SAMSUNG CSCA while ago I celebrated my 29th birthday. As I still haven’t managed to visit Paris, my dream city, I decided to make myself a Paris themed birthday cake.

It’s my second atte,pt actually. Last year I tried an Eiffel tower butter cream transfer design but sadly I have no photo of that. This year I decided to go with sugarpaste. The decoration was good, considering it was only the third time I had ever covered a cake with sugarpaste.

What I am really proud of, seriously, is that I managed to cover a chocolate mousse cake with sugarpaste instead of a predictable sponge cake. The cake tasted great and all my guests were really pleased with the result.

MelomakaronaThree years ago we celebrated the New Year in Vienna. What an enchanting city!

I was surprised by the fact that apart from a few lights in the central streets of the city, I didn’t see any festive decorations.
Here Christmas lights, trees and the rest of the decorations remain in place until January 6.
Traditional holiday cookies and sweets don’t go away either. Almost every house has a platter filled with sweets throughout the holiday season.

In my opinion ganache is one of the most basic pastry preparations.

It can be used for:
Coating (e.g. cakes, tarts)
Frosting (e.g. cupcakes)
Filling (e.g. tarts)
Glazing (e.g. éclairs)
Creating a number of other yummy pastries and desserts (e.g. Chocolate Truffles).

It’s quite easy to make a chocolate ganache but there are some things one must know first. I’ve learned the hard way.

The two basic ingredients of the ganache are chocolate and heavy cream. The ratio of chocolate to cream varies from recipe to recipe and depends from the desired texture and consistency. The most simple and basic ganache recipe uses bittersweet chocolate (with 55%mcocoa solids content) and heavy cream (35% fat) with a ratio of 1 to 1.

Ganache is made by heating heavy cream, over medium heat until it reaches boiling point and then pouring it over chopped chocolate. The mixture is then stirred with a silicone/flexible spatula until smooth. It is suggested not to whisk the ganache as whisking incorporates air in the mixture and the air creates small bubbles at the surface.

Other ingredients as honey, glucose and butter are often used in recipes in order to create a more interesting texture for the ganache. Butter is traditionally added to give the ganache a shiny appearance and smooth texture.

Ganache can be flavored if desired.
The first method to flavor a ganache is to add liquors or extracts (vanilla, orange etc.) directly to it, always at the end.
The second method is to flavor the heavy cream by boiling something in it (ex. green tea, orange peel, ginger, cinnamon sticks etc).

Cooled ganache can be whipped to increase volume and spread to cover a cake.

Making ganache seems to be simple but I’ve faced many disasters from grainy ganache, to runny ganache, to ganache where the butter separates from the chocolate in the mixture.

These are the steps I follow when making ganache that help me have consistent good results every time.

  • I use good quality couverture chocolate. Couverture chocolate contains more cocoa butter than regular chocolate and therefore it melts easier. I’ve found a couverture brand that works well for me and I use the same every time for consistent results.
  • I always chop the chocolate and place it into a deep glass bowl.
  • If a recipe calls for glucose or honey I always add it in the cream from the start. These ingredients melt and therefore are fully incorporated in the mixture when they are heated with the heavy cream.
  • When I pour the heavy cream over the finely chopped chocolate I let it sit undisturbed for 15-30 seconds before mixing with the spatula.
  • If the recipe calls for butter, I use only cubed room temperature butter and I add it in the mixture only after the temperature has fallen below 40o Celsius. The mixture will be lukewarm to touch.

cakes-bday cake 2014 5I’ve seen that many pastry chefs suggest using an immersion blender at this point for achieving a perfectly smooth result.
I do not have an immersion blender though. So, when I want to decorate cupcakes with my ganache, I strain it through a fine sieve first. That way I am 100 percent sure the ganache has no lumps that may clog the piping nozzle while I am trying to create the perfect swirl.

