some cookies, for the next time i read a book

Oatmeal cookies, in all their lumpy nooks-and-cragginess make me think of old libraries and crowded bookshelves (I have some screencaps of my favourite book-ish scenes for you below). It’s an odd association, but they seem to be the right cookie for reading dusty hardcovers or thick block-ish softcovers.

As I’ve rambled about before, I hardly read anymore. So while I think these cookies are best with a novel, odds are that I’ll usually settle for a textbook. This summer I’m hoping to do some reading and overall it hasn’t been a bad year.

Book, book, play. Funny Face, Le Hérrison, The Royal Tenenbaums (image sources: 1, 2, 3)

I’ve been working on the well-written The Adventures of Cavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon (which is about comics and some form of The American Dream). It’s taken me a while to get into it, but I think I finally am. Recently I finished reading the beautifully written All the Light That We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a nearly solid amalgamate of metaphor and simile, and yet you never get tired of them. I also just soared through a YA novel, Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane. I started reading the series over ten years ago, which gives you some idea of how long the series has stretched on for. It was one of my favourites (and still is–it combines sci fi and fantasy and is just so optimistic and benevolent and I think most of the books are perfect.) The intergalactic ethics and the moral efforts of the main characters has a bit of a Doctor Who sort of appeal.

Happy reading!

oatmeal cookies with dried fruits

Makes around 12 big chunky cookies. Adapted from the back of the oats package. Always reliable!

6 dried pitted dates, cut crosswise into rounds

2 handfuls dried cherries

1 generous handful dried prunes, chopped into quarters

1/2 c butter

scant 3/4 c brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp allspice

1 c quick cooking oats

1/2 c rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 325F. Cover the dried fruit with boiling water and set aside to plump while you make the cookies.

Cream the butter with the sugar, then beat in the egg, vanilla, salt. Separately, whisk together the flour, spices and baking soda. Mix into the butter, then mix in the oats. Finally, drain the fruit and mix into the dough.

Portion the dough into 12 generously sized cookies (or 24 small ones). They stayed quite tall so if you want large thinner cookies, flatten the mounds of dough.

Bake until the bottoms and edges are browned, 10-15 minutes. Let cool on the tray as they’re quite soft.

pear, fennel and rosemary cake: a learning experience

So it’s been a few months. What has happened in between is summarized quite well by this cake: not much, and not much super delicious either. Though, while an underwhelming cake, this was a fairly productive learning experience.

There is a tendency for me to lean towards the richer and heavier cakes. I’ve internalized a caricature of genoise and biscuits as dry and tough, and consequently have also developed a slight prejudice against all butter-less cakes (though with a notable exception).And so when wanting to making a dense, fruit-laden cake, I automatically turned to the hegemonically-endorsed basic butter cake (and the easily recalled 1:1:1:1 ratio of the Victoria sponge). And here is what happened: the cake eventually baked, but remained fairly stodgy. The batter around the fruit was a bit underbaked and overly moist. The fruit itself was heavy and wet and did little to complement the cake. It was not terrible nor inedible, but it also wasn’t particularly good.

I compared this result to what I’ve witnessed previously with unenriched cakes, such as this sharlotka. Here, moist fruit makes sense. It provides moisture to an otherwise dry cake. There is a textural contrast between the spongy cake and the dense fruit. And the cake around the fruit may remain a little underbaked as well, but somehow it is not nearly as distressing as the underbaked regions of the butter cake.

Somehow it took this cake and a bit of reflection to realize that perhaps the butter cake is not always the go-to.

The fennel is very inconsequential. I did not use too much and it is unnoticeably subtle, overshadowed completely by everything else. I’ve been thinking an upside down caramelized fennel and lemon cake would be the next step in order to make better use of the taste.This cake was very much intended to be an adventure cake (adventure, used loosely, to also encompass some leisurely reading). The few requirements were 1. warm sorts of flavour and 2. a degree of practicality and sufficient structure to be cut into pieces and wrapped in paper, in half-nostalgia and half-pandering to a certain quaint and picnic-y aesthetic.

