We are huge fans of The Great British Bake-Off here, and so of course it was quite upsetting to learn of the departures of most of our favorites from the show. But perhaps it was the influence of this program, with its absence of inflated drama and the genuine enthusiasm and camaraderie of the contestants that inspired me to enter a local baking competition this weekend. And, much to my surprise, I won best cookie! I can’t say it was a crowded field, but it was still satisfying to be the holder of a blue ribbon.

I wanted to make something original for the contest, knowing that I was unlikely to beat anyone through skill or know-how; I was aiming for a good concept, as well as a good bake, naturally! Last year some time, I made Christina Tosi’s (yes, a familiar face from another cooking competition show) cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies, particularly the amazing crispiness the cornflakes add. Do you remember the old cereal commercials, which always showed a kid eating a bowl of Sugar Smacks or whatever, alongside a plate of toast and a glass of juice, with the voiceover announcing, “part of a good nutritious breakfast” (what kid eats toast AND cereal, I ask you)? Well, that was my jumping off point.

These cookies are probably not part of a good nutritious breakfast, but they take their flavors from that most important meal of the day. I started with the basis of a lacy, Florentine-style cookie with butter and oats and sugar, and added banana for extra caramelized goodness. Then I stirred in a mix of my favorite cereals; you could easily vary these depending on your preferences. Finally, to make a real showstopper, I sandwiched them with a slathering of coffee cream, using cream cheese to keep the sweetness from getting overwhelming.

It’s not the best looking cookie, I’ll be the first to admit, but it’s a winner taste-wise. And I’ve got the ribbon to prove it!

katy-wins

A Good Nutritious Breakfast Cookies
These sandwich cookies with a hint of banana flavor feature your favorite cereal, with a slathering of coffee cream in between.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
For the cookies
  1. 2 small, ripe bananas
  2. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  3. 3/4 cup brown sugar
  4. 1 egg
  5. Dash salt
  6. 1 3/4 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  7. 2 1/2 cups breakfast cereal of your choice - I used a mixture of Cheerios, lightly crushed corn flakes and Rice Krispies
For the filling
  1. 2 Tb unsalted butter at room temperature
  2. 3 Tb cream cheese at room temperature
  3. 2 Tb + 1 tsp strong brewed coffee
  4. 2 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone pan liner.
Make the cookies
  1. In a large bowl, mash the bananas until mostly smooth. Beat in the melted butter, brown sugar, egg and salt. Stir in the oats.
  2. Gently fold in the cereal and mix until well combined.
  3. Drop dough by scant tablespoonsful onto prepared baking sheet. I found it helpful to use a spoon to pat down and shape the cookies gently, since they will spread some while baking and you want them to be as consistent as possible when you sandwich them.
  4. Bake until edges of the cookies are beginning to brown and the tops are dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
While cookies are baking and cooling, make the filling
  1. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Sift in about a cup of the powdered sugar, then stir in the coffee.
  3. Add more powdered sugar until the filling reaches a spreadable consistency; you don't want it to be drippy.
  4. Spread the filling on the bottom of one cooled cookie, then sandwich another onto it.
  5. Eat and enjoy!
Emperors Crumbs https://www.emperorscrumbs.com/

 

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While we were in Slovakia, we had an amazing opportunity to visit the CHOCOMAZE workshop and try our hands at making some beautiful—and delicious—chocolate treats.

CHOCOMAZE is based in Komárno, our sleepy home town in Slovakia. It was founded in 2013 by Katalin Vargha, and while it’s still a small business, it has already received recognition from all over Europe. CHOCOMAZE specializes in handcrafted chocolate bars and delights; and not only did we get a peek at how they do all this, we got a chance to make our very own treats with the help of the lovely Marti, who herself has only been working at CHOCOMAZE for about six weeks! 

We closely examined all the different add-ins that they have to work with!

