gougères with chestnut, mushroom and ricotta cream

Today, instead of writing a blog post, I bring you an excerpt from the world-renowned and very insightful website, Blog Tropes. Is this the equivalency of submitting a Wikipedia page for an assignment? Well yes, you can certainly see the state of inspiration that I am in. As well, I apologize in advance for not fully resuscitating all of the Blog Trope hyperlinks (they seemed not to have copied over properly).

Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About

A staple in the blog post topic repertoire, Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About, uses the body of the blog post, ideally reserved for witty anecdotes or authoritative and relevant tips and advice, to describe how the author is struggling to write said blog post. When phrased that way, Writing about How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About sounds almost clever and meta, but this lowbrow technique may be employed as a desperate method of getting out of needing to think of something actually engaging, original, or interesting.

Often used in conjunction with Lamenting the Sheer Quantity of Drafts and citing Lack of Blogging Inspiration as though an existential crisis of the most significant variety. Curiously, lamenting the number of drafts only seems to precipitate the accumulation of more and more drafts (see Vicious Circle Theory or how in this post from a couple of years prior, a naive blogger complained about having 27 drafts, then 40 drafts, when now they have over 70).

This topic may be brought into use when the stores of Throwback to Childhood Memory of Physical Education have been exhausted or become rather repetitive. Not just mandatory gym class, any childhood memory is apt to being overused–while spaced out over a few years, the same glorious yet essentially cliche lemon cake becomes a bit dull when it is so lovingly described for the second third time.

Now, Writing About How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About can appear to be successful because it is:

  • extremely relevant (see Blogging about Blogging)
  • a personal anecdote (see Revealing Too Much Information on the Internet)
  • an anecdote that others can likely relate to (see Being as Generic as Possible)
  • sufficiently anonymous (see Not Revealing Too Much Information on the Internet).

However, it falls prey to a number of pitfalls, namely Lack of Novelty and Substance. Indeed, superfluous adjectives and excessive comments in brackets (for example, a comment such as this one) are able to expand a few sentences into a brief, yet lofty blog post. However, with no input of new ideas and material, writers may fall back onto the same combination of words which take on a stale and repetitive taste, for both readers and the writer themself. A blogger in trouble can be identified when they have used this very topic for severall[sic] blog posts, transforming their blog into an endless Echo Chamber.

While it is true that in certain cases, originality in the mode of delivery can the message “I am simply having such a dreadfully difficult time thinking of something to write about” a bit less dull, Gawkish Attempts at Poetry are always a flop and are strongly cautioned against.

Fortunately, for the beleaguered blogger there are some alternatives to the prosaic and hackneyed Writing About How Hard It Is to Think of Something to Write About: Recipe Amalgamate (which appears long, not due to a deeply though blog post, but due to so many recipes), pseudo-profound Photo-centric Posts, Trick Your Little Cousin into Writing Posts for You, and the most reliable, Copy and Paste Entries from Blog Tropes (with the valiant intent of better informing the general public).

Subtrope of Blog Fatigue and Blog Block.

gougères with chestnut, mushroom and ricotta cream

There are other choux pastry recipes on the blog, but ah I quite like this one! The proportions are easy to remember, and instead of relying on my faulty instinct as to how much egg I should add, I  followed the recipe. Which I do not always recommend because most people have much more reasonable and helpful instincts than me. But I think was a useful exercise in helping me recalibrate my choux-pastry-consistency-instincts a bit. I found the choux pastry consistency was thicker than I usually make it, and it puffed so nicely!

The filling is quite fun–a chance to use all sorts of yummy-sounding things like chestnuts and mushrooms and ricotta, and use them together! It turned out really nicely actually, though it took some tinkering. The filling began as far too rich–after all, strained whole milk ricotta and heavy cream? Followed with butter-cooked mushrooms? Then the shallots added a bit of sweetness that pulled some dessert-y notes out of the ricotta. I added enough lemon juice to bring the filling from cloying to, no, not a staple of the balanced diet, but to a balanced taste. Plenty of finely chopped chives and herbs also helped to brighten the filling. I think the key is to keep tasting as you make it to make sure it tastes right. Which is not something I get to say too often when it comes to baking.

Each gougère is quite rich–as far as serving size goes, I recommend cutting them into pieces. The choux pastry makes 12 puffs, but the filling is sufficient for around 8 (filled quite generously!). The gougères are very pleasant eaten on their own as well–they’re light, crisp, and savoury. If the plan is to eat them without filling, even consider sprinkling them with some very flaky salt before baking (or more cheese).

I think these would be lovely augmented with some cooked vegetables or greens, layered above or below the filling as well for something more substantial and less solid cheese.

gougères

Borrowed, in their near entirety, from Alain Ducasse via Food and Wine. Makes 12 big puffs.

