

The pears make a wonderful dessert or breakfast on their own, served with a dollop of yoghurt and some of the reserved syrup.

Capturing this lovely tart “on film” for posterity has been a bit of a challenge …  *damn you, clouds!*  … but I think you can still see its autumnal comfort food appeal.

Mother’s Day or not, this is a lovely dessert for autumn.  Enjoy.  Crunch some leaves underfoot.  Bask in the colours and flavours of the season.

Serves 6 – 8 people (1 x 23cm tart)

Pasta Frolla
175 grams plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
50 grams castor sugar
125 grams unsalted butter, chilled
1 egg yolk

Poached Pears
750 millilitres water
100 grams sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste
1 stick cassia bark or 1/2 teaspoon ground cassia bark
1 lemon
3 large pears

Frangipane
75 grams unsalted butter
100 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract (optional)
1 egg
65 grams walnuts
65 grams almonds or almond meal
2 tablespoons plain flour
30 millilitres Poire William, pear schnapps, or reserved syrup from poaching the pears

For the pasta frolla
Prepare the pasta frolla as per the recipe in Torta di Ricotta Siciliana.

Line a 23 cm tart tin with the pastry.  Cover the pastry well with cling film or foil and set aside to chill in the freezer for at least half an hour or overnight.

For the poached pears
Place the water and sugar into a saucepan that is large enough to poach three pears.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into the pan.   Add the stick of cassia bark.  Alternatively, add the vanilla bean paste and ground cassia bark to the pan.  Place over a low heat to dissolve the sugar while you prepare the pears.

Add the juice of the lemon to a bowl of cold water.  Peel and slice the pears in half lengthways.  Leave the stem on one half if you like.  Remove the core and seeds with a teaspoon, melon-baller or small paring knife.  Take care to do this as neatly as possible.  Place the pear halves straight into the acidulated water as soon as possible to prevent them browning.

Once the pears are ready, raise the heat on the syrup until the syrup comes to the boil.  Add the pears and lower the heat so that the syrup is gently simmering.  Poach the pears for around 15 – 20 minutes.  This will depend on how ripe the pears were to begin with and how juicy they were.  Check them after about 15 minutes.  They are ready when a skewer pierces them easily.

When cooked, carefully remove the pear halves with a slotted spoon to a dish.  I like to use a rectangular dish or at least one where I can place the pears in a single layer.  Raise the heat on the syrup and reduce it down until you have about 1/2 cup of syrup.  Remove the cassia bark stick, if using.  Pour the syrup evenly over the pears.  Cool the pears, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake the tart.  I usually poach them the day before and leave them overnight.  Note the lovely colour of the syrup and all those gorgeous vanilla seeds 🙂

Poached pears in vanilla and cassia bark syrup

For the frangipane
Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a mixer and beat until light and creamy and the sugar has dissolved.  Add the egg, and vanilla bean paste and beat until light.

Place the walnuts and almonds (if using whole) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  You want the consistency of almond meal.  Add the ground nut meal, flour and brandy or syrup to the mixer bowl and beat slowly until combined.

Putting it all together
Preheat oven to 190°C.  Line the pastry case with silicon baking paper and fill with baking weights (or rice/beans).  Bake blind for about 20 minutes.  Carefully remove the paper and weights and bake a further 5 minutes until light golden.  Remove from the oven on to a wire rack and cool slightly before filling.

Fill the pastry case with the frangipane and smooth the top.  Carefully remove the pear halves from the syrup and drain on absorbent paper.  With a sharp knife, cut slices into each pear half to form a fan shape.  To do this, don’t cut all the way through.  Start from just below the stem end so that the stem end remains intact to hold the pear together.  Carefully lift each half on to the top of the tart, slightly fanning out each half.  There is enough space to fit six halves easily.  Brush each pear half with some of the reserved syrup.  This will help keep them moist during baking as well as add a little extra glaze and flavour.  Here’s what it looks like when it’s assembled for the final baking:

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake the tart for about 50 – 60 minutes or until golden.  Remove from the oven and set on to a wire rack to cool before serving.  Before serving, lightly brush the pear halves with a little more reserved syrup.  This gives them a lovely sheen.  This is optional but worth doing.  Serve the tart slightly warm, or at room temperature, plain or with a dollop of cream or scoop of ice cream.

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