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.
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.
I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.
I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….
This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to surviveÂ feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.
My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).
Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.
And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.
How many times have you found yourself transferring all the little bits and bites left canada cialis online over after a meal (in my case, and probably most cases it’s dinner) into various sizes of plastic containers?
And while you’re doing this you’ve got a little angel sitting on one shoulder saying, “you are for sure going to find a way to use these leftovers and not let them go to waste. You will incorporate them into a future meal some time in the next 48 to 72 hours.”
Meanwhile on the other shoulder is perched a little devil saying, “Why bother? It’s just going to end up in the back of the fridge, also known as the wasteland of lost and forgotten food that is sure to become a science experiment utterly unrecognizable to any food group.”
Well if you’re anything like me your intentions are always noble but getting to those poor leftovers when there are fifty million other items on my daily to-do list doesn’t always happen. Not to mention coming up with a creative way to incorporate the leftovers into a meal that won’t have my kids groaning or turning their noses up. Â Sometimes the mental exertion required to do this is just too much.
But there are some leftovers that are just too good to go to waste and I have resolved to make an effort to reinvent them into scrumptious dishes that will have my kids–and hubby–asking for seconds only to find it is all gone.
My mother was particularly good at upcycling our leftovers, although I wasn’t always that enthusiastic about eating them. I recall one time cutting into a piece of lasagna and looking at the filling, when I turned to my mom and said, “Wait a minute, isn’t this chicken from last night’s dinner?” She started out with a slightly sheepish look on her face mixed with a little giggle followed by an indignant glare (does that course of emotions make any sense to you?). I can’t remember what she said but it was a bit of a running joke with us because we could always count on my mom not to let good food go to waste. So I’m taking a page out of her book.
We had a couple of cups of basmati rice left over from dinner tonight, which got put into a container and shoved in the fridge. Feeling slightly more energetic than I have been in the last week because of a terrible cold, I decided to make rice pudding, which is one of my favourite comfort foods and the perfect antidote to winter.
My grandmother used to make a baked rice pudding that ended up with a thin layer of custard on top, but I have yet to find the recipe. Until then I’ve been playing around with recipes that I’ve found online.
I had roughly 2 cups of cooked rice so here’s my adaptation on a number of stove top rice pudding recipes I have found:
In a large sauce pan combine 2 cups of cooked rice with 1 1/2 cups of milk (I mixed skim and whole milk), reserving another 1/2 cup of milk for later. Add 3/4 cups of sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.
Beat 2 eggs and set aside. Turn down the heat and to the rice and milk mixture add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, beaten eggs (make sure they don’t cook when you add them otherwise you end up with scrambled eggs a la rice pudding). Stir for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat.
Add 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/2 cup of raisins to the mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined. You can serve this warm or cold and even divide it into individual cups. I prefer putting it in one big serving bowl and letting it cool a bit.
I could seriously eat this morning, noon and night it’s that yummy. Let me know if you have a much loved rice pudding recipe. Better yet: if you have a much loved leftover recipe let me know and I’d be happy to feature it!
I was perusing PinterestÂ just before hitting the sack when I came across this fancy dancy kitchen cheat sheet. Although it applies moreso to people living in the UK, as it from Everest, I thought those of you who are diehard cooks and bakers would appreciate it. It’s a fabulous retro-looking download that you can print off and put up on your fridge or at the very least keep in a drawer close by for when you need to convert weights to cups, etc. Enjoy!
I have a weakness for rugelach (the ch is that hard, throaty sound that one perfects through one’s Jewish upbringing). Unfortunately indulging in these tasty treats only happens at special occasions, which includes dinner at my in-law’s and sadly at shivas. Why? Because these devilish but divine desserts are expensive! Yes, you have to pay by weight. And much like chips, you can’t eat just one.Â
Now I know why the bakery charges for rugelach by weight–because there are so many steps involved in the making of them! And one recipe only produces a dozen and a half of them. So that’s a huge investment of time for little return. I found a recipe in Evelyn Raab’s book, The Clueless Baker. My copy is well loved and well worn. I’m not sure it’s still in print but if you can find one I strongly recommend adding it to your repertoire of cook books. The dough is actually more of a pastry made with butter, cream cheese, flour and a bit of sugar. The whole recipe itself is easy, it’s just the time and steps required are labour intensive. Once the pastry is made I had to divide it into three portions, shape them into round discs and refrigerate them for at least an hour.
