strawberry rhubarb & poppy seed coffee cake

strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake
strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake
strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake

it is my favourite season: rhubarb season! I haven’t actually baked anything with rhubarb yet this spring, but I do have this cake from last year – a fruity, crumbly take on a coffee cake made with a yoghurt poppy seed cake, chopped strawberries and rhubarb, and a topping of spiced almond crumb.

The wonders of coffee cake: it’s dessert and it’s breakfast! Also okay for lunch! Honestly, any meal!

strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake
strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake
strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake

This cake was inspired by Brown Bear Bakery, a bakery I would love to one day visit! I am always excited by the combination of strawberry, rhubarb and a whole grain streusel – I love using this combination in one way or another as another homage to the strawberry rhubarb crumbles (aka the number one and also only dessert) that I grew up with.

strawberry rhubarb poppy seed coffee cake

strawberry rhubarb & poppy seed coffee cake

  • Servings: 8-inch square cake
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Cake inspired by Brown Bear Bakery. Crumb adapted from Epicurious. Cake adapted from the sour cream coffee cake recipe in A Good Bake by Melissa Weller.

spiced almond crumb

  • 85g butter, melted
  • 40g brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 100g whole wheat flour
  • 25g finely ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp flaked almonds

poppy seed & yoghurt coffee cake

  • 120g all-purpose flour  
  • 60g whole wheat
  •  1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 12g (about 1 tbsp + 1 tsp) poppy seeds
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 225g greek yoghurt (or sour cream)

fruit

  • 140g rhubarb, chopped
  • 140g strawberries, chopped
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp tapioca starch

For the crumb, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the sugar, spices and salt and stir to combine. Then add the flour and ground almonds and stir until combined. Break up into lumps and toss in the flaked almonds.

For the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8″ square tin and line with a parchment paper sling.

Whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder and poppy seeds. Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a standmixer and cream until light and fluffy (or by hand with a wooden spoon). Add the vanilla and egg and beat until combined. Finally, whisk in the yoghurt. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Dollop into the bottom of the prepared tin and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. The batter will be thick.

For the fruit, toss together the fruit, sugar and tapioca. Scatter over the batter.

Finally, scatter the crumb overtop of the cake. Squeeze a bit of the crumb mixture in your hands so it holds together in lumps and then break it up over the top of the cake.

Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes (do a first check at 30 minutes) or until an inserted skewer is removed clean or with just a couple crumbs clinging to it. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cut into squares.

mango, honey & chrysanthemum semifreddo

mango honey chrysanthemum semifreddo

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.

And for everyone, a thousand uncertainties: what comes now that the uneasy status quo is broken – what can phase an authoritarian fixated on an empire and thus far unmoved – whether this is the tipping point or we have been heading there for a very long time now – what complicated history remains.

And what also emerged: a double standard in media coverage and global unity; take the euphemistic language in which Western reporters try to justify why this conflict is so different from others. If there was any question of what motivates this double standard, the answer in here in the egregious racist hostility facing African and South Asian students trying to escape Ukraine. These questions in no way diminish the horror of the Ukrainian invasion or the how vital a continued and escalated global response to the situation in Ukraine is – but it reminds us that there are and will be other situations which also warrant global outrage and a humanitarian response for all people.

But above all: it’s remembering the human cost and what will remain at the end of this or any other conflict. As of Friday, 331 civilians, 19 children, soldiers of both sides, and counting.

The Red Cross – Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.

mango honey chrysanthemum semifreddo
mango honey chrysanthemum semifreddo

This semifreddo was inspired by Zoe Bake’s blood orange creamsicle semifreddo, made with a layer of sorbet over frozen mousse.

