Recipe – Desert


2014-02-23 15.00.48A proper winter has finally descended on the mountains of the Lower Mainland in British Columbia.  If you ask any winter outdoor enthusiast, it has been a long time coming.  There is nothing worst than long days without the prospect of snow in the mountains.  Well, all that changed this week, with 1.4m of snow falling in about 7 days.  Egg-cellent.  Before heading up to the mountains with friends, I thought I should prepare weapons-grade chocolate brownies to give us that little mental (and sugar) bump we’ll need in the early afternoon.  After much research, I’ve cobbled together some good ideas from a number of recipes, and added my own decadent twist to the noble brownie.

INGREDIENTS

  • 185g dark chocolate
  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 90g of all-purpose flour
  • 45g of cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of milk chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup of Skor toffee bits (though you can substitute any other decadent bits to spike your brownies)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

1.  Start by setting your oven to 360F and letting it warm as you prepare the ingredients.  Butter the base and sides of a 20cm x 20cm brownie pan.

2.  Set up a bain marie, and as it warms up cut your chocolate and butter into pea-sized bits of awesome.  Stir the combination together in the bain marie as they melt together, until the mixture is uniform.  Remove from heat and let cool.

3.  While the chocolate-butter mixture is cooling, combine the flour and cocoa powder together in a bowl (I recommend using a sifter or a fine sieve to get rid of any clumps).

4.  Next, get out your electric whisk out, and combine your eggs and sugar together until you get a thick, aerated  batter (about 4-7 minutes).  This is a critical step.  You want to try to incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture.  You’ll notice the mixture’s colour lightening up as more air is incorporated.

5.  When your mix is complete, gently incorporate your melted chocolate mixture into the batter.  Once you have a uniform mix, add the vanilla extract and work in the flour-cocoa mixture until you get a creamy, consistent brownie mix.  Resist the temptation to simply pour the mixture directly into your mouth.

6.  What you now have is a typical brownie base.  Though I suggest a chocolate-Skor combination, feel free to switch things up (e.g., dark and white chocolate bits, chocolate and peanut butter bits, walnuts and chocolate…etc) because the batter will be able to handle it.  It’s like a delicious chocolate canvass.  For the purposes of this recipe, add the chocolate chips and Skor toffee bits into the brownies and gently mix until evenly dispersed into the mix.

7.  Bake your brownies for 25-35 minutes (depending on your oven).  You know they’re done if, after removing the brownies from the oven and giving them a giggle, the centre of the brownies do not wobble and you get a shiny layer on top of the brownies.  Let the brownies cool outside of the oven.  Then…get in there and if your feeling naughty add some vanilla ice cream.

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For some reason , adding booze to a desert seems to infuse it with a fun bit of naughtiness.  You could say the same about other kinds of food, with greater or lesser success.  Vodka-laced penne sauce?  Meh.  Brandy-soaked tiramisu?  I’ll take seconds, please.  In my quest to find an excuse to cook intelligently with booze,  I decided to combine Grand Marnier macerated fruit with this nice little Pavlova recipe.

This time 'round I left the whipped cream on the side to accommodate someone with a lactose intolerance.

This time ’round I left the whipped cream on the side to accommodate someone with a lactose intolerance.

A Pavlova, for those who don’t know, is said to have been named for a Russian dancer – Anna Pavlova – after her trip to Australia and New Zealand, which explains why the desert is so popular in that part of the world.  Below is a version of the recipe that I hope will make her – and my Kiwi relatives – proud.

INGREDIENTS

Meringue

  • 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cream of corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Whipping Cream

  • 2 cups of whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon of white sugar

Boozy Fruit

  • 4 cups worth of assorted blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
  • 1-2 tablespoons of white sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

First, set your oven to 300F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In pencil, draw a 9-inch circle on the paper (you can just guestimate the diametre, and your circle doesn’t have to be perfect).

Next, prepare your fruit by placing them all in a deep bowl, and mixing in your Grand Marnier and sugar.  Feel free to put in less sugar if you want the desert to be less sweet – the Grand Marnier is already quite sugary.

While the fruit is absorbing the Grand Marnier and sugar, take you eggs and whisk them with an electric mixer until soft peaks start to form.  You know that you have soft peaks when you remove your whisk and the frothy peak forms but then droops back down.

