I remember eating supermarket hot cross buns as a child and wishing there was no fruit in them at all (I was an extra strange child.) But these days the fruit is my favourite part… and no hot cross bun ever really has enough dried fruit in it for me. So in this loaf, I succumbed to all my hot-cross-bun-dreams, with the ratio of weight of fruit and peel to flour being 1:1! The end result in a spiced, soft bread replete with all the dried fruit and peel one could hope for – but not too much that it overly weights the dough down. Toasted and buttered, it makes for a very nice breakfast indeed.
For the dough itself, I worked off of what has become my usual hot cross bun dough. It bakes up very nicely in loaf form, though if you’d rather, this could make 10-12 buns instead. Alongside the classic raisins and currants, I included dried apricots – one of my favourite dried fruits, which I suppose I hadn’t put in buns previously because it would feel like I was pushing out the raisins and currants. But here, with this much fruit, there’s enough room for everyone. (And they make for nice golden cubes in the terrazzo-like cross-section.)
This dough is only partially whole wheat to keep it from being too dense. And yes, the dough will look a little ridiculous, with bits of fruit falling out everywhere, but keep in mind that the fruit will spread apart as the dough rises – and that the whole point of this loaf is the fruit!
Begin by plumping up the dried fruit. Combine the dried fruit in a jar or bowl and cover with a cup of hot tea – if your fruit is extremely dried out, you may want to let it sit and plump overnight. Otherwise, half an hour or so is good enough to just soften. Once done, drain the dried fruit and pat dry.
Stir together the flours, wheat gluten, instant yeast, salt and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg and milk and stir until a soft dough is formed. Knead using the dough hook (alternatively, do this by hand) until the dough is smooth. Add the butter a lump at a time, working in each addition before the next. Knead for a few more minutes to ensure the dough is soft, stretchy and elastic. Add the dried fruit and chopped peel and knead into the dough. It will look a bit ridiculous but the fruit will spread out as the dough rises.
Cover the dough and let rise until puffed, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (as there is a lot of dried fruit, the volume won’t have appeared to have doubled). Meanwhile, grease a loaf tin and line with a parchment paper sling (I used a 9x4x4″ pullman loaf tin – the amount of dough could be a bit much for a standard loaf tin).
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into eight equal pieces, each about 120g. Roll each piece into a ball and pack together in two rows of four in the loaf tin. Pick off any pieces of dried fruit or peel which have come to the surface (uncovered by dough) as they will burn in the oven. Cover and let rise until well puffed, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F. Stir together the flour and water for the flour cross and transfer the paste to a piping bag fitted with a very fine round tip (I used a tip with a 2mm diameter opening). Once the dough is risen – it won’t appear doubled due to all the dried fruit – brush the loaf with a bit of beaten egg. Use the piping bag to pipe lines of flour paste over the loaf.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until well browned and the internal temperature reaches at least 190F. (I found this took a bit of a longer longer bake then I expected – if you have a thermometer, I recommend checking the internal temperature to make sure the centre is cooked through!) Let cool 5 minutes in the loaf tin, then finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve in slices smeared with lots of butter.
Surely there is little that cannot be improved by the addition of marzipan. As such, there is a whole wad of marzipan in the centre of these hot cross buns. Especially while the buns are still slightly warm, the marzipan is sticky and soft, and acts as a sort of built-in spread – though I think it’s best with some butter piled on top of the whole thing as well.
I thought I may as well post the recipe now, though I’ve made these buns at random non-Easter times of year. They have a great general holiday-ish vibe, not least in their resemblance to stollen.
I’ve used the same dough as in these whole wheat sourdough hot cross buns, but converted it back to instant yeast. Either dough will do depending on your preference. Again, no sugar is needed in the dough because there is more than enough to sufficiently sweeten the bun between the dried fruit, candied peel, glaze, and oh, did I mention, wad of marzipan?
85g dried fruit, about 1/3 each golden raisins, dark raisins and currants (or other fruit as per your preference)
40g dark rum
225g whole wheat flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg
130g whole milk
42g butter, softened
55g candied orange peel, chopped (you can find the recipe here)
120g marzipan (recipe below, or use storebought)
32g water (may vary – start with a bit less)
beaten egg, for egg wash
2 tsp water
2 tsp granulated sugar
1-2 drops almond extract, optional
The day before, prepare combine the dried fruit and dark rum in a small container or jar. Cover and let soak overnight.
The next day, prepare the dough. Stir together the flour, yeast, salt and spices. Add the 1 egg and milk, and stir until a dough is formed. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple minutes until smooth. Knead in the butter, a small knob at a time. Now add the fruit – drain the dried fruit from the rum, and knead it, along with the candied peel, into the dough. At first it will feel like it all just keeps falling out, but keep at it, adding the pieces of fallen fruit back into the middle of the dough. Once the fruit is evenly distributed, transfer the dough to a bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, divide the marzipan into eight 15g portions, and roll each into a ball. Line a baking tray with a piece of parchment paper.
Once the dough is risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into eight pieces (each about 75g). Preshape each piece into a ball. Flatten a ball of dough and place a ball of marzipan in the centre. Pinch the dough to close around it, and roll into a tight ball (a helpful technique for this is to cup your hand over the ball of dough and move your hand in a small circular motion to help pull the surface of the dough more taut). Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Space the balls of dough evenly on the prepared baking tray. Pick off any exposed pieces of dried fruit or peel as they will burn in the oven. Cover with plastic and let rise until well-puffed, about 1 hour. Near the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350F.
To make the flour cross, whisk together the flour and water to form a thick, pipeable paste. Transfer to a piping bag with a fine round tip (I used one 2mm in diameter).
