I flew back East for the holidays and discovered some very valuable items in my mother’s freezer: Montmorency cherries.
You see, I can’t find tart or sour cherries anywhere on the Left coast. They don’t grow ’em, they don’t sell ’em. They have sweet cherries. Lots of ’em. But no sour cherries. My grandmother used to make a sour cherry pie for dessert on Friday nights. She’d bake it in a brown glass tart pan, that now sits in my kitchen cupboard. She’d make something called a “Mazola No-Roll Pastry,” which was dead simple and always had the perfect bite to it and a smidge of salt, that was the perfect counterpoint to the sweetened sour cherry filling. I still make it and biting into that pie brings back all sorts of nostalgic memories for me.
When I lived back East, I used to buy a huge bucket of pitted cherries from the supermarket for about 20 bucks. I would drain them and measure out enough cherries for a pie, put them in a plastic freezer bag and have enough to outlast the short cherry season in Ontario. I did that this past summer, hence why there were some in my mom’s freezer.
Instead of doing the traditional pie, I decided to change things up and make a batch of frangipane cream for the pie filling, and then I poured the cherries on top and finished it with slivered almonds.
Frangipane is of French origin. It is more of a paste than a pie filling, made of almond flour, butter, sugar and eggs and a hit of almond extract. I just think of it as the filling you find in almond croissants. It’s definitely not marzipan. It was quite a popular choice on the Great British Baking Show and I was curious what all the fuss was about, so that’s why I decided to try baking with it.
I don’t mind it, but I’m not sure it will become my go to filling. It has a very distinct flavour, which is not to everyone’s liking.
I think it baked up beautifully and looked pretty good. My only criticism (which is entirely cosmetic), is that my pie crust shrank too much and so I didn’t get the nice fluted edge I was hoping for.
But it must have tasted good, because there wasn’t any left at the end of the evening…and people were asking for more!
Time for a break from making finnicky desserts and time for some down-to-earth comfort cookies. I fished out a recipe for these cookies that I got from my long time neighbour, Kelly. I remember she brought a freshly baked batch over to our house and they were gone in no time flat.
I can’t remember the last time I made these, probably because the kids can’t take these in their school lunches (or rather, I won’t let them–there are no laws here in California that prevent kids from bringing peanut and nut products to school, unlike in Ontario where Sabrina’s Law exists).
Some would argue these cookies bake best with processed peanut butter like Kraft or Skippy, but I only buy natural peanut butter. Just peanuts!
The butter mixed with the peanut butter was so creamy when I blended it together with the hand mixer.
Then I added the requisite sugar, eggs and flour and voila! beautiful cookie batter.
I found a couple of Dairy Milk bars in the cupboard and decided to crush them up and throw them in the batter instead of using chipits and I’m glad I did.
Just before baking, I used the back of a fork to press the requisite hash marks into each cookie. Because, peanut butter cookies. Right?
The resulting cookies were so creamy and delicious, and once again, they disappeared within a few days. I think the milk chocolate chunks also made a big difference.
These were quick and easy to make and didn’t require much, if any, skill or precision. So go make some!!!
Kelly’s Peanut Butter Cookies
1 Cup peanut butter (I like to use all natural smooth PB)
1 Cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 Cups, all purpose flour (or you can do half whole wheat flour for a slightly denser cookie)
2 bars of your favourite chocolate bar (I used Dairy Milk), crushed up into chunks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Blend peanut butter and butter together in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until completely incorporated
Add eggs and blend followed by sugars
Add baking powder and flour(s) and blend until ingredients are incorporated.
Mix in chocolate chunks until evenly distributed
Scoop 1″ balls of dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheet
Take the back of a fork and press firmly down until fork tine marks appear in flattened cookie (but not too hard!)
Bake for ~10 minutes until cookies are lightly browned
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (if you can wait that long!)
So if you thought I had a death wish when I decided to tackle puff pastry, think again. Pastry, shmastry! Puff pastry was a cake walk compared to making French macarons for the first time. Now I know why Laduree and Nadege charge a pretty penny for these dainty sweets.
