27 April 2010

For Grandpa... English Carrot Pudding

As I have mentioned before, I am thoroughly enjoying the whole food-blogging business.  Even though it took a big push from my sister for me to start it, I'm incredibly glad I did.  Since starting this blog back in January, I've joined a few food-blog-challenge groups, and I was excited to see I had been accepted into the Daring Bakers group on the Daring Kitchen.  I waited anxiously all last month, counting the days until I would find out what my very first DB challenge recipe would be.  Finally, April arrived and I could not believe my luck when I saw the April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.  Scrolling through the comments, I could tell not everyone was excited about this month's task, but then not everyone was lucky enough to grow up with my Grandfather and his Carrot Pudding at Christmastime.

My dear, sweet, darling Grandpa was, quite simply, the most important man in my life.  There shall forever be an incredibly sacred place in my heart for him, a place where I keep all the cherished memories I have of him before he passed away, very suddenly, almost 16 years ago.  I'll apologize for the incredibly emotional post, but it is still somewhat surprising to me how quickly the tears flow when I think of him even today - I often wonder if the pain of losing him will ever pass...

Neil Weir was an incredible man.  He was extremely intelligent, generous, kind, had a wonderful sense of humour and was passionate about many things, especially politics.  He is the reason Nana Mouskouri is on my iPod.  He got a kick out of reading the work of Erma Bombeck.  Grandpa was so ambitious he planned to go back to university and take all of his classes en français after his retirement - we even bought him french books for his birthday in March, but sadly he passed before classes ever began.  He loved to read and had a den filled with books; he loved to talk and he loved a good debate - a very large part of my childhood was spent going for coffee at Grandma & Grandpa's house, sitting at that kitchen table & listening to political debates and conversations about everything under the sun.  Grandpa loved to laugh and he loved to cook, ever since he was a chef in the Navy.  He was a huge fan of Julia Child's, and I have many memories (decades before Julie & Julia was around) of sitting on the floor in my grandparent's living room while Grandpa sat in his chair and watched Julia work her magic.  A few years ago, when hubby & I spent a month in Paris, I took a class at le Cordon Bleu.  Looking around that famous kitchen, wearing my white apron, all I could think was how much Grandpa would have loved this... I could almost feel him beside me, laughing with excitement. 

Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was always over at Grandma & Grandpa's house.  They would unfold the big kitchen table leaves in order to have enough room for everyone, and we'd all crowd into the kitchen for the holiday meal he and Grandma had prepared.  All five granddaughters, of which I am the youngest, would hurry in to get seated so we wouldn't get stuck sitting on the one horribly uncomfortable, tiny wooden chair from Grandpa's desk in the den (naturally as "the baby" I spent many holiday meals on that chair).  Fantastic smells filled the entire house and delicious food filled the table.  Roast turkey with all the trimmings, peas, carrots, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and always, always, the crystal dish filled with chunky sweet pickles and bright yellow mustard pickles.  Grandpa always sat at the head of the table, Grandma to his left, as the kitchen exploded with a dozen 'cracks' and 'pops' as we snapped open our Christmas crackers, donned our tacky paper crowns, showed off the toy prizes we had scored and read aloud the terrible jokes we found as we enjoyed our shrimp cocktails.  Eventually platters and bowls were passed around the table and we filled our plates.  Conversation always filled the room as we filled our bellies, only to sit back and complain about how much we ate and how painfully full we all were.

After dinner, we'd all chip in to clean the kitchen, wrapping left-overs and washing dishes while we slowly digested the wonderful meal.  By the time the dishes were done and the coffee was made, we finally had just enough room for dessert.  Back into our seats we'd all climb, and wait patiently as Grandpa pulled the huge rectangular roaster from the oven, lifted the lid and carefully passed us each a steaming hot bowl of Carrot Pudding from inside.  The 14 or more of us crammed around that big kitchen table would wait anxiously as two bowls of Hard Sauce were passed around and everyone hummed and hawed over the choice between lemon or rum.  When the bowls finally made their way down to the kids end of the table, I'd impatiently crane my neck, dying to see if there was going to be anything left of the flavour I wanted.  When it was finally my turn, I'd scoop out a big hunk of hard sauce and then, and only then, break my spoon into the soft exterior of the piping hot pudding.  You see, the trick was to not actually break into your Carrot Pudding until the hard sauce had arrived - after all, you couldn't risk your dessert cooling down too much, or the topping wouldn't melt!  I remember so many Christmases, slowly savouring every delectable bite of Grandpa's Carrot Pudding and intently watching the sweetened butter melt into the cracks and crevices of what remained before taking another bite.  Eventually, bowls would empty, the tryptophan kicked in and we all grew drowsy.  Dessert dishes would be cleaned, the kitchen table would be restored to it's original size, extra chairs put away and another Christmas feast would draw to a close.  That was my Christmas dinner for almost 20 years of my life, save for the years I lived in BC and wasn't home to celebrate.  Thankfully, I still remember them, as my cousins, my sister , my uncle and I have all grown and dispersed to different towns or countries, families of our own.