1/4 c water

1/4 c milk

1/2 stick of butter

good pinch kosher salt

1/2 c flour (a good time to sub whole wheat because they are already quite rustic looking)

2 large eggs

pepper, nutmeg

1.75 oz gruyère, grated

pecorino romano or more gruyère for sprinkling over top

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a saucepan, warm the water, milk, salt and butter until the butter is fully melted. Bring to a boil, add the flour and quickly mix in with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and continue to cook the mixture until it forms a ball. Remove the pastry from the heat and let cool slightly before adding the eggs one at a time, beaten into the pastry most easily with the aid of a wire whisk. The dough should now be shiny, but not fluid. Mix in some ground black pepper and nutmeg, followed by the grated cheese.

Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe mounds of pastry, around 1 1/2 tbsp to 2 tbsp in size evenly spaced on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Lightly wet a finger and smooth the top of the piped choux pastry. Finely grate a bit of pecorino romano (as I had, shortsightedly, used up all the gruyère I had in the choux pastry) or more gruyère over top of the puffs.

Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until puffed and well browned. Poke a hole in the bottom of each puff to let the steam release and let cool on their sides or on a wire rack.

filling

Makes enough filling to fill around 8 gougères.

around 7 medium button mushrooms

1 small shallot

3/4 c whole milk ricotta, drained overnight in a sieve lined with cheesecloth and set over a bowlaround

6 small chestnuts, finely chopped

a small bundle of chives, minced

leaves picked from a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon (or any other preferred herb)

salt and pepper to taste

3 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c heavy cream

chive flowers

Cut the mushrooms into small pieces; heat some butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the mushrooms with a bit of salt and pepper until browned. Mince the shallot and cook with butter until translucent and browned as well. Let the mushrooms and shallots cool.

Combine the ricotta with the mushrooms, shallots, chestnuts and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper and the lemon juice. Whip the cream until stiff, then fold into the ricotta to lighten.

Slice the gougères leaving a thin base and a tall domed top. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe a ring of filling over the base of the gougères. Sprinkle with chive flowers and place the top of the gougère on top.

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week-end citron (lemon loaf 3.0)

When I was younger, we would purchase this lemon loaf cake from Première Moisson in Montreal. I thought it was so special and regal, packed in a stiff transparent plastic box on a gold piece of cardboard. And packed was key: the cake barely fit in the box, and each time you slide it out, the top of the cake streaked the plastic with glaze. Those 1800 cubic centimetres contained satisfaction for days.

The cake had two presentations — first it would be the crisp morning coating of a crackly sugar glaze, and later, after a day or so, the glaze would be softened and the crown of each slice would be moist and saturated with lemon and sugary glaze.

I’ve been trying to make a lemon cake that lived up to my excessively detailed and visceral memories for a long time. That goal had vaguely concluded with the previous lemon loaf cake–I wasn’t fully satisfied, but I had brought that cake recipe as far as I could.

I was fairly certain that was to be that and any advances in lemon cake-making remained dormant until the last time my grandparents were in Montreal. They brought back a shrink wrapped loaf cake, and while it wasn’t glazed, this cake, labelled as “week-end citron”, had the tender and fine crumb that I remembered.

But best of all, the name was also familiar: the “week-end cake” recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi from which I had previously adapted this chestnut and prune version. In fact, the crumb and richness was quite similar to the cake I had made. A look at the ingredients also seemed to confirm that this rather odd-sounding “week-end cake” (“odd” from my very limited Canadian anglophone perspective) was actually a thing (duly noted)–the cake from Première Moisson also contained heavy cream and rum.

I set about making a lemon adaptation of the weekend cake, taking some of the core principles that guided my previous favourite lemon cake. Based on Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake, we use two glazes: some lemon juice squeezed over just out of the oven followed by a set sugary glaze once the cake is cool. But let’s take some measures to control the sweetness–just using straight lemon juice for the first soaking and cutting sugar from the cake. This is key so we can completely coat the whole cake (and I mean every spot of the top and sides) in a doughnut-like thin sugary crust without it being overwhelming (no thick drizzle please!). In the previous rendition, cuts to the sugar budget compromised texture and led to a bit of an anemic crust. This cake cooks long enough in the oven to end up with a golden brown crust, and has a rather lovely texture that is less dependent on proper butter-sugar aeration.

This cake is like I remember in the important ways. The crumb is finer and denser, and straightforwardly rich and each slice is solid, not crumbly. The deeply browned crust peeking out from below an icing sugar glaze and the profile when you cut a slice from the middle–of a tall, proud craggy crest of lemon yellow cake–is just what I remember.

This cake is also not like I remember; in fact, I think it’s a wee bit better in some of the even more important ways such as being very, very lemony. 

I’ve been very clear with the fact that this blog is not quite a refined and reliable source of recipes. Rather, it’s far better characterized as a mismatched aggregate of ideas and inspiration and disasters, but mostly passably edible things that require some further work that I often lack the time and patience to really undertake.

