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!

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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.

saffron and cardamom cake

Sometimes it’s just about having a nice slice of cake. It doesn’t need to be multilayered and piled with fruit or herbs or edible flowers.

This is one such cake. I did mix in some leftover rhubarb compote because at this time of year, it becomes a bit of given that you have rhubarb in everything. It didn’t add much however, and may be the reason the cake was sunken a bit in the middle.

I haven’t baked with saffron much, but I’d love to do more now. The saffron milk was deeply coloured, with the intensity and assertiveness of acrylic.

The icing was supposed to be simple and then everything, just everything, went wrong. But playing a bit with temperatures and using a whole lot of muscle finally got it back together into something smooth–which then proceeded to separate after a little sit in the fridge. That part is a bit of a disaster.

Luckily, it was a lovely cake, and would be just as nice un-iced. I baked some small ones, sprinkled with slivered almonds and dusted with icing sugar, which made for a lovely little bite. The cake’s texture revealed the presence of the nuts, it was rich and buttery but not dense, and the crisp crust was lovely, browned very well and revealed a golden interior when cut.

saffron, cardamom and almond cake with orange pekoe mascarpone

It got to be a bit of a mouthful. 

saffron, cardamom and almond cake

Adapted from this almond and chocolate bundt, an almond-y riff off the classic sponge. Used some rhubarb compote that was made a few days ago–just rhubarb stewed with sugar and a bit of water to get it started. Drain the compote before using. 

180 g butter

140 g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs at room temperature

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

40 g kamut

140 g all purpose flour

75 g ground almond

2 1/2 tbsp milk

generous 1/4 tsp saffron

1/2 – 1 c rhubarb compote, drained

Line the bottom of a 7″/18 cm springform with parchment paper. Butter the sides. For little cakes, butter some small tins.

Heat the milk and crumble in the saffron. Set aside and let cool.

Cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth.

Whisk together the dry ingredients (including the almonds). A spoonful of the dry ingredients can be added in between each egg–part of the directions in the original recipe, I liked how it helped to keep the butter mixture together (though room temperature eggs are even more helpful in that sense, to prevent the whole little curds of butter floating in a pool of cold beaten egg scenario). Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and lastly mix in the milk.

Scrape half the batter into the springform pan. Top with the rhubarb compote, then the remaining batter. The little cakes can be topped with slivered almonds and dragées if desired.

Bake the big cake for 50 minutes at 350 F or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. The little cakes take 10 minutes or so.

 

orange pekoe mascarpone icing

This was something I spent too much time desperately trying to salvage! 

1 orange pekoe tea bag

~125 g mascarpone

~30 g heavy cream

~40 g icing sugar

~50 g butter

heavy cream

The icing was a disaster, perhaps due to the tannic acidity of the tea. So sit down and work at it with a wooden spoon for fifteen minutes or however long you need to make it smooth. After resting or being chilled , beware, it might separate again…!

I’ll walk you through what I did. I boiled a few tbsp of water and poured it over the tea bag in a small bowl until it was just covered. I allowed it to steep for a few minutes, then removed and squeezed the tea bag, which made for some very concentrated spoonfuls of tea. I beat a tablespoon of this into the mascarpone, watched everything fall apart, and then creamed in the powdered sugar in an attempt to reconstitute it.

Next, I whipped the cream and mixed it into the mascarpone as though that would somehow bring it together and stiffen it up. When it did not, I added the soft butter and then beat away at the icing with a wooden spoon until eventually it came together light and smooth.

I chilled it, it fell apart again. Work at it again with the spoon (I love wooden spoons) and eventually it will come back together again. Only chill after you’ve spread it on the cake, though the cake it best at room temperature…

I think what could be improved would perhaps be to steep the tea in cream…maybe (unless it curdles the cream as well?! Oh horrors).

pecorino and parsley pancake with arugula

More is almost always better. More whole grain flours, more herbs and more flavour… until it becomes too much. This was a lesson in moderation. Too much and your pancake will be flat!

I still remember the awe I felt when my sister made a puffy Dutch baby pancake–it rose to an incredible height in the oven, but then as soon as we pulled it out, it collapsed before my mum could see how tall it rose. Subsequently covering it with fruit and maple syrup, it didn’t matter.Since then I’ve found a deeper browning of the pancake can help ensure it stays puffy, but collapsed or not, a soft and light and airy pancake makes for quite the lovely start to the day.

This one would be good for a group breakfast, a savoury pancake with cheese and herbs and topped with a lemony arugula salad. It ended up being a lunch for us, as my first pancake didn’t quite pan out.