The first Christmas after Grandpa died, everything changed.  We moved dinner to my mom's house, but for everyone's sake, tried to keep as many things the same as possible.  The official excuse for this was to make things easier on my Grandma, but the truth was that none of us wanted to face a Christmas dinner around that big table without him... our beloved patriarch was gone forever.  Even I, the baby, was grown and living on my own by then, so we decided to have more of a "pot-luck" feast and everyone chose one of Grandpa's signature dishes to bring to dinner that night.  I volunteered to make the Carrot Pudding, knowing that Christmas dinner would just not be the same without it.  I was wrong.  That first Christmas after Grandpa died was the one and only time we had Carrot Pudding without him.  Maybe it was just a little too painful for us all, but in the 15 years since that Christmas, today is the first time I have baked it since that first, painful year.  Thankfully, the same ramekins that he used each Christmas are still in the family, so I've collected them just for this very special occassion.

I still think of my Grandpa every day, smiling fondly on some tiny memory, or thinking of all the great stuff we could share if only he were here today.  I'd have someone to practice my French with, I'd have someone to make crêpes with, I'd have someone to share my love of baking and cooking with.  Maybe he & I would go take another class together in Paris.  He would get such a charge out of my food blogging adventure, and I can picture how he would smile now, at seeing me discover a new passion.  I guess the hardest part of losing him has been the simple fact that I know in my heart what great friends we would be now - best friends - and I realize now that I've saved that place in my heart for him, and no one will ever be able to touch that place in my heart but Grandpa.

So tonight I'll sit quietly at my own kitchen table and have a long forgotten taste of Carrot Pudding, and I think maybe I'll have to set a place for him to join me as I reminisce.

Bon appétit, Grandpa.  I love you, and I miss you every single day...

Grandpa's Christmas Carrot Pudding
serves 12-14
(the memories of this dessert are so strong for me, that I did not even have to check the recipe before I shopped for ingredients.  Beef suet can be incredibly hard to find, especially in the springtime)

2 1/4 Cups (320g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/8 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 1/4 tsp (17g) baking powder
3/4 Cup (100g) beef suet (if you're not able to get beef suet, you can substitute shortening)
1 1/2 Cups (300g) brown sugar
1 1/2 Cups (180g, about 3 medium) carrots, washed & grated
2 1/2 Cups (460g, about 4 medium) apples, peeled & grated
1 1/8 Cups (180g) seedless raisins

Prepare a large roaster that can accommodate 12-14 small ramekins - you may need 2 roasters or oven-save pans that can be covered tightly.  Preheat oven to 350˚F and adjust racks according to the size of your roaster.  Put a kettle of water on to boil
Into a medium bowl, add the dry ingredients,  whisk together to combine and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand, in a large mixing bowl, just like Grandpa always did it), cream together the suet and brown sugar.  Add in the carrots, apples and raisins and mix until just blended.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix just until no streaks of flour remain.  Scrape the bottom and the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure there are no pockets of un-mixed ingredients.  
Scoop approximately 1/2 Cup of the pudding batter into each of the small ramekins.  (NOTE: this batter does rise quite a bit, so make sure there is plenty of room for them to grow)
Place filled ramekins into your roasting pan and gently fill the bottom of the pan with the boiling water, taking care not to pour any water onto the puddings.  Carefully cover the roaster with tin foil and cover tightly with a lid.  Place the roaster in the oven for 60-90 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pudding comes out clean.  Carefully serve piping hot, with a delicious, buttery Hard Sauce... 

Hard Sauce for Steamed Pudding
makes about 1 cup
5 Tbsp (75g) butter, at room temperature
1 Cup (114g) confectioner's sugar
flavouring to taste*
  • Vanilla: add 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Lemon: add 1 tsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • Mocha: add 2 tsp instant espresso powder and 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • Rum: add 2-4 tsp of rum... to taste!
Cream together the butter and sugar until well combined.  Add flavouring and mix well to combine.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Remove from fridge about 30 minutes before Carrot Puddings are finished cooking.  Spoon over hot pudding and enjoy!

