Tag Archives: dessert

Sour Cherries Leave a Sweet Taste…

This may be one of my shortest blog posts ever!!! Rejoice all of you who secretly wish I would just “get to the point” (or the recipe) when I publish something :)! This is the story of me making sour cherry pie filling for the very first time in my entire life. Why did I wait so long to try make this? I dunno… I thought it would be long and difficult? I didn’t know how? It’s easy to buy it ready made? I never saw fresh sour cherries at the market before? Or maybe never noticed them before? Who knows… There is always a first for everything and this was mine. Ironic because cherry is my favourite pie ever. It so happens to land close second with the King, his numero uno desserts being apple baked in “everything”. It happens that it also was my father-in-law’s ultimate favourite pie of all times and I am always reminded of him when a cherry pie graces our dinner table. Fond memories indeed!

I was bumming around the farmer’s stall on the Byward Market (no surprise here) for my weekly fill of all the good stuf in season this past Saturday when I saw these shiny crimson red beauties. Next thing I knew, they were in my shopping basket. What to do, what to do??! My friend Google came to the rescue and to my surprise, site after site after site offered pretty much the same ingredients/steps. So I won’t really credit anyone here except that I settled on “AllRecipes.com” for the basic guidelines. As for the pastry well… Drum roll please, it is confession time: I am useless, completely useless at making pie dough. Sometimes it turns out and other times, it is a HUGE fiasco. I will never, ever share a “how to make pie dough” recipe on this site. Ever! Pie dough is my nemesis, pinky swear! I could tell you stories about pie crust disasters. And I can have a few friends tell you I am not exaggerating either. Like this one time when I had 24 tourtières to make for a catering order at a very busy time of year and I called my buddy Laura SC in tears at 10pm on a Saturday night because all I was ending up with were mountains of crumbs… But that is a story for another day. I said I would get to the point: so I used, instead of making from scratch, ta ta ta tum… wait for it… Frozen puff pastry. Yup, there, I’ve said it out loud! I used frozen puff pastry from the grocery store. Marvellous little invention I say :). So project sour cherry turnover was done in a jiffy with homemade from scratch sour cherry filling and frozen pastry dough. I think regular pie dough or puff pastry dough can be used interchangeably. Best damn sour cherry filling I ever had!

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Who can resist these hot, flaky pockets of sweetness?
Sour Cherry Pie Filling and Turnovers

All the recipes I came across in my Google searches offered pretty much the same ingredients in the same proportions. I added cinnamon, just because :).

What you need

  • 4 cups pitted fresh sour cherries (I used a traditional cherry/olive pitting tool)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Egg wash or heavy cream
  • Optional: toasted almond and powder sugar crumble (instructions follow)

How to make it

  1. Rinse and using a little gadget or the tip of a paring knife, remove the pit from all the cherries
    Cherry pitting
    Cherry pitting
  2. Add the cherries to a heavy bottom pot.
    Time to feel the heat!
    Cooking sour cherries
  3. In a separate bowl, combine together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add to the cherries and mix well to coat evenly. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant silicone spatula or wooden spoon
    Coating well with sugar and cornstarch
    Adding sugar and cornstarch
  5. Once the mixture starts to thicken, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the cherries have softened, anywhere between 6 to 10 minutes.
    Starting to bubble away
    Cooking sour cherries
  6. Remove from heat and let cool completely
  7. Once the filling is completely cooled off, you can make the turnovers
  8. Set oven to 400°F and place rack on the middle position
  9. Cut each pastry sheet in 9 squares. Prepare only one sheet at a time keeping the other sheet refrigerated until needed.
  10. Set a small amount of filling in the middle of each square, slightly wet the edges and fold in a triangle. Using a forks, seal the edges well.
    Stuff, fold, crinkle, repeat
    They are starting to look yummy!

    Resist the urge to overfill!
    Puff pastry squares getting a big scoop of cherry pie filling
  11. Place on baking sheet and brush with egg wash (1 egg yolk well mixed with a tablespoon of water) heavy cream if you have on hand.
  12. The turnovers are ready to bake. It will take 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep an eye on them after 10 minutes. They are ready when they have developed a deep golden colour. And maybe the filling will ooze out just like mine did, that’s okay: nothing that a fork can’t fix when it is time to eat
  13. You can top with an almond and powdered sugar crumble after the egg wash has been brushed on. To make the crumble, you will need about 1/2 cup toasted almonds and 3 tbsp powdered sugar whizzed through a food processor until it reaches a coarse and crumbly mixture. Pat a generous amount on top of each turnover. The baking time remains the same.