Gradually add your sugar as you continue to beat the eggs until everything has combined.  I like to then gradually add my vanilla extract an corn starch at this stage, right before you can form firm peaks with your egg mixture.  Alternatively, you can gently (you don’t want to punch out any air) fold in the vanilla extract and corn start after you’ve hit the “firm peak stage”.  Do not beat beyond firms peaks.  You will know you’ve done so because your mixture will look dry and may leak some liquid.

At this point, if you’re ambitious you can put the mixture into a piping bag and make your Pavlova base, but I like to make mine with a large wooden spoon.  I do so by first by filling the 9-inch circle on my parchment paper with about 1/2 of the egg mixture.  Then, with the rest of the mixture, build up some wall on top of the outside of the meringue base so that you get a large, meringue basket.  The magic happens in the basket, ’cause this is where you’re going to pour in your boozy fruit and whipped cream.

Bake your Pavlova in the oven for 1 hour.  A trick I use is to actually keep the oven door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon that I’ve soaked ahead of time (to saturate it with water and make it less likely to burn/char).  You’ll know your Pavlova is properly cooked if you tap it and it sounds hollow.  Let the Pavlova cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar.

You’re almost done.  Right before serving, make whisk your whipped cream until it start to solidify and gradually add your sugar until you get your preferred consistency.  Place the cream in the middle of the Pavlova’s centre.  Then, drain your fruit (I recommend drinking the delicious boozy run-off…) and decorate your Pavlova.  The effect of the final product is quite lovely, and I can guarantee you’ll be amazed at the positive reactions and comments you get.

Also, this desert is fabulous for dinner parties because you can make the base up to 8 hours ahead of time…if you have the will power to leave it uneaten for that long.

It was minus 30C during my most recent trip home, and that is most certainly mac ‘n cheese weather.

2014-01-02 13.23.10Mac ‘n cheese has had a renaissance these past years, and with it a plethora of recipes have surfaced.  I’ve tried a few of them – all delicious in their own right – and I think that I’ve come up with a nicely balanced one that has the right mix of gooey-ness, cheesiness, and saltiness.  This is not what you ate on Sunday nights in your dorm room.  That said, I will always have a special place in my heart for the fluorescent orange mystery powder and fossilized macaroni that mixed together so beautifully, and that tasted so good.  If cooking is ever to be demystified, I guess the simple preparation of Kraft Dinner is as good a way as any.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups of macaroni
  • 1 glug of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 big clove of garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1½ cups of panko
  • 2-2½ cups 2% milk
  • 1 handful of pancetta slices, chopped thin and short.
  • 2½ cups grated cheddar cheese (smokey if you can find it)

INSTRUCTIONS

Start by setting your oven to 375F.

Then, boil the 2 cups of macaroni in well-salted water, until tender.  Strain them, put them in a bowl, pour in a glug of olive oil, (just enough to coat the macaroni) and then mix around until the pasta is covered.  This will keep them from sticking together. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a bowl.  Next, melt your butter in a frying pan at medium heat, cook your minced garlic for 20 seconds or so (making sure not to burn it), and then mix in the flour mixture until well combined (2-3 minutes).  You’re looking for a thick paste, but not a dry one.  This is like a kind of hoser roux.  Add your milk and the pancetta slices to the mixture, and stir constantly until the sauce is thick and consistent (make sure to break up those clumps).  This should take about 8-10 minutes.  I would recommend you leave the sauce a little loose (i.e., not too thick)- you may need the extra moisture to ensure that the cheese melts properly, and you can always evaporate the extra liquid.

At this point, still at medium heat, add your cheese 1/3 at a time, making sure that each batch melts down properly (though a few clumps of delicious cheese never hurt anyone).  Carefully, give the mixture a taste, and adjust the seasoning if required.

Pour the lake of cheesy goodness into your bowl of macaroni, add in 1 cup of panko, and mix everything together properly.  Pour the whole combination into a casserole dish, cover everything with the remaining cup of panko, add a few sprinkles of paprika for colour, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes because your mac ‘n cheese will be lava-hot.  Also, letting it cool will allow the flavours develop (this tastes good reheated the next day, too).  I recommend using a big spoon to ladle this bad boy onto your plate…and don’t be shy about seconds.