Brush the buns with eggwash. Pipe lines using the flour paste over the buns. Bake about 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned.
While the buns are baking, prepare the syrup by dissolving the granulated sugar into the boiling water. Add a couple drops of almond extract to mirror the marzipan taste. Brush over the hot buns, once they are baked and out from the oven. Let the buns cool on a wire rack. Eat, smothered with butter.
Grind the almonds and icing sugar together in the bowl of a food processor until fine and all the lumps are gone. Add the almond extract and rosewater and pulse to combine. Lastly, add the egg white and process until the marzipan forms a ball. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic and store in the fridge.
Goodness, you might be thinking, so glad to see that Bartholomew the sourdough starter is finally out and about and probably getting fed! And you would be right in that these buns are the latest leavening project he embarked upon. But, alas, as I am always slow to post things, I made these buns spring last year, so….
(One day, Bartholomew, one day. Hang tight until then!)
To get us started on the hot cross bun season, here is a tribute to the classic made with whole wheat, sourdough and plenty of dried fruit. They might sound a little austere but the butter, spices and dried fruit make sure it is anything but. Let’s tackle these one by one:
whole wheat – I think the flavour of whole wheat flour fits well with the spice and dried fruit! With a bit of extra hydration, the buns still bake up quite soft.
sourdough – I don’t always love the taste of sourdough in desserts, but in this case I find it goes rather nicely with the dried fruit. Building the dough in two steps allows an (understandably) lethargic sourdough starter to keep up and prevents the acidity from overwhelming the dough.
good dose of dried fruit – I actually first made these a couple of years ago, but they didn’t have nearly enough dried fruit in them (this may be personal opinion though as no recipe I’ve consulted seems to have enough for me!), so when I revisited last year, I made sure to bump up the fruit content. I also found that the dough itself doesn’t need any additional sugar as each bite has some dried fruit or candied peel to provide sufficient sweetness.
whole wheat sourdough hot cross buns with lots of fruit
Makes 9 buns in an 8×8″ pan. Bun recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour – though with each subsequent adaptation the resemblance decreases – and crosses from BBC Good Food.
85g dried raisins and/or currants
4 tbsp dark rum (or substitute tea, if you prefer)
50g 100% hydration sourdough starter
50g whole wheat flour
180g whole wheat flour (to start – depending on the dough consistency, you may need to knead in more in at the end)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
20g brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg
42g soft butter
65g drained candied orange or other citrus peel, chopped (recipe here)
32g water (may vary – start with a bit less)
1 tbsp apricot jam
Day 1: Soak the fruit and make the sponge.
Combine the raisins and/or currants and rum in a small bowl. Cover and let sit overnight to plump the raisins. In a separate bowl, stir together the ingredients for the sponge. Cover and let sit overnight to ferment.
Day 2: Make the dough & first rise.
Place the flour, salt, sugar and spices for the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir together, the add the milk, egg and sponge. Mix the dough until smooth using the dough hook, scraping down the hook/sides of the bowl as needed. Knead for a few minutes to develop the gluten. Then add the butter a lump at a time and mix until the butter is incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. If it is quite sticky, knead in some more flour (just a bit at a time) until the dough is on the slightly sticky-side of tacky. I often find the dough stiffens up a bit later with time.
Drain the dried fruit. Knead the fruit and peel into the dough – at first it will just keep falling out, but with patience it will work its way in. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth again – as you continue to knead, the fruit will continue to fall out, so occasionally add the fallen pieces back into the centre of the dough.
Place the dough in a container to rise (no need to oil it) until about doubled – how long it will take will depend on your starter, but mine took about 6 hours. At this point you can chill the dough overnight or keep going if you have another 6 hours left in your day.
Day 3 (or still day 2): 2nd rise and baking
Butter an 8×8″ square pan and line the bottom with a square of parchment paper.
Divide the dough into 9 pieces, each approximately 75g. Shape each into a ball. To tighten the form, place the ball on the counter (unfloured so the dough will grip onto the counter a bit) and cup your hand over top, and move your hand in small circles. Arrange the balls in the prepared pan. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until the buns are well puffed and touching each other. The duration will vary by sourdough starter activity again, but mine took around 4 hours. To tell when they are fully risen, the dough will spring back slowly when poked with a damp finger, and the dent will not quite completely fill in.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
To make the flour cross, whisk together the flour and water to form a thick, pipeable paste. Transfer to a piping bag with a small round tip – here I used a 2mm tip diametre round tip.
Brush the risen buns with egg wash and then pipe lines of dough overtop the buns. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until nicely browned and the internal temperature of the middle bun is at least 180-185F. Rotate halfway through baking for even browning.
For the apricot jam glaze, melt the tbsp of apricot jam with a scant tsp of water and press through a sieve to remove any chunks. Brush over the freshly baked buns.
My parents love to garden, especially things which grow well – and in more recent years they’ve discovered garlic. It began as one type, then a few more from the farmers market or specialty plant stores or gardener friends. Each saved bulb gets separated into papery cloves and planted in the fall, emerging next spring and harvested in the summer as a complete bulb. It all means I get access to all the garlic I could ever want and far more.
This year it is several cultivars of garlic. No one has kept track of just how many cloves got planted last year, but no doubt it is a lot.
This is a sort-of-ish take on Korean cream cheese garlic bread – flower-shaped buns stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and dipped in a garlic-heavy custard. Between the cheese and custardy glaze, which soaks into the cut edges of the bread, it makes for a rich (and gooey) garlic bread with a noticeably endearing sweetness. It’s a case study in combining sweet and savoury, all in the backdrop of toasty bread and plenty of garlic.