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.

mango honey chrysanthemum semifreddo

mango, honey & chrysanthemum semifreddo

  • Servings: 1 loaf tin
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Inspired by Zoe Bake’s blood orange creamsicle semifreddo. Freehanded sorbet, semifreddo based on Stella Park’s recipe.

mango orange sorbet

  • 280g mango puree (from about 2 1/2 – 3 ataulfo mangos)
  • 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
  • 35g honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

sorbet

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.

semifreddo

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.

lemongrass coconut cream pie

lemongrass coconut cream pie

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.

lemongrass coconut cream pie
lemongrass coconut cream pie
lemongrass coconut cream pie

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.

lemongrass coconut cream pie

lemongrass coconut cream pie

  • Servings: 8 or 9-inch pie
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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

pie crust

  • 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

coconut custard

  • 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
  • 32g cornstarch
  • 50g granulated sugar (increase to 100g for a more standard sweetness)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 80g (1 c) shredded coconut 

to top

  • 220g whipped cream* (see note)
  • toasted coconut flakes

pie crust

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.

coconut custard

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.

to finish

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.

lemongrass coconut cream pie

salted maple rosemary pecan squares

salted rosemary maple pecan squares

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!

salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares

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!

salted rosemary maple pecan squares

salted maple rosemary pecan squares

  • Servings: 16 squares
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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.

crust

  • 130g (1 cup) whole wheat flour
  • generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 86g (6 tbsp) cold butter
  • 2 tbsp of milk

filling

  • 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

finishing

  • 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.

spiced date gateau basque

spiced date & cream gateau basque

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.

spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque

1. i need to start a garden (2018) – hayley heynderickx

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

2. shelter as we go… (2017) – quantum tangle

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)

3. i’ve felt all these things (2021) – anna leone

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

4. take the corners gently (2021) – steady holiday

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

5. foreigner (2020) – jordan mackampa

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!)

6. europhories (2021) – videoclub

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)

spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque

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.

spiced date & cream gateau basque

spiced date gateau basque

  • Servings: one 7.5-inch diameter cake
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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)

pastry cream

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 14g cornstarch
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 240g whole milk
  • 1 tbsp butter

date paste

  • 150g whole dried dates
  • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch kosher salt

pastry

  • 85g butter, softened
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • finely grated zest from half an orange
  • 140g all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

assembly

  • beaten egg for egg wash

pastry cream

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.

date paste

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.

pastry

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.

assembly

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.

2021 blog year in review

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?

For a more extravagant breakfasts, try the blueberry brunsviger.

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.

Runner ups: saffron poached pear & pistachio tart and burnt miso & star anise banana tarte tatin.

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.

Runner up: tarragon and lime posset tarts with black and blueberries.

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.

It was difficult deciding – runner ups are the ispahan cream puff or caramelized banana & houjicha cream puff, depending on if you’re feeling summery or not.

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 would you?), I also have the top 10 by page view (and I like all of these too!):

  1. tiramisu tres leches
  2. strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars
  3. chestnut cheesecake with caramelized persimmons
  4. lemon verbena & rhubarb fraisier
  5. black sesame & persimmon paris-brest
  6. black forest cream puffs
  7. orange fennel almond biscotti
  8. rhubarb & ginger eton mess
  9. ataulfo mango & fennel seed mousse cake
  10. chocolate prune & whiskey ice cream

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.

See also the 2020, 2019, 2016 and 2015 blog years in review.

cookie box 2021

cookie box 2021

I was hoping that this holiday would be a bit of a return-to-normal compared to last year, though it’s ended up being another quiet holiday season and only the most minimal of gathering. Nevertheless, there are still way too many cookies of course…

(Aside from the people, food is the second best part of the holidays.)

cookie box 2021
cookie box 2021

This year I’ve made a mostly nut-free cookie lineup (there is one glaring exception – the obviously very almondy bethmannchen) to accommodate for allergies at my lab, the main cookie recipients for this year. I started off with a batch of omnipresent speculoos – a buttery spiced cookie – the one cookie I am certain to make annually. The coffee cardamom stars, drizzled with dark chocolate, were inspired by a Dorie Greenspan recipe where she includes coffee grinds in the cookie; it gives them a slightly crunchy texture! I ended up using a mixture of both instant and ground coffee in these as I found it had better flavour than coffee grinds alone (I drink cheap pre-ground coffee so maybe that’s why…), and I love how strongly these cookies smell of both coffee and spice. The matcha wreath cookies were mostly included for cuteness and festive aesthetics – they are based on a recipe from Cho’s daily cook. The cookies are a bit of a pain to pipe, but they turn out wonderfully tender and not too sweet so that the white chocolate doesn’t overwhelm.