For years, my culinary white whale was the beloved Tarte Tatin.  It’s especially regrettable to be unable to make a pie with such an interesting provenance – the Hotel Tatin and the hands of the Tatin sisters.

tarte tatin

I can imagine the Tatin sisters rolling in their grave as I fumbled and flubbled the recipe.  For some reason, every time I tried to make this delicious pie, the caramel never really came together properly, the apples were always “meh”, and the crust was never quite good enough.  Well, I am glad to report that after research and much trial (and much error…) I have a successful recipe, though it is a twist on the original.

This is slightly more work than a traditional Tarte Tatin, and arguably lacks the original’s rustic appeal, but I find the final product prettier and more appealing.  Also, once you have the crust down, you can use it for any number of French-style tartes.

EQUIPMENT

  • Rolling Pin
  • 9″ tarte dish with a removable base
  • Large frying pan (large enough to cook the 7-8 apples) with a lid (if possible)
  • Oven mitts

INGREDIENTS

CRUST

  • 125g of chilled, unsalted butter (do yourself a favour and buy the more expensive butter)
  • 220g of all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 40g of sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-2 tablespoons of cold milk

FILLING

  • 7-8 Granny Smith Apples (NB:  The apples will shrink, so use more than you think you’ll need.  At worst, you can just gorge on the left-overs).
  • 1 cup of sugar (though you can use 3/4 cups if want it slightly less sweet)
  • 1 stick/120g of butter

INSTRUCTIONS

CRUST:

Start by making your crust, which may take a little longer is easy once you get the hand of it.

Mix together your flour and sugar evenly.  Chop up your cold butter into pea-sized blocks, and then work the blocks into the flour-sugar mixture until you get a sandy consistency (this usually takes about 3-4 minutes).

Mix together your egg and milk, and whisk the two together until the blended.  Make a well in the sandy flour-sugar-butter (referenced above), pour in 2/3 of the the egg-milk mixture, and mix together the two with a fork.  it will eventually get lumpy and you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and use your hands to gently kneed everything together just until you get a consistent dough.  If the dough is still dry/crumbly, add some more of the egg-milk mixture.  You’re shooting for something moist but not sticky.

Shape your dough in a round, flat mound, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, roll out your dough to about the thickness of two quarters/a one pound coin.  Make sure that the dough sheet is larger than the diametre of the pie dish.  If your dough is a little sticky, dust just enough flour on it to prevent it from sticking to the table.  Lay the dough into the pie dish, tuck in the corners,  and work the dough up the sides of the dish.  Ideally, the dough should rise higher than the sides of the dish (by about 5mm) because the dough will shrink a bit during cooking.

Poke holes with a fork in the dough at the bottom of the pie dish and then put the crust in a fridge for another 30 minutes.  Turn on your oven and heat to 400F.

After your crust has chilled for 30 minutes or so, take it out, put in some baking/pie weights in the middle, and bake blind for 10-12 minutes.  Carefully remove the pie weights and continue to bake for another 10 or so minutes (i.e., until the crust is baked right through).  Remove the crust from the oven, trim the sides to make them uniform (this is a great trick, and another reason to have high sides on your pie crust), and keep it at hand because its almost magic time.

FILLING:

Ok…so the crust was a pain, but the filling is easy and satisfying.  Core and peel your apples, and cut them into quarters.  Do not cut the apples any smaller, or risk them dissolving away.  Heat your frying pan to medium heat and melt the butter completely.  Take the pan off the heat, mix in all of the sugar until dissolved (if you can’t get it 100% dissolved, don’t worry).

Place the apples in the pan with the curved side down, turn up the heat to high or medium-high (i.e., as high as possible without burning the caramel), and then let your apples bubble and caramelize away.  Keep an eye on the apples, however, to avoid having the caramel burn.  I also like to cover the pan for the first 6-8 minutes to make sure the apples get cooked.  Continue to cook until you have a nice, golden caramel covering your apples (about 12-14 minutes).  They should be like amber jewels.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:

Once you have removed the crust from the oven, and the apples are ready, delicately arrange the caramelized apples in the crust, and then carefully pour the caramelized syrup over the apples.  Wait for the molten hot syrup to cool, bust out the vanilla ice cream, and eat your face off!