These are best eaten warm and right away! As if you could wait…

Time to devour!
This picture barely happened before the turnovers were chowed down!
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Summer Parties Beg For Ice Cream Sandwiches!

It’s Thursday already which means that my vacation at the cottage is drawing  to an end way too quickly. I must vacate tomorrow afternoon to let a brand new set of vacationers come and bask in our idyllic setting.  I had promised myself days on end of uninterrupted blog writing and instead, I found myself scrambling for several days looking for inspiration… How ironic to now have the time to let my creativity flow and end up suffering from writer’s block while when I am at work, and have very little time to spare, my mind is full of ideas. I wanted to write a lot and to write something that would suck you right in, wanting to read bit more, maybe to read it all. In hopes of getting my pen and my mojo flowing, I settled in comfortably on the sun filled porch with several of my favourite cookbook authors, reading chapter upon chapter of what inspires them most and what sparks their culinary passions. Maybe by osmosis of the great ones, I could trigger some creativity of my own? I read about Dominique Ansel’s impressive rise to glory (he’s the Cronut guy from NYC) and how Rachel Roddy settled in Rome while searching to find something else in her life (she’s high up there on my list of faves). I read several chapters of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and his love affair with his old world, regretted not having brought along Mimi Thorrisson’s or David Lebovitz’s books and managed to get caught up on several past editions of Bon Appétit magazine, especially the latest few about summer everything! I am completely absorbed by cookbooks that read like novels, of stories of visits to farmer’s markets, fishmongers, butchers and bakeries. I love to read about that special second hand deep dish enamel glazed cast iron pot that was snatched up somewhere in a remote country side flea market and that now makes the perfect cassoulet. As I read and entered their world, it struck me how much we are the same. They are like old friends, whom you wish to linger with over a long stretched out meal, tossing dirty plates aside once emptied to be cleaned much later, sweeping breadcrumbs with the back of the hand, not wanting to leave the table while another bottle gets uncorked. At the root of each of these authors’ books are the memories of meals of their childhoods, of family gatherings and of dinners with friends, which inherently has always been the driving force behind my own love affair with food.

And so it came to me after reading pages and pages of meals served in bucolic settings or whipped up in tiny, awkward and poorly appointed kitchens. That is exactly what just happened this past weekend; whipping up meals for a huge crowd in a bucolic setting in an awkward kitchen!!! Instant inspiration! The King and I just crowned another successful family gathering at our cottage, an annual event that seems to grow each year as our young ones now have dates to share in the fun with. Although the weekend is a community effort of potluck dishes, snacks and desserts, my fun is to take over the big Saturday night feast. It takes me weeks to finally settle on the menu for the event and I love every minute of planning! Feeding crowds of hungry guests seem to come naturally to me… I remember exactly when I hosted my first grown up reception, it was in the summer of 1990. I set to make my first gastronomic meal for 10 wanting to showcase my beautiful new china, acquired barely a year prior when my King and I walked out of a church under a shower of confetti. To be frank, I don’t remember much of the menu details other than little smoke salmon and crème fraiche pumpernickel tartines and grilled shrimps with aioli served as appetizers. I know the cocktail was followed by a three course sit down meal yet I forget what I served. But what I remember, and what my guests remember (most are still part of my life) is the mood of that evening. It was a classy backyard affair, complete with our brand new «newlywed» china, silver and crystal. Tables were draped with flowing white tablecloths and little white lights and candles gave off a beautiful glow against the grapevine backdrop. It was the type of evening that lingers just so and you wish never to end… My own heart was conquered by the perfection of that night and I have since pursued to recreate the magic, often getting pretty darn close yet never quite fully capturing that exact vibe, as it often happens with «firsts». But close enough and just as recently as this past weekend, there was magic again in the air….