25 April 2010

Hazelnut Coffee Cake

I am finally getting back into my food-blogging groove after two weeks of "life" has gotten in the way.  It feels so good to be back, checking in with all my new blog buddies around the globe - an incredible collection of kind, funny, food-focused people like me.  These are the people I am looking forward to meeting in person and getting to know better when I head to London in early June for my very first Food Blogger Connect conference.

This weekend has not been ideal, I will admit.  After pouring my heart and soul into a very emotional post on Friday night (it will be posted on Tuesday if you'd like to read it), I finally crawled into bed at 2 am with puffy, red eyes and curled up beside my poor, sick hubby who is in anguish with a horrible cold.  Saturday was spent running around, taking Riley the goofball mutt to make an appearance at the adopt-a-thon where we met and adopted him last year.  Being a doggy event, Molly came along too.  It wasn't exactly a relaxing afternoon, let's just put it that way.  This morning, I woke to find my darling husband, still congested and achey, had been up before me cleaning up and looking after two sick dogs.  I feel really, really bad about this one, since it was my spoiling them that got them in this state.  You see, beef suet appears to have no smell to you or I, but it certainly smells delicious to dogs - they were absolutely nutty, pacing and whining at the counter where it sat.  I finally gave in and smeared a tablespoon or so into two hollow bones to keep them occupied while I baked and blogged.  This was enough of a change in diet for them, that I'm living in regret ever since.  Add in the fact that it's chilly and grey again this morning, instead of sunny and warm as I had hoped.  There you have it, a less-than-ideal weekend.  Nonetheless, I'm still making the most of it.

What we needed was some comfort food!  I still had some buttermilk in the fridge that needed a purpose, so I set about making a coffee cake.  This one is one of hubby's favourites - and he is definitely deserving of a favourite treat today.  The boy who grew up in a house where desserts were uncommon, loves this coffee cake so much, he has often requested it as his birthday cake.  For him, I normally make it with apples & cinnamon, but this morning I chose to leave those out and make it more hazelnutty instead.  I toasted & chopped up some hazelnuts for the topping, threw in a pinch of cardamom and the special sucre de noisette I picked up on my last visit to Paris and put it in the oven.  As I write this, the nutty, spicy, sweet smell is perfuming the entire house, making for a long and difficult wait until it cools enough to unmold.

So, if on a Sunday morning, you would like to make a sweet treat for someone who is under the weather and deserves edible comfort, this is a great choice.  Now I'm off to set up the backgammon board so we can have a game and enjoy some warm coffee cake.

Happy Sunday everyone!

PS - aside from the obvious "because you serve it with coffee" answer, does anyone know why it is called Coffee Cake?  There's never any coffee in it.

Hazelnut Coffeecake
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

1 Tbsp dry breadcrumbs
2 cups (284g) all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp (231g) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
10 Tbsp (142g) butter, at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (180ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup (85g) hazelnuts, toasted & chopped fine
1/2 cup (100g) dark brown sugar
1 tbsp sucre de noisette (if you have some)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350˚F and adjust rack to centre of oven.
Generously butter the bottoms & sides of a 10-inch springform pan.  Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the breadcrumbs, then shake lightly to coat.  Tap out excess crumbs
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt until blended.  Add the butter and cut in with the whisk until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Remove 1 cup of the flour mixture to a separate, medium-sized bowl and set aside.
To the large bowl of flour mixture, add the buttermilk, egg and vanilla and whisk vigorously until the batter is thick, smooth and fluffy - about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (unless you've got arms of steel, I recommend using the stand mixer for this part).
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Add the nuts, brown sugar, sucre de noisette and cinnamon to the reserved crumbs of flour, butter and sugar.  Toss with a fork or your hands until well blended.  Sprinkle the crumbs over the batter and press lightly so that they adhere.  Bake the cake until the centre is firm and a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean - about 50-55 minutes.
Let the cake cool completely (about 2 hours) before serving.  When the cake is completely cool, it can be slid off the pan onto a serving plate.