Linzer Cookies (or “Petits Viennois” as my people call them) are a tradition around the holidays.  They are also addictive and delicious, and once you taste one you will certainly conjure any excuse to make them.  It’s just as well, really, because they’re dead easy.

Linzer Cookies

The key to their success, as with all things, is organization, good quality butter, and high quality jam (you could always make your own, if you’re feeling adventurous).

Now, the photo I have is of winter holiday-themed cookies, but I’m sure you’ll be able to use your imagination and find some heart or cupid cut-outs for the cookies’ centre windows.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 100g of sugar
  • 125g of butter (cold), chopped into pea-sized cubes
  • 250g of flour
  • 4 tablespoons of milk (optional)
  • rasberry or strawberry jam
  • icing sugar

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.  Sift your flour and mix in your sugar.   Then, work in the butter cubes with your hands by rubbing it into the flour-sugar mixture.  Your goal is to incorporate the butter without overworking the dough.  If you’re finding the dough not coming together or its a little dry/crumbly, add some of that milk I mentioned above one tablespoon at a time.  Your final goal should be a uniform dough.

2.  Wrap your dough in cling film, press it down so you get a Camembert-looking shape, and let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3.  While your dough is cooling, set your oven to 380 Fahrenheit.  Check your email, have a glass of wine, and clear some workspace for the next step.

4.  Lightly flour your surface and roll out your dough until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick.  It is important that the dough is uniformly that thickness.  If some areas are thinner, those cookies will bake (and potentially burn) more quickly.

5.  Once you have your dough rolled out, use a cookie cutter (or that wine class that you’ve just emptied into your belly…arherm…) and get busy cutting out your cookies.  You should have once circle for the base, and another for the top.

6.  Once you have an even number of circles, punch a hole in every other circle with a smaller cookie cutter (a thimble might do the trick) to make your jam windows.

7.  Bake your cookies for about 12 minutes until they are a light brown.  The timing will depend on your oven, so keep a close eye on  the cookies.  They burn quick, and taste horrible if they do.

8.  Once your cookies have baked to perfection, let them cool just a little on the counter as you prepare your icing sugar.  Then, using a fine meshed strainer (a tea strainer can do if you’re in a pinch), dust the tops of your cookies (i.e., the circles with the holes/jam windows in them) until they are evenly covered but not caked in icing sugar.

9.  Right, you’re almost done.  Spread some of that lovely jam on the bottom of your cookies and then cover them with your icing-covered circles.  I would recommend assembling a few warm-up cookies first to perfect the ideal amount of jam you would like to use.

That’s it.  If you’re organized and fast, the entire thing should take less than 1.5hrs.  Though this may seem like a lot, most of it is waiting around/wine drinking time.  Better yet, make it quality time for you and the one you love (and some more of that wine…) this Valentine’s Day.

A few weeks ago I went to visit my parents to check out their newly renovated backyard. The weather was wonderful, and I wanted to bake a nice desert with seasonal fruits to enjoy in the comfort of their new digs. At the time, cherries were the order of the day, and so I bought a few boxes and found this recipe for a cherry tart from The Silver Spoon.

The more I use the Silver Spoon, the more I realize that the recipes are sometimes difficult to work with. Most of them are articulated in one long, dense paragraph, leaving it up to the reader to parse out each step. Consequently, I’ve decided to break down the steps in to more user-friendly steps. But first, here’s what you’ll need for this pie:

Ingredients – Crust
1 fresh egg
2 fresh egg yolks (one for the crust, the other to glaze the crust)
1/4 cup of sugar (superfine, if you can get your hands on it)
Rind of 1/2 a lemon (if you don’t have a lemon, buy one! It is well worth having the rind)
2/3 cup of butter (diced and soften – leaving it at room temperature for 20 minutes should do it)
1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour (sifted)

Ingredients – Filling
1 cup of milk
½ teaspoon of high quality vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour (sifted)
1 ½ cups of butter
1 ½ cups of black cherries, pits out
3 tablespoons of brandy (2 for the pie and the other for you!)

Step 1: Making the Crust
Begin by making the crust. In a large bowl, beat the salt, egg, one of the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon rind with an electric mixer. Once the ingredients are well incorporated, gradually beat in the butter. Once the butter is properly mixed in, stir in the sifted flour and mix. You now have the base for your dough. It should be supple but not sticky.  If you find it is too sticky, add a bit more flour.