Feeding a lot of people is always a challenge, especially when you count on Mother Nature’s generous spirit to grace the event with perfect weather. Over the years I have learned that my minuscule cottage kitchen is amazing at feeding crowds and that using the rotisserie feature on the BBQ may seem like a bright idea but better kept for smaller more intimate dinner parties. I have learned that candles are absolutely necessary to bring magic to any table, even when it is dressed with a cheap plastic tablecloth and that planning a «make most of it ahead» menu guarantees I can partake with everyone from the get go. I have learned that renting dishes is amazing for the main feast and Royal Chinet is a crowd’s best friend for all the other meals. And lastly, I have learned that although many question the necessity of serving dessert when planning is under way (everyone is always watching their waistline), somehow homemade desserts disappear much, much faster than a plate of crudités!!! In keeping with my «make as much ahead as possible» philosophy, one of the desserts I chose to make this year were ice cream sandwiches from scratch. I decided that this handheld bundle of sweetness would be perfect for cottage life and would please all age groups. My chocolate chip cookies already having a near cult following, a recipe I have adapted from a Martha Stewart original, they would be the perfect vehicle to carry big scoops of homemade ice cream. It was also high time I put my lovely ice cream machine to good use: having stored it away after moving from the big house to the smaller apartment 3 years ago. I suddenly had a light bulb moment: this machine would serve us all much better at the cottage where frozen treats are highly favoured but transporting them from grocery store to the lake can be a bit of a gamble. Why have I not thought of this sooner??? The ice cream machine now has a new home and it has been used more often this summer than in the past 4 or 5 years since it has been purchased. And so project ice cream sandwich it was! Made in advance and appreciated by happy guests, it was the perfect dessert for this crowd!

My tip to you: plan ahead. It is nearly impossible to make ice cream in one day. Unless you own a commercial machine or blast chiller, time is your very best friend and most important ingredient. If you make a custard type ice cream, as in the recipes that follow, you will need a good solid 12 hours of chilling time once the custard is cooked. The churning vessel from your machine probably needs a good 24 hours in the freezer to freeze properly. Once your ice cream has churned, it benefits from spending another several hours in the freezer to solidify although it is ready to spoon on the cookies immediately. Once filled, the sandwiches will also need a bit of time in the freezer to firm up. The cookies should be made ahead as well. Although the cookie recipe I present to you is awesome and makes a huge batch, any favourite cookie recipe of your own collection will pair well with ice cream. Just remember that it is easier to eat a sandwich made with thin cookies… Then again, messes are fun too and cookies with ice cream are a match made in heaven regardless of the cookie flavour, thickness or size. Have fun! But beware, you may start something in your household that could result in begging for you to make more of and more often!

This post offers 3 recipes and each does not need the other to de devoured but magic sure happens when they are combined together! Making ice cream is not complicated but I will not sugar coat it:  it is a project that requires time and planning. The rest is as easy as making a batch of cookies and cooking a custard.

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Sweet stack

THIN CRISPY-CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Adapted from an original recipe by Martha Stewart

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Ingredient line-up
What you need

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 cups butter, softened
  • 3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups chocolate chips

How to make it

  1. Heat your oven to 350°F and line sheet with parchment paper
  2. Mix together flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar
  3. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until combined and fluffy
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and then vanilla until well blended
  5. Add flour and beat on low until just blended
  6. Add chocolate chips and beat until well combined
  7. Drop on cookie sheets, 2-3 tbsp of batter, (I use a medium ice cream scoop) and spread about inches apart. The high butter content of these cookies will make them spread a fair bit. It is best not to crowd your baking sheet.
  8. Flatten each mound slightly by wetting hands with cold water which will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers
  9. Bake 12-16 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

Notes:

  • If the batter spreads too quickly in the oven and looks like the butter is oozing out, it is a sign that your oven is too hot. It is wise to invest in an oven thermometer as each oven has its own personality. Some ovens allow thermometer adjustments while others don’t. Exact oven temperature is more important when baking. Cooking or roasting are a temperature are a bit more forgiving. Manufacturers have online
  • Salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably, each offering a subtle flavour variation
  • This batch makes a ton of cookies, maybe 60 or so. You can shape the cookies and freeze the raw dough in individual portions, pulling out a few cookie «pucks» as needed and have freshly baked cookies on a whim.
  • The recipe can be halved
  • Once baked, the cookies can also be frozen
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    They can be individually frozen at this stage and pulled out when craving warm homemade chocolate chip cookies!
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Hard to resist…

VANILLA ICE CREAM

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Churned just right…
This recipe is based on a traditional custard type ice cream, which yields a super rich and unctuous frozen dessert. Because the base is cooked, it is best to prepare one day ahead and chill thoroughly overnight for best results.

