Springtime Lemon Cake!

Despite the uniformly grey skies today, it’s finally starting to feel like spring has arrived for real here in the city. The snow is melting (although slowly), the grass is beginning to turn slightly green in places (although it’s mostly a dull, dusty beige colour everywhere else), and the geese are returning from wintering in the south. In fact, a lot of the migratory birds are passing through the city again to new locations for warmer months. All these things point to spring properly settling into the city. I’ve been sitting here, looking at the blinking cursor in this Word document for a good fifteen minutes, and I cannot find the words to adequately express how relieved I am that the grip of winter over this city is finally starting to slip.

lemon cake 031

The crumb in this cake stays flavourfully moist thanks to a basting of lemon syrup. It creates a delicious crust on the edge of the cake, too.

While I might not be able to express in words my relief over winter finally letting up, I can definitely express this feeling through food. When I think of spring, I think of new, clean starts. I think of brightness, clarity, and cheer after months of chilling, bleak weather, shapeless and heavy snowdrifts, stinking street grit, and arctic winds that cut down to the bone despite the thickest, warmest parkas. I think of bright lemon, and of the nearly floral nature of the scent of lemons. Lemons (like spring) are an uplifting thing—from their sunny yellow colour, to their sharp sourness, and their clean, fresh scent. And the first few weeks of spring are nothing if not uplifting after a bitterly cold winter.

According to Kathi Keville’s article on lemon’s uses in aromatherapy, lemons have antiseptic, antidepressant, and antiviral qualities. And as I decided I would bake a sweet lemony treat this weekend to celebrate the coming of spring, it makes sense that my associations of clean lemon flavour with feelings of bright cheerful feelings hold up. After the gloom of winter, the antidepressant applications of baking a delicious cake with a strong lemon element could only raise one’s spirit further.

lemon cake 037

If you turn the cake out of the bundt pan onto a wire cooling rack with a good sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil laid out beneath that, you shouldn’t have any problems with clean up after pouring the lemon syrup onto the hot cake, and then the icing sugar glaze on once the cake has cooled.

The cake I decided to make came from Deb Perelman’s smittenkitchen.com. Specifically from a 2006 recipe that she in turn adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, and which bears a strong similarity to my mother’s own recipe for lemon pound cake. Making use of 6-8 lemons worth of zest and juice, this cake is astonishingly bright with clean citrus flavour. The sourness of the lemon is tempered by the sweetness of the crackling glaze icing that runs in small rivulets off the edge of the bundt cake, but that sourness helps to keep the cake from being overly sweet. There’s a really lovely balance between the sugar and lemon, and it results in a cake that has just the right level of tartness.

The cake doesn’t get too dry either thanks to the lemon syrup that is spooned over the hot cake almost immediately after being removed from the oven. Perelman ran into a bit of difficulty when she added the syrup and glaze to the cake after letting it cool almost completely—but I found that it was a little easier (and more effective) to add the syrup while the cake was still hot but removed from the baking tin. The syrup soaked into the still-warm cake pretty well, so I waited until the cake had cooled further to drizzle the glaze over it as well.

If you’re looking for a cake with a bright citrus flavour—one that will reflect the relief of a harsh winter finally letting go of a quiet prairie city, this is the cake to go with. The aromatics as this cake bakes is amazing—the clean, bright, sharp smell of lemons will waft through your home and even if it’s still pretty grey outside, the house will still feel as though it were full of springtime sunshine.

lemon cake 046

The finished product–a very pretty, very lemony, very cheerful bundt cake.

Tagged

Buttermilk Pancakes!

For a lot of North Americans, breakfast is something often skipped during the work week. On the weekend however, time is made especially for preparing breakfast. One of my favourite things to make on a weekend morning is a big pile of pancakes, mostly due to their ease of preparation, and because of the sugary maple syrup splashed on top, a plateful of steaming hot pancakes feels like a treat set apart from the workday pace.