24 April 2010

My Pistachio Obsession

These past two weeks have been pretty busy - I've gone three whole days without even being on the computer for god's sake!  I do have a good excuse though - I've been either baking for or celebrating 5 of the 13 April birthdays in our combined families, or the anniversary of when hubby and I began dating 17 years ago.  Then there's my day job... April is fast becoming a blur to me.  And as you can tell, the hectic pace means I have also been a bad blogger.... two whole weeks without a post?!?  Unacceptable!  Bad blogger! Bad!

Perhaps it's the much-awaited onset of spring, the robins and geese have finally returned to us, the trees are just starting to bud, blades of green grass are finally pushing up through the brown mulch, and most importantly, the sun is shining and I can leave the house in one layer of clothes instead of nine.  Yup - I am hereby declaring it official - Spring has arrived in Edmonton!  ....now we just have 5 more weeks to go before it's actually safe to plant things!

The arrival of spring has sort of put me into a "green" mood in my baking.  I've gone on a bit of a pistachio bender, if you will.  It started innocently enough, with my pistachio macarons for this month's MacTweets Challenge.  When it came to making a nice small dessert for my mom's birthday, I went right back to my stash of pistachios (or should I say pi-stashios, LOL).  With only four of us at dinner, it didn't make much sense to make an entire birthday cake - especially with her leaving on a vacation the very next morning.  So I switched up my favourite financier recipe a bit and swapped out the almonds for pistachios, and the result was sensational.  They turned out moist and tender, but with a lovely crisp crust.  They had an amazingly deep pistachio flavour which I knew would pair beautifully with that incredible Lemon Cream I used for Pie Day, so I quickly whipped up another batch of that, add some candied lemon peel as a garnish and voilà! Mom's birthday dessert was complete!  Now all I had to do was wrap her gift...

Last year, for Mom's 60th (sorry Mom!), sis & I cashed in our air miles and treated Mom to 5 days with her girls in the city of lights, Paris.  Mom had never been to Europe in her life, and us girls decided she was long overdue.  After all, I know Paris is my favourite city on the planet (so far - to be fair, I haven't seen every city on earth), and it definitely in the top 3 for my sister.  We had a fantastic time showing her the sights, but the highlight of the whole trip was her little brother (our favourite uncle) arriving halfway through our trip to surprise her.  Of course sis & I were in on the whole deal, but you can't imagine the thrill of seeing her face when she realized the stranger putting his arm around her while she was posing for a photo was actually her baby brother from Toronto.  It was the trip of a lifetime for our family.  Okay, so that was last year's gift... how do you follow that?!?  I have to say, this year, when I took the day off work to hang out with the birthday girl and get in some serious mall-time, it kinda sucked to say to her "Happy birthday Mom, we're not going to Paris"

Ya, ok, so it's pointless to try and top last year, but still, we wanted to get her something nice.  She had mentioned a while back that she was checking eBay for used KitchenAid mixers, thinking she'd like to have a good mixer, but didn't really want to shell out that much money for one.  Well, I'm sorry, but our mom has made enough sacrifices in her life that she deserved a brand new one, so we pooled our money and bought her a brand new Cuisinart stand mixer... one that kicks the pants off most of the KitchenAid mixers out there.  She was absolutely thrilled, and just kept saying how she only had to wait 60 years to have a mixer of her own.  I know Mom doesn't bake as often as I do, but it will definitely come in handy for her.  As soon as she got back from visiting my sister in California, she hit the grocery store to get baking supplies to she can break in her new toy, so she must like it.

There you have it.  Happy birthday Mom, I love you!

Pistachio Financiers

(adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan)
makes about 12 mini-muffin sized cakes
makes a lot more if using a smaller mold

1 1/2 sticks (180 g) unsalted butter
1 Cup (201 g) granulated sugar
1 Cup (100 g) ground pistachios (unsalted)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2/3 Cup (90 g) all-purpose flour

Put the butter in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally.  Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown, but don't turn your back on the pan - the difference between brown and black is measured in seconds.  Pull the pan from the heat and keep it in a warm place.
Mix the sugar and pistachios together in a large saucepan.  Stir in the egg whites, place the pan over low heat, and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat the mixture until it is runny, slightly white, and hot to the touch (about 2 minutes).  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the the melted butter.  Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the batter to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 1 hour (the batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Prepare baking pan or molds - for this recipe, I used a new baking pan I picked up, which makes 6 muffin-sized financier cakes with a concave reservoir on the bottom. - perfect for serving upside-down and filled with Lemon Cream!
Fill each mold almost to the top with batter.  Slide the molds into the oven and bake for 12-13 minutes, or until the financiers are golden, crowned and springy to the touch.  If necessary, run a blunt knife between the financier and the molds, then turn them out of their molds and allow them to cool to room temperature right side up on cooling racks.