For a shortbread option, I made a basic shortbread with milk powder that I dry toasted in a pan – it’s an ingredient I had played with a bit previously, but here I let it star alone in a cookie where it tastes like a cross between milk powder and caramel. I also always like including a snowball cookie of some sort, so for a nut-free alternative, I went with a coconut and rooibos snowball. And as opposed to linzer cookies, which contain nuts, I made fennel seed and grapefruit marmalade thumbprints (they add some tart and bitterness to the box, which is refreshing amidst all the butter!). Last year I really enjoyed the orange cranberry rosemary slice cookies so this year I followed them up with a haw flake and orange slice. If you haven’t come across them, haw flakes are a pressed dry candy made of hawthorn; I used to eat them all the time as a kid. The cross-section of the cookies look a bit like giant sprinkles (or less appealingly, like pieces of ham?) and the haw flakes have a bit of tartness to them and take on a pleasant chew once baked.

After I had finished with my nut-free baking and those cookies had been given away, I did add one extremely nutty cookie to make up for the otherwise dearth of nuts: the dome-shaped bethmannchen which are essentially baked nuggets of marzipan. (Wonderful, in other words.) As a last addition, I made some ponche de creme sandwich cookies, based around the flavours of the Trinidadian eggnog: a cinnamon, nutmeg and lime cookie sandwiching a rum and angostura-spiked white chocolate ganache.

Happy holidays and stay safe.

cookie box 2021

recipes are below

speculooscoffee cardamom starsmatcha wreath cookiestoasted milk powder shortbreadcoconut rooibos snowballsfennel marmalade thumbprintshaw flake & orange slicesbethmannchenponche de creme sandwiches

cookie box 2021

speculoos

Recipe can be found in the 2019 holiday cookie box.

cookie box 2021

coffee cardamom stars

  • Servings: 20-25 6cm cookies
  • Print

These cookies are fragrant with coffee and spices. I like just a bit of chocolate on them to go with, but not cover up, the flavours. Inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s coffee cardamom cookies from Dorie’s Cookies. Base dough adapted from Alton Brown’s sugar cookie recipe.

  • 80g whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground coffee
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • scant 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 56g butter, softened
  • 37g brown sugar
  • 10g egg
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1/2 tsp boiling water
  • 25g dark chocolate, melted

Whisk together the flour, coffee grinds, spices, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream the butter and brown sugar together until light. Mix in the egg until combined, followed by the dissolved instant coffee. Add the dry ingredients and mix together until a soft dough is formed. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about 0.4cm thick. Slide onto a tray and chill completely in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Take the chilled dough out and use a 6cm star cutter (or other shape of choice) to cut shapes from the dough. You will get about 25 if you also re-roll the scraps. Transfer the cookies to the prepared tray and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until just lightly browned around the edges and bottom. You may need to bake the cookies in two batches if they don’t all fit on the tray – keep any remaining dough and cookies in the fridge until ready to bake.

Once cooled, if desired, drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Spread out the cookies on a piece of parchment. Transfer the melted chocolate to a piping bag fitted with a very small fine round tip and drizzle over the cookies. Let set completely before moving.

cookie box 2021

matcha wreath cookies

  • Servings: about 20 5cm cookies
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Based on Cho’s daily cook.

  • 120g butter, softened
  • 62g powdered sugar
  • 30g (1) egg white
  • 135g cake flour
  • 6g matcha
  • 60g melted white chocolate
  • chopped dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds (or pistachios)

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and powdered sugar together. Add the egg white a bit at a time and beat in until smooth. Sift the cake flour and matcha together and add to the butter mixture, mixing until a soft dough is formed.

Transfer dough to a piping bag fitted with a medium star tip (I used an unbranded one with a maximal opening diameter of 1.5cm). Pipe 5cm circles. Depending on the size of your tip, you should get about 20 cookies. Place the tray in the fridge to chill completely.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300F. Bake about 12 minutes or until firm. Let cool completely.

Melt the white chocolate and dip the “seam” of each cookie into the chocolate. Place on a parchment lined tray and sprinkle with chopped dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds or pistachios. Let set completely before moving.

cookie box 2021

toasted milk powder shortbread

  • Servings: 10-12 4cm cookies
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Shortbread based on the classic 1:2:3 ratio modified for the addition of milk powder.