To fill all the cookies, you will need 2 batches of ice cream. I opted for variety and made both chocolate and vanilla.

What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 pod of fresh vanilla or 2 tsp real vanilla extract

How to make it

  1. If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  3. Pour the cream and milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom, whisk in ¼ cup of the sugar and the salt.
  4. Split the vanilla pod in the center and using the tip of the knife, scrape the paste and whisk into the milk. Add in the leftover pod as well.
  5. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  7. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot cream. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until half the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  8. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking.
  9. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  10. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours. You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  11. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  12. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  13. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

INTENSELY CHOCOLATEY ICE CREAM

The recipe is slightly different than the vanilla ice cream recipe.

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Chocolatey goodness!
What you need

  • 1½ cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream)
  • 2½ cups milk (avoid non fat milk)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar, divided in 2
  • ½ cup dark cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp real vanilla extract

*Since cocoa powder is the star ingredient in making a rich and chocolatey ice cream, I recommend a good splurge on a high quality cocoa.

How to make it

If you are using a machine fitted with a liquid filled vessel, make sure you set it to freeze at least 24 hours before you need to churn your ice cream.

  1. Separate the egg yolks from the white. You can save the egg whites for another recipe such as meringue or egg white omelet. Egg whited freeze very well.
  2. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, ½ cup of sugar, salt and 1 cup of milk until smooth, set aside
  3. Pour the cream and remaining milk in a deep casserole with a heavy bottom. Add vanilla
  4. On medium heat, cook until it starts to foam slightly on the edges, stirring frequently with a heat proof rubber spatula to ensure the milk doesn’t burn at the bottom.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Once the cream mixture has heated up, temper the egg yolks by slowly incorporating a bit of hot liquid. To achieve this, make sure your bowl is secured onto your work surface. I like to settle my bowl onto a wet dishcloth. Using a whisk in one hand and a ladle in the other, vigorously whisk the eggs while incorporating a trickle of hot cream slowly but steadily. Proceed this way until all the milk has been incorporated into the eggs. The preparation should be smooth and grit free. If the preparation looks grainy or full of little lumps, you need to start again: it means the yolks have started cooking before emulsifying with the hot cream. Some like to use a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment which frees up their hand to control the addition of hot milk better. I find that taking my time and pouring just a bit of hot milk at a time works just as well. Chose a technique that better suit your needs.
  7. Once your eggs have been tempered with half of the hot milk, pour back into the casserole into the remaining hot cream while whisking. Whisk in the cocoa/milk mixture.
  8. Cook over medium to medium-high heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just about to start to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and pour over a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof bowl. Let cool slightly, cover the entire surface with plastic wrap of parchment paper to avoid the formation of a crust.
  9. Once cooled enough, chill in the fridge for a good 12 hours.You can reduce the chilling time by placing the custard in the freezer for a few hours: just remember to stir frequently to cool evenly.
  10. Churning: once the vessel is frozen solid and the custard completely chilled, set your ice cream to churn according to your appliance’s instructions. I own a Cuisinart and the machine is pretty straight forward: place custard in the vessel, add churning blade, cover and turn on. There are no other speeds. It takes about 30-35 minutes of churning.
  11. If you are making ice cream sandwiches, leave the ice cream in the churning vessel as you assemble your sandwiches. The vessel is still frozen enough to keep the ice cream from melting too quickly. Set an opened container in the freezer and build 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, placing them in the freezer as soon as each is assembled
  12. If you do not plan on making ice cream sandwiches, then once the churning is completed, transfer the mixture to another container, cover the surface well with plastic wrap and set to freeze a little longer, maybe 3-4 hours more before serving. The plastic wrap prevents the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the ice cream and also prevents the ice cream from absorbing unwanted “freezer flavour”.

