Coconut Cream Malabi

Malabi. I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a single trendy Tel Aviv restaurant that hasn’t got its own version of Malabi on its dessert menu at the moment. Certainly this post was inspired by all the various delicious Malabi (Malabis? Malabim?? Help, grammar gods…) I’ve daintily dipped my spoon into recently (by which I mean, attacked with an amount of energy and gusto that usually requires hydraulics).

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If you’ve never come across it before, Malabi, or Muhallebi, is a cold custard-like dessert, similar in texture to Pannacotta or Blancmange. It’s very popular in Israel, but can be found all over the Middle East and North Africa. Though the main ingredients (cream, sugar and cornflour) are fairly standard, the flavourings and toppings can vary. I’ve eaten Malabi flavoured with vanilla, rosewater, orange flower water, cardamom… I’ve devoured it topped with rose syrup, strawberry syrup, date syrup, pomegranate syrup… I’ve scoffed it sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered with peanuts, anointed with almonds, covered with coconut and pimped with pistachios. So far I’ve not had it with all of the above all at the same time. But tomorrow is another day.

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I had the perfect opportunity to crack the Malabi code when we had Mr Olive’s family over for dinner recently. Since my sister- and brother-in-law are vegan, I went ahead and replaced the cream with coconut cream. Almond or other non-dairy milks could also be used, but then the result would be less creamy. And we all like creamy.

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I adore both rosewater and orange flower water so choosing between them was pure agony (I never ever exaggerate) but in the end I went for the more classic rosewater. I figure this is only the first of many Malabis (Malabies? Ick, no, that sounds like a disease) I’m going to make so there’ll be plenty of time for all the other variations 🙂

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And then I decided to throw vanilla and cardamom in there too because I simply couldn’t bring myself to give up on either of them. Perish the thought!

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For toppings, I chose date syrup, known in Israel as Silan, since it reminds me of the marvelous Malabi Mr Olive and I used to scarf down at Hummus Bros in London’s Soho. It can usually be found in whole food shops. Then, toasted desiccated coconut (because it’s traditional and because it’s yummy), and chopped almonds (because they’re delicious and nutritious) and pistachios (because I can’t resist that pop of green).

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And I almost forgot to mention how easy Malabi is to make. It’s basically as easy as throwing a few things together in a pot, bringing them to the boil and stirring them. Then pouring the lot into jars and sticking them in the fridge for a few hours. Ta-da: a new fancy summertime dinner party dessert… that your guests will go nuts for! Pretty sweet!

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Coconut Cream Malabi

SERVES 4-6

4 HOURS, 20 MINS

PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES

CHILLING TIME: 4 HOURS, OR OVERNIGHT

Ingredients

Malabi

3 cups / 710 ml coconut cream,

5 tbsp corn flour,

3 tbsp rosewater,

5 tbsp white sugar,

1 tsp vanilla extract,

1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, ground or crushed,

Toppings

Date syrup to taste (I used 2 tbsp per serving),

1-2 handfuls of almonds,

1-2 handfuls of pistachios, shelled,

Approx 4 tbsp dessicated coconut,

Method

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk half a cup of the coconut cream with the corn flour, rosewater and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Put the remaining 2 1/2 cups of coconut cream in a small saucepan together with the sugar and cardamom and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the corn flour mixture, reduce the heat and simmer, whisking vigorously, for about 1 minute, until the Malabi thickens and there are no lumps.
  4. Pour into serving dishes or small glass jars and bring to room temperature. Then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  5. While the Malabi is chilling, prepare the toppings. Toast the almonds and pistachios in a dry frying pan over a low heat. Watch them closely so they don’t burn!
  6. Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.
  7. Toast the desiccated coconut gently in a dry frying pan over a low heat, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the pan as soon as it starts to turn golden (if your kitchen didn’t already smell amazing, it will now).
  8. When you are ready to serve, top each Malabi with a couple of tablespoons of date syrup, and a teaspoonful or so each of coconut and nuts.
  9. Yum!

Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

These are my go-to cookies. I can make them without even looking at the recipe. Well, almost. Actually, I always look at the recipe. I’m pretty bad at remembering quantities of things. And counting. Let’s just say that I’ll never give Fermat a run for his money. Not at maths, anyway. I don’t know how he was at baking.

