plum and amaranth cake

unbaked plum cakebaked plum cakeIt is rare for something to just actually not taste good at all. Things may be a bit burnt, a bit too sweet or not sweet enough. Textures may be off, a bit too dry or wet or starchy. Flavours may work better apart then they do together.

This was one of those disasters that are just irrefutably disastrous: this cake did not taste good. It was musty, and in fact, nigh mouldy tasting.

I suspect the amaranth flour.

The other possible culprit is the perilla seeds–but I was fairly sure it was not them. They have a pleasant, toasty tea sort of taste, so far from what the cake actually tasted like.

Our more convincing suspect, amaranth flour, is rather new to me. I recently acquired some and decided to give it a try. The smell of the flour didn’t impress: it was quite moist and strange. That being said, I normally don’t expect flour to smell that delicious, so I set those concerns aside and went ahead to use 50% amaranth flour…which, if I wanted to taste it, I figured was a good place to start.

Hmm. Well, I certainly tasted it.

So after trying the cake, I turned to everyone’s dear old friend in times of trouble, Google, master of The Interwebs. Likely succumbing to phenomenon of confirmation bias, I directed my search to carefully look only for sources which confirmed what I had experienced: maybe amaranth doesn’t taste so good.

I found an interesting blog post from someone who had a similar experience. The flour smelled quite musty, and an unfortunate flavour lingered in baked goods. She also did her reading: 15% amaranth content in bread was as high as this paper recommended without taste deficits. I quite admire her idea to turn to the literature (one must use that institutional subscription for something, no?).

Poking around myself though, I found that amaranth could be used quite effectively at 25% in cookies, providing a golden brown colour, crisper texture and slightly superior flavour ratings–described as “malty and sweet”.

Oh my. So what is the consensus?

It seems that amaranths pleasantly earthy character comes out best in lower doses. Though depending on the source, the dosage varies. I’ll be sure to apprehensively give amaranth another try. I did notice the cake had a very tender and soft crumb, credit which probably goes to the amaranth flour.

plum, amaranth and perilla seed cake

Adapted from the 1:1:1:1 ratio of a Victoria sponge cake. 

100 g butter

60 g brown sugar

2 eggs

50 g amaranth flour

50 g all purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

pinch baking soda

10 g roasted and ground perilla seed

45 g milk

6 small plums, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8″ square pan and line with a parchment sling.

Cream the butter with the sugar, and then beat in the eggs one at a time. Separately, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda and perilla seeds. Mix the flour into the butter, and then beat in the milk. Spread into the prepared pan and top with the plum halves.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer removes only with a few crumbs clinging.


rosemary tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Sorry that my posting has been mildly vigorous and my time visiting around the blogosphere has been terribly minimal. The reason is, of course, busyness and general feeling-terribly-distractedness. This, while I’ve also been doing a fair amount of posting in order to try to finish up my queue of summer posts before winter sets in. Though I expect I can wait until the next summer.

This is one of my favourite posts.

I find that rosemary/tarragon = a very good combination. (Potential shipping names include roseagon and tarramary.) While the liquorice taste of the tarragon brightens, rosemary deepens, and the whole thing is very soft and not too assertive when infused into awful quantities of heavy cream.

These are quite rich. In the future I would use a higher proportion of milk–a bit of cream can go a long ways. Luckily, the roasted plums provide sorely needed acidity.

I didn’t end up with a nice smooth surface on the set panna cotta–there were spots of condensation that dripped down from a tent of plastic wrap, and a skin that formed and split (any advice on how to reduce these issues?). If these were being unmoulded it wouldn’t matter, however the tea cup presentation posed some issues. At least it could be covered up with those plums. Versatile plums!rosemary tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Makes 4 generous and rich servings. Panna cotta recipe slightly adapted from epicurious. To account for the intensity of the herbs, I used a few more sprigs tarragon than rosemary. You can give it a try after infusing and then if one herb needs to be boosted a bit more than the other, remove one set of sprigs and infuse for additional time with the other.

panna cotta

1 c heavy cream

1/2 c milk

1 sprig rosemary

3 sprigs tarragon

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin (1/2 packet)

2 tbsp cold water

5 tsp sugar

roasted plums

small plums

olive oil


Warm up the milk and cream in a saucepan until steaming. Add the herbs, cover and let steep 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and allow to sit and bloom. Heat for 10-15 seconds in the microwave to dissolve.