Epilogue: these ice cream sandwiches are huge! And although at first the sheer size of them light a spark of delight in the recipients’ eyes, we all agreed that a half went a long way to satisfy. Therefore, I recommend cutting in half before serving. And since we had both chocolate and vanilla to chose from, those with a really sweet tooth could enjoy a half of each, back to back.

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Ready for one last chill!

When life offers you lemons…

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Don’t just limit the fun to lemonade!

Quite frankly, the day could not have announced itself with any more majesty than it had at that particular moment! Watching the sun rise, at first peeking timidly from behind Mount Vesuvius to suddenly quickly ascend to its full early morning glory was more than I had hoped for. Wow, what a scene and hurray for the early bird that I was!  Yes, this sunrise was maybe a tad more spectacular than most I’ve had the privilege to see in my life. The simple fact that I was on a beautifully appointed cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean may also have played a role in the euphoric mood of the moment… I just knew this was going to be another epic day! I stood on deck for a bit as the ship slowly made its way to port, welcoming the site of Naples with the giddiness of a school girl who’s about to wear her prom dress for the first time. I needed to share this moment with my King and flew down several flights of stairs to reach my cabin, barely touching the lush carpet under my feet. I just couldn’t wait to start exploring!image

From the moment we reached Salerno, our hearts were conquered and we fell head over heels in love with the land of lemon groves… Although we reached Salerno by tour bus, we were about to discover the Amalfi Coast by water. It was… Words escape me… Even two years later, as I write this post… I feel transported in that special moment in time. You know that feeling? When you are living an epic moment that is causing  your insides to flip and flop all over in sheer joy? When you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually wide awake and not dreaming? Yes, it was that surreal feeling that was taking over my entire being as we bobbled along the rugged coast line under the most spectacular azure blue sky. If I could have made time stand still forever, I think it would have been right there and then. We were feeling ageless and privileged: youth exploding from our pores, our skin glowing from sun and love and contentment.image

The town of Amalfi added to our awe and bliss of the moment. From the water, we had marvelled at the artfully layered terraces  of lemon trees, carved right into the rocky and steep mountain sides, the fruits so plentiful you could see them in the distance. As if an impressionist had purposely dabbed the greenery with a shower of yellow polka dots. Beyond the picturesque mosaic tiled roofs, beyond the old world charm, beyond the gazillion photo ops of weathered wooden shutters & narrow alleyways, it is the mighty lemon that stands tall and proud in this beautiful region. Amalfi oozes lemon everything: freshly picked lemons the size of oranges, lemon scented soaps, perfumes, desserts, gelato, pastries, Limoncello… Lemons are painted on canvas, on ceramic tiles, on paper… They adorned salt and pepper shakers and every possible kitsch plastic tourist souvenir from Amalfi “made in China”. Lemons, lemons, lemons everywhere. But if you must indulge in anything lemony, then nothing is more Amalfi “lemon authentic” than “delizie al limone” (lemon delight), a dome shaped dessert made of layers of genoise cake drenched in Limoncello and covered in sweet lemon cream. No one twisted our arms as we selected a prime seat at a little terrace in direct sight of the famous Amalfi church. We gleefully dug into a serving of this lovely cake, sharing an ice cold shot of Limoncello (obliged to partake, even at 10 am) and a semifreddo cafè crema, probably paying way more than we should have but not caring one iota! Our one-and-a-half-hour stop was merely a tease as we would have easily spent several days somewhere along this coast, basking in the warm sun and making our way through lemon scented menus…

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Although there are recipes online, I have not even attempted to recreate the scrumptious lemon delight cake of Amalfi. And I don’t really want to. Nope, these little creamy domes are not meant to be baked in my Canadian kitchen; they belong elsewhere. They are part of that travelling experience. I would rather visit again hoping to relive the joy of that moment, including a side of cold Limoncello and a view of mosaic tile roofs…

I am transported back to that magical place every time I grab a handful of beautiful lemons, especially when they come with a few leaves… I may not bake Amalfi Coast lemon delights but I hold my own with a few luscious lemon dessert recipes. Like these easy one pan lemon squares for instance: a shortbread crust topped with a rich and creamy lemon topping. They resemble nothing you would find in an Italian Pasticceria: they are truly a North American creation originating in the United States Midwest. According to my research, this popular dessert could very well be the brain child of the Betty Crocker™ Brand… But that is what the internet says sooooooo, may not be entirely true. Well regardless of where and when, these little squares are now hugely popular, many families handing their own recipe from generation to generation.  I find they are the perfect summer picnic/potluck/BBQ contribution because they can tolerate the lack of refrigeration for a while. They have the right balance of crunchy & creamy, tart & sweet. Refreshing too!  I have had this recipe for so long I now forget where it comes from. I wish I could give credit to the source of such wonderfulness so whoever you are, thank you!  And I love you and my family loves you and my friends love and I’m pretty sure the readers of this blog now love you too!!!