  • 15g dry milk powder
  • 60g butter, softened
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 64g all-purpose flour

Begin by dry toasting the milk powder. Place the milk powder in a small pan and put over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the milk powder becomes golden. Once golden, immediately transfer to another bowl to prevent burning. If the milk powder ever starts browning too quickly, immediately lower the heat or lift the pan from the stovetop. Let the toasted milk powder cool.

Cream the butter, sugar and salt together until fluffy. Add the milk powder and cream until combined, then add the milk. Finally add the flour and mix until a dough is formed. Pat the dough into a log about 4cm (1 1/2″) in diameter. Place a bit of extra granulated sugar on a plate and roll the log in the sugar until coated. Wrap in plastic and chill completely in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a tray with parchment paper. Place the log on a cutting board and slice cookies 1cm thick using a sharp knife. Give the log a quarter turn between each slice to prevent one side of the log from becoming flattened.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until browned along the edges and bottom.

cookie box 2021

coconut rooibos snowballs

  • Servings: 10-12 cookies
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An amalgamation of the recipe from Emma Laperruque’s pecan cookies and An Italian in My Kitchen’s almond cookies.

  • 56g butter, softened
  • 25g icing sugar
  • contents of 1 rooibos tea bag (2g coarsely ground tea)
  • good pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 25g desiccated shredded coconut, coarsely ground
  • 62g all-purpose flour
  • icing sugar

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and 25g icing sugar together, then mix in the rooibos, salt, vanilla and coconut. Finally, add the flour and mix until just combined. If the dough is very soft you can chill it briefly – or go ahead and roll the cookies now.

Scoop tablespoons of the dough (about 15g each) and roll into balls. Arrange evenly on the prepared pan. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until firm to the touch and slightly browned on the bottom.

Roll in icing sugar while still warm, and then once more when they are cool.

cookie box 2021

fennel marmalade thumbprint cookies

  • Servings: 20-24 cookies
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Adapted from Live Well Bake Often.

  • 113g butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp fennel seeds, coarsely ground
  • 145g all-purpose flour
  • about 1/4 cup marmalade (I used some homemade cardamom grapefruit marmalade) – if your homemade marmalade is quite watery, drain briefly before using

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the orange zest, salt and ground fennel seeds. Add the flour and mix until a dough is formed. Scoop 1 tbsp (16g) portions of dough and roll between your palms into a smooth ball. Place on the prepared tray. Use your thumb or the back of a teaspoon to indent each cookie.

Place the cookies in fridge to chill for 20 minutes to slightly firm up. Dollop 1/2 tsp of marmalade in each indent.

Bake about 15-16 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.

cookie box 2021

haw flake & orange slice

  • Servings: 8-9 5cm cookies
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Adapted from the do-almost-anything cookie dough from Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies.

  • 15g granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 mandarin orange or 1/2 a navel orange
  • 56g butter, softened
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 8g egg white
  • 68g all-purpose flour
  • 15g haw flakes, separated and broken into small pieces

Rub the sugar and orange zest together until fragrant. Add the butter and cream until light. Next, mix in the salt and egg white. Tip in the flour and mix until a dough is formed. Lastly, add the haw flake pieces and mix until distributed into the dough.

Pat the dough into a log about 5cm (2″) in diameter. Roll so that the outsides are smooth and then wrap in parchment paper, twisting the ends closed. Place in the fridge and chill overnight or at least a few hours. It’s important that the dough is fully chilled and sufficiently firm so that the haw flake pieces stay in place while the cookies are being sliced.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Take out the log of cookie dough from the fridge. Using a thin serrated knife, slice cookies about 0.7cm thick (a bit of a sawing motion can help cut through the haw flakes). Turn the cookie log a quarter turn between each slice to prevent one side from being flattened.

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and edges.

cookie box 2021

bethmannchen

  • Servings: about 14 cookies
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Adapted from Anja Dunk’s Advent.

  • 100g almond flour
  • 8g cornstarch
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 25g marzipan, grated
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 15g egg white
  • about 42 blanched almonds
  • 1 egg yolk for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Place the almond flour, cornstarch, icing sugar, salt and grated marzipan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the almond extract and orange blossom water and pulse a few more times to mix. Add the egg white and process until mixed and the dough comes together.

