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.

steamed vegetable and mushroom buns

Growing up, the only the bread on the counter was 100% whole wheat. Whole wheat bread can be delicious and nutty, but this whole wheat bread was as delicious and nutty as mildewed sawdust. When chewed it collapsed into a gummy mass that clung to one’s teeth. I much preferred eating it frozen, where the slices of bread were actually quite crisp and refreshing.

So there was this 100% whole wheat glue, a hideously poor excuse for a bread, palatable only when slathered with butter and sugar and cinnamon, and far more useful for stopping up the corners of drafty windows. And then there was steamed bread.Steamed buns were the Wonder Bread of my childhood. Steamed bread was not whole grain in the slightest, it was pearly and luminescent. And steamed bread was sweet and it was soft and fluffy and springy. There was nothing between you and the glutinous fluffiness, the pillowy fine crumb, and the sweet chewy softness, nothing, especially not a thick crust, bitter with char and with the tears of children who lust after trimmed sandwiches. The thin stretchy skin of steamed buns made them the contents of the dreams.

I would only get steamed bread when we went for dim sum. I would carefully separate the layer of bread from the filling, discarding the meat for my parents or grandparents. I tolerated none of the the saucy cha sui tarnishing the precious experience of steamed bread, free of all other flavours or distractions.Realizing that I could make my own steamed bread at home was a revelation that came later in junior high school. While it could have been the gateway to perpetual soft bread happiness, alas, the right texture still evaded me. I found the bread tended to shrivel once out of the steamer and were tough and gummy. Distressed, I gave up and I didn’t return to steamed bread until more recently.

I certainly haven’t perfected steamed buns and my sealing could certainly use some more work, but when you have the time–say a nice lazy Saturday morning free–you can have buns in time for lunch. And now I no longer banish the filling to be separated from the bun. As I’ve come to accept the pleasant combination of bun filling and bun itself eaten together, steamed buns have become another vehicle for any sort of filling that one is feeling up to at the time. This was a simple filling, just leftover vegetables cooked with some mushrooms and dried bean curd.

As I explain in the recipe below, the buns have been improving. I’ve found larger buns and thicker layers of bread around the filling facilitate more fluffy texture than gumminess, and careful gradual cooling allows the buns to not collapse. It may not quite be Wonder Bread, but a fresh steamed bun remains a lovely, adequate, somewhat fulfilling thing all on its own.

steamed vegetable and mushroom buns

dough

Bread dough adapted from Fuschia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice. Enough for 10-11 smaller buns or 6-7 larger buns.

250 g all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp dry yeast

1/2 tsp baking powder

150-160 mL warm water

2 tsp oil

Mix the flour with the sugar, salt, yeast, baking powder. Form a well in the centre, add the water and oil. Mix with a wooden spoon, switching to hands when necessary, to form a cohesive dough. Let rest for 10 minutes, then knead a few times until nice a smooth. Form into a tight round, cover and let proof until doubled, either in the fridge overnight or for around 40 min to 1 hour at room temperature.

 

filling & assembly

2 sticks dried bean curd/tofu sheets

2 small dried shiitake mushrooms

1 small knob ginger

1 clove garlic

3 button mushrooms

2 green onions

handful cilantro

leftover cooked green vegetables–gai lan, bok choy, cabbage…

2-3 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp black vinegar

plenty of ground white pepper

small spoonful of cornstarch

Cover the dried bean curd and shiitake with boiling water and let soak. The bean curd should preferably soak overnight, but if not, instead you can soak until pliable, thinly slice crosswise, and then continue soaking–the smaller pieces will soften completely through very quickly. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the sliced bean curd and shiitake.

Remove the stem from the shiitake, thinly slice the cap crosswise and then cut perpendicularly into small pieces.

Finely chop the ginger and garlic. Chop the button mushrooms into small pieces. Heat a bit of oil in a small pan and cook the ginger, garlic, shiitake and button mushrooms until the mushrooms have cooked and sweated out the water. Set aside.