Lemon Cream from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

1 Cup (201g) sugar
grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 Cup (180ml) fresh lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 Tbsp (299g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and blender (preferred) or food processor at hand.  Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
Put the sugar and the zest in a large, heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water.  Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic.  Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.
Set the bowl over the saucepan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch - you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling - you'll see that the mixture starts out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks.  Heads up at this point - the tracks mean the cream is almost ready.  Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience - depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to 180°F can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as it reaches 180°F, remove the cream from heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or bowl of the food processor); discard the zest.  Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the blender to high (or turn on the food processor) and, with the machine running, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time.  Scrape down the sides of the container as needed, as you incorporate the butter.  Once the butter has all been added, keep the machine going - to get the light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes.  If your machine protests and it gets too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  The cream will keep in the fridge up to 4 days  (HA! Not once you taste it, it won't!)

Spoon the lemon cream over top of the large financiers, garnish with some candied or fresh lemon zest and enjoy!

10 April 2010

The Easter Macaron Hunt!

When it was announced that this month's MacTweets challenge was Holidays of April, I decided that pistachio macs needed to be made.  Something about the taste of pistachios always makes me think of spring.  This has a lot to do with fact that my aunt always used to make the same confetti-angelfood cake with pistachio pudding icing for every birthday when I was growing up.  Fast forward a few decades and I will forever associate the flavour of pistachios with birthdays - and there are a lot of birthdays in my family in April.  In fact, when I married my hubby (a scorpio, like me), I married into even more April birthdays, to the point that we now have a whopping 13 birthdays in our combined family.  Even harder to believe is that only two of those 13 share the same date. 

With my flavour decided, I knew I could no longer hide from my problem: every time I make macarons, the colour always seems so washed-out and pale, no matter how much colour I seem to use.  They seem vibrant enough when they go into the oven, but when they come out, their colour has faded - the way paint fades when it dries ( and thank god that it does, or my living room walls would be "electric raspberry" instead of "burgundy").  I knew I needed help in the tinting department, so I turned to the enormous network that I am now proud to be a tiny part of - my fellow food-bloggers from around the globe. Out went my tweet for help, wondering what type of colouring everyone uses to get their vibrant macarons that pop right off the page, and I received great suggestions from fab foodies like @OneVanillaBean, @VinoLuci and @bakingbynumbers.  The feedback was unanimous: paste colours are the way to go.  While I was not all that surprised, I was a little apprehensive; only because of the experience I had with them years ago when decorating house-shaped cookies for our wedding.  I had wanted vibrant, rich coloured royal icing, but ended up with less-than ideal colour and royal icing with a new & funky taste... and I don't mean funky in a good way.  Since then, I have been very leery of using the paste colours and have gone the route of powders, which is why I end up with pale macarons.  I could no longer hide; it was time to pick myself up and get back on that paste-colour horse....

So mac-night came and I got all my ingredients together. Seeing that I needed surprisingly few pistachios in my batter (a mere 30 grams), I decided to use my handy spice-grinder (coffee grinder actually, but no coffee allowed in this one) to pulverize them to powder, knowing all they would do in my food processor is bounce around hopelessly.  It worked like a dream - perfect pistachio flour was mine! Mwah-ha-ha!!!  High on success, I gave the almonds a try, only to find out that almonds are clearly fattier than pistachios... as I was now looking at a coffee grinder full of almond butter.  Ah well - you can't win them all, can you?  Set that aside to clean later....

Going down my mental checklist as I baked;  Ganache made and cooling? check.  Room-temperature, properly aged egg-whites whipped to the ideal peak-ness? check.  Templates on parchment-lined pans, piping bag prepped? check, check.  Almond flour? Pistachio flour? Sugars? Paste colours? check, check and check.  

Ok, here goes nothing...(deep breath)... dip fork tines into colour and immediately stir into meringue, and... "oh dear god, what have I done???"  Well, these were certainly *not* going to be pale, wishy-washy macs!  Too late to turn back now - I had to commit myself fully, begin folding in the nuts and sugar, and remind myself how the colour fades as they bake. I honestly have no idea why I got this freaked out over the colour of macs, when I'm usually the one saying things like "paint the walls hot pink and see how it looks!  It's only paint, you can always change it!" or "chop all your hair off & get a new 'do!  It's only hair - it will grow back!" - but all of the sudden I've got no guts when it comes to colouring my cookies... makes ZERO sense to me!

