Thursday, December 31, 2009

The great vegan cupcake and other coconut butter stories

My friend Claire gave me some organic coconut butter. It was pure white and smelled delicious, like an expensive hand cream. But the only thing I can do with coconut butter is vegan puff pastry, and that's take time...also it is too hot now to make puff pastry! I wanted to try something different.

For my first experiment I tried some muffins, and used some standard ingredients: egg, sugar, milk, self rising flour...and coconut butter instead of normal butter.

Well, what can I say, they were...ok, but nothing more. The fact is that they were too rich for my taste (I am extremely fussy), too 'greasy'. They were eaten, of course, by family and friends, but I wouldn't make them again, so I won't bother with the recipe.

I gather that if coconut butter is so rich, maybe I could try to bake something without using other 'rich' ingredients like eggs and milk. (And if I failed again I would make hand cream!).
I had some coconut butter in a bowl, so I melted it in the oven. When melted, coconut butter becomes liquid, and very clear.
I measured 150ml of coconut 'oil'. I felt that my muffins would be very white, so I decided to use raw (brown) sugar for colour. Also I felt that, without the eggs, possibly I would not get really 'high' muffins, so I opted for cupcakes, used cupcake paper cups and planned a topping.

Vegan Cupcakes with Coconut Butter

150 ml melted coconut butter
100 g raw cane sugar
200 g self-rising flour
150 ml water
few drops of pure vanilla essence
Cherry jam

Using an electric beater mix the still warm and melted coconut butter with the sugar, then add the self rising flour and water, making sure that you don't get any lumps. Finally add a few drops of vanilla and divide the batter into 12 cupcake cases. Top each cupcake with a little cherry jam.

Bake at 180°C for approximately 20 minutes (check with a toothpick to see if the cupcakes are cooked). They will look quite pale! I tried one hot, then cold, They were light and fragrant, with a subtle hint of coconut. They keep soft for two days, after I don't know, we ate them all!


No much time to think about this actually, I had guests for dinner and I was too busy with the main and dessert to indulge in further experiments. But I had some ready made Wilton Decorating Icing which, by reading the ingredients, looked vegan to I just used that and a fresh cherry.

I rarely use ready made icing, and if I do it is generally white. Possibly next time I will just make some butter icing with coconut butter and sugar syrup, or just coconut butter and icing sugar. When I get more coconut butter, that is :-)! For now I am content with the cupcake "base", toppings will always change!

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Weaving, and Happy New Year

A lifetime ago I used to be 'artistic'. I studied art, I painted, then I moved to textiles: printing, natural dyeing, weaving, embroidery... I learned to weave in Japan, and when I moved to New Zealand I got myself a loom, big and old, impressive. That was about 12 years ago...

And then the children came, from art I moved into writing, and food, and the loom was used twice. This is the second project I have on it...a scarf with beads, very fine, a simple exercise really (if it wasn't for trying to insert beads from time to time), and yet unfinished.

We are wanting to move my home office upstairs, in the 'loom room' (how we call it) and to make space the loom should a better home. To someone who would use it, a better weaver!

But after taking this decision I was filled with regret and sadness. I may not have time to weave now, nor in the next year, as I plan to spend at least 6 months overseas, but I still want to keep my loom!!!

Textiles were my first love. Maybe one day...who knows? My New Year resolution is to find a space for a desk without selling the loom :-)
And perhaps to finish my scarf?

Happy New Year to all!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Artichoke Risotto with Baby Yellow Zucchini and Flower

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini ©

2 artichokes
Lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup Italian parsley
Salt to taste
Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 shallot
500 g arborio rice
500 ml vegetable stock
5 yellow baby zucchini (as small as a finger) with flower still attached
Calendula petals to decorate

Serve 6

Cook the artichokes one day earlier. In a bowl filled with water and lemon juice wash the artichokes and cut out a few of the hardest leaves (petals). Finely chop the garlic cloves with the parsley and a little salt and then use to stuff the artichokes. Place in a small saucepan, drizzle with olive oil and cover halfway through with water. Simmer until the outer leaves easily detach from the heart, adding water from time to time if necessary. The water will make a lovely broth.

The day after scrape all the flesh from the hardest outer leaves and place in a small saucepan with the artichoke hearts and their water (discard the hard bits). Mush flesh and hearts with a wooden spoon, and gently reheat. Keep warm and set aside.

