rosemary & orange blossom basque cheesecake

rosemary orange blossom basque cheesecakerosemary orange blossom basque cheesecakerosemary orange blossom basque cheesecake

Basque style cheesecake, also known by the very accurate moniker of “burnt cheesecake” casually defies the usual conventions of cheesecake wisdom: i.e. the low temperatures and water bath and smooth, even cooking. Instead it’s all about the burnt and burnished surface and rustic puffed edges generated by a high temperature bake unhindered by any water bath whatsoever. It’s so glowingly described by Lili on her blog Lili’s Cakes that I had to give it a try.

Also – did I mention – no water bath!

Both visually and in taste the burnt crust lends the cheesecake so much character. And if you keep it wrapped in the layers of parchment paper that it’s baked in, the singed edges waft a bit of smokiness every time you unwrap the cake. I added in a bit of this and that for a flavour combination with interesting contrast – the orange blossom water is perfumed and floral; the rosemary gives it a startlingly savoury edge.

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brussels sprouts & gruyere focaccia

brussel sprout & gruyere focacciabrussel sprout & gruyere focaccia

This focaccia is terribly, thoroughly, utterly devoid of whole wheat flour. It’s thus also chewy and springy and light, when sliced reveals an cobwebbed cavernous crumb, and tastes of delightfully unadulterated carbs.

I love the flavours of whole grain but there is a part of me – probably the part that remembers growing up on plain white rice and craving plain white bread (though only being given whole wheat bread) – that wants nothing more than plain white flour and salt and fat. And besides… there are some textures that I find hard to achieve once I start bringing in whole grains.

The dough, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible, is a wonderful carb base for anything you so desire (even just salt and fat! maybe a fragrant olive oil fat). This time I topped the focaccia with sliced onions, brussels sprouts and gruyere. The flavours are more so in line with a flammekuchen/tarte flambée gratinée, but of course the dough gives it a distinctly focaccia-like bounce and spring.

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black sesame and chestnut layer cake

a light black sesame and chestnut layer cake –  as simple as possible with sponge cake and whipped cream

SAM_4345SAM_4398

Today we are keeping it simple with only two steps to what is best described as a very fulfilling experience. Step 1 is to find a low traffic hallway – most promising are uppers floors or the dead-ended hallway adnexa. Step 2 is to seat yourself down with your back against the wall and enjoy the wonders of having such an expanse of space to sit (you can cross your legs or even stretch them out if you’re really feeling ambitious) – as well as to pile up the requisite winter combo (i.e. the coat + the mitts + the hat + the scarf + …) that the weather requests you carry with you everywhere. Feel immensely comfortable – until your back begins to ache a bit – because while simple, it is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Somehow, until yesterday, I think it’s been years since I’ve sat on the floor in front of my locker. I keep the instructions general to facilitate sitting on the floor even in situations without lockers, but while secluded hallways are good, it is the locker that is essential for peace of mind. The proximity of the locker gives you a sense of belonging and ownership over the four vinyl floor tiles that you occupy. As inconvenient as it may be for locker neighbours and passer-bys in the case of narrower hallways, you can feel steadfast in your randomly assigned administrative-given right to root yourself in place. (I imagine that even if an adjacent locker is not yours, if you have enough self-confidence to project the possibility that it could be yours to those passing by, that would also suffice).

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holiday cookie box 2019

winter holiday cookie boxwinter holiday cookie boxwinter holiday cookie box

At home the winter holidays are persistently associated with cookies of some sort of another – or at the very least, lemon bars – and starting a couple years ago, a whole mass of cookies in the form of a cookie box.

It’s a lot of cookies of course – previously I brought the box to my old lab or to a party, but this year the box made an appearance at a family dinner after which I divvied up the remainder into ten ribbon-tied bags of cookies as Christmas gifts for friends. Looking at the empty cookie box afterwards, I had a swell of satisfaction like the sort after putting away tree ornaments and having them all fit together into the right number of boxes. I purposefully choose dry and crumbly cookies for the box, types which which travel well and keep for a few days. There’s more premeditated intention to share than my usual bake-first-figure-out-who-to-dump-this-on-later, and I have to say, it’s satisfying. (Perhaps there was also some relief at seeing a rather stressful quantity of cookies have clear purpose.)

These photos are hectic, because for me the holidays are hectic, and this cookie box is meant to be about the cookies and also that hectic time period of cooking and baking and gathering and making things for others. Or so I say. Maybe I was just too excited by the abundance of vaguely relevant props that come out of storage during the holidays.

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golden beet cheesecake tart with cranberries

cardamom-spiced golden beet cheesecake, crumbly spelt flour crust, and tart rooibus-stewed cranberries – and just what is a self-directed theatrical play?

golden beet cheesecakegolden beet cheesecake

I recently attended Here are the Fragments, an immersive, self-directed theatre experience at the Theatre Centre about Dr Chauvet, a black immigrant psychiatrist who is diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life. It tackles topics of intersecting identities, as a racialized minority, as a psychiatrist and as a patient, all while bringing attention to the underlying impacts that colonialism and racism can have on health and the treatment patients receive in the health care system.