To be honest, I didn’t spend a ton of time researching this recipe and maybe my results are proof that I should have spent more time studying before breaking out the almond flour. But I had six egg whites in the fridge after making those yummy Portuguese custard tarts. And I think I was feeling a little overconfident after making those divine tarts, nay, impatient to prove I could succeed again at making a *Patchka* recipe.
So here’s the deal with French macarons: historians tell a story of their origins in the 18th century around the time of the French revolution. Nuns who were seeking asylum made the meringue-like biscuits to sell in order to pay for their lodging at the local convent (there seems to be a pattern here with members of the cloth having a knack for baking–Portuguese custard tarts, anyone???). However, there are many other versions of the dessert that apparently date back as far as the 8th century.
And the name alone actually comes from the Italian “maccherone,” which means fine dough. There are accounts of future Queen of France, Catherine de Medici bringing the recipe over from Italy in the 1500’s.
The macarons we think of today–the two round biscuits sandwiched with a sweet filling in the middle–didn’t gain popularity until the 1930’s.
I watched an excellent tutorial by John, over at the Preppy Kitchen. He is meticulous and detailed in his explanation of the what, how and why of making macarons. There is even a term called “macronage” when it comes to incorporating the almond flour and icing sugar mixture with the stiffened egg whites. He is also not above pointing out that it took him many attempts before he got a decent batch of the cookies.
Although I followed his instructions religiously, my biscuits did not come out with a nice glossy finish or crispy exterior as I had hoped. I blame the oven entirely. They taste delicious even if they look a little bit withered. And they are nice and fluffy and chewy.
I made a simple chocolate ganache for the filling. Next time I think I’ll try a caramel filling or french buttercream. Or maybe I’ll use some homemade jam!
All these ideas have bolstered my resolve to attempt the recipe again. Just not tomorrow. I need to recover from Round One.
Did my puff pastry cliff hanger work? Well you needn’t wait any longer! I used about a third of my puff pastry recipe to make Portuguese custard tarts, which are one of my favourite pastries.
While the French introduced the world to puff pastry in the 17th century, the world would have to wait until the 18th century before Pasteis de Nata were invented.
Using my handy dandy Google translator, the literal translation of the pastry’s name is “you’re welcome pastry,” and you should thank the monks and nuns of the Jeronimos Monestery near Lisbon for these delightful creations.
I consulted with my tome on Home Baking, by husband and wife duo, Jeffrey Allford and Naomi Duguid, for the recipe.
I can’t say it was all that difficult to prepare, but you should note that you only use egg yolks for the filling, so plan ahead and make sure you’ve got another recipe up your sleeve for those egg whites (hint: recipe #5 involves egg whites!).
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the filling didn’t call for much sugar and as such, is not that sweet. But it is creamy and silky smooth and egg-y. The secret, I discovered, was to whisk the mixture excessively so there wouldn’t be a single lump or bump in it.
The puff pastry, as you’ll see, was worked very quickly and chilled in the freezer while I prepared the filling (I even had help from some little hands!). It is the perfect vehicle for the filling and compliments to the creamy filling with a crunchy, buttery exterior.
It is baked at a high heat and then at the end gets a quick broil to create that nice browned, almost charred, top.
The tarts are very quickly transferred to a wire rack to cool followed shortly thereafter by devouring, gobbling, you name it.
Anyone who wants to make their own puff pastry from scratch must be asking for a death wish, right? Who, in this day and age of convenience foods would dain to make the most Potchka (Yiddish translated: finnicky) pastry known to mankind? That would be me.
I read about making “rough puff” which is the home baker’s shortcut method of making puff pastry. And I did seriously consider doing that as a time saver. But who was I kidding? I knew this was going to take time so why not roll up my sleeves and take the scenic route.
According to lore, puff pastry was invented by a French pastrycook’s apprentice in the mid 1600’s. Apparently there is evidence that something akin to French puff pastry already existed in Spain, and of course, in Greece there was phyllo dough (which I haven’t attempted to make yet). Regardless of its origins, puff pastry only gained in popularity with the passage of time and is now used as a staple in all sorts of patisserie.