In preparation of writing this week’s blog post about pancakes, I did a bit of research on the subject. According to an online article by Rebecca Rupp about the history of pancakes from National Geographic’s special eight-month feature series, Future of Food, pancakes, or food like pancakes, are not a recent culinary invention. According to the article, anthropological researchers guess that Stone Age humans were cooking pancake-like foods over greased heated rocks due to the discovery and analysis of 30,000-year-old grinding tools that our Stone Age predecessors used to break down cereal grains, cattails, and ferns.

pancakes 030

A stack of pancakes can be dressed up any way you’d like–whether it’s with the traditional pat of butter and splash of maple syrup, or with cut fresh fruit and a blob of cottage cheese, pancakes are a pretty versatile breakfast component.

Both Rebecca Rupp’s National Geographic article, and Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food (1999) state that pancake-like foods made of cereal grains were made and enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who would sweeten them with honey. In fact, Davidson attests that one of the earliest written records of a pancake-food was in Apicius, a collection of Roman cookery recipes generally thought to be from the late fourth or early fifth centuries CE. Generally speaking, pancake-foods consisted of a batter of ground cereal grains, milk, and eggs which was then fried into small cake-like portions.

Rupp also mentions in her article that pancakes featured in the daily lives and meals of colonial North Americans as well, and have since colonial times been a part of traditional North American breakfasts. According to Rupp, “pancakes—also known as hoe cakes, johnnycakes, or flapjacks—were made with buckwheat or cornmeal”, which would have been more easily produced and financially accessible in the American colonies than fine wheat flour. Comparatively, Rupp’s description of American ‘griddlecakes’ (as beloved by Thomas Jefferson) places this kind of pancake-food closer to today’s contemporary pancakes, as they contain a leavening agent, and thus are fluffier and more tender. Pancakes became a staple of the North American breakfast, and was a regular inclusion to the near-iconic bacon and eggs breakfast for Americans from then on.

In her book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, author Abigail Carroll describes how Victorian-era culinary writers and intellectuals commented on the state of mid-nineteenth and late-nineteenth century breakfasts in America. According to Carroll, prospering middle-class families in America often had breakfasts that included “a combination of cold and hot meat as well as baked goods and porridge” (136) and that breakfast was, for many American families then, “the second-largest meal of the day” (136).

Carroll says that this sort of big-breakfast was considered generally acceptable for Americans that engaged in arduous chores long before actually sitting down for their breakfasts (136). Farmers, travelers, and general labourers were often working for several hours in the morning before returning to their kitchens or to local cafes, taverns, and restaurants for their breakfast meals. It makes sense then that these Americans were tucking in to large, calorie-heavy breakfasts—they were making up for the energy already spent in country or factory toil.

Big breakfasts were beginning to become a regular inclusion in the average morning for many Americans, including the richer classes. The big breakfasts that the richer classes were eating were similar to those of the lower classes and often included syrup-soaked pancakes alongside fried eggs, bacon, toast, porridge, and cups of coffee and tea. According to Carroll, “the tremendous size and complexity of meals, including breakfast, contributed greatly to the dyspepsia pandemic” (that is, a pandemic of chronic indigestion), as did “shifting work patterns in an urbanizing and mechanizing nation” (137). As workers began to shift from the workspaces of fields and factories to those of offices and desks, Carroll states that many late-nineteenth century writers and social commenters were writing published papers about dyspepsia, and that they were citing it as a “disease of civilization” (137). Carroll sums it up succinctly by stating that “the traditional farmer’s breakfast was simply no longer appropriate to a modern urban lifestyle, at least not for the majority of the middle class” (137).

pancakes 028

Pancakes take so little time in the frying pan, it’s easy to get them to the table while they’re still piping hot.