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2019 blog year in review

Traditionally (two years establishes quite the precedent) I limit this collection to ten of my favourite posts. This year I was finding it difficult to narrow down the list, pondering semifreddo or ice cream, caramelized white chocolate or toasted sugar (a Stella Parks invention) or browned butter cream  or even the epiphany/monstrosity (depends on the person) that is olive oil cream.

This decision making would be a lot easier if it was like 2018 when I only published around ten posts in total anyways! Though unlike last year, it’s the fact that I have been posting more that makes me excited to work on a little recap and highlight of the year.

But despite my strict rule-following instincts, there is no actual rule, just me. The fact that I make the rules and let myself break them is what allows me to write excessively long blog posts and excessively curt and concise blog posts, all in the same blog, and with no consistent regard to narrative structure. Why yes, it’s a mess. (And also an evaluative rubric-free zone).

So this year I’ve freely allowed myself to pick and choose what I wanted to highlight – let’s say fourteen – in terms of favourites, lessons I learned, and what ingredients, recipes or techniques am I excited to return to in the future.

It can also be tradition to vaguely commiserate on the state of the world and how dark the last year was, but at some point without accompanying specifics or concrete action the whole process starts to become quite meaningless. So for those that need some comfort, if you have the time, the energy and the resources, perhaps try a bake? And for those of us with all of those resources in excess, well, we will need to see what we can do in this new year.

SAM_0449cardamom croquembouche 

Croquembouche had been on the list for a while, but I was certain that any attempt would end up as a rickety leaning tower of Pisa, surrounded by fallen cream puffs, and burnt fingertips. However, the mini-stack I made was genuinely not as difficult as I expected. Time consuming yes, and it still leans and I certainly had tender fingers, but if you’re used to making filled cream puffs, a croquembouche is quite a manageable project. The caramelized sugar tastes delicious as well!

 

SAM_0754vanilla rooibus, cashew and caramelized white chocolate cookies

Chewy, wrinkly cookies flooded with puddles of chocolate are everywhere. And for good reason! It seemed about time I put together my own version, and so I came up with these. They are a bit zany, very flavourful, and come together fast. But most of all, they’re chewy wrinkly cookies flooded with puddles of chocolate.

 

SAM_8951houjicha chestnut roll cake

This is the roll cake that started the roll cake galore this year – it’s blissfully easy to make (now I can pull it together in about 20 minutes), rolls easily, and even though I tend to beat the air out of everything I try to fold, this cake is impervious to my efforts. It is also very amenable to different flavours having since spawned blueberry earl grey, ispahan and persimmon walnut versions.

 

SAM_1342strawberry, lemongrass and glutinous black rice semifreddo 

It’s not always the best idea to first try a dessert by making it yourself – after all, I tend to mess things up and usually get the wrong idea of what something should taste like. But for the first semifreddo that I’ve tasted and made, it was immediately obvious to me that this was not just a slice-and-bake ice cream. There is something obviously unique about its texture – ethereally creamy in the way that it melts into foam on your tongue. This strawberry lemongrass number makes for a summery and refreshing combo, but I have a rich winter holiday version that I hope to post sometime soon.

 

apricot and spruce tip cakeroasted apricot and spruce tip cakes

I had a lot of fun with these cakes – both in flavour and form! It took me a few tries to find a cake with the right pliability to match what I was hoping to achieve but I loved turning what I had envisioned in my head into a reality. Besides, I realised that have cakes you can pick up and eat by hand are like actually really convenient. I also loved being able to emulate Hilda of Along the Grapevine, my foraging inspiration, by using spruce tips I picked from some local trees.

 

Version 2roasted rhubarb and strawberry layer cake

Of course I have to give a position of honour to the blog’s fifth birthday cake. But even if it wasn’t the blogiversary cake, I finally got a chance to revamp an old recipe to make it what I wanted it to be. I also learned that there is a buttercream that I like – cooked flour or ermine frosting! It’s also a lot more customizable than egg-based buttercreams (let the brainstorming begin!). Even better, as sugar is not required for structural integrity, it can also be sweetened as to your liking.

 

cherry amaretto rosewater ice creamroasted cherry, amaretto & rosewater ice cream 

I made quite a few ice creams this summer with the hand crank freezer canister that certainly predates my birth. Not all of them made it on the blog (yet!), but by general consensus, this was the favourite. It’s intensely aromatic and loaded up with liqueur which generates the perfectly soft and scoopable texture even right out of the freezer.

 

chard allspice pastries

swiss chard, herb and allspice pastries 

If there is one actionable takeaway from this post, it is try out the bureka #4 dough from Honey & Co. It’s so easy to put together, soft, crisp, and flaky, and the pastry rolls out like a dream – maybe because of the combination of cream cheese and butter? Put whatever you like inside of it – though if you have lots of swiss chard, I loved this version (I narrowly managed to prevent myself from adding feta, my favourite flavour crutch when it comes to greens, but here’s a feta swiss chard pie if you’re so inclined.)