The process starts with making the detrempe–that’s the flour, water and a bit of butter “base.”
This is followed by the beurrage, which is just pounds of butter (that’s three pounds in this particular recipe to be exact), mixed with a wee bit of flour so that it is maleable and doesn’t turn into a giant blob of greasiness.
Following the instructions closely, both of these were pressed into plastic wrap in an 8 inch by 8 inch pan and then placed into the fridge to chill for a minimum of 2 hours.
The next step involves laminating the detrempe and the beurrage together without compromising the integrity of each layer. Both need to be cold but maleable enough to roll out. I followed Anna’s suggestion and actually wrapped the flour mixture in the butter, which is not how most recipes suggest doing it.
I worked quickly so as not to melt the butter layer. I folded and turned my sheets of pastry on itself in thirds a couple times before wrapping it up in a neat package and popping it back in the fridge for more chill time.
I repeated this a couple of times so there would be a good 12 layers or so.
Then I had to figure out what to make with this precious dough…would it be croissants? Tarts? Turnovers? Or should I go savoury and make something like Beef Wellington? Or chicken pot pie? You’ll have to wait until my next post to find out!
The only reason I’m posting this right now is because I’m feeling a tad patriotic (and because some fellow Canadian moms asked for the recipe!). At the time of writing, the Raptors are in the NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors, who play but an hour away from the home I am sitting in right now. #WeTheNorth mania has taken over Toronto and much of the country north of the 49th parallel, not to mention a lot of the United States. There is even going to be a viewing party in San Francisco for one of the games co-hosted by the Canadian Consulate and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (the owners of the team).
It also feels like summer outside and I equate butter tarts with summer, not to mention Canada Day, which is around the corner too.
I’ve tried a few butter tart recipes, but I think this one is my favourite so far. The pastry is super easy to make and easy to manipulate–IF you follow the instructions.
And the filling is also straightforward. You are more than welcome to add raisins, pecans, craisins, or whatever your heart desires. I’m a purist and like to keep it plain. They are super rich, super sweet with a super flakey pastry and super worth the time and effort.
You’re non-Canadian friends will thank you, but be careful: once you share these with them, they will want them again. And again. And again.
Rosie Daykin’s Quintessential Butter Tart
Start by making All Butter Pastry (makes enough for a couple dozen tarts)
5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Place flour and salt in a large bowl, drop the butter all over the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles large crumbs. You should still be able to see some butter in the flour.
Crack the egg into a liquid measuring cup and add the vinegar. Top up with enough cold water until it reaches 1 cup. Whisk until combined. Pour over the flour and butter mixture.
Mix with a fork until the dough starts to come together and looks ragged. Use your hands to gently finish mixing the dough and it takes shape. You should still see some butter bits!
Divide the dough into four even disks about 1/2 an inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or better yet, overnight.
Now prepare the filling:
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups of sultana raisins (if you like raisins!)
Whisk all the above ingredients together and put in a liquid measuring cup with a spout so it’s easy to pour.
Roll out the chilled pastry on a floured surface with a rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thick. Use a 4 or 5-inch circular cutter to cut out the pastry circles.
Make sure your muffin tin is well greased with shortening (I use Crisco).
Rosie’s secret technique: Take each circle and pinch it at two points, best visualized as 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Then lift up and pinch 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock and place in the muffin tin. Fill the tin with the pastry and then chill in the fridge for about 10 or 15 minutes.
Fill each tart shell with about 2 Tbsp of raisins (or not). Then top with the filling until 2/3 full.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the pastry has browned and the centre of the tarts are puffed and golden.
Make sure not to drip the filling down the side of the muffin tins, otherwise the sugar mixture will stick to the pan and you will have trouble getting the tarts out.
Allow tarts to cool a bit before removing from pan.
This post has been a long time coming…13 years to be exact! Although I didn’t know it thirteen years ago.
My oldest had his Bar Mitzvah just over a month ago and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the big event.
He did an amazing job reading from the Torah, giving his speech to our guests, and maintaining his confidence and composure the entire day. He really shone like a star that day and was deserving of all the accolades and attention.