Scoop 14g portions of dough (about the size of a cherry tomato). Roll each one between your palms into a smooth ball and place on the prepared tray. Press three blanched almonds into the sides, with their pointy ends angling up to the centre of the cookie. Brush the cookies with beaten egg yolk. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until browned but still soft.

cookie box 2021

ponche de creme sandwich cookies

  • Servings: about 15 5cm cookies
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Dough adapted from the do-almost-anything cookie dough from Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies, as is the ganache.

cookie

  • 136g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 medium lime
  • 113g (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 15g egg white
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

filling

  • 94g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 45g heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 tsp angostura bitters
  • pinch salt
  • 7g butter
  • 1/4 tsp finely grated lime zest

cookie

Stir together the flour and spices.

Rub the sugar and lime zest together until fragrant. Add the butter and cream until light, then beat in the salt, egg white, and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until a dough is formed.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until about 0.5cm thick. Chill completely.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a couple baking trays with parchment paper.

Use a 5cm (2″) round cutter to cut rounds from the dough. Reroll the scraps (chilling again as needed) and cut more cookies from there as well. Bake the cookies about 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges and bottom. You may need to bake in a couple of batches so keep any unbaked cookies in the fridge until ready to bake.

filling

Place the chopped chocolate in microwave safe bowl. In a small dish in the microwave or over the stovetop, heat cream until boiling. Stir in rum, bitters and salt and pour over chocolate. Let sit a minute, then stir until melted – if it doesn’t melt on its own, microwave for short intervals, stirring in between. Lastly add the butter and stir until mixed, and then mix in the lime zest.

Place ganache in fridge and stir every couple of minutes until it has cooled and is thick enough to hold its shape, but still soft.

Meanwhile, pair up the cookies by similar size and shape. Place one cookie from each pair upside down on a tray.

Transfer to piping bag fitted with round tip (0.7cm diameter, Wilton 12) and pipe filling on one cookie from each pair – make so that it is set about 0.5cm in from edge of cookie. Top with other cookie and press lightly until filling is close to the edges. These are best stored in the fridge for long-term storage.

chestnut rum raisin ice cream

chestnut rum raisin ice cream
chestnut rum raisin ice cream
chestnut rum raisin ice cream

Rum raisin ice cream should be something that I adore (rum + cream + dried fruit + grandpa vibes) but I’ve always had a less than stellar impression of it. Probably because I’d only ever tried a supermarket version of it once: super sweet, slightly freezer-burned. and rum-flavoured as opposed to actual rum. Homemade rum raisin, on the other hand, is properly alcoholic, and all that I imagined it to be and more!

(Maybe I would have liked the supermarket one too if it wasn’t too freezer-burned…)

chestnut rum raisin ice cream
chestnut rum raisin ice cream

For this take on a rum raisin ice cream, I made an ice cream base thick with pureed chestnuts – it only adds to the coziness and goes well with the rum. Just before churning, stir in rum-plumped raisins and any excess rum. Soaking the raisins in rum not only rehydrates any particularly desiccated ones, but also offsets the sweetness and keeps them soft and chewy even when frozen. And finally, thanks to the alcohol content of the ice cream base, it stays semi-scoopable even when made with lower sugar content.

chestnut rum raisin ice cream

chestnut rum raisin ice cream

  • Servings: about 3 cups ice cream base
  • Print

Adapted from Saveur’s rum raisin ice cream.

  • 75g (1/2 cup) raisins
  • 105g (1/2 cup) dark rum
  • 300g (1 1/4 cup) whole milk
  • 5cm length of vanilla bean
  • 150g (1 cup) peeled roasted chestnuts
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 25g granulated sugar (or use 50-70g for a more standard sweetness)
  • 240g (1 cup) heavy cream

Combine the raisins and dark rum in a small jar or covered dish and set aside overnight or up to a couple days.

Place the milk in a medium-small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds, adding both the seeds and pod to the milk. Bring the milk to a simmer, stirring occasionally and add the chestnuts. Partially cover and allow to simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until the chestnuts are tender. Remove from the heat.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the chestnuts and set aside. Discard the vanilla pod.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and granulated sugar. Return the milk to the stovetop and heat until it begins to steam. Slowly pour into the egg yolks while whisking constantly to temper them. Return the custard to the saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Cook until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and hold a line drawn in it, or the temperature reaches 160-180F.