 

SAM_0062strawberry and browned butter cream layer cake 

Since finding my mum’s Bel cream maker, I’ve been pondering what I could try with it. I came up with browned butter cream, by emulsifying together browned butter and milk. It whips up into a delicious, nutty and caramelized whipped cream. Here I used it in a simple strawberry chiffon layer cake, but I’ve also used it in this persimmon walnut roll cake, this persimmon fig pavlova, and as an accompaniment for this applesauce bundt cake.

 

SAM_4296white peach, strawberry and pistachio mousse cake

I obviously like to always be as pretentious as possible. This was probably my pretentious highlight of the year – a four, or was it five?, component entremet. Okay, rather the cakes themselves, my pretension comes from my stabs at writing convincingly about food and attempts at photography. I genuinely loved these cakes and think there is good reason to make multilayered mousse cakes if you’re so inclined, as there endless room for variation and creativity. This was my third or fourth attempt at a mousse cake (it’s also my favourite flavour combination thus far) and each time I find the process gets a bit smoother… at least until everything fell apart at the mirror glaze stage.

 

roasted sugar pavlova with persimmons & figstoasted sugar persimmon & fig pavlova

This pavlova is as close to kitchen alchemy as one gets, tasting just like a toasted marshmallow, thoroughly convincing me that toasting sugar is transformative. I combined this toasted sugar pavlova with my new favourite browned butter cream and fall fruit for autumnal through and through.

 

olive oil panna cotta tart

olive oil panna cotta tart with figs

Okay, so olive oil cream. I had this idea – emulsify together olive oil and milk for an olive oil version of cream. I did so – on it’s own it tastes like a very thin olive oil mayonnaise or bland vinaigrette. But sweetened with honey and flecked with vanilla, it came together as an olive dessert after all. If you want a bit of strange project, give it a try!

 

red beet gingerbread ice cream with pomegranate molassesred beet gingerbread ice cream 

Above I shared my favourite summer ice cream; here is my favourite winter ice cream. I tend to dread eating beets after a childhood of far too many, but every so often I find a combination where the beet flavour is of genuine benefit rather than something to be covered up. This ginger and spice-heavy ice cream was one such example, where the beets give the ice cream a fruity brightness of sorts, and of course, a brilliant colour.

 

SAM_1050tiramisu cream puffs

Since we began the year on choux, we can end on a nice high choux note as well. Cream puffs are the perfect receptacle for your favourite flavour combination and I loved how these tiramisu cream puffs came together, taking advantage of the time-honoured classic flavour combination. But let’s just imagine together how much we can do with a cream puff – fill with creams or compotes or jams, or even add a textural component like a crumble or crumb; more fillings can be piped on top, and even after that you have the option of a craquelin or a glaze and garnish.

 

I’ve really enjoyed getting back into the swing of blogging after a couple years of very little of anything. This past year I struck a bit of a balance between experimental flavour combinations and classics. I also had fun toasting everything that I could – whether sugar, white chocolate or butter to emulsify into a cream.

When looking back at previous years, I think I’ve improved in some senses of the word. I’ve noticed that my projects have become occasionally more complex, and I’ve been much more satisfied in my descriptions of how they’ve turned out. I have to attribute some of this to the blog – having tentimestea motivates me to document what I bake, along with detailed recipes, tips and impressions. Without it, my baking notes would resemble my lab book (i.e. a pile of paper towels scribbled with notes). The blog allows me to remember what I learned from previous projects and build on them – because when significant baking memories are often in the form of grams, it’s important to write them down!

I’m hoping to keep things up this as well.

Wishing you all good baking memories and happy 2020!

Here is the 2016 and 2015 blog years in review! 

tiramisu cream puffs

tiramisu cream puffs: coffee creme pat and marsala marscapone cream in a whole wheat choux with cocoa craquelin

SAM_1050SAM_1065cream puff components

To pack it all into one sentence: these cream puffs are made of a whole wheat choux with a cocoa craquelin filled with a coffee pastry cream, topped with a marsala mascarpone cream and dusted with cocoa powder. Texturally, it’s a jumble of the best sort: the pastry cream contained within the cream puff is silky, the choux pastry itself is crisp, and the marscapone is rich and light. I did my best to taste and sweeten judiciously so that the sugar content was kept to a minimum, but it is still, through and through, a dessert. I am so bizarrely pleased with how they turned out. It’s very hard to go wrong with the flavours of tiramisu!

These cream puffs are making me doubt my baking priorities a bit – sometimes I focus more on playing around with flavour combinations, and they usually taste fine or even quite nice but it’s rare that I find something where the combination is just really so nice. I should rely on the wonderful wisdom of favoured combinations more often.

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