My job was to set the scene for our guests after the pomp and circumstance and for that I spent many months planning, plotting, “pinning” and preparing. There were so many details and so many checklists, but here, I will give you a brief glimpse into the celebration that followed the ceremony.
Our brunch began by welcoming our guests to “the cottage.”
I hired a graphic designer, gave her the guest list in a spread sheet with the table assignments along with some suggested fonts and icons and the dimensions for the foam core board. She was amazing to work with and had the poster delivered right to my front door. We simply mounted the board on an easel right inside the entrance to the reception room.
As people wandered in and found their tables, there was a slide show playing to music projected on to a drop cloth that I had hung on the wall, with patio lights framing it. Â The “screen” was flanked by red plastic Muskoka chairs that were draped with wool camp blankets and throw pillows with wildlife imagery such as owls, deer and moose.
All the photos in the slide show were of the family at various family cottages in both summer and winter. Putting together that slide show was a labour of love. I also printed all the photos on to 4″ x 4″ paper, which were used as part of the centrepieces.
My mother, my husband and I did an assembly line, punching holes into each photo and tying jute twine through the holes. These photos were then hung on the young birch branches in the centrepieces.
Speaking of the centrepieces–these were probably the cheapest DIY centrepieces ever and yet the most personal. I got little red socker plant pots at Ikea–there was a lot of red in the decor because that is my son’s favourite colour–filled them with pea gravel and off cuts of birch branches from my girlfriend’s cottage in North Bay, and the young birch branches were from my mom’s cottage on Georgian Bay.
We stood the pots on round wood “coins” that my husband cut with his chainsaw from fallen trees in the ravine in our neighbourhood. I just had to schlep them all to the car!
And the final touch were the rocks around the bottom of the pot, which were collected by me and my son from the harbour near my mom’s cottage.
So I think all told, we spent about $5 on each centrepiece and the biggest expense was the printing of the photographs.
The additional expense came with the guest keepsakes that I put on each table. These were maple syrup candles in tins. They certainly didn’t come cheap, but I thought it was important to give guests a small memento from the day as a thank you from us.
The brunch was delicious, catered by L-Eat. Niki and Tony did a fabulous job and the presentation of the food was simple and elegant. We made sure everything that was served were things we would typically eat for brunch: french toast with maple syrup, quiche, bagels with all the fixings, yogurt with granola and berries, and as a special treat we arranged to have smoked trout from Kolapore Springs trout farm up near my parents’ cottage.
But the best part of brunch was the dessert table! This is where I truly got to showcase my baking skills, with the help of my mom, sister and mother-in-law. First, I decorated the table with objects that represented my son and the cottage–Scrabble pieces that said “Help Yourself”, antlers, a red model sports car, an old cribbage board, a vintage waterski, red oil lanterns, and a photo of my husband holding our son as a newborn.
All the baked good were displayed on red tin trays, big glass cookie jars with red lids, even the waterski was used to display the homemade butter tarts.
There were homemade salted chocolate chunk cookies, s’mores bites, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbreads, poppy seed cookies, ginger cookies and also chelsea buns from the Thornbury bakery (the only thing I didn’t bake!).
It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake, right? Of course I baked a cake! It’s the giant, incredibly chocolatey cake recipe from Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen. It’s the same cake I baked for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, except this time I made marshmallows, charred them and put them on the cake. I also made banana chocolate chip cake “logs” and I made flames from melted red and orange lollipops. A candy maker I am not!
I can’t say the cake turned out as nicely as I would have liked from a visual perspective, but it tasted damn good.
Credit for all the photos goes to Julius Ding of Julius and James Photography. This was their FIRST Bar Mitzvah photo shoot, and they really did capture the essence of the celebration, rather than the staged photos of the family and Bar Mitzvah boy that we all too often see. This was a celebration in real life and I’m so glad Julius was there to capture the moment.
There is so much more to tell you about the day because it didn’t end with the brunch! But I think I’ll save those details for another post. I’m starting to get tired just thinking about it again. Phew!
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what I did and how I did or where I got my ideas from.
Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation!Â
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of aÂ go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).
I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.