Remove from the heat and add the chestnuts. If you have an immersion blender, transfer to a tall glass measuring cup or the cup that comes with the blender and puree until smooth. Otherwise, transfer the mixture to the bowl or a stand blender or food processor and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. The mixture will appear thick and silky. Chill completely.

When ready to make the ice cream, stir in the cold heavy cream, the rum-soaked raisins, and all the excess rum. Transfer the ice cream base to an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: I don’t personally recommend it, but if you prefer the alcohol cooked off: put the raisins and rum in a microwave proof container, cover with plastic leaving a small gap for steam to escape, and microwave for about 1 minute or until it is bubbling.

black sesame babka

black sesame babka
black sesame babka
black sesame babka

My friend and I had been talking about going for shaved ice for days. It was the smooth and creamy-style of shaved ice, where the ice is brushed up into ripples like bundled taffeta. The elegant pale grey of the black sesame flavour lent it the stately air of a flounce of ruffles that could be found at the sleeve of a nineteenth-century ball gown. And, most importantly, each order was voluminous: mounded up on the plate to reach approximately the volume of a small roast chicken.

Blinded by the beauty of its excess, we didn’t quite reckon with the reality of its quantity. A quarter of way through I was thoroughly done with black sesame. Halfway, I was full. By the three-quarter point I began to employ the secret technique of mashing the shaved ice into the melted pool at the bottom of the plate to make it seem as though there was less. My friend, a considerably more virtuous person than me, continued to eat with gallant determination until even she broke down and succumbed to her fullness. The plate had transformed from enticing mountain to a sneering, melting pool of a failure – and we left in shame.

black sesame babka
black sesame babka
black sesame babka
black sesame babka
black sesame babka

This happened a couple years ago, and from that point on, my love for black sesame was broken. I still like it, but not in the same way I used to. I was recalling this experience with my friend recently and found out that she never particularly cared much for black sesame to begin with… choosing black sesame was all my idea! (At least a fruit flavour would have been more manageable!)

Anyways, somehow, here is a black sesame babka. Eaten by the slice – buttery bread, with a toasted black sesame filling, a bit of icing for sweetness – it’s distinctly black sesame (but not too much black sesame as even I still enjoy it!). Besides, at one point, I did properly love this loaf – it’s a refresh of this old black sesame babka from my blog’s early days. I’ve made this one with instant yeast instead of sourdough and extra swirly for even more black sesame filling (oh joy).

black sesame babka

black sesame babka

Dough adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. 

dough

  • 150g bread flour or all purpose flour
  • 115g whole wheat flour
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 4g kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 large eggs
  • 95g water
  • 75g soft butter

filling

  • 60g soft butter
  • 60g ground black sesame seeds
  • 30g granulated sugar

baking

  • beaten egg for eggwash

glaze

  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk or as needed

Begin by making the dough. In the bowl of a standmixer, whisk together the flours, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the water and eggs and mix until a rough dough is formed. The dough will be rather stiff. Use the dough hook to knead for a few minutes or until the dough smoothes out.

Add the soft butter a chunk at a time and work into the dough using the dough hook. As more butter is incorporated, the dough will become softer. You’ll have to scrape down the dough hook every so often as the dough rides up. Once all the butter is incorporated, knead for a few minutes until the dough is very smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise until doubled, an hour or two – or at this point, put the dough in the fridge to rise overnight.

Prepare the filling by mixing together all the filling ingredients.

Butter a loaf pan and line with a sling of parchment paper.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 38x28cm. Spread with the filling, sparing one strip of dough along a long edge where you will seal the roll. Brush that strip of dough lightly with water. Roll up into a log start at the opposite long edge and seal. Cut the roll in half length wise. Turn so both cut ends are facing up. Wind the two halves together by lifting up one end and placing it over the other, always keeping the cut sides facing up. Fold the braid in half (still keeping the cut edges facing upwards) and place in the prepared loaf pan. 

Let rise for an hour or two until puffed.

Later in the rise, preheat the oven to 400F.

Brush the loaf with egg wash. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes at 400F, then turn the temperature to 350F for the remainder of the baking.