While that was happening I made a mixture of chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar. The recipe also called for walnuts but I didn’t have any. I whizzed the mixture through the food processor. Then I rolled out the pastry dough and sprinkled the mixture on it.
The next step is to take a pizza cutter and cut the dough into about eight or ten wedges. This was followed by the final step, which was to roll each wedge from the wide end to the point into a crescent shape.Â
Baking the rugelach for about 20 minutes was the final step–actually eating them was the final step. They turned out so flakey and light and the perfect balance of chocolate and cinnamon. But was it worth the time and effort? According to reaction from my family it was. So I think I’ll be making these again.
It’s rather ironic that tonight of all nights I choose to sit down and write a post about my son’s birthday cake, since I am forbidden from eating such things at the moment. Forbidden might be a strong word to use given that my ban from indulging in such sweet pastries is self imposed. I am on a Spring cleanse. That means many delectables are off limits for a week and a half. And so I must satisfy my cravings through the only means I know how: eye candy. Literally.
My younger son turned three last week and I got it into my head several weeks back that I had to make him a spectacular cake. Put my new found cake decorating skills to work and turn out something fabulous. Being the over ambitious person that I am and with only borrowed time to do it, I thought I was picking a rather easy design in the form of a Lego cake. Lego has become a favourite past time for my boys so I thought it fitting to make a cake in the shape of bricks. The bonus came in the form of a Lego man cake mold from a neighbour. So I started by baking Ina Garten’s flag cake as well as her chocolate butter cream cake. I baked slab cakes AND mini cupcakes. Once baked, cooled and refrigerated, I sliced the slab cakes in thirds and constructed two rectangular cakes, four layers high alternating the flag cake with the chocolate cake. I topped them off with the mini cupcakes, all with a mocha butter cream that I kind of made up a recipe for. Once crumb coated and cooled, I applied home-made marshmallow fondant. I know, I know, I’m crazy. I just could have bought the fondant from the store, but no, I had to make this damn cake FROM SCRATCH! I didn’t love the way the fondant turned out but it was definitely more malleable than the store-bought kind. To make myself super crazy I decided the two bricks needed to sit atop one slab cake, which I covered in green fondant (that one was store-bought). And with a star tip I decorated the Lego man in coloured vanilla butter cream. I think I must have made enough cake to feed a small army. While there were plenty of leftovers there was no man left in sight. He was devoured by the kids and the adults had to satisfy their sweet tooths with the giant bricks of cake (too bad!).
I think it was well worth the effort, and while I’m nowhere near as talented as some of the crazy cake decorators who do this for a living, I did give myself a pat on the back for my attempt. I’ll leave it to you to be the judge. Unfortunately I can’t give you a taste, but I can leave you with the recipe for the mocha butter cream.
MOCHA BUTTER CREAM RECIPE
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
4 cups of icing sugar (sifted)
1/4 cocoa powder (sifted)
2 Tbsp. (give or take) strong brewed coffee
Cream the butter and shortening together
Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and whip until fluffy, adding the coffee to thin consistency of icing as necessary.