As delicious as the classic cream cheese garlic bread it, I find myself slightly wishing it wasn’t quite as sweet (which is very much just my personal preference!). That, and I was thinking about how this might go well with another sweet-savoury thing, pork floss, made of dried shreds of pork which are slightly sweetened and spiced. The result were these buns, made of milk bread bread baked with a savoury garlic cream cheese filling, then doused in the classic garlic glaze and crowned with a majestic pile of pork floss. Slid into the oven for a second bake, they emerge pungent, the bun soft and the frayed edges of the pork floss charred. By letting the pork floss be the main source of sweetness, it retains the sweet-savoury homage to the classic, but keeps it more subtle. To me, it’s the perfect balance and my ideal sweetness for a garlic bread. (Though if you’re a true Korean cream cheese garlic bread fan, I’ve also included a suggestion for a sweetened filling as well.)
After a couple batches of these two weekends in a row the entire kitchen smelled like garlic, my clothes smelled like garlic, and I smelled like garlic. I ate one every day for lunch for a week until my blood became permanently infused with garlic. I think I finally became one with the garlic. Good practice for the upcoming garlic season later this summer.
To make the tangzhong, whisk together the flour and water in a small saucepan until there are no lumps. Heat over low-medium, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula until the mixture thickens into a thin paste and lines are left in the roux behind when stirring (check by stirring without touching the bottom of the saucepan). If you have a thermometer, check the temperature – it should be 65C or 149F. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
For the dough, mix together the yeast, tbsp of water and a sprinkle of sugar. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes until it bubbles and smells yeasty (not necessary with instant yeast but sometimes I prefer this to ensure the yeast granules break up).
Whisk the milk and eggs into the tangzhong.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat gluten if using, salt, sugar and yeast. Add the tangzhong/milk/egg mixture and stir with a wooden spoon (or use the dough hook of a standmixer) until a cohesive dough is formed. Turn out onto the counter and knead in the soft butter in two additions. The dough should be smooth, elastic and tacky. Place the dough in a container and let rise overnight in the fridge (or if you want to do it all in one day, go ahead and let it rise 1 hour at room temperature or until doubled and then proceed immediately).
The next day turn out the risen dough on a floured surface. Deflate and divide into 6 equal pieces (each about 50g). Roll each piece into a ball, then use a rolling pin to roll each ball out to 8cm diameter disc. Place the pieces of dough on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Use your fingers to poke the centre of each disc to thin out the amount of dough there (it will make it a bit easier for you later when filling). Cover and let rise until well puffed, 1-2 hours (longer if the dough is cold).
Meanwhile, make the filling. Mix together the cream cheese, green onion, garlic and salt. (If you prefer the sweet filling which is more classic, you can also mix in about 15g of sugar.) Set aside until ready to use.
Near the end of the rise, start preheating the oven to 375F for the first bake. Once the dough is risen, fill the dough. Wet your fingers under the tap so the dough doesn’t stick, and tamp a loonie-sized area in the centre of each bun to accommodate the filling. Scoop about 1 tbsp of the cream cheese filling into each indent. Brush the buns all over with beaten egg. Place the buns in the oven and turn the temperature down to 350F. Bake around 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Let the baked buns cool a few minutes before proceeding with the next steps.
Next, prepare for the second bake by turning the oven temperature up to 400F. Make the garlic butter glaze by placing the butter and milk together in a small heatproof bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the remaining ingredients for the glaze.
Use a thin bamboo skewer to poke the buns all over – this will allow a little but of the glaze to seep into the bun itself. Brush the buns generously with the glaze. Put a large spoonful of pork floss on top of each bun.
Bake the buns for about 5 minutes or until the pork floss has browned a bit, the garlic is fragrant and glaze that has slid down the sides of the buns and onto the tray is sizzling. Eat warm!
Thoughts with Ukraine: with displaced refugees, with those hiding in subway stations, with mothers in a makeshift bunker-turned-maternity ward, and with those who volunteer to defend their city, a fact which belies a deep acquaintance with instability, threat, and love for their country. The daily news coverage of atrocity, destruction and death still feels surreal to me, but is hardly surreal for Ukrainians in the midst of air raid sirens or the diaspora trying to reach loved ones.
I actually first made this last year, an initial version flavoured with mango and cardamom, a classic combination that I love. But I do feel cardamom is probably a bit overdone on my blog. So I tried another combo, this time using honey and chrysanthemum (chamomile would also work, it’s just that I had chrysanthemum on hand) and I found I actually preferred the balance between tart bright mango orange sorbet and the soft and sweetly flavoured semifreddo below.
60g strained fresh orange juice (from about 1 navel orange)
30g simple syrup, or to taste (you can use sugar instead, but it will take some additional stirring to make sure its dissolved)
1 tbsp grand marnier (optional, but helps keep it soft despite the lower sugar content)
honey chrysanthemum semifreddo
220g heavy cream
5g dried chrysanthemum (1/4 cup)
3 1/2 (175g) large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
Line a standard loaf tin with plastic wrap or parchment paper and place in the freezer to chill.
Stir together the mango puree, orange juice, simple syrup and grand marnier. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While still soft, spread into the bottom of the prepared loaf tin in an even layer. Return to the freezer and freeze completely before adding the semifreddo on top.
For the semifreddo, place the cream in a container along with the dried chrysanthemum. Stir together and place in the fridge for a cold infusion for at least 24 hours or up to a few days.
Set a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water – or other double boiler set up. Whisk together the eggs and honey in the bowl. Mix continuously with a rubber spatula until the eggs reach about 165F. The eggs will appear syrupy. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until the bowl feels cool to the touch and the eggs have quadrupled in volume – and in the words of Stella Parks (original recipe) “thick enough to briefly mound up like soft-serve ice cream when dropped from the whisk.” This may take 5-8 minutes.