Narnia was one of the first longer novels and series that I read as a child, and it formed the blueprint for the type of stories I continued to enjoy and seek out: adventures, not mysteries or romances or school dramas, but the sort of adventures that involve magic and hopefully chatty anthropomorphized animals.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favourite, likely due to the heavy roles of Lucy and Edmund, whom I found so much more engaging and relatable than the distant and only mildly-fleshed out Peter and Susan, and then there was Eustace who becomes rather loveable after undergoing his own character development arc. After that, I found the novels to be lonelier, threaded together by a gradual darkness and decline, culminating in The Last Battle. This may have been as vaguely optimistic and satisfying an end as one could find, but at the time I only found it distressing and sombre. I wanted an Oz-type continuity, which let Dorothy live with her aunt and uncle in Oz forever, but importantly was devoid of supposed endings, conclusions and finality.Now I’ve come to appreciate a good ending here or there. I realized this as series continue to get longer (L Frank Baum was only the beginning). Series, or sets of series, I began reading in school are still ongoing now–things like the character-packed monstrosity that is Warriors (Erin Hunter) and the slightly insipid but funny Cassandra Clare novels. I think I continue seeing mythology-inspired new Rick Riordan works when I pass by the teen sections of bookstores as well.

An ending allows you to glance back and appreciate the series as a whole, rather than always catching up with the next instalment. Perhaps most importantly you can then discover something else. And so when I chanced upon Wildwood by Colin Meloy–of the Decemberists–in a bookstore, at that point unfortunately already well into my teens, I read it thinking how it was exactly what I would have loved when I was younger. An adventure, replete with well-dressed animals and mysterious forests, gender parity of the main characters who are quirky and likeable, and! an ending. It’s a trilogy that stops right there.pear, fennel and rosemary cake

Based on the ratios of a Victoria sponge cake. 

60 g fennel

olive oil

114 g softened butter (1/4 lb)

50 g granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 small sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely minced

50 g dark rye flour

70 g whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

60 mL (1/4 cup) milk

2 pears

Preheat oven to 375F. Thinly slice the fennel into small pieces, toss with a bit of olive oil, and place in the oven for around 20-30 minutes while it warms up until the fennel is softened. Set aside to cool.

Line a 8″ square pan with a parchment paper sling. Lightly butter the exposed surfaces of the pan.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract and rosemary.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking powder.

Slice one of the pears into 4 sagittal slices, reserving the inner two slices (the slices of pear on the cake as pictured above) for topping the cake. Chop the remaining pear and the remainder of the sliced pear into large chunks.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter, mixing until just combined with a wooden spoon. Beat in the milk, then the remaining flour. Lastly, fold in the chunks of pear and slices of roasted fennel. Spread into the prepared pan and place the two reserved pear slices on top.

Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack and serve with tea.

golden beet, chamomile & rye iced cake

Brian Jacques’s Redwall was one of the beloved series of my younger reading days.

They were, in some ways incredibly repetitive and problematic (for example, how an individual’s moral compass is almost invariably determined by their species–foxes were sly, mice were brave, stoats were mostly mean minions–somehow I never noticed the issues with this until I read the Wikipedia article and thought about it), but they were also insatiably good in other respects. They were absorbing, in the same way that some fantasy series are, characterized by strong world building as you become privy to another history, set of norms and traditions–and stereotypes.

Jacques’s books have always paid significant attention to food. Celebrations of any sort were synonymous with generous feasts, and it was always around food that the characters got a chance to sit down a bond. And he spared no expense in his descriptions, clearly humble but very generous affairs.

 

“When I was a young fellow, food was short because of World War II. Everything was on ration, and lots of things folk liked were just unobtainable. So, there I was, reading through my mother’s old cookery books, my mouth watering at the coloured illustrations of delicious recipes. And the books I’d read in the library…. It really annoyed me when I’d come to a passage where somebody ate a marvellous feast. There never seemed to be any description of it. Afterward the hero would ride off on his white stallion, thanking the King for the wonderful dinner. Wait! What did it taste like? What did it look like? How was it made? Did he really enjoy it?”

-Brian Jacques, The Redwall Cookbook

Understandably, and to the delight of most Redwall fans I’m sure, Jacques thus decided to compensate in his own writing. It is rare to find a series that so candidly and consistently pays attention to the food. While it may not be vital to the plot, the food he describes helps develop the atmosphere (I always love the cozy meals shared in the abbey). Besides, food becomes a bit of a characterization (though it may lean more towards stereotyping). The shrews always make bubble and squeak (I think, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), the moles are brewers of october beer and strawberry fizz, and hares just eat any darn thing.