Remove the herbs from the cream, add the sugar, and bring the cream just to a boil. Combine with the gelatin, transfer to a liquid measuring cup for ease of pouring, and distribute into 4 tea cups or ramekins (a bit less than 1/2 c in each). If they are in tea cups, and thus are not being unmoulded, scoop any bubbles from the surface with a small spoon. Place the tea cups in a loaf pan to prevent tipping over, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least three hours to set.

For the plums, preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the plums in half and drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and a few drops of honey. Roast for around 20 minutes or until juicy and soft. The plums can be turned over gently partway through roasting. Serve plums and any roasting juice with the panna cotta.

mont blanc macarons

We had a club executive meeting before the semester began and realized two things:

  1. Total club assets = $6 (Canadian, so even worse than you think)
  2. Apart from our exec team, we have no continuing members

The solution? Well, to #1 at least: a bake sale ASAP.I figured that I had better practice…or rather, figure out whether macarons would be feasible for me to attempt for the bake sale. Last time I made macarons, I based it off of Lili’s Italian meringue method. This time I was hoping to make the quicker French meringue method work for me. I used Philip’s French meringue macaron page as a guide–it is fabulously comprehensive and replete with troubleshooters and tips.

There are, in particular, two clever recommendations from Philip’s page that I think can be carried to any macaron methodology or recipe that you prefer. First, work with ratios, basing the mass of your ingredients on the mass of your egg whites. It is so much easier, and I enjoy the flexibility. Second, grind together and sieve the almonds and powdered sugar in a large batch ahead of time, thus having enough for a few batches of macarons. This whole grinding and sifting thing is quite frankly why I really never make macarons, because it is so very tedious. Now that I have a plastic tub of preground nuts and sugar in the cupboard, I’m already thinking about future batches.The macarons are based on Mont Blanc, a cake with plenty of chestnut and cream. I whisked a bit of chestnut flour into the shells–I think the taste was barely perceptible when the shells were eaten on their own, and unnoticeable with the filling. It may have slightly, slightly tinted the shells and provided some darker speckles, but for the most part it was inconsequential.

The filling was very quick and easy–a ring of sweetened chestnut puree and some whipped cream in the centre.The smaller macarons didn’t have enough room for the whipped cream, and so were just filled with chestnut puree. I valiantly tried to skip passing the chestnut puree through a sieve, but couldn’t even pipe one macaron without clogging the piping tip, so unfortunately a second round of sieving is required for these macarons. So, I do think macarons will work for the bake sale (they will probably be a flavour more marketable than chestnut though). I’ll need to improve my piping though–I sort of gave up trying to pipe them all the same size, and so you can see quite the variety. I put together a template for next time to try slipping under the parchment.

I also think I may have beat my egg whites a bit too much–closer to firm peaks than soft (I occasionally need to be reminded that more voluminous is not always better–this is a helpful visual guide for egg whites). I think this might have been the cause of the air bubbles I had in the shells–they were quite noticeable right after the shells had been piped. That being said, while some bubbles expanded with baking to create the odd errant bump (they’re quite noticeable in the overhead photo above), it didn’t turn out as bad as I feared–for the most part the shells looked relatively presentable.

And a question: what other baked goods are good for bake sales? (In the first place, are macarons a good idea?) I think the important criteria are: nothing immediately perishable, easy to transport and sell individually. Now that I think about it, might be nice if they were quick and easy to make as well…mont blanc macarons

macaron shells

Based on the excellent French meringue macaron guide from Philip of Baking Fanatic

108 g powdered sugar

108 g ground almond

87 g egg white (2 and a bit)

87 g granulated sugar

8 g chestnut flour

For a more fleshed out procedure and helpful tips, see the guide linked above.

Line a couple baking pans with parchment paper.