Bake the babka for around 30-40 minutes or until the babka is nicely browned and the internal temperature is at least 180F. 

To prepare the glaze, whisk the icing sugar with the milk, adding enough for a thick but runny glaze. Drizzle over the loaf once it has cooled and is only warm, not hot. Let loaf finish cooling for the glaze to set.

apple butter gingerbread rolls with browned butter icing

apple butter gingerbread rolls

Remember back when I started this blog and wrote a halfhearted 2-second blog tagline which ended up staying permanently? Books(?), I thought. I sometimes still read. Sort of. Maybe I’ll write about books. Let’s put books(?) to be safe.

Today it’s only gotten worse. I read one novel in 2020 (plus one graphic novel)- it was perfect for the early pandemic days when I had the massive privilege of being able to stay home, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, about a man under house arrest in peri-revolution Russia.

Recently I confided that I had not read anything in 2021 over the phone with my cousin (The Cousin, in fact). Reading is second nature for The Cousin so understandably she gasped in abject horror.

apple butter gingerbread rolls
apple butter gingerbread rolls
apple butter gingerbread rolls
apple butter gingerbread rolls

But! I finally read something this year (The Cousin, I know you’ll read this eventually so… LOOK! I read!). Helen Oyeyemi has been one of my favourite authors since I first chanced across her novel Mr. Fox in high school. Most recently, she wrote Peaces in which a couple alights, due to some slight coercion, aboard a mysterious train for their not-honeymoon honeymoon. The train has a sauna carriage, a portrait gallery and a holding cell (of course), and three other passenger-residents plus or minus a few others.

It was an effortlessly engaging read, in a way that I had forgotten novels can be. With Oyeyemi, I think it’s always how she builds the balance and juxtaposition inherent in magical realism. There are fantastical situations and as equally fantastical characters, but in their interaction they are all the more real: half-grounded, half-positively buoyant. And in Peaces, it is the way stories are nested within stories within stories; they unfurl amongst anecdotes and dialogues and letters and then telescope back to the present. And it’s the way that everything is so carefully, deliberately connected. (In summary, unequivocal recommendations from me!)

apple butter gingerbread rolls

And, for fall, here are some buns. A lightly spiced gingerbread molasses bun, with the heft of the flavour carried by the tart apple butter filling and browned butter icing. As much as I like to avoid frostings, there really is something about a frosted bun – so the buns themselves are minimally sweetened to balance the frosting, which itself is surprisingly browned buttery.

apple butter gingerbread rolls

apple butter gingerbread rolls with browned butter icing

Icing vaguely based on Striped Spatula’s brown butter glaze.

gingerbread dough

  • 175g whole wheat flour
  • 50g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp star anise
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 120g milk at room temperature
  • 40g molasses
  • 32g egg
  • 50g soft butter

filling

  • 200g apple butter (recipe below)
  • 25g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

browned butter icing

  • 40g butter
  • 55g icing sugar
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cream

For the dough, in a bowl, combine the flours, yeast, spices and salt. Add the milk, molasses and egg. Stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed. Knead on a lightly floured counter until smooth, then knead in a chunk of the butter at a time until all the butter is incorporated.

Place the dough in a container and let rise in the fridge overnight.

For the filling, combine all the ingredients. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

The next day, butter an 8″ square pan and line with a parchment paper sling. Take the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured countertop until it is rectangle about 12×14″. Spread with the filling, aside from a strip of dough along one long edge where you will seal the roll. Brush this bare bit of dough with a bit of water to help the log seal.

Starting from the other long edge, roll up the dough into a log and pinch to seal. Use floss to cut into 9 pieces.

Arrange the pieces in the pan and cover. Let rise 1 1/2-2 hours or until puffed.

Near the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 375F.

Bake the risen buns for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

For the icing, place the butter in a small pan and cook, stirring, until the butter solids are browned. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the powdered sugar and then the cream. As the butter cools, the frosting will thicken.

Spread the frosting over the buns while they are still slightly warm. Best eaten day of!

apple butter

To make the apple butter, place a few of cups of unsweetened applesauce (recipe here) in a saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until the applesauce thickens in a thick, jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a jar and cool. Store in the fridge.