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Useful tips

To have a shiny ganache lower its temperature quickly. Place the bowl with the ganache over a bowl filled with ice and use a spatula to gently mix the ganache until the temperature falls under 40-35o celsius.

When making chocolate truffles or a chocolate ganache tart allow the mixture to cool and firm in room temperature instead of placing it in the fridge. The taste and the texture will be way better. If your area’s weather conditions or your limited time impose using the fridge, leave your desserts in room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

Since coconut milk is high in fat it can succesfully substitute heavy cream in making ganache. A good alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.

The cocoa solids content of the chocolate used affects the thickness of the ganache. So if a recipe calls for 55 percent chocolate and we choose to use a chocolate with higher cocoa solid content we will end up with a thicker ganache, maybe too thick and unspeadable. If we choose to use a chocolate with lower cocoa solid content we risk ending up with a runny ganache.

Do you have any more tips & tricks to share? Leave your comments below.

Xo, Theodora.

Chocolate Truffles

A few days ago my partner celebrated his name day and asked me to make something to treat to his colleagues at work. I wanted to make individual treats to save him from the fuss of carrying around plastic plates and forks. So I thought truffles.

I didn’t follow the classic option, which is coating them with cocoa, simply because cocoa is a bit messy. I covered half of the truffles with chopped hazelnuts and the other half with chocolate funfetti.  They became delicious, which actually caused a problem because everyone asked for more and as a result more than half of his colleagues had nothing to eat. The next day I baked chocolate cupcakes with oreo cream cheese frosting for those who missed the truffles, which also disappeared in no time.

Ingredients

(for 25-30 truffles, depending on size)
500 g chocolate, 55% cocoa solids, finely chopped
300 g whipping cream, 36% fat
50 g honey
25 g of liquor (cognac or rum, I used cognac)
100 g butter, in room temperature, cubed

For coating
100 g hazelnuts, finely chopped
100 g chocolate funfetti or finely grated chocolate

Additionally
20 g chocolate
25-30 lollipop sticks

Instructions

Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof, preferably glass, bowl. Set aside.
Put the whipping cream and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. After 15-30 seconds start mixing with a silicone spatula until the chocolate melts completely and all ingredients are fully incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm (35-40° C) before incorporating the butter and the liquor.

Transfer the ganache into a heat proof, shallow pan with large surface to cool and firm faster.
Let the ganache cool to room temperature.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the ganache sit until firm enough to roll.
Note: Pastry books suggest to let the ganache firm in room temperature, which can take up to 24 hours, because the humidity of the fridge spoils the mixture texture. Well, it’s December but its still 25o c here so I decided to sacrifice some of the texture. After the ganache cooled, I refrigerated it for about 4 hours.

Put the chocolate funfetti in a plate and the chopped hazelnuts in another.
Scoop the ganache out of the pan and shape it into small balls.SAMSUNG CSC

Toss the balls into the chopped hazelnuts or the chocolate funfetti and move them around until completely covered.
Melt the chocolate.
Dip the sticks in the melted chocolate and then insert them into the truffles.SAMSUNG CSC

Store in the fridge for up to a week. Better served at room temperature.

SAMSUNG CSCI also used small candy bags to package the truffles.

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Happy cooking!

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Today was comfort food day. Last night was awful! I woke up in the middle of the night and stayed up for two hours (I don’t know why) and then I woke up again at 7:00 with tachycardia that lasted for almost half and hour. And after that I spent another half hour feeling dizzy, feeling my arms and legs numb and sick to my stomach. Awful! So I made my self a favor and chose to eat something tasty, yet full of calories, for lunch: Pasta with cheese, bacon and cream. Yes I did. No regrets.
But we are not going to talk about pasta, we are going to talk about an almond apple tart that I baked last week, which I loved.

Let me start by saying that I used to hate apple pies/tarts. That was before I entered the baking era of my life. It took me some time to realize that there are so many apple pie/tart recipes out there that there is almost impossible not to find one that appeals your tastebuds. So I experimented a while and I found out that my favorite apple pie version is made with green apples and has a slight lemon taste.