Combine the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor and process–we want the almonds to be quite fine. Sift through a fine sieve into a large bowl.

Whip the egg whites until frothy, then add the sugar and continue to beat until they form soft peaks when the whisk is lifted up. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the egg whites to the dry ingredients. Fold together in a figure-8 manner using a rubber spatula. Continue folding until the batter becomes looser and shinier, and ribbons of batter will sink into the surface within 30 seconds.

Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a decently sized plain tip, and pipe the macarons. Allow to sit and dry until they form a slight skin–the macaron shells will not be sticky when you touch them.

While the shells dry, preheat the oven to 300F.

Bake the shells for 13-16 minutes, turning the trays at 6 minutes. Check the macarons if they are done by lightly trying to lift them. The macarons should hold together. Allow to cool before removing from the parchment paper.

Pair each macaron with one of a similar size.


to fill

250 g chestnut puree

50 g butter

40 g granulated sugar

spiced rum, to taste (a few capfuls or so)

100 mL heavy cream, whipped

Press the chestnut puree through a fine sieve. Beat with the butter, sugar and rum. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a Mont Blanc multi tip. Pipe a ring of chestnut puree around the edge of one macaron shell in each pair, going around each shell twice (to build up a nice amount of chestnut puree). Dollop a small amount of whipped cream in the centre. You can gently cave in the top macaron shell to accommodate any excess whipped cream before placing it on top of the filling. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Due to the moisture of the whipped cream, by the second night the macarons became a bit too soft, but still held together. By the third night, they were mush!

lemon, lavender and blueberry buns

Baking in time for breakfast typically does not pan out for me. Even on the weekends, when it isn’t so much an issue of time, I’m not patient enough and I end up eating a typical quick breakfast before any baking can get underway. Or sometimes I will hold out until something is in the oven–and then give in and eat while it is baking.

In particular, yeasted things, and in particular, yeasted sourdough things, are at best a brunch, not breakfast, item. Which is perfectly fine–as long as you have a chance sometime during the day, that is about all that matters.

These buns are quite refreshing and extravagantly jammy with warm blueberries. The dough was not as soft and fluffy as I would have wished, and I found that I never quite managed to bake the bottom of the buns sufficiently to get a nice browning (if you can, remove from the parchment and let them cool on a wire rack to avoid mushiness). Still, a bake with fruit and fresh bread can’t go that wrong. If you must, they will even do for lunch. lemon, lavender and blueberry buns

remaining 1/2 recipe dough from here 



~ 1 tsp dried lavender flowers

zest of 1 lemon


Roll out the dough into a large rectangle, around 1 to 1.5 cm thick. Spread with a thin layer of softened butter, sprinkle with sugar, crumbled dried lavender, lemon zest and a generous quantity of blueberries.

Slice into eight rolls and space apart evenly in a buttered 8 1/2″ diameter springform pan. Let rise until puffed and they fill the pan.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Bake for around 30 minutes or until nicely golden.

apricot, cinnamon and orange blossom yeasted tart

As I am spectacularly lazy, I leave you with a few songs instead of a proper blog post:

playlist for today (summer)

1. the sporting life (the decemberists)

2. god help the girl (god help the girl soundtrack)

3. pulaski heights (venice is sinking)

4. the predatory wasp of the palisades is out to get us! (sufjan stevens)

5. one summer’s day (tonari no totoro soundtrack)

I think I pay a great deal of attention to the seasons…this attention entails romanticizing the individual character of each, and hence I end up with seasonal playlists. Well, this attention to the season comes with the territory (the food territory, that is): the seasons shape what we can eat and what we like to eat.

That being said, as much as a I like to say now: it’s summer! and now: summer is finishing!, where I live the weather will happily do whatever it likes. The seasons are not nearly as consistent and well-characterized as I like to portray them. It will snow early in summer and be warm in late fall. But regardless, the beets have grown, the apples are becoming cheaper, and soon we’ll be pulling up potatoes and onions.

None of which are related to this tart. Having previously found great success with this soft bread recipe, I decided to give it a go in sourdough. Success in the form of fluffy bread seemed a bit more feasible given the recently revived activity of my sourdough starter.