Big breakfasts, or farmer’s breakfasts, are far less frequent in contemporary North American diets than they were during the mid- and late-nineteenth centuries. The Victorian dyspepsia concerns have also faded as current eating habits have shifted to reflect the increasingly urbanized, mechanized, and fast-paced work schedules and business environments of today. Modern breakfasts have changed to suit the workday schedule and its requirements of convenience. Pancakes, therefore despite their quick preparation (especially since the twentieth century advent of manufactured box mixes), have largely become a weekend, treat breakfast food. Often pancakes are made and served as a breakfast meal on their own just as often as they are included in a large and leisurely Sunday morning breakfast spread.

This Sunday’s breakfast was a batch of pancakes served with heated, pure maple syrup. Despite a 1898 parenting manual’s inclusion of pancakes as breakfast foods as part of a “graveyard diet” (138), and associated Victorian-era dyspepsia concerns, I would encourage readers to make pancakes from scratch as a weekend treat. Box mixes are all well and good, but pancakes made from scratch with fresh buttermilk, vanilla extract, and egg are a welcome break from a work week of breakfasts of coffee and soggy breakfast cereal.

Tagged

Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread!

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and last week I went searching through my city’s public library catalogue of Irish cookbooks in order to find something special to cook as celebration of the day. I had to plan ahead in order to put together an Irish-inspired supper since Tuesdays are extremely busy for me in terms of scheduled classes and homework workloads. I figured I wouldn’t really have the time on Tuesday evening to put together a special supper, so I had better make my attempt at making a St. Patrick’s Day meal on the weekend rather than on the day itself.

I was actually fairly surprised by the sheer number of Ireland-related cookbooks that are available through the public library. For some reason I’ve never really thought of the public library as a resource for cookbooks—although now that I stop to think about it, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be. I spent a good couple of hours searching through the online lists and catalogue of books about Irish cuisine and cookery before settling on requesting a copy of Cathal Armstrong’s 2014 book, My Irish Table. And it’s probably a good thing that I went hunting for such a comprehensive and contemporary Irish cookbook a few days in advance of March 17, because as of this blog post going live, all seven copies of this particular cookbook have been checked out from the library’s catalogue.

In My Irish Table, author and four-star chef Cathal Armstrong records his culinary path from Dublin, Ireland to the United States, where he currently owns and operates seven well-respected restaurants. It’s clear in Armstrong’s writing that this book is all about his love of his homeland and Irish food. Originally I was going to try to produce Armstrong’s recipe for Irish stew, but my parents vetoed the idea on account of their distaste for lamb. That’s a shame, because according to Armstrong, “Real Irish stew is not made with beef. At all. Traditionally it is made with lamb neck or shinbones (known as gigot)” (60). Although it’s worthy to add that Armstrong continues by adding that he usually makes this stew using lamb shoulder chops instead of neck or gigot as they “are meatier and you can get a good sear on them, which adds flavour” (60). And that’s a helpful addition of detail, because as much as I would have liked to cook with lamb in pursuit of authenticity, I’m not sure I’m on board with the idea of cooking lamb neck just yet.

stew 012

If you don’t plan on quartering small potatoes for your stew, why not serve it over a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes? From what I’ve been able to learn from online food writing sources, this is another traditional way of serving beef stew, and the creaminess of the mashed potatoes really has a delicious effect on a bowl of hot stew.

Instead, I settled for Armstrong’s recipe for beef stew as found on page 72 of the book. Back on page 60 in his explanation of what constitutes a real Irish stew, Armstrong suggests that carrots shouldn’t really be added to an Irish stew, but that he likes incorporating them due to their sweetness. Perhaps as a result of this carrots are plentiful in Armstrong’s recipe for beef stew, as are eight cloves of garlic, and an entire serrano chili—something that I wouldn’t have ordinarily associated with a typical Irish-based beef stew. (Although on further consideration, why shouldn’t it be added? Chilies and spicy peppers always seem to work well with beef, almost regardless of culinary context.)