First, Marti showed us the tempering machines. They have two, one for milk chocolate and one for dark. Tempering helps the fatty acids in the chocolate crystallize into a more stable, which gives the finished product a glossy look and a nice snap when you bite it. Very important! Here’s a good explanation of tempering.

 

Our first volunteer worker chose to make white chocolate heart lollipops. For a little added flair, we also used edible ink transfers on one side. Marti prepared the mold, placing the ink transfer paper on one side. One of the main components of the ink is cocoa butter, so it practically melts into the surface of the chocolate bar.ec2-chocomaze

 

The white chocolate was already in a warming pan, but needed a good stir, and then Marti used the cool marble slab to get it down to the right temperature for molding. This was mesmerizing to watch. Since we were the only ones eating this product, we used a very simple instrument to see whether the chocolate had reached the right temperature: the finger test! White chocolate should be about body temperature when it’s ready to work with.

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Marti drizzled the chocolate into the molds, then tapped them to get rid of any bubbles.

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She added the sticks, and it was time to decorate!

Volunteer worker number two went for dark chocolate mignons. Since the chocolate came straight from the tempering machine, there was no need to cool it on the work surface. The tempering machine even has a setting to jiggle the bubbles out of the chocolate.

 

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Then the chocolate goes in the fridge to continue cooling and solidifying. CHOCOMAZE does every step by hand, even the packaging. So that’s what we did too.

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It was too bad that we had just a few too many to fit in the box, so we had to eat them. The sacrifices we make! Everyone gave the finished products a big thumbs-up. The chocolate is rich and melts in your mouth, and we all approved the choices of tart dried fruits and little crispy dragées. We certainly gained an appreciation for the painstaking work it takes to produce these beautiful creations. If you’re in Slovakia or Hungary, you can try CHOCOMAZE’s treats for yourself. You can even special order your own mix of chocolate flavors and add-ins.

 

Thank you Marti, Kati, and CHOCOMAZE!

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If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll know that I tried and failed to make retes while we were in Slovakia. At the supermarket, there’s a selection of different refrigerated doughs, but all seemed more like puff pastry than flaky phyllo. One did specify it is for strudel, so we bought it, but when I unwrapped it at home it was a single thick sheet. I had tasked the children with collecting sour cherries from the half-wild stand of trees in the far reaches of the yard, and prepared a mixture of finely chopped walnuts and toasted breadcrumbs to fill the retes, but with just this single slab of pastry to work with, I had way more filling than I needed, as well as a lot of melted butter that needed to be put to use. So I improvised a cake, baked in a tart pan because that’s what I could easily dig out of the cupboard, and it was really good! But of course, I didn’t really measure any of the ingredients or makes notes for a recipe.

awesome girl big daddy and 2 appricots

Flash forward to this morning; I thought I’d recreate the cake so I could share it with you. But birds had gotten to the rest of the sour cherries, leaving us instead with an enormous dish of apricots from our trees, some a little knocked around it’s true, but all the better to cook with. Then there weren’t enough walnuts left in the cupboard, and oddly, none of the little village shops carried them, so I came home with hazelnuts: we have a bushy nut tree in the yard as well, but they won’t be ready until late autumn. I like hazelnuts, but they are a little more trouble than some other nuts, since their skins need to be removed unless you like the sensation of little bits of paper in your food. Further complicating things today, I found some parts of a blender in the cupboard, but not all the pieces needed to get it to, you know, actually work. So I had to chop the roly-poly hazelnuts by hand, which looked to be a nightmare until I realized I could smash them to bigger bits with a handy meat mallet (something no Central European kitchen would be without) and then more finely mince them with a knife. Making do!

apricots on an awesome tree

I wanted to bring in something more from the garden to make this cake really reflect the high summer season. We were sweltering for most of our visit here to Slovakia, and with the cool damp spring behind us, the garden has really exploded. I chose the tiny tender leaves of our thyme plant to add some of summer’s perfume to the cake, and while you definitely could leave it out, it really works with the tart apricot/rich hazelnut pairing. Try it!