But oh ho ho. This recipe? Well. I’ve made this cake upwards of seven times now (it is a good one to bring to the lab). And each time it has been actually rather excellent. Of course, all the credit goes towards the reliable base cake recipe from Dorie Greenspan, because in fact, this cake is far easier and reliable than the previous one. With melted butter, there’s no need for softening nor emergency measures when your perfect room-temperature butter gets wrecked by those dastardly fridge-temperature eggs. Nor do you need to actually put in the work of creaming butter (which I know really really does pay off, yet I am never able to convince myself of that in the moment).

Now this earlier lemon cake still has plenty of merit, just of a different sort. When your butter and eggs are at the right temperature and properly creamed, the crumb is softer, lighter and fluffier. It’s not worse at all (and probably better to some), it’s just that this cake is the one that I’ve been looking for all this time.

Well. I’ll try not to overstate and exaggerate too much. It’s a very, very small thing, but it’s still a really lovely cake.

week-end citron

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s brown butter and vanilla weekend cake in Baking Chez Moi.

cake

238 g a.p. flour

1 1/2 tsp b.p.

1/2 tsp kosher salt

150 g sugar

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

4 room temperature eggs

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp dark rum (optional)

80 mL heavy cream

1 stick butter, melted and cooled

to glaze

juice of 1 lemon

1 c icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a loaf pan with a parchment paper sling and butter the exposed sides of the pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until very aromatic. Add the eggs and whisk thoroughly to combine, then whisk in the vanilla extract, rum and finally the heavy cream. Mix in the flour mixture with a spatula, and finally add the butter in 2-3 additions, folding in the butter completely each time. Scrape the batter, which is beautifully ribbony, into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Remove from the oven, prick lightly all over with a wooden skewer, and drizzle overtop juice of half a lemon. Let cool around 10-15 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

For the second glaze, I recommend doing this the day you’re planning to serve the cake. Usually I bake the cake the night before, and then finish glazing next morning so it is freshly set before bringing it as a gift/to the workplace.

For the sugar glaze, whisk together the icing sugar with enough lemon juice (usually a bit less than half a lemon) to make a glaze that is thin and drizzly (it will appear nearly translucent), but will still set. Place the cooled cake on a wire rack over a pan. Pour the glaze over the cake, using a large offset spatula to spread the glaze evenly over the sides of the cake until it is completely coated.

cardamom (not exactly) madeleines

Okay, not even not exactly or not quite, these are not at all madeleines. They’re financiers, just pretending to be madeleines…

But they rise perfectly, they’re quicker to make, and they don’t get dry. Unlike my experience with madeleines. A day later, as soon as the madeleines have had some time to cool off…they become dry! Or I might just be over baking them?

The top crust is caramelized, crisp and candy-like, while the inside retains a tender, moist and buttery crumb. So they’re not madeleines…but they’re very delicious and very cute.

cardamom & amaranth (not exactly) madeleines

Recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery’s financiers. Not madeleines. The amaranth flour doesn’t even deserve a mention–it was just something I acquired recently and I decided to throw some in. I really don’t know what I’m looking for though when it comes to amaranth…I’ll have to try a cake or shortbread with more amaranth to see what it’s like. 

67 g butter

60 g granulated sugar

17 g all purpose flour

10 g amaranth flour

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

40 g ground almonds

67 g egg whites

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Butter a madeleine pan with 16 madeleine wells and chill to make the butter firm and the pan cold.

Brown the butter and set aside.

Whisk together all the remaining ingredients except for the egg whites. Make a well in the dry ingredients and gradually whisk in the egg whites, beating until smooth. Whisk in the very warm browned butter in two additions.

Place one spoonful of batter in each madeleine mould. Pop in the oven, turning the temperature down to 350F. Bake 10-15 minutes or until well lightly browned on the top edges and firmed on top.

As soon as you can manage, carefully transfer the not-really-madeleines from the pan onto a wire rack, setting them shell-patterned-side down.

 

Bonus: pistachio financiers (also made in a madeleine pan)

I randomly chose numbers and it worked out! It would indeed be quite a bit more logical to just substitute ground pistachio for the ground almond, but I didn’t have any pistachios at the time, only pistachio butter. So here it is:

Leave out the cardamom. Reduce the ground almonds to 35g. Brown 44g butter, and whisk together with 42g pistachio butter until smooth. Fold this mixture into the batter at the end.

apple turnovers (with the Writographer)

Today The Cousin returns and thankfully also writes a blog post for me.

In a kitchen in a galaxy not too far away…

Greetings readers of tentimestea’s blog! I am The Cousin, a.k.a The Writographer, and I am back to help out my cousin with her blog while visiting for the holidays.

Today, the two of us are making apple turnovers, however instead of the traditional triangular shaped turnovers, I have managed to convince my cousin to let us shape them as dumplings (this is the first time I have successfully changed my cousin’s mind when it comes to baking).

The last time I wrote a post for this wonderful blog, I had decided to write a play-by-play of what went down in the kitchen during our baking session. However, for this post we had a lengthy discussion and it was decided that I should not do another commentary of the baking session. Although, all I will say about the baking session is that lighting was not on our side. We spent much time playing with the aperture, shutter speed and white balance. Nevertheless, we managed to take some photographs that do not look completely odd (tentimestea note: we tried very hard! I was also very bossy!).