Armstrong explains what is actually happening in the pot during the stewing process by telling readers that “when you apply heat to food, you’re actually applying pressure” (73). He further delves into culinary science by explaining that stewing meat is forced to contract due to the application of heat (and its pressure), and that this forces the flavourful liquids from the meat, into the surrounding mire-poix of the stew’s vegetable and aromatic components: the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf (73). Armstrong says that the reason that a stew’s flavour intensifies over the days following the day the stew was originally made is because as the stew cools and the meat cools, it begins to relax and (re)absorb the surrounding liquid—liquid that was created by the meat and the vegetables cooking in the first place (73).

While Armstrong recommends that beef stew be served over mashed potatoes, I thought I would make a couple loaves of Irish soda bread to help sop up the stew’s resulting gravy-like liquid. Armstrong helpfully includes a recipe for Irish soda bread on page 191. The popularity of soda bread (and of a lot of other unleavened breads) is due to the yeast’s historic costliness. Armstrong says that baking soda was introduced in Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century (191) and this coincides with a historic record of the country’s economic climate which would indicate why this bread became as popular and prevalent through Ireland at this time.

Soda bread is not difficult to make. Consisting of mainly four ingredients (flour, baking soda, butter, and milk—oh, and let’s say salt too for seasoning), it’s a quick bread that requires little working and kneading of the dough, and no time required for resting the dough (since there’s no yeast in it). However I’ve had mixed results when making soda bread in the past. It was a bit of a surprise then that Armstrong’s recipe for the stuff worked out beautifully. (Honestly, my bread baking efforts have a 50-50 chance of success or failure.) As it was, the bread looked and smelled lovely when I removed it from the oven, and it tasted wonderful with the beef stew.

stew 017

Sure stews are even better the day after making them, but I think this was a pretty successful “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” St. Patrick’s Day supper!

I’d like to include the recipes for beef stew and Irish soda bread from Armstrong’s book to this blog post, but due to copyright issues, I will instead direct you to check out your local booksellers to find a copy. In lieu of making a purchase, I’d encourage you to browse your public library’s catalogue in search of it. Who knows, your public library might have seven copies of it—although I wouldn’t bet on being able to find a single copy available the day before St. Patrick’s Day!

Tagged , ,

Braised Beef with Garlic and Tomatoes!

Last month, I read Michael Pollan’s recent book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Michael Pollan is a journalist and professor associated with UC Berkeley and The New York Times. As a food activist, Pollan writes engaging books aimed and general audiences about food production and consumption in the United States, modern agribusiness, and the cultural ethics related to the broad subject of food.

I don’t always choose non-fiction and investigative writing when I’m picking out leisure reading, but I’ve always appreciated Pollan’s writing style and I like that he can write about some very complex topics without getting too bogged down in their intricacies. His writing offers a clear and well-considered introduction to a variety of subject matter, and often his books will include a directed reading list should any of his topics interest readers enough to want to find more information on their own after they’ve finished his book.

Cooked is arranged into four sections that align with the classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth. These sections correspond with different methods of food production: cooking with heat and an open flame, braising and stewing, baking and bread making, and fermentation. Pollan’s writing made me think about my own cooking habits and relationship with food, and inspired me to attempt some of the cooking methods he discusses in Cooked. But since it’s still the depths of winter here in the city (despite recently flipping the calendar to match the month of March), attempting barbecue (fire) was a little out of the question, and both baking bread and pickling were rather complex processes that require an amount of time that I simply haven’t got to spare these days between competing deadlines for college assignments and projects.

So I settled on trying out braising—a cooking technique that I was somewhat familiar with, and which looked, on the page, like an easy enough undertaking. Braising is essentially a two-step process. Meat is first seared at a high temperature and then finishes the cooking process in a covered pot or roasting dish at a lower temperature surrounded by an amount of liquid (which usually adds flavour to the cooking meat, too).

