Goddess of Cake

A Rite of Passage
December 21, 2009, 00:50
Filed under: Baking, Cakes | Tags: , , , , ,

Isn’t change always worth a celebration? For better or worse, change is the attribute of all life: matter evolves by the laws of entropy, towards more chaos, and the living things are constantly on their way towards death. No moment is static, transformation is inevitable. A rite of passage is something that prepares us for the change, makes it easier to accept, since we tend to cling to the past with a fierce devotion.

We celebrated the bachelorette party of my friend who was getting married. Marriage is one rite of passage to adulthood, though not as important as it used to be. The Finnish folk poetry describes in vivid detail the sadness of the bride, when she has to leave her sisters and brothers, the safety of her childhood home and most important of all, her dear mother, as sweet as honey or berries in the forest. Waterfalls of tears were shed when the young bride left her home to never return, to be owned by the family of her husband, and be as the daughter – in – law the lowest in the hierarchy of a household.

The ways of marriage have luckily changed quite a bit, and these days marriage is a sign of  mutual love and commitment, not a grim undertaking made in order to keep the human race existing. On this occasion it was indeed the bridegroom who left his sunny country to come to the cold and unhospitable Finland.

That weekend, we didn’t cry (except for me, a little bit), but drank pink sparkling wine, had a lush breakfast with beautiful live music at the cafe Villi Puutarha (” The Wild Garden”, which is one of the few places with vegan things to eat in Helsinki), acquired a pair of pink handcuffs at an adult shop, tried out pole dancing and sung  at the top of our voices in a karaoke taxi. Finally we adorned ourselves with corsettes, beads, plenty of sparkle and make – up and headed for a burlesque party. Our beautiful, not so shy bride won the tassel twirling competition (don’t know what that means? Well find out, I won’t tell you), and the gorgeous bridegroom impressed everyone by an improvised Brazilian street – capoeira – dance show.

The night was ours. We partied and danced with the intensity of people taking part in a transition rite, submerged in a brazilian – burlesque fantasy world. But what does a frilly, mask – wearing, tasseled, lace – and gold – adorned foxy lady or gentleman eat before she or he hits the party? Of course a rosewater – strawberry – chocolate mousse cake, decorated with fresh cherries, figs  and pitahaya..

Rosewater – Strawberry – Chocolate Mousse Cake


150 g gluten free vegan cookies ( I used a spanish brand called gullòn)

75 g vegetable margarine


200 g soy cream cheese

6 dl whippable soy cream

500 g soy yogurt

5 tbsp rose water

1 jar Sonnentor Rose Jam

3 dl frozen strawberries

1,5 dl powdered sugar (icing sugar)

2 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

2 dl agar – agar

3 dl water

Chocolate Ganache

100 g dark chocolate

1 dl soy milk or other non – dairy milk

I started the day before by draining the soy yogurt in a sieve that was lined with coffee filters.

The following day I made the crust: I crumbled up the cookies, and melted the margarine. Then I mixed both and patted the mixture at the bottom of a springform pan (diameter 26 cm), which was covered with a piece of baking parchment.

Then I made the chocolate ganache. I heated up the milk in and added the chocolate, mixing until it was melted. I spread this evenly on the crust.

Then I made the mousse. First I blended the strawberries, the vanilla, the icing sugar, the soy cream cheese, the drained yogurt,the rose jam and the soy cream with a handheld blender until it was nice and fluffy. Then I heated up the water and the rose water in a pan, and added the agar – agar. I boiled the mixture, mixing it constantly for a few minutes, until the agar – agar was diluted. Then I hastily poured it into the mousse – mixture, through a sieve and mixing carefully with the blender. Then I poured the mousse onto the crust, and put the cake in the fridge.

Some tips about agar:

– agar is a better gelling agent for mousses than gelatin, even if most people don’t know this. The mousse produced by agar is always fluffy, and never dry like the gelatin mousses sometimes are. And yes, it will set, but you’ll have to use enough agar!

– when diluting the agar it is often easier to start with a bit more liquid and let it evaporate by boiling the mixture a little bit longer, than to start with a tiny amount of liquid, like often is instructed.

– you can dilute agar to other liquids than water, but something like  cream is already too thick for this purpose.

– the agar starts to set right away when you remove the pan from heat, so you have to be fast. Allow it to cool maximum a minute!