Meanwhile, while the eggs are whipping, pass the cream through a sieve to remove the chrysanthemum and.put the infused cream into a bowl along with the vanilla bean paste. Whip until stiff.
Add half of the whipped cream to the eggs and whisk in until combined. Add the remaining cream, folding it in gently with a rubber spatula. Pour the semifreddo over the sorbet in the prepared loaf tin and return to the freezer to freeze completely.
To serve, prechill a serving board or platter in the freezer. Tip the semifreddo out of the tin and onto the prechilled serving plate. Peel off the plastic or parchment paper. Garnish if desired; I topped with some unsweetened greek yoghurt, mango slices and dried jasmine flowers – great the first day but gets very hard once frozen! The semifreddo should be pretty much ready to slice right out of the freezer, but if it’s quite hard let it set for a few minutes before cutting into slices and serving.
This is the inaugural pie post for the blog! Somehow in in the course of seven years a pie never actually made it onto the blog. I suppose I rarely make pies which probably helps contribute to that… Anyhow, this is a pie I am happy to welcome as the first to the blog – a slight riff off of a classic coconut cream pie, and a lovely riff.
I took the standard rich coconut custard and infused it with lemongrass; lemongrass is herb, citrus and aroma, but without the acerbic acidity of lemon, allowing its brightness to exist seamlessly with creamy custard.
This is also a rather low sugar dessert, having only 1/4 cup of sugar in the custard (the pie crust, optionally 100% whole wheat as I tend to make it, has only salt to keep it from tasting bland, and I use unsweetened whipped cream on top). Absolutely add more sugar as per your own taste preferences. I sweeten desserts to what I think they need and I find for me, this pie already feels 100% dessert between the custard, cream and buttery flake.
In making this I tried and referred to a few different recipes but the final version takes most resemblance from the coconut cream pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
1 1/4 c (150g) flour (either all-purpose or whole wheat, depending on your preference)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes
1/4 to 3/8 cup ice water
400mL can of coconut milk
180mL (3/4 c) whole milk
120mL (1/2 c) heavy cream (if you’re already using a very rich coconut milk, you can replace this with milk instead)
1 to 1 1/2 stalks lemongrass
50g granulated sugar (increase to 100g for a more standard sweetness)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 egg yolks
80g (1 c) shredded coconut
220g whipped cream* (see note)
toasted coconut flakes
Whisk together the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter, tossing to coat it with the flour. Use two knives or a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until it forms fine crumbs. Add ice water as needed to bring it together into a rough dough. 1/4 cup should be sufficient, but sometimes I’ve used up to 3/8 cup. Add what you need as it can vary – though generally the less you use, the better! Knead the dough a couple times to help bring it together, then form into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill completely.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle larger than the pie plate. Drape the dough into the pie plate and press it down into the corners. I like to have a thicker edge crust so I trim the pastry such that there is a 1″ or so overhang all the way around. Then tuck the overhanding pastry underneath so the edge is a double thickness of dough. Crimp the edges, dock the bottom of the pie crust thoroughly, then cover and freeze the pie crust completely. (Alternatively, if you don’t have freezer room, chill in the fridge instead! Baking time may be a bit less.)
Preheat the oven to 400F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper so it will better mould to the shape of the pie crust. Take the pie crust from the freezer, line with the parchment paper and fill with pie weights (I use uncooked rice).
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the pie are crisped. Remove the weights and dock the bottom again.
Turn the temperature to 375F. Bake for another 25 minutes or so, or until the pie crust is golden and cooked throughout. Let cool completely.
Begin by infusing the milks with lemongrass. Combine the coconut milk, milk and cream in a saucepan. Cut the lemongrass into four or so pieces and slice each piece lengthwise. Take the lemongrass and bend the pieces along all their length – akin to muddling herbs in order to help bruise the lemongrass and release the flavour.
Heat the milk until it reaches a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemongrass. Cover and set aside to cool, then transfer to the fridge to infuse overnight or up to a few days.
The next day pass the infused milk through a strainer to remove the lemongrass. Place in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, while the milk is warming up, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, salt and egg yolks in a bowl.
Once the milk has just begun to bubble, slowly pour some into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly in order to temper the yolks. Return to the saucepan and place over medium-high heat while whisking constantly. Allow the mixture to begin to bubble and cook for one minute while bubbling (being sure to whisk as vigorously as you can) to ensure the starch is cooked. The cream should be quite thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded coconut.
Spread into the baked pie crust. Press a piece of plastic directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming and chill completely.
The next day, whip the cream until billowy. If you like, whisk in a bit of sugar to taste. Spread over the pie followed by the toasted coconut flakes.
Note: I sometimes infuse the whipped cream on top with lemongrass too – if you want to do this, cold infuse the cream with 1/2 stalk crushed/bent lemongrass for at least 24 hours in the fridge. It’s best not to warm up the cream to avoid accidental overheating if you’re going to whip it later.
This recipe is a lower sugar version of pecan squares for my grandma, who says she loves pecans but really just loves pecans in the sugary form of pie or squares. Making these squares was a game of how low can you go? – with each batch I cut back some more (with some adjustment to other ingredients as needed) until I went a bit too far. To be clear, this is a lower sugar dessert, not exactly a low sugar dessert – there’s still 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/3 of a cup of maple syrup in these bars… but it provides a muted sweetness if you prefer less sweet desserts with plenty of focus on the pecans, salt and rosemary.
As with everything when you make significant cuts to sugar, you need to adjust your expectations – these bars have zero goo, so if you are the thick-and-gooey-pecan-bar sort of person, this is not the right recipe. The consistency of these bars have their own charm though! They’re crisp on top the first day, and sport a taffy-like chew in the middle. In my books, a texture worth the pleasantly subdued sweetness!