SAMSUNG CSCWe  had guests last Saturday. I was so excited that I could prepare a proper dessert (since my friends would eat most of it)  but I was also cooking lunch and I was really anxious to have everything ready on time, so I didn’t dedicate enough time to do a proper photoshoot. I managed to take some descent photos during the choux baking process, though.

When the French say profiterole they usually mean choux filled with ice cream and covered with a hot chocolate sauce. A chic dessert served in an elegant plate. I would love to visit Paris one day and eat the real thing.

Here in Greece the most common version of a profiterole contains whipped cream or pastry cream and choux submerged into chocolate cream or sauce. I personally don’t like the whipped cream version of this dessert. I stick to the pastry cream version with the submerged choux and all. Yes, we tend to exaggerate a bit.

I did some searching for the choux pastry and I decided to try Michel Roux’s recipe from the book Pastry:Savoury and Sweet this time. We all agreed the result was the best so far. The choux came out great and my friends got thrilled. I strongly recommend that you try this recipe.

I should have probably posted a recipe for the pastry cream first to make this post less complicated but since I made everything at once, and the photos I took follow a specific order, I will just analyze everything here. Do not panic. Things are simple.

Ingredients

For the choux pastry
125 g milk
125 g water
100 g butter, unsalted, cut in cubes
150 g all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
4 eggs, medium sized (50-55g each)

For the pastry cream
Basic Ingredients
500g milk
120g granulated sugar
1 egg, medium sized (50-55g)
2 egg yolks, from medium sized eggs (20g each)
60g corn starch, sifted
25g butter, unsalted, cut in cubes
150g whipped cream (optional)
Flavorings
130g dark chocolate (with at least 55% cocoa solids), chopped
1/2 vanilla bean

For the chocolate sauce
250g dark chocolate (with at least 55% cocoa solids), chopped
200g milk
3 tbsp heavy cream
40g sugar
30g butter, unsalted, cut in cubes

Instructions
For the choux/éclairs

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Put the milk, water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan (preferably with a thick bottom) over medium heat.
Bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.SAMSUNG CSC
Pour the flour all at once in the saucepan and use a wooden spoon to stir the ingredients until you get a soft mixture.SAMSUNG CSC
While stirring with the wooden spoon place the saucepan into medium heat again and cook for about a minute, until the mixture gets dry.SAMSUNG CSC

Usually a thin layer of dough is left in the pot so I suggest using cookware with a thick bottom and do not forget to use your wooden spoon to stir the mixture at all times. The dough should form a soft ball that does not stick on the sides of the pot.

The next step is to add the eggs in the mixture. To do that we must cool the dough first (otherwise the eggs will cook as soon as they touch the hot mixture). So either we transfer the dough from the saucepan into a glass bowl stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon until it gets cold, either we transfer it into the bowl of a stand mixer.

If we choose to use a mixer we use the paddle attachment to mix the dough in low speed, until the temperature drops.SAMSUNG CSC

Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue mixing until we end up with a glossy mixture.SAMSUNG CSC

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Transfer the choux dough into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm plain nozzle.choux7

For the choux: hold the piping bag slightly above the lined baking sheet in a 90o angle and pipe continuously to create small puffs. Release pressure and lift the bag.SAMSUNG CSC

For the éclairs: hold the piping back slightly above the lined baking sheet in a 45ºangle and pipe straight lines.SAMSUNG CSC

Allow space for spreading.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180o C/ 350o F (top and bottom heat) for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Turn off the oven and open the door. Let the choux and éclairs to cool inside the oven so that their centers dry completely.

It is really important to bake the choux in a conventional oven. The dough is really light and the fan program ruins their shape. In a baking seminar they told us something about professional oven models that have a special function for baking choux but I have no experience on the matter.