Hazelnut teacake with apricots
Serves 10
Bright apricots top a nutty cake with herbal notes from fresh thyme
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup whole hazelnuts
  2. 10-14 fresh apricots
  3. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  4. 3/4 tsp baking powder
  5. 3/4 tsp baking soda
  6. 3/4 tsp salt
  7. 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  8. 3/4 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme (optional)
  9. 5 Tbs butter, melted
  10. 2 eggs
  11. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  12. 3/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. On a baking sheet, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer and toast until they are fragrant, their papery skins are cracking and the nuts themselves beginning to turn golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly; rub in a clean dishtowel to remove the rest of the skins.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Grease a 12" tart pan or springform pan.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the toasted hazelnuts a few times until coarsely chopped (you don't want them to start forming a paste). Scrape nuts into a large bowl.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and soda and salt to the chopped nuts.
  5. If you are using the thyme, rub it into the sugar to release some of the oils, then add the sugar to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
  6. Whisk together the melted butter, eggs, vanilla and yogurt or sour cream in a small bowl.
  7. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
  8. Scrape batter into the prepared pan.
  9. Cut or tear each apricot in half, and arrange, cut side down, on the top of the batter (discard the pits). Sprinkle the top of the cake with additional sugar, if desired.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  11. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
Notes
  1. If you don't have the full 3/4 cup of yogurt or sour cream, just make up the rest with milk.
  2. If, like us, you don't have a food processor, you can more quickly chop the nuts by first crushing them in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or meat mallet, then take them out of the bag and chop with a knife.
Emperors Crumbs https://www.emperorscrumbs.com/

Hey! The blog has been really quiet for ages (years!), I know. But we’re back in Slovakia for a few weeks, so we thought we’d share some thoughts and pictures from the old homestead. We’ll try out some recipes as well.

yogurt granola parfe 4

One of the first things we noticed was how much the food culture here has improved. Score! I used to tease Valerian because he always reads the supermarket circulars that come in the mail (which go straight to recycling in California). But they’re actually worth a look these days; while the pictures of raw chicken are still a feature, there are so many new products! There’s chia seeds, hummus, fancy cheese, and yes, that’s Ben & Jerry’s!

Circulars

Really, though, we’ve come for nostalgia: utopenci, Mila, kifli/rožok, lángos, yogurt and all the candy. There’s even a retro version of the local beer, isn’t it cute?

Pheasant by bowl

When we moved to our house in Slovakia, we were so excited to have a huge garden. We went a little crazy planting trees, which were still skinny saplings when we left. No longer! We have a jungle out there.

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The plums were sadly shut out by a late frost, but the cherries are loaded–we have a long-suffering old tree in the front of the yard, and back in the orchard, we have several varieties of both sweet and tart/cooking cherries. Apples and Asian apple-pears are on their way, and possibly even before we leave there will be peaches ready to eat.

Valerian created a “berry alley,” which is now overgrown into more of a patch, with plenty of raspberries, some struggling gooseberries, and rampaging currants both black and red.

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Years ago when I visited a Swedish friend at her home near Stockholm, she served an amazing dinner and afterwards, took us out to her back yard where she had a thicket of red currant bushes at the edge of a lake. We filled a bowl in the late twilight of the far north, and then brought the berries back in where my friend crushed them with a little sugar and served them over vanilla ice cream. It was a simple and splendid way to finish the evening.

yogurt granola parfe 2

We do love our European yogurt, so I was inspired to layer up some parfaits to celebrate our summer return. Easy and festive! Maybe you’ve had red currant sauce at Ikea, or tried black currant jam; if you see some in the produce section, snap up a pint and try this recipe (or just substitute another berry). If you can’t find currants, raspberries or blueberries are just as delicious, and probably need less sugar.