Finely chop the shallot and sau with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the rice and when this is lightly 'toasted', add the artichokes and their water. Stir and then continue cooking, adding some hot vegetable stock little by little, and stirring often. If the risotto is too dry you may need to add a little more stock or boiling water.

Clean the yellow zucchini, do no detach the flowers, just remove the sepals. When the risotto is almost cooked add the zucchini, gently stir in to cover them completely with the risotto, turn the element off, cover the pot with a lid and let it stand for 5 minutes. The zucchini are very small and should cook with the heat of the risotto.

To assemble, divide the risotto between 6 plates, with one baby zucchini for each plate, sprinkle with calendula flowers, and enjoy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunny Xmas in the bush, with foraging and green dip

Lovely sunny day for Xmas in Auckland, my daughter set the table for us,

and for the fairies in the bush.

I must have been good this year because I got quite a few presents, including a new pairs of gumboots, which I used immediately to get into the garden to pick strawberries and flowers for the table.

I also went foraging in the neighbor property (he is cool about it) to pick some watercress. It is a bit late for watercress, the flowers are already out, but I could still pick some to mix to other greens to make a tasty dip.

Green Dip

A mixture of watercress, rocket (rucola), and Genovese basil, (or any greens and herbs you like)
3 handfuls of cashew nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 slice of aged pecorino cheese (optional)
a little water
Salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil to finish

Blend the first 5 ingredients, then add salt and olive oil to taste. Serve with homemade bread, as a dip or as a spread.

Of course I made other things for Christmas lunch, but I think that I will put the recipes on the blog very slowly. This was the starter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mont Blanc Mille-feuille

I made this cake for Christmas Eve, the base is frozen New Way puff pastry, which is vegetarian.
I cut out four shapes (I was thinking of a Christmas tree), I brushed them with water and sprinkled them with caster sugar (to make sweet puff pastry). With a fork I made some incisions on the pastry so it would not puff up too much during baking.

I had some pastry left over, so I mixed it with more caster sugar and cinnamon and rolled it out with the rolling pin and then folded it again a few times (like you do with puff pastry) until all the sugar was well mixed. Then I rolled it up and cut it into small circles, which I lightly pushed up using my finger. I thought that they could look like little pine cones...

I baked everything at 180°C until golden (about 15-20 minutes). To make the filling I used Clément Faugier canned chestnut purée: one large can of unsweetened purée, and one small can of the sweet type (crème de marrons), which has a hint of vanilla. I mixed the chestnut with a little rum (Ron Zacapa Centenario, an excellent rum produced in Guatemala), some grated dark chocolate, and some whipped cream. I assembled the mille-feuille 'tree' starting from the largest piece of pastry, and topping it with some chestnut mixture, and some more whipped cream. I continued until the last layer.

I used the remaining chestnut mixture to fill the pastry 'pine cones' and took the cake to a party. It was really easy to cut and serve, and it feed many people. Everybody liked it!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Christmas Biscuits!

I am on a roll with biscuits! I use them as little Xmas presents for friends...and I wanted to try my other cutters from cute!

I used the same pastry of the Xmas Tree Biscuits, and as you can see flour was needed from time to time as the dough got sticky!

I Baked them at 160°C for about 12 minutes, and then I dusted some biscuits with icing sugar, and I covered the others, wholly or partially, with fondant flowers (cut with the Wilton cutters)

When I could not roll any more pastry I started to shape some biscuits by hand. After making the Christmas Tree Biscuits I made these stars (below) which I decorated with white chocolate and yellow icing.

Yesterday, instead, the last bit of pastry became a big biscuit for my husband (iced like a miniature cake).

And the left over fondant was given to the children, who made these cute snow men!

Now, today I have to extract the winner of the book. But my kids are at an art workshop all day, so I will write the names on pieces of paper in the meantime, and then wait for the little ones to come home and pick one. Good luck to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


This recipes has been lightly adapted form my book Sweet As... (New Holland Publishers).
I love panforte for Christmas, but here in NZ is ever so expensive, and I prefer the home made version anyway, as it is full of nuts and fruit. It took me a while to develop this recipe, I tried with different spices in different doses until I found the one which worked better for me (always use fresh spices though, otherwise the taste will not be the same), and instead of using candied melon most of the time I use candied papaya, which is easier to find in New Zealand. This time I found both, mixed together, so I was very happy. Also, this time I had some rice paper, usually I do without.