This holiday has been very Star Wars filled. I decided to watch the prequel trilogy (at this point I have watched the first two, and will hopefully watch the third one this evening). I also went to watch Star Wars: Episode VIII- The Last Jedi, which was absolutely fantastic. I thought it was so cool, and I am now impatiently waiting for 2019 for the ninth episode to come out.

While this is the first time Star Wars appears in this blog, it is not the first time that Star Wars has been the theme of a baking session. When I last visited my cousin, we made Star Wars shaped cookies (Yoda, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Millennium Falcon, Death Star and Stormtroopers). Hopefully I will eventually persuade my cousin to allow us to make more Star Wars themed food. However, I have managed to get her to agree that she will watch Star Wars. (tentimestea note: I actually have no memory of this, so this “agreement” may have involved some liberal interpretation on my cousin’s behalf. But I suppose her passion for Star Wars does make me want to understand why she adores it so much.)

When discussing Star Wars with her, and trying to get her interested, she was questioning what about it was so very interesting. I find that Star Wars is an incredible film series because of its characters. One of my all time favourite characters is C-3PO, because he is quite funny and is very amusing to watch. I also really love the relationship between him and R2-D2. I actually really love all the droids in the films, especially BB-8, because while the other two are very amusing, BB-8 seems to be the most helpful during a battle because he can roll very quickly, and unlike R2-D2, he can go down the stairs (which was very amusing to watch in The Force Awakens). It is also very touching to see BB-8’s connection to his owner, Poe Dameron. I will not spoil the latest film for those of you who have not yet seen it, but I will say that there is a moment in the film where Poe is more interested in seeing if his droid is alright than whether his human friends are. In all fairness, if I had a droid as cute, loyal and helpful as BB-8, I would most likely react the same way. I would also like to have a Wookiee as a friend, like Han Solo and Chewbacca. Not only would he be loyal and helpful for piloting around the galaxy, he would also give very warm, comforting hugs. I have often thought about sleeping next to Chewie and using him as my pillow/blanket.

There is so much more that I could say about every single character from the Star Wars franchise, but, since not all you fellow readers of this blog are fans of this series, I do not wish to bore you with a Star Wars rant, since you are here to appreciate the incredible baking that goes on in tentimestea’s kitchen.

So, here we go: back to the kitchen. The end result is very delicious. The pastry is reasonably flaky and the filling is very apple and cinnamon tasting. However, that part is slightly shocking to me considering all the ingredients that we put into the apples (tentimestea note: too much cinnamon I think). I would advise that if the turnovers are not eaten almost immediately after taking them out of oven, to put them into the toaster oven to crisp the pastry and make the apples warmer (I also think that this would go very well with vanilla ice-cream, when warm).

Thank you The Cousin! You can find more of her writing and photography at the Writographer.

My aunt, uncle and The Cousin were sweet enough to buy me some spices for baking with, which included cardamom and a few new ones to me, such as the pit of the sapote fruit. At the spice store they were advised it could be used like nutmeg. At first I could find little other information on the sapote pit (as opposed to the fruit) apart from this Chowhound thread started by a person who purchased the pit from the same place and received the same advice. After a bit more searching I  realized the mamey sapote pit is also referred to as pixtli and used, for example, in mole.

The sapote pit (pixtli) does has some nutmeg-y tones, but is milder and less spicy, with some nuttiness and a more cinnamon-type toastiness. Next I’m thinking I will try it in something with cream and maybe chocolate, similar to what I saw in this cookbook.

Overall, these turnovers were alright. Nothing exceptional, but simple, straightforwards: just pastry and cooked apples–or really, whatever sort of fruit or jam or nut cream you like.

apple turnovers

Pastry methodology, as most often always, adapted from Chez Pim’s pie dough.

pastry

150g whole wheat flour

1 stick butter

1/2 tsp salt + 1 tbsp sugar

cold water

filling

400g peeled and chopped apples

5 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

part of 1 green cardamom pod, crushed

1/2 tsp finely grated sapote, or 1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 capfuls dark rum

assembly

beaten egg, to glaze

For the pastry, combine the flour with the sugar and salt and pour out onto the counter. Cut the butter into thin slabs, dust both sides in the flour. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the butter into the flour. Use a bench scraper to turn the flour/butter over onto itself and flatten again. Repeat until the butter is in thin flakes. Make a well in the centre, add a couple tbsp cold water, adding more as necessary, and mix by the same folding method until you have a shaggy cohesive dough. Roll out into a rectangle, fold in thirds, then roll out in the other direction and fold once more. Wrap in plastic and chill completely.