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The recipe in question comes from Julia Suddaby, one of my favourite artists, who also happens to be a delightful person and my mum’s best friend. I remember first eating (far too many of) these cookies as a child while visiting with Julia and her family at their home in the Essex countryside. They were such a hit with us kids on that visit that my mum copied down the recipe and started baking them for us. Now I bake them for my kids, for any kindergarten event where refreshments are required, for leaving parties, for unexpected guests, for expected guests, and just generally all the time, for no reason. Nobody ever gets bored of them and somebody always asks for the recipe.

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Julia’s original recipe source was Joy of Cooking, which she says was her favourite escapist reading material while living on a Belgian commune in 1975. She told me that the nostalgia of reading about 1950s American cocktail parties was the perfect balance to the environment in which she was then living, which she describes as, “the bohemian world of 1970s travellers and artistic Belgian aristocracy”.

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Despite not being very aristocratic, there are so many things to love about these cookies:

  1. They are absolutely, positively, unquestionably scrummy. Chocolatey, fruity, chewy, a little bit cakey, a little bit crumbly, and extremely satisfying without being overly rich or sweet.
  2. You don’t need any special equipment. Just a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet.
  3. You are quite likely to have all or most of the ingredients in your cupboard already, which means you can have a batch baked and cooling on your counter (and smelling heavenly) within about 25 minutes. This is obviously a boon when you have people coming over for coffee in half an hour and nothing to offer them but Ninja Turtle Pez sweets. (This has never happened to me. Ok, this has definitely happened to me). Which brings me to…
  4. Even if you don’t have all the ingredients, the recipe is pretty forgiving. You can use just chocolate chips or just raisins or neither. You can sub nuts, seeds, desiccated coconut or whatever you fancy. I’ve made the cookies with flax egg and non-dairy butter for a vegan version. And I’ve made them with half self-raising and half all-purpose flour and they came out totally fine. Hooray for lenient cookie recipes!
  5. While they do contain a ton of butter (not literally – that would be gross), I would say they are on the healthy cookie spectrum. Only a half cup of brown sugar AND vast quantities of oats. In fact, you can rest safe in the knowledge that, while the butter may not be doing anything great for your cholesterol levels, the oats (as well as enhancing your immune system, providing wholegrain fiber, and protecting against heart disease) definitely are. So it all evens out in the end. Right? Right!

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The recipe has gone through a couple of changes on its journey from ’50s America to ’70s Europe to my little kitchen in Tel Aviv today. My original note-book scrawled recipe (entitled simply, ‘Cookies’, as if to emphasize that you really don’t need any other cookie recipe in your life), calls for margarine. I don’t tend to buy margarine and I like the rich flavour that butter brings to baking, but feel free to sub a trans-fat free margarine if that’s what rocks your casbah. I added a pinch of salt and some vanilla extract to the recipe because, you know. I give a quantity guideline here for the chocolate chips and raisins, although my original notes are unspecific and, to be honest, I usually just eyeball it.

And that’s it! If you don’t already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these – maybe this is the ONE! And if you already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these anyway! Because they are freaking delicious.

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Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

MAKES APPROX. 16 COOKIES

PREPARATION AND BAKE TIME: 25-30 MINS

Ingredients

100g / 1/2 cup / 3.5 oz brown sugar

175g / 3/4 cup / 6.17 oz butter at room temperature

2 free-range eggs

128g / 1 cup / 4.5 oz self-raising flour

192g / 1.5 cups / 6.75 oz jumbo rolled oats

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

117g / 2/3 cup / 4.12 oz dark chocolate chips

100g / 2/3 cup / 3.5 oz raisins

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (356F / Gas Mark 4).
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter, using a wooden spoon, until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs, flour, oats, salt and vanilla and mix until just combined.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and raisins and mix again. (Not too much.)
  5. Put rounded tablespoons of the mix onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Let cool for 10 minutes before gobbling them all up. The cookies will keep in an airtight container out of the fridge. I can’t say how long for because ours always mysteriously disappear before I have a chance to carry out my research. 😉

 

 

Decadent Fudgy Brownies

When I was in my early 20s I worked as a sous chef in the kitchen of a well-established and well-loved London deli. Most of the time it was just me and three super fun and sweet Algerian guys bumping into each other in the tiny basement kitchen and pumping out Bob Marley or Manu Chao for 10 hours a day. Oh yeah, and we also cooked a little bit.

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One of the things that we cooked or rather, baked, on an almost daily basis was the shop’s trademark brownies. These brownies were legendary. People would make pilgrimages from places as far away as Neasden to wrap their choppers around our brownies. Probably. In any case, we sold stacks of them every day to the point where pretty much everybody who worked in the deli (including the floor managers and definitely including the kitchen porter) knew the recipe and could be called on to enter the breach and whip up a double batch at any given moment if stocks got low.