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LEMON SQUARES

What you need

For the Crust

  • ¾ cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp icing sugar

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 325°F
  2. Grease 9X13 pan and line with parchment paper extending over long edges for handles. Then grease the sides only of the parchment paper well. It is not necessary to grease the bottom
  3. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in flour in 2 additions. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and let cool in pan
  4. Topping: in bowl, beat together eggs with sugar until pale and thickened. Beat in lemon juice and zest, flour and baking powder. Pour over baked base, spreading evenly. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and center is set
  5. Let cool in pan on rack. Then refrigerate until very cold before removing from pan
  6. Gently peel the parchment paper and generously dust with icing sugar
  7. Cut into 12 squares (or more if you prefer)image

 

 

Relay for Life, Bake Sale Mania & Chocolate Toffee Pecan Squares

It’s bake sale season at work and it’s all for a great cause: we are baking for Relay for Life.  You see, a little bit over a year ago, tragedy struck one of our own: our friend and coworker Danièle and her husband François lost their only child to cancer. A beautiful young woman full of hopes and dreams was taken away far too soon at the tender age of 15. She had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma less than a year before that and although she fought a valiant fight, she couldn’t stop the big C from taking over.

In April 2014, following her diagnosis, a community rose at once : classmates, family members, work colleagues, friends, friends of friends and even strangers put their efforts together to help however they could. Various fundraisers were held to support local and National organizations that offer help and hope for cancer patient and invest in cancer research. One of the fundraising organizations selected by our gang at work was Relay for Life: a 12 hour team relay walk  which happens in late Spring and early June in many communities across the country.  In total, 3 teams were formed to support our young fighter Flavie. We all hoped she would be doing the survivors victory lap the following year but sadly, Flavie left her loved ones in January 2015… As devastating as her passing was, it only rekindled the team’s will to raise even more funds. Our team members rolled up their sleeves and went to work raising funds. There were craft sales, silent auctions and other activities. It was also the birth of  Scone Monkey: a marathon of  weekly bake sales held nearly every Thursdays in May and early June. It went viral at work!!! Each week, the donations poured in while people happily munched on home baked deliciousness. We had no set price, simply accepting donations. If my memory serves me right, I think we collected nearly $900 in 2015 thanks to Scone Monkey. It was so successful that our colleagues started to ask if we would be doing bake sales again this year.  And so without hesitation, a bunch of us volunteered to be the dedicated bakers. I am always happy to bake goodies to share with my friends and family but I feel even more joy baking  to support such a worthy cause!  All proceeds go directly to team HopFlavie and donations are always welcome and greatly appreciated. Baking is my only way of participating this year as I cannot join the walking team due to an important life event in our eldest Prince’s life: his graduation ceremony from Cordon Bleu culinary school is happening on the exact same date (yeah, proud mama, had to plug that one in!!!).

On Scone Monkey days, bakers bring in muffins, scones, sweet loaves and treats of all kinds. Everyone has their own yummy favourite recipes and it is difficult to resist!!!  Seems my recent decadent contribution created a bit of a sugar buzz In our department and a few have requested the recipe. So What better place to share than right here on my blog!  Now before anyone gives me a bunch of flack on this one, I admit right off the bat that the ingredients for this recipe are not as “clean” as what I normally cook with at home. A few years ago, I made the switch to organic and local for health reasons. However, I do have a few old family favourites & classics  recipes that simply cannot be converted  to organic. Skor™ bits, Oreo Cookie Crumbs™ and sweetened condensed milk have just not yet made the leap. I stay hopeful that some day, they will but until  then,  you know, everything in moderation and without guilt…

These scrumptious squares have been in my repertoire now for over 20 years; they are definitely “special occasion” squares. I cannot quite remember the source of the recipe but I believe it was from a culinary magazine pop-out calendar. The original recipe calls for graham cracker crumbs only and slivered almonds. I introduced the Oreo™ cookie crumbs about 12 years ago and I have not gone back. As well, whether I choose almonds or pecans, I always toast the nuts ahead of time. The recipe will also work with raw nuts as well if you are short on time. When toasting the nuts, make sure they have cooled off completely before using.