For the pastry cream
Prepare the whipped cream (if you decide to use it)

Use a mixer to whisk the 150g of heavy cream (the cream must be cold, straight from the fridge) on high speed until it thickens. Transfer the whipped cream into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Prepare the custardSAMSUNG CSC

Put the milk and 60g of sugar in a saucepan and place it over medium heat. Use a whisk to mix the ingredients.
Put the eggs (whole egg and yolks) in a bowl and whisk.
Add the remaining 60g of sugar in the egg mixture. Whisk until ingredients fully incorporated.
Note: Do not let the sugar stay in the egg mixture long without whisking to avoid the formation of lumps.
Add the corn starch in the egg-sugar mixture. Whisk until fully incorporated.
In the meantime, the milk should have reached the boiling point.
Take some of the milk mixture and add it slowly to the egg mixture using a deep spoon, while mixing.choux12

Continue until all the milk mixture is incorporated into the egg mixture.
Note: This must be done slowly. We want to increase the temperature of the egg mixture gradually so that it does not cook too fast in order to create lumps.
Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil stirring constantly.SAMSUNG CSC
When the mixture thickens remove from heat. Stir in the butter until fully incorporated.SAMSUNG CSC
This is the stage where we add the flavorings.
If you want vanilla flavored custard then add the seeds of a vanilla bean.SAMSUNG CSC
If you want chocolate flavored cream then add 260g of finely chopped dark chocolate and mix until fully incorporated.
I wanted both flavors.
I wanted to fill the choux with vanilla cream and the éclairs with chocolate cream.
To do so I flavored half the cream with the seeds of half a vanilla bean and the rest with 130g of finely chopped chocolate.
Note: I add the chocolate while the cream is in the saucepan. The high temperature of the pot helps it melt.SAMSUNG CSC
Transfer the cream into heat-proof container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled before using.
Just before using transfer the pastry cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed or simply whisk by hand until smooth.
You can use the cream as it is but some pastry books suggest adding whipped cream into the mixture. I do that.
So at this point I gently fold the whipped cream into the custard using a silicone spatula. Since I had two flavors of cream I added 75g of whipped cream into the vanilla pastry cream and 75g into the chocolate pastry cream.SAMSUNG CSC
For the chocolate sauce
Put the milk, cream and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring constantly.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the chopped chocolate into the saucepan. Stir well until the chocolate melts completely. Return the saucepan to the stove. Allow the sauce to boil while stirring constantly.
Turn of the heat.
Add the butter and stir until it melts completely.
Set aside.choux20
AssemblySAMSUNG CSC
For the éclairs: Use a small knife to cut the éclairs in half. Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size tip, gently pipe the chocolate custard into the éclairs.SAMSUNG CSC
Deep the tops of the éclairs in the chocolate glaze and cover. Chill, for at least 1 hour, to set the glaze.SAMSUNG CSC
In a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size tip, gently pipe the vanilla custard into the éclairs.SAMSUNG CSC
Place the choux into a small bowl or glass or simply arrange them in a dish and cover with the chocolate sauce. Chill, for at least 1 hour, to allow the glaze to set.SAMSUNG CSC

Note: I also piped some chocolate custard over the choux, under the chocolate glaze. I told you. When it comes to custard we tend to exaggerate a bit… 🙂

The choux and chocolate sauce recipes are from the book Pastry:Savory and Sweet.

The ingredients are enough to make 30-40 choux/éclair shells, fill them with cream and cover them with sauce.
Xo, Theodora.

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I really like the idea of baking, frosting and decorating cakes but I rarely have the chance to do that. Social gatherings rarely happen and baking a large cake for the two of us is not a good idea. My partner is not a big cake fan so he usually eats no more than a small piece. I, on the other hand, am a big cake fan but I am not supposed to eat much sugar so I don’t allow myself to eat more than a small piece. Surprisingly many of my colleagues and friends follow some kind of a special diet and they usually nag that I corrupt them with cakes and stuff. So what am I supposed to do with a big cake in the fridge?