Finely chop the green onions, chop the cilantro (include the stems too, chopping them more finely). Chop the vegetables into small pieces as well; if leftover gai lan, cut the stem lengthwise into halves or quarters and then cut crosswise into small pieces. Be sure to squeeze out any excess liquid.

Combine all the prepared ingredients in a bowl. Season with the soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar and white pepper; taste and adjust as necessary. Lastly, mix in the cornstarch to sop up any excess liquid.

To fill the buns, roll the dough into a log and cut into pieces. For a nice small-medium bun, I like 40g of dough (you will get around 10-11), whereas a larger bun can use 60g of dough (6-7 of those). Roll each piece of dough into a ball, ensure they stay covered to prevent drying out, and let rest for a few minutes.

Take one round of dough and roll into a small circle, then begin rolling just around the edges. You want to end up with a round of dough which has a thicker round centre and thinner edges–as you’ll be pleating the edges together, this is useful to ensure a more even distribution of dough around the filling. Place the round of dough in the palm of your non-dominant hand and place 1-2 spoonfuls of filling in the centre. Use your thumb and fingers of your dominant hand to make folds of dough and pleat them together, turning the bun in a clockwise manner as you do so. Are you make one go around the bun, you may likely end up with a pleated top, but a rather large gaping hole in the middle, so then go around a second time, tightening and pulling together the dough in a clockwise direction until you end up with a sealed bun.

If you notice, my buns were rather poorly sealed–the filling is a bit greasy so I believe the bit of oil from the excess filling caught between the folds of dough helped them spread apart when expanding and steaming. Something to work on!

Left over filling can be used for dumplings or even briefly heated in a pan and eaten with rice.

Place each bun on a small square of paper, cover and let rise until puffed, around 20 minutes. Place in a steamer with some water, and set over high heat. Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat a bit to maintain a vigorous simmer and steam for around 8 minutes (maybe a bit longer for larger buns). Remove the steamer from the heat, and let gradually cool down with the lid still firmly on for 10 minutes–otherwise when opening the lid, the cold air can cause immediate and devastating shrinkage of otherwise lovely and fluffy steamed buns.

 

pistachio, coconut and apricot granola

Given my inability (or lack of motivation) to write anything coherent, let alone interesting or relevant, I have taken inspiration from that utilitarian structure of elementary school, that handy inspirational framework that helped me produce many a vapid and dull piece of poetry: the acrostic poem.

Really (oh that was bad), it is the writing of the posts that has become the bottleneck of the blog; I have countless (i.e. 40+) drafts of recipe + photos, without a single other word written.Anonymity in ways holds me back as it is sometimes hard to say where the line lies with the blog–lately I’ve found that I prefer to avoid the personal, even in the vague terms of extended metaphors representing my emotional state (mostly sleepy) or anonymized descriptions of exchanges and encounters.

Nor is a  purely food-focused post always that desirable; I find it’s hard to carry off without falling into the usual pattern of childhood memories unless I actually have some new insight into what I made.

Oddly yet obviously, now that I think about it, there is something to say about granola: it’s so ridiculously easy for homemade granola to be better than the ultra-sweet and dull mincemeat that is storebought.

Laden with dried fruit and nuts, I’ve been working with Alton Brown’s granola recipe for probably the last 8 years, and over time I’ve made adjustments that I’m quite fond of–eliminating an excess of completely unnecessary sugar, and altering the baking technique to retain nice large clumps.

And now get ready for a final line of profound simplicity…

Granola.

pistachio, coconut and apricot granola

Adapted from Alton Brown, and the flavour profile from Chez Moi. I quite like the level of sweetness. For large clumps, only break it up near the very end–it’s fairly delicate so it will easily separate into clumps when you pour it into a jar.

300 g rolled oats (3 c)

95 g (1 c) slivered almonds

87 g pistachios (which can be given a rough chop) (3/4 c)

70 g dried & shredded unsweetened coconut (scant 1 cup)

3/4 tsp salt

60 mL oil

90 mL maple syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

large flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 250F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the oats, nuts and coconut. Separately, whisk together the oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract until emulsified. I find for better distribution, it is best to add the salt to the liquid ingredients, though I did forget to do that this time around.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Distribute between the two pans and spread into a thin even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the pans, and bake for another 30 minutes. I like the granola to be quite chunky, so at this point I used a wide offset spatula-type instrument to go through and flip over the granola, keeping it in as large pieces as possible. Bake for another 15-30 minutes or until completely dried and lightly browned. Let cool.