The first place the sugar went? The crust. When eating pecan bars, there are no opportunities to eat the crust on its own – it’s always in conjunction with the topping. With plenty of sweetness from the topping, I cut out the sugar from the crust and added enough salt to make it a salty/buttery counterpoint. I’ve also considered switching out the crumb crust for a creamed shortbread, but the crust actually has grown on me – the packed crumbs give the crust a bit of lightness.
The next thing I did was fiddle with the filling. I had some missteps here – the first time I tried halving the brown sugar without adjusting any of the other ingredients and I ended up with bars sopping with grease. It seems there’s a certain ratio of sugar to butter needed for a filling to be a cohesive mixture. The next time I made these bars (which only happened 4 years later… recipe development can be a rather prolonged process for me) I also cut down on the butter, which was much more successful. I’ve also been cooking the filling for longer to help concentrate the sugar.
Finally, I’ve also increased the presence of salt in these bars as a counterpoint to temper the sweetness – it doesn’t reduce the sugar, but does make it less achingly sweet. The rosemary infusion step, something I only added in the last couple of batches, gives the bars a woodsy savoury edge. I like it, but it’s very optional!
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma (just because it was one of the first recipes to show up via search engine). See notes at end for other versions. Rosemary infusion method based on Ruby Tandoh’s rosemary pecan pie – it adds a subtle herbaceous woodiness that goes well with the pecans. But completely optional – I love the bars both with and without! These are lower sugar pecan bars that don’t have a “gooey” sugar layer – rather, they’re a bit chewy and mostly just packed pecans with a thin sugary glaze to hold it all together.
130g (1 cup) whole wheat flour
generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt
86g (6 tbsp) cold butter
2 tbsp of milk
43g (3 tbsp) butter
100g (1/3 cup) maple syrup
40g (¼ cup) brown sugar
two 4-inch sprig rosemary (leave out if you don’t want rosemary flavour)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp rum (or use more cream)
200g (2 cups) coarsely chopped pecans
coarse or flaky salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper (bottom and sides).
To make the crust, pulse the flour, salt and butter together in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Drizzle in the milk and pulse a few times to mix. The crust will look like powder and most certainly not like a dough, but when you pinch some together between your fingers, it should hold together. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes until edges are starting to brown and middle is firm to touch. (It’s a strange looking crust, but once baked with the filling on top it does come together!).
After the crust is baked, prepare the filling. In a small saucepan, place the butter, maple syrup brown sugar and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Boil for for 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and rum until smooth. Bring to a boil again, take off the heat and allow the rosemary to steep for 5 minutes more. Pull out the rosemary, draining off any excess syrup, and then stir in pecans. Scoop the pecans over the baked crust and spread out into an even layer, then spoon the remaining syrup left in the saucepan evenly overtop.
Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set when you shake the pan. The original recipe describes the baking process very accurately – there will be large bubbles earlier on in the bake, and transition to small bubbles near the end. Sprinkle the bars with a pinch of coarse/flaky salt while still hot so it will stick to the topping. Let cool completely in the tin (the bottom crust is delicate until it cools). To remove, use a knife to loosen the two edges without parchment paper, and lift out the bars using the parchment paper sling. Cut into 16 squares (a large serrated knife helps ensure clean edges).
As far as storage, I find these bars are best dried out a bit to retain chewiness. As I live in a dry climate, that means leave the bars out for a while before putting them in an airtight container. Also in the spirit of this, I find it’s best to err on cooking the bars more, rather than less.
even lower sugar pecan bars: I’ve also tested this recipe with only 20g of brown sugar in the filling. It produces bars with a nice, muted sweetness. However, in the end the chewier consistency and glossier, deeper brown colour of the 40g sugar version won out. If you try a 20g brown sugar version, just be very careful about after you scoop the nuts out overtop of the crust: be sure to distribute the remaining syrup in the saucepan as evenly as you can over the entire surface area of the bars.
I think we are possibly still in the peri-New Year period where 2021 listicles are tolerated and somewhat relevant. For instance: last year I started an annual favourite album list which, given the constant content deficit this blog is under, is obviously being continued again this year.
As always, I never keep very up to date with music so these aren’t specifically my favourite albums of 2021, so much as my favourite albums new to me in 2021. Compared to my usual indecision, it’s usually strangely obvious to me what this list would entail as the albums that I listened to most over the past year spring to mind easily. The harder part is articulating what I love about them (and if I sound like I don’t know a thing about music, it’s probably because I don’t know a thing about music). But in my struggling lay terms trying grasp genre, emotion or theme, here goes a list.
I Need to Start a Garden is three parts soft-spoken ballad, one part anthem of millennial angst. It wasn’t quite first love for all of these songs for me, but they grew on me tremendously, something which only makes me adore them even more. (Even the near-shout refrain of “Oom Sha La La” – not to mention, I have never encountered so relatable a rumination as “I’ve barely been to college/And I’ve been out full/Of all that I have dreamed of/The brink of my existence essentially is a comedy.”) My favourite album that I listened to this year.
favourite tracks: the bug collector, untitled god song
This album effortlessly traverses the territories of haunting to sweet to righteously angry and determined, and stories of family, love, and colonialism linking ancestral and contemporary. The way that joy and pride and frustration coexist hints at the complexity of positive identity and community in an oppressive country. I also love an album where each song has its own distinct feel – and each of them is just lovely too.
favourite tracks: tiny hands, igluvut, ikersuaq (but really, all of them are my favourite)
I first listened to Anna Leone’s debut EP which came out a couple of years ago and was immediately charmed by her music. I was so excited to see her first very album come out; it’s the most soothing set of songs I’ve listened over the past year, with delicate folky melodies and intimate vocals carrying the album.
favourite tracks: love you now, in the morning, still i wait
Steady Holiday reminds me of melodic singer-songwriter albums from Emmy the Great and Zee Av. The tracks are about half slow, half fast, and lean wistful and nostalgic. It’s the heartfelt songs which I listen this album for: “Love me When I Go to Sleep” and “Living Life.”
favourite tracks: love me when i go to sleep, living life
This is also Jordan Mackampa’s first full length album. It sounds as though his style has veered more pop-y recently, but still amazing vocals (and charming melodrama) regardless. This album is has plenty of flashy catchy tracks but it’s the more sincerely sentimental songs which are my favourite – the title track “Foreigner” particularly.
favourite tracks: foreigner, eventide, tight (a little cringy but so sweet!)