I found the solution to my problem: Mini cakes. They are cute, fun to make, easy to decorate and a perfect dessert for two.

There are a few different ways to make a mini cake depending on your equipment. You can bake a larger cake and then use a round cookie cutter to cut it in smaller pieces. You can bake a cake in a tin like this and then slice it. Or finally you can bake small individual cakes.

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I chose the last method because I already had some 10 cm tart tins. As you will see in the photos I only filled ½ way. The diameter of the tins increases slightly while moving from the bottom up and I wanted the sides of my cakes to be straight.

I found some fresh blackberries at the market and they looked so cute in their small green paper box that I could not ignore them. I knew I wanted to bake a mini cake and I knew I wanted to use those blackberries. So, I decided to make a mini lemon cake with blackberry cream cheese frosting. To make the lemon cake I adapted a vanilla cupcake recipe from this book. For the frosting I used low fat cream cheese and blackberry puree. I did not add much butter or sugar so it was somehow runny while decorating but it set really well in the fridge.

SAMSUNG CSCINGREDIENTS

For the lemon cake (I baked 4 10cm cakes in tart tins)
90g all purpose flour
3g (1/2 tsp) baking powder
70g sugar
45g butter melted and cooled
60g milk
1 egg white (the egg white of a medium sized egg weighs aprox. 30 gr)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
Half a lemon zest

For the frosting
100g cream cheese (I used low fat)
3-4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp of milk
2 tbsp of butter (room temp)
60g blackberries
Extra blackberries for decoration

INSTRUCTIONS

For the cakes

Slightly grease four 10 cm tartlets and dust with flour. Set aside.
In a bowl shift flour and baking powder. Add sugar. This is the dry mixture. Set aside.
In a small bowl or glass mix butter, egg, vanilla extract, lemon juice and lemon zest. This is the liquid mixture.
SAMSUNG CSCMix the liquid in the dry mixture and whisk until combined.
SAMSUNG CSCShare the mixture between the pans and bake in a preheated oven at 160º Celsius (top and bottom heat) for 25 minutes.
SAMSUNG CSCRemove from the oven.
SAMSUNG CSCLet the cakes in their tins for 5 minutes and then place them in a rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting

Blend blackberries and strain the puree to remove the seeds. Set aside.
Heat the milk in the microwave oven. Mix in powdered sugar and stir until fully dissolved. This is optional. I do not like sugar grains in frostings so I dissolve the sugar in warm milk but you can omit this step.
In a mixer cream butter. Add the cream cheese and the milk mixture and mix until well combined.
Remove 1/3 of the frosting in a bowl. Place in the fridge to set slightly.
Add blackberry puree in the remaining frosting and mix until well incorporated. Place the blackberry frosting in the fridge to set slightly.SAMSUNG CSC

Assembly

Place a lemon cake on top of a plate and frost it with the blackberry flavored frosting. Repeat until you have used all four lemon cakes.
Cover the top layer with the white cream cheese frosting.
Use the white cream cheese frosting to cover slightly the crumb around the edges.
Start from the bottom covering the cake with the blackberry frosting and continue with the white one.
This video from Sweetapolita is very helpful.
I had little success achieving a perfect ombre look but I will continue practicing.
Decorate the top of the cake with fresh blackberries.

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ΝΟΤΕ
I made some extra blackberry puree and saved it to pour over my piece of cake.
I love the taste of fresh fruit.SAMSUNG CSC

Happy baking!

 

Walnut banoffee pie - Theodora's kitchen diaries

I love banoffee pie. A chocolate banoffee pie with a crust made of traditional Greek grape syrup cookies was my favorite version. Yes, I am a chocolate person. I love whipping cream in pasta, pizza and in savory dishes in general. I love it when it is transformed in mousses, ice-cream and a plethora of other desserts but every time I am in the position of choosing a dessert covered with whipped cream versus one covered with chocolate I always choose the chocolate one.