– use a sieve when you pour the agar – agar liquid into the mixture you want to make a gelee of. There are anyway always  some lumps in it.

– You will see right away, if there is enough agar in your mousse, because it will start to set immediately. The following day, if there appears some liquid around the cake that probably means that something went wrong, and the mousse has not set.

– This cake that you can see in this picture that was taken in great hurry, hasn’t got enough agar, but the recipe should be allright. I was thinking about other things…

Michelin Star Vegetarian Food and Other Adventures
October 5, 2009, 20:23
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , , , , ,

Recently I had the honour to attend a cooking class by Mr. Pietro Leemann, who was a quest speaker at the Megapolis – seminar last weekend. Pietro Leemann runs the only vegetarian restaurant that has acquired a Michelin star, in Milan in Italy. The restaurant is called La Joia. Mr. Leemann has an apparent passion for vegetarianism, besides amazing cooking skills and lots of creativity. He and his wife Rosanna were both charming and lovely people, which unfortunately cannot be said about all chefs…


On the course we (meaning a few people from Dodo, some journalists from different Finnish food magazines, some people from the leading food industry companies and an advertisement agency) cooked a 4 course vegetarian meal guided by Pietro Leemann, and then ate it in candle light with some wine and discussion. The food was awesome, much better than my previous fine dining restaurant experiences. I think that since the western cuisine is so based on animal products, many chefs lack the skills of making interesting flavour combinations with vegetarian ingredients only, but I think Pietro Leemann definitely shows that it is very possible!


On the menu there was Watermelon Carpaccio, False Eggs, ” A Rich, Delicious – looking and Sufficient Meal for Ten People”, which was actually a risotto, and as dessert Knedlitky, which was kind of sweet dumplings with basil cream and a cinnamon sauce. Especially the textures and flavours of the dessert lingered in my taste buds a long time, though I’ll have to put some effort into veganising them. The best result of this cooking class was the fact that most of the journalists promised to write an article on the subject of vegetarian cooking, which would of course be great, since people should in general realise that vegetarian or vegan doesn’t automatically mean boring or tasteless food.

All pictures in this post are a courtesy of Marina Ekroos. Thanks!

Watermelon Carpaccio

Concerning this dish Pietro told that it is one of the few dishes that he makes that plays with the idea of meat. The watermelon with its red and white flesh reminds of meat somehow, and fried and cut thinly it actually looks like a carpaccio. There was some parmesan in this dish, but I think it won’t suffer much if you just leave it out.


300 g watermelon

2 g salt

20 g balsamic vinegar

grape seed oil for frying


different kinds of salad

black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Peel the watermelon and cut into 7cm thick slices. Leave some of the white peel on. Drizzle with salt and leave for 10 minutes. Cut into really thin slices, and lift them on tissue paper to dry. Fry the pieces in on a frying pan in grape seed oil, until they look roasted on both sides (black!). Lift them aside, on top of some tissue paper and let them drain for a while. Then remove the seeds and cut it into really thin slices.

Mix the oil, a pinch of salt and balsamic vinegar together. Assemble the plates with salad leaves, watermelon slices, cut up chives, dressing and pinch of black pepper.


False Eggs

This dish is also otherwise vegan, except for the fact that since the idea with this dish was to create an “egg” that is really not an egg, it was made into an eggshell. Pietro explained that the surprise between the form and taste was essential with this dish, but if you don’t want to use animal ingredients, you could quite easily make this dish using something else as the form, e.g. a silicon mould etc.

200 g root celery and carrot

50 g squash

50 g hazelnuts

1/4 of an agar – agar bar

20 g summer truffles


First, if you want to use eggs as the moulds, make a hole into the side of eight eggs. It should be so big that your finger fits inside. Then take out all the egg-white and the membranes inside the eggshell, and wash it with warm water that has a some vinegar in it. Allow the eggshells to dry two days in warm place or 10 minutes in a 200°C oven.


Steam the squash, and toast the hazelnuts on a dry pan. Grind the hazelnuts into a fine powder and mash the pumpkin. Blend, and make balls that are about the size of an egg yolk. Freeze them in a freezer.

Boil the root celery in water until it’s soft, and then make a paste out of it using a blender. Add some of the cooking water if needed, the paste should resemble a pureed soup. Dilute the agar – agar into 2 dl of water, and boil it until the water has evaporated so that there is just 1 dl left. Heat up the root celery paste and pour the agar agar into it, using a sieve. Chop the truffles and add them and salt to the mixture. Pour the mixture into the eggshells and add one squash – egg – yolk into each. Let them harden in the fridge a couple of hours.