For the filling, place the peeled and chopped apples in a small saucepan, add the sugar, spices, rum, and cook until the apples are just tender. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Roll out the pastry thinly and cut out rounds. Roll the rounds out a bit thinner if necessary–the smaller the rounds are, the less filling you can fit into them. Pile the filling in the middle (1 1/2 -2 tbsp depending on the size of the round). Brush the edge with a bit of water and close, then seal with a fork. Score a few vents into the top, brush with beaten egg and bake until well browned, around 20-30 minutes depending on the size and thickness of pastry. As the Cousin suggests, they are better warm.

assorted cookies

There’s usually been some sort of cookie effort each winter holiday, overambitious at the outset, quite modest by the end, and nothing like the fabled concerted undertaking of my grandmother. As my dad describes, the holidays always necessitated the tart-shaped sandkaker, rolled ginger cookies and the small buttery mounds filled with a dollop of jam.

On the other hand, my mum’s only requirement for the holiday cookie spread was tart lemon bars, while my sister would take the lead on any supplementary baking. My sole contribution began in elementary school when, pouring over the enticing glossy photo spreads from a Company’s Coming cookie book, I became enamoured with the swirled icebox cookies–the perfect slices reminded me of the hidden designs in Pillsbury slice and bake cookies. More recently, Bouchon Bakery‘s speculoos have become the lemon bars’ (the one constant) companion.

This year, I was thinking of what I could do for my lab and realized that there was an opportunity here. This would be the year, I decided, where I would make all my haunting and unfulfilled cookie dreams come true through The Workplace Cookie Box.

Over the course of a few pre-dawn baking sessions, I put together a box for the lab. Quite a few of the recipes are drawn and adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking, while others were previous favourites (linzer and cookies rolled in icing sugar) and others I had meant to try to make for a while (kinako shortbread and gevulde speculaas ). It was certainly a lot of butter, but any concerns easily justified away because it and all the sugar were to be diluted over many people.

They’re all cookies of the more dry and crumbly sort–which also travel the best, last longer, and aren’t likely to dry out. There are some classics–jewel-toned linzer cookies are perfect on the second day and the vanilla wreathes, while a pain, are actually possible to pipe (some tips included in the recipe). The ginger cookies are a bit spicy and so very, very numerous. It’s a robust dough–it only gets smoother after being rolled out multiple times, and they’re baked so thin and crisp that there is no worry about toughness.

As shortbread are so amenable to a variety of flavours, I made a couple variations, one with kinako (which were simple, sandy, and subtly nutty) and one with black tea and rose (which could have used a bit more of both flavours). While the floral orange blossom snowballs were fun, my favourite cookie was the crescent-shaped walnut and anise cookies. I find them really fun, with a strong assertive anise flavour right at the outset. Otherwise, the rye cookies, which I knew I wanted to like but wasn’t sure I actually would, were surprising delicious as well. Finally, the gevulde speculaas stand out a bit in the box due to their heft, but they’re delicious, mostly solid marzipan and spices.

Now, the other convenient consequence of the cookie box is this holiday cookie post. From an efficiency standpoint, cookie posts are quite a feat (nine recipes in one for you today). I also realized how wonderful holiday baking is because of the sheer abundance of props! And not just any props, but relevant props, merely by a shared association with holidays…

recipes are below

cardamom linzer cookies

See here; for filling used strained cloudberry jam, ligonberry jam and black cherry jam (for a fun array of colours). I love the cookies themselves! They’re delicate, crumble easily, and delicious…and luckily they are also wonderful when sandwiched with jam.

pepparkakor

Adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. Makes a lot of cookies! They are pretty much just like the orange and ginger cookies from the supermarket–thin and crunchy.

1 stick butter (1/2 c)

100g granulated sugar

1/2 beaten egg

zest of 1 navel orange

1 tbsp molasses

1-2 capfuls dark rum

177g whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

generous 1/2 tsp ground ginger

pinch cloves

1 tsp baking powder

Cream butter with sugar, then mix in the egg, orange zest, and rum until smooth. Separately, combine the remaining ingredients, then add to the butter and mix until you have a soft cohesive dough. Give it a few kneads until it is smooth. Pat into a round, wrap in plastic, and chill completely.

Roll out thinly on a floured surface to around 1/8″ thick. Cut out cookies, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake until beginning to brown around the edges, around 8-10 minutes.

ragkakor (rye cookies)

They’re really delicate and have a good little bit of flavour thanks to the rye flour. From Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. Makes around 28 small cookies.

1/2 stick butter (1/4 c)

2 tbsp sugar

28g dark rye flour

1/4 tsp salt

40g a.p. flour

1/2 tbsp water

Cream the butter with the sugar, then mix in the rye flour followed by the remaining ingredients, and lastly mix in the water. I was not convinced that the water was necessary, nor that it needed to be added where it did, at the very end–I’ll look into this again. Pat dough into a round, wrap, and chill completely.

Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out very thinly, ~1/8″ thick. Cut into 5-cm rounds, cut a small 1 cm hole from the centre of each and prick all over with a fork to make you ragkakor cookies look like ragkakor bread. Place on a lined sheet tray and bake for 10 minutes or until beginning to turn golden on the edges.

walnut and anise cookies

My favourite of the cookie batch due to their assertive flavour. Adapted from the almond crescent cookies by An Italian in My Kitchen. Makes around 24 medium-sized cookies.

1 stick butter (1/2 c)

50g granulated sugar

45g walnuts, finely chopped

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground anise

165 g a.p. flour

icing sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the nuts, salt, anise and finally the flour. Chill dough.

Preheat oven to 375F. Roll into crescent shapes; I made 24 cookies that were ~16g each and baked for 17 minutes or until beginning to brown. But they expanded more in the oven than I expected–so smaller would be also be nice. Roll in icing sugar while still warm, and then once more when they are cool.

black tea and rose shortbread (above right)

Based on the 3:2:1 ratio for shortbread. Makes 20 small biscuits.

60g butter

20g vanilla sugar

scant 1/4 tsp finely ground black tea

loosely heaped 1/4 tsp crushed dried rose petals

few pinches kosher salt

90g a.p. flour

Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the tea, rose, salt and flour. Between sheets of parchment, roll out into a rectangle around 18x14cm and 1/4″ thick and chill completely.

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut into rectangles (dividing into 5 along the width and 4 along the length). Space apart on a parchment lined tray and bake for around 10 minutes or until just a bit golden on the bottoms.

 

kinako shortbread (left)

Subtle, but a bit nutty. Based on the 3:2:1 ratio for shortbread. Makes 25 small biscuits.

60g butter

30g granulated sugar

few pinches kosher salt

10g kinako

75g a.p. flour

Cream the butter with the sugar, then add the salt and kinako, and lastly, the flour. Between two sheets of parchment, roll out a bit thinner than the rose tea shortbread above, to a rectangle 18 by 22 cm, and chill completely.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Cut into 25 rectangles, diving each dimension by 5. Spread out the cookies on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Poke with the blunt end of a wooden skewer for a pointless but cute either three or five dot pattern and bake for 10 minutes.

orange blossom & almond snowballs

Adapted from the almond crescent cookies by An Italian in My Kitchen. Makes around 25 small cookies.

1 stick butter (1/2 c)

20g honey

15g icing sugar

generous 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

generous 1/2 tsp orange blossom water–or to taste

1/2 c ground almonds

150g a.p. flour

additional icing sugar, to coat

Cream the butter with the honey, sugar, vanilla extract and water. Mix in the ground almonds and flour and chill dough.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Divide the dough into small walnut/large hazelnut (13-14g) portions and rolled them into small balls. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, around 10 minutes. Roll in icing sugar while still warm and then once more again once cool.

vanijekranse (vanilla wreaths)

From Nordic Food & Living and Beatrice Ojakangas’s Scandinavian Baking. They’re pretty wonderful!

3/4 c butter

2/3 c sugar

5cm length of vanilla bean

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/4 c ground almonds

1 3/4 c all purpose flour

Cream the butter with the sugar. Mix in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean and extract, then the salt and ground almonds, and finally the flour.

Chill the dough briefly, just to bring down the temperature a little, but not to harden it, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. I used a stitched piping bag to bypass the fear of the bag bursting open (which has certainly happened before, such as with chunky chestnut puree). Then pipe rounds, around 3″ in circumference, on a parchment lined baking sheet. I found it much easier to pipe when the dough was closer to room temperature as opposed to fully chilled. Chill the cookies fully before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375F and bake for around 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned

gevulde speculaas

Based on the gevulde speculaas from Koken in de Brouwerij and the recipe in Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh. It makes for a good substantial breakfast slice with coffee. These ones should be stored in an airtight container to keep the marzipan soft, and if they’re going to be stored a long term, preferably on their own.

spice mix: I direct you to Koken in de Brouwerij for a speculaas spice formula. This is just in a general a fantastic post; the blogger also acknowledges that Dutch spice mix came to by way of violence and colonization. It does start to feel a bit complicated when you realize so many rather delicious foods carry such a legacy with them.

dough

100g butter

60g brown sugar

1 tbsp milk

1/2 tsp baking soda

2.5 tsp spice mix

180g flour

1/2 tsp salt

marzipan

200g ground almonds

125g granulated sugar

1 egg

zest of 1/2 lemon + 2 tsp lemon juice

assembly

egg

almonds

To make the dough, cream the butter, sugar and milk. Whisk together the remaining ingredients, add to the butter, and mix until you have a cohesive dough, adding a bit more milk if necessary. Knead a few times to ensure the dough is malleable and smooth. Chill.

To make the marzipan, combine the sugar and ground almonds in the bowl of a food processor and process a bit to ensure everything is quite fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process until a ball is formed.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Roll out dough on a sheet of parchment paper to around 38 by 24 cm. Flatten the marzipan on top along the length of the dough in a strip around 1.5-2″ wide. Wrap the flaps of dough around the marzipan so that they overlap a bit and completely envelope the marzipan, it’s easiest to do this by lifting up the parchment and using that to press the dough against the marzipan. Then flip over the log so that the seam side is down. Brush with a bit of beaten egg and then arrange almonds on top, spacing them evenly to delineate your slices. I arranged the almonds with two in each row for 14 rows.