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Fast forward ten years or so and I am about to set about the task of making my two year old daughter’s birthday cake for her kindergarten party. Having been rather absent in the birthday-cake-baking arena up until this moment (sorry, nearest and dearest) I rack my brains to come up with a source for a great chocolate cake recipe that will satisfy a bunch of sugar fiends, um, sorry, I mean toddlers. My extremely clever husband suggests the legendary brownies (having been rather partial to their decadent fudginess himself, back in the day). Aha! I thought. What a clever husband I have!

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So I locate the recipe (which I handily noted down all those years ago) spend a bunch of money on unreasonable amounts of chocolate and butter (I did say they were decadent) only to eventually pull out of the oven a tray of something hard, crumbly and somewhat charred smelling. I don’t know what it was but it definitely wasn’t brownies. As I stirred my disappointed tears into the batter of the rather underwhelming sheet cake which was to replace the paving stone I had just inadvertently baked, I racked my brains to answer the question: WHAT? WENT? WRONG? I scanned the recipe. I gnawed on a chunk of singed brick (chocolate flavour). I questioned my sanity. It was just as I was cracking a lovely unsuspecting organic egg into the cake batter of disillusionment that it dawned on me. Eggs. Do brownies require eggs? Yes. Were eggs listed as an ingredient in my hastily scrawled notes from 10 years previously? Nah-uh. Hence: candied concrete slab. (Well, of course we ate it).

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And so, after baking a succession of rather more successful birthday cakes over the last couple of years (thanks to birthing an additional child… and also to the fact that one birthday party per person per year never seems to be enough these days… this year Sophie turned 4 and I ended up baking her 3 birthday cakes plus a batch of cookies… do we now count out a person’s age in batches of baked goods received instead of number of candles? Is someone going to bake me 39 different varieties of confection for my next birthday? Please?  But I digress…) I have worked up the courage to give the legendary brownies another crack.

And I’ll remember to give some eggs a crack this time round too. How many, you ask innocently? Um, six. And, no, that’s not a typo. It’s the number of eggs it took to get the batter to pourable consistency. Extra vanilla and salt seemed obvious additions, plus some research into the benefits of whipping the eggs with the sugar have produced, I think, a delectably decadent and fabulously fudgy brownie.

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Decadent Fudgy Brownies

Makes 24 smallish brownies

Bake time: 30-40 mins

This article and also this one were invaluable during my eggs-perimentations with different quantities, bake times and so on, and were also sources of general brownie wisdom.

Ingredients

Oil for coating baking tray

450g (15.9oz) bitter chocolate

450g (15.9oz) unsalted butter

6 large free-range eggs

500g (17.6oz) white sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

150g (5.3oz) all-purpose flour

150g (5.3oz) cocoa powder

¼ tsp table salt

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (356F / Gas Mark 4). Lightly oil a 33cm x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan and lay two pieces of parchment paper crossways inside so that there is an overhang of paper on each side of the pan. This will help you lift the brownies out of the pan when they’re done. Lightly oil the parchment paper.
  2. Break up the chocolate into smallish pieces and melt using your preferred method. I used a bain-marie but you could also do it in the microwave.
  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat.
  4. Use either a stand mixer or a large bowl and an electric whisk to whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Keep at it for a good minute or so, until everything is combined and has reached a smooth creamy consistency.
  5. In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and salt.
  6. Add half the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl and then add the other half of the flour mixture, whisking until everything is very well mixed and you have a thick shiny batter.
  7. Add the melted butter and whisk in.
  8. Add the melted chocolate to the batter. If you used a bain-marie to melt the chocolate, be careful – the bowl will be very hot! The chocolate will set as it cools so make sure you whisk it in quickly and thoroughly, for at least a minute, so that the chocolate will be evenly distributed.
  9. Pour the batter evenly into your lined baking pan and bake in the center of the oven for 35-45 minutes. You can test doneness by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. What you’re looking for is for it to come out with some sticky crumbs on it. If the toothpick comes out with wet batter on it, leave the pan in the oven for a bit longer; if it comes out clean, the brownies will be dryer and won’t have the fudgy consistency you’re looking for.
  10. When done, take the brownies out of the oven and allow to cool in the pan. Only when completely cooled, lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment paper wings, peel off the paper and cut into squares.
  11. Brownies will keep out of the fridge in a tupperware-type container for a good few days and probably up to a week. Try warming one in the microwave for 30 seconds and serving with vanilla ice-cream. Yum!