See? Sounds simple enough. Regardless of the simplicity of the action of braising though, Michael Pollan suggests (by way of internationally recognized anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss) that braising meat is a method of rendering the animalistic (literally animal flesh) into something that is (figuratively) human. And that is quite the complicated statement.

braise 125

Beef braised in a flavourful garlic and tomato sauce that comes together with minimal fussing. I don’t think we even needed the egg noodles, the meat and sauteed greens were pretty much supper enough.

According to Pollan, cooking meat thoroughly in a braise “achieves a more complete transcendence of the animal, and perhaps the animal in us, than does grilling over a fire, which leaves its object partly or entirely intact, and often leaves a trace of blood—a visible reminder … that this is a formerly living creature we’re feasting on” (54). Pollan supports this idea by further suggesting that “the braise or stew—and particularly the braise or stew of meat that’s been cut into geometric cubes and rendered tender by long hours in the pot—represents a deeper sublimation, or forgetting, of the brutal reality of this particular transaction among species” (54). The “transaction” that Pollan is talking about here is the consumption of one animal by another, and furthermore, the consumption of the animal after (parts of) its physical form is altered by a cooking process.

And you’ve got to agree, that’s some pretty deep thinking caused by contemplating a hunk of meat slowly cooking in a shallow pool of liquid. Because of that, I set out to get the simplest braise recipe that I could find online. Thankfully the folks running epicurious.com had a three-ingredient braised beef recipe that (at the time of this blog post) boasts a 3.5/4 star rating by recipe reviewers, and 82% of cooks saying they would make it again. Now granted this braised beef recipe doesn’t require cooks to chop up a roast into “geometric cubes” (or to even brown it in the roasting pan prior to adding the liquid ingredients), but after the braising is finished doing its work on the collagen and connective tissue of the meat, the roast will be so fork-tender it is almost completely and unrecognizably transformed from the bodily tissue of an animal into a comforting, and delicious main course.

braise 111

Three ingredients makes for a cut of meat that’s fork-tender and delicious. And as with all stews and braises, the flavour’s even better on the second day! (So try to make sure there’s some leftovers for you tomorrow!)

Pollan continues the line of thinking introduced by Lévi-Strauss that boiled and braised foods represent “a further remove from uncivilized nature than does roasted food” (156) as boiled or braised food requires the cultural artifact of the cooking pot—something that is carefully crafted and then cared for after its use, two things that require specialization of labour (pottery-making) and culture to support. Pollan directly addresses this line of thinking by posing the idea that “if all cooking is a process of transforming the stuff of nature into culture, boiling [and braising] achieves a more complete transformation of the animal being eaten” (156). He addresses the cultural inclusion of food prepared in a cooking pot more directly when Pollan states, “To eat from the same pot is to share more than a meal … In the same way that the stew pot [or the braising dish] blends a great many different ingredients together, … it brings the family together as well” (158).

Another important fact about this particular recipe, is that it calls for an entire head of garlic. In Cooked, Michael Pollan looked into the role that onions and garlic play in global cooking trends. He found that the addition of garlic and onions to meat dishes greatly increases the general safety of eating these foods. According to Pollan (and other food researchers), “like many of the most commonly used spices, onions (garlic, too) contain powerful microbial compounds that survive cooking” (144) and that “microbiologists believe that onions, garlic, and spices protect us from the growth of dangerous bacteria on meat” (144-45). It then stands to reason that through years of trial and error, people discovered that cooking meat with particular aromatic vegetables (onions and garlic) resulted in meals that were less likely to make people sick afterwards. This was all discovered prior to the invention of refrigeration of course, but it might explain why garlic and onions (which are “one of the most potent of all antimicrobial food plants” [145]) are so commonly used in cooking.

I am unsure of the specific history of this dish, but braising is a cooking method with history, and braised dishes are made all over the world in many different cultures. Braising meat involves both dry and moist heat, as part of the meat that is braised cooks outside of the braising liquid. But it is this liquid (likely laden with antimicrobial ingredients like onions and garlic) that also helps to ensure the safety of the dish. The temperature of the liquid reaches the boiling point and holds steady at this temperature while the meat cooks, killing potentially illness-causing microbial elements in the ingredients.