I did a quick taste-test of the raw batter to check for any flavour funky-ness, and was pleased to find they tasted just like they should.  WHEW!  Alright - just pipe a few nice, neat, tidy dots onto the parchment... or, in my case;  realize that I am piping-bag challenged and I actually have a tray of assorted-sized blobs ready to bake.  Oh well - I'll just have to work on that for next months challenge!  After a nice little rest to air-dry, into the oven they went and voilà!  FEET!!!! YAY!!!  But, wow, they are still really really green... careful what you wish for, right?

The moment of absolute hilarity for me was went I went to photograph them and noticed that they were the *exact* same colour as the tissue paper a store clerk wrapped my purchase in.  A-HA!  I have re-invented the traditional Easter Egg Hunt in macaron form!  Let's test your skills... how many mac shells can you see in this picture (and FYI, I have *not* retouched or edited the pics in any way!)

How many did you get?  A) 10  B) 11 C) 12  D) 14

The answer is B) 11.

Ok, smarty-pants, let's see you try this one.......

A) 4  B) 7  C) 11  D) there were macs in that photo?

The answer is B) 7.   Hee hee hee :-)

So. since joining the brilliant bakers on MacTweets I have now added *two* valuable lessons to my macaron resume.  First; use only 3 egg whites instead of 5, unless you have a way to unload 100 macarons, and second: vibrant, day-glo macarons aren't as scary as you think, but that's still no reason to get carried away with the food-colouring.

The ingredient list for my pistachio macarons is different tis month, but the method is the same, so to save myself some typing, and you a lot of reading, I'm only giving you the ingredient list this time.  Not to worry, the directions can be found here.  As for the filling, I made a simple, dark chocolate ganache with a splash of pistachio syrup for flavour (100ml cream, 120g chocolate, 30g butter, 15ml pistachio syrup), and the directions for ganache can be found here or here.

Pistachio Macarons
3 egg whites, room temperature and properly aged
2 Tbsp (30g) granulated sugar
1 Cup (125g) ground almonds
3 Tbsp (30g) ground pistachios
1 1/2 Cups (205g) icing sugar
pinch of salt

Happy Baking!

06 April 2010

Flapper Pie and Easter Memories

For as long as I can remember, Easter has been pretty much the same.  As girls, my sister and I would wake up on Easter Sunday morning and find new summer dresses laid out beside two huge Easter baskets filled with treats like jelly beans and malted eggs and always, always a chocolate bunny.  You know, the kind that only has one candy eyeball that just stares at you blankly from inside his molded plastic package?  The one you sacrifice in the same manner as you have all his predecessors; first chewing off the ears to get that good sugar buzz going before mom and dad wake up.  Then, after a breakfast of toasted hot-cross buns and the psychedelic-coloured hard-boiled eggs that we had decorated on Good Friday, you could spend the day, and in fact the rest of the week, gnawing your way through that solid inch of waxy milk chocolate until you are eventually left with nothing but that single candy eye.  The perfect finalé to a week of sugar-buzzy fun.

Right around the time that we would each have taken a good-sized bite out of our bunny's leg, we would head over to Grandma & Grandpa's for Easter Dinner.  A nice big juicy ham, served with scalloped potatoes, carrots and cauliflower with cheese sauce - the same holiday menu each and every year.  The holiday just wouldn't have been the same without it, and it certainly wouldn't have been the same without Grandma's Flapper Pie for dessert.  While it's been a tradition in our family, I have encountered many people over the years who have never even heard of Flapper Pie, let alone tasted it.  When I asked my mom how far back she remembers having Flapper Pie, she has the same answer as I do - "my entire life, since I was very little".  I'd love to ask my Grandma that same question, but sadly, she has been gone for a little over two years now.  I would imagine that it goes back at least another generation or two, but where or with whom it started, I may never know.  According to Wikipedia; "Flapper Pie is a custard pie topped with meringue.  The Graham Cracker Cream Pie dates back to the 1800's, but entered Western Canadian pop culture in the 20th century as Flapper Pie.  The pie is a staple of the Canadian Prairie culture".  Yup, that pretty much sums it up. 