This recipe, like many I share here, is super duper easy to make and requires simple equipment. If you have a bowl, a spatula, a cake pan, a measuring cup, an oven and some parchment paper, you are good to go! But don’t even try doing this without parchment paper: you NEED parchment paper!!!

CHOCOLATE TOFFEE PECAN SQUARES (or almond)

Processed with MOLDIV

What you need

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup graham cookie crumbs
  • 1 cup Oreo™ cookie crumbs (see note below recipe)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup each: chocolate chips, Skor™ toffee bits and toasted pecan pieces or slivered almonds

How to make it

  1. Heat oven at 350°
  2. Grease 9X13 pan with butter and line with parchment paper (very important to line pan with this recipe).
  3. In large microwave bowl, melt butter.

    Melted butter and all the ingredients
    Melted butter and all the ingredients
  4. Stir in graham and Oreo™ cookie crumbs until well blended
  5. Spread in prepared pan. Press preparation evenly and firmly using either the back of a measuring cup or palm of your hand

    Pressing the crust firmly into the pan
    Pressing the crust firmly into the pan
  6. Pour condensed milk evenly over crumbs

    Add the condensed milk
    Add the condensed milk
  7. Mix chocolate chips, Skor™ bits and nuts. Sprinkle evenly over condensed milk
  8. Press preparation down gently

    Processed with MOLDIV
    Press gently not to disturb the crust
  9. Bake for 22-25 minutes or edges and center start to bubble gently. DO NOT OVERBAKE otherwise, the caramel becomes very hard
  10. Using small spreader, quickly loosen edges from pan while preparation is still hot
    Let cool completely before slicing
  11. To slice easily: cool pan in fridge. Once cooled through, flip onto cutting board. You may have to loosen edges again, but the lined parchment should make this easy to do. Cut the squares while the crust is facing up to reduce crumbling of the crust. Cut in 16 slices: 4 cuts on the width and 4 cuts on the length.

Note: Depending where you live you may not have access to these brand name items: Oreo Cookie Crumbs™, for instance, is a fine crumb made of dark chocolate wafer cookies. Graham cookie crumb is the same type used in making cheesecake base. You could easily make your own cookie crumb base by using any type of dry cookie wafer. In Canada, Skor™ bits are little bits of toffee derived form a candy bar of the same name. These bits are sold in the same aisle as baking chocolate chips or morsels. If you do not have access to such a product, I guess you could use brittle toffee and smash it into little pieces. Or you take a plane and come and visit me: I’ll be happy to bake some for you LOL!!!

Let them eat cake! My two favourite chocolate cakes

A treat is a treat is a treat! Since I have embarked on weight loss and weight management nearly 2 years ago, I have overhauled my entire pantry. I have removed highly processed and highly refined food products from daily life. I have also changed my grocery shopping habits to include the semi monthly delivery of a local farmer’s hamper and regular trip to small local shops. I have started gathering several “new” baked goods recipes that are not only deliciously sinful but still manage to pack a decent nutrition profile, for those days when some sweet baking is a must to fulfill the cravings. I have also experimented with several of my all time favourites, trying to substitute less refined ingredients. There has been some successes and of course, some failures. When it comes to my «go-to» and trusted old favourite family cake recipes, swapping for organic is pretty simple with the exception of sugar. I have yet to find an organic granulated sugar that can replace white and brown sugar while keeping the texture intact. Baking is a science and each component has its own chemical reaction and purpose in a recipe. For hardy baked goods, an organic and unrefined white or whole wheat flour works perfectly fine. But when trying to make really delicate pastries and cakes, I still swear by refined white flour and sugar. So keeping with my 80-20 rule, I feel perfectly Zen making the occasional treats my gang loves using sugar and white flour. And since swapping the rest of the ingredients to organic butter, eggs, oils, dairy, chocolate and cocoa powder has no impact whatsoever on the final product, I can convince myself my good ol’ faithful recipes are at least 20% better!