This French electro-pop album is definitely a bit different from what I usually tend to enjoy but it’s only mildly electronic and also just very, very catchy?! The songs are sung in the most charismatic deadpan (I mean this as a compliment) and I’ve found myself listening to it many more times than I expected. The duo actually broke up (romantically) and disbanded (professionally) before I even discovered the album so sadly I think it’s the one and last from Videoclub.
favourite tracks: amour plastique (by far)
I’ve been sporadically trying to make a gateau basque, a buttery filled cake from Basque, for a few years now and I’ve made some rather terrible ones. Generally, the recipes I’ve seen fall into two types – some use a softer dough which you pipe into layers both below and overtop the filling, while others use a stiffer dough which is rolled out like a tart crust. My first try was based on a piped version, but I didn’t like how thick the layers of pastry ended up too being: predominantly pastry without much filling. The cake was also too dry by the time it cooked through, though that was on me… After that I mostly switched to rolled pastry methods which more easily facilitated thinner layers for a higher filling:pastry ratio. I tried a stiffer dough that was very easy to work with, but which baked up too dry, crisp and cookie-like (at this point I also realized from this one that I should maintain a certain amount of sugar in the dough for tenderness.) Finally, I found I preferred a softer rolled dough formula – harder to work with, but which ended up more tender and cake-like than its dryer counterparts.
That being said, this dough is really soft. It becomes super delicate and prone to tearing as soon as it starts to warm up. It helps to be patient and roll out the dough onto parchment so you can slide it back into the fridge or freezer for when its cold-forged will begins to fade.
Gateau basque is usually filled with either a cherry jam or a pastry cream. I generally prefer the pastry cream filling, but I wanted to add an extra layer to this one, one which I felt wouldn’t detract from the sense of butter on cream on richness on butter: and that meant a layer of warmly spiced date paste. The date paste, an idea inspired by date ma’amoul, has a deep flavour, much like caramel (I now understand why date caramel is such a thing in vegan baking). As the paste is very thick, especially when chilled, I found the best way to get it into an even layer was to roll it out between two pieces of plastic into a circle just big enough to fit into the bottom of the cake. Together with the pastry cream and pastry, it’s a mellow and rich combination.
Pastry adapted from Mon Petit Four. Date paste adapted from Sohla El-Waylly.This is a fairly sweet recipe due to the sweetness of the dates and the sugar in the pastry (which I haven’t quite decimated as it has a bit of a tenderizing role), so I’ve kept the sugar in the pastry cream to a minimum.
special equipment: 7.5″ fluted tart ring (1″ tall)
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla bean paste. Place the milk in a small saucepan and heat until steaming. Slowly pour the milk into the eggs, while whisking constantly to combine.
Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat while whisking constantly. Watch for slow bubbles to rise to surface (you’ll need to briefly pause whisking to see this) and once the cream is bubbling, continue to cook for 1 minute more, whisking vigorously, to ensure the starch is cooked. Immediately transfer the cream to a new bowl and whisk in the butter. Cover and let cool, then place in the fridge to chill completely.
Cover the dates with boiling water and let sit 20 minutes to hydrate. Drain and pit the dates, and place the dates in the bowl of the food processor. Process until chopped, add the oil and spices, and continue to process until the dates form a smooth puree. Chill until ready to use.
Cream the butter and sugars together, then beat in the egg and orange zest until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until a soft dough is formed. Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 2/3 of the dough, and the other, the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Wrap each in plastic and chill completely in the fridge.
Lightly butter the tart ring. On a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour, roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle wide large enough to line the bottom of the tart tin. Aim for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. This dough is very soft and delicate when it warms up, so if it has started to warm, slide the parchment paper onto a tray or cutting board and place in the fridge to chill again. Then use the dough to line the bottom of the tart pan. Tears are okay – just patch them up with a bit of extra dough. Trim any overhang.
The next layer is the date paste. Rather than spreading it, I found the best way to get a nice even layer is to roll out the date paste just like a piece of dough. The chilled paste will be quite firm, so use your hands to form it into a disc. Roll out the disc between two pieces of plastic wrap until to a round that fits in the bottom of the tart tin. Pull off the top piece of plastic, and place the round of date paste upside down into the bottom of the tart tin so that the bottom piece of plastic is on top. Peel off the plastic.
Next, dollop the chilled pastry cream overtop and spread into a smooth layer.
Now, place the final piece of dough on a piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour (you can add any extra dough from the first piece) and roll into a circle large enough to cover the tart, aiming for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. If the dough warms up too much, slide it onto a tray or board and chill it again. Otherwise, drape the dough over top of the tart and trim any excess. Now place the whole cake into the fridge to chill while you preheat the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the cake from the fridge and place on a tray. Brush with beaten egg and use the tip of a paring knife to score lines over the top, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Bake for about 40 minutes or until browned. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.