As I get older, I seem to grow more and more attached to family traditions.  For instance, my mom and I still get together before Christmas each year to make our Chausse family tourtierre recipe.  And when it came time to move Grandma into the Alzheimer's Care Centre and sell her house, every member of the family made sure to each take the things that meant the most to us.  For me, that meant things like the polka-dot Fireking bowls and Grandma's rolling pin, which still hangs on my kitchen wall.  That said, as I've matured, so has my palate, and for years now I have found that the beloved Flapper Pie is just way too sweet for me.  It's never been a fool-proof recipe - which is why we also call it "Floppy Pie".  The crust almost always seems to crumble or disintegrate in some manner when you're trying to serve it, and somehow the custard and the meringue always manage to "weep" and make for a sloppy, runny mess on our plates.  I remember many years, standing beside Grandma as she cut the first slice, and just as she was ready to slide the pie server under the crust, she would look at me and say "fingers crossed that it turned out this year!"  There was never any way to tell until you served it, but the years it came out perfectly, she absolutely beamed with pride.  You could just tell it completely made her day.

Over the years, my mom and I have both taken turns making the Flapper Pies, each wondering, right up until the last second, if it would hold together or be served as a graham-cracker-and-custard blob.  This year, I volunteered to make dessert, and decided to tweak the recipe here and there, applying some of the tricks I've learned over the past few years in the kitchen.  For starters, when I pressed the graham wafer crumb mixture into the pie plates, I made sure to press and compact it down as tightly as I could before putting it into the oven for about 15 minutes to bake - something Grandma's recipe card didn't say to do.  While the pie shells were baking, I set about preparing the custard filling using the same method used for making the pastry cream for the perfect chocolate éclairs, rather than doing as the recipe instructed, which was "mix together all ingredients in a pot and cook until it thickens" - wow they sure didn't get bogged down in the details back then, did they?   I also swapped out some of the milk with cream, to give the custard a richer mouth feel - and finishing the custard by whisking in some cold butter didn't hurt either.  A pinch of salt added to both the crust mixture and the cream gave the finished pie a depth of flavour it didn't quite have before.  Finally, when applying the meringue, I used a trick I learned in Cook's Illustrated and made sure to start spreading the meringue around the outer edges first, making sure it adhered to the pie crust instead of just floating on top of the filling.  This, along with a pinch of Cream of Tartar,  seemed to help the weeping issue.

I can happily report that the new-and-improved Flapper Pie was a hit, and the custard filling was noticeably better.  There was no weeping to be seen, and while the crust still didn't hold up the way I had hoped it would, at least it only broke apart into 4 or 5 big pieces per slice, instead of 30 or 40.

So, whether Flapper Pie is a tradition in your family or something completely new and you're feeling up for a challenge, I hope you give it a try.  When you do, just remember to cross your fingers when you serve up that first slice and think of my dear sweet Grandma.

One final note for those of you who may not be familiar with, or be able to get graham wafers - the best substitute would likely be Nilla Wafers, digestive biscuits or Animal Crackers, finely processed in a food processor.

(One chocolate bunny was harmed in the making of this blog)

Grandma Weir's (new and improved ) Flapper Pie
makes 1 pie 
serves 4-6, depending on if you serve pie in quarters like Gma or in sixths like average folks


1 1/4 Cups (160g ) graham wafer crumbs
1/2 Cup (100g) brown sugar
1/4 Cup (58g) melted, unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1 Cup (240ml) milk
1 Cup (240ml) heavy cream
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp (40g) cornstarch
1/2 Cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp (60g) cold, unsalted butter

2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
3 Tbsp granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 325˚F, and place rack in the centre position.  Mix together all of the ingredients for the crust until it is well blended and no lumps remain.   Reserve about 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture for later use.  Firmly press the remaining crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate.  Place the crust in the oven for 15-18 minutes, until the crust has darkened a bit and is fragrant.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, cream and half of the sugar over medium heat until it just begins to simmer.  In a medium bowl, combine together the egg yolks, salt, cornstarch and the other half of the sugar, and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.  Remove the saucepan from heat.  Using a heat-proof measuring cup, take about 1 cup of the heated milk and, while whisking continuously, pour it in a slow, steady stream into the egg mixture.  Be sure to keep whisking so you don't end up with scrambled eggs.  When the eggs and cream have been mixed well, pour them into the saucepan with the remaining milk.  Return the saucepan to the stove top and, over medium heat, keep stirring the custard until it thickens.  Remove the pan from heat, and whisk in the vanilla extract and the cold butter until fully incorporated.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed to break them up, then increase the speed to medium-high.  When the eggs have become frothy, sprinkle in the cream of tartar and the sugar.  Increase speed to high and continue to whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks when you lift the whisk. 
Pour the hot custard into the warm pie shells and immediately top with meringue, then sprinkle with the leftover crumb mixture.  Place the pie back in the 325˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until the meringue has turned a pale golden brown.