Mix in the chopped apricots and store in a jar.

cardamom coffee cake with blood oranges

I have a kind of strange cake for the blog today, as well as a kind of strange topic.

We shall start with the strange topic: spam comments. I’ve recently experienced a deluge of spam comments. It started this month, and it’s really quite something.

If you’re not familiar with Akismet stats, the green represents “ham” or actual comments from individual readers, whereas the yellow represents the spam.

And the spam is simply bizarre–lately I’ve received a batch of seemingly sincere yet rather awkward and broken sentences, combined with strange urls that seem to lead to nowhere (try assortment of 6 random letters:______.com). At least it made sense when the post content heavily endorsed certain SEO services or the author’s url lead to youtube videos about erectile dysfunction medications.

Sometimes I feel rather touched by this impersonal, mass-produced anonymous spam–isn’t this one sweet? A bit creepy because of the weird URL and everything but…

Thanks for your personal maoelvrus[sic] posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and may come back at some point. I want to encourage one to continue your great work, have a nice weekend!

And then there’s some nonsensical comments such as this:

Pin my tail and call me a dokyne,[sic] that really helped.

There’s also some abnormally coherent posts without any discernible spelling or grammar mistakes…yet they’re also completely irrelevant to anything at all that I’ve posted. And so strangely specific as well! At least the generic comments would apply pretty equally to just about anyone’s blog…but this?

Looks fabulous! I’m a big fan of the stripes and the woven pinboard looks perfect in that space. I’m totally green with jealously because we don’t have a mudroom. You walk in from the garage right into the living room. Carpeted living room. Argh! The one thing about our house that drives me up the wall!

Stripes and woven pinboards is a pretty serious thing for mudroom fanatics these days.

I also receive some spam that are rather critical:

Write more, thats[sic] all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre[sic] talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

I would be convinced if only there was actually a video and the poster’s name was not “where to buy …”.

Some searching on the internet helped clear up some of my confusion as to how leaving a comment either a) obviously promoting a product or b) simply bizarre could be at all useful. If you’re curious, I’d really recommend this read. It’s a matter of links and clicks–and the numbers are only significant when the number of spam comments are a several degrees of magnitude higher. And with so many spam comments, sometimes not too much care goes into how they’re written. The article also provided some explanation for all comments with curious word choice and bizarre diction and syntax, as well as the urls that lead nowhere.

Initially, from I poured through the spam folder with bewilderment, some amusement, and a bit of annoyance; spam seemed like an undeniable frustration and trespass. While I’ve received comments that are clearly spam by the nonsense and the product-peddling, reading more about the spam comment industry did make me realize it’s not always that clear of a distinction. There could be grey areas–I wonder if mass-produced spam comments became a bit more targeted and relevant to my post, whether I would still view them as spam. Or what about if someone actually did read your post, but then commented solely to promote their product?I have similar ambivalent and conflicted feelings about this cake!

The cake was quite yummy, but it had a strange sort of texture; it was a bit spongey actually. Altogether this cake also suffered from the same problem of too much acidity with the mascarpone and orange combination as did this cake I posted last time. Will I ever learn?

cardamom coffee cake with blood oranges

rye coffee and cardamom cake

150 g butter at room temperature

50 g brown sugar

30 g granulated sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp kosher salt

3 eggs, divided

75 g dark rye flour

75 g all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground anise

1 tsp baking powder

100 mL cooled coffee with a splash of heavy cream

to serve

coffee liqueur

1 blood orange

60 g mascarpone

120 g yoghurt

icing sugar, to taste

Cream butter with brown sugar and 20 g of the granulated sugar until light. Continue creaming away as you add the vanilla and salt until everything is very light and fluffy. Beat in 3 egg yolks one at a time and 1 egg white. Set aside the remaining two egg whites.