It is also this cooking liquid that helps to form a harmony of flavours within the braising dish as well as helping detoxify ingredients, blending flavours, and breaking down tough plant and animal fibres and rendering them into digestible food. According to Pollan, “given enough heat and time, [a braising liquid] softens, blends, balances, harmonizes, and marries” (163) different aspects, ingredients, and elements of the braised dish. I think what Michael Pollan was trying to get at was that the cooked meal can be viewed as a metaphor for the coming together of a family unit (or community) in sharing a meal. And through this, cultural beliefs are built and reinforced when nature is brought into the home and transformed into a something nutritionally and socially sustaining.

Hopefully you will try this three-ingredient braised beef supper (it’s super easy!) and will enjoy it with a plateful of sautéed greens and noodles among your family or close, loved ones. After all, according to Pollan, a braised beef supper is downright designed for bringing a family together to harmonize over.

Tagged , ,

Garlic and Yogurt Marinated Chicken!

I’ve never made a whole roast chicken. It’s one of those things that I’ve never attempted in the kitchen. I’m sure that I could figure it out though, and with enough attempts, I bet I could get pretty good at putting together a roast chicken dinner. But to be entirely honest, I think I’d prefer to simply roast (or bake) chicken pieces instead. And when chicken pieces (drumsticks, breasts, and thighs) are so readily available in the meat sections of most major grocery stores, I haven’t even had to learn to break down a whole chicken either.

And while learning to roast a whole chicken (and to break down a roasting chicken) is on my culinary to-do list, generally when I feel like making roast chicken for dinner, I usually end up making roasted chicken pieces instead. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s similar enough, and besides, it’s plenty more convenient and easy.

But simply roasting (or baking) this broken-down chicken with a sprinkling of salt and pepper isn’t often enough to impart big flavour to the chicken meat. So I quite often marinate the chicken pieces from anywhere between thirty to sixty minutes prior to placing them in the oven to cook. How long they sit to marinate depends on the kind of marinade I’ve put together, and just how strong I want the flavours to be in the chicken.

garlic yogurt chicken 049

This garlicky chicken is flavourful and easy to prepare, and is especially tasty with blanched green beans and bitter greens.

Working with the dark meat of a chicken (that is, the drumsticks and thighs) immediately helps to build a flavourful supper. I did a quick bit of research about the difference between the white and dark meat in chicken, and apparently besides the higher fat content of dark meat (which affects flavour considerably), dark meat has higher levels of myoglobin (a protein that supplies oxygen to muscles) than white meat does. This contributes a darker colour to the meat of a chicken’s legs and thighs, which makes sense since chickens are flightless birds, and rely on their leg muscles for mobility. The dark meat in a chicken has a stronger and more distinctive flavour than the white meat, but still works as an excellent base for building up even more flavours through a marinade.

Marinating meat helps to improve the flavour and tenderness of meats long before the cooking process even begins. Typically they include a base liquid made with oil (as a binding agent—one that pulls double duty helping marinade ingredients adhere together and also to marinating meat itself), salt and spices (which can be dried or fresh for a moderate or intensified flavour), and with an acidic ingredient (like citrus juice or vinegar) to help tenderize the meat proteins. The marinade I put together this weekend imparts some serious flavour to the chicken. This particular marinade has a serious base in garlic and oregano, but it isn’t overwhelming. The strong garlic flavour is tempered by the creamy tanginess of yogurt, and then it’s brightened up with the addition of a freshly grated and squeezed lemon.