More often than not my older son complains about how life isn’t fair, he never gets to do anything, he fundamentally disagrees with the concept of sharing, life isn’t fair and did I mention life isn’t fair? But once a year my son gets exactly what he wants: his choice of birthday cake. He usually puts his “order” in the day after his last birthday, so that gives me roughly 364 days to think about how I’m going to do it. Believe me, it’s a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to when the order is coming from your 5 year-old child. And with each passing year, the cake requests are becoming more involved and elaborate. Years 1 to 3 were baked and designed for my whims, but Quinn quickly caught on and for his fourth birthday he requested a Buzz Lightyear cake. Rather than kill myself trying to pipe a Disney character in buttercream, I got a fabulous cake topper (which Quinn got to keep afterwards and add to his astounding toy collection) and iced the cake in coordinating colours. The character cake theme continued for his fifth birthday upon which he requested a Batman cake, only this time he also requested the cake be a lemon cake, so I dutifully complied, making Martha Stewart’s knock-out 1-2-3-4 Lemon Cake with homemade lemon curd in the middle. I did a simple yellow buttercream icing with the Batman symbol in black piping. And once again, this year Quinn wanted the same flavoured cake, but this time he wanted the Incredible Hulk. In rather out of character fashion, I left the planning of the cake decorating to the last minute. In fact I had no idea how or what I was going to do because I’m definitely no visual artist and was not even going to attempt to pipe the Hulk in icing. So I panicked. After scouring online and failing to find a Hulk cake topper that I could buy in the next 24 hours, I headed over to the bakery at the grocery store. Sure enough the kind baker behind the counter told me he would go in the back and look for the Hulk cake topper. God must have been smiling down upon me that day because sure enough the baker returned with the cake topper (which, again will be added to my children’s ever expanding collection of toys). With cake topper in hand I headed home to embark on the icing. I should backtrack a bit and let you know I baked the slab cakes on a Thursday night and decorated them on Saturday afternoon for a Sunday morning party. Saturday rolled around and my girlfriend, Karen, who is taking the cake decorating class with me, came over after offering to help me with the cake. Unlike Karen, who always has a vision and a plan for her children’s birthday cakes and who incidentally, is a bonafide artiste, I am a bit of a MacGyver when it comes to decorating a cake–no plan, just some icing, a piping bag and toothpicks. We settled on a pale grey for the base colour and a fabulous green for the “trim.” Karen came up with this great idea to melt sugar, add food colouring and then pour it on to a sheet of parchment to dry, which we could then use as a plaque for writing on. We added other details like the blue and green sugar and shards of the candy to make it look like the Hulk was about to smash the words on the plaque. I’m pretty pleased with how the cake turned out (as you’ll see in the pictures). I must be a glutton for punishment because I’ve already asked my son what kind of cake he wants for his next birthday. His answer: “a lemon cake again!”
If you’ve ever been stuck with leftovers and are feeling stymmied about what to do with the dribs and drabs of last night’s dinner, fear not. Seize the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with that sorry looking piece of chicken or that less-than-full-bowl of spaghetti. For me it was a not-quite-full serving of cooked basmati rice. It sat in the fridge fora day or so while I mulled over whether or not to add it to the next night’s dinner or save it for a special project. Since it didn’t make the cut for dinner, I decided to turn it into dessert, although I could eat this dessert morning, noon or night since it is the ultimate in comfort foods. Rice pudding, if made the right way, can be the perfect compliment to any meal or mood. For me that usually comes at night when I’m parked in front of the television in my sweats. I consider rice pudding guilt-free indulgence. Maybe it’s because it’s made with rice and eggs and milk. I just omit the sugar from that mental list and voila: a healthy snack.
So I got out my oven proof Corningware dish and put my concoction together unaided by a recipe. You must think I’m nuts but the ingredients required to make a sweet custard pudding never deviate. The basic requirements involve eggs, milk and sugar. Add to this a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon and some golden raisins and you’ve got yourself heaven in a bowl. Oh yes, and don’t forget the heaping cup of cooked rice! I have yet to experiment with the flavour profile because really, who wants to mess with a good thing? But I might go out on a limb next time and try some orange or chocolate. Once I combined all the ingredients I popped it into the oven and baked it until creamy (sorry, I didn’t watch the clock), every now and again stirring it so the custard on top wouldn’t burn. I would say it came out a little on the sweet side, but I’ve got a sweet tooth so it didn’t bother me. Adjust the sugar depending on how tolerant your own personal sweet tooth is and sit down with a big bowl of warm rice pudding on a chilly night, under a cozy blanket with a good book (or movie) and you’ll never want to leave your house again.
Home-Made Rice Pudding
1 to 1/2 cups of cooked white rice
2 cups 2%milk (the higher the milk fat content, the creamier the custard)
3/4 of a cup of sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup of golden raisins
Mix all ingredients together and bake at 350 degrees until the custard is creamy. Stir every ten minutes to avoid burning.