Whisk together the flours, spices and baking powder and set aside.

Whip the two egg whites with the remaining 10 g granulated sugar to soft peaks.

Alternate mixing the flour and coffee into the butter mixture. Lastly, fold in the egg whites, first lightening by completely folding in one dollop and then mixing in the remaining. Scrape into a prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 350F for or until an inserted skewer is removed with only a few crumbs clinging to it.

Let cool for a few moments before pouring over a few spoonfuls of coffee liqueur if desired (I think this may have made my cake collapse a little bit).

Mix together the mascarpone and yoghurt until smooth. Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Add zest of 1 blood orange.

Cut the peel from the blood orange and slice into rounds. Once the cake is cooled completely, spread the mascarpone on top followed with the orange slices.

blood orange, sumac and rosemary cake

blood orange sumac and rosemary layer cake

There are a lot of half-blogged recipes that I’ve been meaning to revisit. Many of them are just drafts, still dangling in the unpublished limbo. They’re often recipes with potential paired with some rather awful flaw that needs remediation, or, in a more vain vein, they simply have some rather awful photos instead.sumac rosemary and almond granolasumac cake layersblood orange and sumac curdcake assembly

Others are actually posted on the blog but were not quite right, or at this point are feeling a bit outdated.

This cake is one of those cases.

It’s a long-awaited return to that rosemary forest cake, to make it an actual rosemary forest cake. It’s been bugging me for a while, and now here is, at least I think, a much more proper rosemary forest cake. layer cake assemblyundecorated sumac rosemary blood orange cakeundecorated sumac rosemary blood orange cakeThe forests that I know tend to be the homogeneous sort of endless conifers stretching over the horizon and where the forest floor, acidified by a mat of pine needles, is fairly unwelcoming to new and diverse growth. It is far from the field of weeds that was the previous rendition.A while ago, Hilda had suggested trying to make a sumac cake (and if you follow her blog, you’ll realize this was in the context of a post about sumac that she had foraged herself). I gave it a try, pairing the sumac with another citrusy flavour frequently paired with rosemary, blood orange. While I liked all the components individually, I didn’t consider how they would come together: as one very acidic cake. The lightly acidic marscapone frosting perhaps didn’t help much either.

I did realize, however, that sumac is a wonderful natural colouring! Previously I’ve usually relied upon hibiscus to boost the colour of curds; but sumac did the trick perfectly, while also producing a delightfully pink sponge cake.

I made a granola and a crumb for vague rock-y-sort-of-outcroppings. I think the granola looked a bit better, but I preferred the taste of the buttery crumble. This garnish, while it seemed a bit out of place, was actually quite a relief as it was sweet and not acidic unlike the rest of the cake!

Anyways, another layer cake for the archives. blood orange, sumac and rosemary cake

sumac and rosemary cake

Makes 3 6″ diameter cakes. 

3 eggs

75 g icing sugar

1 tsp sumac

a generous 1/2 tsp of finely chopped rosemary leaves

55 g flour (part spelt is nice)

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter the cake pans, line with a parchment circle, and butter the parchment.

Whisk the eggs with the icing sugar until smoothly incorporated. Continue to beat until the eggs are very, very thick, holding a nice ribbon, and pale and fluffy. Whisk in the sumac and rosemary.

Sift the dry ingredients over top and fold in, then fold in the milk. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for 10-15 minutes or until browned on the sides and well set on top.

 

rosemary and sumac crumb

For a sort of mountainous rosemary forest, you can either use this crumb or the granola that follows. I preferred the  buttery taste of this crumb, but rather appreciated the striated sedimentary look of the granola.

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp brown sugar

pinch salt

1 tsp sumac

1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

4 tbsp flour

3 tbsp rolled oats

2 tsp maple syrup

2-3 tbsp slivered almonds

Mix all the ingredients together and roll into small clumps or for small more “crumb” type, just scatter over a lined baking sheet. Bake at 365F around 15 minutes or until browned.