I have two favourite chocolate cake recipes which I am willing to share today: I must be in a very generous mood LOL! The first one is a moist, rich and dense chocolate cake covered in a rich fudgey icing (yes, it does contain corn syrup and I have built a bridge and gotten over it). This recipe, shared with me by a client from my restaurant era, ended a lifelong search for the ultimate chocolate cake recipe that suited my taste. Thank you Velma! The second one is a recipe I discovered years and years ago in a little Holiday baking booklet inserted in a magazine. It seemed easy enough to make and received instant kudos from The Fam and The Friends. I can’t tell you how often I have made that brownie like cake: it has been requested to gatherings, celebrations, BBQ or simply «just because»! I even used to have it as an option for wedding cakes (another past life endeavour). The chocolate raspberry torte is also rich and dense. It doesn’t rise as high as a regular cake hence the name torte and a small piece is often enough but a few of my chocoholic friends have been known to polish indecently large slices!

So if you are in the mood to fill your house with the mouth-watering aroma of chocolate and wish to become today’s kitchen hero, I suggest you dive right in and try one of these recipes. Or both! Happy baking to all.

P.S.: if you ever make both, drop me a line and tell me which one is your favourite

SOUR CREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE

  •  ½ cocoa
  •  1½ tsp baking soda
  •  1 cup boiling water
  •  ½ cup soft butter
  •  2 cups packed brown sugar
  •  2 eggs, at room temperature and separated
  •  ½ tsp vanilla
  •  1 cup sour cream
  •  2 cups flour
  •  2 tsp baking powder
  •  ¼ tsp salt
  1. Heat oven at 350°F, with rack positioned in the middle of the oven
  2.  Grease and flour Bundt pan or a 9X13 rectangular cake pan
  3. Mix cocoa and baking soda. Dissolve in boiling water and set aside
  4. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside
  5. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form firm peaks. Set aside
  6. In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and mix until well combined. Add vanilla, sour cream and chocolate mixture until all ingredients all well blended
  7. Add dry ingredients slowly to chocolate mixture
  8. Gently fold in egg whites
  9. Pour into prepared pan
  10. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean or 40-45 minutes if using a rectangular pan
  11. Let cool 10-15 minutes then unmold directly onto serving plate. Let cool completely before frosting the cake.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE FROSTING Tastes just like fudge!

  • 1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 4 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup 35% cream
  1. Place all the ingredients in large microwave safe glass cup, one that measures at least 3 cups
  2. Heat in microwave* for 1 to 1.5 minutes only. If your microwave is 1000W, 1 minute will be plenty. Without removing from microwave, let mixture sit for about 5 minutes. This will give the chocolate chips the chance to melt completely
  3. Remove bowl from microwave and mix very well until mixture thickens and all ingredients are well incorporated
  4. Pour ganache over cooled cake. Let set completely before serving, about 1 hour

*This can also be done on a double boiler

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY TORTE

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ⅛ tsp cream of tartar
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter melted
  • 1½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa (use a dark and rich high quality cocoa for better results)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • ¾ cup finely chopped toasted almonds
  • ⅓ cup seedless raspberry jam

Garnish: optional
Whipped, sweetened whipping cream
Fresh raspberries

  1. Heat oven at 350°F
  2. Line a round 9” spring form cake pan with aluminum foil and grease using butter. If you do not own a spring form pan, make sure the aluminum foil is large enough to hang over the cake pan. It will make it easier to lift the cake once it is baked
  3. Separate eggs in 2 large bowls. Combine egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat at high-speed until soft peaks form. Set aside
  4. In larger mixer bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, butter and vanilla
  5. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed, 1-2 minutes
  6. Add flour, cocoa and water. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed
  7. By hand, stir in chopped almonds
  8. Gently fold beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture
  9. Spread into pan
  10. Bake 40-55 minutes or until tester comes out clean
  11. Cool on wire rack 1 hour before lifting from pan
  12. Cover and refrigerate until completely cooled
  13. Remove aluminum foil and spread with jam then garnish with whipped cream and fresh raspberries

Now bask in your own glory 🙂

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