This marinade recipe is evocative of Greek flavours, and the chicken thighs and drumsticks need only to marinate for forty-five minutes in order to reap the full flavour of the marinade’s ingredients. When it comes time to cook the chicken, arrange the thighs and drumsticks in a baking dish with the thickest ends of the meat settled near the edges of the baking dish. This way, the meat is sure to be thoroughly cooked during its time in the hot oven. Extra marinade can be added to the baking dish around the chicken pieces before the raw chicken is placed in the oven to cook. It will essentially act as a basting or braising liquid, and result in moist and tender meat, but it can affect how the chicken browns. If you choose to add extra marinade to your baking dish, it should only be added at the beginning of the cooking process as the marinade will have juices from the raw chicken still within it. Having less marinade in the cooking dish will help your chicken to brown up more uniformly as it roasts.

Try this marinade the next time you want a chicken dinner full of delicious, savoury, garlicky goodness, but be warned: mincing this many cloves of garlic can be quite … fragrant.

garlic yogurt chicken 043

Not a roast chicken dinner, but it’s still chicken, and it was roasted! (Or… well, actually baked. Close enough.)

Continue reading

Tagged ,

Yorkshire Puddings!

yorkshire puddings 027

A Sunday supper of bright vegetables, tender roast beef, and savoury homemade gravy deserves a fresh Yorkshire pudding. And let’s get real: the Yorkshire pudding is going to be the part of the meal that you look forward to all week!

Yorkshire puddings are a Sunday night supper specialty in my house. We don’t make them too often, only now and then, but they are always a favourite at the dinner table (and to be sure, usually a couple are sneakily eaten even before dinner is plated and served at the table).

According to authors Glenn Rinsky and Laura Halpin Rinsky of The Pastry Chef’s Companion (2009), Yorkshire puddings are a sort of savoury popover named for the Yorkshire region of England, from which the dish originates. Author Alan Davidson tells readers that typically Yorkshire pudding is made of a thin batter in a single pan and often accompanies a roast beef supper (The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999). Davidson says that traditionally, as part of the Sunday supper, “the pudding, cut in squares, should be served with gravy before the meat, to take the edge off the appetite”. He does acknowledge however that as cooking practices shifted over time to reflect the advent of more modern kitchen ranges, appliances, and ovens, that Yorkshire puddings are often made in smaller, round tins instead of in one large pan as is traditional. He also notes that due to these technological shifts, enclosed oven ranges don’t allow for Yorkshire pudding to be cooked exactly as they traditionally were—baking in the steady heat of a roasting oven several inches below an exposed haunch of meat.

It is traditional to cook Yorkshire puddings using the juices and drippings from roast meat (and in particular those from roast beef), but nowadays people often use other cooking oils to start their puddings such as canola and vegetable oils. Important to achieving the lightness and crispness of a proper Yorkshire pudding is “introducing the [Yorkshire pudding] batter into a pan containing fat which is smoking hot, thus starting to form a crust underneath straight away; as the pudding continues to cook, the air incorporated into the batter during mixing expands, making it rise, and the fierce heat dies out the top of the pudding leaving it crunchy” (Davidson, 1999).

yorkshire puddings 009

There’s that crispy exterior that’s all-important to a proper Yorkshire pudding! When the batter is poured into the heated pan and its sizzling hot oil, it immediately begins to cook. The oil helps to cook the thin batter thoroughly and provide the perfect crispy crust to the pudding.

My mother’s recipe is a bit of a hodge-podge, yet it remains simple and straight-forward enough to qualify as a decent Yorkshire pudding recipe. It was somewhat cobbled together from several (ever changing, and disappointingly unreliable) re-tellings of a ‘secret family recipe’ from my dad’s side of the family, and from a recipe that was published a number of years ago in the city newspaper following an interview with a chef from a popular local English/Irish pub. The recipe we use does not call for the drippings and juices from roast beef (as we usually use those to make the gravy), but nevertheless yields a delicious Yorkshire pudding that has a perfect balance of airiness and crispiness. In fact, due to this airy crispiness, these puddings tower in the pan, as proper Yorkshire puddings should. Should there be any left over after supper (not as frequent a situation as you might think), they serve well the next day paired with reheated leftovers, savoury spreads like spicy mustards, or sweet homemade jams.