This could be a vegan cake, except for the fact that I use honey (and some vegans don't).
For the vanilla sugars (white and icing) I just keep them in a jar with a stick of vanilla

2 tbsp Honey
2 tbsp vanilla flavoured white sugar
2 tbsp vanilla icing sugar, plus more for dusting
1-2 tbsp water, if required
150g (5 and 1/2 oz) citrus peel
200g (7 oz)candied melon and or papaya
150g (5 and 1/2 oz)almonds (or a combination of almonds and hazelnuts - like I did this time)
100g (3 and 1/2 oz) plain flour
1 tsp powdered coriander
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1/4 (one quarter) tsp powdered nutmeg

Partly fill a small saucepan with hot water and set over a medium heat. In a bowl put the honey, vanilla sugar and icing sugar with 1-2 tablespoons water, depending on the thickness of the honey. Set the bowl over the pan of simmering water and stir the honey until runny. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the citrus peel, papaya, almonds and all the other dry ingredients. Line the base and sides of a 20cm (8 inch) round baking tin non-stick baking paper, add one sheet of rice paper and fill the tin with the mixture, cover with another sheet of rice paper then one sheet of baking paper, and gently press down the cake evenly in the tin. Bake in a oven preheated to 160°C (325°F) for 25 minutes, then remove the top sheet of baking paper and bake for further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave in the baking tin and cover with a thick layer of vanilla icing sugar. Serve cold in small slices as it is quite filling.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©
Recipe Copyright © 2004 Alessandra Zecchini

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Good' Ideas for Christmas!

Ok I am a bit late with the Xmas ideas, but here they are:
first I am recycling some of last year ideas, so I opened the boxes with my handmade paper decorations which I made for Good Magazine. Click here to see, there are quite a few more ideas like garlands made out of popcorn and dried chillies, or biscuits men and ladies to hang on the tree. One of my favourite is this modular origami (follow the step by step instructions on the Good Magazine website and recycle your Xmas wrapping paper!)

In the last few years I also made the gingerbread house, using normal biscuit base (I am not a big fan of proper gingerbread biscuits...) and quite a bit of ready made icing to shape the chimney, snowmen, letterbox, tree, etc. The children really enjoyed making this one, but this year I will do something different which I hope to post later on. Till then....ciao!

Don't forget to add yourself to the followers' list to win the book :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sweet As book give-away

I have one copy of one of my books, Sweet As...easy to make desserts and baked treats, to give away for Christmas to a lucky blogger! All you have to do is to follow me, either here, or on Only Recipes, or on both (for a double entry). All those who are already following me are already included (but feel free to follow me in the other blog too for a double entry!), and it doesn't matter where you live in the world, I will post the book to you :-)

Now, I am sure that there is a gadget somewhere in cyber world that I could use to extract the lucky winner....but since I don't know it I will, (lets' say after a week?) write all your names on pieces of paper, put them into a hat, and ask one of my children to pick one. And then I will let you know. For more info about Sweet As click here.

Good luck


Updated 22 December 2009!

Tadaaaaaaaaaaa Just did the hat businness (well, actually instead of using a hat we use one of my daughter little bags). Arantxa put her hand in the bag and she was very excited by the whole experience, like she was going to win something...and she picked...Yari from Congratulation Yari, I will let you know, and also put this message on the book competition post (which is here!) Thank you to all for entering, Next month I will organize another book and competition, if you like! ciao Alessandra

Monday, December 14, 2009

Modena, and Strawberries with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

I grew up in the province of Modena, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. During the summer I returned to the city and stayed in the centre, in the lovely small boutique Hotel Cervetta. Below is the view from my balcony, a very quiet street that leads straight to the main square, Piazza Grande (photo above).

In the main square there is the Cathedral of Modena, considered one of the masterpieces of Romanesque architecture in Europe. Recently this was the place where friends from all corners of the world came to pay their respects to the city's most famous resident, the late Luciano Pavarotti. Below are some details of the Cathedral's Porta Regia.

This is the Clock Tower ...

....And the beautiful Torre della Girlandina, all boxed up for restorations. Some people don't like the 'box', designed by Italian sculptor Mimmo Paladino, but I thought that it looks cool.

And beautiful is also the Palazzo Ducale

But now for a typical Modena ingredient....

A must visit is the museum of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, in the nearby small city of Spilamberto, where I got a 25 years old balsamic, which is just amazing!

Strawberries with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
di Modena

1 punnet of strawberries
1 tsp Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM)
1 tbsp white sugar

Hull and cut the strawberries, place in a bowl with the ABTM and sugar,
stir and let marinate for a few hours. Serve by itself or with Vanilla ice-cream.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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