 

rosemary and sumac granola

1/2 c rolled oats

1/4 c slivered almonds

1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

2 tsp sumac

1 tbsp brown sugar

pinch salt

1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

1 generous tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 250F. Mix all the ingredients and spread in a thin even layer over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for an hour without stirring and then let cool. Only then, gently disturb the granola to break into large delicate clusters.

 

blood orange curd

The sumac provides the colour, but the flavour of the blood orange still predominates. It turned out looser than I would have wished–I think 2 eggs + an egg yolk would have been a better amount. 

2 blood oranges, juice (~90 mL) and zest

1 egg + 2 egg yolks

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp dried ground sumac

100 mL heavy cream

Combine the blood orange juice, zest, eggs and sugar in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. As it warms up, add the butter and whisk in. Continue to cook until well thickened (it took around 10-13 minutes). Whisk in the sumac and press through a sieve if it’s gotten a bit too lumpy. Transfer to a bowl and chill completely.

Whip the cream and fold into the curd.

 

mascarpone

270 g mascarpone

4 tsp sugar

2 tbsp milk, or as needed to loosen up the cheese

1 capful of rum and/or a bit of Triple Sec (to reinforce the orange motif)

zest of 1 blood orange

100 mL heavy cream

Cream the mascarpone with all the ingredients except the heavy cream until light and incorporated.

Whip the cream to nice peaks and fold into the mascarpone.

 

assembly

Fill a pastry bag with a bit of the mascarpone. Pipe a ring over two layers of cake. Fill the centre with some of the lightened blood orange curd.

Put one layer on top of the other, and then place the final cake layer on top. Cover everything with the remaining mascarpone. Put a few pieces of rosemary onto the top and scatter with some granola and/or crumb.

tarte tartiflette

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tarte tartiflette

I recently spent some time in Saskatoon. It was a bit like revisiting an old album (or for a less poetic example, rewatching the first season of Digimon on Youtube) where you discover that you remember so much. There is so much familiar, and maybe it’s a particular exchange (and if we’re talking English-dubbed Digimon, almost certainly some terrible puns) or a particular street or shop, but some of it is in fact crystalline in its clarity. And some of it was not even the recall of memories that had been slightly out of reach–I realised a number of childhood memories that I had falsely attributed to Victoria were in fact Saskatoon. Despite the drastically different location–one on an island, and one in the prairies–there is something similar about the feeling between the two cities, perhaps to do with the size and the people and this trajectory of gentle growth. It’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, but there is also the architecture of a smaller downtown packed with beautiful older buildings.

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As for the baking. Well. Many things, such as funerals and the like, are not often particularly cheerful–though they can be many other things, such as cathartic, releasing, memorable, and reminiscent. However, bookending anything not particularly cheerful with visits to bakeries and a box of pastries tends to be, if not positive, at the very least not a negative development.

It was in one sort of situation or another that we found ourselves at Little Bird Patisserie. In a word it was incredible; while we didn’t arrive in time for a famed cruffin, the croissants were spectacular, crisp, light, flaky, well-browned, and perhaps what made them stand out the most–well-salted.

t was a bit of a fantasy shop for me actually; apparently they serve afternoon tea, a creative and rotating array of pastries savoury and sweet, and of course a fantastic croissant.

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But anyways, after recovering from all the croissant-induced satiety and gaiety, there was also their “tartiflette“. It essentially sang of smokey cured meat, aged cheese, all nestled between packed layers of thinly sliced potatoes under a crisp, deep brown crust. And so while the croissants are something I hope to (re)visit someday, for the moment the tartiflette took priority.

Looking into the namesake a bit, tartiflette, it turns out, is a gratin-type dish, completely different from the tart.  It does retain the same sort of spirited mishmash of rich and winter-y ingredients and intense carbohydrate piling.

In making this tart, I used what meat and cheese I had in the fridge. As I had hard cheeses, and because conceptualizing putting together the tart wasn’t clicking otherwise, I made a very thick and rich bechamel (more along the lines of a suspension of milk in melted cheese than the converse). Onions, shallots and cured meat was cooked together until the onions were softened and sweet. All of this was layered with parboiled potatoes.