The one bit of caution that I would advise anyone of when making Yorkshire puddings (besides the ever present warning of: careful, the oil will be very hot!) is to designate a separate baking tin as the tin that will forevermore be specifically used for Yorkshire puddings. The hot oil needed for cooking the puddings can discolour a baking tin to the point of being nearly unrecognizable after the first few times of making Yorkshire puddings.

But it’s a small price to pay—an ugly, discoloured tin—for the deliciousness of fresh Yorkshire puddings during a Sunday supper.

yorkshire puddings 013

Trust me, there’s some kind of unwritten rule that the best Yorkshire puddings come from the gnarliest looking pans! (Seriously though, you may want to designate and set aside a pan specifically for making Yorkshire puddings and Yorkshire puddings alone–discolouration that will happen to that thing.)

Continue reading

Tagged ,

Chocolate Stout Cake!

cake 007

Delicious chocolate cake fragranced and flavoured with Guinness, and whipped cream with Bailey’s Irish Cream and pure maple syrup. What a great dessert combination!

This weekend I decided to make a recipe that’s been sitting in my “to make” recipe folder for almost a year. (I keep meaning to make it around St. Patrick’s Day—and assumedly as the dessert for a supper of Guinness-based beef stew with loads of root vegetables and a nice round of freshly baked soda bread to round out the meal.) But for whatever reason, it never seems to come together and the recipe’s never got used.

It should be said though that despite it taking me ages to get around to putting this cake together, it is nevertheless precisely the kind of homemade cake recipe that really appeals to me. I knew it would produce a rich and flavourful cake since it has two of my favourite things to indulge in as its foundation: rich chocolate and wonderfully, flavourfully complex dark ale. (Well, stout, actually.) The recipe balances the two ingredients nicely so that they aren’t competing with one another or overwhelming the other in the cake’s flavour profile, but rather, they work together well and come together to produce an amazing dessert to follow a Sunday night supper.

The original cake recipe can be found at smittenkitchen.com, a popular cooking blog run by author, blogger, and home chef Deb Perelman. Perelman includes a recipe for a chocolate ganache that is flavoured with coffee and chocolate (something that sweetness notwithstanding would probably help draw out the underlying flavours of the Guinness beer). Ganache icing isn’t really my thing though, so when it came time to accompany the cake, I dusted the top of the cake with sifted powdered sugar and I made a flavoured whipped cream, too. For the whipped cream, I whipped a small container of whipping cream with two tablespoons each of Bailey’s Irish Cream and organic maple syrup (and a teaspoon of vanilla extract) to give the cake some added sweetness and flavour complexity.

cake 048

Ganache is great, but powdered sugar and/or fresh whipped cream will always be my favourite.

The cake is fairly easy to throw together (and with minimal dishes getting dirtied in the process—a plus for Sunday night supper that yields enough leftovers to satisfy an average-sized family into the start of the work week). As long as you keep an eye on the saucepan in which you simmer (but never boil) your Guinness and butter mixture, it’s pretty hard to botch this recipe. Make sure to properly grease your bundt pan, and allow the cake to cool entirely while still set in the pan, and there should be no trouble when it comes time to turn the cake out onto a wire rack or serving plate.

The cake itself is not overly dense, in fact, it has a crumb that is just the right texture to appropriately reflect the denseness of Guinness stout, but still serve as a sweet Sunday night treat. It’s not too crumbly either, and maintains its distinctive bundt-pan shape (and there are for sure some elaborate bundt pan molds out there). Still, I think my favourite thing about this cake (besides its taste), is that while the cake bakes (for a mere 35 minutes), it will fill the entire house with the most amazing and homey smell, so don’t be surprised if family members drift into the kitchen to see what’s going on, and what they’ve got to look forward to indulging in later in the evening.

Tagged ,