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.
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 would you?), I also have the top 10 by page view (and I like all of these too!):
- tiramisu tres leches
- strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars
- chestnut cheesecake with caramelized persimmons
- lemon verbena & rhubarb fraisier
- black sesame & persimmon paris-brest
- black forest cream puffs
- orange fennel almond biscotti
- rhubarb & ginger eton mess
- ataulfo mango & fennel seed mousse cake
- 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.