The Cousin (aka the Writographer) is my one and only loyal blog reader. As she lives across the country from me, she often doesn’t often get the chance to actually try my bakes but I always love hearing her impressions on the recipes. I went through our texts to collect some thoughts she had sent about the past year’s worth of recipes, for a bit of a blog year in review from her perspective. (Shared with my cousin’s permission!)
(While this might make my cousin sound picky, she does seem to eat just about anything I give her (including many of the ingredients she professes to dislike) so either she is far too trusting or far less picky than she thinks, or both.)
I made this rosemary focaccia with the addition of yuzu kosho, a fermented yuzu and chili condiment (for more on yuzu kosho and ways to use it, look at this article from Just One Cookbook!). The yuzu kosho provides spice and a bit of citrus, a combination I love along with the rosemary, and acts to really brighten up the focaccia. I’m also a big fan of this dough, adapted from a Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe: high hydration, springy and rises with a great craggy crumb.
I am on the fence about how edible my cousin thinks this focaccia would be. While I think she would like the yuzu kosho, I’m not sure how she feels about rosemary… (Edit: the cousin has spoken – rosemary is fine but she is not sure about the spice from the yuzu kosho… until next time she visits, I suppose!)
Dough adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.
300g all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp olive oil + more for the pan
4 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 tsp green yuzu kosho
1 heaping packed tbsp rosemary leaves
To make the dough, combine all the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Once a rough dough is formed, cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.
To knead in a mixer, use the dough hook (about 10-15 minutes on medium speed; probably quicker on a higher speed) and work the dough until very stretchy and elastic and at least close to passing the windowpane test. It will become less sticky as you go on.
To knead by hand, as it’s a very well hydrated and sticky dough, this is a perfect time to use the slap and fold method à la Richard Bertinet (Beranbaum describes a method to do with pinching the dough to elongate it but I expect it accomplishes the same thing). Pick up the dough in both hands and slap it down on the countertop. Pull the part of the dough you’re holding towards you to stretch the dough, then fold it in half. Pick up the dough again, but this time from a 90 degree angle so that when you slap it back down the dough is rotated 90 degrees. Repeat. Throughout the process the dough will be very sticky, but that’s okay! Relax, tell yourself it’s okay that my hands are coated in sticky dough, and try not to use any additional flour. I find the best way to keep myself motivated about kneading is to listen to music – this dough is a three-song knead (about 10 minutes). By the end, the dough should be supple and stretchy, and perhaps less sticky than it began.
Place the dough in a bowl, cover with the damp cloth, and let rest twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface. Stretch out the dough into a square and fold into thirds like a letter in one direction, and fold into thirds again in the other direction. Return to the bowl, rest another 20 minutes and repeat the folding.
Let the dough rise until it appears about doubled, 1-2 hours.
Pour a bit of olive oil into a 9×13″ metal baking tin and spread it around to grease the tin. Pull the dough out of the bowl and stretch it out in your hands first into a rectangular shape. Place the dough in the pan and turn it over so both sides are coated in oil. Use your fingers to stretch out the dough to fit the pan. It will probably spring back on your a bit so cover the pan, let the dough relax 15 minutes, and then stretch the dough again. (Repeat another time if needed – try not to overdo it on the olive oil and this process will be easier).
Allow to rise until bubbly and it appears somewhat doubled in height, approximately another 1 1/2 hours.
While the dough rises, whisk together the olive oil and yuzu kosho – it won’t become smooth, but the yuzu kosho will separate into smaller bits and become more distributed throughout the oil. Add the rosemary leaves and mix.
Preheat the oven to 450F near the end of the rise.
Once the dough is risen, dip your hands in water and use your fingers to deeply dimple the dough all over, pressing down to the bottom of the pan. Use a spoon to scatter the oil mixture evenly, being sure to get some yuzu kosho clumps in each spoonful, over the focaccia (you may need to use your fingers to separate the rosemary leaves to prevent them from clumping). Sprinkle generously!! with salt.
Place the focaccia in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until browned on top.
The blog year in review post is my chance to revisit some of my favourite posts from the year. As with last year, I’ve devised a series of 10 categories from which to highlight my favourite recipes in self-congratulatory fashion. (We’ll start with breakfast, then several courses of dessert, and maybe something savoury too, if we must.)
Everything granola is named in the style of everything bagel spice – as in, I didn’t limit to one or two nuts or fruits to make a defined flavour combo by which I would describe the granola. It’s all the generic granola ingredients in one: a few nuts and seeds, several dried fruits and a bit of ground spice. In other words, I could probably just call it granola. But then the title would be too short. So everything granola it is. Besides, I think the name also implies it is very open to substitutions galore: whatever nut/seed/chunky thing you have around, along with whatever assortment of dried fruit.
This recipe originates, though now heavily modified, from an Alton Brown granola recipe that I first started making in elementary school. Over the years I mostly stopped stirring (to get granola clumps!) and cut the sweetener aside from what is needed to bind the granola. More recently, I also started adding egg white, a trick from Deb Perelman, for extra binding. In other words, this recipe is a mildly sweet, but standard, clumpy granola. But still, let’s call it everything granola, okay?
Most years, to celebrate the questionable occasion of the blog becoming a year older, I make a rhubarb cake of some sort. The whole rhubarb theme was poorly chosen as my blog was started in midsummer at which point rhubarb season is mostly over… but what can I do now about my own thoughtlessness 7.5 years ago… Anyways, given I made this cake to commemorate 7 years of blogging, I am biased towards including it. But more than that, I also really loved it! Fraisier has been on my to-do to-attempt list for a long time. It’s always looked intimidatingly finicky to me, but my main fear (that I would not be able to unmold the cake) went unfounded and I found the cake came together quite tidily.