Granola and currant yogurt parfaits
Serves 4
Crispy granola, creamy yogurt, and sweet-tart currants make a satisfying breakfast or, with a drizzle of honey, a festive dessert
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For the granola
  1. 2 cups oats
  2. 1 cup slivered almonds
  3. 1 1/2 cups puffed rice
  4. 1/2 tsp. salt
  5. 1/3 cup olive oil
  6. 1/3 cup honey
For the parfaits
  1. 2 cups red or black currants, or a mixture (about a pint), or another berry
  2. 2 tsp. granulated sugar or to taste
  3. 4 cups plain or vanilla yogurt
First, make the granola
  1. Preheat the oven to 325° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then stir in oil and honey. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, stir gently, then bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before stirring to get nice chunks of granola.
While the granola bakes, prepare the currants
  1. In a medium bowl, gently crush the currants with the back of a spoon. Stir in the sugar.
Create the parfaits
  1. When the granola is cool, layer the yogurt and currants in four jars or glasses. Top with the granola (you'll likely have leftovers). Top with additional honey, if you like a sweeter treat!
Notes
  1. Granola adapted from Megan Gordon, A Sweet Spoonful
Emperors Crumbs https://www.emperorscrumbs.com/
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Summer! How I miss you. If you’re like me, you think of summer as a relaxing, low-key time; you imagine lazy days, long evenings, letting the schedule slide. But then there’s: reality. The kids lay waste to the house, starting endless glue or paint related “craft” projects, then squabbling, then wanting to play Minecraft instead, until HOORAY, the camps begin. But wait – now it’s making sure everyone has swimsuits and goggles and sunscreen, who’s getting picked up when? Who needs a plain white t-shirt to tie-dye NOW? And the inescapable lunches. So many lunches. In fact you have to redouble your efforts because the long, active days call for extra sustenance. Luckily, summer also means fruit and plenty of it, which makes it much easier to fill up hungry kids.

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So here’s one thing that’s easy. These bars originate on a recipe card my mother gave me many years ago, but every few years I come up with a variation. These days, I’m using fresh fruit instead of a layer of jam, because who can pass up the tumbled piles of stone fruit and the gleaming berries that are everywhere in summer? Not me, that’s certain. These bars are sturdy enough to hold up in a lunch box or even for scarfing in the car as a quick breakfast. They’re full of whole grains and not too sweet either.

To bring out the juicy best of the fruit, I like to dice it up and let it macerate with some sugar for a few minutes while I assemble the other ingredients. And it really is just a few minutes – this recipe is supremely unfussy, mixes in a single bowl and can be modified any number of ways to suit your taste or what you have in the cupboard. Now that school days are here again, make the most of the last fruits of summer and make a quick batch of these bars for snacks. They pack well, or are the perfect after-school treats, and easy enough the kids can make them with just a little help.

ec_bars_6

Fresh Fruit Crumble Bars
Yields 16
Quick and easy snack bars loaded with whole grains and fresh fruit.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound fresh fruit - strawberries, apricots, blueberries, peaches, plums are all good.
  2. 1 Tbs granulated sugar
  3. 1 cup flour
  4. 1 cup rolled oats (regular or quick cooking)
  5. 1/4 cup almond meal
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/4 tsp baking soda
  8. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  9. 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  10. 4 Tbs water or fruit juice
  11. 1 Tbs honey
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F, and line an 8" square baking pan with foil or parchment paper.
  2. Prepare the fruit: pit and chop larger fruit into fine dice, toss with the granulated sugar in a medium bowl and allow to sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Stir in the oil and honey, and add the water or juice, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is uniformly moist and beginning to form clumps.
  4. Reserving about 3/4 cup of the mixture, firmly press the remaining mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
  5. Spread the fruit evenly over the oat layer, making sure to get all the collected juices in as well.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the top of the fruit.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is brown and toasty and the fruit is beginning to bubble.
  8. Allow to cool completely before slicing into bars.
Emperors Crumbs https://www.emperorscrumbs.com/