Bake for around 30 minutes or until browned. Let cool completely before slicing into around 14 slices. Store in a sealed container. I overbaked mine a bit as the cookie part was a bit dry, however they were much improved by the second day once the moisture from the marzipan had equilibrated with the speculaas dough.

chocolate red beet tarts

Thanksgiving was never really induced much of holiday-sentimentality. It always took me by surprise (first realizing that there was a day off, and then realizing it was Thanksgiving) and nothing much seemed to happen apart from the rare year when my grandpa bought a cheap turkey–though that often happened after Thanksgiving when the sales started–and then we were having turkey broth (oh the horror) for months.

My own rather unremarkable memories of Thanksgiving is why I was surprised when someone told me that  was actually their favourite holiday. They explained they had spent one of their first Thanksgivings at a large gathering and potluck party with friends. There was turkey, but apart from that it was very “international”, and the experience was as close to home as you can get when you’re far away.

And so Thanksgiving does seem to tick all the boxes for a good proper holiday after all–friends or family or both, some good food, and time spent together. And while there is less hype, there is also less expectation and preparation… though now that I think about, the expectation and preparation form the setting for Pieces of April (very much recommend).For us, this year was chocolate beet tarts instead of the pumpkin variety because we have far too many beets from the garden to be spending time messing around with anything else. To make it easier, because these tarts took so many bowls! , I would maybe make more of the filling in the food processor (though I don’t know if too much liquid makes it a bit messy).

The consistency of the filling is similar to a pumpkin pie, though given the roughness of my beet puree it wasn’t quite as smooth. I’m sure that could be remedied with a bit more patience when it comes to the puree, and the vigorous employment of a fine sieve. But the texture is quite nice with the chocolate as it seems a bit like a substantial (albeit, slightly mealy) ganache.The tarts are very chocolate-y which is necessary to ensure they’re palatable for the beet-fatigued. Together, the beet and chocolate are quite fun and make something a bit different. While the beet comes through, the chocolate covers up the more intense and (to the beet-fatigued) unpleasant notes. You are left with something a bit bright and earthy and beety to supplement the chocolate. It is a frequently used combination and it is very excellent. It actually reminds me a bit of the combination of chocolate and dark rye flour, and so maybe a chocolate/dark rye/beet cake should be next.chocolate red beet tarts

Makes 6 hefty and rich 4″ diameter tarts.

whole wheat chestnut pastry

Adapted from Bouchon Bakery with some chestnut flour subbed for icing sugar and whole wheat for the regular flour.

120 g room temperature butter

45 g powdered sugar

187 g whole wheat flour

23 g chestnut flour

23 g ground almonds

25 g beaten egg

Cream butter until smooth, add icing sugar and mix until a bit fluffy. Mix together the remaining dry ingredients and add to the butter in three additions. Lastly, mix in the egg. Bring together into a dough, wrap in plastic, and chill completely.

Place 6 rings (4″ in diameter, 1″ high) on a parchment lined baking sheet. Divide the dough in 6 pieces, and roll a piece out on a floured surface to around 1/8-1/4″ thick. Lift and carefully press into the tart shell–mine broke into pieces right away, so patch it together. Repeat for the remaining tarts.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

To blind bake, line the shells with parchment paper and fill each with rice. Chill completely. Bake for around 15-20 minutes with the parchment paper, then remove and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the shells are cooked through, but not too browned.

 

Filling

Vaguely adapted from a pumpkin pie recipe off the tin label.

5 medium beets (400g)

1/2 c sugar

2 eggs

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

28 g cocoa powder + 40 mL hot coffee

90 g dark chocolate, chopped

183 g (3/4 c) evaporated milk

For the sweetened beet,

dried rosemary

1/2 c sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Boil the beets until tender (around 15 minutes), drain, cool and then peel off the skins. Puree four of the beets to get around 1 cup/250g beet puree. Reserve the remaining beet.

In a bowl, combine the beet puree, sugar, eggs, salt, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder and hot coffee to make a thick paste. In another bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the chocolate and evaporated milk, whisking until the chocolate is melted. Gradually mix some of milk into the cocoa power mixture until it is loosened up and smooth, then scrape the cocoa powder mixture into the milk and whisk until smooth. Combine this with the beet puree.

Distribute this mixture amongst the tart shells, filling each nearly to the top. Bake at 400F for 7 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350F and bake until a knife inserted 1″ from the crust is removed clear. This took around 13 minutes for me.

Let cool completely and chill, and serve with whipped cream.