This post comes as I recently realized that he passed a few years ago. It was a bit of a shock–after having read so many of his books, and yet always finding a new Redwall novel (though it could also be that I just didn’t remember and I’ve been infinitely cycling through the series…), Brian Jacques seemed an infinitely prolific writer, and Redwall, a series that would never end. It always appealed to me that Redwall Abbey was written with permanence, a structure that was a symbol of stability and endurance (fought over and inevitably recovered by the end of each novel). And if Jacques wasn’t writing about anthropomorphic woodland animals, he might be writing about an immortal boy and his dog. While it finally has ended, his novels continue to have an enduring character, and, regardless, I’m sure they’ll always remain as timeless and constant as the abbey itself.

With that in mind, I think that this is the sort of cake that could be served in the winter months with tea in the gatehouse, for when the scones and clotted cream and strawberries must make way for the heartier root vegetables stored in the cellar.

The cake is quite similar to the last set of yellow beet muffins I made, though I prefer this version. I reduced the amount of beet so it is not so strong tasting, and, of course, altered the accompanying flavours. The cake is only lightly sweetened, allowing the icing to steal the show and make it into a bit more of a treat (anything with icing automatically becomes a bit more special).

golden beet, chamomile, and rye iced cake

Adapted from a previous adaptation of a smitten kitchen carrot cake. Makes one large loaf.

240 mL milk

chamomile tea

75 g rye flour

215 g all purpose flour

pinch salt

2 tsp baking powder

250 g golden beets

115 g butter, melted

135 g brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat milk until steaming, and stir in around 1 1/2 tsp chamomile tea or 1/2 tea bag. Let steep and cool for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a loaf pan with a parchment sling and butter any remaining exposed surfaces.

Whisk together flours, salt, baking powder. Grate the beets on the fine holes of of a box grater.

Whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat in eggs one at a time. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring until combined, then the beets. Lastly, add the flour mixture all at once and stir until just combined.

Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for around 1 hour or until an inserted skewer is removed with only some crumbs clinging.

 

to ice

100 g icing sugar

strong brewed chamomile tea

dried jasmine flowers

Whisk the icing sugar with enough tea to form a glaze of the desired consistency. Pour over the cooled cake, sprinkle with some dried jasmine flowers, and let set.

white nectarine black sesame mochi tart

SAM_8229

There was a time when I was a voracious reader. I read with a burning passion and an aggressive fury (well, at least in my memories of my younger self). I would take a book and sit down for as long as need be to finish it; then I would pick up the second; luckily I was at the age where you only needed a couple hours to finish a book. When I went to the library it was more about quantity than quality, (though there was this one book about a stray dog that I read at least five times over, and cried in the same four identical places every time—it was a tragic, tragic story).

mochitart1mochitart2

SAM_8203

My parents supported my hobby completely; it kept me quiet and out of the way, and they probably thought it meant I was smart (so sorry that didn’t turn out). I sometimes would read through dinner and if I started reading just before I went to bed, it also meant I read through the night.

I could also force myself to read just about anything–whether or not I absorbed anything was another matter. But as I grew older, I noticed two things: first, I couldn’t just read anything; I became a lot more selective (and somehow more easily bored; a bit counterintuitive).

Second, the quantity of reading began teetering off as I proceeded through school. My last great reading exploit was To Kill a Mockingbird in grade 10. I read over it 7 and a half straight hours sitting in the same chair, starting at 8 am and ending and 6 (with a half-hour lunch break in between). I was sore afterwards—power reading is hard work.

And now, well, I’ve been reading the same novel for a year and a half. It’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami. I think it’s marvelous and I think I like it, and somehow I’m not forgetting too much of what happened earlier either. But it’s a novel I didn’t have a hope of understanding in the first place, and even less now that I’ve been reading it in such fragmented, discrete chunks.

And while I miss the old appetite I had for reading, I also sort of prefer the more leisurely manner I have now. The novel is sitting in front of my at the moment; I think it may have been a month since I last picked it up. So maybe I should read a bit more soon.

Now, onto the tart: About the only thing I’ve been cognizant enough to recognize in The Wind-up Bird Chronicles is that there are a lot of people shedding old-selves, and giving way to new-selves. It may literally stepping out of their old skin (oh, the horror) or, for the most part, a bit more figuratively. Well, this tart wasn’t made consciously thinking of this, but some connection would be good.