For this take on a fraisier, I infused the filling with lemon verbena and thyme and piled the centre with roasted rhubarb. It is a fantastic classic cake format for summer as it highlights the fruit makes for a moist and light cake. (I am very partial cakes that are only 25% solid cake.)
Chestnuts have a relatively mild flavour so the best way for it to come through is to use a lot of chestnut. I made this cheesecake following that approach, with a good portion of the cheese substituted for chestnut puree. And it makes the loveliest cheesecake – super smooth, soft and obviously chestnut-y. Together with caramelized persimmons, it’s a mellow and autumnal flavour combination. (I liked the caramelized persimmons so much that I ended up making them again for this houjicha ice cream with caramelized persimmons.)
There is nothing particularly exciting or creative about this – it’s really just a peach and almond tart. But it is a a classic combination for a reason and in the end I had to choose this as my favourite. I think it’s the small details here and there which made me love it. First, the tart shell, a pasta frolla, which I made with 100% white flour… I will keep making whole wheat tart crusts, because they are still quite lovely!, but every once and while the blankness of white flour, the complete lack of bitterness, and the way it browns golden and goes so seamlessly with sweetness… That and almond cream bolstered with amaretto (one of my favourite flavours), and topped with plenty of peaches and toasted almonds. It is not very exciting, but it is very delicious.
I generally find grapefruit a bit trickier to bake with than its lemon, orange or lime counterparts, in great part because grapefruit zest doesn’t have a very strong flavour. I thus have a sordid history of making grapefruit desserts which I think taste like grapefruit – maybe-ish – due to a suggestible and overactive imagination, but really which don’t.
The theme of this tart was grapefruit and I was determined for it to taste like grapefruit. That meant a grapefruit cream, grapefruit jelly domes, grapefruit posset domes, and candied grapefruit peel. And, thankfully (because I don’t know where I could go from here) it tastes undeniably like grapefruit. It’s quite rich and creamy and refreshing and a bit bitter.
Black forest cake is a family favourite and retro classic – cherries, chocolate and plenty of kirsch. Anything black forest-themed tends to be very well received by my grandparents and so were these. They’re very straightforwards but surprisingly good: cherry kirsch compote, chocolate kirsch pastry cream, thick swirl of whipped cream which you could add a bit of kirsch to as well (enough kirsch yet?) and a cherry on top.
This ice cream is rather like a mint chocolate chip ice cream, but that does gloss over some differences. First, the stracciatella part, where melted chocolate is drizzled into the ice cream while it is being churned (or where egg is drizzled into broth and cooks up in strands – either way). This creates thin, snappy shards of chocolate which melt quickly in the mouth. Texturally it’s an improvement over chocolate chunks or chips which harden into pebbles in the chill of the freezer, and flavourwise, the quick melting means that the flavour of the chocolate is tasted sooner and more accessibly than chunks. I also love the background fruitiness from the cherries. Adapted from a Stella Parks recipe, the base is thick with roasted pureed cherries. Roasting the fruit before pureeing it into the ice cream removes excess water and prevents the ice cream from becoming crystalline. Some fruit lose their oomph when roasted, but not so much cherries which stay fruity, sweet and tart.
For some reason I love hot cross buns. And different hot cross bun variations are a way to extend my hot cross bun love into multiple batches of hot cross buns. This particular batch was inspired by saffron-infused Lucia buns: a saffron and cardamom dough studded with raisins and candied orange peel, and topped with a pastry cream cross. These buns also took a few batches over a couple years to get them where I wanted – slightly less aggressive use of cardamom, more and more fruit, reworking of the pastry cream. I honestly thought these buns would end up boring, but they’re actually so pleasant between the soft dough, spices, fruit and cream.
This is one of my favourite savoury pastries that I’ve had and I was chuffed that I was able to make an approximation of it for myself. Puff pastry, salty cheese filling, split and folded over boiled eggs and a sharp green harissa. I love it for snack or lunch or picnics and still warm or reheated or even cold. It’s hard to mess up when it lovably hits all the boxes flavourwise (salt fat acid heat).
Since this list is being made around the holiday season, of course we need a festive category. Last year it had to go to fruitcake, but this year the cookie box gets it. At this point the holiday cookie box has weathered a few different winter holidays – left in the lunchroom, brought a New Year’s party, packed up into bags or mailed, scaled down for an at-home covid christmas. Regardless, I usually design the cookie box around a couple of constraints. First, I usually go for dry and crumbly type cookies (i.e. the shortbread as opposed to the chewy cookies) that won’t dry out and go stale in a day, letting them be stored for longer. Choosing cookies of similar moisture content also allows different types of cookies to be stored together – if you include a moist cookie, it will dry out while surrounding crisp cookies will soften. It’s also best to keep to more robust cookies which can handle being in the mail.
As well, there is also a convenience to a cookie box! (Relative convenience, let’s say.) When you stick to the types of cookies that don’t dry out, cookie box baking can take place over an extended period of time, letting you get started early. Besides, as each recipe doesn’t take too much time, I find I can make one every weeknight evening which spreads out the work to be more manageable. I also find cookies are fairly easy to scale down to smaller batches (ex. to 1/2 stick butter), meaning it’s not too much of an ingredient investment to make multiple types for variety or experiment a bit. Store all the cookies separately and then put them together for gifting or bringing!
Say you care about opinions other than solely mine (but why wouldyou?), I also have the top 10 by page view (and I like all of these too!):
2021 was also a second year of pandemic no one hoped we would have, a vaccine equity catastrophe, an onslaught of natural disasters, humanitarian crises, tragic discoveries, a disregarded opioid epidemic, bigotry resurgences AND also the birth of mutual aid funds and grassroots organizing efforts to support communities. Wishing everyone a better year in 2022, and beyond just the wishing, remember we have the opportunity to make things better, too.