04 April 2010

There's a Chocolate Mousse Day?

It's the Easter long weekend- YAY!  Three whole days off!!!  For hubby and I, this also meant three consecutive evenings out for dinner, and 3 different desserts I needed to make, for that's what I do - I bring dessert (seriously, with a blog title like mine, you didn't think I'd be in charge of bringing salad, did you?).  So, for a Friday night BBQ at our friend's house, I decided to make another Spicy Apple Pie like last weekend - it's just so good that I thought I should have another taste.  It was well received once again, though I did make it with an apple variety that has more tartness to it, Gala, so it definitely tasted a bit different.  Ironically enough, I think I prefer the first one I made with the sweeter Ambrosia apples.  Still, I'm really pleased with the flavour and especially the crust for this pie.  I imagine I'll be returning to that recipe again and again in order to perfect it.

For this evening's Easter dinner with the in-laws, I discovered that it also happened to be National Chocolate Mousse Day, so choosing a dessert to bring didn't take a lot of thought.   I have NO idea who decides or makes up these odd little food holidays that happen throughout the year.  A quick Google search brought up all kinds of weird and wacky food days on the calendar.  OK, admittedly, it would be very hipocritical of me at this point to speak out against any of these Food Days - after all, I went on and on and on about le Jour du Macaron, and here I am again, recognizing Chocolate Mousse Day.  Still, it seems a tad excessive, doesn't it?   I mean really, does there really need to be a National Candied Orange Peel Day?  Or National Eat a Red Apple Day?  How about National Escargot Day?  Then there are the foods that get an entire *month* of awareness;  National Noodle Month, National Chicken Month, Snack Food Month, Soup Month... the list goes on and on.  My research also turned up a National Apple Jacks Month, which I am sure that my cereal-loving sister will happily observe (FYI Sis, it's October), as well as International Bacon Day, which my nephew will *love* (the Saturday before Labour Day). Thank goodness we haven't all been sucked into decorating trees and buying cards for all these holidays, or we'd never get a break.

I'll get back on track now... so I made chocolate mousse, something I have made many, many, many times before, mostly because it makes a fantastic not-too-sweet frosting for a wicked chocolate cake.  At this evening's dinner, there were going to be quite a few kids, so I thought I'd mix it up a bit with a milk chocolate mousse as well as my standard dark-chocolate mousse.  I should have stuck with my tried-and-true.  The milk chocolate mousse was hugely disappointing for me - way too sweet and it had a horrible grainy texture that was completely off-putting.  The dark chocolate mousse was fluffy, rich and silky smooth, like a good mousse is supposed to be.  As a result, I'm not even going to post the recipe for the milk chocolate mousse - it's nothing but a waste of time, money and good ingredients that can be put to better use.

Because of the gelatin in this recipe, it also makes a great cake frosting, as I mentioned above - the more traditional egg-white mousse doesn't hold up against gravity the way this does.  That said, it's also a deliciously decadent, elegant dessert all on it's own.

As for tomorrow night's dessert, family tradition dictates - stay tuned..........

Dark Chocolate Mousse
serves 8
2 Cups (350g) dark chocolate, chopped (guess which kind I used)
1 tsp gelatin powder
1 Cup (240ml) milk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 Cups (600ml) whipping cream
2 tsp (10ml) vanilla extract

Place chopped chocolate, or chips in this case, in a medium, heatproof bowl.  Pour the milk into a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes.  Once the gelatin has "bloomed", gently whisk the mixture together, along with the salt.  Heat the milk, until it just begins to simmer.  Pour the heated milk over the chocolate and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.  Slowly and gently stir the chocolate and milk together until it is thick and glossy, then stir in the vanilla.  Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature (about 20-30 minutes).

In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium low, and with the mixer running, pour the cooled ganache into the cream.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer to medium high, and continue to mix for about 30 seconds, until no dark streaks remain.

Pour the mousse into bowls or cups and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving.  You can garnish with a bit of softly whipped cream if you like.  If using the mousse as a cake frosting, use immediately before placing in the fridge to chill and set.