On the potatoes front, I imagine this working just perfectly with waxy small red potatoes (and the skins would look so pretty as well). I used the small, wrinkled, and fervently sprouting kennebecs leftover from the summer however. They’re starchier, but still worked nicely. Not having any fresh herbs was a bit of shock, so I used a tad bit of dried thyme–and wish that I had not been so worried and just went for it.

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It was a good tart–especially eaten warm, it is rich and heavy. The bottom crust stayed flaky and didn’t become at all sodden, and the thin spread of bechamel overtop crisped up beautifully.

However, it did end up a bit more like a scalloped potatoes tart than I would have hoped. I did identify a number of changes I would make to remedy this. First, I should have sliced the potatoes more thinly; really, I sliced them approximately scalloped-potatoes-type thickness. This would result in more thin layers and less of a “chunky” texture. Further, along with more layers, I would have spread out the bechamel more thinly. Finally, I also would have liked a greater herby presence–so if you have fresh thyme, put in plenty, and maybe even some parsley stems.

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tarte tartiflette

Makes 1 large rectangular tart (roughly 26 x 15 cm). Inspired by the tartiflette at Little Bird Patisserie and then by this tartiflette recipe in the Guardian by Felicity Cloake.

pastry

166 g cold butter

200 g whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp kosher salt

40-50 mL cold water

Cut the butter into thin pieces.

Mix together the flour and salt on the countertop. Add the butter, turning to coat both sides with flour. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the butter into the flour. Use a bench scraper to “fold” the butter flour mixture in half on top of itself. Repeat these steps until the butter forms many thin flakes. Make a well in the centre and add the water, working the dough in the same manner by turning it over onto itself until a cohesive pastry is formed. Wrap and chill completely.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a large rectangular pan (26 x 15 cm). Blind bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the baking weight and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is a bit browned.

 

filling

600 g small potatos

1 onion

1/2 shallot

50 g coppa (as I had some very discounted old coppa…otherwise, smokey bacon or lardons)

1 tbsp butter

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the washed potatoes. Parboil until just tender. Drain, cover in cold water, and set aside to cool.

Thinly slice the onion and finely mince the shallot. Take the coppa or bacon and cut into small strips or pieces. Melt the butter in a pan over medium, add the onions and shallots and cook until very soft and the onions smell cooked. Add the coppa or bacon and continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are a bit sweet. Set aside.

Return to the cooled potatoes, drying them off and slicing very thinly.

 

bechamel

1 tbsp butter

1/8 tsp dry thyme

1 1/2 tsp flour

150 mL half-and-half or milk…I used primarily half-and-half

1 bay leaf

black pepper

30 g gruyere

80 g aged white cheddar

Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the thyme, add the flour and whisk until thick and cooked. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half or milk until smooth. Add the bay leaf and let sit over a gentle heat (steaming, not simmering) for around 10 minutes.

While the bay leaf infuses, roughly grate the cheeses. Remove the bay leaf and add the cheese a handful at a time to the sauce, whisking until melted before the next handful. Add a bit of black pepper.

 

assembly

pastry

potatoes

onion, shallot and copa mixture

bechamel

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Arrange a single layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of the tart. Spread half of the onion mixture and a generous third of the bechamel over top. Repeat. Finally, set down a last layer of potatoes and spread with the scant remaining bechamel. A tiny sprinkle of salt over the potato layers may have some merit.

Bake for around 40 minutes or until a bit bubbly and deeply golden. Let cool on a wire rack–some time is required to allow the filling to set a bit, but it is best warm. Store in the fridge, but before eating, do warm it up in the oven. I insist.

black tea and caramel buckwheat pear loaf

Pears are a gorgeous fruit. I find they are set apart from apples because they poach wonderfully and retain a bit more of their texture, and quite a bit more of their composure. (Last time I poached apples, I looked away for a bit too long and they disintegrated into a pulpy and emotional mess.)