You see, the other day I had an ice cream bar with red beans and mochi in it. It was a good reminder of how much I like cream daifuku…and somehow it turned itself into a tart.

(That was a poor transition. Ignore that.)

But this tart is a bit about re-imagination and reinvention, without being too imaginative or inventive (in other word, general enough to apply to anything): so yes, an almond and ground black sesame shortbread crust with a bit of soft mochi, whipped cream, and white nectarine.

I love the mochi and cream together (which is how I ate the mochi scraps; torn up with a bit of whipped cream on top). I thought that worked extremely well—it was my favourite part of the tart. I made the mochi a bit looser and as a result it wasn’t too stiff or springy against the cream; it was just a bit stretchy, and gave the tart a bit of chew.

It also wasn’t too dry a tart, which is what I expected (starch on starch after all.) Yet the mochi didn’t feel dry at all so eating it on top of the pastry was actually perfectly fine, though it was best if you had some cream or nectarine together with it.

The problem though was how delicate the pastry was. The mochi was also fairly delicate; it could be cut with the side of a fork, however any pressure managed to shatter the crust. This was a lacking point: a bit too much textural contrast between the fragility of the crust and then the mochi and nectarine, which made it more difficult to eat.

Oh, and happy Fiesta FridayHosted by Angie, the Novice Gardener, Effie of Food Daydreaming and Jhuls, The Not So Creative Cook. It’s been another tiring week (I think I say this every time) so enjoy a tart! In the meantime, I have a weekend exam, so I’ll be off studying. Maybe with a slice of cake, though.

White nectarine black sesame mochi tart

Black sesame tart crust

Enough for 5 4-cm diameter tart shells. They are very delicate, so in retrospect I would decrease the almond and perhaps increase the amount of flour. Or look at a recipe next time; I always have mixed results when I freehand things. I tried to ameliorate some of the damage by brushing cracks of the tartshells with a bit of egg white and baking it again…I don’t know how much it helped, but it did help the shells brown nicely. This also makes fabulous shortbread.

7 g black sesame seeds

115 g flour

100 g butter, softened

35 g ground almond

generous pinch salt

1 ½ tbsp sugar

egg white

In a pan over medium heat, dry toast the black sesame seeds. It’s difficult to assess whether you’re burning them as they’re black. I go until I can hear them sizzling slightly (you’ll have to listen quite closely).

Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush. From the fragrance released you’ll be able to tell whether you toasted the seeds enough or burnt them. Let cool.

Beat the butter with the salt, sugar, ground almonds and black sesame seeds. Mix in the flour.

Compact into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and chill completely.

Roll out ¼ of an inch thick. Line the tart shells evenly, perhaps with some patching, and chill completely.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut five pieces of square parchment paper and place them over the tart shells. Fill with rice or other baking weight.

Bake for 20 minutes with the baking weight, or until the edges are lightly brown and the surface of the tart is cooked.

Remove the papers and rice, return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Brush the tart shells lightly with egg white and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Allow them to cool completely in the pan before unmoulding very carefully.

 

Mochi

Adapted from Just One Cookbook; you’ll have quite a bit of leftover mochi scraps for 5 tarts. I made it a few times to play around with the hydration and texture (I’m not sure; perhaps Mochiko is different from the glutinous rice flour I use?); this is what worked for me, but it is a bit different, so do have look at the original as well!

½ c glutinous rice flour

½ c water + 3 tbsp

2 tbsp sugar

potato starch

Combine flour, water and sugar in a bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until mochi is thickened. Then microwave for 10-20 s intervals until mochi becomes translucent.

Dust a work surface with potato starch. Scrape out mochi, dust generously with more potato starch. Roll out to around 1/4” thick. The mochi shrinks once you cut it, so use a glass around 4 cm in diameter to cut out circles of mochi.

Brush as much starch off each side as you can.

If not making immediately, place circles between layers of parchment paper in a container or plastic bag, and refrigerate.

 

Whipped cream

around 3/4 c heavy cream

1 1/2 tbsp icing sugar or to taste

Whip to desired thickness.

 

Assembly

4 white nectarines, sliced thinly

Lay a mochi circle in the bottom of the tart.

Spread or pipe some whipped cream over top of the mochi.

Arrange white nectarine slices overtop of that.