For the sweetened beet as an optional, and overall not particularly worth it, garnish: combine 1 cup of water and 1/2 c granulated sugar in a small saucepan, bring to a boil. Add 1 tsp dried rosemary. Take the remaining reserved beet and thinly slice it, add it to the pot, and gently simmer for a little while, then let it sit for another hour or so to cool in the syrup. The beet will be sweet and taste vaguely like rosemary and you certainly could put it on top of your tart if you wanted. It’s just…kind of like a piece of beet.

And after a couple of days the beet starts diffusing into the whipped cream for a cute cherry blossom sort of effect!

basil panna cotta with rhubarb cardamom jelly

Back in grade 6 one of my friends would yell at me in gym class. It was an effortless thing for them:

Get the ball!

Run faster!

Throw it!

Having someone to push you to do things often feels uncomfortable or unbearable or simply terrifying. And it can continue to feel that way even when it’s something you actually want to do–like try your best in gym without caring about what others thought–because staying in the comfort zone is of course the best possible option. But when you take a breath of air outside you realize there was some purpose to all that fuss and kerfuffle.More than anything else, it was my friend’s verbal barrage that gave me permission to try in what was otherwise the cruel and unforgiving world of physical education. It wasn’t exactly encouragement of the typical variety (which I am generally disposed to), but it was exactly what I needed. It was as far as possible from that apathy easily misconstrued as quiet uncomfortable pity which makes you want to run away without trying.

And so it’s then that you realize that someone who makes a fuss and pushes you to try does so because they care about you in some way or another.

(I developed a bit of a crush on this friend in grade 7 and so of course promptly stopped speaking to them altogether).Ah yes, the layered jelly. This one starts with a basil vanilla panna cotta, and as I know from previous experience, there is nothing better than pairing a panna cotta with something tart and fruity.

This jelly is tart and lightly sweet, exactly what is needed to work through the rich panna cotta. If you’re like me and squeeze everything a bit too tightly through the jelly bag, your rose-coloured rhubarb and cardamom jelly will acquire a dusky cloudiness–it tends to remind me of unfiltered beer, which is delicious and yet not the loveliest image. But the cloudiness also lends this jelly a sort of lucid translucence, particularly when back lit, that you don’t see in the Jell-O variety. Panna cotta and jelly is sort of a perfect combination–and think of all the fun you could have with it! The most logical would likely be a strawberry-rhubarb jelly and vanilla panna cotta. But then start thinking mango! or currant! or how to somehow use those little pink-fleshed super-sour crabapples…

After adding the panna cotta on top of the diagonally set jelly (it reminded me of making salt-gradient agar plates for bacterial cultures…) and allowing the panna cotta to fully set, the jelly did settle a bit flatter. To better preserve the shape of the jelly, I think it might help to have a shallower panna cotta layer or to cool the mixture even more before pouring it over top. However, I had no problem retaining a clear jelly-panna cotta interface. And while I did like the diagonal jelly in the small yoghurt pots, I also liked the more terrarium-style presentation below as well!

basil panna cotta with rhubarb cardamom jelly

 

 

Makes 6-8 jellies, depending on their size.

rhubarb jelly

~8 stalks rhubarb

2-4 tbsp sugar (to taste)

8 pods cardamom

1 1/2 tsp gelatin

2 tbsp cold water

2 tbsp boiling water

basil panna cotta

Adapted from previous adaptation.

1 c milk

3/4 c cream

1/4 c 10% m.f. Greek-style yoghurt

3 sprigs basil

5 tsp sugar

1-cm length of vanilla bean

2 tsp gelatin (2/3 package)

2 tbsp cold water

For the jelly, chop the rhubarb into pieces and place into a saucepan with the sugar and cardamom pods. Heat over medium heat, giving the occasional stir–soon the liquid will start to come out of the rhubarb. Continue to cook at a gentle simmer until all the rhubarb is softened–you can put the lid on if it looks as though the liquid is evaporating too quickly.

Put a jelly bag or a couple layers of cheesecloth into a strainer and pour in the rhubarb. Let the liquid strain out into a bowl, you can give it a good squeeze at the end to extract everything. You want at least 3/4 c. Skim off any foam.

Place the gelatin in a bowl with 2 tbsp cold water to bloom. Add 2 tbsp boiling water on top and stir to dissolve. Add the rhubarb liquid and mix.

Distribute the jelly between glasses or other small containers. For an angled jelly, you can put the glasses in a load pan with something to prop up one edge, like a rolled up cloth. Let set fully in the fridge.

For the panna cotta, warm up the milk and cream together in a saucepan. Add the basil sprigs and the bit of vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds. Let steep around 15 minutes, then strain and let cool to lukewarm before mixing in the yoghurt.

Bloom the gelatin in the 2 tbsp of cold water, then microwave for short intervals until the gelatin is melted. Add the milk/cream mixture and then pour on top of the set jellies. Let set completely in the fridge. While covering in plastic wrap can help prevent a skin, I’ve found that I prefer the skin to the sort of mottled top from drops of condensation that drip from the plastic wrap. In particular, I find its better when the panna cottas are not being unmolded, but being presented with the top surface exposed.