I piled in the herbs and the cheese in my first attempt. What I ended up with had none of those billowy crisp edges and puffy ridges of a typical pancake–it was squat, thick and flat, and completely solid. So the second time around I toned everything down to let the pancake rise and ended up with one that was still flavourful, but also had a good bit of air to it as well.

In the usual Dutch baby pancake style you sprinkle it with lemon juice and dust with icing sugar. The acidity is a welcome relief against the buttery pancake.

For this version I used a very very bright and acidic lemony vinaigrette on arugula, which kept the pancake bright and light.

But just in case you happen to be feeling like a rubbery flat pancake is just the thing you’re in the mood for, and I’ll admit, it did taste quite good, I’ve provided both recipes below.

 

From left to right: flat pancake, puffy pancake.

flat pancake.

3 eggs

68 g approx half milk, half heavy cream

43 g spelt flour

large handful parsley

1/2 slice of red onion, chopped

1/2 tbsp grainy mustard

some grated nutmeg

pinch kosher salt

ground black pepper

large handful finely grated pecorino romano

35 g butter

Preheat oven to 425F.

Finely chop the parsley steps and chop the parsley leaves a bit less finely.

Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream. Whisk in the flour until smooth and then stir in the remaining ingredients except for half of the grated cheese and all the butter.

Heat the butter in a 9″ cast iron pan until melted, swirling to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour in the batter. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining half of the cheese. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until well browned and still very flat.

 

puffy pancake!

3 eggs

63 g approx half milk, half heavy cream

43 g flour, approx half spelt, half all purpose

a few stalks of parsley

a bit of chopped red onion

a bit of dijon mustard

some grated nutmeg

very scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt

ground black pepper

a small handful grated pecorino romano

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Finely chop the parsley steps and chop the parsley leaves a bit less finely.

Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream. Whisk in the flour until smooth and then stir in the remaining ingredients except for all the grated cheese and butter.

Heat the butter in a 9″ cast iron pan until melted, swirling to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Heat the butter until fairly hot–it will sizzle when a drop of batter is added and the batter will bubble. Pour in all the batter.

Sprinkle with the grated pecorino romano, most of it in the centre of the pancake–the part which we don’t want to rise anyways–not the edges.

Bake at 425F for 15 min until poofed and browned, then turn the temperature down to 375F for another 5-10 minutes until very nicely browned.

 

to top: lemony arugula salad

bowlful arugula

zest and juice of 1/4 lemon

dijon mustard

just a splash of neutral oil

parsley

small length of fennel stem, thinly sliced

spoonful of capers, chopped

Whisk together lemon juice, zest, oil, and mustard with some salt and pepper for a very acidic dressing. Toss with the arugula, pile onto the pancake. Sprinkle with the capers and fennel and some additional parsley leaves.

rhubarb, apricot and poppy seed muffins

For some reason my junior high, a public school of otherwise unremarkable virtue, was miraculously endowed with a climbing wall. We learned to belay and boulder and of course, as it was not a team sport, it was my absolute favourite gym module.

And now, several years later, it seems like everyone climbs! Labmates, friends, acquaintances, and even my sister, visiting for a week, casually dropped that she started bouldering as well.

It’s made me want to revisit climbing. I still have the belaying movements ingrained in my memory, but the calls are a bit foggy apart from “on belay?” and “belay on!” Speaking to a junior high friend, we might go together, maybe just bouldering for now, to relive some of those old days of physical education. Though, rather than reliving, it sounds like we might get ourselves into a new, and suddenly rather popular, pursuit.

In the meantime, in a rather contradictory move, here are some muffins. The rhubarb is growing and it demands to be baked.

rhubarb, apricot and poppy seed muffins

Adapted from the blueberry muffin recipe in Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.

86 g a.p. flour

109 g whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp poppy seeds

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

96 g softened butter

75 g granulated sugar

2 tbsp honey

2 eggs

zest of 1 navel orange, finely grated

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

50 g thick 10% yoghurt

2 tbsp milk

80 g dried apricots, chopped into small pieces

200 g rhubarb

streusel

30 g butter

30 g whole wheat flour

30 g brown sugar

30 g rolled oats

pinch salt

Whisk together the flour, salt, poppy seeds, baking powder and baking soda. Cream the butter until light, then cream in the sugar and honey, followed by the eggs (one at a time) and the orange zest and vanilla extract. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the yoghurt and milk to the butter, mixing until just combined. Mix in the apricots and then cover the batter and let rest in the fridge overnight.

For the streusel, first mix together the flour and butter, then the sugar, oats and salt. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Chop the rhubarb and toss with a little bit of additional flour. Mix into the muffin batter–as it’s cold, it will be very thick and a bit difficult. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and divide the batter among 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle generously with streusel–you’ll have some left.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean.

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.

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.