This is the sort of poached pear cake I’ve seen in various places, on the cover of a cookbook and on a blog or two. It looks quite stunning–in this version, the pears are poached in black tea, set in a rather strongly-flavoured buckwheat cake and served with a black tea and poaching liquid caramel. All in all, it was quite alright, but the black tea motif was difficult to actually identify. salted carameldrizzling caramel over poached pear cakeslice of poached pear cakeThe buckwheat cake is dense and very buckwheat-y. I made it not very sweet at all, so the caramel, rather than being cloying (though it will become cloying if you eat enough!) is a pleasant source of additional sweetness.

However, structurally, the loaf wasn’t particularly impressive. This cake would make for a rather poor brick, and is not recommended for construction of any sort, having a hidden weak centre. The pears shrunk a bit during baking–as you can see in the pictures, they’ve hunched down in their respective little loaf hollows with a fair amount of wiggle room. They also didn’t cling to the surrounding loaf. I suppose I wasn’t really expecting them too anyways, but they may have had the pears been drier. As a result of this, it was also a bit difficult to keep the pear slice as part of the loaf slice without the two falling apart. (Cake slices are not recommended for use as shingles).

Now, on the cake side of things, it was actually surprisingly fun to eat a slice of cake with a thick slab of poached pear in the middle.

Does the black tea flavour or poaching liquid flavour come out in the caramel? I can’t tell, which I’m pretty sure means no, it doesn’t. It might be a bit more bitter though, which to me is a rather nice thing. Next time I would use spice-poached pears and a spice-infused caramel instead–perhaps some stronger flavours would come out better.black tea and caramel buckwheat pear loaf 

black tea and cardamom poached pears

~ 3 c water, or enough water to partially fill the saucepan you use

1 tsp black tea leaves

3 green cardamom pods, cracked

1/4 c granulated sugar

3 pears

Heat the water in a saucepan just big enough to fit the three pears. Put the black tea in a tea ball, and add this to the water, along with the cardamom and sugar.

Peel the pears and place into the simmering water. Cover and let simmer gently–I went a wrote an essay, okay, so just a paragraph of an essay, during this time–for a while. Check the pears with a knife, it should be tender all the way through. Remove the tea ball (if it seems as though it is getting too strong, you may want to remove the tea earlier). Turn off the heat and let the pears cool in the poaching liquid.

 

buckwheat loaf

Vaguely based off of nothing in particular.

75 g soft butter

75 g granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp lemon zest

80 g buckwheat flour

125 g all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

100 mL thick Greek yoghurt

150 mL milk

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

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest, and cardamom.

Separately, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the yoghurt and milk.

Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.

Slice the bottom off of each of the poached pears so that they can stand up. Place them in the loaf pan. Carefully spoon the cake batter around the pears and evenly spread it out.

Bake the loaf until an inserted skewer is removed clean. It would go faster if your pears are at room temperature instead of cold, like mine were.

 

black tea caramel glaze

Adapted from Dash of Texas. Makes a generous amount of glaze–more than you’ll use! I  put in 1/4 tsp salt. At first I thought I put in too much, but then I liked it with the cake. I would recommend putting in a bit less if you’ll be eating it with other things, and then sprinkle some addition flaky salt overtop if necessary.

80 mL heavy cream

1 black tea bag

1/4 c granulated sugar

2 tbsp pear poaching liquid

2 tbsp butter (~28 g)

kosher salt, I put in around 1/4 tsp

Heat the cream until scalded. Put in the tea bag and set aside to let it steep 20 minutes or so. Squeeze the tea bag to remove any excess cream. Pass the cream through a strainer and measure out 60 mL (1/4 c) that will be used for the caramel. I had just enough.

Place the sugar in a small saucepan and start it off with the poaching liquid, heating over medium-high heat until bubbling. Continue to cook until the sugar is a nice amber colour. Add the butter and whisk in, then remove from the heat and add the cream slowly, whisking constantly. Lastly, whisk in a bit of salt.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool before using.

 

When you’re ready to serve the cake, drizzle the top with caramel. Slice into thick pieces and serve with additional glaze if desired.