Day one, freshly baked, I quite liked it. Just golden warm and eggy custard, fluffy! bread, soft-cooked apricots. Day two, the bread became stale, and the apricots became mush. The conclusion to take from this is probably something along the lines of don’t make too much, or you will have a lot of leftover tart to deal with. (Warming it up again in the oven did help though).

I was also not convinced by my use of orange blossom water. I think the problem was the starchiness of the custard, because otherwise the combination of orange blossom water and apricot and cinnamon sounds as though it should be at least alright if not rather nice.I am bringing this tart with me to Fiesta Friday, hosted by Angie and Judi of Cooking with Aunt Juju.

apricot, cinnamon and orange blossom yeasted tart

Makes 3 tarts, 6-7″ in diameter. (i.e. makes way too much). The procedural details of this are adapted from the brioche tart in Baking with Julia edited by Dorie Greenspan. 


Adapted from my previous adaptation of this recipe. Use only half the dough for this and the other half will be showing up on the blog soon. 

250 mL warm milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

~500 g flour, or as needed

120 g Kamut

5 g wheat gluten

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

100 g lively sourdough starter

75 g soft butter


100 mL milk

100 mL heavy cream

cinnamon stick

15 g cornstarch

1 egg

15 g sugar + extra

1 1/2 tsp orange blossom water, or better, to taste

50 g creme fraiche


apricots, sliced

beaten egg

Mix together milk and vanilla. Separately, whisk together 150 g of the flour, the Kamut, wheat gluten and salt. With a wooden spoon, beat together the sourdough starter, flour mixture, milk and eggs until it forms a thick batter. Beat in the butter, small piece by small piece. Continue mixing, adding flour as needed until it forms a dough that is soft and on the sticky end of tacky.

Set in a bowl, cover and let rest for 15 minutes, give a few folds, then proof completely until doubled.

For the custard, warm the milk and heavy cream until scalding. Add the cinnamon stick, cover, and let infuse for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg, cornstarch and sugar until smooth. Remove the cinnamon stick, rewarm the milk until steaming, and gradually whisk into the egg mixture. Return to the stovetop and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. Remove from the heat. Once it has cooled, whisk in the creme fraiche and orange blossom water.

Divide the dough into half and set one half aside. Divide the remaining half into three pieces. Roll each out into a large circle, a couple inches wider in diameter than the ring that you are using. Crimp the edges to form a taller crust along the sides and drop into the ring. Let proof until puffy and nearly doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Dimple the bottom gently. Spread the bottom of each tart with the custard and top with slices of apricot. Brush the edges with beaten egg. Once the breads are in the oven, turn the temperature down to 350F. Bake until the edges are a deep golden brown, and the bottoms of the tarts have browned as well.  Let cool on a wire rack, but serve still somewhat warm.


matcha apricot cakes with kinako buttercream

I’ve never really dared make a cake with the “reverse creaming” technique. It’s what I’ve read about in nearly all of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipes from The Cake Bible–take the butter, and cream it with the flour first. She explains it, and it seems to make sense conceptually–the butter prevents gluten development to keep your cakes soft. I’ve seen it first hand when making enriched bread doughs where a tighter crumb is often the result. Brioche is careful to avoid this as much as possible by developing the gluten first before beating in the butter.

So it makes sense, but it’s just not the way cakes are done. Butter should be creamed with the sugar and then the eggs first, right? Only mix in the flour near the end. I decided to be irrationally resistant to any of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s elegantly put logic. Nope. Not trying.

Then I saw a reverse creaming technique cake on The Domestic Gothess. It took seeing a trustworthy blog to pave the way to reducing and overcoming my prejudice, and finally give it a try.

So I did. I was sure the cake batter going in would emerge as biscuits.

The result?

The cake, and it was indubitably a cake, was very soft. “Downy” was a perfect description. It was a texture that I normally don’t achieve. Though many of my cakes live quite happily as the dense and buttery and slightly crumbly sort, this is the sort of cake you sometimes need.