So, I was obsessed with that chocolate banoffee pie but my friends had other preferences. They thought that chocolate was making the dessert too heavy and they asked for whipped cream instead. Ok. I decided to give people what they want. Whipped cream is what they’ll have but for the crust I did something different this time. A walnut pastry made from scratch. I found this recipe in the book Essential Desserts and something clicked. A huge smile was formed in my face. That’s interesting, I thought. I should give it a try.

Let me tell you, the pie crust is awesome! It’s something you don’t expect to taste in a classic banoffee pie. Not to mention that it’s a little bit closer to IanDowding’s original Banoffee Pie recipe which has a pie crust instead of biscuit crumbs.

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Choosing healthier food for breakfast has always been a challenge for me. I am one of those types who turn their heads the other way when they see savoury food on the breakfast table.
If you’d ever lost me in a morning hotel buffet, you’d find me next to the croissant/cake/bread/cereal/jam/chocolate/milk section.
Don’t get me wrong. I love eating fruits, veggies, eggs and healthy sandwiches but not when I wake up.
These cookies are a healthy yet delicious breakfast treat ideal to accompany  a glass of fresh milk. Plus, kids love them!

Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. (for 30-40 cookies depending on the size)
  2. 125g butter, cubed, at room temperature
  3. 2 ripe bananas, mashed (200 gr.)
  4. 150g vegetable oil
  5. 180g light brown sugar
  6. 2 medium sized eggs (in room temperature)
  7. 190g all purpose flour
  8. 210g old fashioned oats
  9. ½ tbs. baking powder
  10. One pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
  11. 1 tbs. cinnamon
  12. 140g dark chocolate finely chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), fan assisted.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices onto a piece of parchment paper. Set aside.
  4. Use a mixer to cream butter, vegetable oil and sugar.
  5. Add the banana and eggs, one at a time.
  6. Gradually add the sifted ingredients and mix until well incorporated.
  7. Add the oats. Stop the mixer and add the chopped chocolate.
  8. Use a spatula to fold the chocolate in the mixture.
  9. Use a spoon to drop with the cookie batter onto the baking sheets.Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until cookies become light brown around the edges.
  10. Halfway through the baking time rotate the pans, to ensure even browning.
  11. Remove from the oven. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 1 or 2 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Notes
  1. • Our cookies should come out of the oven soft in the middle, with a light golden brown color around the edges. They will continue to cook and become a bit more firm (meaning that we will be able to lift a cookie without it bending or breaking) but the final result will be chewy. A way to test a cookie is to insert a toothpick in the center. If the toothpick comes out with some crumbs on it, the cookies are done. If it comes out with batter on it the cookies are not done yet.
  2. • Even though I prefer using the top and bottom heat program of my oven to cook, roast and bake cakes, I’ve found that the hot air (fan) program is better when it comes to baking cookies.
  3. Softened butter and room temperature eggs mix better with other ingredients. The result is a more homogeneous batter and fluffier cookies.
  4. • I use brown sugar because it makes the cookies chewier (plus it’s quite healthier than white processed sugar). Feel free to experiment using white sugar instead or a mix of both white and light or dark brown sugar.
  5. • I use chopped dark chocolate instead of chocolate chips because I believe it tastes better. Yet, of course there is only a limited variety of chocolate chip brands, compared to dark chocolate brands, in our local supermarket. Feel free to use any kind of chocolate you like better.
  6. • The recipe’s origin: I saw a recipe for chocolate chip cookies on a tv show and I decided to give it a try (this is a link for the show’s web page). Then I remembered having read somewhere that bananas can be a healthy butter substitute. Since I am on the whole low fat, low sugar, no salt diet thing (due to my Sjogren’s medication) I decided to reduce butter in half and add bananas in the mixture and since ripe bananas are already sweet, I cut down on the sugar too. Healthier but still delicious!
Sweet Applepie http://www.sweetapplepie.eu/

Xo, Theodora.