For serving, peel the eggs, set them on a plate and drizzle with salt and olive oil, and add also some raspberry coulis (a sweet raspberry sauce).


After this cooking class my weekend was full of talk about food at the Megapolis – festival, and meeting interesting people. After that I haven’t been able to even think about food for a while…And the Carrot Mob vegetarian gourmet – brunch was of course a nice ending to the whole process on Sunday. A cucumber shot, jerusalem artichoke puree, pistachio crusted beetroot, and a banana flambe with candied orange and raspberry sauce, free for everyone who managed to be there in time!

Cheesecake with Rhubarb and Halva

I have made now quite a few cheesecakes with this flavour combination, but previously I made on top of the cake a layer with pureéd rhubarb. This time I wanted to make two layers of mousse, first one with the taste of halva and the second one with the taste of rhubarb, and then put a thin glazing of rhubarb juice on top of the cake.

This cake was made for my friend Suvi’s babyshower.


The crust:

75 g vegetable margarine

150 g vegan digestive cookies

The mousse:

2,5 dl oat vanilla sauce

500 g soy yogurt

200 g soy cream cheese, natural

150 g halva, traditional flavour

2 dl pureéd, sweetened rhubarb

2,5 dl water

2 tsp rose water

7 tbsp agar agar flakes


1 dl rhubarb juice

1/2 dl sugar with added pectin

I wanted to make this cake so that I would have two different layers of mousse, one with halva and the other one with rhubarb. I started in the morning by putting the soy yogurt in a colander that was lined with a coffee filter. In the evening, I started with the cake.

First I made the crust by breaking apart the cookies in a plastic bag and then crunching them with a rolling bin until they became crumbs. Then I melted the margarine and mixed the crumbs together with it. Then I lined the bottom of a springform cake pan, about 24 cm in diameter, with baking parchment. I patted the cookie crumb and margarine mixture on the bottom of the pan tightly. Then I put the cake tin in the fridge (or actually outside) to cool and harden for a bit.

Then I whipped up the oat vanilla sauce (it was of the kind that can be whipped). It could of course be substituted with e.g.  whippable soy cream. Then I added the soy yogurt and the soy cream cheese. Then I divided the mixture in two different bowls, and added 150 g of halva to the other, which I then mixed with a hand held mixer, in order to get the halva evenly mixed in. Then I added the pureéd rhubarb to the other mixture. I used a brand of pureéd rhubarb that is on sale in Finland, which includes quite a lot of sugar, so I did not add any to the mousse.

The I put 1, 25 dl of water in a pan and added 3 and 1/2 tbsp agar agar to it. Then I boiled the mixture until the agar agar flakes were diluted, mixing it every now and then. I personally find working with agar agar quite nerve – wrecking, since it the amount you should use varies so much depending on the brand. So I stick to the same brand.

Then I let the agar agar mixture cool just for a minute or two (it sets amazingly quickly!) and poured it, little by little, to the bowl with the halva mousse mixture in it, blending it in carefully. It is important to concentrate at this stage, since otherwise you might get a lumpy mousse. Then I poured the mousse onto the cake crust, and put in the fridge.

After that I made the second mousse mixture, exactly like the previous one, but also adding 2 tsp rose water in the pan when I was diluting the agar agar. This mousse I then poured on top of the other mousse layer on the cake crust. The previous layer had had time to harden enough so that the layers stayed separate. Then I put the cake in the  fridge.

The following morning I made the glazing for the cake. I made it with rhubarb juice and sugar with added pectin, which actually exists for making jam, but can be used for this also.  I simply heated the sugar and the juice and then spooned it on the cake so that it formed a thin layer on top. Then I decorated the cake with fruit and mint leaves.

The cake was otherwise well done, but I was a little bit disappointed with the ready made rhubarb pureè that I was using, since it was too sweet. I would have liked to have a really nice fresh taste of rhubarb in the top layer, but now it tasted merely of sugar. The brand of agar agar I was using is Clearspring Traditional Japanese Agar Agar Flakes. And even if I tried to overestimate, the amount  agar could have been slightly more, because the cake could have been a little bit firmer.