So if I can go against the instincts bred into the very fibre of my being by my early years of making cakes solely from How to Cook Everything, I’m confident that an open mind can carry anyone a bit further. Sometimes that irrational nudge of yours isn’t required, and if you listen to the people around you, think of everything that we can learn.

There is one more thing to comment on in this post: the kinako icing. I used the roasted soybean flour as a stand in for icing sugar in an American-style buttercream (the first American style buttercream on the blog! It’s been a few years since the last time I made one). The icing has all the richness and butteriness and (meringue-less) convenience of an American-style buttercream, without the jarring sweetness. Unfortunately it also has an enhanced starchy taste, but given the reduced sweetness, I decided to take it.matcha apricot cakes with kinako buttercream

I did put 3/4 tsp vanilla extract into the icing, but afterwards regretted it. It didn’t quite work–all I tasted was a bit of alcohol, so leave that out. The cake is adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake in The Cake Bible. 


1 3/4 tsp matcha

2 tsp boiling water

1 large egg + 1 yolk

120 g milk, divided

50 g whole wheat flour

90 g a.p. flour

10 g cornstarch

75 g granulated sugar

9 g baking powder

2 g salt

85 g butter

3-4 apricots, sliced


3 tbsp butter

40 g kinako

2 1/2 tbsp milk

30 g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter some variously sized cake rings, or just 1 8-9″ diametre cake ring and set on a parchment lined tray.

To avoid lumps, whisk together the matcha and boiling water until smooth. Set aside.

Mix together the eggs and 30 g of the milk. Set aside.

Whisk the flours, starch, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and remaining 90 g milk to the bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Beat a little while longer–Beranbaum says to do this to ensure aeration and structural integrity of your finished cake.

Mix the matcha into the batter, then the milk and mix. Divide amongst the cake rings. Slice the apricots and arrange on top. Bake for around 20 minutes.

For the icing, cream all the ingredients together until light. Add more milk or icing sugar/kinako as needed until it reaches your desired consistency. The kinako has a great deal of starchy strength so it thickens quite well. Keep the icing on the looser side though, because too much kinako and it becomes thick and gluey like peanut butter.

my sourdough starter is alive! (chive and wholewheat sourdough & 3 tartines)

I went hiking the other day and realized something, once I managed to move my thoughts beyond the majestic views and cute opportunistic fungi.

Though, rather than realizing, I confirmed something: I’m not very fit. Unfortunately. Or at least two hikes in two subsequent days is a bit much for me.But somehow, even when I’m sore and probably a bit more tired than someone ought to be after a well-paced, slightly inclined and bumpy walk, I love hiking (the very tame sort of hiking, that is). I especially love it when there’s a destination at the end. It doesn’t have to be spectacular–and often plenty of the spectacular comes during the hike itself–but I love how you spend so long to get there, and when you finally arrive, half of the fun is just the feeling of accomplishment. Then you take a rest, get up, and head back.

(It’s even better when the return is mostly downhill.)As I’ve mentioned before, Bartholomew, the sourdough starter, does tend to be neglected. He was recently revived! And has since languished in neglect once more. But not before he made a lovely, if modestly dense and unexciting, whole wheat bread.The tartines make things a bit more exciting. My favourite was apricots and nasturtium leaves (which we’ve been growing aplenty as opposed to nasturtium flowers), a spot of honey, toasted walnuts and a generous pinch of salt–for me, the combination of sweetness and saltiness always wins. Like radishes and butter, the nasturtium leaves are a bit spicy, giving them the same sort of lovely combination with something rich; arugula would otherwise do the trick. 

chive and whole wheat sourdough

essentially as per usual, except use all whole wheat bread flour(!) and mix in one very large bunch of finely chopped chives. adjust hydration as necessary.


radish and butter


sliced radishes



mushroom and tarragon

leftover cooked and seasoned mushrooms (such as with butter, sherry, garlic, salt and pepper), heated up

labneh or some other thick creamy thing (ex. ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese, Greek yoghurt, etc)


apricot and nasturtium 

creme fraiche or some other thick and rich creamy thing (see above)

sliced apricots

chopped walnuts

nasturtium leaves