Next, take your lovely lemon-scented dough and kneed it lovingly for a few minutes. Then, shape it into a ball and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

Step 2: Making the Filling
While your dough is in the fridge, take your milk and mix in the vanilla extract. As vanilla extracts can vary in quality and intensity, give the milk-extract mix a taste to see if you want to add any more vanilla. The purpose of the vanilla is not to be overpowering, but only to add a nice background flavour and highlight the cherries. Heat up the mixture, but don’t let it boil. Set it aside for now.

With your electric mixer, beat together the 2 egg yolks, sugar, and flour.

Slowly add the warm milk to the egg-sugar-flour mixture, and mix constantly as you do so. Now, take this mixture and put it into a pan. Bring it to a boil over low heat and continuously stir until the mixture thickens up. You’ll know when it’s thick enough when you get a custard-like texture. Be careful not to dry out the custard, but if you do the liquid from the cherries (which you will eventually add) should rehydrate an otherwise dry custard. Once you’ve got your custard texture, add the butter. This will give your custard a nice sheen. Remove the custard from the pan, put it in a bowl, and let it cool.

Step 3: Preparing the Cherries
Add your cherries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of brandy to a pan and bring to a boil over low heat. Let it simmer for approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir your cherry mixture from time to time, to make sure every inch gets a chance to absorb the brandy and sugar.

While you’re mixing your cherries, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (400°F).

Step 4: Preparing the Crust & Loading Up the Tart
Butter a tart pan and set it aside for now. Then, remove your dough from the refrigerator, and roll out 2/3 of it. The crust should be large enough to fit comfortably into your tart pan. I found this dough to be unruly and difficult to work with (it crumbled quite easily), but be patient because I can assure you its well worth the trouble.

Take your rolled dough and place it in the tart pan. Next, pour your custard into the dough-lined tart pan, and spread it out evenly. Now, put in your cherries and spread them along the top of the custard.

Take the rest of your unused dough, and roll it out to be large enough to comfortably cover your tart. Place the dough over the tart, seal the tart along the edges, and cut a hole in the centre of the dough. Finally, brush the remaining egg yolk over your tart and put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

If all goes well, you will be left with a beautiful, golden crust, and a juicy cherry centre. This is a fabulous desert and quite straight forward. It goes very well with vanilla ice cream. Bonne appétit!

In preparation for my move to Toronto at the end of the month, I am slowly but surely packing away my books. As I was doing so, I came across Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” or “Remembrance of Things Past” and thought of its now famous protagonist:  the madeleine.  Madeleines are, of course, scallop shell-shaped cakes that originated in Comercy, France.  

Incredibly easy to make, these little gems are a sure-fire way to inject a simple tea/coffee break with some class.  They also make for a great (edible!) conversation piece.  Here is my take on the madeleine.  It features a hint of vanilla to play against the cake’s traditional lemon scent.

To make 12 of my madeleines you’ll need:

1 madeleine tray
80g of caster sugar
1 large egg
A tablespoon of vanilla essence
80g of unsalted butter
100g of pastry flour (premixed with baking powder)
1 pinch of salt
The rind of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 tablespoon of icing sugar (for dressing)

First, pre-heat your oven to 200ºC/400 ºF. Melt your butter over low heat and then remove it from the stove to cool. Use a brush to spread the melted butter in the madeleine moulds, and then flour them.

Next, with an electric mixer/whisk, cream the egg and caster sugar. The goal is really to work in as much air so that you get a fluffy batter which will in turn become a light cake. This takes about 5 minutes.

Once that’s done, slowly sift in the pastry flour.  Do not over mix.  Gently add the remainder of the cooled, melted butter and the vanilla essence. Then, carefully mix in the lemon rind. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even add some blueberries to the batter.

Now, fill your madeleine moulds 2/3 full with the batter. Bake for 12 minutes or so, until the tops of your cakes are golden and lovely. Gently remove them from the moulds (I find chopsticks to be the tool of choice), sprinkle with icing sugar, and serve warm – that’s when they’re at their fluffiest.  To be extra hedonistic, serve the warm madeleines with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle the dish with some nice, high quality honey. Delish! 

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